some thoughts on spiritual experiences, the afterlife, heaven, etc.
Greetings! (These lengthy thematic essays are easier read on a personal PC rather than on a hand-held device. We have chosen not to break this essay up into multiple parts.)
It is Sunday in North America. Time for a sermon?
In this age of quarrel and discord, the Kali Yuga, we cannot expect things to go smoothly for us in the miserable, unjust world. It is not a golden age, nor silver, nor even bronze, but an iron (base) age we find ourselves living in. But, enough for now with this world’s myriad and diverse problems.
Full disclosures about this essay’s contents: the ideas, thoughts, and speculations offered here are not mine in the sense that they did not originate with me. These ideas were culled over several years from many books by various writers. And, some personal reflection over the years was given to these writers’ diverse ideas. These thoughts are presented as “food for thought”. (We are not peddling or pushing any of these ideas to be taken as “dogma”.) We encourage each of you to work on your personal faith. Faith is not something one wakes up one morning and suddenly finds that he/she has. Having faith requires ongoing effort. But, as Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) said “anything worth having is worth working for”.
We are not tagging this essay to the various “atheist” related tags. We have debated with atheists before on this blog and may again in the future. But, for now, as they do not want to be bothered, we leave them alone.
The photo below is of a part of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California, USA.
What of the reality of spiritual experiences?
There have been many accounts of such experiences throughout recorded history in many diverse cultures and religions (including primitive, animistic and nature religions with their shamans).
What accounts for these experiences or altered states of consciousness? We recognize that many readers in these times are of a materialistic, deterministic viewpoint, or hold to such a paradigm. Are these reported experiences solely caused by bio-chemical changes in the bloodstream and thus changes in the blood chemistry of the brain? Various methods people have used to bring on such experiences have included ingesting psychotropic plants (peyote, various species of the mushroom family, ayahuasca in South America, and in the late 1960s LSD was used, etc.), fasting for days, flagellation leading to serious blood loss, various meditation type practices, and even intentional hyperventilation (which enriches the oxygen level in the blood).
Whatever the cause(s), mystics (east and west) over the centuries tell of a spiritual joy, ecstasy or bliss that is intense, even all-consuming, and can lead to a greatly altered perception of life and the world. Some mystics say they feel God’s presence or that they were engulfed in God’s love during these experiences. The experience is not easy to convey in words. (Miraculous actions have been linked to these experiences with some Christian saints seen to be levitating off the ground during these states.) And, because of what they have experienced, many mystics claim not to have any lingering doubts about God’s existence or about the survival of the soul (atman, spirit, spiritual monad, etc.). For them, these concerns are no longer in the abstract and faith is not a mental game. They “know”. For them, the veil has been lifted so to speak. (Some sceptics may opine that such mystics are delusional or have mistaken being “high” for authentic spiritual experience. But, the change in outlook for those who have had the experience(s) is real enough.)
An interesting anecdote that I recall reading of some time back concerns (St.) Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274). He had been working on his Summa Theologica (approximately three thousand five hundred pages long – very long for a “summary”) and finally he had a spiritual experience. He then put his pen down and stopped writing. He was done. He knew his Summa fell woefully short of describing God’s nature. He died several weeks later. In this area then, there really is no substitute for experience.
the afterlife and heaven
Heaven, the spiritual universe, or the astral plane, or whatever. Call it what you like. A spiritual plane of existence transcending this gross physical material plane.
Determinists and materialists will often deny the possibility of a spiritual plane of existence. Similarly, they are sceptical as to the existence of the soul. Their scientific instruments, really just extensions of the physical senses, cannot obtain a view of such a plane. Of course, that does not mean that such a plane of existence does not or cannot exist. (Science, with its limitations, is not competent to pass judgement here.)
Consider if the individual soul is, for lack of more precise terms, a conscious energy field of a quality that is beyond our current (and perhaps future) state of knowledge and understanding in physics. As such, it may be able to interact with other qualitatively similar conscious energy fields on a spiritual plane. Thus, 2 individuals, on the spiritual plane, are just as “solid” (and real) to each other as 2 people here on the physical plane are. We will return to this shortly.
In the Vedic teachings of India, the world’s oldest scriptures, all souls are considered to be female. Krishna (God) is the enjoyer. He is also described as the reservoir of pleasure. And, we, the individual souls, are the enjoyed. Perhaps, this is just a way of describing the relationship of the individual souls to God. But, it may indicate a possible truth that we do not often consider or reflect on. At the most fundamental, most basic level, there is no differentiation into males and females as there is no gender at such a level. As to the most basic nature of the soul, who can say? However, be that as it may, I think it is very likely that we take our gender with us into the afterlife as it defines so much of who and what we are.
And, we can go farther here. Some individuals, even some mystics (those that do not see past the effulgence of the impersonal aspect of God), use the analogy of a drop of water returning to the ocean to describe the soul’s journey and destination. In other words, one’s individuality is lost or surrendered upon completion of the journey. One is absorbed into the impersonal aspect of God (impersonal Absolute) much like a drop of water is lost in the immensity of the ocean. In an earlier essay (in February), we argued against this view. We believe individual consciousness and personal identity are retained after one departs this world. That there is no ultimate surrendering of individuality after many rounds of birth and death. (In Buddhism, the state of Nirvana is often misinterpreted to mean “the Void” which is not really correct.)
There are differences in various religions and schools of thought as to whether heaven is a final destination or a stopping over kind of place. Do we reside in heaven forever? Or, do we enjoy the rewards of our good (loving, constructive, helpful) actions for a time (perhaps quite long by earthly standards), and then reincarnate in this or in another world for more challenges, more trials, more lessons, and hopefully more growth?
Back to life in heaven or on the astral plane (and these may not be the same thing or the same level so I may be in error to use these terms interchangeably), individual souls can – and do – interact with each other. We do believe that heaven is about connectedness, about being connected to God and to others. And, what might you call the joyous, mutually affectionate resonating in synchronicity, interpenetration (permeation?) of their respective energy fields between 2 individual souls? Exactly correct! Lovemaking. Spiritually, that is. Not carnally, not physically, but spiritually and yet to the souls very tangibly and very blissful! Heresy you say? I think not. The churchmen, at least those who had such a condescending view of the married state on Earth, will be surprised when they find that souls are able to make love in heaven. Loving souls will resonate in harmony on the same wavelength(s) exchanging affection and love and acceptance.
Personally, I really do not believe that heaven is going to be like one very, very lengthy church service. And, not to be disrespectful, but we sincerely hope that the ascetic, joyless, and pessimistic individuals among the priesthood do not end up running the show in heaven. We desire to achieve residence in the real heaven, not the churchmen’s skewed view of what heaven ought to be like.
What about the nature of God, or if you prefer, the Great Spirit?
Here, we are largely dealing with my thoughts and not those of other writers.
The danger in this area comes from people imputing on to God, or perhaps I should say imputing on to their image or concept of Him, their personal views, preferences and/or biases. We see this among those intermediaries with the Divine that we know as priests, pastors, ministers, Brahmins, rabbis, etc. Some of these have given us an image of God as being an ogre, a being that can hardly endure the sight of us. When austerity, asceticism and suffering are glorified and viewed as the most pleasing things in God’s eyes, there is a problem. This is religious thinking taken to a grotesque extreme and is counter productive. (I would add that severity for severity’s sake is also known as cruelty.)
Human psychology being what it is, this approach of making God into an ogre to get people to follow an agenda either drives people to despair (believing that no matter what they do they are damned for sure), or leads them to resentment of the churchmen, if not of God. It is one thing to be God-fearing, it is quite another to be made to live in terror of a “loving” Creator. (We see the need for organized religion, but, alas, we also see abuses of authority that often accompany such religion.)
I am consciously choosing to believe that God is truly just, loving and merciful. As well, I do fully know the limits of human mercy and forgiveness. I do not think that God suffers from those same limitations. As well, I am choosing to believe that we, human beings, were created for a higher purpose, and were not created merely to suffer in this world and die and cease to exist, or suffer and die and then be eternally damned (unless we really have made no serious attempt at loving).
Once again, I encourage you to cultivate love in your heart. Love is what we will be judged on. How much and how well did we care while in this world? Did we contribute to making this world more just and less miserable? Christians will recall Jesus’ 2 commandments: love God and love your neighbor (one’s fellow human beings). Easier said than done, yes, but worth striving for! (Too many people today are driven by hate – do not be one of them.)
Here are 2 other essays worth reading.
If I am ever abducted by aliens and returned to the Earth, you, dear readers, will be the first to know about it.
All I can say in conclusion is:
“Come what may
I mean what I say.”
Thanks for reading. And, as always, feel free to pass this essay on to someone you know who may be interested in reading it.