When I see quotes from famous smart people, such as Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan, saying they have no expectation of an afterlife, I worry – because there is a very convincing school of thought that says your expectations determine your afterlife.
Scientist Rupert Sheldrake points out that near-death experiences are most likely identical to actual death experiences – and that NDEs vary according to what the experiencer believes is going to happen.
Christians might have a happy reunion with Grandma in the afterlife; Hindus might find themselves embroiled with bureaucrats.
And atheists might get nothing at all — at least for a while.
If our consciousness survives our death — and there is much evidence that it does — it seems to reside in our dream body, the same “body” present in NDEs — and the same “body” we’re all familiar with occupying in our nightly dreams (also familiar to some people from out-of-body experiences).
Sheldrake suggests that when we die, we go on dreaming, but we can’t wake up.
According to Tibetan Buddhism, our nightly dreamworld is the same place we experience after death. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
We control our afterlife dream to a greater or lesser extent, depending on our consciousness and our ability to manage our minds. Tibetans practice dream yoga — lucid dreaming; Sheldrake says they consider it “like practicing for when you’re dead”.
“The kind of after-death experience we might have depends on what kind of person we are,” says Sheldrake. “What kind of fears we have, what kind of beliefs we have, what kinds of things we expect… and what our religious faith is…. If we’re used to praying regularly then in our dreams or in our after-death life we may be able to go on praying, and that would enable us to contact a spiritual realm beyond the more limited realm we’re confined to in this post-mortem dream state.” And it doesn’t matter if the entities you pray to are “real” or not, as long as you believe in them – they will be real in your dreamworld.
According to the article The Tibetan Buddhist and Spiritualist Views of After-Death States:
[Religious and spiritual people] both have a distinct advantage over the secular individual because they expect to enter into a positive afterlife (heaven), and expectations have great power in the inner worlds. This expectation combined with love and devotion towards some religious ideal can propel the religious individual towards a heavenly state just as the practice of spiritual travel does. The secular individual with no faith or expectation of heaven is more likely to flounder after death and get stuck in some intermediate gray area surrounded by thoughts and emotions from the past waiting for something to happen.
The afterlife dreamworld state may be like the Catholic concept of purgatory or the Hindu concept of bardo, an intermediate state where we have experiences and change. Some people believe we then go on from there to be reincarnated, or maybe to travel to other dimensions, or be promoted to heaven.
The power of belief is awesome — you can design a fascinating afterlife for yourself. It seems to me that the classic advice is good: Think about where you want to go after you die!