An afterlife: what is the evidence for what it is?
Posted On March 28, 2021
The mystical and spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg provides a meticulously written account of what he claimed were visions of a realm beyond. This material was based on what you heard and saw inside when you experienced altered states of consciousness. Consciousness occurred daily for the last twenty-seven years of his life.
I think what he wrote about these extraordinary experiences is worth sharing because it sheds light on what I see as common mistakes when thinking about death.
We read that after our departure from this life, we wake up in a ‘spiritual body’ like a normal human body that we have on earth. In this afterlife existence it is said that we are aware of people and things, but not those that are still present in the material universe. We are not, it seems reincarnated in the world in a physical body. However, we each retain our individuality in a ‘spirit body’, one that can see, hear and smell, as well as think and feel.
Swedenborg’s idea of a ‘spiritual body’ may resemble the idea of a ‘subtle body’ which is believed to be a psychospiritual part of living things according to various esoteric, occult and mystical teachings. For example, in yoga, practitioners claim that the “subtle body” consists of “chakras”, connected by channels, which transmit “subtle breathing”. Through breathing exercises, it is claimed that a person can direct “subtle breathing” to achieve immortality.
What is Swedenborg’s view of human contact after death?
For Swedenborg, with our ‘spiritual body’ we can be in contact with others who are also not alive in the physical body. We can communicate and interact socially as we usually do. It says that the afterlife is a spiritual dimension of existence. It is real with sensations even more vivid than those we experience in the natural world. This is so even though our environment is not part of the physical universe. Writing in Latin three hundred years ago, he called this environment ‘mundi spiritualis’. I like to translate this phrase for the afterlife as ‘spiritual world’. Most translators have used the term “spirit world.”
In addition, we learn that the individual’s state of mind is projected onto what they see and hear. For example, if after death we seek kindness and consideration, then beauty surrounds us. But if we prefer crime and corruption, then ugliness is everywhere.
Is there time and space in the afterlife?
Swedenborg’s view of the afterlife is that time and space do not follow the laws of physics. Instead, they reflect our internal states of mind. I would like to point out that, in the material world, time is objectively measured, for example by clocks and the rotation of our planet. But imagine what it would be like if these physical measurements were no longer possible. We would be left with a “subjective time” that depends on our state of mind. Some of this idea can be seen when we are bored or in pain because time passes. But, if we go ahead with things and commit to what interests us, time passes before we know it.
Swedenborg says that how far things seem from us depends on psychological rather than physical rules. For example, if you and another person feel emotionally close, then, in the afterlife, both of you will appear to be located close to each other. So what matters is psychological time and distance.
Are there other descriptions of an afterlife?
It is not only Swedenborg who presents this image. There is a great deal of similar information from mediums regarding what spiritual communicators supposedly say through them about the afterlife of spirits. The way the world views mediums and psychics varies greatly. Some have been exposed as fraudsters and there remains widespread scientific skepticism as to the validity of their experiences.
However, psychologist David Fontana summarized many of the mediums’ reports in his book “Is There An Afterlife? A Complete Overview of the Evidence.”
“(Spiritual) communicators tell us that the way each individual experiences the next world, at least on the lower levels, is determined not only by their own thoughts, but by the thoughts of others who think in similar ways. “(Professor David Fontana)
Apparently, we will gravitate towards that part of the next life where there are like-minded people. Those who love trees and flowers, peace and harmony, go to a domain where the thoughts of others who love these things will have helped create that environment. On the contrary, if violence and strife attract us, we enter that kind of social sphere. Consequently, our own environment would change accordingly.
Swedenborg claims to have had direct access to this dimension of the afterlife. To some extent, it depended on what the spirits were telling him, but in addition, much of this was verified by his own internal experiences. If true, the source of much of their information is first-hand and contrasted with that of mediums whose accounts are based solely on information conveyed to them through spiritual communicators. However, despite this, the content of both, that of the mediums and that of Swedenborg, agrees.
Is the next life happy?
Professor Fontana writes that spiritual communicators describe an environment called “Higher Astral”. It is an idealized version of what this underworld could become. One in which we treat him and others with more love and respect. The spirits speak of landscapes of enchanting beauty, of mountains and rivers, of beautiful towns and cities, etc.
This sounds like Swedenborg’s vision of a part of the afterlife that he calls the ‘spirit world’. The part that he calls in Latin “caelo”. For him, this social sphere of the afterlife gives him a kind of deep happiness.
He does not see this state of consciousness as a reward for a selfless life on earth. On the contrary, for him it is the fulfillment of what has already begun to grow in a person. It’s not to say it’s for someone who has just been through the motions of living a good life – pretending to be honest and generous for the sake of social approval. Instead, reserve the realm of “caelo” for the person who genuinely wants to act this way. One who tries to live according to his deepest consciousness of what is good and right.
In the next podcast we explore what we could take with us when we die. What will our individual character look like?