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  • MORGAN FREEMAN: I lived here in Greenwood, Mississippi,

  • off and on from the age of 7 until I was 18.

  • ♪ ♪

  • I crossed a lot of hurdles here.

  • Started first grade,

  • learned how to drive a car,

  • fell in love for the first time.

  • I also crossed another hurdle here.

  • I experienced death.

  • My paternal grandmother, my brother.

  • We all go through this, of course.

  • Everybody grieves,

  • but some people have a certainty that helps them cope with grief.

  • They're certain they will see their loved ones again

  • in heaven.

  • For some of us it's not quite that simple.

  • In fact, it's the greatest question we ask ourselves.

  • What happens when we die?

  • ♪ ♪

  • Now I'm embarking on an epic adventure

  • to discover what we believe lies beyond death and why.

  • Is there any scientific support for the soul?

  • I'll learn the true purpose of the afterlife

  • for ancient Egyptians.

  • Oh, my goodness, look at all this.

  • Why the story of one man's rebirth was so powerful

  • it swept the globe.

  • WOMAN: It is the resurrection of Jesus

  • that proves that he's the Messiah.

  • FREEMAN: How the Hindu faith erased the fear of death.

  • MAN: I accept that as an inevitable part of life.

  • FREEMAN: And I'll explore how science

  • is trying to capture the soul.

  • ROBOT: I hope to be fully human someday.

  • FREEMAN: To bring eternal life to this life.

  • ♪ ♪

  • What is beyond death?

  • How can any of us know?

  • But some people think they do,

  • because they've been to the brink of death.

  • ♪ ♪

  • Former research diver David Bennett

  • is one of those people.

  • Which one are you looking at?

  • DAVID BENNETT: This window here,

  • the one with Jesus in the lower corner there.

  • He's quieting the storm.

  • ♪ ♪

  • Back in 1983, off the California coast

  • there was a storm, about 25 to 30-foot seas,

  • and so we started heading in.

  • ♪ ♪

  • And all of a sudden, we fell off a 30-footer...

  • that fast... [snaps finger]

  • ...and we just slid right off.

  • And I looked up and there was the next one,

  • and it came right down on top of us.

  • I was in the bow, it catapulted me into the sea,

  • and I was just tumbled and tossed like a rag doll.

  • ♪ ♪

  • You can only hold your breath so long.

  • You reach a point of release where you just, you just let go

  • and you breathe in salt water.

  • And it's, it's quite a violent way to die.

  • ♪ ♪

  • FREEMAN: No idea how deep?

  • BENNETT: I hadn't, I had totally lost my awareness

  • of my body and the ocean at this point.

  • ♪ ♪

  • Then I noticed this light.

  • It was millions upon millions of fragments of light.

  • ♪ ♪

  • In all different colors,

  • and they were all dancing and swirling,

  • but kind of like they were one mind, though,

  • and it was infinite.

  • FREEMAN: What did you think?

  • Did you think, or you've just experienced this feeling?

  • BENNETT: Well, I mean, I knew

  • I wasn't in Kansas anymore, you know.

  • I knew I had left my body,

  • and as I approached this mass of light,

  • it was a familiar home.

  • And, and it was a relationship that was so much deeper

  • than any relationship I'd ever had here.

  • And then I reached a certain point

  • where these millions of fragments of light spoke.

  • ♪ ♪

  • And they said, 'This is not your time.'

  • 'You must return, you have a purpose.'

  • I was watching my body and I was mesmerized,

  • because I knew I was gonna go back in that body.

  • ♪ ♪

  • And as the next set of waves came,

  • they pounded my body up against all this wreckage

  • and pushed some of that salt water out of my lungs,

  • and that's when I found myself back in my body.

  • ♪ ♪

  • FREEMAN: About how long were you in the water, under?

  • BENNETT: Yeah, the, the crew that were looking for me

  • said I was there from anywhere from 15 to 18 minutes

  • under this, under the water.

  • FREEMAN: 15 to 18 minutes.

  • BENNETT: Yeah.

  • FREEMAN: So you're 15 to 18 minutes without a breath of air.

  • BENNETT: Right.

  • FREEMAN: Okay.

  • So, David, all that you've told me is, is such a story.

  • BENNETT: Mm-hmm.

  • FREEMAN: Does it make you believe in an afterlife?

  • BENNETT: I do believe in an afterlife.

  • I believe that our being, our soul,

  • whatever you may want to call it, lives on,

  • and that we have opportunities to come back.

  • And I never thought of any of that beforehand.

  • I, I'm, you know, it just wasn't on my radar.

  • FREEMAN: Now here we sit in this cathedral.

  • You haven't mentioned God.

  • BENNETT: That light, that was God to me.

  • That was God.

  • FREEMAN: So the message is from God.

  • BENNETT: Yeah.

  • And I believe that you can find that spirituality

  • in all different beliefs.

  • I don't subscribe to just one belief anymore.

  • I try--I love-- my library at home

  • has all different beliefs represented.

  • FREEMAN: So does mine.

  • David's incredible story

  • reminds me of an experience I had many years ago.

  • ♪ ♪

  • I have seen a light, not in a near-death experience,

  • I was just passing out.

  • And what I perceived was the tiniest beam of light

  • that to me was the final form of life.

  • It just occurred to me, holy cow, there it is.

  • There is the light that everybody talks about.

  • But it's a common theme among people

  • who say they have had a near-death experience

  • or an out-of-body experience.

  • What they see is a light.

  • Some people have seen Jesus in, in this light;

  • other people just see a bright light.

  • The hope for life beyond death

  • seems to be an almost universal instinct.

  • But I want to know how the afterlife

  • first became part of religion.

  • So, I'm going to Egypt...

  • ♪ ♪

  • ...to the place where the first great monuments to the afterlife

  • still stand.

  • ♪ ♪

  • [camel bellows]

  • ♪ ♪

  • SALIMA IKRAM: Here we are in Sakkara.

  • That's the step pyramid of King Djoser,

  • and it's one of the first pyramids.

  • It is the first pyramid ever to be built.

  • FREEMAN: That one is over there?

  • IKRAM: Yes. This entire site is a big cemetery.

  • So the ideas that people now have

  • about rebirth and resurrection

  • all started here in Sakkara

  • about 5,000 years ago, not earlier.

  • FREEMAN: So this is maybe the birth of afterlife thought.

  • IKRAM: Yeah, you could say that.

  • FREEMAN: Egyptologist Salima Ikram is taking me to see

  • the tomb of a pharaoh who ruled almost 4,400 years ago.

  • Inside it are humanity's oldest written descriptions

  • of the afterlife.

  • IKRAM: This is a causeway,

  • and we're going towards the temple of Unas.

  • This part is where they would be dragging the body of the king

  • once it had been mummified up here.

  • FREEMAN: I'm looking here at these stones.

  • I know I couldn't lift one.

  • And this looks like it was built in the '50s or '60s.

  • IKRAM: But it is actually built about 4,000 years ago.

  • FREEMAN: Yeah. IKRAM: A bit more than that.

  • FREEMAN: Unbelievable, Salima, unbelievable.

  • ♪ ♪

  • IKRAM: We go up here, you can see there's the pyramid,

  • and it doesn't look like very much right now.

  • It looks really like...

  • FREEMAN: Looks like a hill. IKRAM: Yup.

  • IKRAM: But what's important about it is what's inside.

  • You're going to have to mind your head.

  • FREEMAN: Now, is this little people in here or...?

  • IKRAM: My size.

  • So, you'll have to duck again for this bit.

  • ♪ ♪

  • Also, you have to bend to show that you're being respectful

  • to the great god king.

  • FREEMAN: Is that what this is all about?

  • IKRAM: Partially, yeah.

  • And here we are.

  • ♪ ♪

  • FREEMAN: Oh, my goodness, look at all this.

  • IKRAM: Fabulous, huh?

  • ♪ ♪

  • FREEMAN: What is all the writing about?

  • IKRAM: Basically, these are magic spells or religious spells

  • that Unas had inscribed

  • so that when he wanted to go from this world to the next,

  • he had to recite all of these things,

  • and they give him directions.

  • If he's going to pass through anything dangerous,

  • what to do, what do say.

  • FREEMAN: What do these prayers say?

  • IKRAM: Well, and there's one here that, you know,

  • 'Rise up, Unas, and will know the magic

  • and you can be triumphant over the demons.'

  • Over here, 'Unas will go forward and his soul will live forever.'

  • Basically, this one gives him dominance

  • over any demon-faced creatures.

  • And you see his name repeated again and again and again

  • throughout the wall.

  • FREEMAN: Okay, that's what I was looking at.

  • There's so much repetition, but that's his name.

  • IKRAM: Yeah.

  • FREEMAN: These secret spells are a survival guide

  • for souls passing through the underworld.

  • ♪ ♪

  • And the key to understanding why the afterlife

  • was so important to the Egyptians.

  • ♪ ♪

  • Okay.

  • This is the main burial chamber.

  • IKRAM: This is it, this is the main event.

  • FREEMAN: And this is the-- oh, my goodness.

  • This is a sarcophagus.

  • IKRAM: Yep.

  • This is, this big, fat thing is a sarcophagus,

  • and that's where Unas would have been laid.

  • FREEMAN: Well, I'm sorry, he's not here.

  • I'd like to shake his hand,

  • say, 'Hello, how you been? What's going on?'

  • [chuckles]

  • Okay.

  • And are these more spells?

  • IKRAM: Yep.

  • And so this whole thing is really this resurrection machine

  • for Unas and his spirit.

  • FREEMAN: At nightfall, Unas' soul would reanimate

  • his modified body and make a treacherous journey.

  • He would cross a lake of fire

  • passing through gates guarded by demons and snakes.

  • Without his sacred spells, he would be devoured.

  • With them, he could arrive and sit with the eternal gods

  • in the starry heavens.

  • He wakes up at night.

  • IKRAM: Mm-hmm.

  • FREEMAN: He gets up and he starts his, his