On Life After Death

The Inescapable Fact

Our birth and living will give way to dying and death at some future time. For most of us, to some degree at least, this is quite confronting due to apparently unanswerable issues such as -

  • the physical pain factor
  • the mental anguish of separation from loved ones
  • simply ceasing to exist
  • the possibility of living in an unknown world or realm to eternity which might be pleasant or equally unpleasant

All the world’s major religions and spiritual movements have beliefs about ongoing life in a spirit world or spiritual dimension. Death rituals of many different kinds - Rites of Passage - can be traced right back to the earliest times of mankind. So why does the thought of death and an afterlife so often bring about a sense of fear and the “head in the sand” approach? Information offered by religious and spiritual movements on the non-physical dying process and following experience, is mostly quite general. Much of it is a symbolic expression of what awaits us rather than the underlying reality. The modern mind tends to need to work with “facts” although, thankfully, some people are able to hold to a simple trust that doing the right thing now will inevitably bring its own rewards - why worry!

Proving Life After Death?

There is no current scientific proof. Research into the near-death experience has provided a body of collective information about the spirit leaving the body and reaching a transcendental realm. This might be considered evidence but science does offer other explanations. It is probable that there never will be scientific proof. Clearly, any existence after bodily death must be non-physical and beyond the reach of science. 

What details do we have?

Near-death experiences do give some useful insights but they are very limited to the initial stage. Researchers into these experiences have looked for parallels in earlier philosophical writings and found a number which closely correlate, such as the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the spiritual writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Others have recorded their experiences in another realm of being, incorporating astral travel and meetings with spirits there. Still, considerable differences arise between these accounts. The Bible, too, gives some helpful insights.

Swedenborg’s Uniqueness

Until his mid 50's, Swedenborg was essentially a scientist taking a very methodical and analytical approach to all his studies and work. His otherworldly visions came to him “out of the blue”. He did not seek them and somewhat reluctantly accepted the role as a Christian mystic. His scientific training stayed with him. What Swedenborg records over a 27 year period of dual mind consciousness ~ being able to experience the spiritual realm while carrying on everyday life here ~ is not simply a factual travel diary. He was able to integrate his physical and spiritual senses into a much greater Divine-centred Cosmology where every individual aspect is part of a greater, purposeful whole. Swedenborg’s accounts of life in the spiritual realm are fascinating. Yet their real purpose is to provide us with a framework for understanding -

  • the Divine creative process
  • the inter-connectedness between the material and the spiritual
  • the spiritual evolution of mankind
  • the laws governing our spiritual life
  • the reason for our existence
  • how to achieve our highest, eternal potential ~ a process which must commence in this life

Armed with such knowledge, we can set about properly getting our aims and motives more clearly established before leaving this world when our physical bodies cease functioning.

Outstanding Insights Offered by Swedenborg

We are spiritual people although for the most part we are unaware of our active spiritual nature

  • existence in a fixed environment gives us free choice over our aims and motives
  • the basic choices we make here determine the direction of our life to eternity in the spiritual dimension
  • the spiritual realm is a real, substantial environment directly reflecting the state of being of those there
  • as a result, there is no fixed time and space as we know it
  • the Law of Affinity applies - like minded people live together
  • everyone in the spiritual realm has previously existed in this material world but now lives there in a spiritual body
  • we each choose the type of life we wish to live
  • death-bed repentance is of no avail

Whilst some of these principles are not very different to those given in other teachings, taken as a whole, they provide new concepts of the transition process, of Heaven and of Hell.

New Concept of Transition

The timing and nature of our death generally cannot be predicted. Whenever, and whatever the circumstances, there is -

  • no sense of pain or discomfort
  • in the normal course of events, we go through a gentle waking process quite soon after physical death and are greeted by specially appointed angels
  • surroundings initially reflect our last worldly ones screening the change from our senses, the time-frame for this depending on our spiritual outlook
  • an earth life review ensues allowing us to sort out the mixture of motives behind our actions and determine our actual life’s delight ~ either others-centred (“heavenly”) or self-centred (“hellish”)
  • we can then choose how we want to live to eternity; no other judgment occurs
  • for those desiring to be with those who are others-centred, a period of instruction and experience of truth takes place as preparation

New Concept of Heaven

  • a real world with communities, streets, homes, trees, rivers, oceans, governments, etc. ~ similar in so many ways, yet not the same
  • we all have a unique role - or use - to perform in the spiritual cosmos. Eternal happiness is achieved in and through the employment of that use, plus times of recreation and relaxation
  • living in communities with others having similar uses enhances the total happiness
  • it is the communities acting collectively which makes heaven perfect just as the well-being of the body is dependent on the myriad of healthy cells and organs
  • progress in heaven is not through upward promotion but in developing our use to its fullest potential - a never-ending possibility
  • partners, friends, etc. meet if they wish to; staying together depends on inner loves
  • there are only genuine marriages in heaven; in fact every angel is a married pair. Earthly marriages will continue where couples are growing together. Otherwise spouses will amicably part to seek their eternal partner
  • children who die go directly there; specially appointed angels look after their welfare and development

New Concept of Hell

  • hell is a reality for those who prefer to live from self-centred desires in communities with like-minded people - doing what comes naturally and self-gratifyingly.
  • such desires are all-consuming and can never be satisfied as all are seeking the same result (the “fire and brimstone” symbolism)
  • it is a state allowed from Divine mercy and is not Divine retribution or punishment; yet those there are compelled to serve a use for others
  • for those in hell, this is their heaven, freely chosen after constantly giving in to selfishness

Links to additional information on life after death within the website

Michael Stanley talks on Life after Death, Evidence of life after death, Laws of the Spiritual World, and The effect of the Spiritual World on this World. These are a comprehensive and wholistic view of life after death.

Swedenborg Foundation link to Swedenborg on the Afterlife

What happens when we die?

A Person’s awakening from the dead and entrance into eternal life

[Quotations from Emanuel Swedenborg]

When the body can no longer fulfil its functions in the natural world corresponding to the thoughts and affections of its spirit (which the person receives from the spiritual world), then we say that the person dies. This happens when the lung's respiratory motion and the heart's systolic motion cease. The person, however, does not die. He is simply separated from the physical component which was serviceable to him in the world. The actual person is still alive.

We say that the actual person lives because the person is not a person because of his body, but because of his spirit. For the spirit does the thinking in a person, and thought together with affection constitutes the person. We can see from this that when someone dies, he simply crosses from one world into another. This is why death in the Word, in its inner meaning, refers to resurrection and to continuity of life.
[Heaven and Hell 445]

If a person gives the matter due consideration, he can recognise that the body does not think, since it is material. Rather, the soul thinks, since it is spiritual. Mans soul, whose immortality has been the topic of many writers, is his spirit. It is in fact immortal in all respects. It is what thinks in the body, too, since it is spiritual; and the spiritual receives the spiritual and lives spiritually, which is thinking and intending.
So all rational life that is discernible in the body belongs to the soul; none of it belongs to the body. The body, as mentioned above, is in fact material; and the material stuff which is the hallmark of the body is an addendum, almost a kind of accessory, to the spirit, so that a persons spirit can carry on a life and do useful things in a natural world whose constituents are all material and intrinsically devoid of life.
Since the material does not live, only the spiritual, we can determine that the part of man that lives is his spirit, with the body only serving it, just the way something used as a means serves a living impelling force. People do say of a tool that it acts, impels, or impinges; but it is a fallacy to believe that this is a property of the tool and not of the person who acts, impels, or impinges through it.
[Heaven and Hell 432]

Since everything that is alive in the body belongs strictly to the spirit [also everything that acts and senses as a result of life], none of it belongs to the body, it follows that the spirit is the actual person. This is much the same as saying that, seen in his own right, a person is a spirit, and is in a comparable form as well. For the part of man that lives and senses is his spirit, and everything in man, from his head to the souls of his feet, lives and senses. This is why, when a persons body is separated from his spirit, which is called dying, he is still a person, still alive.

I have heard from heaven that some people who have died are thinking even while they are lying on the mortuary tables, before their awakening, still within their own cold bodies. As far as they know, they are still alive, except that they are unable to move the smallest bit of matter that belongs to their bodies.
[Heaven and Hell 433]

Man cannot think and intend unless there is a subject, a definable entity, which is a substance from which things proceed and in which things occur. There is no reality to anything which is thought to occur apart from a substantial subject. We can determine this from the fact that a person cannot see without an organ which is the subject of his sight, or hear without an organ which is the subject of his hearing. There is no reality or existence to sight or hearing apart from these organs.

The same holds true for thought --- which is inner sight --- and attentiveness ---which is inner hearing. Unless these occurred in and from substances which are organic forms which are subjects, they could not happen at all.

We can tell from these considerations that a person's spirit is just as much "in a form" as his body is, that it is in a human form, and that it enjoys abilities of sense and senses just as much when separated from the body as when it was within it. We can tell that every bit of the eye's life, every bit of the ear's life ---in a word, every bit of sense life which a person has --- is a property not of his body, but of his spirit within these phenomena even to their most minute details.

This is why spirits, just like men, see, hear, and feel --- after release from the body not in a natural world, to be sure, but in a spiritual one. The spirits capacity for natural sensation during its existence in a body came from the material element added to it; but even then, it sensed spiritually in thinking and intending.
[Heaven and Hell 434]

These matters have been mentioned in order to convince reasonable people that man, seen in his own right, is a spirit, that the bodily aspect, added for the sake of accomplishing things in the natural, material world, is not the person, but simply a tool for his spirit.

People who have convinced themselves of the opposite proposition tend to think that the lower animals live and perceive the way man does, and therefore have a spiritual component like man's. But in fact this dies along with the body. However the spiritual component of animals is not like man's. For man, unlike animals, has an inmost area into which something Divine flows. The Divine lifts man toward Itself and thereby bonds him to Itself, which is why man, unlike animals, is able to think about God and about the Divine elements proper to heaven and the church, to love God because of those elements and in involvement with them, and so be bonded to Him Whatever can be bonded to God cannot be destroyed; but anything that cannot be bonded to God is destroyed.

This inmost which belongs to man rather than to animals is here described. For it is important for the dismissal of deceptive views held by many people who lack the capacity to draw rational conclusions on these matters because they lack information and their understanding is not open. The relevant section reads as follows:

I should like to cite a particular arcanum about the angels of the three heavens. This is something that has not occurred to man before, because he has not understood levels [cf. n.38 Heaven and Hell ]. Every single angel and every single person has an inmost and highest level, or something inmost and highest, where the Lord's Divine flows in first or most directly. From this centre the Lord assigns places to other relatively inward elements that according to the sequential levels, lie below in the person. We may call this inmost or highest element the Lord's entryway to angel and man. His very home within them.

It is by this "something inmost or highest" that man is man and is differentiated from non-rational animals, since they do not possess it. As a result, man, unlike animals, can be raised by the Lord toward Himself as concerns his more inward reaches, or what belongs to his inner and outer mind. Man can believe in Him, be moved by love for Him, and so can see Him. As a result also, man can accept intelligence and wisdom, and can talk from rational processes. This also is the source of man's living to eternity.

But it does not come openly to the attention of any angel just what the Lord arranges and takes care of at this centre, since this is above hid thought and beyond his wisdom. [Heaven and Hell 435]

Man's being a spirit as concerns his more inward elements is demonstrated by the fact that after the spirit has been separated from the body [which happens when a person dies] he is still alive, a person the way he was before. To assure me of this, I have been allowed to walk with practically everyone I have ever known during his physical life --- with some for hours, with some for weeks or months, with some for years --- all for the overriding purpose that I might be assured of this fact, and might bear witness to it.
[Heaven and Hell 437]

When celestial angels are with someone who has been awakened, they do not leave him; for they love each and every one. But when the spirit is the kind who cannot be in fellowship with celestial angels any longer, then he wants to get away from them. When this happens, angels from the Lord's spiritual kingdom come, through whom the spirit is granted the benefit of light. For up to this point he had not seen anything; he had only thought. The angels take the greatest possible care to prevent the emergence of any concept from the awakened person unless it savours of love.

Then they tell him he is a spirit.

After the benefit of life has been given, the spiritual angels offer the new spirit every service he could ever wish in that condition, and teach him about the things that exist in the other life, but only as he can comprehend them. If he is not the kind who is willing to be taught, the person who has been awakened craves release from the fellowship of these angels. Still it is not the angels who leave him; it is he who estranges himself from them. The angels actually love each individual, and want above all to be of service to him, to teach him, and to lead him into heaven. They find their highest delight in this.

When a spirit has thus estranged himself, he is taken away by good spirits, who offer him all kinds of help as long as he is in fellowship with them. But if his life in the world was of a kind to make fellowship with good spirits impossible, then he craves release from them as well. This happens as long and as often as necessary, until he joins the kind of spirits who wholly fit in with his life in the world, among whom he finds his kind of life. Then, remarkably, he leads the same kind of life he led in the world
. [Heaven and Hell 450]

This introductory phase of a person's life after death, however lasts only a few days, eventually he is guided from one state to another, and finally into heaven and hell. [Heaven and Hell 451]

I am well aware that many will say that no one can possibly speak with spirits and angels as long as he lives in the body; and many will say that it is all imagination, others that I relate such things in order to gain credence, and others will make other objections. But by all this I am not deterred, for I have seen, I have heard, I have felt. [Arcana Caelestia 68]

This vast system which is called the universe is a work coherent as a vast unit from things first to things last, because in creating it God had a single end in view, which was an angelic heaven from the human race; and all things of which the world consists are means to that end.

In the Christian world it is wholly unknown that heaven and hell are from the human race, for it was believed that in the beginning angels were created and heaven was thus formed; also that the devil or Satan was an angel of light, but having rebelled he was cast down with his crew, and thus hell was formed. The angels never cease to wonder at such a belief in the Christian world, and still more that nothing is really known about heaven...

They wish for this reason that I should declare from their lips that in the entire heaven there is not a single angel who was created such from the beginning, nor in hell any devil who was created an angel of light and cast down; but that all, both in heaven and in hell, are from the human race; in heaven those who lived in the world in heavenly love and belief, in hell those who lived in infernal love and belief. [Heaven and Hell 311]