Skip to main content

Proof of Heaven



Book Review

Author: Dr Eben Alexander
Published in India by Haechette in 2012
Pages: 194, Price: Rs 350

The subtitle of the book is A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.  Dr Alexander, the author, is a neurosurgeon by profession.  Bacterial meningitis sent him into a coma for a week from Nov 10, 2008.  The bacteria had made the entire neocortex of his brain dysfunctional.  But Dr Alexander claims that his consciousness (or soul, if you prefer) travelled to a realm which he thinks is the ultimate reality, the divine milieu.

Dr Alexander’s experience reveals a reality or phenomenon which many mystics experienced in the past, irrespective of their religion.  It is a reality in which everything is interrelated and love is the binding link. No one / nothing is a separate entity with a distinct ego.  You have your identity, but you are at the same time deeply aware of your essential relationship with all the reality around.  You can feel the love and the relationship.  You can understand whatever is around you without any communication. 

Perfect understanding and love.  That’s the heaven to which Dr Alexander’s consciousness rose while his comatose body lay in the ICU of Lynchburg General Hospital.

Dr Alexander claims that he met God though he does not use that word.  He uses the word ‘Core.’  It is an experience rather than a personal entity.  But there was an angelic individual, a beautiful girl, who escorted him to that Core.

Without the use of or need for any medium of communication, Dr Alexander learnt that it is a world in which everyone is loved and cherished; no one has anything to fear; and that there is nothing you can do wrong.  There is only love and understanding in that world; there is no evil.  He also learns that evil is necessary on the earth “because without it free will was impossible, and without free will there could be no growth – no forward movement, no chance for us to become what God longed for us to be” (48). 

While I can accept Dr Alexander’s vision of heaven as a place of pure love and unmediated understanding, I find it impossible to accept his logic (or the revelation he received in heaven) about the necessary link between evil and free will.  Does this imply that there is no free will in heaven?  Moreover, why should free will necessarily imply evil?

Dr Alexander analyses his experience using the various hypotheses and models available to medical science only to find that there is no scientific explanation for his experience.  But a mere absence of a scientific explanation does not validate a supernatural explanation.  The doctor, however, argues that his experience was indeed real and divine, and scientific too.  Scientific, because Heisenberg and many other scientists showed that our consciousness is an integral part of the reality around us, and Dr Alexander’s experience just validated that theory.  “What I discovered out beyond is the indescribable immensity and complexity of the universe, and that consciousness is the basis of all that exists” (155, emphasis in the original).

I’m not questioning the meaning or relevance of Dr Alexander’s vision.  I can accept the mystical perception into the nature of the ultimate reality.  If all the people on the earth could actually raise their consciousness to that level of perception, the earth would be a paradise and we wouldn’t need to crave for a heaven elsewhere.  Dr Alexander’s vision is valid.  The method by which he arrived at it is not what really matters.  Here I’d go with Bernard Shaw who said in his preface to Saint Joan, “The test of sanity is not the normality of the method but the reasonableness of the discovery.”  Shaw went on to say that if Isaac Newton had seen the ghost of Pythagoras walk into the orchard and explain why the apples were falling, the theory of gravitation would not be invalidated.  Similarly, Dr Alexander’s vision of the deeper meaning of reality and the need for making our consciousness more profound in order to understand it is valid.

It is his claims about God and spirits that I find it difficult to accept.  God is not necessary to explain the doctor’s experience, according to me.  The doc himself says, “The brain is the most sophisticated – and temperamental – organ we possess.  Tinker around with it, lessen the degree of oxygen it gets by a few torr (a unit of pressure), and the owner of that brain is going to experience an alteration in their reality.  Or more precisely, their personal experience of reality” (138).  With a brain whose entire neocortex had become dysfunctional, Dr Alexander too experienced the reality in a different way.  Maybe, like the mystics did.
I enjoyed reading the book in spite of the images of the omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving Christian God that dominates the heaven of the doctor although the sound he hears in association with that God is Om!  I enjoyed it because I have always felt somewhere deep within me that the mystical visions about the essential interrelation among beings are true.  I too believe that the basic evil is in separating ourselves into our little egos instead of trying to understand the relatedness. 

I don’t accept Dr Alexander’s God, the angels and spirits.  But I accept the profundity, the mysticism of his vision.

I also found the doctor’s biography interesting.  He was born to a 16-year old girl who left him in a children’s home.  He was adopted (“chosen”) and very much loved by the family in which grew up with step-siblings.  His quest for his biological parents and biological siblings, the acute pain he experienced when his mother refused to contact him, the resulting alcoholism, and the final triumph – I enjoyed reading every bit of it.  Dr Alexander comes across as a very loving and equally sensitive person.  It is quite understandable that he had a mystical vision.

The fact that he was speaking about flying and skydiving when he recovered from his coma also may indicate that his consciousness was indeed flying somewhere in the clouds while his body lay helplessly inert.  Flying and skydiving were the hobbies of his youth.

The book keeps a suspense too about the angelic girl who escorted him in his heaven.  I shall not mention the suspense here.  May you enjoy reading it if you wish to.  If you are a staunch unbeliever, the doctor says himself, you won’t enjoy the book, perhaps. 

Comments

  1. Tom, it reminds me of a TED video where Jill Bolte tells about her experience of having an ictus. YOu can see that video at:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am the life-force power of the universe. I am the life-force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form, at one with all that is.” (Jill Bolte Taylor)

      Beautiful message. Thanks for sharing.

      Delete
  2. "Moreover, why should free will necessarily imply evil?" - what would it mean to say that one can choose between two good things? If you have to choose it has to be between two things that can be differentiated; and you attach values to the two things, say, good and evil. This is why free will - to choose - implies good and evil.

    RE

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Raghuram, one thing which i never understood about this free will as discussed by western philosophers is that they always made it a choice between good and evil. You are asking a typical Intelligent question which I too have been asking from the time I learnt to think independently. Why not make a choice between two good things? Why didn't the stupid God make that kind of a choice when he created man/woman?

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

An Aberration of Kali Yuga

Are we Indians now living in an aberrant period of history? A period that is far worse than the puranic Kali Yuga? A period in which gods decide to run away in fear of men? That’s a very provocative question, isn’t it, especially in a time when people are being arrested for raising much more innocuous questions than that? But I raise my hands in surrender because I’m not raising this question; the Malayalam movie that Maggie and I watched is. Before I go to the provocations of the movie, I am compelled to clarify a spelling problem with the title of the movie. The title is Bhramayugam [ ഭ്രമയുഗം] in Malayalam. But the movie’s records and ads write it as Bramayugam [ ബ്രമയുഗം ] which would mean the yuga of Brama. Since Brama doesn’t mean anything in Malayalam, people like me will be tempted to understand it as the yuga of Brahma . In fact, that is how I understood it until Maggie corrected me before we set off to watch the movie by drawing my attention to the Malayalam spelling

Karma in Gita

I bought a copy of annotated Bhagavad Gita a few months back with the intention of understanding the scripture better since I’m living in a country that has become a Hindu theocracy in all but the Constitution. After reading the first part [chapters 1 to 6] which is about Karma, I gave up. Shelving a book [literally and metaphorically] is not entirely strange to me. If a book fails to appeal to me after a reasonable number of pages, I abandon it. The Gita failed to make sense to me just like any other scripture. That’s not surprising since I’m not a religious kind of a person. I go by reason. I accept poetry which is not quite rational. Art is meaningful for me though I can’t detect any logic in it. Even mysticism is acceptable. But the kind of stuff that Krishna was telling Arjuna didn’t make any sense at all. To me. Just a sample. When Arjuna says he doesn’t want to fight the war because he can’t kill his own kith and kin, Krishna’s answer is: Fight. If you are killed, you win he

Kabir the Guru - 1

Kabirvad Kabirvad is a banyan tree in Gujarat. It is named after Kabir, the mystic poet and saint of the 15 th century. There is a legend behind the tree. Two brothers are in search of a guru. They have an intuitive feeling that the guru will appear when they are ready for it. They plant a dry banyan root at a central spot in their courtyard. Whenever a sadhu passes by, they wash his feet at this particular spot. Their conviction is that the root will sprout into a sapling when their guru appears. Years pass and there’s no sign of any sapling. No less than four decades later, the sapling rises. The man who had come the previous day was a beggarly figure whom the brothers didn’t treat particularly well though they gave him some water to drink out of courtesy. But the sapling rose, after 40 years! So the brothers went in search of that beggarly figure. Kabir, the great 15 th century mystic poet, had been their guest. The legend says that the brothers became Kabir’s disciples. The b

Raising Stars

Bringing up children is both an art and a science. The parents must have certain skills as well as qualities and value systems if the children are to grow up into good human beings. How do the Bollywood stars bring up their children? That is an interesting subject which probably no one studied seriously until Rashmi Uchil did. The result of her study is the book titled Raising Stars: The challenges and joys of being a Bollywood parent . The book brings us the examples of no less than 26 Bollywood personalities on how they brought up their children in spite of their hectic schedules and other demands of the profession. In each chapter, the author highlights one particular virtue or skill or quality from each of these stars to teach us about the importance of that aspect in bringing up children. Managing anger, for example, is the topic of the first chapter where Mahima Chowdhary is our example. We move on to gender equality, confidence, discipline, etc, and end with spirituality whi

Kabir the Guru – 2

Read Part 1 of thi s here . K abir lived in the 15 th century. But his poems and songs are still valued. Being illiterate, he didn’t write them. They were passed on orally until they were collected by certain enthusiasts into books. Vipul Rikhi’s book, Drunk on Love: The Life, Vision and Songs of Kabir , not only brings the songs and poems together in one volume but also seeks to impart the very spirit of Kabir to the reader. Kabir is not just a name, the book informs us somewhere in the beginning. Kabir is a tradition. He is a legend, a philosophy, poetry and music. I would add that Kabir was a mystic. Most of his songs have something to do with spirituality. They strive to convey the deep meaning of reality. They also question the ordinary person’s practice of religion. They criticise the religious leaders such as pandits and mullahs. Though a Muslim, Kabir was immensely taken up by Ram, the Hindu god, for reasons known only to him perhaps. Most of the songs are about the gr