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Observations placeholder

David-Neel, Alexandra – The god rides her and the pamos goes spinning



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

My Journey to Lhasa – Alexandra David-Neel

One night I was awakened by one of the open air lodgers of the courtyard, an old woman who asked help for her daughter, who seemed to be about to die. Yongden and I and the "Captain" and his wife ran hastily outside. We found the girl seated; she appeared to breathe with difficulty and uttered strange sounds a little like the noise of an engine letting off steam. "l understand now," the mother told us. "The god rides her."

The girl was a pamo [medium]. I had seen a number of these people in trances, including this young woman herself a few weeks before, but that night she looked particularly excited. Her mother and sister hastened to fasten on her the symbolic ornaments of the pamo, amongst others the hat called rigs nga-because it bears five (nga) pictures of Dhyani Buddhas, each of them, according to lamaism, the spiritual father of a lineage (rigs).

She began to shake her head and to dance. Her chanting, which had at first been no more than a murmur, became louder and louder until she shrieked. Two dogs were tied up in the courtyard. The good beasts did not appreciate this nocturnal performance, which no doubt troubled their sleep. They began to bark, to howl, and finally, one of them succeeded in breaking his chain and jumping toward the pamo. Several of those present, who, like myself, occasionally fed the animal, went after it, pushing the pamo out of its reach. Like many mastiffs, this one was very mild with the people he knew, so we held him without great difficulty, and tied him up again. The moon was shining brightly now, and Yongden noticed that the dog had carried something away in its mouth. On looking closer, he saw that it was the rigs nga, the pamo headgear, that had fallen down in the scramble. The dog kept it between its paws, after the fashion of its race when they begin to rend a piece of cloth.

The pamo had stopped her dance. She stood stiff and motionless as a statue. Her mother asked her if she had been hurt, but the girl seemed unconscious and did not answer. Then the old woman noticed that the rigs nga was no more on the pamo's head.

"Where is my daughter's rigs nga?" she lamented immediately.  "Where has it fallen? Oh, what a bad omen!"

"The dog has it," I said. "Do not be so sorry; it was an old one. The lama, my son, knows a kind trader in the town. He will beg a new one from him."

I thought that, knowing I would give her another hat, the old beggar would feel consoled, but before I had even finished speaking she screamed loudly:

"Take it away from that dog. . . . It is the god. . . . The god is in it. The dog will kill the god and my daughter will die!"

"Has the dog really got it?" enquired the "Captain."

"Yes," answered Yongden.

"Then the pamo will die if he tears it," declared the gentleman mendicant, oracularly. It was not the time to reason with these fools.

At the noise the old mother was making with her: "The dog will kill the god, my daughter will die!" all the guests of our caravanserai had awakened and gathered around us-a picturesque assemblage, moving in confusion under the round and peaceful moon. None of them raised any doubt about the perilous situation of the god and of his medium, but none dared to affront the terrible black animal, the only sensible-looking creature amongst them, who regarded this unusual nocturnal agitation with the utmost astonishment and thus forgot to play with the rigs nga. The old woman was growing hysterical, her daughter remained lifeless as a dummy.

"A magic phurba is needed," a dishevelled orator said at last, and he began to explain how it was to be used by a duly initiated lama, in order to overpower the demon who had entered the dog and made him seize the rigs nga and devour the vital principles of the god and of his medium, which no doubt dwelt in the symbolic hat. But no magic dague was available. The "Captain" cut short the discourse.

"I will fetch my sword," he announced, "and stab the animal from behind."

I felt indignant that the stupid coward should murder the poor innocent dog. I could not bear the thought of it.

"Let me do it," I said. “I shall get the rigs nga!"Turning to Yongden, I ordered: "Make quickly a big ball of tsampa."

He ran into the house and I went to the dog. It was a little risky.

These Thibetan watchdogs do not like even their masters to take things away from them. Anyhow, the big animal got up when I spoke to it, and while I patted its head I quickly gave the witch's crown a kick and sent it flying some distance away. The mastiff did not notice it, or it did not care. Its attention was attracted toward Yongden, who came out with the ball of flour.

"Eat that, my friend," I said. "It will be more tasty and nourishing than a god."

The afflicted mother immediately replaced the dirty hat upon the head of her pamo, and the latter suddenly recovered from her seeming insensibility and began to gyrate like a top. "The god has come back," shouted the ragged listeners. Then they began to tell one another strange stories about cases of the same kind that had ended badly for pawos or pamos. Each one had a miracle, a wonder to relate but I had quite enough of the affair and hurried back to my cell.

The source of the experience

Tibetan Buddhism

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Frenetic exercise