Raymond Moody is a scholar and a joyful soul. He first attained
widespread recognition with the publication in the mid-1970's of Life
After Life, his best-selling work on the near-death experience (NDE).
He has pursued this subject in his subsequent works Reflections on Life
After Life and The Light Beyond.
A native of Georgia, Dr. Moody is a professor of psychology at West Georgia
College. His academic credentials are particularly impressive, indicative
of a lifelong love of learning. He has earned not one but two Ph.D.'s at
the University of Virginia, one in philosophy and the other in psychology.
In addition, he has a medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia.
Moody is a much sought-after speaker both in the Americas and in Europe,
having established a justly deserved reputation as a knowledgeable surveyor
of the frontier areas of human consciousness. He was the one whose research
with hundreds of near-death survivors first established the startling frequency
of the experience of floating above the body, being drawn to a white light
of unspeakable beauty, and feeling a peace which no words can truly tell.
As Moody observes in this interview with Dr. Daniel Redwood, the near-death
experience transcends cultural boundaries, appearing with minimal variation
in people throughout the world. People who return from the brink of death
after these experiences lose their fear of death, and in most cases find
themselves adopting a new perspective on life.
Dr. Moody can be reached at the following address:
Dr. Raymond Moody, 1215 Old Downing Mill Road, Anniston, AL 36201
Raymond Moody Interview
DR: How do you reply to someone who says that the near-death experience
of white light and transcendent peace is simply a consequence of oxygen
deprivation in the brain?
Raymond Moody: When I first heard about this, I assumed it was something
like that, shock to the brain and so forth. I know many physicians, literally
from all over the world, who have investigated this phenomenon, and they
all started with that assumption. All of us, in talking with the people
who have had these experiences, have come around very much in our views.
The classic definition of a hallucination, of course, is that it's an apparent
sensory experience without a corresponding external event. That is, a person
sees or hears something when there is not really anything there. But with
these near death experiences, we have many cases where the patients, while
they are out of their bodies, are able to witness something going on at
a distance, even in another part of the hospital, which later turns out
by independent verification to have been exactly as the patient said. So
this is very difficult to put together with a simple physiological or biochemical
Another thing that makes me feel that the experience is something beyond
just a hallucination, is that the profound effects of these experiences
on people are just so amazing. They have this complete confidence that what
we call death is just a passage into another level of reality.
I think that no final answer, though, can be settled on to the question
you asked, because ultimately in this frontier area of the human mind, there
aren't any experts there that can give us the answer. There is no conventionally
established way yet to determine the answer. Everybody is going to have
to look at this and make up his own mind in his own way. All I can do is
speak for myself and my many colleagues in medicine who have looked into
this, and we're all convinced that the patients do get a glimpse of the
DR: Have you found similarities in the content of near-death experiences
even among people from widely differing cultures? Does an Australian aboriginal
experience the same thing as a steelworker from Indiana and a shepherd in
RM: Yes, apparently so. It's quite interesting. Something
I certainly wouldn't have suspected, but the cultural variation of this
thing seems to be remarkably narrow. There is just not that much variation.
Now I myself have not looked at cases from outside the Western Judao-Christian
tradition, but colleagues of mine have. I have gotten letters from the Orient,
from China, Japan and India, describing identical experiences, letters from
both experiencers in these cultures and from physicians who have reported
on these experiences. From time to time in anthropological writings and
even preliterate cultures, there have been anthropologists who have found
these experiences among the particular group they were studying, and report
to us that they are the same as what we find in emergency rooms in the West.
DR: Are the increasing number of reports that we have all heard about
of near-death experiences in recent years due to advances in cardiopulmonary
resuscitation, or the fact that people feel more free to talk about it?
RM: My impression is that it's primarily the former. If
you go back into history, you find plenty of these cases. They are in historical
writings. Gregory of Tours wrote a book, The History of the Franks. The
Venerable Bede's The History of the English Church and People. These
were from very early writings, several hundred years A.D. Plato describes
a case. Hieronymus Bosch did a painting which portrays this theme in the
1500's. There are scattered cases in the medical literature even, beginning
in the 19th Century. And a Swiss mountain-climber geology professor named
Dr. Albert Heim in the late 1800's had a fall, and he had a mystical experience
on his way down that profoundly changed his life. So he became interested
in this topic, and inquired among his fellow mountain-climbers and found
many near death experiences, again identical to what we hear today.
So this has been going on for a long time, but I think that as you suggested,
what we find now is that the techniques of CPR are just so widely available
and so sophisticated that we're rescuing a very much larger number of people
who have had these experiences from the brink of death.
DR: What percentage of people do not experience the classic ascension
into the light when having a close call with death, such as in a severe
automobile accident? What is different about these people?
RM: Well, studies vary on that, and it's interesting that
the percentage of people who have such experiences gets higher, the closer
they were to death. In the study of Dr. Fred Schoonmaker, who is chief of
cardiovascular medicine at St. Luke's in Denver, he interviewed a large
number of patients that he had personally resuscitated, and he found that
about 60% of the patients who underwent a resuscitation had an experience
of this nature. This is comparable to the findings of Dr. Ken Ring and Dr.
Mike Sabom, who studied patients who as a group were perhaps less critically
ill, and had been unconscious and near death, and found that about 45% of
them had had these experiences.
But that still leaves unaccounted for the question of why some do and some
don't. We really don't know. Many of the facts that I think we would suspect--
the age of the patient, the particular cause that brought them to the point
of death, whether they were male or female, prior religious training and
beliefs and so on--none of these factors seemed to make any difference.
So we just don't know what it is.
Dr. Bruce Greyson, in a study he did a few years ago, came up with some
evidence that it might perhaps be whether or not the patient surrenders
at this point of death, and he believes, based on some of his findings,
that perhaps the patients as they are close to death, reach a point where
they surrender, and that those are the ones that go on to have the near
DR: Do you feel that reincarnation is metaphorical or literal? What
is your idea of the survival of the soul?
RM: I definitely think that yes, reincarnation is metaphorical,
but not in the sense that some might believe. First let me say that I don't
know whether there is reincarnation or not, and I have done a lot of work
with these past life regressions and so on. From the point of view of just
giving evidence, I can't say either way.
But if you are asking me about my feelings and my intuitions, I would have
to say that if I were forced top guess on the issue, I would say yes. But
I do still believe that it would be metaphorical in the sense that I think
the process is much more complicated than we can even express in ordinary
language. When we are talking about it in this dimension, we have to use
a linear form of expression and conceptualization, but my feeling is that
when we get over on the other side, all these linear categories that we
use--evidence, time sequence and all of that--are totally different. Reincarnation
is probably a far more complicated experience than we can probably even
imagine right now.
DR: Have you seen people helped by past-life regressions?
RM: No doubt about it, yes. That's been quite remarkable
to me. As I started with this, I didn't really intend, wasn't really thinking
of it as a therapeutic procedure. I was exploring it as an altered state
of awareness, and what really surprised me as I got into this was that the
people who underwent these regressions would feel greatly benefited by this,
and that they would feel they came to understand themselves in a new way,
perhaps understanding some of the difficulties and neurotic conflicts that
they were experiencing in this life.
DR: Do you feel that there is any danger in pursuing past-life information?
Under what circumstances should this be done, and what qualifications, if
any, do you feel are necessary for the guide or therapist?
RM: Well, to answer your latter question first, I think
the criteria for a guide are pretty much in flux and flow, and certainly
none of the customary trainings in this society give anybody any special
expertise in this field. What we face in this culture, I think, is that
we have so systematically excluded ourselves from altered states of awareness
in the Western culture for so many hundreds of years, that there are just
going to have to be a few brave souls who will look into this and wade into
it, and then can help the rest of us as we enter into it
. You ask about the dangers. I think there are for sure dangers, and I see
them all the time. One is certainly inflation of the ego and a kind of elitism
that you see--the people who talk about my past lives, and in my
past life this and in my past life that, and it becomes an ego
trip. Some of them seem to want to exclude others by puffing themselves
up about all of this. But by and large, that's certainly a minority, a distinct
minority of people.
And then too, there's the danger that I think the Tibetans expressed, that
as one enters into this and starts exploring around in the spiritual dimension,
a lot of things come up which the Tibetans say, and I begin to believe in
a way, are distractions to the real path. By that I mean, I've heard this
Eastern doctrine that when past lives start emerging, you just don't pay
too much attention to them, because there are other things beyond that that
you want to find. I think it's fine as these past life experiences emerge
to be interested in them , and to look into them and to learn what one can
about oneself from them. But at the same time we need to realize that it
is a stage, and that if we spend too much time puzzling over the details
of our past lives then we're going to miss what's going on in this one.
DR: How has your work with near-death experiences and past life regression
affected your academic career as a psychology professor at West Georgia
College? Has any pressure been exerted upon you to pursue less controversial
areas of research?
RM: No, that would be a nice story, to be able to portray
myself as a persecuted martyr, but it really has not happened.
DR: I'm glad to hear that.
RM: I happen to be in a very liberal college where the
persons in my department are very interested themselves in altered states
of awareness. I think that the irresponsible thing to do would be to portray
this as some sort of conclusive scientific evidence. I think that as long
as one pursues these topics with the perspective that they are altered states
which can teach us a lot about ourselves, I don't see how anybody could
really object to that.
DR: In the years since your first book came out, do you perceive
an increasing openness among people in this society to this information?
RM: No doubt about it. I was in Europe not too long ago,
and I went to eight countries. In every country, physicians there brought
articles to me that they had written for their own medical journals on their
own research on near death experiences. So what we can say that this has
contributed over the past 15 years, is that it is now an accepted matter
of fact that persons close to death, a large proportion of them, have amazing
lifechanging experiences which take a common pattern.
But now the next step is the interpretation of these experiences, what they
ultimately mean. That's not even a matter for the medical community to decide.
It's not for medical doctors to decide whether there's life after death.,
The point of the interest in the medical field about these is simply that
whatever account we want to give of them, they clearly occur. So we need
to be prepared for this in order to explain to the patients and support
the patients and so on, and reassure them that they are not alone.
DR: What in your current work fascinates you most?
RM: What I love to do is, I love to explore the frontiers
of the human mind. One thing that's so fascinating to me is that I'm 45
years old now and I have gone through two doctoral degrees and I have always
been very interested in the human mind. I can remember sitting out on the
front porch at my grandmother's house at age 3, and puzzling about consciousness.
This has been a lifelong pursuit for me, and one thing that I am continually
astounded by is that a week hardly ever passes by that I don't come across
some amazing new dimension of the human mind, or some phenomenon that I
have never heard of before.
One that I'm pursuing with great interest right now is the much-despised
activity of crystal-gazing, which our society has succeeded in portraying
as just a fraudulent activity or a hoax, which I had assumed myself until
about three years ago. Now I know from delving into this phenomenon that
it has a very rich history, an amazing history, that involves quite a dramatic,
unusual and intriguing dimension of human consciousness. I have no idea
whether any of these visions pertain to events of the future. I don't feel
myself qualified to even begin to try to prove or establish something like
that. But, the phenomenon of crystal gazing, and the visions that people
have, undeniably exist and also can have some really intriguing applications.
Especially if you go back into the history of thought, it's amazing how
many of the great creative geniuses of history have used hyponogogic states
as an adjunct to their work.
DR: Who are some of these people?
RM: Edison, for example, used hypnogogic states to get
his ideas. Robert Louis Stevenson got his ideas and stories while in the
hypnogogic state. George Sand used it for writing her novels. Charles Dickens,
and the list goes on. And yet in our society we have just totally ignored
this fascinating technique.
DR: Must one use a crystal to enter the hypnogogic state?
RM: No, as you look back into the history of this phenomenon,
many different forms of viewing devices have been used. Tibetans gazed into
clear lakes and saw visions. They also used oracular mirrors. So did the
shamans. Many shamanic cultures used mirrors for crystal gazing. The Aztec
priests used obsidian mirrors and balls for their crystal gazing. In medieval
times in Europe and also in India, where such technology was probably very
expensive, scryers would use the thumbnail, a drop of oil on the thumbnail,
to induce these visions.
So there's a wide variety of techniques for doing this, and it can be very
simply taught. I have found in my experiments with it that it's possible
to teach about half the normal population, and very quickly. And once they
do learn it, they feel they benefit from it very much, both in learning
about a dimension of themselves that they are not normally aware of, and
also in terms of increased relaxation and increased access to their creative
DR: How have you personally benefited from it?
RM: I've found it's a marvelous adjunct to creative work.
I've been writing some stories that I have seen in the crystal ball, and
have been using it in some quite interesting ways in my writing. I find
it's really beneficial.
Daniel Redwood is a chiropractor and writer who lives in Virginia Beach,
Virginia. He is the author of A Time to Heal:
How to Reap the Benefits of Holistic Health, and is a member of
the editorial board of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
He can be reached by e-mail at Redwoods@infi.net.
A collection of his writing is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.doubleclickd.com,
and also on the New Age Forum of the Microsoft Network.
©1995 Daniel Redwood, D.C.