One of the dangers of life after death is that you may be reincarnated on Earth, which may be the worst possible thing that could happen in the 21st century. Odds are you’ll be born into the impoverished majority, exposed and defenseless on a planet being ravaged by heat and fire.
What to do in the afterworld to prevent such a calamity? Just imagine arriving in the next world—you look around, and realize things are a bit weird. You reach in your pocket for your Smartphone; it should be possible to Google your way around. But no! You have no pocket and you have no Smartphone.
Without some kind of guide book, or map, one could get lost in the afterworld. So are there any guide books to the afterlife? Well, sort of. You could try Dante’s tour book of the afterworld. You could descend into Homer’s Hades and eavesdrop on Achilles rail against the misery of the afterlife. Traditional religions can’t resist touting the moral necessity of the most fiendish punishments. If that’s all there is, it might be rational to pray for extinction.
On the other hand, I believe in the possibility of the afterworld being fun after all, and maybe even quite ecstatic. Still, there is the problem that we’re completely unprepared for the trip.
There is one afterlife guidebook that C. G. Jung liked, The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I recommend it to anybody interested in the psychology of the next world. According to Tibetan teaching, at the time of death one encounters a great light, just as in many near-death experiences a being of light is encountered. But this bright beginning may be misleading, and things are likely to go downhill after that first seductive blast.
The most important practical message from the Tibetan Book of the Dead: we must recognize that all the demons and angels we see in the next world are projections of our own mental life. The light that lures us on and casts a spell upon us, and all the dark and fearful monsters, are our projections. To see this is a big step toward freedom.
The teaching applies to the experience of the living also--we project the contents of our psyches on people and the world around us. The idea is that the more practiced we are in recognizing how we are painting the world with the colors of our own psyche, the more likely we’ll see how we’re painting the next world when we get there.
The afterlife may be inherently destabilizing, except perhaps for the enlightened and saintly elites who have mastered their inner forces and know how to manipulate their postmortem worlds, like artists who do riffs on melodies and visual motifs.
For most of us, the afterlife might simply turn out to be more miserable that life. There’s another way we can imagine the dangers of the afterlife. In the liberation of consciousness at death, the subconscious memories of our lives may flood and send us through hells of recrimination, brooding, and obsessing on what might have been--and that could be a long purgatory.
On the bright side, purgatory could one day end and the disembodied mind might then figure out ways to have some fun in heaven. One possibility would be to figure out how to make love with bodiless souls. True, we might acquire astral bodies in the next world. This could be challenging. I can imagine some poor souls going crazy with frustration because ‘love’ at the higher frequencies is impossible for them.
I think life after death may be very boring for some people. And for people who die in the 21st century, many will suffer because they won’t have their Smartphones, their computers, or their sex organs. I think I know what happens next, at least if the Tibetan Book of the Dead is right. The bored, restless and maladjusted in the next world become peeping toms and janes; they spy on living folk making love to each other, they get turned on, and that's how they get sucked back into the world via reincarnation.
Anyway, I think we should reckon on some of the dangers before we get too worked up over the prospect of the next world.
That’s it! If the sensory experiences of the next world are like dreams (“the demons and angels we see in the next world are projections of our own mental life”), then one promising avenue for preparing for the afterlife is to train ourselves to become super-duper lucid dreamers. Think about it, such a skill would enable us to, not only control the visions of the afterlife, but we might also be able to create our own version of heaven. No need to become peeping toms or janes of the living!!
So many "afterlife guidebooks" to consider! At some point, we have to think about which of them--if any--are written by someone in a position to know. In response to the previous post, for example, I mentioned Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg, in his 50s, experienced a kind of spiritual crisis and breakthrough, after which he was, as he described, in more or less continuous, or at least on-demand, contact with the next world and many of its inhabitants. He spent the remainder of his long life writing books about what he was learning, some 18 volumes in all. The best-known of these books is Heaven and Hell, but he had much more to say. His observations match, in some respects, what we find in other sources, but in other respects are unique.
As Swedenborg described it, the first port of call in the afterlife is what he called "the world of spirits," a realm of scenic beauty called "Summerland" by some spiritualists. It arguably corresponds to what the Catholic Church called "Limbo" and what the ancient Greeks called the "Elysian Fields." This destination may be what is glimpsed in some NDEs and deathbed visions. Swedenborg claimed that this is only a temporary destination, a kind of way-station from which one proceeds to one of the heavens or hells.
This transition to a heaven or hell is ultimately determined by the "ruling desire" that one has formed during mortal life. The purpose of the heavens is not to reward and the purpose of the hells is not to punish. Both are intended to provide whatever form of "happiness" each person is capable of experiencing. Many people are so warped by the time they die that they could not tolerate a "heaven" but are fit only for a hellish environment.
Well, that scratches the surface of what Swedenborg had to say, but why should we believe him? Why not believe the Tibetan Book of the Dead instead, or one of the over 400 books channeled by the Brazilian medium Chico Xavier, or the Urantia Book, allegedly authored by celestial beings?
In the end, I suppose, we believe the one that speaks most clearly to us. Many insist that all of these works, except the Bible, are demonic in origin, intending to confuse and distract us. The Bible itself is frustratingly vague on the actual nature of the afterlife. Sincere and devout readers of the Bible can't even agree among themselves as to whether Hell is a permanent destination or a place where the unsaved are annihilated. Both can find "proof texts" for their positions.
A few people have tried to sift through all this, to come up with a syncretistic vision of the next world. But it's not really possible, since there are so many points at which the guidebooks contradict each other. Stafford Betty wrote an enjoyable novel, The Imprisoned Splendor, as a composite of various mediumistic accounts of the afterlife. Naomi Gladish Smith wrote a trilogy based on Swedenborg's writings. The book and film, "What Dreams May Come," are based on the research of Richard Matheson.
I wonder if there's a university coursed anywhere on afterlife literature!
Todd, THAT would be a fascinating course to take or, especially, to teach.
If reincarnation is real, why would we be reincarnated on Earth only? After all, it's a pretty big universe and it's a bit parochial to believe that this one planet is the only possible destination for rebirth. My $.02 worth, anyway.
Comments appreciated on a somewhat whimsical post. Yes, Todd, a university course on the history of afterlife theory and practice would interesting. I'm sure it exists in print, I mean the literature. Yes, lucid dreaming might be a practice, Miguel--after all, the dream state is conducive to all kinds of paranormal effects. I once dreamed of a horrible woman that seemed to want to drag me down into hell with her. It turned out she fit the description of the dead aunt of a woman I was trying to help who was having some strange psychic experiences. And Steve, as to your idea, I recently read an account of someone who was abducted into an alien space ship where he encountered the ghost of a dead relative. So maybe you're right. As for me, I'd hate to be reincarnated as one of those little bug-eyed aliens.
Most people who have NDE's do not want to come back here because it is so beautiful in the soul realm; they are usually sent back because they still have more soul school to do here. I think existence is circular rather than linear, we probably get a lengthy and *largely* enjoyable break between lives, since some demon free, post mortem reunions seem to have happened decades after death, but when the time is ripe I think most of us will descend back to physical for more school(unless you've learned all your lessons here!) This guy Leonard Jacobson went through a series of overwhelming, St Paul type spiritual awakenings, detailed on his website, and claims to have vividly re-experienced being Christ on the Cross and then taken through the soul and spiritual levels of reality. Like Tolle he teaches 'presence' & believes in miracles and the power of the mind, you might enjoy this short clip..
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