Note: After some interesting discussion in the comments, I added new material to this post on May 7, 2011.
In broaching this topic, I can't help but be reminded of an episode of the old TV sitcom Becker. The opening scene went something like this:
Becker is sitting at a lunch counter and remarks to a friend that one of his patients just passed away. A nearby stranger intrudes on the conversation, asking, "When did he die?"
"Yesterday," Becker says.
"Oh, good. Then he's still on the astral plane. I'll be visiting there later today. You want me to look him up?"
Later it transpires that a mental hospital has been releasing its patients into Becker's neighborhood.
There is something undeniably nutty about speculating on the afterlife adventures -- or misadventures -- of a particular individual. How can we possibly know? There is no way to be sure, with 100% confidence, that there even is an afterlife, let alone to know what goes on there, let alone to know what's happening to a given person.
Nevertheless, those of us who think that life after death is highly probable, and who have read widely on the subject, can't help but formulate some idea -- provisional and conjectural though it may be -- of what a person like Osama bin Laden might expect. In my own case, my expectation is based on mainly on reports of near-death experiencers and mediums. Robert Crookall's books, notably Intimations of Immortality, have been particularly influential on me.
It appears that the circumstances of one's death can play an important role in how smoothly the transition goes. Osama bin Laden's last earthly moments must have been characterized by confusion and distress, as a team of commandos fought their way into the house in a midnight raid, killing many of its occupants in a hail of bullets. It is safe to say that bin Laden was fearful, even panicky at the end. And then, before he had time to compose himself, a bullet tore through the left side of his face, blowing out the back of his skull, and killing him instantly.
A person who dies that way seems likely to have a rough transition. He may not even realize he is dead. He may remain earthbound for a long time, in a state of shock and denial, treating the physical world around him as a dream. This condition can persist for days, months, or even longer.
On the other hand, bin Laden presumably did believe in an afterlife, so he might be more mentally prepared for his discarnate existence than the average secular-minded person today. Of course, he would expect to go to paradise, an everlasting garden of sensual delights. But nothing in my reading suggests that this is how the scenario would play out.
What, then, would happen to bin Laden? Originally I wrote that he would go directly to the life review as described below. But Bryan.A pointed out that someone as spiritually bankrupt as bin Laden probably would not be ready for a life review. Instead, he would more likely be drawn to a very low plane of spiritual existence, where he would linger for an untold period of time amidst similarly debased souls. His existence would continue in this harsh, dreary, loveless realm until eventually he became aware of his own shortcomings and the need for repentance and atonement. Only then would he be able and willing to receive guidance from higher spiritual beings, which would orchestrate a life review.
I think this is probably correct; at least, it conforms to what I've read. So let us assume that bin Laden will first linger in a twilight zone, a sort of "Hades" in the original sense - the misty, joyless underworld described by the ancient Greeks. At some point he will begin to emerge from his self-absorption and self-imposed blindness, he will reach out for help, and help will be offered. Then he will be ready for the next step -- what near-death experiencers call a life review.
All of his significant actions and decisions on earth will be replayed before him. Not only will he see his life flash before his eyes, but he will enter into the experience, reliving crucial moments. More important, he will be compelled to experience the consequences of his choices in the lives of other people. He will enter their subjective awareness, and feel what they felt.
Bin Laden is believed to have ordered the bombing of US embassies in Africa which killed about 200 people, the 9/11 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people, and numerous other atrocities around the globe. Thousands of people suffered violent deaths as a result of his actions. Untold thousands more suffered the grief, shock, and trauma of losing their loved ones. Still others were maimed and crippled. What would it be like to experience the physical and emotional pain of all those thousands of people? It would be something like hell.
The life review seems to take place in a timeless realm, or, to put it more precisely, a realm in which time operates differently from the way we know it on the physical plane. There is no earthly way to estimate how long bin Laden's immersion in the agony of his victims would last. Perhaps, in earthly terms, it is all over in less than a second; but subjectively, from bin Laden's point of view, it might seem to last for centuries.
In any event, at some point this terrible ordeal will end. Having already matured enough to be willing to face the life review, bin Laden should find the experience so intense and revealing that he will no longer cling to the ego-centered outlook that drove him to commit his crimes. He will see, clearly and for the first time, the terrible error of his ways. He will seek forgiveness.
But mere remorse is not enough. What will follow is a long period of self-abasement and spiritual regeneration, a tortuous path to redemption that could include new earthly incarnations in which he will experience the powerlessness and pain of a victim throughout a whole lifetime. The purpose is not suffering for its own sake, but the attainment of a new level of spiritual awareness, made possible only by a full understanding of his former depravity.
Eventually, even a soul as corrupt and malignant as bin Laden will be purified and exalted. It may take many lifetimes, an immense amount of spiritual work, and the guidance of infinitely patient spirit counselors. But from everything I've read on the subject, it appears that no soul is permanently left behind.
Some people might say that a monster like bin Laden deserves unending torment, with no opportunity for redemption. But it seems that the system -- or the Mind behind it -- is not so harsh and unforgiving. Every soul, we are told, originates in innocence and will ultimately return to that state, after its errors and transgressions have been stripped away. But the process of purification is long and arduous, and there are no shortcuts.
So where in the world is Osama bin Laden right now? My guess -- of course it can be only a guess -- is that either he is anchored to his mansion in Pakistan in a fog of bewilderment and fear, or he is sunk deep in a half-lit underworld in the company of other angry, violent, homicidal, and intolerant souls, where he will remain until he is ready to face the full consequences of his evil acts.