AFTER DEATH

The Method

All four methods described in chapter five (phenomenological, inductive-deductive, transpersonal and reasoning) can contribute to this subject, but each of them is understandably somewhat limited,  so combining them is essential in this case:

  • Relevant materials from various traditions (the Tibetan Book of Death arguably still being the most authoritative one). Phenomenological method can help in separating the essence from its cultural embodiments. Discerning commonalities from different backgrounds may also be facilitative, although they could stem from cross-cultural fertilisation, rather than genuine similarities in experience[1].
  • Research on Near Death Experiences (NDE). This source, however, can account only for the first stages of life after death and relies on untrained subjects (although some aspects of their reports can be verified).
  • Transpersonal insights are essential, but they can be easily misinterpreted (e.g. they may relate to something else, rather than life after death).
  • Reasoning is limited in its generating role, although some deductive inferences can be drawn to make an account complete. This method can also exclude elements that are inconsistent, incongruent with the available facts, and superfluous.
  • [1]. For instance, in Ancient Greece, Empedocles and Plato adopted the idea of reincarnation from the Pythagoreans, and Pythagoras himself had probably learned of it from his contacts with India.

Death

Death has several purposes. It enables evolution, the emergence of more complex physical forms - without death the planet would soon be populated by primitive organisms and new ones would have no chance to appear. It is also an act of mercy on the biological level. The suffering of trapped, old, sick or injured animals would be indefinitely prolonged if there was no death. Death may also contribute to the individual development. Errors and mistakes of body and mind may accumulate during a life time to such an extent that is difficult to reverse them. Reincarnation (that will be discussed below) could offer a fresh start and still enable continuity, but reincarnation is impossible without death. Social development benefits from death too. If generations did not change, the societies would be far more conservative, solidified in their beliefs and practices.

Death is better considered a process rather than a point, and can be defined as the irreversible cessation of body functioning. However, this does not mean necessarily the end of life. Being an attribute of focused energy, life cannot cease to exist (as long as it remains focused), it can only be transformed. From this perspective, it is plausible that the soul continues its existence after death. Empirical support for the claim that an aspect of the human being remains alive after the body stops functioning is provided by research on NDEs (e.g. the work of professor Peter Fenwick in the UK). Because it is very difficult to locate the precise time of their occurrence, it is sometimes claimed that such experiences, in fact, happen before or after the period of brain inactivity, and therefore are a product of the brain. However, in several cases it was confirmed that they took place while the brain was not showing any activity. There are a number of other attempts to explain these experiences from the materialistic perspective, but none of them seem fully satisfactory[2].

A more contentious issue is what remains after death. Generally, there is a consensus that the body must return to its natural entropic state[3]. However, a dualistic perspective, that identifies the soul with the mind, entertains the possibility that the mind can be preserved in its entirety (including all the memories, for example). There are several objections to this view: firstly it is unlikely that the mind can be fully preserved, considering the extent to which it depends on the brain. Secondly, many materials of the mind are domain-specific so it would be pointless to preserve them when the environment changes (e.g. what would be the purpose of knowing traffic signs in non-material reality?). The Synthesis perspective takes a view that the mind gradually disintegrates, but the non-material component of an organism (the soul) remains. When the body ceases to produce oscillations that resonate with the soul, the soul separates from it. The aura also slowly breaks down. If the resonance is what connects the soul and the body, full separation may not occur even when the brain stops functioning, which is why people can ‘return' after having an NDE.

  • [2]. For their more detailed analyses see for example Blackmore, 2005b, and Wade, 1996, chapter 12.
  • [3]. It is occasionally believed that even the body can be maintained in non-material reality but this is out of question. A body consists of atoms that are kept together by nuclear and electro-magnetic forces. If these forces do not apply, anything physical would be highly unstable - atoms would break up into energy, which would be the equivalent of a nuclear explosion. On the other hand, if that realm allows these forces, it could not be much different from material reality and should be susceptible to the effects of entropy (further deterioration). This point is brought up only to eliminate some unrealistic NDE claims.

The Intermediate Stage

NDEs can shed some light on that twilight zone between physical and non-physical life. There are several common elements of such experiences (largely independent of culture, age, education, or religious affiliation) that are worth considering.

  • An OBE is, as a rule, a prelude to a NDE. Subjects report that they perceived the situation from a different point of view than where their bodies were, and were able to describe resuscitation procedures in detail (although they appeared unconscious and their eyes were shut). However, considering that an OBE can happen in other circumstances, these experiences do not say much about life after death, except adding to the argument that the body and mind cannot be identified.
  • Going through a tunnel or other passage with a bright light at the end is also commonly reported. Researchers do not provide an explanation of what this ‘tunnel' may be and whether it relates to something real (except misguided ones, such as that it is the memory of passing through the birth canal). One possibility is that the awareness shifts towards the other opening of the soul (towards non-material reality), but that would mean leaving the rings behind, which does not seem to fit well with the description of such experiences. Individuals sometimes tend to meet relatives and religious figures, which indicates a projection. Therefore, the rings must be involved, we do not lose our constructs immediately after death. A more plausible explanation could be that the soul goes through a tunnel that the rings themselves create. The purpose of it is to be able to maintain the rings in non-material reality. In other words, to minimise confusion and preserve one's own identity without the support of physical reality, dividing the two worlds is required. Such a separation is constructed as going through a tunnel or a corridor, and just as frequently, as crossing a river or a bridge.
  • Subjects often report that their lives passed in front of their eyes. The freeing of the soul from the body may cause energy shifts, so suppressed experiences can resurface. They can trigger such a swift succession of images that they cannot be distorted (as they are in dreams) and, therefore, resemble real memories. It is sometimes claimed that the whole life is repeated, but this is likely to be a result of later interpretations.
  • Acceptance of death and the sense of calm and purpose that can remain well after an experience and profoundly change the outlook on life of those who had them. These are non-interpretative phenomenological experiences that can be taken seriously. They make a difference between NDEs and pathological states that are sometimes invoked to explain NDEs. It is worth mentioning though, that even after an accident or serious illness that does not involve NDE people can have an enhanced sense of well-being and contentment. However, it is usually short lived and not accompanied by calm and acceptance or death as in the previous case.

Possible trajectories

There are three major beliefs (with many variations) about what happens after death: one is that nothing happens, the other is reincarnation, and the third  is that the non-material aspect of the human being continues to exist in a different reality. Surprisingly, it seems that there is scope for a synthesis even here. Each of these interpretations are to some extent right, but they are burdened by ideological baggage that makes them seemingly incompatible. In other words, they are all epistemically valid, although the degree of their ontological status may differ. To draw a parallel, when swimmers reach the other end of a swimming pool, one can stay there and do nothing, the other can swim back, and the third can get out. However, the first one will eventually have to either swim back or get out, and the second one will eventually have to get out.

Several conclusions related to this subject can be drawn from the previous arguments. First of all, if the soul is non-material, it does not return or go to another world after death - the soul has never left that other world. What happens is that it loses the connection with and the support of the body. The soul can still remain a discrete unit of energy in non-material reality because it has a centre (the self) and also its unique ‘shape' (the distribution of energy) that was re-formed during physical existence. This shape  may be to some extent affected by the rings, but cannot be identified with them. It is more fluid and is sustained by an internal cohesive force, rather than structures acquired from the outside. The shape gives a character to the soul and does not disappear. The rings that are created through an interaction with the brain and the physical environment cannot be indefinitely sustained though, and slowly fade (the difficulty is not only to preserve their elements, but also their coherence). So, after death, constructs created during one's physical existence eventually disintegrate (which is to be expected, because they are not relevant any more). However, their effects, the imprints that they leave on a soul (the knowledge and experience content) are incorporated into its shape. In other words, the form is forgotten, but the essence remains. This may be compared to a computer disc that preserves a particular code, but not words and images. On the other hand, without the restrictions of the heavy brain, awareness has an opportunity to expand, and what happens after that is likely to depend on the stage of development achieved during material life. Several options are possible: the soul merges with a larger unit, reincarnates or, if the self is capable of keeping its energy together, remains aware and intentful in non-material reality. The following descriptions of these options are an interpretation that does not need to be taken onboard. What really matters is the notion that development can continue even after death.

  • A soul is sometimes still connected to a larger energy unit (physical separation during material life does not mean necessarily that individual souls are fully separated in the non-material domain). In this case, the soul again becomes a part of the larger whole, within which it may still maintain a limited individuality or it can merge fully.
  • If the body and bodily instincts were the main driving force during material existence the soul cannot, on its own, remain integrated after death (the first ring easily breaks when the soul loses the support of the senses and body to provide security and anchor it). Two reactions can be expected: panic, which leads to a rush attachment to any available new body or a (spontaneous or possibly assisted) enfolding of the soul, similar to a sleep without dreams, a state of rest and preservation until the next life begins. This means that the soul ceases to be aware of anything until a new life (which fits well with the materialists' view that nothing happens after death).

If the main force in life was social determination, the second ring can preserve the soul integrated for awhile. The experience is interpreted according to the cultural framework adopted during the lifetime. A person gives a recognisable shape to a new experience. Non-material energy takes familiar forms (relatives, angels, religious figures[4]). These constructs can persist for a while on the basis of inner ‘monologue' or for even longer if a collective framework is created and supported by mutual interactions among participating souls. Nevertheless, those constructs do not have the same solidity and durability as in physical life (they create a state similar to a dream). Without the support of the brain and material world, sooner or later they also fade off. The second ring starts falling apart. The length of this process depends on how much the soul is attached to socially conditioned elements and whether they are reinforced by other souls. When this ring eventually disintegrates, awareness expands, but the soul that heavily relied on such constructs is unlikely to be able to adapt to the new, so the same happens as in the above case (i.e. reincarnation). On the other hand, if the person managed to transcend shimself within the conventional stage (through shis actions, for example), it may weaken the attachment and make possible to remain in non-material realm.

  • If during physical life a person was predominantly on the third (ego) stage of development, shis soul is likely to be fully separated. An individual can temporarily create shis own environment, so personal expectations are fulfilled. The soul of a convinced materialist, for instance, can spontaneously enfold leading to ‘hibernation' and supporting the belief that nothing happens after death. More commonly, the soul can create the world of shis desires. Such an ego-created ‘world' can be shared and supported by other souls that have similar affinities. However, this ego shell can consume much energy and be limiting. Furthermore, being transfixed with these identifications can become a trap. As long as the self is identified with ego, awareness is restricted (like awareness in a dream that is narrower than when awake). This is similar (although more intense) to being so involved in a computer game, fantasy or dream that one forgets the real world outside. The third stage, however, is notoriously unstable, so sooner or later the third ring also starts to break down. As in the previous instance, a soul at this point does not need to reincarnate any more if it is capable of opening enough and accepting the new, but this is far from easy. When reality is faced, the experience is still susceptible to personal interpretations and can look like Heaven or Hell. Heaven and Hell are in fact the same (an analogy can be drawn with, for example, London, that can be Heaven for one individual and Hell for another). It all depends to what extent the shape of the soul fits the new environment. Moral sense and an ability to give up personal importance play a significant role. For instance, people who, during their material existence, used physical strength or money to control others may feel lost because there are no bodies or money any more. In short, unless the person is able to transcend, reincarnation is again the most likely outcome.
  • If the fourth stage of development was dominant (at least in one dimension) the self is likely to be able to preserve and control energy with expanded awareness. This is not to say that it is easy to maintain the soul coherent (as a separate unit) without the support of the rings, but transcendent stage is a good preparation in this respect. The fourth ring does not even need to contain elements about the non-material aspect of reality if a sufficient degree of non-attachment (to the constructs of the world and one's own ego) is involved. Thus, reincarnation is not needed any more, although it is traditionally believed that some souls may return to assist the collective development[5].
  • [4]. please add footnote
  • [5]. This must be a hazardous undertaking because it is necessary to start from the beginning (such souls have to, of course, forget themselves first, and only in time remember or learn again).

Reincarnation

Reincarnation is, by far, the most frequent occurrence, which is why it deserves special attention. The pioneering work of Ian Stevenson and recently of other researchers can provide some fairly credible empirical evidence (as far as it can go) in this respect. From the Synthesis perspective, it makes sense that every soul goes through a series of lives. Reincarnation enables development of awareness and intent through experiences in the material world (although, of course, these experiences could also have negative effects). Thus, every physical life is an opportunity to increase awareness and control and to improve the ‘shape' of the soul (so it is unlikely that a human soul would connect to an animal body, for example). The soul can stop reincarnating when a heavy and slow body is not necessary any more to keep it together - in other words, when a crude moulding is finished. Until the shape is optimal, until the self is able to maintain, expand and control energy without the help of the body, the soul goes from one life to another. When the first ring breaks apart, the other rings can maintain the energy coherent and separated from other souls, but only temporarily. Sooner or later, they break apart too, and the soul is, in most cases, again attracted by matter.

 

Previous lives are hard to remember because there is no connection - the associative chain is discontinued. As when we dream, not only do we not remember the awake state, but we usually don't remember previous dreams either. We are attached to the experience of the dream we are in, so if there is no link, there is no propensity to remember. How can one remember previous dreams, if s/he does not even know that s/he is dreaming? Even more importantly, those memories have lost their form and coherence (because the rings have broken down). Overall, this is an advantage, the previous memories could be confusing and not conducive to development (if you played draughts, and now you are learning how to play chess, better to forget draughts). Sometimes, however, especially in the cases of a sudden death and a rapid return, the rings do not dissolve completely, some ‘pieces' may be still left attached to the soul after it connects to another body - which is why some people can recall a few fragments of their previous lives (but this is likely to be a less frequent occurrence than reported in popular literature). Snippets of memories can also be reconstructed by corresponding energy configurations and are normally accessed outside the present context (e.g. in sleep). Moreover, they are influenced by current experiences, so their interpretations may not be always correct.

Some possible questions

Why individual souls reincarnate?

It enables the continuity of individual development alongside the collective one, which accelerates the evolutionary process.

 

Can a collective soul also reincarnate?

Some collective souls of relatively primitive organisms can reincarnate (although they normally evolve). Complex organisms such as humans, as a rule, reincarnate individually, although there are some indications that they may be connected to something that would be an equivalent of a collective ring.

 

Is there such thing as karma?

It is plausible that the situation and the body a soul is reincarnated into depends to some extent on the shape of the soul, which in turn is influenced by the earlier experiences and conduct. However, this is a much more complex phenomenon than usually presented (that would require a book on its own). So, the fact that somebody is born in unfortunate circumstances cannot be taken as a sign that this person had done something bad in shis previous life. Such a linear interpretations are far too simplistic.

 

To what extent is the material life affected by prenatal experiences?

The soul can affect the person through pre-set intents and its shape, which is reflected in one's character. This is why (in addition to genes) even infants have character. Some intents can have a lasting effect on the shape of the soul and so can influence subsequent lives, although the person may not be aware of it or its source. However, other factors (physical and social determinants and choices we make) can override such effects.

 

When does the soul reincarnate?

The soul reincarnates when a new body is formed in material reality that can resonate with its configuration. This is a very complex process that depends on the genetic material, but also fluctuations in the social environment may be involved to some extent. The soul does not fully connect with the body immediately but gradually, step by step (which is determined by the development of the ‘containers' - the body and mind). Thus, although an initial connection is normally established even before birth, new connections (with the same body) can be formed throughout one's life.

NON-MATERIAL REALITY

There is substantial data indicating that a soul can retain a larger perspective for a while after connecting to the body and even after the birth (see, for example, Wade, 1996, Chapter 2). Only gradually, it seems, does awareness become restricted by immediate experience, and the rest is forgotten. There may be several reasons why this forgetting happens: the sensations from material reality are stronger; the shock of birth breaks continuity; or the fluidity of these experiences makes it hard to retain them. Forgetting non-material existence is also beneficial. Such memories could intensify feelings of alienation and longing, and prevent focusing fully on this world. In contrast, when the rings start falling off after death, the self can become aware not only of non-material reality but also some experiences (although not necessarily their forms) from earlier lives that were incorporated into the soul. In any case, memories become a part of a wider perspective (like when one wakes up). Not everybody can adapt to the new environment, though. The difference between the imprints that expectations and beliefs left on the soul and reality as it is, can cause emotional reactions (e.g. fear or loss) that lead to reincarnation.

(Self)evaluation of the previous life is a persistent component of life after death accounts, but is often misunderstood. The soul seeks coherence (it is difficult to keep the energy together if there are internal conflicts), so this is more about coming to terms with the past experiences and choices, than evaluation. The sense of meaning is also enhanced. This does not lead to uniformity. Being aware that there is a purpose does not automatically mean interpreting it in the same way, or even accepting and working towards it. Also, there may be a plurality of views as to what is the best way to realise the purpose. Establishing contact with other souls makes sense, but meeting one's earthly relatives or religious figures are most likely projections (which does not rule out the possibility that they are projected onto something real). One's grandpa, for example, usually appears as one remembers him, not as an old sick person on his death bed or a man in his prime (which would be more likely if he could adopt an image of his choice). That non-material reality is populated by a conglomeration of gods and demi-gods from various cultures who just happen to be passing by is also unrealistic[6]. The conventional stage may still play some role, but its elements will certainly not take earthly forms.

 

Certain differences between non-material and material realities can be discerned:

  • Non-material life is very dissimilar in appearance, but not so much in experience. There are no bodies, cars, TV, money, pets, computers, phones, books, clothes, genders etc. (although all these can be constructed as mental projections). Yet, there is no reason why familiar feelings such as fear, joy, hate or love should not be present.
  • Unrestricted experiences in non-material reality though, may have an additional quality of infinity. In fact, considering that the mind is affected by the soul, every experience potentially has this quality. It can be occasionally glimpsed even in the material world (as eloquently described in the first chapter of Colin Wilson's Outsider). But, because the rings have a tendency to close, this quality can be captured only for a moment. As soon as an experience becomes concrete, the element of infinity is lost (which often leads to disappointment). In the non-material world this does not need to be the case.
  • Time is linked to entropy, so time cannot exist in the usual sense. Attributes like near and far, before and after may still be meaningful, but they do not belong to a space-time framework. This is similar to a dream, when a dreamer can recognise these categories, although s/he does not operate within the space-time continuum.
  • Non-material reality is less solid, more fluid. This is not to say that it is experienced as such. Dreams too are felt as solid, although they are evidently not. However, this increased fluidity makes reality less stable. There is still permanency, but not of shapes or objects but the qualities of phenomena - similar to a river or sea or clouds that are lasting phenomena although they keep changing all the time.
  • The perception depends more on an inner state. For instance, if two persons in the material world observe a dog, they see more or less the same object, although the meaning and feelings related to it can be very different. For one person, the dog may present a danger and frighten shim, while the other may feel love and friendship towards it. In non-material reality those two persons would even perceive such an energy unit in a somewhat different way. So, not only the meaning and feelings can differ, but the perception too, because it depends far more on an interaction between the subject and an object (a form is created, rather than given). This does not mean that non-material reality is completely subjective, but the perception is heavily influenced by the state of the perceiver. As a consequence, it is much more difficult to communicate, understand and maintain a shared reality. A lot of effort needs to be invested to stabilise the image of reality without the help of solid matter, so the compatibility of souls that perceive in a similar way must be highly valued.
  • [6]. Regarding the visions of gods and demons The Tibetan Book of the Dead advises: ‘Be not terrified. Be not awed. Recognize them to be the embodiment of thine own intellect'.

Some possible questions

Can constructs be created  in non-material reality?

In principle, there is no reason why energy cannot be constructed even without the help of the brain, body and language, although such constructs are likely to be different.

 

If knowledge is a construct, does that mean that it falls off after death, and therefore is only useful during physical life? What knowledge remains  after death?

Forms that contribute to the structuring fall off (e.g. a particular language), but not the network that was established with the help of these forms. So, knowledge is not lost even if signifiers may be - only, it is not formulated in the same way as in physical life (it is not bound to specific end points and is also more fluid than when supported by the brain). Such knowledge is not a part of the rings that gradually break apart, but the energy configuration that corresponds to the rings and can be preserved after death. In other words, in the absence of synaptic connections, the implicit aspect of memories remain in the soul, although their specific form may be lost.

 

How is it that certain information can be preserved after death (at least temporarily), but some can be instantaneously lost following a brain-injury?

Temporary amnesia suggests that memories are not fully lost, otherwise they could not be retrieved. In some cases of brain injures a loss of memory may be even confused with an inability to communicate memories, but this cannot explain everything. A more complex way of looking at this issue is needed. Amnesiacs do not usually forget early memories, but only recent ones, which indicates that the rings are in the process of formation during the physical life, when the soul relies heavily on the brain. So, perhaps, only those memories that are not yet fully integrated are lost (like computer documents that are not saved). It is also possible that a brain injury actively prevents access to memory as long as there is a link between the soul and the brain (direct signals from the rings are weaker than those coming from the brain). Again, this can be compared with using computers. As long as a computer works well, a user relies on its ‘memory'. Suppose, however,  that the computer crashes and the user does not have a back-up. As long as s/he is attached to the computer, the effects of the malfunction apply. However, if s/he detaches from the machine, s/he may start to recreate what is lost from shis own more vague, less precise memory that nevertheless may bring about many pieces of information and their relations that can no longer be recovered from the computer.

 

Does the soul have an I? Is there an  identity even after death?

In non-material reality a soul can still retain the rings for awhile, and therefore an I. A soul that loses its rings does not have a projected identity, but it has its unique ‘shape'. This shape is, of course, less permanent and stable, but a soul in any case remains distinct because of its centre (the self) that provides a unique (first person) perspective.

 

Are all souls in non-material reality good?

There is no reason to believe so, considering that their development can still vary, that there is choice, and that there are different interpretations of what the purpose is and especially how to achieve it. Some interpretations are still necessary in the non-material realm, so even souls can be mistaken and delusional. The Intent may be beyond a dichotomy of ‘good and evil', but souls are not.

 

Can non-material entities affect the physical world?

Considering that there are beings in non-material reality at different stages of development, the question of whether they can influence the material world cannot be avoided. In the end, all that folklore about spirits, saints, daemons, angels and so on, is perhaps not utterly groundless. What is certain is that they cannot move mountains (or even chairs - the physical world is stronger by far). Yet, there is no reason why they could not operate on the boundaries of natural laws or communicate certain meanings or ideas, providing that there are recipients able to pick up such subtle information. This should not be confused with talking to dead relatives or auto-projections when one's own wishful thinking or fears get externalised (e.g. seeing winged angels or hearing voices forcing the person to do something). Spiritualists (mainly in the 19th century, at the time when the radio and other transmission devices were invented) developed ingenious methods to prove that communication with the deceased is possible. However, even the credible ones are open to different interpretations, so they remain inconclusive. In any case, assuming that an interaction with non-material reality may happen, it should be an exceptional phenomenon for several reasons: it is difficult to penetrate through the barriers of the world structure (those who attempt to establish the contact must open up to an extraordinary extent). The ways of communicating in two realities are different and difficult to make compatible. Also, there is a lack of interest, souls that are able to permanently remain in non-material reality should be aware that heavy interference would go against the Intent. The possibility of some sublime influences (of which source we cannot be conclusive in order to preserve agency) is not excluded though. However, they can never override individual choice. So even if a ‘message' is selected from the noise of the brain and interpreted correctly, it may still be ignored. In any case, such experiences are constructive only if necessary, so they must be rare. Any frequent occurrences or ongoing guidance would be, in fact, contrary to individual development, and therefore should be treated with scepticism.

 

Can souls die?

Unlike the body, the soul is not susceptible to entropy, so it cannot deteriorate or die in the common sense, ‘naturally' (which would also be an enormous waste). However, souls are only potentially immortal. They can cease to exist as separate units if one of the two fundamental principles, static and dynamic, completely takes over (it is most likely though, that in this case their energy becomes a part of the greater whole). If the static principle becomes so strong as to prevent movement and the exchange of energy, it may lead to the ‘extinguishing' of the soul. If the dynamic principle becomes so strong that the energy cannot remain focused any more, the soul disintegrates, dissolving the self. It is also worth mentioning that individual souls can be assimilated by other souls, which probably has a similar outcome.

 

Even if an individual soul manages to preserve itself as a whole, is it capable of surviving  on its own in non-material reality or must it join other souls?

It does not have to. Souls have intrinsic needs for coherence and development. Whether these needs are satisfied through personal transformation, independent interaction, assimilation, or integration with other energy units may vary from case to case. This is not to say that others are not important. After all, to fulfil the purpose, the unity of souls must be eventually achieved. So, the subject of interaction with others (in material and non-material reality) may be worthwhile consideration.