Death has become an important issue in the New Age movement, and its longtime concern with spiritual transformation can now be seen in the practice of “conscious dying.” Trends in the diffuse New Age movement have closely tracked the life stages of its baby boomer pioneers–from middle age concerns with holistic healing to ruminations about life’s end as this generation turns 60. In the current issue of the Journal of Contemporary Religion (May), sociologist Raymond L.M. Lee writes that the New Age movement has always had teachings and techniques concerning death, such as explorations of Near Death Experiences (NDE), and the general belief that the soul leaves the body at death for higher spiritual planes.
In fact, the NDE discourse along with teachings from Tibetan Buddhism have inspired the New Age to increasingly focus on the process of dying as a transformation of consciousness. This involves the belief (largely taken from Tibetan Buddhism) that one’s consciousness can be manipulated during the dying process so that it is transferred to higher spiritual realms. There are now a number of manuals that draw together New Age and Tibetan Buddhist teachings on dying, such as Megory Anderson’s book Sacred Dying. To achieve such a consciousness transformation, one such technique, known as “deathing,” leads the dying person through chanting, breathing and visualization exercises. Lee concludes that conscious dying is a new form of “individualized spirituality, since it…does not specifically require religious commitment” or being part of any community. Its self-help approach is particularly suited to the New Age.
(Journal of Contemporary Religion, Institute of Education, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK)