After death

 

I read an article in Aftenposten on what representatives for different religions think may happen after we die.

They are clearly playing with their own hope/fear imaginations, sometimes recognizing it as imaginations and sometimes not. It is a good mirror as I do the same.

Most of these representatives took a healthy agnostic view, as this Christian theologian:

I kristen teologi har dette spørsmålet ofte blitt møtt med henvisning til at dette kan vi ikke si noe endelig om.

In Christian theology, this question is often answered by pointing out that we cannot say anything for certain.

And ironically enough, the one who seemed most certain of his stories was the Buddhist representative! Of all the traditions, Buddhism is the one that explicitly reminds us to (a) not believe anything we are told and (b) check it out for ourselves, as in this little Zen story:

A monk asked a Zen master, “What happens when you die?” The Zen master replied, I don’t know.” The monk said, “What do you mean. Aren’t you a Zen master?” And the Zen Master replied, “Yes, but I’m not a dead one.”

Here are some ways of relating to stories of what happens after death:

I can believe the story and take it as real and true. To the extent I do, I will feel it is true. I will find plenty of evidence. I will find others who agree. I will make it appear very real to myself. More precisely, I will try and pretend to take it as true, and find ways to make my experience of the world appear to confirm it.

I may want to believe it, but realize I cannot be sure (agnostic). It is, after all, stories from others. And it is often ancient mythology.

I can see it as an open question for myself, and perhaps for science. For instance, reincarnation is an interesting – although difficult – topic for research.

I can take a pragmatic approach to the story. I can explore the practical consequences of relating to the story in different ways, such as (a) take it as true, (b) see it as a guiding story for my life, or (c) take it as invitation for inquiry here now. I can also the practical consequences of different variations of the story to see which one seems most helpful for me for now.

I can investigate the possible functions the story may have for myself, others and society.

I can take it as a pointer for what’s already here now.

When I explore the sense fields, I notice that the story is images happening here now. It is, in a literal sense, imagination. The story itself, independent of its content, happens here now.

I can also find the content of the stories here now:

Heaven. What do I associate with heaven? What do I wish to get out of it? Is it true it is not already here? Can I notice that experience is already allowed? What happens when attention shifts there?

Hell. What do I associate with hell? Suffering? Can I find that here now? What happens when I take a story as true? What happens when I resist experience?

Reincarnation. What do I associate with reincarnation? Something that dies and is reborn? When I explore the sense fields, what do I find? Does any experience stay? Are they gone as soon as they happen?

And if I have stories about specific lifetimes, either past or possible future ones, can I find those too here? First, as images, feelings and desires here and now? And then mirroring something in my own current life? Is it true it is not already here?

Finally, if there is something that passes on after this life, or between lives, is that what I really am? If my human self happens within awareness, as any other experience, would this be different? Wouldn’t the “soul” also be content of experience, temporarily happening within and as what I am?

Btw: Those stories about the religious spokespeople are of course material for inquiry for myself. They are mirrors.

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  • ideas of what happens after death- some ways of relating to it
    • believe it, take it as real, true (or try to, at least, pretend to)
    • want to believe it, but cannot be sure (more honest)
    • see it as a question for oneself and/or for science
    • investigate the possible functions of the story for the individual/society
    • investigate the practical consequences of the story as (a) a belief, taken as true, (b) as a guiding story, (c) different variations of the story (see which one seems most helpful)
    • see it as a projection of what’s already here now
      • my own world of images, projected into “future” and “others”
      • find the content of these images here now as well
        • reincarnation – all gone, reborn here now
        • heaven – find here now (in what already allows any experience, the quiet bliss in any experience)
        • hell – what happens when there is a belief, identified with/as a viewpoint at odds with reality/life
        • etc.
      • and time, created through own world of imagination, organizing/locating stories of what’s here in past/present/future
    • and… if something is passed on after/between lives
      • it’s content of experience just as this human self?
      • is it what we really are? (or is there just temporary identification as it, as part of the game)

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I can see it as a reminder of and pointer to what is already here now.

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It is bittersweet to see people play with, and sometimes caught up in, their own hope/fear imaginations in that way.

And it is also slightly astonishing. Here is a group of adult, smart people, and they actually believe or try to believe these things? They assume this pre-modern, bronze age mythology is or may be literally true? They trust what others say, even if it may well come from pure imagination? They use these stories as crutches, and then proudly announce it in public? They don’t use these stories as pointers to what we can say something about, and see this as primary?

Even the Buddhist guy talks as if he knows what’s going to happen, in spite of the basic Buddhist messages of (a) don’t believe anything you are told, (b) test it out for yourself, and (c) recognize all as projections.

Here are some ways of relating to stories of what happens after death:

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I read an article in Aftenposten on what representatives for different religions think may happen after we die.

Since it is in Norway, most seem to take an agnostic view, emphasizing that these are stories and we don’t really know. For instance, here is a Christian theologian:

I kristen teologi har dette spørsmålet ofte blitt møtt med henvisning til at dette kan vi ikke si noe endelig om.

In Christian theology, this question is often answered by pointing out that we cannot say anything for certain.

At the same time, they do go into the different stories from their own tradition. Ironically, Buddhism is the one tradition that encourages us to not believe anything we are told, and yet the Buddhist guy is the one who sounds most certain he knows what’s going to happen….!

It is bittersweet to see people play with, and sometimes caught up in, their own hope/fear imaginations in that way. I do the same.

Here are some ways of relating to stories of what happens after death:

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Finally, if there really is something that passes on after this life, or between lives, how does it compare to this human self in its basics? Are they both content of experience? An object within experience? An object within awareness? Are they experiences? Do experiences come and go? What is it that does not come and go? Is that what I am?

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Finally, say there is something that passes on after this life, or between lives. If there is a soul or something similar, would that be an object? Content of experience? If so, is it something that can come and go in experience, as any other content of experience? Is there something that does not come and go? If that’s the case, am “I” something in content of experience, or that which all experience happens within and as?

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Finally, if there is something that passes on after this life, or between lives, is that what I really am?

It may be helpful to explore the human self first. In immediate experience, does awareness happen within this human self, or does this human self happen within awareness? I can explore this further in the sense fields, and how this human self (the images, sensations etc.) comes and goes in awareness, while awareness itself remains. It seems that awareness is “primary” and any images etc. of this human self is “secondary”. So which one am I really? I may find that what I am is that which experience happens within and as, whether there is identification as this human self or not.

If there is identification as this human self, that identification can be explored in the same way. I can explore it in the sense fields, and find it is composed of images, sensations and other sense fields. It is content of experience. It comes and goes, as any other content of experience. It happens within and as awareness.

So I find that the human self, and identification itself, both are objects in awareness, coming and going as any other experience. Would this be different from whatever passes on after life? Wouldn’t that too, whether we call it soul or something else, be content of experience? An object? Happening within and as awareness? Wouldn’t that too be “secondary” to awareness, whether it is identified with or not?

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