I don’t particularly like the way the best-selling New Age spiritual author Deepak Chopra talks about spiritual things, at least in person. He often comes across as an arrogant know-it-all in his smug responses to sincere questions. His face appears like, “how dare you ask such a stupid imbecilic question?“
But I do agree with many of Chopra’s words he speaks, just not the way he speaks them. And I do think the way matters, contrary to what many may think. We may speak all the right words, but if we don’t say them in a good way, with genuine presence and Love, then we can be just as wrong and mistaken as any other false teacher, and will touch the hearts of no one to help them awaken, in my view.
Perhaps I can attempt to better answer the question that Robert Lawrence Kuhn brings up several times in the video above, “what am I going to feel like after death, if I survive death?”
The answer is perhaps in the question itself. We think we are this “I” that travels around in this particular body-mind, this “skin-encapsulated ego” as Alan Watts put it. We think we are this bounded identity, this individual person, this particular flesh. So when one such person asks, “what am ‘I’ going to feel like after ‘I’ die,” well, that ‘I’ won’t exist at all anymore. That flesh is gone. That mind is gone. That identity has dissolved, just as it does in deep sleep.
As the Christian mystic and contemplative monk Thomas Merton once said in his classic book New Seeds of Contemplation, that egoic self
is doomed to disappear as completely as smoke from a chimney. It is utterly frail and evanescent. Contemplation is precisely the awareness that this “I” is really “not I” and the awakening of the unknown “I” that is beyond observation and reflection and is incapable of commenting upon itself.-Thomas Merton
“So in what sense can that be called ‘survival’?” Kuhn might ask. If the “I” that I think I am now doesn’t survive death, then what does survive, and why should I care that “it” has survived, and not me?
The problem, as Merton noted, is in the misidentification of the self, of who we really are, our deepest and true identity. We think we are the finite individual mortal body and its mind. As long as we think that is who we are, then no, we won’t survive death. That is not what survives it. But that is not who we really are either. Our identity goes much much deeper, and is far more universal than the individual self.
What survives death is our true identity, our true Self, the true nature of our being. It is not the ego. The ego surely does die, and is death itself. It is what makes us think we are mortal beings, subject to death, as a consequence of the Fall into self-awareness. It is what identifies with the particular human body that grows old and eventually passes away. It is the construction of our finite limited self-conception of who we are.
But the enlightening realization and awakening is that this self is a construction, a kind of illusion, a false identity, not our true nature, our essential Self. Our true nature is One with Being, with Life, with Truth, with existence, with the Whole, with the All, the Ultimate Reality, the Absolute, Nature, the One, the Singularity, whatever we want to call it. That is who we really are, and the only way of knowing it truly is when the egoic self veil falls away from consciousness, either sometime during our life, as happens in contemplative practices and through various other means, or at the time of our bodily death.
So once we realize who we really are, then the answer to the question of what that will feel like after death can be found in what it feels like to be any and all life as it is right now! This is what it will feel like after death for the true Self, because it is living it even now, in us. That Self has become what we are even now, in our life, and this is what the true Self is now feeling, thinking, sensing, perceiving, doing, etc.
I think perhaps this is the deeper meaning in the Mormon scripture about after the resurrection, “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2). We don’t now enjoy that glory because of our false identification with the “natural man” (Mosiah 3:19; cf. Romans 8:7). Once we let go of that identification and realize identity in and as the “Son” which is One with the All of Reality itself, and are thus “resurrected,” then we will enjoy eternal glory in the timeless now, knowing that all being, all experience, all life itself, all reality, is who we really are.
You might have noticed that even smoke is not ever completely lost, or completely disappears, as Merton suggested. It only transforms, from wood to ashes and energy, etc. Such is our transfiguration when we “die before we die,” or when we bodily die at the end of our mortal life. The two are one.
2 thoughts on “What Will I Feel Like After Death?”
Thanks for this post Bryce. One way I approach this is to contemplate what it feels like before birth. For many of us, our curiosity is much more focused on what it feels like after death than on what it feels like before birth. Recognizing that space and time are a continuum, it also helps me to contemplate what it feels like over there as compared to what it feels like here. These approaches just help me step away from the normal state of feeling. Of course, another angle is just to be here now and to eliminate all other aspects of the space-time continuum from our focus. Wide angle vs. narrow angle – both different from normal perception. To the extent that discursive thought is useful, just dwelling with the image of that space-time continuum is helpful for me to be in that place of enlightened realization of Being.
A side question for you – I looked over your topic list to see if you had written anything about forgiveness or repentance. A word search did not display anything. If not, I invite your reflection on those themes some time in the blog.
Great thoughts, David. Thank you. Yes, after death is like before birth. At both times, the “I” that we are mostly familiar with is simply not here or there or anywhere in spacetime. That “I” doesn’t exist, the construction hasn’t been constructed, so how can it feel anything?
One interesting thing about ego death, in my view, that happens in many contemplative practices is that we can get a sense of what we really are in this life, our deepest identity here and in all spacetime. We can, as a Zen koan puts it, show what our original face was before our parents were born. Or as Jesus put it, before Abraham was, I am. We can come to know our eternal or timeless nature. We can come to know ourselves as that which simply always was and always will be, which is taking a journey as David and Bryce right now, i.e. the Absolute.
Thank you for the suggestions to write about forgiveness and repentance. I have written about them in past articles, but not specifically as main topics. I will.