London Group 07-2017 – Near Death Experiences (NDEs) in Japan

Dr. ORNELLA CORAZZA is a medical anthropologist, author of Near-Death Experiences: exploring the mind-body connection (Routledge 2008). She held fellowships at the 21st Century Centre of Excellence (COE) on Death and Life Studies at the University of Tokyo and this evening Ornella explained the different perspectives the Japanese have on what it means to be a human being, through the lens of Near Death Experiences. We were told about the ubiquitous phenomenology of an NDE from the reports of people who have experienced it. The sense of peace, being out of their bodies, entering the darkness, or tunnel, seeing the light and entering that light, in the presence of friends and family who had died, entities and sometimes people from sacred traditions. Reports of life review is often present. People who have had those experiences invariable mention the realisation of a sense of mission they have to accomplish in this lifetime. She also mentioned ketamine and its effect which are similar to NDEs which help explain the attraction young people have however, as she explained, not knowing how to integrate these experiences in their lives can have serious consequences to users. Whereas in the West the experience of an NDE involves leaving the body behind, in Japan the interpretation is very different. The unity of the mind-body connection is an aim to be cultivated during a lifetime. This is the teaching of Ornella’s master Yasuo Yuasa. The contemplation of the cherry blossoms in the Spring, which involves people looking at them for hours, is an example of the meditation on the meaning of being embodied, as well as the impermanence of life. The mind-body connectivity is externalised to include others and the environment. A human being is a being within a context and the whole context participates including the ground of being, which is called Basho. The visible Basho is the connection with the lived reality and the invisible Basho is the ground of being, or cosmic consciousness. Whereas in the West the experience on an NDE is of disconnection from the physical body, in Japan the experience is of an embodied connection with the invisible Basho, expressed in imagery for instance of rivers which typically is associated with death, the Tori gate, the symbol of the perennial connection with the transcendental, or the Shimenawa, the belt around a tree indicating that the tree is itself a divinity.