The cultural comparison between NDEs in different countries is a very difficult topic of investigation, especially in the absence of extensive data. When we think of a cultural comparison of any kind of experience, two different approaches can be taken (Kasulis 1981). One is to look at 'what' is experienced. The other approach is to look at 'how' this is experienced. Let me give an example. If we have two individuals, a Japanese and an Italian, and we asked them 'What is your favourite food?', the Japanese might answer 'sushi', while the Italian might say 'spaghetti'. We all know that sushi and spaghetti have very little in common. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that both the Japanese and the Italian have a favourite food, feel hunger, love food, and so on.
The same thing can be said for the near-death experience. If we look at 'what' has been experienced from a cross-cultural point of view, we may not find many common elements because every experience is unique. Nevertheless, if we start asking how an NDE is experienced, we may come to the conclusion that everywhere in the world many people will report that
(1) what happened was 'real' and was not a mere hallucination or a dream;
(2) they will emphasize that they travelled to another 'place', as if it is always there but we are not always able to see it; (3) finally, they may say that the experience was one of the more important experiences of their life and that it had a life-changing effect on them, often in a 'spiritual' sense.
Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, has argued that there are certain cognitive structures (what he called 'eidetic essences') that are common to all people regardless of their cultural context. That is to say that the basis of any near-death experience is found in the same source or power ('energy'), independent of what has been experienced. Eastern traditions have grasped this concept in various ways. For example, we find the idea of Purusa in Yoga, Atman in Vedanta, Tao in Taoism, which all refer to the field which is called our 'authentic self' (Nishida 1990).
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