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8th November 2009, 21:23
Life Beyond Death

To die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Walt Whitman - Song of Myself

We live our lives in denial, as if death will never come. But sooner or later, death comes to every body. And with it come a number of urgent questions. "What is death? Is there life after death...or an afterlife? What's the point of life and death, and how can we make sense of it all?"

Most of us only begin to ask these questions at the end of life, when the certainty of death can no longer be ignored. As a result, we're often caught by surprise and ill-equipped to deal with the situation at hand. A perfectly natural and even beautiful stage of life becomes overcast with fear and confusion.

Why wait 'til the end? Why not ask these questions now, while there's time to make a serious inquiry? We might discover something completely unexpected. What if our fear of death is unfounded? What if, as Walt Whitman says, "to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier"?

Bart Walton (http://lifebeyonddeath.org/index.html)

8th November 2009, 21:44
Life Beyond Death

The Stages of Life After Death


You say I am going away. But where can I go? I am always here.
Sri Ramana Maharshi, on his deathbed to grieving devotees.

Even though a human life is one continuous experience, there are separate stages which we refer to as childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Likewise, life after death is a continuous experience with several recognizable stages.

To understand the stages of life after death, we must distinguish the various bodies and planes of experience. At the center, beyond all planes of experience is Absolute Divine Consciousness, which is not a body or experience of any kind, but pure presence, or spirit...the very core of our being.

Illustration of Subtle Bodies and Planes

As Divine Consciousness expands, it congeals into various planes of experience. Each successive plane is denser, slower and increasingly limited by time and space. Likewise, each plane of experience corresponds to a body, or platform of conscious experience, which is uniquely suited to that particular plane. The body and its corresponding plane of experience are actually two sides of the same coin. For example, on Earth, the physical body allows conscious experience of the physical plane. The physical body and the physical plane do not exist apart from one another.

After death of the physical body, we awaken with a subtle body, which allows us to have conscious experience of the inner planes. The subtle body is a field of psychic activity, including the conscious and subconscious psychic impressions which have accumulated during our Earth life. There are actually several subtle bodies. But for the purpose of this writing, I'll refer to all surviving psychic activity as the "subtle body". Although the subtle body survives death of the physical body, it is not eternal and has its own defined life span.

Beyond the inner planes of experience is the Divine realm, and the corresponding spiritual body. The spiritual body evolves gradually from the distilled essence gathered during many cycles of Earth life.

These different planes of experience are not locations but different states of consciousness within us. We will now examine each of these planes in terms of the various stages of life beyond death.

Bart Walton

8th November 2009, 21:48
Life Beyond Death

Stage One - The Cosmic Panorama

At the time of death, this very experience [mind's ultimate nature] arises effortlessly. At this moment, mind arrives directly at it's own ground. It's just like coming home.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Mind Beyond Death

Immediately after death of the physical body, there's usually a lapse in awareness, which may be brief or last for several weeks of Earth time. Eventually we awaken to discover that we're alive. And miracle of miracles...there is no death! After years of living with a physical body, the weight is suddenly lifted and the immediate freedom and ecstasy are beyond anything we've experienced during life on Earth. At the same time, we catch a glimpse of the whole panorama of creation, from the physical plane, which we're now leaving, through the inner planes of creation, all the way to the Divine realm.

This initial cosmic view offers a window of opportunity for final liberation. At this moment, it's possible to recognize Divine Consciousness as our true nature and to sever our attachment to experience, thus breaking the bonds of ignorance and stepping off the wheel of birth and death forever. This opportunity is described in various Buddhist texts. But unless we're prepared through years of meditation, it's unlikely that we'll recognize the opportunity, or have the presence of mind to take the leap. Due to residual tendencies, it's more likely that we'll become engrossed in a continuation of our experience as a separate being. And this will leads us into the next stage of life after death.

Bart Walton

8th November 2009, 21:51
Life Beyond Death

Stage Two - Purification

Whatever a man does while living, be it good or bad, it comes to be remembered at death. Remembering one's bad actions and their dreadful results, the soul feels regret and anguish.
Brahmananda Saraswathi, Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath

This stage begins when we become aware of our subtle body and engrossed in what appears to be happening around us. At this point, we find that negative emotions such as hatred, fear and guilt, as well as our physical and psychological cravings, are now tangible features of our subtle body in the form of color, fragrance and vibration. After a lifetime of disowning this material and keeping it hidden, we're suddenly exposed and turned inside out, in a literal sense.

Before we can move on to the next stage of evolution, these negative psychic impressions must be digested. We do this by owning and experiencing this material fully, without any filters or rationalizations. We may feel deep psychic pain as we see our true appearance and realize the effect that our negative emotions and actions had on others during life. Through this process, these negative impressions are transformed and included into our being.

In some traditions, this stage is called purgatory or hell. But it's important to understand that the process is not about judgment or punishment, although it may be experienced that way. Rather, it's simply the natural laws of cosmic evolution, as they function on the inner planes. Before we can proceed to the more subtle planes of experience, the heaver psychic material must be processed and refined.

During this process, certain archetypal experiences come up...archetypal in the sense that they are structured in the fabric of the human psyche and not subject to our personal beliefs or control. These experiences involve our acceptance, repentance and forgiveness for past actions. To the degree we can readily accept and process our painful psychic material, this stage of purification will be brief and not very difficult. This certainly applies to those who would be attracted to this writing. But regardless, it may be helpful to know that this is a temporary and natural stage of spiritual evolution.

With the exception of those few who are liberated during life, or just after death, everyone must pass through this stage of purification, which is actually one of the great blessings of life beyond death. During this process, the psychic impressions which hinder our progress are refined. And at the same time, we are prepared for the next stage of evolution.

Bart Walton

8th November 2009, 21:53
Life Beyond Death

Stage Three - Extracting the Essence

In death, you lose nothing but your ignorance.
Barry Long

The purpose of this stage is to extract the Divine essence of the life just lived. We do this by reliving our past life in every detail, with particular focus on the deeper meaning and finer feelings of each experience. Countless psychic impressions are sifted and the unimportant material is cast aside like chaff from the kernel. At the same time, the finer purpose and meaning of our life is gathered together into a concentrated Divine essence. This process may take tens, or even hundreds of Earth years.

As we distill the psychic impressions, we're actually reducing, or consuming, our subtle body. For really, they're one and the same. By getting rid of what is no longer useful, we're becoming less. And at the same time, we're becoming more, in the sense of more real and eternal.

When extracting gold from the earth, miners may collect 50 tons of raw ore to produce a single ounce of pure gold. Likewise, the huge amount of psychic material from a lifetime yields only a tiny particle of Divine essence. The nature of this essence is a mystery. It can be called Truth, Love or Beauty. It's the purest essence of the life experience. This is the treasure that Divine Consciousness extracts through the process of living and dying on Earth.

By now, the impressions that make up the subtle body have been consumed. All that remains are Divine essence, which ascends to the next stage, and unresolved tendencies, which become the template for a new birth. This is called reincarnation.

The term "reincarnation" usually refers to a memory or personality which remains in tact from one lifetime to the next. A more accurate understanding is that birth and death recur within Consciousness, as a result of unresolved tendencies. The whole wheel of birth and death is impersonal. By the time the recurring birth takes place, the subtle body, along with the personality and memory, has been consumed in the various stages of life after death. But it's alright, because the subtle body was only a shell of psychic impressions, not the true Self at all. Our true Self shines as the Divine "I" Consciousness, which is the silent witness during countless cycles of birth and death.

What do pass from one lifetime to the next are unresolved tendencies, which are like seeds or DNA, carrying the information necessary for a new birth. People who are particularly intuitive can pick up impressions from these tendencies and gain some insight about a previous life.

Bart Walton

8th November 2009, 21:55
Life Beyond Death

Stage Four - The Divine Realm

A good man has nothing to fear, either in life or in death. And his fate is not a matter of indifference to the gods.
Socrates, to the Jury in Plato's Apology

Each stage of life beyond death becomes increasingly difficult to describe. The Divine realm is vast and inconceivable beyond measure. And within it are many Divine worlds and ascending levels. This represents the most real and eternal level of creation, where we reside in direct communion with Divine Consciousness or God. (see Illustrations) In some traditions, this realm is called heaven or the celestial plane. But these concepts don't do justice to the inconceivable Love, Beauty and Truth, which are the essential elements of this realm. This is the heaven of Plato's perfect forms and the realm of ascended masters who once walked on Earth.

To experience the Divine realm, we must have a spiritual body as a suitable platform of conscious experience. Only a body of pure Divine essence is refined enough to serve this function. After many cycles of Earth life, if we've accumulated sufficient Divine essence (in other words, if we've developed a spiritual body which is able to sustain a conscious presence) then we awaken in the Divine realm where we continue our spiritual evolution without the need of further incarnations on Earth. Occasionally, beings from the Divine Realm will choose to take another Earth incarnation as teachers, or to fulfill some other specific role in cosmic evolution. In this case, the spiritual body remains in tact and shines through into the physical body and Earth personality. We call these great spiritual lights Mahatma, Son of God, Buddha or Sat Guru.

Everyone has a spiritual body in some stage of evolution, and hence, some intuitive awareness (conscious or subconscious) of the Divine realm. It exists within us, individually and collectively, as our conscience, our inner guidance and highest Good. It's this intuitive awareness of our Divine nature that we reflect off when we're being courageous, selfless and true in the face of difficult circumstances. In other words, when we're in alignment with Divine will.

At any point in cosmic evolution, we can only experience what we've evolved to, in terms of a body. In most cases, our spiritual body has not evolved sufficiently to sustain a conscious presence in the Divine realm. But it's ok, because our Divine essence is never lost. It's continuously added to our evolving spiritual body. And, when sufficient Divine essence accumulates, we awaken as a conscious presence in the highest and most real plane of experience. Many who are now on a spiritual path will reach a conscious presence in the Divine realm after this human life is completed.

Beyond the Divine Realm is Absolute Divine Consciousness, which is beyond all time and planes of experience. Eventually, when cosmic desire is fulfilled, this cycle of creation will end. The planes of experience will vanish like a dream and the spiritual bodies will merge with Divine Consciousness, like drops of water slipping into the ocean.

Bart Walton

8th November 2009, 22:04
Life Beyond Death

Healing Our Fear of Death

All beings tremble before danger. All fear death. All love life.
Gautama Buddha

One of the best ways to heal our fear of death is to spend time with the dying. If you don't have a friend or family member who is dying, you can train as a volunteer with Hospice and assist with a dying patient for several hours a week. It's enough simply to be with them, respond to their needs, listen to their experiences and observe your own reactions. You'll know something has shifted when you're no longer running away from death by avoiding the subject, or trying to put a positive spin on the situation. When you can feel both the pain of personal loss and the exquisite beauty of a passage which is shared by every living being.

After the passing, if you have the opportunity, just sit quietly with the body and feel the silence in the room. During the first hours after death, we can sense that our loved one is still very much alive and present in the room. And then at some point during the transition period, we can sense that they've gone and what remains is just a dead body. This experience is palpable and makes a deep impression on the mind. For reasons we can't fully understand, our fear of death has become lighter and more transparent. Some deep tension within us has been released.

For centuries, contemplation of death and the impermanence of life has played an important role in every spiritual tradition. The great sage Ramana Maharshi underwent a radical and permanent spiritual transformation, triggered by a sudden and involuntary contemplation of death. Plato maintained that all true spiritual aspirants practice dying continuously. To this day, Christian mystics and monks contemplate death as part of their formal spiritual practice. Books are filled with accounts of spiritual transformations following near death experiences. Just being in the presence of someone dying can trigger a profound spiritual experience. What is it about the contemplation of death that has this effect?

When we contemplate death, the question naturally arises: Who or what dies? We know the body dies. But am I the body? Do I die? If we continue along this line of inquiry, we may stumble upon something inside of us that we know is deathless. We don't know how we know. We just know. This is a paradox of life and death. We experience ourselves as bodies and yet we know intuitively that we must be something more. When we contemplate death, or even witness it, the dynamic tension between what appears to be the case and what we know intuitively, can eject us out of our thinking mind and put us face to face with the mystery and beauty of this paradox.

Bart Walton

8th November 2009, 22:08
Life Beyond Death

Healing Our Fear of Death

Every moment keep your luggage packed. Nobody knows when death will call. The warrant of death is like the arrest warrant. One cannot think of appealing against it. No matter what is happening, we have to quickly leave off and go. So, if you are ready before hand, there will not be much difficulty in leaving.
Brahmananda Saraswathi, Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath

Preparing for death is not something we can do in a week or a month, or any fixed time frame. In the broadest sense, our whole life is preparation because whatever psychic impressions we gather during life will form the landscape of our experience after death. To the degree we can cultivate life-supporting attitudes and release painful and negative impressions, we can greatly enhance the quality of our experience, both during life and after death. Here are some suggestions in that regard.

First and foremost, is to cultivate a daily spiritual practice. During this Kali Yuga (dark age), many Eastern scriptures say that the most auspicious and appropriate spiritual practice is repetition of one of the holy names of God. In this light, I would recommend two possible avenues of spiritual practice. First is Transcendental Meditation (TM), as taught by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. TM is simple and easy, yet a very profound spiritual practice which takes about 20 minutes, twice a day. Most cities around the world have TM centers where you can learn this wonderful daily practice.

If it's not possible for you to learn TM, for whatever reason, I can recommend the Spiritual Science Research Foundation. This is a large site. I suggest that you take your time to read it slowly over a couple of weeks and make notes where necessary. This organization provides the information and steps needed to begin a daily spiritual practice, according to the religious traditions of your birth.

The second thing we can do to prepare for death is to take positive steps to reduce the accumulation of negative psychic impressions from our past. Here are some suggestions in that regard.

If you've hurt someone, even in the distant past, apologize to that person and try to make amends in any way that's appropriate and practical. If you have guilt about past actions, and you are unable to make amends (for whatever reason), talk about your feelings with a trusted friend or counselor.

If someone has hurt you, forgive that person completely and without conditions. This may take time but keep trying. Forgiveness does not mean that we have to accept bad or inappropriate behavior. The person's behavior may be unacceptable, but we can find a way to forgive the person. Forgiveness is a compassion that arises out of an understanding that everyone is basically doing the best they can, limited by their own negative and painful conditioning.

Imagine a child who throws a temper tantrum and strikes out at us. Most of us have no problem forgiving a child. Yet we are all children, struggling with very powerful forces. And in the process, we often make mistakes that produce deep and lasting consequences for others. Ultimately, we forgive others because we see that it is in our highest self-interest to do so.

Bart Walton

8th November 2009, 22:12
Life Beyond Death

How We Can Assist the Dying

We have evolved a science of birth...but we are sadly in need of a science of death. When a child is coming into the world, we bustle about in intelligent endeavor; yet when a lifelong friend is about to leave us, we stand helplessly about, ignorant of how to aid, or worse, we bungle, and cause suffering instead of helping.
Max Heindel, The Light Beyond Death

In addition to the customary care and compassion that we give to the dying, there are some specific things we can do to help them prepare for the spiritual journey they are about to begin.

Before death and afterward, during the transition period, inspirational music or chanting will help attune the mind to the inner planes. For example, if the person is devoutly Christian, we might play Gregorian chants or other music associated with the Christian traditions. From the Vedic tradition, the Vishnu Sahasranam is a special Sanskrit chant, which attunes the mind to the inner planes and helps prepare the subtle body for the various stages of death.

The period before death can be difficult as the body is shutting down or being consumed by disease. During this time, it's easy for the mind to become overwhelmed and unable to manage with daily life. To whatever degree possible, friends and family should ask permission to step in and take over the dying person's daily responsibilities. This is especially true for a mother with small children. She needs to know that her children will be protected and cared for. The last thoughts before death set the tone for everything that follows. Anything we can do to reduce worry and create an uplifting atmosphere will help the person through the various stages after death.

As soon as possible after the last breath, the body should be positioned face up, with hands folded across the lower abdomen. If the eyes and mouth are open and cannot easily be closed, place a cloth over the face to encourage the awareness to turn inward. It's a good idea to do these things within the first few minutes, before rigor mortis sets in. Then the body should be left undisturbed in a quiet room during a transition period of at least 24 hours.

After death, the psychic connection with the body is not severed at once but disintegrates gradually over several hours. During this transition period, loud noise or injury can be painful and distracting. If circumstances demand that the body be moved, do so carefully. Then, as soon as possible, leave the body undisturbed for the remainder of the prescribed time. Any post mortem or embalmment should be postponed until after this 24-hour transition period.

It's important to keep in mind that the departed are not dead. The body is dead, but the awareness is still very much alive and sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of loved ones. If you think of them as dead, this may hold them back because they will want to let you know that they're alright and not dead.

Likewise, it's important to avoid loud or overt grieving in the presence of the body. Some grieving is natural at first. But try to remember that the departed can hear and often see everything in the room for some time after the body is dead. If they hear weeping or emotional upset it may hold them back because they will want to console their loved ones.

It's best not to ask the dying person to contact you after death. Any agreement like that may be felt as unfinished business, which might hold them to the Earth plane. Likewise, after the passing, don't ask the departed to contact you. While they will still be able to hear you for some time after passing, you will not be able to hear them. It can be frustrating if they try to communicate and find that no one hears them.

Sometimes, the departed can be temporarily disoriented after death. Or, they feel so alive and clear that they're unable to grasp what's happened. In some traditions, it's customary to read instructions aloud to the departed, to help guide them during the transition period. (See Next Chapter: Instructions to the Departed)

Whether you feel inclined to read aloud or not, feel free to speak to the departed and tell them you love them. Or through prayer, send your love to them and ask the Divine for their favorable passage. In whatever way you can, feel your love for them and see how alive and fresh it remains inside you. This will help the departed in their passage and it will help you bear your loss because you will feel inside yourself the truth, that there is no death.

Love is like a beam of light that will always reach your loved ones on the inner planes. They will know it is you and send love back along that same beam.

Bart Walton

8th November 2009, 22:22
Life Beyond Death


A man should wait, and not take his own life until God summons him, as he is now summoning me.
Socrates, to his disciples in Plato's Phaedo

Anyone who's been close to a suicide knows the terrible suffering of the family and loved ones who remain behind. But suicide may create difficulties for the departed as well, resulting in deep regret.

There are many possible reasons why a person might commit suicide. Sometimes, people will sacrifice their lives for selfless or noble reasons. Sometimes the act arises out of exhaustion or mental illness. But if the motive is revenge, or an effort to escape difficult circumstances, suicide may actually cause more problems for the departed. In such cases, the subtle body is often caught in limbo for the duration of what would have been the person's natural lifespan. And during this period, the pain and frustration, which led to the suicide in the first place, is compounded by remorse over the act of suicide itself.

There are documented cases of people who survived an attempted suicide and recalled their experiences in the after death state. In most cases, they immediately realized the enormity of their mistake and wished they could go back and choose again. As further testimony, consider that from the beginning of human history, every spiritual tradition has issued a prohibition against suicide. If we know someone contemplating suicide, we should make every effort to persuade him or her to explore other options and/or to seek professional care.

The purpose of life is to gather experiences; not just pleasant experiences, but whatever experiences our particular karma may dictate. We may think that our lives belong to us, but this is an illusion. All life belongs to Divine Consciousness. From this perspective, it's not about what we may like or dislike. Any attempt to cut life short won't work. Cosmic evolution will not be derailed. In the end, experiences will unfold as dictated by karma and the more we understand the process and the purpose behind it, the easier it will be to accept what comes.

Aside from the possible negative consequences of suicide, there are benefits to living out our natural lifespan, particularly in a situation of physical or emotional pain. This is not to say we should seek out painful experiences. But if they come uninvited, we can take comfort in knowing that such experiences help to release negative psychic impressions and speed the progression of events after death.

In the case of a progressive and terminal illness, suicide is still a poor choice for the same reasons cited above. However, Hindu and Jain scriptures offer an alternative in this situation, a ritual fasting called Prayopavesa. Below is a brief explanation of Prayopavesa by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, abbot of the Saivite Hindu monastery on Kauai, Hawaii. Subramuniyaswami himself observed Prayopavesa after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2001. During his fast, he was able to continued many of his daily duties and passed away comfortably on the 32nd day.

Prayopavesa (Ritual Fasting to Death)
by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

In cases of terminal disease or great disability, religious self-willed death through fasting - prayopavesa - is permitted. The person making such a decision declares it publicly, which allows for community regulation and distinguishes the act from suicide performed privately in traumatic emotional states of anguish and despair. Ancient lawgivers cite various stipulations: inability to perform normal bodily purification;
death appears imminent or the condition is so bad that life's pleasures are nil;
the action must be done under community regulation.
The gradual nature of prayopavesa is a key factor distinguishing it from sudden suicide, for it allows time for the individual to settle all differences with others, to ponder life and draw close to God, as well as for loved ones to oversee the person's gradual exit from the physical world. In the ideal practice, one begins by obtaining forgiveness and giving forgiveness. Next, a full discussion of all karmas of this life and confessing one's wrongdoings. Thereafter, attention is to be focused on scripture and the guru's noble teachings. Meditation on the innermost, immortal Self becomes the full focus as one gradually abstains from food.

Bart Walton