The idea of afterlife states is common to all religious traditions. For example, heaven, hell, and purgatory is the Christian version of this. Metaphysical traditions generally hold the dogma of various higher and lower states in which the soul will reside predicated upon the type of energy (selfish or selfless) that the person lived through life. The Tibetan Buddhist teaching on afterlife states has its foundation in the deep meditative states and realizations of achieved meditators over many centuries. That foundation began in India shortly after the Buddha’s death more than 2500 years ago. Some meditative practitioners would go to the charnel grounds to meditate on impermanence and the three inevitable states that all humans and life forms experience: aging, sickness, and death. The practitioner would sit among dismembered and rotting corpses left to the wild animals and meditate on the fleeting nature of everything thus the importance of each moment. This subject of meditation and its deep internal focus developed into four distinct meditative disciplines that investigated and then used the intermediate states of existence, namely
- sleeping state and dreams,
- the high point of sexual orgasm,
- creating a meditative semblance of dying and the consciousness leaving the body-mind continuum,
- and sustaining the consciousness through death such that the rebirth process was engaged with sustained awareness. This latter meditative discipline was/is possible only for advanced practitioners.
Over the centuries, thousands of meditators have participated in and learned various of these meditative disciplines – as is the case still today. The Dalai Lama has reported that he meditates daily on death. Other lamas have said likewise. For years, I, too, have practiced two forms of meditation from the list above – sleep-dream yoga and meditations simulating death. The essence of the sleep-dream yoga has been offered to students over the years as well. Yet, to accomplish these forms of meditation requires adequate meditative capacity within the practitioner, and without such the practitioner simply will have a sleepless night from dream yoga and might feel fatalistic from meditating on death. Yet in both cases, the intention is wakefulness, awareness, a continuity of consciousness, and a sincere appreciation of the interdependence of life through understanding its impermanent nature.
Due to modern medical equipment and crisis triage, near death experiences (nde) from people brought back to life has increased and been reported, researched, and made available for public interest. If one knows what to look for, congruence is easily found between the modern non-meditative sources of reports of the afterlife states and realms and those sourced from meditators.
I suggest that the afterlife states follow the three qualities of awareness already stated in this series: luminescent, dynamic, and continuous. More about this will be offered in retreat at Spirit Fire Meditative Retreat Center in Massachusetts in January through meditation, information, and intended application. (You are welcome to register.) But to continue this series, let’s briefly look at the first few afterlife states.
The first experience of dying is light (luminescence). It is experienced by everyone. Most experience it as visual light. The experience manifests as possibly an updraft of light that one is taken joyously up into, a tunnel of light that one is irresistibly drawn toward, or a lightness of being (weightlessness) and thus an ascent into a sky of light or puffy clouds of light. Light includes a feeling of peace, expansiveness, no worries, appreciation, gratitude, ease, and release. It is pleasant, possibly rapturous.
This experience is universal because it is the light of awareness releasing itself from the density of form and expanding into the fuller light-nature of itself. Furthermore, light and love are interrelated, in fact inseparable. Therefore, love meets one and does so in various possible forms – all determined by the beliefs and mind-stream of the person dying or experiencing a near-death-experience.
What about the person who has done heinous things and has no remorse? Initially, all beings experience death as a release and experience light in some manner. However, those whose minds and emotions are twisted by hatred and anger, violence with no remorse, or blatant and vacuous greed will experience light quickly obscured by their own delusions. It’s as if the light cannot find a path through the twisted obstructions of a deluded mind. Therefore, light is short lived and simply is the release of the consciousness principle from the form of body-mind-emotions and quickly is thrust into the dynamic phase.
The dynamic phase of dying is the proverbial experience of “life flashing before one’s eyes”. Essentially, the quality of one’s life parades through one’s consciousness-steam. The detail is not important, the essential qualities repeated over and over again are. For most people, this experience is pleasant, even joyful. One observes the goodness that one brought into the world. For those who have been malevolent, the review is pointed and uncompromising. For those who are mediocre in their kindness, withholding goodness, patience, and generosity or generally acting in a self-serving way including non-ethically, then the review is also pointed and the experience is usually one of pity for one’s self for being so small-minded and Grinch-hearted. This review of consciousness-lived occurs for everyone, no matter how one dies (suddenly or not) or the cause of death.
The review fulfills the dynamic quality of awareness and creates the third phase after dying. This one is predicated upon the quality of continuity or continuous. It is in this phase that the maturity of the Soul (consciousness) is significant. A few options are possible but each is entirely based upon the maturity or point on the Path of the Soul (consciousness).
- a loop of certain ideas will repeat over and over again. This is a hell experience if the ideas are hellish ideas. This is also the stage where ghosts are created. Ghosts are unsatisfied or unsatiated about something and cannot be satisfied by the thing desired from the afterlife realms. Yet, continuity holds the consciousness in the loop of wanting and the inability to satisfy the desire. Both of these are experienced by those lacking maturity of consciousness.
- a loop of learning for the moderately aware consciousness. This is the source of the idea of purgatory. The Soul – or idea of a self – is strong and needs to develop its idea of self. Human souls do that through repetition whether in incarnation or out while developing the sense of self. This loop of continuity holds the evolving consciousness in the betterment that is possible by keeping its errors close at hand. The evolving soul grows weary of the habits of self and the negative selfish actions that result in life through those habits of mind. Life time after life time, the evolving consciousness-stream ends up in this loop of evaluation. Little by little, the patterns of mind are changed, then actions in the life follow suit, and selflessness increases while selfishness decreases. The Soul matures.
- A state of contemplation is for the maturing Soul, for the person who is somewhat along the spiritual Path. The continuity is a reflection upon the qualities of goodness and light that one IS and is therefore responsible for. Continuous meditation upon this supports the flow of these qualities during the upcoming incarnation.
- For the more mature being, consciousness already is lived as a continuity. Kindness and creative expressions of light and forms that render wisdom or compassion are lived in the life. This consciousness-stream knows itself to be more than the Soul, and thus, when out of incarnation, offers its qualities of Being through service from the higher realms. There are a variety of ways this is done, but this small series is not the place to explain them.
- This last level includes that this being understands duration and that the purposes of Beingness take time. Therefore, this out of incarnation time is also used to absorb the mind-stream (consciousness-awareness) in a deep samadhi of the qualities being incarnationally expressed into and through the form of one’s service and life, ever refining them and expanding them.
All people experience the release of death as light and lightness of being. All people experience the review of life. All people experience the continuity of the general tone of mind (consciousness, awareness) that he or she experienced through the incarnated life. These three stages are followed upon by at least three more for the mature awareness-stream or advanced human being. We’ll save that for the retreat at Spirit Fire. Yet, these three are the reasons why the tone of one’s life matters. One’s afterlife states are predicated upon one’s life. How can it be otherwise? As both Lao Tsu (the Tao te Ching) and the Buddha said, the results of one’s actions follow one like a cart follows the ox.
Therefore, live with the well-being of others forefront and one’s long lasting wellness is assured.