Now that we have gone through a different understanding of what hell might be, and what it feels like, I will look into where this judgment comes from. Here I will just rephrase the quote of Father Freedman, “Being the consequence of illusion and selfishness, sin includes its own punishment. God does not do the punishing.”[i]
So where then does this punishment come from? The Hebrew word for hell is “Sheol,” and it takes us in this direction. The root of this word is “Shaal,” which means “to ask” or “to inquire.”[ii] In most religions, we find the Lord, God, or some servant inquires. In many accounts of near-death experiences, we also find that a being of light or an angel leads the person through the life-review.
For me, my experience was different. I was alone with myself, and it was me passing judgment on myself. Another near-death experience describes the inquirer in a way that is very similar to my experience, “It was me judging me, not some heavenly Saint Peter.” [iii]
This is also the view of Moody, who concludes that the judgment comes from within.[iv] We also find this perspective on the nature of reality in Buddhism, where Soygal Rinpoche says, “Ultimately all judgments take place within our own mind. We are the judge and the judged.”[v]
This means that from an absolute perspective, the negative life-review is created by our own mind. The fundamental reality of the universe is consciousness beyond the construct of the negative review. Enlightenment, or absolute consciousness, is the ultimate nature of existence, and is free of any construct of the conditioned mind.
We also find that near-death researchers agree with this view. Grey explains that, “In all the ‘core experiences’, respondents quite categorically state that there was no sense of judgment, that any judgment came from themselves.”[vi] And Fenwick concludes that, “It does look quite possible that in the NDE, as in life, we tend to create our own Heaven or Hell.”[vii]
Not only do we create our experience of hell, but there is also evidence to suggest that our environment impacts the negative experience. A German study on near-death experiences found a big difference in the negative experience in the near-death experience between West and East Germany. In this study 29 percent of West German near-death experiencers had a negative experience, while 60 percent of the East German near-death experiencers had a negative experience.[viii]
This suggests that both mental and cultural conditioning in a person’s environment does affect the near-death experience. So, if we create our own hell and our environment can have an influence on its negative content, should we then not disregard hell as purely illusion? It could be that hell is merely a religious creation that has no inherent reality of its own.
Well, some people would probably think so, but I truly believe that it is not that simple. It is true that among some other cultures, like Aboriginal and First Nations peoples the research, so far, does not find life-reviews in the near-death experience. This could suggest that the life-review is a conditioning that comes from our Western culture, which would be a very interesting subject for future research.
However, even though these non-Western cultures seem to have a lack of life-reviews, they still have negative experiences. One aboriginal study of near-death experiences by Dr. Nsama Mumbwe of the University of Zambia found no life-reviews. But as Melvin Morse explains, “many of these African people interpreted the event as somewhat evil. Half of the participants in this simple study thought that the NDE signified that they were ‘bewitched’ or about to be.”[ix]
So, however we choose to interpret the experience, it looks as if we still do find negative experiences in all cultures. Therefore, I would suggest that the experience is a mental projection and an illusion to the enlightened mind. But unless a person is fully enlightened or only doing good actions, I do not believe that the possibility of having a negative life-review or a negative experience can be completely disregarded.
Grey tells us that, “My view is that this refers to ‘unfinished business’ that has become trapped in the psyche or soul and which continues to cause problems until recognized and overcome.”[x] Now, when the purpose of the life-review seems to be that the person learns, and this teaching of the soul seems to continue after life, my question would be: When do we have no more unfinished business? The answer to me would be when we are fully enlightened.
About the learning part, Moody explains that the point of the questioning seems to be “to draw them out,” and that the Socratic questioning is not to acquire information, “but to help the person who is being asked to proceed along the path to the truth about himself.”[xi] Moody uses the words “provoke reflection,”[xii] and for me, it is clear that provoking reflection must contain unknown or forgotten events.
One account testifies that, “I experienced the review of my life which extended from early childhood and included many occurrences that I had completely forgotten.”[xiii] This happened to me as well, especially the incident where I was teasing a girl in 5th grade. I had totally forgotten this event, and becoming aware of it was a shock to me.
Since this is a psychological event, I will look to Carl Jung to try and understand it. He describes the transference of death as the union of the conscious and unconscious. When the soul is “withdrawn from projections and reunites with the body, a bridge is formed for access between the conscious and unconscious, leading to the Self.”[xiv]
This withdrawal from projection, leading to the unconscious, can be dangerous: “Another danger is that, when integrated, the contents of the unconscious may so enlarge the ego that one runs the risk of an inflation.”[xv] Jung further explains about the unconscious: “Because the latter cannot be seen directly, it is always projected; for, unlike the shadow, it does not belong to the ego but is collective. For this reason it is felt to be something alien to us.”[xvi]
In my view, it is clear that the strong and enlightened mind can stir out of the negative review and into liberation. But since unconscious actions and long forgotten events also come up in this intense out-of-dimension state, the mind would need to be strong or free of big surprises.
If we have lived a life being responsible for huge suffering or the killing of others, it seems to me that this ignorance will bounce off the true nature of reality—something “alien”—which so profoundly expresses unending love. These harmful actions must be healed before this meeting—otherwise I see no other outcome than a big shock, which can lock the mind in a negative state.
Therefore, I believe that the negative life-review should be not feared but respected, so that one does not have to run the risk of ego inflation. Avoiding inflation is not always as simple as we might think because—as Jung puts it—identification, which causes inflation, is “always tempting the ego.” This is due to our habitual tendencies of identifying with the projections, and therefore, “Non-identification demands considerable moral effort.”[xvii]
On this issue Soygal Rinpoche, who also has studied the near-death experience, explains that, “The life-review happens again and again in the near-death experience, and demonstrates so clearly the inescapability of karma and the far-reaching and powerful effects of all our actions, words, and thoughts.”
Yet it would seem that many people are frolicking down the same path of ignorance that I trod prior to my experience. Let me just bring back the results from The Barna Group poll which found that “Truth is Relative, says Americans.”[xviii] Here, 64 percent of adult Americans said that, “truth is always relative to the person and their situation.” With teenagers this view was even more extreme, 83 percent said that, “moral truth depends on the circumstances.” Only 22 percent of adults and 6 percent of teenagers said that moral truth is absolute.[xix]
What is interesting about the survey is that it was done after the terrorist attacks on September 11, and that condemning the ‘evil’ of these attacks seemed to lack no conviction in the foundational belief in an absolute of right and wrong. And at the same time, studies continuously show that about 90 percent of Americans believe in God or some higher power.[xx] Even so, the poll found that more than 60 percent of Americans “endorse relativism,” and the survey suggests that without a firm basis for moral decision-making, people are left with “philosophies such as ‘if it feels good, do it,’ ‘everyone else is doing it’ or the ‘whatever’ among young people.”[xxi]
For me, this is very alarming. When I look at the news on TV, I am deeply sad by all the death and destruction. I cry when I think of the all the suffering we cause in life and of the consequences after. The Bible tells us that it is better to lose one part of our body than for our whole body to go to hell.[xxii] While cutting off the hand that causes us to sin is too extreme in my view, I do feel the seriousness these words are trying to express. Personally, I try hard to do the right thing, and not cause suffering to others, because I respect life and I do not wish to go through another negative life-review.
Then when I look at the world we live in and I think about the true nature of the light, I am deeply horrified. From my experience of the light, I truly believe that no human being is worth less than another, and no-one deserves to suffer much less being killed. It seems very clear to me that killing is against the true nature of life, exactly as the Bible tells us: Thou shall not kill.
The nature of life is to live. For this reason, it is in our nature to seek to be happy. We all desire to be happy, because we all desire to live. This is universal for all life, and is therefore a universal principle. If we hurt others who also seek to be happy, we are going against this universal principle. In the right to happiness, we are all equal. By hurting others, we therefore not only go against their nature but also our own true nature. By killing another we kill ourselves.
The Buddhist text The Dhammapada describes this principle in a simple way: “He who, seeking his own happiness, punishes or kills beings who also long for happiness, will not find happiness after death.”[xxiii] This we also find in the near-death experience, where Grey explains that, “This sentiment has also been expressed by a number of people who had ‘core experiences’ who said…that all life is sacred, that to take the life of oneself or another is attended with very severe penalties.”[xxiv]
My actions were very selfish, but I have never killed anyone. However, Brinkley, who was a soldier in war, has; and he lets us know how this feels in the life-review:
I was hit by a rush of emotions and information. I felt the stark horror that all of those people felt…I experienced the pain their families felt when they discovered that they had lost loved ones in such a tragic way. In many cases I even felt the loss their absence would make to future generations…I thought what I was doing was right. (I was killing in the name of patriotism) …Now, in the life review, I was forced to see the death and destruction that had taken place in the world as a result of my actions. “We are all a link in the great chain of humanity,” said the Being. “What you do has an effect on the other links in that chain.”[xxv]
With this information, it seems clear to me that for example the way we do modern warfare, where more civilians die than soldiers, there must be consequences to pay. We cannot stay blind forever of the fact that this is unjust. I do not believe that anyone is totally free of responsibility: The soldier, the general, the government, the arms dealer, and maybe even the voter—we are all links in that great chain of humanity and as Brinkley explains,
My task was simply to transfer these weapons…When this transfer was completed, I got back on the airplane and left. But leaving wasn’t so easy in my life review. I stayed with the weapons and watched as they were distributed at a military staging area. Then I went with the guns as they were used in the job of killing, some of them murdering innocent people…All in all it was horrible to witness the results of my role in this war…I knew these deaths were caused by the guns I had delivered.[xxvi]
This conclusion I am making here, might be going too far for some people. But the life-review is as unimaginably intense as the true light of reality is incredibly meaningful. We all know war is wrong, and therefore, we must stop doing war. Life is profoundly meaningful. When we leave it we will experience just how profound it is and how much is recorded:
There was no denying the facts because they were all there, including my innermost thoughts, emotions and motives. I knew that my life was over and whatever came next would be a direct consequence of not only what I had done in my life, but what I had thought and what had been my true feeling at the time.[xxvii]
After having lead this part of the chapter to another view on who does the ‘punishment’ and ‘judgment,’ I believe that it is also important to clarify these concepts in the light. As I began with the poem of Rumi it is the pain of looking within that fits with the near-death experience.
For me, this pain was clearly caused by recognizing that I was separate from the truth. Thereby, hell is the pain of separation from truth or from God. This is the important distinction that leads away from punishment and sin, to the understanding that the pain comes out of ignorance. I also used the example of Adam being innocent because he was unenlightened and ignorant of the meaning of the words of God.
However, I also believe that it is important to say that innocence does not mean that we are not responsible. We are only ignorant of what we do not know but responsible for what we do know. This means that our innocence is over once we become aware of the truth. If we know the truth but do not act upon it, then, this is corruption, and it is this corruption that creates the separation. If we were always truthful and true to ourselves there would be no sin. This is what Jesus means when he says that “there is no sin, but it is you who make sin.”[xxviii]
Plato said the same when he explained that “the responsibility is with the chooser.”[xxix] The seed of creation springs from our mind; thus, we are responsible for what we think. This brings us back to Mother Teresa again; who after saying that in the final analysis it is all between you and God, also said: “It was never between you and them anyway.”[xxx] In our world today, it is easy to be caught up in the world ‘out there,’ but even so, we are still responsible in here. We sin, or manifest false consciousness, through corruption. When we know something to be true and we do not act accordingly, then we are no longer ignorant.
Fenwick comes to this conclusion as well: “We need a wider view to encompass…that we are part of a greater whole, and that our actions carry personal responsibility and have consequences for us or for the universe at some future time.”[xxxi] He shares this view with His holiness, the Dalai Lama, who explains that our actions have a universal dimension—a universal responsibility. The human family has a fundamental unity, and we cannot view our interests as separate from those of others. [xxxii]
A good example is global warming. Greedy businesses have done everything possible to deny that we are all connected through nature. Another example is the poverty and suffering in our world. While some have too much, others have nothing, and everyday thousands die because of their lack. But in the true nature of the light no form of life is worth less than another, and no human race is more valuable than another.
In his book The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs explains that our rich part of the world is saying to the poor that “you count for nothing. We should not be surprised, then, if in later years the rich reap the whirlwind of that heartless response.”[xxxiii] I believe that as long as the rich of our world consume the energy of the poor of the world, there will be no end to hell. “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.”[xxxiv]
When we look at the world today it is clear that greed, plunder, and killing are still legitimate means of doing business. Man’s short-term goal is for his own survival, here and now. As our last century saw us evolve from the Enlightenment to Auschwitz, it is evident that humanity faces a problem. Philosopher Jacques Derrida explains that our newfound freedom has an active and militant aspect that is to be found in all levels of society.[xxxv]
Maybe this militant aspect is part of human nature, but during the last century when we were supposed to become more enlightened, we have developed new ways to kill one another in greater numbers. Since our Western society became secular by the dismissal of God and Darwin’s theory of natural selection lead us to the survival of the fittest, it seems as if we have legitimized the destruction of humanity as “natural selection.” Enlightenment has brought us freedom, but this freedom has been mistaken as unconditional freedom to kill and destroy.
In doing so, man is disregarding the long-term consequences for all of us. Freedom is not unconditional because we are responsible for our actions. This is the clear message from the near-death experience, and I believe if we all look deep within, we will find this to be true.
What will it take to wake man up and see the big picture?
[i] Revel, Ricard, The Monk and the Philosopher, 238.
[ii] Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, The Talmud Babli, 1506.
[iii] Varela, Sleeping, Dreaming and Dying, 196.
[iv] Moody, Reflections on Life after Life, 38.
[v] Soygal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, 292.
[vi] Grey, Return From Death, 67.
[vii] Fenwick, Fenwick, The Truth in the Light, 190.
[viii] Knoblauch, Schmied, Schnettler, Different kinds of Near-Death Experience, Journal of Near-Death Studies, Vol. 20 #1, 2001, 25.
[ix] Morse, Transformed by the Light, 121.
[x] Grey, Return From Death, 191.
[xi] Moody, Life After Life, 61-62.
[xii] Moody, Life After Life, 64.
[xiii] Fenwick, Fenwick, The Truth in the Light, 114.
[xiv] Yates, Jung on Death and Immortality, 7.
[xv] Yates, Jung on Death and Immortality, 8.
[xvi] Jung; Psychology of the Transference in Yates; Jung on Death and Immortality, 74.
[xvii] Jung; Psychology of the Transference in Yates; Jung on Death and Immortality, 75.
[xviii] The Barna Group, Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings, February 12, 2002, www.barna.org.
[xix] The Barna Group, Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings, February 12, 2002, www.barna.org.
[xx] Abernathy, Exploring Religious America, Religion&Ethics Newsweekly, April 26, 2002.
[xxi] The Barna Group, Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings, February 12, 2002, www.barna.org.
[xxii] Holy Bible, NT, Matthew 5:30.
[xxiii] Axiom, The Dhammapada, 44.
[xxiv] Grey, Return From Death, 68.
[xxv] Brinkley, Saved by the Light, 22-23.
[xxvi] Brinkley, Saved by the Light, 23-24.
[xxvii] Fenwick, Fenwick, The Truth in the Light, 114.
[xxviii] Robinson, The Gospel of Mary; The Nag Hammadi Library, 525.
[xxix] Jowett, Plato: The Republic, 274.
[xxx] Dyer, There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, 97-98.
[xxxi] Fenwick, Fenwick, The Truth in the Light, 263.
[xxxii] Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium, 168-169.
[xxxiii] Ibid. 288.
[xxxiv] Holy Bible, NT, Matthew 25:42.
[xxxv] Cohen, Jacques Derrida and the Humanities, 35.