In a previous post I speculated that the ultimate nature of reality is information, analogous to a set of instructions, and that in certain cases our own consciousness can rewrite these instructions and change reality. I'm not insisting this hypothesis is true; I'm just throwing it out there for consideration. And if there is any truth to it, then it ought to remain true even after our consciousness is separated from its physical vessel.
In this respect, it's interesting to look at a couple of quotes from a recent interview with Deepak Chopra, touting his new book Life after Death. I haven't read this book yet, although I intend to. I'm a little put off by the hype around it, specifically the claim that it is "the first major book on the afterlife to be published in decades." This is not true; such recent books as Is There an Afterlife? by David Fontana and Immortal Remains by Stephen E. Braude are very important additions to the literature on this subject, and there are many others. But I suppose Chopra is not responsible for his publisher's promotional schemes.
In any case, his remarks in the interview are directly relevant to our subject.
Q: What, in a nutshell, do you think happens after we die?
A: We return to our state of potentiality ... Our imagination creates our "here and now" while we are alive, and it can project a reality of our consciousness in all other realms, too ... All the mental abilities we use to create things in our life continue after death and in fact become more powerful. Whether we are in this domain or any other, we are in the same state of spiritual consciousness....
Q: Do you believe in reincarnation?
A: Reincarnation is one scenario. Everything the human mind can imagine is also a scenario. Rumi (a mystical poet) says, "When I die I shall soar with angels, and when I die to angels, what I shall become, you cannot imagine." Any imaginative realm that you can imagine exists in projective reality.
Consider the variety of afterlife scenarios that have been posited throughout the ages. Is it possible that all of these "scenarios," to use Chopra's word, actually can and do take place? Well, it is possible if we ourselves are writing or rewriting the instructions that give rise to these scenarios.
Here are some examples:
In his book 90 Minutes in Heaven, Don Piper, a born-again Christian, describes a near-death experience in which he found himself in a quintessentially Christian heaven, replete with pearly gates and choirs of angels.
In What They Saw ... at the Hour of Death, researchers Karlis Osis and Erlandur Haraldsson point out that American Christians on their deathbeds often have visions of angels or Jesus, while Hindus in India typically see Hindu deities.
Reincarnation studies, such as those carried out by Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, have shown that in cultures where people expect to be instantly reincarnated with no interval between lives, young children remember a past life that follows this pattern. But in cultures where it is presumed that an interval of some years passes between lives, children will report spending the appropriate amount of time in a heavenly realm.
In cultures where reincarnation within a family is considered the norm, such cases are typically reported. In cultures where reincarnation outside the family is considered normal, cases like that are reported.
In cultures where birthmarks are expected to reflect wounds or illnesses suffered in a previous life, many more such birthmarks are found.
The point is that our expectations seem to play a considerable role in determining our after-death experience. If we expect to find ourselves at the pearly gates, we may find ourselves there. If we expect to see Jesus, we may see him. If we expect to see a different deity, we may see him or her instead. If we expect to be reincarnated at once, we will be. If we expect to have an interval of rest and recuperation before our next earthly incarnation, then that is how things will work out. If we expect to carry birthmarks into our next life that reflect our previous existence, we will. And so on.
This is not to say that our expectations are all-powerful; if a suicide bomber expects to go to paradise, he may be disappointed, if only because the expectations of his victims regarding their killer's fate are quite different. But within limits, our own consciousness may have the ability to map out the blueprint for our experience.
All of this may sound chaotic, with a different path for every soul. But why would we expect the process to be neat and simple?
Besides, the ultimate reality is neat and simple. Consciousness (whether our own or the combined consciousnessness of many individuals) writes or rewrites the instructions that give rise to all experience, both on earth and in heaven. The many apparent contradictions among afterlife accounts simply reflect the variety of experiences that are possible, given the variety of assumptions that souls carry with them.
And if the ultimate purpose of all this incarnating (and reincarnating) is to have the widest possible variety of experiences, then why wouldn't there be a variety of experiences after life, as well as during life?
Again, I'm not insisting any of this is true. There is no way to prove it. I'm just putting it out there as food for thought. And if my speculation has any validity, then it might be worth asking yourself what kind of afterlife experience you want and expect to have.
Just be careful what you wish for -- you may get it!