Meditation-Induced Near-Death Experiences: a 3-Year Longitudinal Study

Mindfulness (N Y). 2018;9(6):1794-1806. doi: 10.1007/s12671-018-0922-3. Epub 2018 Mar 12.


Near-death experiences (NDEs) are life transformational events that are increasingly being subjected to empirical research. However, to date, no study has investigated the phenomenon of a meditation-induced near-death experience (MI-NDE) that is referred to in ancient Buddhist texts. Given that some advanced Buddhist meditators can induce NDEs at a pre-planned point in time, the MI-NDE may make NDEs more empirically accessible and thus advance understanding into the psychology of death-related processes. The present study recruited 12 advanced Buddhist meditators and compared the MI-NDE against two other meditation practices (i.e. that acted as control conditions) in the same participant group. Changes in the content and profundity of the MI-NDE were assessed longitudinally over a 3-year period. Findings demonstrated that compared to the control conditions, the MI-NDE prompted significantly greater pre-post increases in NDE profundity, mystical experiences and non-attachment. Furthermore, participants demonstrated significant increases in NDE profundity across the 3-year study period. Findings from an embedded qualitative analysis (using grounded theory) demonstrated that participants (i) were consciously aware of experiencing NDEs, (ii) retained volitional control over the content and duration of NDEs and (iii) elicited a rich array of non-worldly encounters and spiritual experiences. In addition to providing corroborating evidence in terms of the content of a "regular" (i.e. non-meditation-induced) NDE, novel NDE features identified in the present study indicate that there exist unexplored and/or poorly understood dimensions to NDEs. Furthermore, the study indicates that it would be feasible-including ethically feasible-for future research to recruit advanced meditators in order to assess real-time changes in neurological activity during NDEs.

Keywords: Buddhism; Death; Meditation; Meditation-induced near-death experience; Near-death experience.