Study of advanced Buddhist meditators suggests inducing near-death experiences can be learned and perfected

Near-death experiences are profound psychological events that typically occur in people close to actual or perceived death. New research has examined some Buddhist meditation practitioners who can willfully induce these experiences. The study was published in Mindfulness.

“The practice of using meditation to gain a better understanding of death is longstanding, particularly in Buddhism where ancient texts exist that aim to help spiritual practitioners prepare for, or gain insight into, the process of dying,” said study author William Van Gordon of the University of Derby and

“However, to date, no study has sought to investigate whether this practice is ongoing, what psycho-spiritual changes it elicits, and why some advanced meditators choose to engage in it.”

In the study, 12 advanced Buddhist meditation practitioners completed semi-structured interviews about meditation-induced near-death experiences along with psychometric assessments. Only participants who scored high on the Near-Death Experience Scale were included in the study.

“Around 4% of adults in Western countries report having a near-death experience when they are close to dying or in the period between clinical death and resuscitation. However, the study showed that some advanced Buddhist meditation practitioners are able to harness these experiences at will, fostering insight into the psychology of death-related processes as well as the nature of self and reality more generally,” Van Gordon told PsyPost.

The researchers found that meditation-induced near-death experiences were associated with altered perception of time and space, and often involved encounters with non-worldly realms or beings. The participants also said they retained control over these near-death experiences, and could decided when it began and ended.

“Unlike regular near-death experiences (NDEs), participants were consciously aware of experiencing the meditation-induced NDE and retained control over its content and duration. Also, compared to regular forms of meditation, the meditation-induced NDE led to a five-fold increase in mystical experiences and a four-fold increase in feelings of non-attachment,” Van Gordon explained.

“Findings also demonstrated that the profundity of the meditation-induced NDE increased across the three-year study period, suggesting that the experience can be learned and perfected over time.”

The ability to willfully induce near-death experiences could help scientists better understand the phenomenon, which has been difficult to research.

“A key implication is that the present study shows it would be feasible – and ethical – for future research to recruit advanced meditators to assess real-time changes in a person’s neurological activity during a near-death experience. To date, the health risks and ethical challenges associated with conducting such a study in those experiencing a regular near-death experience have made this impossible,” Van Gordon said.

The study, “Meditation-Induced Near-Death Experiences: a 3-Year Longitudinal Study“, was authored by William Van Gordon, Edo Shonin, Thomas J. Dunn, David Sheffield, Javier Garcia-Campayo, and Mark D. Griffiths.