In the anime “The Rebirth of Buddha” by Happy Science, hospitals are places where the astral bodies of the deceased roam the corridors, desperately seeking help for their ailments because they don’t want to die, unaware that they have already passed away. But this is not the first movie where the dead are unaware of their death. Then again, in our dreams we are unaware of our sleep… Coincidence, or…?
In June this year, prolific writer Richard Matheson passed away at the age of 87. This is generally not something to celebrate, but in his case at least it means he got the chance to test his theories about the afterlife, in which he had taken a keen interest. While most known for his horror and science fiction novels, one of his best loved books was “What Dreams May Come”, in which the main character experienced three main realms of the afterlife: The Ghost Realm, Heaven, and Hell. Well, I guess two of these qualify as horror!
Matheson used realistic settings for his stories, and he researched the afterlife thoroughly before writing this novel. While the story is fictional, the setting mostly represents what the author believed about the afterlife, based on reading and thinking about the matter, mostly from oriental sources.
I am not really writing about Matheson or his book or the movie based on it, but I need to give a spoiler here because it illustrates a point that is otherwise difficult to make. Having seen the movie or read the book – preferably not right before bedtime – may help make this distinction that I briefly mentioned in my recent entry, between the “bodysoul” and the “spiritsoul”.
In Matheson’s story, the main character dies in a traffic accident. However, he does not realize that he is dead and that it is perfectly normal to hang around for a while after your passing. He suppresses the memories of his own death and burial and keeps trying to contact his family, especially his wife, with whom he was very close. Occasionally a vaguely seen person tries to contact him, but he ignores this and keeps haunting his home.
At some point, however, a new split occurs, and his soul parts with this astral body which he wore when he haunted his family. Suddenly he can think much more clearly and feel fully himself. He can now see the spirit that tried to contact him and recognizes it as someone important to him. Together they go to a Heaven, of sorts.
So if you remember that scene, you understand the concept of a person having several bodies (three in this case).
Ryuho Okawa, founder of the Japanese New Religion Happy Science, describes a similar situation, probably based on the same sources. According to Okawa, people in the 4th dimension wear astral bodies, but when they ascend to the 5th dimension, they discard these bodies and live as souls. Later, they may discard these as well and live as spirits in the even higher Heavens.
Let us talk a little about dreams. Not only Shakespeare but also Ryuho Okawa compares the afterlife to a sleep with dreams. Other sources claim that our dreams at night actually take place in the astral realm, and Okawa teaches that the Spirit World (or to use his favorite name for it, the Real World) is a world of the mind. So in that sense we certainly spend time in the world of the mind every night, but it is very rare indeed that two people share a dream and remember it. Often you dream about someone else but they have no memory of the dream at all. This may be just as well, but this leaves open the question of whether, if we meet others in the afterlife, do they also meet us? If not, it is kind of pointless, is it not?
Well, no one is saying that our dreams actually are our afterlife, just that they have certain things in common. Most notably, our dreams are made out of the content of our psyche at the time we dream, which is also the content that we are going to drag with us into the afterlife in the unfortunate case that we die before we wake. So if we carry a lot of fear or anger with us in our subconscious, then we may have a problem when we pass over and still carry this stuff with us.
Now let me talk about my dreams. I am the Viewpoint Character, after all! And my dreams are pretty unusual. I think I may have met two people who dream the way I do with any regularity, or even at all; but it may be just Drew, I am not sure now who the other person was.
You see, when you dream, you feel as if you wear a body (or even are a body, if that is how you usually think of yourself), and it is typically the body you have in your daily life. Associated with this body is your body-soul, the personality you have acquired in this life: Your name, your most common memories, your habits, your relationships to family, friends, job and home. Basically, you are you, even in your dream. Sometimes I am, too. But often I am not.
In my dreams, I can have a completely different body and the personality that goes with it. For the duration of the dream, I have other memories (although I later only remember those that I recalled during the dream), another home, a family, friends, another job or school. It is a completely different life. And it is indeed complete, for the duration of the dream. I don’t find these circumstances strange or unfamiliar; they are part of the web of life for that person I am there. Only when I wake up do I realize that I don’t know any of these people, including the person that was me in the dream.
In some dreams, not often but it has happened several times, I actually move from one person to another in the dream. It is usually only two or three people, but I once moved in rapid succession through half a dozen different people of both sexes, experiencing their different view of the same situation. Like I was some kind of spirit possessing people. Yeah, that sounds creepy to me as well. They did not seem to mind or notice though. Now that I think about it, I believe this tends to happen only when people are agitated. This may deserve further study (although I am not sure how I would do that).
So in my dreams, I seem to possess many different “astral bodies”, but I have not laid off these bodies and their personalities and become my real self, if there is such a person. It seems to me that the person inside or underneath my body-soul is simply an observer. When I meditate, I can observe my mind. My mind is not me. There is another me inside “me”, the Witness which watches the outer world and the inner world both, watches silently and without really engaging. When I engage, I fall back into the mind, and become part of the personality, the surface consciousness, the bodysoul. I cannot really imagine existing as a spiritsoul, without even an astral body. This may be a good thing, because it is not obvious that I would ever return if that happened, even if it happened in a dream.
And I think I still have a lot to learn from the “dream” that is my life in this world, in this body, in this time.