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EBTs and Out of Body Experiences: The concept of Once-returner in Robert Monroe's books

Anyone should, in theory, be able to experience for oneself the concepts mentioned in the EBTs.

Therefore, I always find it interesting when similar experiences or theories are found in traditions entirely disconnected from the EBTs; for example the concept of rebirth found in the fascinating ‘Tale of Er’ at the end of Plato’s Republic, c. 375 BC (which is also, I believe, the first account ever of a NDE!).

Robert Monroe 'Last-timer' vs EBT 'Once-returner'

Robert Monroe (1915-1995) was an American who wrote about his out-of-body experiences (also named astral projection) in a series of 3 excellent books between 1971 and 1994.

In his second book, ‘Far Journeys’ (FJ), he talks about what he calls ‘last-timers’, who are beings that were previously humans and will return to Earth for one final physical life:

“Then there’s this third type, the Last-Timers. They make one more recycle, uh, one more physical life as a human, and then they’re gone.”
FJ p. 133

This of course reminds one of the EBT’s once-returner:

With the ending of three fetters, and the weakening of greed, hate, and delusion, they’re a once-returner. They come back to this world once only, then make an end of suffering.
SN 55.24 #SC6

The key characteristics of the last-timers according to Monroe’s account are:

  • Before their last rebirth, they reside on the outer ring of the astral rings that surround the Earth (i.e. the highest vibrational rings, most ‘spiritually advanced’ ring.
  • They will experience only one more human life on Earth.
  • It is not known where they go after they leave their last physical body.
  • They have a kind of very powerful radiation and strength and good values and are in control of what they do and where they’ll go on Earth.
  • For their last physical life on Earth, they usually choose a simple and modest life.

Here are the extracts from Monroe’s books about the last-timers.

“Now, this outer ring,” Ed was continuing. “They are made of three types. One is the First-Timer, […] then there’s the Old-Timers, who mostly remember after going the route, uh, repeating being human a number of times. These hang around and do what they can to help. They don’t remember quite enough to go home.” […] “Then there’s this third type, the Last-Timers. They make one more recycle, uh, one more physical life as a human, and then they’re gone .”

BB turned. “Where do they go?”

Ed rolled. “I dunno. Home, I guess. They never show up back here. And, oh yeh. There’s this other type we call the Seekers. Don’t get many of them, slippery as eels. Unstable, flick in and out.” (FJ p.133)

In my few stopovers in the outer ring, it had always been utterly fascinating—the mix. Particularly the Last-Timers, those who knowingly were about to make their final recycle. They gave off a radiation that was unforgettable—tremendous vital power that seemed totally under control. Within that strength were all of the values and ideals that humans hold important—not in time-space context, not in external control systems that demanded performance in a specific manner, but something entirely apart, something learned from being human. Most important, all under control , all a cooperating, melding part of the whole. They were completely open . You could get a percept easily of the crucible of human experience that formulated such greatness—if you could handle it. I tried once and it was too much. I returned to the physical and was wistful for days thereafter. The key was that they got that way from being human. They were not that way at First Entry .

But now it was different. Their radiation had a familiar resonance, and I wondered why this was so. In the last time around , they evidently close it all down. Part of the vitality seeps through; it really all can’t be closed off. Yet they don’t select history-making roles in that final run—they’ve probably performed such previously. They are inconspicuous , the mail clerk, the plain dirt farmer, the sailor, the bookkeeper, not gathered as a group , but quietly spotted here and there in both time and place.

If you ask their destination upon completion, most simply respond with a gentle warmth: Home . The percept comes out that way, but there’s an overtone, a flavor, a nuance that is only slightly familiar. (FJ p.147-148)

There are other parallels between his experiences and the EBTs (none-returners, heavenly ‘job positions’ filled by various beings at different times, devas that delight in creation, the psychic powers etc), I might post them later.

One thing that I find interesting about looking at these parallels is that sometimes they shed some light to otherwise cryptic notions in the EBTs, they allow to expand one’s working hypotheses and explanations of certain concepts and to be less dogmatic and narrow-minded about them. I’ll try to give a specific example in a future post.

Anyone with some OBE experiences? :slightly_smiling_face:

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Just to confirm, OBE is the acronym for out-of-body-experience, right? May I suggest to have that spelt out in the title? :anjal:

And answering the topic, never had something like that, maybe I am too attached and identified to this carcass to get those trips…

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I’ve found similarities across quite a few ‘descriptions’, which tend to pop up (not infrequently) in the most unexpected places…

What I take from this is that the Buddha had ‘direct’ access to understanding how our ‘existence’ works. However, he framed his teachings as a response to the questions that most concerned him - What is the cause for suffering and how to escape from it.

Others/other traditions don’t necessarily have this perspective, ask different questions, look at the experiences themselves, or develop a variety of thought/belief systems around it.

What is clear (ish) to me, is that there is a reality/process about the functioning of our existence, and that this is not a monopoly by any one person/faith/tradition.

I guess, that ultimately it comes down to the driving force behind the ‘spiritual quest’ of each of us. If you want to minimise/escape suffering - the Buddha nailed it in the suttas, and this is all that is needed.

Also there is the case where some individuals just experience these ‘states’ as a matter of course. I’ve experienced a wide variety of mind states since my earliest memories as a child… In this world we tend to search for meaning of such things, and I suppose sometimes it just comes down to chance, where one recognises others with similar experiences and seeing how they have made sense of it and integrated it into their understanding of ‘life, the universe and everything’…

The Buddha was one such person.

But ultimately, the answers are all within us. There needs to be balance between gathering information, and seeking the answers within from ones own experience. I strongly believe that ‘too much’ intellectual emphasis stifles the ability to see and experience for oneself… There is only so much that reading manuals about how to swim can be of use - you’ve got to get in the water and push away from the sides… that is where you really get to know what swimming is, and if you’re in the water, thinking “I need the manual quick, quick or I’ll drown” - it seriously gets in the way of learning how to stay afloat… And if not in this life - then the next one :smiley:

Added: there is also The Red Book by Jung, that may be of interest…
The years… when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then
Many things like this… too many :wink:

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Just to make this a little more balanced and rounded, and to highlight the relevance to the Buddhas teachings, I wanted to add the following.

Mind states, OBE’s etc etc are all interesting, nice, awful etc etc etc, but they don’t lead anywhere on their own, One can just keep experiencing these things ad infinitum… I know of one person who ‘astral travels’ just for amusement - it has no other impact on their life beyond this…

What is needed to properly galvanise these mental abilities is a framework, and this is what the Buddha taught. He explicitly described a pathway - the Noble 8 fold path. This goes from Delusion to Liberation > there is a definite path to follow. Without the other 7 factors, Samadhi itself goes no-where, it is just types of experience… Add the framework and all of a sudden you have a tool for liberation, of improving life for oneself and others.

This is why I find that even though one can recognise elements of experiences all over the place - they don’t actually mean much. In the worst situations individuals set up religious/belief systems that can be totally unwholesome and deluded.

As such it is imperative to seperate the experience itself, from any mental proliferations or conditioning of the experience.

While there are many who may have ‘seen’ some aspect of the processes of existence, it is only in rare cases like the Buddha, where the totality of the knowable has been seen. Ultimately it is about the process rather than the ‘things’…
eg most people’s vision is like looking at the world through a straw (seeing only a tiny fraction of the whole picture) - as opposed to the Buddha who had unimpaired vision. So even though it is interesting, and on some level reassuring that there are others in the world who have similar experiences, those ‘experiences’ are only a conditioned experience. Rather the focus or attention needs to be on the process/mechanism. The systematic dissolution of delusion, is what leads to greater clarity of vision. And this is where the Suttas are such a treasure.

This is like the difference between seeing the images in a kaleidoscope versus understanding how the kaleidoscope works…

Also those with some skill in generating specific mind states can reproduce/manufacture certain experiences, but this isn’t the same as ‘insights’, it’s really a by-product of technique. As Ajahn Brahmali suggests here

Metta :sunflower:

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I did a program at the Monroe Institute back in '96 - a year after he passed away. At the time it was run by his daughter. Most unusual experience.
There are indeed many similarities with Buddhist cosmology to be found in his writings and what they have learned in the research there at the institute. The focus seems mostly on mapping non-physical experience/realms as opposed to awakening as found in the EBTs. But, as they say on the front page of their website “You are more than your physical body” - not a bad starting point for us Buddhists - especially the physicalists among us.
I imagine the place sounds like new age woo woo (sp?) to many but these people are on to something. Though many people did experience your sort of classic out-of-body event it was more common for people to work with deep emotional phenomena for lack of a better word. Their technique seems to take one beneath (beyond?) the thinking mind and the sense of the body is gone. It’s really impossible to explain. Not for the faint-hearted. And of course this kind of material can come up for many in meditation as well. Anyway, I got allot out of it.

Very true. And I think Monroe would have agreed with you - maybe still does. He really wanted those books to inspire people to start their own exploration and went on to create the institute for that purpose.

Dude, that’s forbidden territory! (you are supposed to pm people regarding such things)

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Agree, and that’s what I like about Monroe, he was a true explorer, experiencing for himself rather than following a tradition or beliefs and he encouraged people to do the same. He came up with his own terminology and interpretations of what he experienced, which makes the similarities between his experiences and the EBTs even more interesting because he was not influenced by any spiritual traditions (he was a staunch materialist when he started to have these experiences).

Now, for the reader, only reading these books would be missing the point entirely, I completely agree. But for people like me who have very limited experiences of what is beyond the veil of physical matter, such trustworthy accounts help to consolidate various beliefs/working hypotheses (life after death, non-physical beings, rebirths etc). These beliefs are not required to work on one’s own liberation but they help a lot (and that’s why they are part of samma dithhi, Right View). I started as a die-hard scientific materialists and having come to the conclusions, slowly but undoubtedly, that these things are real (although the details are unclear), I can now say that they do make a difference on how I lead my life and behave, therefore I value such trustworthy accounts of what lead me to where I am now.

Nice :slight_smile:

Totally agree, that’s one of the most obvious benefit of OBE, just a couple of OBE experiences seem to convince people that they are not their physicial body, which is one of the thing that the Buddha advised to experience for ourselves. So just for that it can be valuable.

Yes, astral projection in general is associated with New Age which now has a bad connotation. There are some good reasons for the bad press but I also feel that some people are throwing the baby with the bathwater (what a horrible idiom :grimacing:), as mentioned above, there is a huge emphasis on experiencing things for oneself and being critical of one’s beliefs. He saw for himself what religious beliefs led to after deaths, with people going to the astral territories corresponding to their beliefs, and getting stuck there until some doubts start to creep inside them.

Oops I forgot the read the divine commandments, my bad! :grin: Seriously, it was more just a way to end the post and have people engage with the topic. I do agree that a forum is not a good place to discuss this.

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During sesshin, I experienced non-bodiness. Excited, I went to Roshi, who tapped my knee with his stick and asked, “Then what’s this?” :see_no_evil: (back to the zabuton…) :meditation:

Nowadays, I experience practice as an in-body OBE. It’s actually far more beneficial than an OBE alone.

MN62:3.2: “Rāhula, you should truly see any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: all form—with right understanding: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’”

Regarding once-return, I would ask, “return to what and why?” That’s actually not rhetorical. I have always been puzzled about once-returners but skipped over them in my current studies of the suttas since non-return just seems more practical.

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If it really happened, I’d like to ask you, what do you think was the value of such a reply from the teacher? I mean, it’s witty, it’s a very ‘zen’ response, but is it useful? :thinking:

Yes, this whole business is mysterious. Some of the New Age traditions believes that we choose to come back to work on some lessons, some others New Age traditions believe that we are tricked in coming back in order to be exploited, while the EBTs don’t really explain the why and how of all this… I guess we won’t really know until the very end (of ignorance).

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Yes. It was extremely useful. From this one touch I learned:

  • there is no end to skillful means
  • I must learn to apply any insight from meditation throughout my life

That’s actually part of the reason my practice switched from Zen to rock climbing. It’s easier to experience detachment on a cushion. But when clinging for life to a rock, it is not so easy. It is terrifying to let go. Hence, decades more practice were required to let go. Rock climbing is the practice of letting go. :laughing:

Now I just read the suttas and am content with that.

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Any strongly held belief. I think this is one of his most important insights. There is a place he called ‘The Hospital’ - where newly deceased may end-up if they don’t hold particularly strong religious beliefs. Doctors and nurses work to slowly help the person to understand they are dead within a known setting.
This insight into the role of belief systems in creating our ‘world’ - alive or dead - is I think consistent with EBT’s. From Monroe’s perspective, the various realms that Buddha describes were made by departed people that shared a particular belief system. They are ever evolving and changing just as our beliefs shape our experience here. If mind is the forerunner of all things and there are these non-physical realms described in the EBT’s than it makes sense they are mind-made. He found these places to be something like consensus realities where as long as it fit with your beliefs you would stay there and when it no longer did you would move on to whatever worked for you. It can explain the movement of beings from one realm to another as they work through their karma.

Maybe bodies are kind of habit forming. It might be difficult to let-go of something we have relied on since beginning-less time.

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@Yasoj

I came upon this passage in Ajahn Analayos book ‘Satipatthana; A Practice Guide’, which made me think of this topic.

"Absorption itself appears to have been already known in the ancient Indian setting before the time of the Buddha (Anālayo 2017a: 163ff). The distinct contribution by the Buddha seems to have been the perspective that such experiences are merely the product of specific conditions. This divests altered states of consciousness of any metaphysical or ontological connotations. The Buddha’s approach in this respect appears to have evolved from an analysis of absorption into three types to the more commonly found analysis into four types (Anālayo 2017c: 36ff). The existence of these two alternative schemes itself already shows that there is not just one possible mode of reckoning. What both schemes have in common is the analytical approach, the emphasis on conditionality. With the arising of such and such mental factors, such and such a type of concentrative experience can manifest. I take it that this perspective could be the backdrop of the often-found definition of right concentration by way of the detailed description of the four absorptions, reflecting the analytical approach and the vision of conditionality to be applied to these sublime experiences.” Pg 179

I hope you find this of some use or interest :slight_smile:

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Thanks @Viveka :slight_smile:

I’m not sure I fully understand the bolded passage in Analayo’s text, could you expand a bit on how you interpret Analayo’s statement and how it relates to OBEs? Are you suggesting that no knowledge of the ‘other world’ can be gained from altered states of mind and that all such states are purely subjective and do not allow the experience of a co-shared reality beyond the physical world?
:pray:

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O-Ohh now I’m in trouble :rofl:
:smiley: :sweat_smile: I feel like I’m cracking the lid on Pandoras box here … :scream: :slightly_smiling_face:
Just something to ponder - the conditionality of everything to do with Mind… :slightly_smiling_face: :upside_down_face:

Just as normal perception is dependently arisen, so too is ‘perception’ within other states of consciousness. Which is why it is possible to ‘create’ or manifest certain experiences as per the Ajahn Brahmali quote posted above.

I suppose that we are used to seeing and thinking about dependent arising in the 6 mundane consciousnesses/sense bases, but not so much in higher states of consciousness - but ultimately they are both subject to Dependent Arising…

So my take is - that care needs to be taken not to conflate the ‘experiences’ with the description or belief system created around it . - The details are distractions, just like each image within the kaleidoscope, and have no independent “metaphysical or ontological connotations”.

Enjoy! :slight_smile: :exploding_head: :relieved:

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:laughing: I know how you feel.

I started writing a long reply using Frank Kepple’s models of the consciousness continuum but then I realized I still struggle to understand the point you’re making so I stopped half-way.

To keep it short, my present-day working hypothesis is that spiritual experiences (let’s take an example, an encounter with a heavenly being) can be:

  1. an actual interaction with a being in a shared reality (this heavenly being exists independently of you, albeit as part of a different realm with different laws than the physical world), or
  2. in some cases, one own’s creation, not part of a shared reality (this heavenly being is your own creation and does not exist independently of you.

In both cases, everything is subjected to dependent-origination etc. The fact that they are dependent on conditions doesn’t not make them less real.

I’m wondering if what you’re saying is that it is option #2 only?

I agree that when someone reaches a certain spiritual level, these experiences of the other world are ‘details’ that should be ignored. Mae Chee Kaew’s biography is a good example of how one moves from experiencing these things to then ignore them and go deeper.
However, for other practitioners, they can be a useful stepping stone not to be ignored. For example for myself, I started my spiritual path as a staunch scientific materialist. Then after reading many books and testimonies I started to ‘believe’ that there was a world beyond the physical world. However, I have very little personal experience of it yet, so it is still a ‘belief’ and not yet an ‘experential knowlegde’. Therefore, having a few experiences with non-physical beings or in non-physical worlds will be particularly useful for me to go from beliefs to knowledge. And this can really help on the path. I don’t remember the name of the MN sutta, but there is this teaching when one is advised to reflect on the fact that devas are watching you all the time so don’t do any evil act. IMO, this teaching becomes much more real once one has experienced that, yes indeed, non-physical beings are watching you all the times! :eyes: This is just one example of how the mundane spiritual experiences can be useful stepping stones.

I might have misunderstood you, so apologizes in advance, it is not easy to talk about these things sometimes :exploding_head: :sweat_smile:

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I think it’s time to call on the Ajahns who could shine some light on this and pin point what the Buddha taught :pray: :dharmawheel: Perhaps Ajahn @Brahmali or Bhante @Sujato could assist here :pray: This thread is 14 posts long, and if that is too much to retrace, please look at the 4 posts above this one to get a flavour of this part of the discussion. Starting with the one below.

Metta :pray: :dharmawheel: :sunflower:

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I mean, that would certainly be the position of the EBTs (and all Buddhist traditions so far as I know).

The thing to bear in mind, though, is that these are not completely separate categories. In Western thought, with its dualistic tendencies, it’s either real or an illusion. But to Buddhism, the real world exists only in interdependence with consciousness. So it is the inner world that in some sense “creates” the external manifestation.

This is not magic; it is in principle no different from the everyday observation that one’s own choices affect the world that we live in. I am sitting now in this room, seeing and feeling and hearing this because I made a choice to be here. It’s not that I have magically manifested this room into being, but that my experience arises in the messy interface of the objective and subjective; or rather, that the notions of the subjective and objective are concepts that we use to make sense of the mess of experience.

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Thank you Bhante :slight_smile: :pray:

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Yes, I do think such experiences can be very powerful. They open the door to a different world view, which would normally allows for a deeper appreciation of the Dhamma. It follows from this, as you point out, that it really matters whether it is just a mental creation or a more independent reality, a separate stream of consciousness, if you like.

In practice it can very hard to know whether the experience you have is type 1 or type 2. What you can know is that the deeper your meditation, the greater will be your ability to know the difference between the two. The mind which is very still will no longer desire to create images, and so the experience is much more likely to be “real”. Moreover, you will have the ability to tell the difference.

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May I add Bhante, it just struck me that this particular phenomenon is also what probably underpins various wealth manifestation techniques such as described by Napoleon Hill (Think and grow Rich), Rhonda Bryne (The Secret) and even Scott Adams (the Dilbert guy)!

There’s a fundamental difference. In these cases, there is no insight on the actual working of the thing. It’s pure wishful thinking, delusion.

From the perspective of dependent origination the Buddha in EBTs is inviting us to realise that as long as ignorance is present and influencing the whole process, only suffering follows.

The only way out are the the choices that lead to the end of choices, in other words the eightfold.path.

:anjal:

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