Satori is a Japanese Buddhist term for Enlightenment, meaning "understanding". In the Zen Buddhist tradition, Satori refers to the experience of "seeing into one's true nature" (Wikipedia). In this article, we look into the common grounds between Near Death Experience (NDE) and Satori. The common grounds tell us something about natural spirituality. Their messages take us into the wider consciousness.
I was first exposed to the interesting matter of Satori in 1965 through people's interviews with J. Krishnamurti depicted in the book "Commentaries on Living – Second Series" edited by D. Rajagopal. It was further reinforced by Kurt Friedrichs' article in "What Vedanta Means to Me" edited by John Yale. People drawn to esoteric issues will find those two references quite absorbing. Later in 1980, I came across the first NDE book, namely, "Life After Life" by Raymond Moody. One was pleasantly surprised to see close correspondence between NDE and Satori. Further, my glancing the Upanishads brought clarity in that direction. Over the last 30 years or so, research in those areas has contributed a great deal towards a meaningful life for me. I have compiled my thoughts on them in the form of a book. This article is an attempt to share those feelings with the readers in a brief way.
Consciousness, the basis for our being aware of the world and the Universe, has many levels. These levels are characterized by different intensities of awareness. At a certain level, such as that in the animal, the intensity is not as much as in man. The higher level of awareness in man has helped him understand nature's ways, harness nature's energies to his advantage and protect himself against many destructive forces. However, as of now, the human awareness has not evolved on this planet to the point of transcending the ego. That is how even in the field of religion, ego plays a dominant role currently. From small family quarrels to war between nations, the basis for such unhappy situations is the ego – the entity characterized by limited awareness. An exception to this scenario is the state of Enlightenment in which awareness attains its fullness and the evolution of consciousness reaches its culmination. That state has been named variously as Satori, Liberation, Nirvana and so on. The Sanskrit word for it is Adwaita, meaning non-dualism. There have been some human beings here and there throughout history, such as Krishna, Buddha, Jesus Christ and LaoTzu, in whom that state expressed itself. However, the atmosphere is not yet strong enough for the general order of things to be governed by deepening awareness and its holistic content. As of now, only ideas of personal salvation and self-aggrandizement govern the psychology of most people.
As awareness expands in a person, it makes him or her function from a background of unconditional love. Simultaneously, the egoistic approach to things becomes weaker and weaker. Deepening awareness takes one's psychophysical system into the vaster consciousness and helps one get out of the individualization. Mind expands limitlessly, dissolving the ego. This is the beginning of Satori. The following paragraph taken from the book "What Vedanta Means To Me" edited by John Yale represents a Satori. It was experienced by Kurt Friedrichs, one of the contributors to the book.
"One afternoon at low tide on the west coast of the island of Heligoland, as I was climbing over the seaweed-covered rocks in order to have a rest beneath an overhanging cliff, washed out by the surf of many centuries, a spiritual ecstasy suddenly took possession of me. The waves breaking at my feet and the endless surface of water stretching away to the vanishing point all of a sudden threw me into another sphere of consciousness. I myself was surf, sea and infinity. Time, space, body-consciousness – everything was blotted out, drawn up into an absolute consciousness of light and bliss. I have no idea of how long this condition lasted, but I felt the elation long afterwards."
During the NDE, people experience a state similar to Satori - the state of oneness of all, including the oneness with the Divine. The short exposure to Satori during the NDE makes them understand so much about the ‘otherness' that their perspective gets a paradigm shift. That is how NDEs have such profound messages for us towards inward evolution. They can bring in strange orderliness in one's life and make one lead a meaningful and peaceful life. All those interested in the deeper perspectives of life would do well to pay attention to Satori and NDE in order that their confidence in life has a firm foundation. In contrast, the confidence built on belief systems will become shaky when opposed by counter-beliefs.
There was an article entitled "I Died at 10.52 AM" in the October 1974 issue of Reader's Digest, authored by Victor Solow. The following lines from it reflect the same insight as the Satori paragraph given above.
". . . . A recurrent nostalgia [brought about by the NDE] remains for that other reality, that condition of indescribable stillness and quiet where the ‘I' is part of a harmonious whole. The memory softens the usual drive for possession, approval and success."
Further, the postscript of the article by Victor Solow, given below, rhymes with the laid-back attitude of Satori. A swelling inner joy remains with us after reading that paragraph.
"I have just returned from a pleasant, slow, mile-and-a-half jog. I am sitting in our garden writing. Overhead, a huge dogwood sways gently in a mild southerly breeze. Two small children, holding hands, walk down the street absorbed in their own world. I am glad I am here and now. But I know that this marvelous place of sun and wind, flowers, children and lovers, this murderous place of evil, ugliness and pain, is only one of many realities through which I must travel to distant and unknown destinations. For the time being, I belong to the world and it belongs to me."
A need of the modern day living is to veer away from the call of the excitement-oriented life and to take the inner dive where lies the perennial joy of communicating with the Eternal. Then, because of the inner peace, fulfilling our mundane responsibilities will be carried out, only with an added gusto. Excitement too can then take its rightful place without its tendency to vitiate the deeper awareness.
Interested people may visit the site http://spirituality.yolasite.com for further probing into the paranormal phenomena.
The Author: T.C. Gopalakrishnan was born in Madras (now Chennai), India, in 1941. He received his doctoral degree in Coastal Engineering from the North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA in 1978. He served on the research and teaching faculty of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India, the North Carolina State University and the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, Kuwait. Aside from his professional involvements, he was interested in the philosophic issues of life for the last forty years or so. This led him to the messages of Ramana Maharishi, Lao Tzu, J Krishnamurthy, UG Krishnamurthy, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Eckhart Tolle, Marcus Aurelius and similar Masters. His book entitled “In Quest of the Deeper Self” is the outcome of his reflections on those and his wish to share the outcome with others.
Gopalakrishnan is a member of the International Association for Near Death Studies, Durham, NC, USA. He presented a paper at the 2011 conference of the Association on the theme "The Spiritual Content of Near Death Experiences". Functions as a freelance counselor for mental relaxation. Lives in Kodaikanal, a hill town in south India, with his family. Now he and his wife are both retired and currently involved in developing a fruit farm at a village 20 km from their residence.