Dancing Past the Dark http://www.dancingpastthedark.com distressing near-death experiences Wed, 03 Aug 2016 22:26:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 35858386 Patience rewarded–The Buddha in Hell is on Amazon! http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/patience-rewarded-the-buddha-in-hell-is-on-amazon/ http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/patience-rewarded-the-buddha-in-hell-is-on-amazon/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 22:26:08 +0000 http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/?p=1519 buddhainhell-cvr-1-final2

You thought I was kidding! Well, the hot news is that the Kindle version of The Buddha in Hell and Other Alarms has just gone up on Amazon in the U.S.

Whereas I think of Dancing Past the Dark as a comprehensive overview of distressing NDEs, this second book is more evaluative. Its tone is more conversational and personal, as befits a creation built from rewritten blog posts of the past four years, unpublished writings, conference presentations, and articles from guest authors.  If Dancing is a roast, The Buddha is a casserole. You can check it out at Amazon, even read a sample.

Within the next two to four weeks–as soon as the distributor gets word out to to major international retail outlets–the non-Kindle ebooks will be available pretty much wherever digital books are sold, followed by the paperback version, due out also within the next month. List price of the ebook is $9.99 USD and paperback $16.95, but if you wait for discounting to take place the price will go down.

Once you’ve read it, please do leave a review! With no budget for marketing, the book will get by with a little word-of-mouth help from its friends. As always, you can also feel free (please!) to come here to ask question or make comments.

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The Buddha in Hell Redux: Intro http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/the-buddha-in-hell-redux-intro/ http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/the-buddha-in-hell-redux-intro/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 12:55:48 +0000 http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/?p=1515 As promised, here is a chunk of the first chapter of the new book, The Buddha in Hell and Other Alarms: Distressing Near-Death Experiences in Perspective. Target date for the ebook version is May 31, 2016.

Chapter 1: The Buddha in Hell Redux

A flurry of agitation accompanied the Internet news that a former Buddhist monk in Myanmar (Burma) was claiming that in a near-death experience he had seen the Buddha in hell. He said the deity Yama, king of the Buddhist hells, had shown him a terrible lake of fire which held not only the Buddha but famous spiritual and political figures who were much loved throughout the country. Goliath was in the lake, too, the giant from the Bible. They were there, he said Yama told him, because they did not believe in the Christian God. They did not accept Jesus. 

The experience was so stunning, the monk was converted instantly. Although he claimed to have had no prior exposure to Christianity, he began preaching, going from church to church and selling audiotapes about his experience. Reactions varied, of course, from acceptance by those Christians who believed his account to be literally true, rejection by Christians who flatly did not believe it, to resentment and disbelief from his former Buddhist community.

But the Buddha in hell! What are we to make of this? Was he really in hell? Does this mean that Christianity is more true than Buddhism? And if the monk saw a lake of fire, doesn’t that prove that hell is a real place? Well, no…sigh…it doesn’t actually prove any of that. But it does prove how powerful a strong NDE can be.

I looked up the account on Google, and sure enough, there it was, and still is. The story was Big News, though the account was several years old. Actually, there are different versions (which is a clue that wariness will be appropriate). Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating story. Click here to read it or copy this into your search line: http://amightywind.com/whatsnew/071112buddhist.htm

Over a few days I heard from several people breathless with excitement about the story, so I posted something about it on the dancingpastthedark blog (Bush, 2012). What interests me as much as the story itself is that in the four years since then, that post has had hundreds of hits. It is consistently the blog’s most-requested post. Why?

The post I wrote was hastily done, a knee-jerk response to an NDEaccount I saw as far likelier to be a case of missionary manipulation than theological revelation. It was not only skeptical but superficial, and has needed revisiting. So here we are…the Buddha in Hell Redux.

The monk’s story

If you have read the account (which I recommend), you know that a man who gives his name as Athet Pyan Shinthaw Paulu presents what sounds like a believable autobiographical background of his life in Myanmar, how he was raised and came to be living as a monk. It sounds credible, even down to details like the sea crocodile that destroyed his boat. (I looked it up—and yes, there are such crocodiles in that area, and that is the kind of behavior one would expect of them.)

The account tells how he came to enter training to be a monk and describes his respect for his teacher. He became a monk and was renamed U Nata Pannita Ashinthuriya. Then he says he lived for quite a few years devoted to his spiritual practice and to the principles of Buddhism.

So far, so good. It’s clear and it seems (at least to a Western reader) to be credible. The monk reports that he was so scrupulous he refused even to harm a mosquito that might infect him with malaria, which one did, and it turned out to be the disease that nearly killed him. Actually, his account claims that he had both malaria and yellow fever.

The monk continues, “I learned later that I actually died for three days. My body decayed and stunk of death, and my heart stopped beating.”

And then comes his NDE, in which the terrifying deity Yama, king of the Buddhist hells, escorts the monk through a very Christian description of hell, giving Christian reasons why it is occupied by so many Buddhist luminaries who led exemplary lives. I am not going to fall into the pit I did with my first commentary, which was (how could I?) to quibble about the content of his NDE. Read it, or listen to it on YouTube.

The monk awakened, he says, on his funeral pyre, in the presence of his parents and many witnesses. When he climbed out of his coffin the crowd scattered in terror, but he began immediately to tell of his experience, the debut of his quite literal revivalist ministry.

I told them about the men I had seen in the lake of fire, and…that our forefathers and us [sic] have been deceived for thousands of years! I told them everything we believe is a lie.

Such has been the power of his testimony, he says, that his story shocked the whole region, and more than three hundred monks became Christians and started to read the Bible. (He has also said it was seven thousand monks who converted.) Tthe former monk, now called Paul, appears to have supported himself for some time by distributing tapes of his experience and speaking to churches and house groups.


It is all too easy, with such a multi-layered experience account, to dismiss it out of hand as outlandish, which is what I did in my first response to the story. A more careful reading brings up deeper and more important issues.

Skepticism about factual errors and autobiographical truthfulness compound doubts about controversial NDE content. Some statements appear to have been added by someone who does not know Burma, as with the claim that the monk had both malaria and yellow fever. In fact, it is a disease of some parts of South America and Africa. The Centers for Disease Control states explicitly, “There is no yellow fever in Burma.” What else, then, may be untrue?

Is it true that his body was actually decaying when he revived, or is this for dramatic effect?

Quite a long list of issues are plain to Burmese eyes but invisible to most Westerners, such as the observation that a novice monk’s new name would begin with ‘shin,’ never with the ‘U’ he claims. Or that he became a monk at 19, when the entry age for becoming a fully ordained monk is 20. Or that the monk’s “claim to have seen Aung San, the revolutionary leader of Myanmar (father of opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi) in hell ‘because he persecuted and killed Christians, but mostly because he didn’t believe in Jesus Christ’ was completely without foundation. He is a well-known figure in Burmese/Myanmar thinking and history – and there is no evidence at all that he persecuted any Christians, let alone killed any.”

Most troubling to that commenter is the monk’s statement that his teacher died in a car crash in 1983. In fact, his teacher died in 1977, making it doubtful that the monk could have studied under him. (“The Hoax Story of Remarkable Testimony of a Buddhist Monk in Myanmar Burma Who Came Back to Life.”)

A Buddhist reader noted, “With due respect, this is not even a proper Christian message. It is just scare tactics.” http://www.dorjeshugden.com/forum/index.php?topic=2211.0)

Several commenters have noted that, had the story been true, that 300 Buddhist monks had converted to Christianity—and especially if there were as many as 7,000—the news would have spread rapidly beyond any effort of the government-controlled media to suppress it.

We are left wondering, who is this monk, this Athet Pyan Shinthaw Paulu behind so much story-telling and factual distortion? One source says that “A number of people in Myanmar who personally know him, or have met him, believe he is in need of medical help and counselling.”


The thicket of gossip, rumors, and scandal has led to claims that “It is now a serious crime to listen to the tapes, because the government wants to dampen the sensation.”

The rumors and scandal are all yours on Google.


What is not on that Google site is any discussion about the nature of such experiences and how to interpret them. With so much evidence on the down-side of this story, it becomes even more important to look beyond religious tract language and the farcical image of Yama as guide to a Christian hell, beyond the gossip and rumors of mental illness, to find what is really going on. Looking more deeply brought up the underlying story as a classic instance of a life-shattering near-death experience which throws everybody off by its spectacular implausibility.

What I already knew at some level but was ignoring was that the kinds of details which seem most ludicrous to us as onlookers are likely to be the most important and disruptive for the experiencer. I had not looked through the monk’s lens.

Try this for cognitive dissonance: Think about your own deepest faith, whether it’s a religion or an ideology (atheism, materialism, Marxism, etc.)—however you explain how the world really works. Next, imagine yourself in this monk’s position. You find yourself in the worst nightmare you’ve ever had, bigger, crazier, darker, one that is realer than your everyday waking reality; it is so real, it is beyond arguing.

Toward you comes a visible, larger-than-life entity of immense authority. This is his territory, and he towers over you with utterly unquestionable power. He pulls you with him toward a horrid scene: a lake full of fire, and out there, burning, people you recognize, whether living or dead, people you trust, people you follow. They are the ones who have helped you define your world. Why are they out there in this fire? Because, this supernatural being who really knows tells you, they believed the wrong things! They told you the wrong things! And this means that you believe the wrong things, too! It could be you, burning in that lake of fire! And his power and his knowing are so great, you suddenly understand: It’s true: You know nothing true. Everything you believe is a lie! As you stand there, every certainty you have about the world falls away. Your lifetime of faith is pulled apart.

~ ~ ~

And then . . . read the book!

The ebook version of The Buddha in Hell and Other Alarms will be available by late May. Watch this spot for a notice.

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New Book Almost Here! http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/new-book-almost-here/ http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/new-book-almost-here/#comments Fri, 01 Apr 2016 20:26:25 +0000 http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/?p=1508 You haven’t seen much from me in the way of blog posts recently because I’ve been obsessing over the next book. Now it’s near enough to done that I can come up for air and say something about it.

 The Buddha in Hell and Other Alarms:
Distressing Near-Death Experiences in Perspective.

This book is less about specific research data and more about interpretation of NDEs, especially where questions of hell are concerned. I’ve pulled together everything I’ve ever written which circles around the question, “How can we understand these things?”–blog posts, conference presentations, other articles, and drafts, all now greatly expanded to be workable as a book. The result is more conversational than Dancing Past the Dark, as much of it was written in response to questions or comments on the blog. For richness, you will find the amazing essay by Sheila Joshi and Barbara Croner, “The Descent Experience,” which you may remember from a couple of years ago.

Look for the ebook to be available before June. There will be a paperback also; stay tuned for more information.

I will very shortly be posting part of  the opening chapter “The Buddha in Hell Redux,” which has been substantially rewritten since it appeared on the blog back in 2012. It’s a taster!

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Distressing NDEs as Scary Rites of Passage #4 http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/distressing-ndes-as-scary-rites-of-passage-4/ http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/distressing-ndes-as-scary-rites-of-passage-4/#comments Fri, 04 Dec 2015 19:16:23 +0000 http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/?p=1505 Can we accept dNDEs as true spiritual experience?

Is there evidence that only light experiences can be spiritual? That only positive experience is spiritually acceptable? No. The altered states of a shamanic initiation may often be psychotic, but there is little argument about their potential for being deeply spiritual. The betrayed and battered Jesus, dying forsaken on his cross, was clearly in profound spiritual crisis. The archetype of suffering/death/ and resurrection is universal as a spiritual reality.

Here is what four contemporary mystics of differing faith backgrounds say about suffering and its relation to spiritual truth:

Caroline Myss

What is true is, light attracts darkness, and darkness attracts light. It attracts it because they contain each other. They contain each other; you have to understand this.

This is why good people often attract such difficult experiences. This is why people like Gandhi or Mandela attracted dark experiences, but in fact it was contained so light could burst through. It was light and darkness at its fullest being held by these men. This is how a huge light/darkness soul works. If you see clearly, they have to contain both. They have to… how it manifests comes in the shape of the human society as it is.

…The darkness has to humble the light. The light has to temper the darkness. Darkness bats the light into submission, so it does not become arrogant. They require each other, as a force. The light pulls the cruelty out of the darkness. The darkness pulls the arrogance and abuse out of the light. They talk to each other. They need each other; together they evolve, they evolve, they evolve.

Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p 14

Reaching our limit is not some kind of punishment. It’s actually a sign of health that, when we meet the place where we are about to die, we feel fear and trembling. A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us…messengers telling us that we’re about to go into unknown territory.

Connie Zweig

I had believed, with a kind of spiritual hubris, that a deep and committed inner life would protect me from human suffering, that I could somehow deflate the power of the shadow with my metaphysical practices and beliefs. I had assumed, in effect, that it was managed, as I managed my moods and my diet, with the discipline of self-control… Seekers are often led to believe that, with the right teacher or the right practice, they can transcend to higher levels of awareness without dealing with their more petty vices or ugly emotional attachments. It doesn’t work.

Walter Brueggemann

It is my judgment that this [insistence on positive attitudes] is less defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life. The reason for such relentless affirmation of orientation seems to me, not from faith, but from the wishful optimism of our culture.

How much did their views make us want to argue back?

Wherever we resist most strongly, that’s where we need to look at our thinking.


Jung and depth psychology have given us the concept of Shadow, the concept that all our unacceptable parts are deeply buried so we can avoid looking at them. It is our immature ego which operates solely on the pleasure principle, keeping us mired in what we think is self-interest but which is really our fragmentation. But our deeper Self knows that we must directly confront and reintegrate the repressed contents of our unconscious before we can achieve wholeness.

Of all groups, we had better be paying attention to this, because distressing NDEs are the Shadow of near-death studies.

When we insist on banishing our existential fears and painful ideas, thinking that will keep us safe, they become, ironically, our monsters. The shortsighted attempt at self-preservation turns on us as psychopathologies or other growth-inhibiting mechanisms. We wind up believing that a natural ordeal is really a mythological Fall, totally misunderstanding the function of  psychological ordeals and distressing NDEs.

Dealing with nightmares, Shadow, dNDE

Distressing NDEs are not dreams, but they come from the same imaginal core of our deep unconscious. Jung taught that nightmares may arise as a symptom of failed integration, an unhealthy split of the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind. This is why his approach to nightmares was to encourage the dreamer to accept the frightening elements as parts of themselves. Jung said to his students, “A persecutory dream always means: This wants to come to me… You would like to split it off, you experience it as something alien – but it just becomes all the more dangerous.”

Instead of fighting against unconscious energies, Jung advocated accepting them. He did not mean acting them out or surrendering to their control, but rather acknowledging their reality within us and respecting their role in the healthy functioning of our minds. The same can be true of NDEs.

Hell lives inside us, burning as the fires and torments of our shadow and the deepest archetypal contents of our psyche.. That is what we meet in a distressing NDE.  We have to be brave enough to confront our shadow, our demons, our darkness, and move through it. It is not punishment; it is an invitation to growth, to wholeness.


Any NDE is a rite of passage – it is a temporary state. It has a before and an after. It is not a blanket measure of character. Beautiful NDEs happen to flawed and sometimes mean and horrible people, and painful NDEs happen to wonderful people. We have to stop accepting and perpetrating automatically negative judgments about people who have a difficult NDE—sometimes it’s just that emotional/spiritual bad hair day.

The event does not allow us to go back, we have to go forward. So we have to learn enough bravery to walk into the questions we fear the most. As individuals and as IANDS, we are being called to look deeply at our resistance to the disturbing NDEs.

Rather than looking from the filter of our terror, we must learn to see ordeal as a challenge, as a gateway to other realms, as a source of potential pride of survival and deep achievement .

What does such an NDE mean? There is no global answer in specific. The question is, what is the message of the experience to the person who has it? Always a personal question. The gift at the innermost core of the hero’s journey is not always the same old apple. It is not enough to go on YouTube and cry only, “Oh oh, it was so scary!” What is its gift? What is it telling you about yourself? Ask: What do you want? Why are you coming to me? What is your message? What is your question of me?

Like those people of the late Renaissance, hearing that their earth had come unmoored and with it the institution which had been their rock for a thousand years—we have to be brave enough to admit that our comfort zone has to stretch way wider than we are ready for.

What do we get with this approach? We get to let go of the infantile belief that every difficult experience means we are being punished; we let go of hell. We get to learn courage and look at whatever is our challenge, our monster, our dread. We drop knee-jerk judgments about people who have scary rites of passage and discover new depths of empathy and compassion. We take on more of truth and of strength, which can then be passed around. We discover more about the paradigm of the new cosmology which says there are no separations—that every kind of experience is our own.. And as we let go of the old patterns, we move farther toward our own wholeness.

It is simply time to be brave. If this goes out of here with us today…we can work wonders.

[Ed. note: My sincere apologies to you all, and great thanks to Marion Dixon, who wrote to say, in the most pleasant possible way–‘Please wake up and post Part #4.’  We do get by with a little help from our friends! Thank you, Marion. And for what it’s worth, the reason for my distraction was completing the final draft of book #2, expected to be out by early spring.] 

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Distressing NDEs as Scary Rites of Passage, #3 http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/distressing-ndes-as-scary-rites-of-passage-3/ http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/distressing-ndes-as-scary-rites-of-passage-3/#comments Tue, 27 Oct 2015 01:17:23 +0000 http://www.dancingpastthedark.com/?p=1502 This is part #3 of what I presented at the 2015 IANDS conference, somewhat amplified by things I wish there had been time to say in San Antonio. If you missed the previous segments, you might want to scroll down to read the two posts below this.

We need a new post-Copernican viewpoint

Copernicus – Loss of stability. Are we safe?

It was six hundred years ago that Copernicus put forward his earth-demoting observation of the heliocentric solar system. It was not simply a great scientific discovery – it changed everything. We overlook the enormity of that shock to the people of the West –the destruction of their ancient and stable sense of How Things Work, their cosmos, their very earth, their central identity, their orderly universe governing orderly social conventions. Our thoughts and language show how we are still clutching at remnants of those more secure times, still struggling theologically, philosophically, and psychologically to adapt to this “new” reality.

It took until the 20th century for the Roman Catholic Church to acknowledge that Copernicus was onto something, and to apologize to Galileo (350 years after the fact of his house arrest!) But it is not only the Church which lagged. There have been more discoveries since Copernicus, and more epochal changes reshaping reality. It is now our turn to notice how we are resisting changes in the way we think. It is time to let go of our own leftover medieval thinking, time to learn a new bravery with which to face unfamiliarity in our universe.

Quantum mechanics – the loss of substance and certainty  

Until six hundred years ago, Europeans thought they were cosmically stable. In the same way, we have thought we were physically solid. We still think that, although quantum physics has told us for a century that nothing is materially substantial. From the perspective of our atoms, neither trees and cows, nor we, are as we think, but are buzzy electromagnetic activities, a spatter of particles in fields made up almost entirely of empty space. Quantum mechanics says that we’re built on indeterminacy, that nothing holds still, and that what is invisible may be more important than what we can see and count and measure. Science itself can fall down rabbit holes. We have lost both our substantiality and our certainty.

Rise of fundamentalisms

Sometimes it all feels like just too much. As one NDEr recalls crying out during a vivid out-of-body experience: “Put me back! Put me back!” It is much the same feeling as that of fundamentalists of varying religions around the globe, who want the safety of the Copernican universe and a clearly stratified feudal society, everything with a place and in its place. But no, we do not have that.

In his blog Entangled States of October 26 (a reference obviously being added to this post well after the conference presentation), Episcopal Bishop Nick Knisely quotes Savannah Cox, writing in Salon about the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky:

A closer look at the Petersburg attraction reveals that the questions raised in the museum are deeply existential, and ones which are steeped in — and troubled by — an atheistic logic: If it is indeed true that Adam and Eve did not literally exist, as science says, then there is no original sin. If there is no original sin, then Jesus did not have to die for it. If Jesus did die, but not for our sins, then why is he our savior? If he is not our savior, then what is he? What are we?

Viewed this way, the Creation Museum becomes less of a clearly demarcated home for the irrational, but rather a metaphysical space for individuals deeply troubled by emerging forms of authoritative rationality. … It is a space where the likeminded can physically enter a mindset that they know, and that they worry — if science has anything to say about it — might one day become unknown. … Indeed, the Creation Museum offers itself as a vital, life-affirming buffer against the spiritually weathering effects, and warnings, of coming worlds.[i]

Depth Psychology – old questions in new vocabulary – Who are we?

As a culture, we were still struggling with all of those issues when along came more information about invisibles: Freud’s id, ego, and superego followed on the heels of quantum interconnectedness. And then Carl Jung’s understanding of the unconscious mind led to his describing a collective unconscious, like an archive of all the experiences of all our ancestors, sorted by pattern. Bursting new information on mind and the human brain has continued jostling with reports of individuation and interdependence, announcing radical changes in how we conceive of ourselves relative to the universe. We are slowly shifting focus about our existence: that it’s not about external forces working on us but about our need to go inside, where we find…who am I? It is not only fundamentalists who long for the familiar security of old ideas with which to cuddle up in the dark. Moving on challenges everyone.

The integration of myths

As Richard Tarnas has noted (see Part #2), we in the developed Western nations, who have for a very long time been governed by the two great myths of Progress and Fall, are now being forced by new existential demands to find new patterns able to synthesize the truths of both myths. We all have our fundamentalist weak spots; so, for example, it is no great surprise that our judgmental views of dNDEs are coming out of pre-Copernican thinking about guilt and punishment.

In researching for this presentation, a Google search for NDE plus horror popped up with a prospectus about an NDE game, of all things. But not only a game, this was—in very large letters—a “3D zombie apocalypse simulator with HUGE POTENTIAL, set in a huge open world. To survive, you have to loot houses, department stores, etc. for food, drink and places to sleep. This game will feature an advanced combat system and a fort building system like no other and it has very good potential if pulled off right.”

Sound like any NDE thinking we know? Here’s why I say it’s pre-Copernican: because the developers and their audience are still thinking death = horror = punishment = NDE. It’s one end of a spectrum of dystopian hopelessness, and it’s horrible.

But then comes their punchline. “NDE”: not dead enough. Zombies.

We are on our own.

Further, we are on our own in a culture of highly developed dualism, of binary thinking, of separations and divisions, where Progress continually wars its often glibly positive battles with medieval thinking about judgment and punishment and hell and Fall, a world of zombies and demons-as-creatures, and the imposition of horrors from an external source.

When are we going to put some credence into the cosmology we know to be truer—the cosmology big enough to include all aspects of consciousness and the human psyche, not only the pretty parts? When will we freely acknowledge a riotous and often ugly collective unconscious in which we seem to be embedded and from which we draw our deepest images? We can begin by facing squarely the evidence that just as beautiful NDEs occur in scoundrels and the spiritually anesthetized as well as in people of exceptional character and a worthy spiritual life,  so, too, distressing NDEs occur in people of a whole range of character development and spirituality, and do not indicate only those who are by nature wrong—angry, fearful, depressed, guilt-ridden, mean, cold, hostile, unloving, unspiritual, God-denying, sinful, and more–who have been told that the experience transforming their understanding of their lives did not qualify as spiritual and wasn’t really an NDE. It is past time to recognize that in spiritual terms a distressing near-death experience makes more sense as a challenge rather than punishment or finger-wagging judgment, and that it is very likely the equivalent of having the worst possible sort of emotional bad hair day.

[Stay tuned for the final thrilling episode…coming next weekend.]


[i] Savannah Cox, My Creation Museum quest: A skeptic’s genuine search for faith, science and humanity in a most unlikely place – Salon.com, reposted by (Episcopal Bishop) Nick Knisely in his blog Entangled States,                  http://entangledstates.org/2015/10/26/the-creation-museum-more-about-the-founders-fears-than-their-faith/


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