A dying man saw his kamma?

Here’s are excerpts from an interesting article in Men’s Health referencing this paper.

Perhaps the dying man experienced reviewing the basis for his rebirth…?

"For the first time ever, we’ve caught a glimpse of what human brain waves look like in a dying person.

After a fall, an 87-year-old male went to the emergency room and rapidly deteriorated while hooked up to an electroencephalograph (EEG) machine that captured his brain waves as he passed from a heart attack. This is not the first time we’ve seen the brain activity in a dying person—some patients who have been pulled off of life support have had simplified EEG recordings taken, though they’ve been limited to frontal cortex signals. This, however, is the first case of detailed recordings that may be able to shed some light on what we experience when we die.

The team working with the patient was able to capture about 900 seconds of brain activity and focused most of its analysis on the first 30 seconds before and after the patient’s heart stopped beating.

Immediately following cardiac arrest, they noticed changes in the brain waves involved in higher-order cognitive functions, including information processing, concentrating, memory retrieval, conscious perception, and the different stages of dreaming, possibly indicating the brain was actively engaging in memory recall.

“What is most intriguing is that this seems to be occurring when the brain is shutting down at the end of life. This study supports these descriptions and certainly raises the possibility that a marker of lucidity at the end of life may have been discovered,” says Parnia.

In their paper, the team who worked with this patient theorized that because “cross-coupling” between the alpha and gamma waves indicates memory recall in healthy patients, this particular patient could have been experiencing a “recall of life,” or what is often referred to as someone’s life flashing before their eyes. Alpha brain waves are produced when we’re alert but calm and help us with activities like learning and coordination. Gamma waves are the fastest and are associated with high-level alertness, cognition, memory, and focus.

According to Parnia, while the brain is in the process of shutting down and dying, “there is disinhibition of parts of the brain (i.e. emergence of functions) that are ordinarily depressed by our usual brain activity,” such as those we use to get through our day-to-day tasks. Because of this, we’re granted access to what Parnia refers to as “aspects of reality at death that we would ordinarily not have access to,” including the depths of our consciousness."



In tibetan book of the dead (real title: Liberation through hearing in Bardo), this phase is interpreted/ manifested in a vision that the Great King of Hell judging the person. Making them remember things they did in the past, good and bad, and send them away according to his/her karma

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There are countless stories throughout history of NDEs (near death experiences) that pretty much follow cultural beliefs of what happens to a person at death. The brain activity detected here could have been him processing his introduction into the afterlife. Reading the article made me think about the possibility of a person finally seeing the weight of one’s life’s intentions and actions.

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Fascinating. It does make me wonder about the idea that your last thought conditions your next rebirth, which is usually set up against the idea that it is the habitual tendancies (perhaps over many lives) that condition your next rebirth. So I’m wondering if both of these might be right? Maybe your life (and previous lives) are condensed down into a last ‘thought’ and thereby conditions your next life? Just a bit of idle speculation.


Perhaps one’s chief cravings come to the forefront of consciousness at that last grasp and that carries over into the next life.

Proof of Higher Citta, chitta or alaya store consciousness. :man_shrugging:

Interesting post. There’s really no way to know exactly what that person is going through, so I don’t think we can really say with certainty whether this supports rebirth or next life.

Maybe he is focusing on his loved ones? Trying to remember his mother or wife’s face one last time? Life can be pretty sad, and all things must come to an end.

The only take away is, try to be your best self and make the most of the time you have remaining.

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Yeah, that’s how I’ve heard it put by some teachers. When last thought is contrasted with habitual tendencies, you gotta ask what conditions the last thought! Incidentally Bhante Sujato says that the last thought interpretation is wrong (in his course that covers myths of Buddhism).

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I agree with Bhante Sujato; the idea that the last thought conditions rebirth makes no sense in Buddhism. I wan’t thinking about that, I was thinking about the culmination of an entire life of a mixture of craving, selfishness, stinginess, delusion and such all coming to a head at the moment of death, finally seeing these undercurrents which determined one’s actions. If the person were an uninstructed worldling, these might influence the next life in samsara. Or if the person were as stream enterer or a hearer of the Dhamma, seeing those defilements might give rise to intention to act towards the eightfold path in the next life. I have no basis for this, just a thought experiment. :grinning:

If Bhante @sujato thinks that thoughts of near death arise without cause, then that is a mistake.

The accumulation of good and bad karma in this life and in past lives squabbles over the last thought arising before death. The quality of the mind before death will determine the destination of the afterlife. So the near-death mind is also indeed conditioned by a mixture of various kinds of good/bad karma in the past; and of course strong karma (impression on the mind) will be more influential.

Now, Ānanda, take the case of the person here who killed living creatures … and had wrong view, and who is reborn in a heavenly realm. They must have done a good deed to be experienced as pleasant either previously or later, or else at the time of death they undertook right view. And that’s why, when their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm. (MN 136)

This topic has come up a few times before, and Bhante @sujato and Ajahn @Brahmali discussed it directly here:

As Bhante @sujato mentions in the thread I linked, it was also discussed in the Kamma and Rebirth Course. I’ll try to find a direct link to where it was discussed, as I found it really helpful in better understanding this idea.

Here’s the link to the Kamma and Rebirth Course, if I recall correctly, it was mentioned early on, perhaps in Part 1 or 2:


I include a paragraph of bhante @sujato 's statement from the link above

The problem with bhante Sujato’s statement above is that he equates karma with visible events, such as a car accident. Though the essence of karma is in the mind. It could be seen that someone is slowly dying in bed, but his mind at that time recalled the murders in the past that he had committed and he felt restless/fearful. So the thought when he is about to die becomes a strong bad karma.

I wonder if there’s comparison between EEG capture of a known nearly dead person (1) and that of a seemingly long-living person (2).

Because seeing memories also happen to type 2 who must also have brain waves, be it while being relaxed, just after waking up in the morning, or meditating.

Interesting post!

I’ve had a similar thought about a wooded trail in an urban park I walk through regularly.

During the fall and winter when everything is dead, I see so much more when I look at what is on the sides of the trail.

Previously hidden paths, forgotten park memorials, interesting looking houses, and even a labyrinth someone built.

A depressing metaphor for “secrets” being revealed in old age and death, towards the end.

I guess will make the obligatory cynical, but solid points.

There have been many stories of people who have been technically dead for very short periods of time, resuscitated, and who have had stories about meeting loved ones in the Judeo Christian heaven.

I don’t think this interesting excerpt indicates anything divine or spiritual.

Just that there is indeed a natural reflex in a dying brain to call up memories and vivid illusions.

If it is nothing more than that, at least it is a natural, accidental mercy.

Happy Monday!

The NDE experiences of people who have been technically dead and are resuscitated differ according to the culture they live in. If Judeo Christian, it will be the heaven they have conceptualized, but people around the world experience what their culture and religions say about death and the afterlife. However, there are lots of similarities, one of which is seeing loved ones.

That just means we all share a biology that transcends cultures.

Hungry people, universally dream of food. The word for mother is very similar across many languages.

People in NDEs likely see loved ones because those are going to be the well entrenched memories NDEs will force up with the memory recall.