Religions are truly obsessed with the concept of “light.” It’s found on the candles of religious ceremonies and holidays, used to describe ourselves — “this little light of mine”, likened to “good” while dark is to “evil”, assigned to different religious figures — the light of Christ, the light of Muhammad, the light of God, the lights of different Buddhas… the list goes on and on.
Interestingly enough, the idea of seeing a bright light as death is approaching happens to be a well-known concept in modern life. Three percent of people report having had a near-death experience, and seeing a bright light is a hallmark of these NDEs, according to researchers. Some of us have even heard our own dearly departed speak of this light before they passed on.
I would argue that there’s a connection between these two facts, because the presence of light at death is a cross-cultural belief.
This deathly light is a well-known fact for Buddhists, for example. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which describes the stages different spirits take between death to rebirth, this “bright light” is actually the hallmark of the first bardo, which is called the chikhai bardo.
This is referred to as the clear light of reality itself, and is believed to represent the totality of consciousness “wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked, spotless intellect is like unto a transparent vacuum without circumference or centre.”
In Buddhist traditions, the nature of the mind itself is “luminous”, and this light has also been experienced on earth by advanced Buddhist meditators, and at all times by fully enlightened Buddhas. But something as integral as “reality” itself cannot be monopolized by one tradition.
In Christianity, Jesus says that he is “the way, the truth, and the light.” As the Logos, he is believed to be simultaneously the light of the whole world, and the life of it, as Christ is in whom “we live and move and have our being.”
Many Christian near-death survivors report believing the light they saw to be the light of none other than Christ, as Christianity states we’ll meet him upon death.
The respected Catholic friar Richard Rohr believes that Jesus is not making a claim to Christianity being the only way to heaven when he makes these statements, but that he is announcing his identity as none other than this “light of Christ” Himself.
In Christian mysticism, it is believed that some Christians have ascended to “the unapproachable light that is God” through meditative contemplation. In fact, in Greek Orthodox Christianity, it is possible to “merge with the uncreated light of God” through the process of “theosis”, and following an Orthodox way of life.
Judaism also recognizes a light at death, called the “Shechinah”. It is thought to be the feminine conception of the divine, with its loving and nurturing glow. Jewish mystics teach that “no person dies before he sees the Shechinah.” According to the Zohar, Judaism’s chief mystical text, “When a man is on the point of leaving this world… the Shechinah shows himself to him, and then the soul goes out in joy and love to meet the Shechinah.”
The Hasidic Jewish rabbi Tzvi Freeman has discussed the intimate relationship between this Shechinah and our own being: “The soul that breathes within us is a fractal of the Shechinah, and the journey of that soul mirrors the drama of the Shechinah, as one cell of a hologram contains the whole.” In Kabbalastic (Mystical Judaism) meditation, it is said that one becomes the “abode of the Shechina.”
In Islam, it is believed that the righteous are greeted by angels at the point of death, who in the faith are beings of pure light. “Indeed, those who have said, “Our Lord is Allah” and then remained on a right course — the angels will descend upon them, [saying], “Do not fear and do not grieve but receive good tidings of Paradise, which you were promised.” [Surat Fussilat: 41: 30].
In mystical Islam, known as Sufism, this light is from nūr, or the first creation of Allah. (Nur literally means light in Arabic). All other beings were created out of the oneness of this nur; the entire world is an emanation of what is known as An-Nūr al-Muḥammadī, or “the light of Muhammad”.
This includes our own souls. The Mulim philsopher Ibn al-Arabi wrote, “The creation began with nūr Muhammad. The lord brought the nūr from his own heart.” In Sufi meditative practice, the three stages of ascention are murging with one’s spirtitual master, murging with this light of Muhammad, then merging with the totality of Allah.
Finally, in Hindu beliefs, we each have a soul, known as a “light”, inside of us. This is referred to as the atman. In Advaita Vedanta tradition, this atman is one and the same as Brahman, which is Ultimate Reality known as “truth, consciousness, bliss.” Meditation is about realizing this relationship between one’s atman and the universal Brahman. At death, we experience one of two possibilities: binding with this ultimate light source, through the process of Moksha, meaning release, or we are reincarnated, to have the opportunity to do so in a later life.
To get an accurate view of what death is really like, it is hard to argue with something found throughout all major religions. That’s why this light is critical knowledge for our tech startup, BardoVR. Our goal is to create a virtual reality experience called AfterDeath, a simulation of what it’s like to depart from this world.
We are working with Buddhist scholars, thought leaders, and others to bring the Tibetan Book of the Dead to life, and it was astonishing to see this “light of reality” validated across time and space. It obviously needs to be incorporated for an authentic experience.
You can follow us at www.bardovr.com if the afterlife intrigues you as much as it intrigues us.
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