Q: Your newsletter/blog post "Egos Are Like Fruit Flies" prompts a question. I was raised in an environment of lovely, giving people who also thought that everyone outside of their sect would go to hell. In the theory of Spiral Dynamics, consciousness goes through necessary stages, from basic survival, to "my tribe, my god", to "let's all get along", to "all stages are an expression of one", etc. This implies multiple lifetimes to move all the way through. In your experience at age 20, death didn't really change much but was just a continuation, after which I assume we'd come back and continue somewhat close to where we left off. Meanwhile, near death experiencers (NDE) report the blinders being taken off and having access to vastly greater wisdom, all their questions being answered, etc. On one hand, if the NDE is an accurate picture, how and why would one come back and take on a bigoted or narrow view of the world? On the other hand, if it's more like what you describe, what a bleak picture: learning our lessons with such painful slowness, taking on an ego again which can only be seen through by means of suffering; and on a mundane level having to learn to wear diapers, walk, and go through adolescence again! The teaching, "death is just merging back into where you came from" is supposed to remove our fear of death, but in my view it completely misses the point. The greater fear is of having to start all this over again.
A: Thank for your very good questions. There are lots of "maps" of what happens after death. In the Tibetan tradition, it is assumed that everyone is shown the totality of Truth at the moment of death, similar to your description of the NDE. The only question is, Can you stay with that totality? If not, then you are shown a lesser truth, and then a lesser truth, and if you cannot contain any of the bigger truths, then you go back and reincarnate. It is kind of like a final exam at the end of the lifetime, and if you do not pass, then you have to reincarnate.
The nondual teachings tend to point to the possibility of experiencing the biggest truths before you die, but in some respects the same principle still applies. After a full awakening or even just a glimpse of a very complete perspective, the question becomes, Can you stay with or integrate that degree of reality?
In either case, our worldly life is the schoolhouse and an opportunity to practice for the big exam whenever it might come. This human life is itself an incredibly intense experience and of course is not really separate from the ultimate reality. The way you master the "lessons" of life is to accept and even embrace them totally. If you get in the habit of loving every little experience that comes along, then the big glimpses are just one more opportunity to open and allow everything. If you cannot accept and embrace what is happening, then in that moment you are in a place of suffering and the "lesson" is delayed and has to be repeated. (continue reading)