Taken from the website http://www.hinduwebsite.com, and written by Jayaram V, I chose this article for its interest for all. At the end, some personal reflections that arose in me after reading it.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DEATH?
This is one of the major conundrums of life. No one knows the answer with certainty. You may find some answers, but you will not be sure wether they are right. I heard at least two famous spiritual gurus trying to answer it. Each spoke for about half an hour or so. They went round and round the subject, but were not forthright. Either they did not know or they were trying to avoid a definitive answer.
Please, do not be under the impression that in the following discussion I will give you a simple answer, although I believe that at the end of the discussion you may understand why I might have provided a unique perspective on the subject in contemporary terms, which is a close approximation to the traditional schools of Advaita and Vishistadvaita.
If you closely follow my thought process in the following discussion until the end, and with some imagination, you shall understand how all those ideas about Maya, the Self, and the world as a projection of the Self make sense, and why they are universal truths rather than speculative theories.
Custom made heavens and hells
Death is a mystery, and the afterlife is still a greater mystery. No one really knows what happens to a being or a soul after death. Each religión answers this question in its own ways. They disagree rather than agree on the particulars, processes, and possibilities. There are as many theories and descriptions as there are religions, schools of philosophy and spiritual traditions.
Christians believe that if you accept Jesus Christ as your savior, upon death you will enter the heaven of God and live in his Company. Otherwise, you will be condemned to an eternal hell. Muslims also believe in God´s heaven, but it is a different heaven where only believers of Allah can enter, and the rest will go to hell.
The Buddhists believe in the existence of multiple heavens and hells. According to them, upon death a person enters one or more of the heavenly or hellish worlds, depending upon the state of his mind at the time of death. For them, afterlife in any of those worlds is a distraction for the mortal beings, which delays their liberation and prolongs their suffering.
Hinduism also believes in multiple worlds of light and darkness. However, the predominant belief is that upon death the souls go to either the eternal world of Brahman, if they achieve liberation, or the ancestral world if they have not resolved their karma. The ancestral world is a temporary world. The transmigrating souls stay there until their karmas are exhausted and return to earth to take another birth.
Astral world and extra terrestrial life
Apart from them, you have numerous new age movements, each with its own versión of what happens to a soul upon death. Some even believe in the existence of alien planets and extraterrestial worlds, to which souls would go upon death and continue their existence.
Some teacher traditions in India and elsewhere suggest that souls will enter astral worlds upon death, which are in many ways said to be similar to our world but are subtle, where the departed souls enjoy greater freedom and flexibility in manifesting their desires and wishes. Finally, we have atheists who think that heaven and hell are figments of imagination, and death is true liberation. Thus, you can see that there are numerous beliefs, opinions, and theories about life after death, and what happens to the souls after they depart from here.
Fate of animals
There is also no unanimity among the faiths about the fate of animals, and other creatures after they die. Some believe that all living beings possess souls and are in different stages of spiritual evolution. Hence, they too enter heaven or hell according to their deeds. Some believe that animals too have their animal heaven where they stay after death and return to the earth in a higher form. Others hold that birds, animals, and other creatures have no souls, and do not have any afterlife. For them it is as if this world is some big Disneyland where the Big One has provided humans with numerous living and breathing toys for food, entertainment, and target practice.
Near death experiences
The near death experiences which are recorded by many also do not provide a clear picture. Numerous studies show that people differ in the particulars of their near death experiences. In other words, on the deathbed they all do not experience the same world or go through the same circumstances. Their experiences closely match their state of conciousness, or they faith, values and beliefs.
For example, in a near death experience, a Hindu is more likely to see a spiritual teacher or a heaven or hell as described in the epics and Puranas, whereas a Christian might see Jesus like figure or an angel walking towards him in a bright light. Similarly, Buddhists and Muslims might see different worlds and go through different experiences according to their beliefs. In all such cases it is their minds that seem to be drawing them into the worlds that match their beliefs, knowledge, and awareness.
Everything is a projection, Maya
Logically speaking, it appears that what people might experience in the last stages of their lives or in their afterlives is shaped largely by the quality and nature of their conciousness. It is a projection of their consciousness which creates the reality and provides them with the experience. Since consciousness is unique to each person and to each case, the experience of reality will also be different to each person. It is more likely that if the same person undergoes two near death experiences at two stages in his life, one in the young age and the second in the old age, his two experiences may not entirely be the same.
The diversity of experience in the phenomenal world is the common theme of life in all forms and stages. It holds true for every living being upon earth. You can see that nothing in creation is fixed. Everything moves and changes. The impermanence and flexibility of the world are why we experience our lives uniquely and differently. It is also reason enough for us to respect life, to be tolerant, and let each soul live the life. We may all go through identical situations, but they leave different impressions in our minds and conciousness because we all do not perceive, think or know alike.
The reality which is experienced by each soul upon earth is its own projection. It is colored by its conciousness. Hence, although we all live in the same world and on the same planet, we experience different realities and live in different worlds. They are colored by our knowledge, awareness, desires, intentions, relationships, expectations, fears, hopes, and so on.
It gets even more bizarre as we enter our deeper conciousness. Whatever little similarities and common grounds that exist in the external world greatly disappear in the subtle worlds, where your conciousness is the sole architect of all that it creates and enjoys. You are literally the God of those worlds, or Isvara, the lord. You are the subject and the object of what happens there. You are the knower and the known. You are the Brahman of that universe, who cannot be perceived but who makes that perception possible.
For example, take your own dream world. Each time you dream, you enter a different world. Your two dreams will never be the same. No two people will ever dream the same dream. Each dream is a world in itself, which is shaped by your conciousness and its essential nature. Your thoughts, hopes, fears, desires, attachments, expectations, memories, previous actions, knowledge, and imagination provide the bricks and morter for those creations you manifest in your dreams. The same happens when you meditate and visualize. Even if you practice a guided meditation, what you create in your mind will be unique.
Afterlife is also a projection of the Self only
The same process is repeated when a person dies. When a soul or the conciousness is released from the body and enters the dimensions of higher realms, it begins to project its own reality and creates its own world according to the state of mind and purity of conciousness. If the soul is completely pure, as in the case of liberated beings, it projects an infinite reality, in which nothing exists except itself. It becomes the sum of all, the totality of all, the absolute perfection, the singular constant that is indestructible, unchanging, eternal, and indivisible, without a second.
If it has impurities, as in case of transmigrating souls, the world that it creates will be limited by its own impurities, the state of mind, predominant desires, habitual thoughts, latent impressions, suppressed fears, and uncontrollable longings. It will still be the lord of that limited, grayish world, in which it will manifest its reality according to its likes and dislikes but the creation will not be as majestic or expansive as that of the pure Self. It lives in it, and experiences pleasure and pain and other dualities of life according to its accumulated karma. In this regard, the following points are worth considering:
- Souls are eternal, indestructible, indivisible and infinite. However, in Samsara* they are subject to Maya, the power of Nature.
- Pure souls that are liberated exist in a state of infinity after departing from here. They project infinite universes within themselves and possess no other awareness, nor do they project any reality that leads to experience of duality and division.
- Impure souls, which are bound to Nature and clouded by delusion and ignorance due to Maya, project a mixed reality of light and darkness according to their predominant modes and desires. Because of delusion, they take those worlds for real and remain deluded. Their delusion continues even in afterlife, where they accept the worlds which they project as real and become involved with them.
Samsara: the cycle of births and deaths till liberation is attained.
Thus, the experience of afterlife is unique to each soul and largely shaped by its purity and state of consciousness. Upon departing from here each embodied soul projects its own reality, creates its own world or worlds in the subtle realms, according to the predominant gunas, beliefs, desires, and attachments. It projects subtle copies of the beings and objects to which it is attached, and creates a world which will be a close approximation to the nature of its surviving consciousness. Having projected the world or worlds, it enjoys them as the lord and witness. If the consciousness is purer, it projects purer and brighter worlds and inhabits them as their lord. If the consciousness is dark and clouded, it projects similar worlds and remains deluded by them.
What you do now determines how you live there
Neither this world nor the next world is real. Both are projections of the Self which has a universal dimension in its purest state and a limited potency in bound state. In both situations, due to Maya the Self takes its creations or projections for real and identifies itself with them. The nature of its projections and involvement depend very much upon what it experiences here and what it accumulates, just as your dream world and deep sleep experiences are closely related to what you experience in your wakeful state.
For example, if you spend most of the time in the company of bad people, you will have trouble sleeping peacefully. The same happens in life too. If you do not regulate your life upon earth or if you indulge in indiscriminate actions, you will have a troublesome afterlife. If you do not purify your mind and body, or allow negative qualities to prevail, in your afterlife you will involve yourself with darker and fearsome worlds and subject yourself to painful agony.
You are the court, the judge, the witness, and the defendent
Here are a few points that are worth remembering:
- Whatever is here or hereafter, you are the one who manifest your life and create your world.
- There is no one to punish you or reward you in the next life. You do it yourself with the projection of your consciousness.
- You are the lord and the master of the universe that you create, and the worlds which you inhabit.
- You pervade those worlds, which you create in different realms or planes of existence, and enter them too as it sole inhabitant.
- Everything that manifests in those worlds is your projection and you only. You appear in numerous forms and with numerous identities to create the illusion of diversity.
- Therefore, when you think of death know that your existence in the next world will be similar to what your mind projects now. Whether you want to keep it pure or clouded, it is up to you.
You are the source of both life and death. Even in delusion, you do not cease to create and manifest, just as the sun does not cease to radiate life even when it is covered by clouds. Whether it is here or in the next world, you are always the same eternal Self. What changes or keeps changing is the reality that you project.
highlighted in bold made by me
Few things cause more insecurity in human beings than this topic, the afterlife. Enamoured as I am of the logic in Sanatana Dharma, one cannot deny that this explanation has been made following the most pure logic, that tallies the highest demanding mind. And something becomes clear TO ME, in this same logic thought process: the necessity of caring for our own state of mind, because the mind can:
- construct if we tame it
- destroy if it controls us
- become the keyhole for our connecting and experiencing the divinity in us and in all, if purified.
Buddhism, an offspring of Hinduism, is right in highlighting the importance of the state of the mind in the spiritual process, because that is what its Mother, Hinduism, has always done. There are several treatises on psychology permeating ancestral hindu texts, from which many modern psychologist from the XIX and XX century, like Carl Jung, derived profound inspiration. Even in the modern western conception they have not been able to disect the mind, its skills functions and relations, as it has been done in the sastras, which give to the mind different names in accordance with the description of its skills and the relation with the Trascendence.
The mind is the tool of the Conciousness (with capital letter) to manifest Itself in us, and to let us see It in all. Veiled in beasts and low natured humans, fully manifested in saints, Mahatmas and Avataras, but present in all and everywhere, for your benefit and the benefit of the whole, let your mind be a clear crystal.
All the sadhana, kirtan, meditation, tapas we may undergo, satwic lifestyle, all, it aims only one objective: to purify the mind to the extent possible. Because only through a transparent mind, the Conciousness will be able to fully manifest Itself. Only with a pure mind and a pure heart would we able to receive the Grace that Iswara is pouring on us eternally, from the non-beginning time till our end of this cycle of births and deaths. When our mind be clear, it will permit us to experience that what we expect to achieve, liberation (Moksha), is already there in us. But the darken mind prevents us to see. Only that bright mind will shine to light the universes with the lamp of the Divine realized in us. Because a purified clear mind will prevent US from being affected by karmas. It will allow us to realize who we really ARE: the divine essence underlying the Universe, the Brahman, the Divine…will the Divine be touched or affected by karmas?. May all the beings realize this Truth!
OM TAT SAT