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Jeffrey Hopkins, Buddhist scholar, Tibetan translator, author and professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Virginia in the United States, suffered in 1991 from the debilitating and sometimes fatal Lyme disease. He talked to Ven. Robina Courtin in Kathmandu, Nepal in June 1993 about being close to death and of the experience of subtler states of mind.
Robina: When did you get sick, Jeffrey?
Jeffrey: I showed my sickness on March 17, 1991. I had for quite some time thought that something was wrong. I remember getting in my car at the university one day and thinking: “I’m not playing with a full deck!”
It was 10:30 in the morning. I had worked out with my friend and he was making breakfast. I was working on a book on colloquial Tibetan, which we have subsequently named Fluent Tibetan, but my problem was I wasn’t fluent! I was correcting something and trying to write the letter ya and I couldn’t write it. And I thought, “That’s strange.”
Then I went and lay down on my bed and suddenly the right side of my body was paralyzed. Even the right side of my tongue, which was amusing! It happens that, the night before, I had told my friend that if I ever got ill he should call Bill Magee, a student and friend of mine. I was in and out of the paralysis, so at some point I called out and said, “Call Bill! Now is the time!” At first he thought I was joking.
… On that first day they did a procedure to check whether my carotid artery was blocked; it wasn’t. They also did a spinal tap, which is that essentially they stick a shish kebab skewer into your spinal cord and withdraw fluid under a local anesthetic. It isn’t too painful if it is done well; I ended up having it done seven times, and one of them wasn’t done well and was painful for a few days.
You’re not supposed to have any white blood cells in the spinal fluid; if the count gets up to eleven, they feel that’s serious enough to be treated. My count was 144, which indicated a severe brain infection. They guessed encephalitis, so they began treating me with Cyclovir intravenously.
That first evening I was in the intensive care unit of the neurology section. For the most part I was floating in golden light.
Robina: Floating in golden light …
Jeffrey: It’s a reflex of a deeper experience, but with the deeper experience you don’t have the feeling of floating in something, you are the something. I did sometimes have an impression of a hospital, a little bit of surroundings, imagined. They talk about all appearances gradually disappearing at death …
From Mandala May-June 1995
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Mandala Publications is the official publication of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international charitable organization founded by two Tibetan Buddhist masters, Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-1984) and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. FPMT is a vibrant international community, with a network of 160 affiliate centers, projects and services, and members in more than 30 countries.
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