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Life After DeathHere’s a party topic: What happens when you die? Even atheists can have fun contemplating the fate of consciousness on the body’s demise. This, of course, is a ubiquitous concern – every person at one time or another has pondered the thought of what follows the final breath; and some might be surprised to learn that similar views on the matter exist among different cultures and civilizations, showing either a primordial human intuition or our limits on comprehending potentialities which lie beyond the event horizon of our own intellect.  However, I believe that thinking about this question can help bring peace of mind to the here and now, a way to assist one in living fearlessly, and for getting the absolute most out of our one certain lifetime, the only one that ultimately matters.

According to ancient Indo-Aryan traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc), life proceeds through perpetual cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth, spiraling into ever-higher realms and forms. They call this process Samsara, which essentially means, wandering through successive states of mundane existence.” To understand the true essence of this concept, one must focus on the terms wandering and mundane. To the Indian mind, material or worldly existence was a form of aimless roving through illness, loss, poverty, unrealized desires, and other countless sufferings. Until one applied one’s mind toward spirit, only then could one attain moksha, or liberation, from the repeated cycle of pain and suffering that is the human existence. And this is the important part: only the body dies, the form, while the formless soul (Atman) exists eternally in bliss (Ananda). Reincarnation was associated with the cycle of karma, which was believed to influence the future lives on the cycle of Samsara.

Life After DeathReincarnation is not purely an eastern conception, however, but a western one as well, as the ancient Greeks also believed in the soul’s transmigration from one body to another over time. Orpheus, Pythagoras, and Plato all discussed rebirth and the movement of the soul from freedom to its captivity within the body. To Plotinus, the immortal Soul was the divine emanation of the Intelligence (Nous), and it was corrupted by the body to forget its divine nature. It is the role of the Soul to “remember” its oneness with the source (The One), and it does this through recurring material existence until it is reminded completely of its true place and state in the Divine Realm. Like the Indo-Aryan ideas on reincarnation, the Ancient Greeks believed that only the body dies, while the eternal Soul migrates from body to body until it remembers, and ultimately returns to, its Divine origin.

Life After DeathOther civilizations believed strongly in an afterlife. Whereas reincarnationists believed in an immortal soul which recycled in form and intellect, a tenet of the Abrahamic religions (Judaic, Christian, Islam) is that our soul is indeed immortal but only exists at one time in materiality. Upon death, the soul proceeds to either a heaven or hell. There are many different interpretations of what constitutes a heaven or hell, such as whether they are actual dimensions or simply states of being for the soul. The names also differ from religion to religion, but they all believe in the desirability of one (the heaven) with its eternal graces for the virtuous, and the repugnance of the other (the hell) with its fire and brimstone for the damned. In these belief systems, as in the karmic-based ones, a soul’s eternal future depends on how the person acts in this lifetime. The Pagans, too, believed in an afterlife, in which the immortal soul was either banished to the underworld or exalted into a heavenly garden reserved for the valiant and good-hearted.

Of course, some may offer a third possibility, which is the complete oblivion of consciousness at the time of death. The notion of nonexistence is frightful for many, often subconsciously, and it underlies most if not all human fears. Considering nothingness is extremely difficult for the vast majority of us, so the notion of it being our fate does not promote peace of mind. Further, resuscitation sciences – the medical study of keeping dying people alive – show some interesting findings with regard to near-death experiences. According to Dr. Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, Director of Critical Care & Resuscitation Research at the NYU School of Medicine, we call them “experiences” of death because that’s what it appears to be exactly. He explains what people have reported following resuscitation from cardiac death, where the heart has stopped functioning but the brain has not yet reached irreversible brain damage (brain death):

“People report a unique cognitive experience in relation to death. They may have a perception of seeing their body and the doctors and nurses trying to revive them, yet feel very peaceful while observing. Some report a realization that they may have actually died.

Later they develop a perception or a sensation of being pulled towards a type of destination. During the experience, they review their life from birth, until death, and interestingly this review is based upon their humanity.

They don’t review their lives based on what people strive for, like a career, promotions, or an amazing vacation. Their perspective is focused on their humanity. They notice incidents where they lacked dignity, acted inappropriately towards others, or conversely, acted with humanity and kindness.

They re-experience and relive these moments, but also, what’s fascinating, which sort of blows me away because I can’t really explain it, is they also describe these experiences from the other person’s perspective.

If they caused pain, they experience the same pain that other person felt, even if they didn’t realize it at the time. They actually judge themselves. They suddenly realize why their actions were good or bad, and many claim to see the downstream consequences of their actions.”

It’s almost as if consciousness is operating outside of the brain, as if a separate substance from body is responsible for what we deem awareness.

No logical argument can be made in either direction to prove whether we are immortal souls transmigrating from one lifetime to another or whether we can look forward to, or fear, an eternity of heaven or hell. Both options serve a purpose psychologically to either lessen the fear of nonexistence, which the nothingness of oblivion offers, or to guide behaviors by which to live one’s life, in the event an afterlife of punishment or paradise does, in fact, await us. I think it’s valid to question whether these ideas on life-after-death were conceptualized and promoted to act as a societal control for growing populations. As societies grew, any assistance in keeping people civilized had to be welcomed, and what better way to maintain order than through self-imposed moral restraints. Also true is that the topic of immortality is rarely considered outside of moral contemplations (I was kidding about the party talk), so it is hard to imagine the concept evolving independently from how we expected societies to act as a whole.

Life After DeathNot even oblivion can be proved. But what sets the idea of life-after-death apart from nothingness is that it provides a potentiality from which to bring about peace of mind. If our fundamental fear is the potentiality of non-existence, then its antipode has to have the opposite effect. Oblivion has nothing, literally, to look forward to, and while imagining an afterlife or other material existences may indeed be fantasy, it would have intrinsic value, as the human mind seems to thrive when it has something to look forward to. The mathematician Blaise Pascal and the philosopher John Locke both wagered that the benefits of imagining immortality outweighed its downsides, because, they reasoned, it would be better to be wrong about an afterlife (or karmic cycle) and simply get nonexistence – “he is not miserable; he feels nothing” – than to deny it, act haphazardly, and then ultimately face judgment if an afterlife does, in fact, exist.

Life After DeathIf the notion of death can be equated to “moving on to the next adventure,” then not only is the mind brought to a place of tranquility, but it can also act as foundation to living one’s life to the fullest. Our fears can, and often do, act as limiting factors to what we might try in life, and thus what we accomplish. The primary fear of nonexistence, and its twin fear of death, is most often expressed as a fear of failing. This fear can be strong enough to keep people from taking risks and thus receiving the rewards that come with them. Those that allow their fears to control what they go after often prevent themselves from living magnificent lives. People who live, and act, fearlessly not only surprise themselves in unleashing power which they didn’t know they possessed, but they might even find themselves doing things never before conceived or carried out by another human in history. Everybody can think of someone who fits this profile. Most of the time, great accomplishers do not let their fears guide them. I have heard it said that overcoming the fear of death allows people to truly live.

I think that thinking about death is important. Studies have shown that talking about death regularly actually diminishes anxiety over it. Since death is inevitable, having a healthy, hopeful outlook on it and what lies beyond cannot hurt. As I have already mentioned, there is no logical argument that can prove or disprove any of the theories I have discussed above, so like Pascal or Locke, why not choose the one which allows you the greatest psychological advantage? Or maybe consider the benefits of all potentialities I have discussed here, and weigh each in equanimity. Plato states, through his favorite protagonist and teacher Socrates, that “…either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another… [either way] be of good cheer about death, and know of a certainty, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.”

Dharma Karma Particles and LightWhy are you here? Do you have a purpose? Or is your life simply random—chance collision of particles and light; the perfect, yet improbable, conditions for the emergence of life, a pure coincidence? The reigning belief among materialists is that this scenario is precisely how life emerged—right place, right time—the materialist notion of a miracle.

Some scholars, however, particularly in evolutionary biology, believe there exists a teleology within nature, a purposeful action, a reason for doing things. Birds orient toward Earth’s magnetic field via magnetoreceptors, allowing them to find their way home; molecules of life form to better dissipate energy and thus increase entropy, and the human mind does not perceive reality as it truly is, but in ways which allow it to survive.

Dharma Karma Life PathMany have spoken of a purpose to human life, a dharma as the yogis call it, and every person, it is believed, has their own individual dharma. Acting within one’s dharma would be the highest undertaking one could choose, as mission would dictate one’s actions. Great teachers throughout history have seen this as the answer to life—a way to rise above one’s challenges and seeming obstacles. Simply follow your dharma and you can never fail. Many people, however, are not completely aware of their life’s purpose. I believe that uncovering your life’s purpose is the greatest blessing you can receive. I have dedicated my life’s work to helping people uncover and cultivate their purpose.

Following the path of one’s dharma is not without hardship though, an experience common to all human beings. In fact, hardship, trauma, and devastation are so ubiquitous that some of the world’s greatest teachers have addressed these with sayings, stories, and even their own lives. The simple fact is that every one of us must walk through our own personal tragedies, and we must do it alone—nobody can walk for us.

Why must we all have this experience of turmoil? Is there a purpose or is it also random?

Some would say that we have a guiding light directing us at all times, and that we have the ability to increase our connection to this source of information, or perhaps better to say that we can increase the transmission of information, as the connection is always there, only the rate and intensity of the broadcast varying. We can increase the transmission of that guiding light by using the tool of meditation.

The source of this guiding light has been called the Higher Mind, and its transmissions are received by the Lower Mind. I will spend significant time in later articles to describe what is meant by Higher Mind. Lower Mind is simply the somatic element of the mental system—the brain and spinal cord, the neurology. The sensori-emotional Lower Mind when highly charged can convolute the transmissions of Higher Mind, and so by minimizing these convolutions (through meditation and other equilibrating practices), the individual (or monad) begins to make its way toward divinity—a state of complete unity (Godliness).

To do this requires a shift from Lower Minded perceiving to Higher Minded knowing, a certainty which must be cultivated. The shift is mental, and thus perceptual, so it is of the mind—taking the individual from a perception of separateness to a knowingness of unity. The human mind’s greatest illusion is of separation in space and time, another concept we will investigate in another post.

Dharma Karma Rising PhoenixAnother ubiquitous human experience is the rising like a phoenix from the ashes and anguish of our traumas. It is no surprise that some of the most powerful stories told are of rising, like great spirits, up to the heavens of salvation. We do rise, only to fall again, yet rise higher and higher every time we pull ourselves up, approximating the oneness of all things, in timeless, spaceless elevation.

I was contemplating the work of the great philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, titled The Sufferings of Young Werther (Norton Critical Editions), about a young man who falls in love with a woman he cannot have. The story follows the Young Werther as he attempts to win her heart by any means necessary as time moves on, until, upon accepting the agony of the situation, that she will never be his, he takes his own life in grief—a true tragedy of the heart. Too many people choose the Young Wether’s path, thinking they cannot rise from the ashes of their own scorched lives. But the rise is as ubiquitous as the fall. No matter how destructive your last inferno, by allowing the knowingness of Higher Mind to guide you spontaneously, and enhancing it by mind-equilibrating practices, you will fulfill your dharma with a certainty of the all-encompassing unity which paves your divine path. Uncovering purpose, following it dutifully, and allowing Higher Mind to operate freely, with trust in the unity of existence and experience, is truly the highest path one can take. History’s greatest teachers could not have all been wrong about that.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Nick Campos - All Rights Reserved.