Having gone through the terror of the negative life-review, there is one element that is very important to observe about the near-death experience: the judgment happens without guilt and punishment. The motive of the judgment is to make people become aware, not to punish or place blame. In Rumi’s poem, it is the pain of looking within that saves us—the intention of the pain is to save us by making us aware.
Dannion Brinkley tells us that “I had felt the pain and anguish of reflection, but from that I had gained the knowledge that I could use to correct my life.”[i] This was also my experience, and it is also a general conclusion of the near-death research: “the sense of judgment and guilt does not exist.”[ii] Becoming aware of our negative actions happens within a source of unlimited love. Moody found that there is no accusation or threat because people “feel total love and acceptance coming from the light.” And, therefore, the review is more a kind of Socratic questioning to make the person “proceed along the path to the truth by himself.”[iii]
The positive feelings of peace and joy are the most common emotions in the near-death experience, reported by 88 percent of people who have had near-death experiences. And as I mentioned before, Fenwick also finds that even among those who suffered a negative life-review, 15 percent, the near-death experience as a whole had been positive.[iv] This is an important finding that fits perfectly with my own experience. The fundamental nature of reality, our absolute nature of mind, has this quality of peace, joy, and love.
Brinkley explains that this can be compared to the non-judgmental compassion that a grandfather has for a grandchild. This is the same as in Buddhism where the mother meets the child—we are the children and the light is our mother. When we return to our mother, we are greeted with love and compassion. Therefore, in the near-death experience, “most of the individuals interviewed did not experience any reward-punishment crisis.”[v]
To make this point clearer, I will look into what it means to sin. Father Laurence Freedman opens the door to a deep understanding of what sin is by saying, “The Greek for sin means to miss the target. Sin is what turns consciousness away form truth. Being the consequence of illusion and selfishness, sin includes its own punishment. God does not do the punishing.”[vi]
This statement fits very well with another near-death experiencer who explains that, “Nobody judges you; you judge yourself…Nobody says ‘you’ve been bad’…You know better than anyone, because it’s your thoughts and your motives…And one gets precisely and exactly what one deserves. It’s utterly fair.”[vii]
The Greek term for sin means that as an archer misses his target with his arrow, so our consciousness misses the target of the truth. The target of our consciousness is to be conscious and aware. If we miss this target, we “go wrong” or “fail to do, neglect.”[viii] Another old Greek meaning of the word “sin” is that “I should lose my sight by Ulysses’ hand.”[ix] Here, sin means to be blind of the truth, and it is due to our blindness that we sin. This blindness leads a person to “fail of one’s purpose,”[x] which again matches my experience of the negative life-review perfectly.
This makes us see a sinner as someone who is blind because the person’s consciousness is turned away from truth, and, thus, the purpose of this person’s life has failed. Now, if we look at the biblical term, “The Fall of Man,” this in Greek is translated as “failure” or “error of judgment.”[xi] Man has fallen by failing the purpose of life due to error in judgment. From this perspective leaving the Garden of Eden means that we have left our essence—the knowledge of who we are. Disconnected from our souls, we live in ignorance of our true nature, and this causes us to suffer.
We also find this conclusion in The Gnostic Gospels where Elaine Pagels explains that,
Remaining unaware of their own selves, they have no root. The Gospel of Truth describes such existence as a nightmare. Those who live in it experience terror and confusion and instability and doubt and division, being caught in many illusions. Whoever remains ignorant, a creature of oblivion, cannot experience fulfillment.[xii]
This is how, disconnected from our root (our soul), man is “being driven by impulses he does not understand.”[xiii] Man has fallen by disconnecting from the root and inner essence. In this confusion, man is letting his primal nature run him, through competing and fighting for survival. Lost in this nightmare of terror and war, he has forgotten who he truly is and where he comes from.
This was also my story. I had become lost in a material world, without knowing my essence. In this emptiness, I was hurting others with my ignorance. Waking up from this nothingness was an extremely painful experience, and following my negative life-review, I felt I had gone against love and my true nature. I had missed the whole point of life, and in doing so, my life had gone wrong.
The Buddhists call the mirror—“mirror of evolution.” Something wants to evolve through us. Something wants to grow. Moody explains that many near-death experiencers have returned with the vision of learning that the “development of the soul, especially in the spiritual faculties of love and knowledge, does not stop on earth. Rather, it continues on the other side.”[xiv]
The ultimate reality, our essence, is pulling us toward it. The light shines with unlimited love, calling our name. The light wants us to learn and grow into the nature of love. This is what all the religions tell us, and this is also the message from the near-death experience. If we choose to live with love and compassion, we flow with the true nature of existence. If we choose to go against the flow, we will have to face the consequences some day.
In a different connection, Wayne W. Dyer uses these words of Mother Theresa, “You see, in the final analysis, it is all between you and God.”[xv] For me, this line captures what it is all about. We cannot escape the transition of death, so in this final analysis of our lives, the only thing that matters is whether we have lived our lives according to the true nature of existence. Therefore, the purpose of life is stated clearly as living in harmony with our essence.
It is only when we reject this truth that we go against the flow of the universe. The Quran states that, “Those who reject truth will be in Hell-fire.”[xvi] Rejecting truth is a choice, and therefore God does not do the punishing. Even though God gave us free will, he is not responsible for our choices. By rejecting truth, we turn our consciousness away from reality, and through this error in judgment we fail the purpose of life. Thus, the separation from our true nature, our essence, is painful. It is our choice of separation that creates the pain, when we awaken to the truth.
Now we can see sin as false consciousness—’evil’ is ignorance. And the punishment for sin is the pain of becoming conscious of our delusion. This is the awakening of our consciousness, from the false view to the right view. In chapter six, I explained how this awakening is an essential part of meditation. By looking within, we experience the true nature of our mind, and on this foundation we awaken from the false concepts. In the same way, dying is an awakening after life where we awaken to the true nature of reality. When we die, we become reunited with our true nature, the mother of all things, and in this reunion the unenlightened mind is purified.[xvii]
This is also what we found earlier in science. The fundamental reality is consciousness. When we die, the constructs of our mind fall away, and the true nature of our mind appears. The energy of consciousness is constant; therefore, when the relative concepts of our minds fall away, our essence of pure consciousness is all that remains. “The mind energy is literally recycled in the environment.”[xviii]
This is similar to the phase transition of water from ice to steam when a substance is transformed from one state to another. The transition of the mind energy happens by crossing the boundary of this dimension and entering another. Only the pure mind energy can return to its source, and therefore we experience the pain of the conceptual (polluted) mind as it dissolves and is left behind.
However, as Rumi points out, the delusion is a divine curse. From our source, we enter this world, and we are born into the Original Sin. This delusion was here before we came into the world. This is why Danish philosopher Kierkegaard pointed out that Adam was innocent. Just because Adam was able to speak, it does not follow that he was also able to understand the full meaning of the words spoken by God. Due to Adam’s fear of the unknown, he was like a child who had to learn from his own experience. That the fruit was forbidden made the fear in him push his free will to overcome the unknown, and thereby escape his fear.[xix]
Therefore, ignorance is innocence and if the Church had chosen the Gnostic interpretation of the words of Jesus, there would have been no ‘evil’ in our world today. The Gnostics told us that “ignorance, not sin, is what involves a person in suffering.” It is because man lacks self-knowledge, the knowledge of his true nature, that he is being driven by impulses that he is unable to understand. It is not because he fully understands the words of God—is enlightened as God—and still intentionally chooses to do ‘evil.’
[i] Brinkley, Saved by the Light, 25.
[ii] Varela, Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying, 185.
[iii] Moody, Life After Life, 61-62.
[iv] Fenwick, The Truth in the Light, 69, 191.
[v] Moody, Reflections on Life after Life, 36.
[vi] Revel, Ricard, The Monk and the Philosopher, 238.
[vii] What Is Enlightenment? Magazine, Vol. 32, March-May, 2006, 79.
[viii] Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 77.
[x] Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 77.
[xii] Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, 125.
[xiii] Ibid. 124.
[xiv] Moody, Life After Life, 98.
[xv] Dyer, There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, 97-98.
[xvi] Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran, Surah 98:6.
[xvii] Thurman, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, 130.
[xviii] Hunt, Infinite Mind, 88.
[xix] Kierkegaard, The Concept of Angst, § 3 – 5.