I had an out-of-body experience when I was a Samanera (short-term) Buddhist monk in Los Angeles in 2000. I experienced something so spectacular that I still cannot completely comprehend it. Strange as the experience was, that event was nearly forgotten as my life moved forward and various dramas crowded out my recollection of that occurrence. What I am about to share here is definitely hard to believe, but I assure you it really happened. It is a tale I have told only to a select few until now, but the time feels right to share it with all of you. It is my sincere wish that some of you may be able to believe, understand, and to perhaps identify with it in some way. After all, as the abbot of the temple once told me: “I am the inner body, and you are my outer body.” The Beatles said the same thing like this: “I am you and you are me and we are all together.”
It was a crisis of faith that brought it all back. I was seriously considering abandoning my belief in Buddhist teachings because even though I have always tried to be a kind, generous, and helpful person, my personal and emotional life still went to shit. Despite having access to Enlightened and super-psychic monks, and having attained an inkling of enlightenment myself, my life still fell apart. Ever since the horrible break up with my former fiancé almost three years ago, I have been struggling against cynicism, pessimism, and bitterness. I cannot trust anyone beyond a certain point and I have no intention of seeking another love in this lifetime. Looking back on it all now, I am proud to have loved someone so completely, and embarrassed to have allowed myself to become so emotionally weak and needy (see Punklightenment, December 2009, www./archive-the-resurrection-of-mangala-punklightenment-december-2009). If I could delete all memory of my relationship with that woman, I would, because the pain far exceeded the pleasures we shared.
Disillusioned with existence, I smashed one of my Buddha statues. Not in a fit of rage or out of tearful sorrow, but because of weary indifference. The basic lesson that all sentient (self-aware) beings must suffer had been forgotten. The good and the evil both suffer; it is the price of existence. A few days after destroying the statue, I had a dream where I remembered the day I left my body behind.
It was soon after the death of my maternal grandmother in the year 2000. I went to the temple to heal and to escape the world for a while. The esteemed abbot of the temple, Bhante Piyananda, was always after me to ordain as a monk, so I ordained as a Samanara, which is a temporary monkhood with the option to make it a lifetime commitment. I was given the monk name Mangala, which means “Fortunate One.” Eventually, the strain of staying up too late and waking up at 5:00 am every morning for prayers combined with the grief of losing my grandmother wore me down. Seeing I was physically exhausted, Bhante Piyananda told me to go take a nap. The overstuffed couch in the library served as my temporary bed, so I went there and tried to sleep. Within minutes, I had entered the hypnagogic stage, which is the space where a person is neither fully awake nor fully asleep. Someone was silently standing at my side; I could feel his presence.
Then it began…. A brilliant orange planet appeared, far away in the forever of space... shining like a neon star... drifting through the darkness and the glitter of a trillion stars. Its gravity pulled me closer and the seething orange planet seemed to pulsate with infinite energy and a consciousness of its own. As it loomed larger and larger, it seemed that reality itself was multiplying exponentially. It is impossible to describe. Try to imagine your entire view and understanding of existence peeling away as infinite layers of deeper reality surge into comprehension. It was hot and getting hotter. Was it a planet or a star? It got closer and closer until the enormous, seething orange thing filled my entire view. It was pulling me in and I was going to die. My chest hurt, I could not breathe, and the heat was unbearable. Forcing myself awake, I suddenly sat up and saw the young Bhante Mahinda, his saffron orange robe glowing as he stood silently by my side.
“Call 911!” I shouted right in Mahinda’s face. The nineteen-year-old reverend stood silently and just looked at me with a slight smile. “What the fuck are you doing?” I yelled in panic. “I think I’m having a heart attack or something!” Mahinda just stood there, totally calm. He then motioned with a slight nod of his head and the direction of his eyes to look behind me. Still sitting on the couch, I twisted at the waist and saw myself… still lying down, wrapped in my orange robe with eyes shut. The ghost of self had sat up outside of itself. Thinking I must still be dreaming, I asked Mahinda what was happening. The boy Buddha remained silent as a few other monks padded into the room. Confused, frightened, and totally amazed, I asked Mahinda, “Where are we?”
“We are neither here nor there,” was his reply. Instinctively, I knew he meant we were neither alive nor dead. It was also clear this was no dream. I was wide awake and could clearly see and feel everything. Just to make sure, I turned again and looked at my seemingly lifeless body. The monks began to softly chant a sutra. It was a funeral sutra; a death prayer. “So you really do sit right up out of yourself when you die” I thought to myself. Turning back to the monks, they appeared to be disappearing. Softly, each became a translucent being, as if made of living plasma-glass, radiating a bluish-white light that emanated from within. The walls of the library and temple were mere outlines and all physical objects and structures appeared to be gossamers drawn with soft, white light. Before I could ask, Mahinda answered my question: “No Mangala, you are not dead, there is no death. This is your home, please stay with us.”
What happened next is indescribable. All pasts, all present, and all possible futures coalesced into a single thought and made perfect sense even though they were all illusions created by illusory minds. The monks kept singing the funeral song. It was soothing and the radiant bliss of nonexistence was sucking me in. Then I remembered to be scared, or rather, fear took over and I resisted. I forcibly threw myself backward and into my own body once again. Suddenly, the temple library was solid, the colors of earth had returned, and the luminescence from all had dimmed back into ordinary reality. Lying flat on my back, I looked up at Mahinda as he stood over me, a look of slightly disappointed concern on his face. I could not speak or move. The monks finished the funeral song and silently left the room. For about ten minutes, I was paralyzed and mute. Slowly, my body began to respond. I sat up for a few moments and then dashed upstairs. “Bhante Piyananda! Do you know what just happened to me?”
“Yes I do, but tell me anyway,” he said with a coy smile.
“Was that death?” I anxiously asked.
“No Mangala. There is no death. It was a sign. Was it orange? Like your robe? Like an...”
“Like an ovum!” I exclaimed.
“Rebirth” was the abbot’s soft reply. “This is your home. Please stay with us.”
Obviously, I did not stay. The pleasures of the world are still too much with me, but I will return one day. For now, when the conditions are right and the energy is full, music is as much an altar to me as anything else.
Write to Marcus at: [email protected]