Philosophical Speculations on Life, Death, Reincarnation, and Consciousness

19 Jan

Disclaimer: emphasis on the word speculation.

It wasn’t too long ago that I realized that expanding consciousness is the same as eradicating consciousness. When one exclaims a feeling of oneness with the universe they are paradoxically expanding their consciousness at the expense of their individual sense of self. Meditation, rhythmic dancing, etc all lessen the connection to ones self in order to feel a sense of self that has expanded to encompass all that is around them.

In a recent discussion on life after death with a shamanic acquaintance of mine, he tells me that dying is to life as sleeping is to waking. In his view, death is just a transition of consciousness from one state to another.

My question to him on this point is this:

The part of you that is easily identifiable; your memories, your personality, your dreams, desires, and wishes, your faults, and your fears – are these part of the consciousness that transcends and survives after the death of the physical body?

And if not, what is it that moves on?

I’m still waiting for his email response – and I don’t mean to put words in his mouth – but my guess is that the part of who we are that makes up our personality, our wishes, desires, dreams and so forth – in other words, what makes you you; this is not what he’ll say transcends death.

It’s something primordial, something deeper that carries on.

And what is it?

Could it be that it’s the part of you that’s accessed when you experience yourself as one with the world? I’m speaking of that something deep down inside you, buried by your layers of self-hood and self-identity, existing beyond conscious awareness, accessible only in those euphoric, spiritual moments when we feel connected to the rest of the world. The part of you that experiences that sensation, is that the aspect of consciousness that carries on after the death of the physical body?

This brings up an interesting realization. Using this framework of thought, we’ve established a sense of life after death, but at the same time, it means little in regards to our personal sense of identity and has little meaning in any personal sense of surviving death.

But if the Buddhists and the cognitive scientists are right, our sense of self is just an illusion anyway.

And so….does this mean that are “true self” is actually this selfless essence that survives death and is accessible in life only in moments of ego-loss and conscious expansion?

Oh I feel like I’m going in circles. 🙂

9 Responses to “Philosophical Speculations on Life, Death, Reincarnation, and Consciousness”

  1. Oneironaught February 24, 2007 at 12:16 am #

    Speaking as a Buddhist I’m just as confused as you. One of the main tenents of Buddhism is ‘anatman’ – the theory of no-self or no-soul. However, most Buddhists (myself not included, I accept reincarnation as a metaphor) believe in reincarnation. The question then remaining is this: if there is no core self, what exactly gets reincarnated? If you ever get pestered by some high-and-mighty buddhist ask him this question.

    As far as I have been able to find out, and demoninations differ in their answer, is that the human consciousness is divided into nine different levels. When a buddhist speaks of his karma being reincarnated, he is specifically referring to the eighth level of consciousness – this is the thing that supposedly reincarnates in the next human body and transcends death. The eighth level is known as ‘the storehouse consciousness’.
    I forget the sanskrit term and I can’t pronounce it anyway, but the storehouse is the ‘mental container’ of one’s accumulated mental formations (kamma and sankara) that keep one bound to the cycle of suffering.

    I found it interesting to learn that Buddhists don’t believe that the point of it all is to accumulate as much good karma as possible – that only leads to rebirth in higher realms, plus it’s like fuel – you will eventually use it all up and fall down to a lower level of existence. The point is to quit accumulating any kind of karma – whether good, neutral, or evil.

    An enlightened being is able to do this becuase, though any type of verbal, mental, or physical action causes karma to be created, the illuminated consciousness of such a being does not ‘hold’ any trace of such actions. It’s like having a teflon mind. The karma has nowhere to take root.

    P.S. This is a great blog. I’ve posted a link to it on my MySpace page. If you have a picture you would prefer to take the place of the link, just email me a web address of said, reasonably sized picture, and I’ll modify the link.

    Keep up the good work, fellow explorer.


  2. xsr October 29, 2007 at 8:07 pm #

    Dependent Origination. The causes you put into effect require fruition, this causes rebirth of a body the I that you know exists on the hard drive or physical brain. Thus, nothing is carried over to the next life, but a new vehicle is created to be the receptacle of the past causes in the form of effects, since not all karma comes to fruition in this life. The question of who that person is or will be is not relevant and one of the questions that the Buddha himself would call irrelevant and one that simply leads to argument and ignorance. All causes have effects. This life is an effect of the karma of the past life. When one becomes illumined to this, one can continue as an agent of karma whilst simultaneously being immune to the results of this karma, past or presently being created. I KNOW this to be true, was told this, instantaneously, by the Buddha himself. Or rather, when I became the Buddha, One with the Buddha, or however one can put this in the language of words without implying duality, which is .. of course.. impossible. Let me point you in a few interesting directions… see the atma, study advaita, and incorporate this into your buddhist study. The Buddha and the tenets of Buddhism are eternal truths but there are many paths to the same realization. Knowledge and the means to it evolve and grow out of causes, for knowledge is an effect of realization. We are born into a house of fire. To the children, the Buddha screams “I have candy outside” to the adults, he may scream something else. To others, he may whisper, with others, he may appear to be roasting marshmallows, but all this is beyond and aside from the point.

    You are either meant to realize truth in this life or you are meant to continue pursuing your desires or you are meant to suffer the effects of your past in this life, through what ‘appears’ to be suffering. In truth, there is no good, and no evil, and no duality. There is only unity. All is beautiful, whether or not an unseen hand exists that is pushing the buttons or guiding us along is one of those ‘irrelevant’ questions. The ultimate control is the lack of it!

    We are beggars sitting on locked chests filled with gold, we wear the key upon our neck, our whole lives begging for something we already have. We are told to look here, there, everywhere, but at ourselves. At what we already possess. No one has the answer but ourself.

    In relation to your statement about being confused about the nature of the ‘self’, I won’t get into the issue of the ‘self’ too deeply but to say that the buddhist feeling on the existence of the self is this: a flame gives off heat, it appears unchanging, but it is forever burning new wax. You feel it, you see it, it appears the same, does that mean that it exists independently of the candle? Of the wax it burns? … You hold a flower up to a mirror. You see the flower in the mirror. The mirror reflects a flower. You see it, you can’t smell this flower in the mirror but you know that the real flower smells, by this definition, you also cannot touch the flower. Does that mean that the reflection does not exist? Independent of the flower, would the reflection of the flower cease to exist? Is the reflected image independent of the original? If it is not.. what does that make the image? Real? or Illusory?

    You perceive a self, you FEEL that you have a past, you think about and dwell on the future… can you perceive the past? Is it here now? Is your ex-wife or your grandmother who have left you or passed away sitting right here with you? Where are they? Where have they gone? Is that job as a multimillionaire entrepeneur you have planned in five years happening now? Or are you going to create actions that .. step-by-step, lead you to experience their outcome in the now, which ‘hopefully’ *cross fingers* will result in the fulfillment of this long-awaited desire? Do you choose to realize that all desire and all future clinging are illusory? Do you choose to realize that the past are illusory? They are not existing NOW, are they?

    And if so, if you choose to nod yes and agree that neither of those things truly exist but in our own mind, as a product of our own creation.. that is 2/3 of our experience, eliminated! And thusly, is it not logical to take the next step and realize that if the past is illusory, the future is illusory, and you are nothing but a product of actions that occurred in an illusory, non-existent past, and in THIS MOMENT (NOW) you are taking actions that in the future will create a product of the actions you are taking NOW.. creating a being with its own sense of self and personhood no doubt… who will glance back at its OWN past and see YOU as an illusion, being that you don’t exist here, now… whilst he simultaneously takes actions that will create yet another being who will gaze upon even HE at some ‘future, illusory point’ ad infinitum…

    Is not the present illusory, temporary, pointless to get attached to?

    If I took you to an Ice Cream store and you wanted chocolate, would you kill yourself or go mad with tears if they were out until next week? Or if they discontinued Chocolate ice cream entirely?

    Exactly. You would not. That would be insane.

    As insane as believing that there is a ‘static-you’

    An unchanging (flame) -person- that exists independent of it’s (candle) -body-

    When one realizes there is only one moment, one identity, one self, with many names…

    One realizes one’s Buddha nature. One REALIZES.

    Illumined Mind = Realized Buddha Nature.

    Realized Buddha Nature = ‘Get-Out-Karma-Free’ card


    Karma is nothing but another face of Maya. (Illusory)

    In fact, ALL is illusory. Even the YOU that is reading MY words!

    Existence becomes a game. Life, experience. “Bad news” = opportunity for growth and change
    “Good news” = simply a break from the bad, time to refresh, renew and gear up for more experience.

    What is enlightenment? Can one exist in this duality permanently enlightened? Does the Rose or the Candle Flame or YOU exist? You seem to!

    So play the game. Game becomes tiring? Seek comfort in wisdom. Give compassion for compassions sake. Not for the sake of something that doesn’t exist, and for the sake of goodness, when you are being compassionate, stop questioning whether it matters or not if you seem to exist. As the Buddha would say, it is irrelevant, take your comfort in wisdom.

    –Peace, xst

  3. Ben November 11, 2007 at 7:27 pm #

    Thanks for taking the time to write out so many of your thoughts. I really enjoyed reading it. I would like to ask you if you consider Buddhism a religion? Why or why not?

  4. January 23, 2008 at 5:29 pm #

    Have you guys read the Seth Material?

    It’s pretty much answered my questions… 🙂

  5. Rob Goerss June 9, 2010 at 8:05 pm #


    Achieving enlightened Buddhahood is not a Get Out of Karma Free card. Indeed, the process of achieiving Buddhahood is expanding one’s consciousness to the point where all the Karma of this life and past lives is realized and then answered for. To realize negative Karma and not answer for it is to be driven to the point of insanity. To answer for all Karma is to free oneself from burden. To expand one’s consciousness to the point of realizing all Karma is to abandon the abstract idea of Self and embrace the idea of True Self, being in perfect unity and harmony with All That Is. To then achieve Buddhahood is to witness and realize the Ultimate Truth, the great Void and to manifest in a state of nirvana.

    There is nothing easy about this path. After achieving samadhi and realizing my karma, I was driven to insanity. I physically killed myself four times out of remorse for my many wrongs and the atrocities of Self. I openly shared my history with anyone who would listen in an effort to expose the darkest parts of my past, that the light of wisdom may illuminate those recesses of consciousness. After realizing the power to manifest reality through the practice of samadhi, I began killing myself through sheer will. I suffered awful torments for my negative actions and thinking, and with the knowledge that my spirit — for lack of a better term — was being cleansed, I developed a morbid yet wise sense of happiness through my personal suffering. The more I suffered, the happier I became, until a moment came where I felt completely balanced and no longer needed to suffer again.

    It was only through this process of bloodletting that I achieved a balance of Karma. My meditation can now lead me down the path of nirvana and bhodi.

    There is nothing ‘free’ about karma. Those who cause suffering must suffer. Those who suffer willfully are rewarded with a great peace. Ultimately, for one to achieve enlightenment they must embrace this suffrage, for to fight the suffrage is to deny the karma. Denying karma only prolongs suffering.

  6. Rob Goerss June 9, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    To expound a bit:

    Karma is illusory, this is true. But all of existence is illusory, and yet here we are, existing. To realize ultimate truth, the only real truth, which is the void, one must reach a state of precarious balance and undergo a complete transformation of consciousness.

    Self is illusory, but we manifest in this illusion, so it is as ‘real’ as anything else for our time on a physical plane.

    To read the teachings of the Buddha is *not* to know enlightenment. To know enlightenment is to live the teachings of the Buddha, to follow the path of the Buddha in existence that one may in some future moment, perhaps in some future life, transcend material existence entirely. Reaching bhodi is not a matter of learning. It is a matter of doing. Doing involves engaging the illusion that is existence, so to write off *anything* as being illusory when one has not actually achieved Buddhahood is detrimental to one’s own progress.

    To simply state that karma is illusory is all well and good, but such is not wisdom. Wisdom is the realization of the incomprehensible. Wisdom is standing in the forest, shouting, “This is all nothing!” and witnessing the forest disappear before one’s eyes.

    To respond to the original poster, the idea of Self is tricky. Buddhism teaches that there is no Self — an?tman. This only holds true to those who are bhodisattva. An?tman is what is known as an unconventional truth, similar to emptiness or void — ??nyat?. For those who are still on the path to realizing Buddhahood, the Self is a very real thing. It is an abstract construct that exists materially on a physically imperceptible level. It is what Western science would call metaphysical.

    The very existence of karma, and the philosophy of reincarnation, necessitate a Self. Even if reincarnation is simply described as the manifestation of ripples of karma in a vast, fluid ocean of physicality, each ripple is still a thing that we give a name in order to identify and understand it. The ripple is the Self, and it has a name that we may identify and understand it.

    This Self holds varying degrees of association. The eight or nine levels of consciousness is a philosophy I agree with. I believe that all of these levels constitute the Self. I view the store of karma as one of the most fundamental, or high, levels of Self. This level of Self is also where associations with past lives are found. Lower levels of Self, which I consider more abstract, contain associations of memory, personality, identity, physicality and the like.

    To transcend Self is to realize conscious awareness and integration of every level of Self, including the most fundamental level of Self, being karma of present and past lives. This goes back to some of my remarks about karma, samadhi (High level meditation), and death.

    So, how does one realize these higher levels of Self? There are many ways. Buddhism does not like to talk about it, but hallucinogenic substances coupled with belief and effort can yield permanent conscious expansion. Intense meditation is generally also necessary to realize conscious awareness of these high levels of Self.

    Ultimately, intense meditation coupled with enlightened belief is necessary to realize unconventional truths.

    Note: I use the word “realize” very literally. I do not mean it in the common, “Come to an understanding,” sense. It is relatively easy to understand the teachings of Buddhism. What is relatively difficult is to actually transcend material existence, Self and witness emptiness in action. This requires dedication, experimentation, and a complete disregard for what one may consider their own welfare.

    The hardest thing to stop being attached to is the Self. Giving up TV, and sex, and other trivial things is relatively easy.

    To give up the Self I had to repeatedly kill myself with the faith that I would manifest again, with no regard for Self.

  7. Rob Goerss June 9, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    For the record, I was not a Buddhist during my spiritual journey. I studied Buddhism recently, and of all the metaphysical and spiritual philosophies I have encountered, it most closely resembles what I consider Ultimate Truth.

    More on Self:

    Buddhism was born in the region of Northern India and Southern Nepal. Hinduism and other Indian religions that emphasize Selfhood were already being practiced.

    Most of the Buddhist influence of anatman, or non-Self, is in my opinion a result of the Ultimate Truth discovered by Guatama Buddha contrasting so greatly with what the vast majority of people believed.

    In order to make Buddhism distinct from Hinduism on all levels, as well as to respect Ultimate Truth, Buddha and his disciples chose to preach anatman. The concept of Selflessness and of Self being illusory became a core concept of Buddhism, and rightly so.

    This does not invalidate the material existence of a Self. The existence of a material (and metaphysical) Self can be considered a conventional truth.

    Unfortunately, I do not think that the concept of Selflessness helps one with the beginning stages of conscious expansion. In other words, it is necessary to understand and appreciate the physical and metaphysical Self in order to abolish it and achieve Buddhahood.

    Ben, thanks for an interesting topic.

  8. Anirudh K. Satsangi July 2, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    In Bhagavad-Gita Lord SriKrishna says to Arjuna:
    “I taught this immortal Yoga to Vivasvan (sun-god), Vivasvan conveyed it to Manu(his son), and Manu imparted it to (his son) Iksvaku. Thus transmitted to succession from father to son, Arjuna, this Yoga remained known to the Rajarisis (royal sages). It has however long since disappeared from this earth. The same ancient Yoga has this day been imparted to you by Me, because you are My devotee and friend, and also because this is a supreme secret”.
    At this Arjuna said: You are of recent origin while the birth of Vivasvan dates back to remote antiquity. How, then, I am to believe that you taught this Yoga at the beginning of creation? Lord SriKrishna said: Arjuna, you and I have passed through many births. I remember them all, you do not remember.
    1. Radha Soami Faith was founded by His Holiness Param Purush Puran Dhani Huzur Soamiji Maharaj on the prayer of His Holiness Huzur Maharaj who later on became second Spiritual Head of Radha Soami Faith. The prime object of the Radha Soami Faith is the emancipation of all Jeevas (Souls) i.e. to take the entire force of consciousness to its original abode. There is a tradition of succession of Gurus or Spiritual Adepts in Radha Soami Faith. I am one of them as is evident from the following facts or ….
    “My most Revered Guru of my previous life His Holiness Maharaj Sahab, 3rd Spiritual Head of Radhasoami Faith had revealed this secret to me during trance like state.
    HE told me, “Tum Sarkar Sahab Ho” (You are Sarkar Sahab). Sarkar Sahab was one of the most beloved disciple of His Holiness Maharj Sahab. Sarkar Sahab later on became Fourth Spiritual Head of Radhasoami Faith.
    Since I don’t have any direct realization of it so I can not claim the extent of its correctness. But it seems to be correct. During my previous birth I wanted to sing the song of ‘Infinite’ (Agam Geet yeh gawan chahoon tumhri mauj nihara, mauj hoi to satguru soami karoon supanth vichara) but I could not do so then since I had to leave the mortal frame at a very early age. But through the unbounded Grace and Mercy of my most Revered Guru that desire of my past birth is being fulfilled now.”

  9. Kayk November 25, 2015 at 11:33 pm #

    There are seemingly cletnouss ways to describe these indescribable things.The illusion, the image, the phenomenal world, or whatever people call it is a projection of a self that identifies with whatever it comes into contact with. The problem is an idea of what one sees in relation to the center of the self. It is always the me and the something else. If there is no me, is there a something else? If there is no me, and no something else, what is there? If there is no me that searches, how can one ever know if there is something else? Nice questions to ponder. (Of course, you cannot really answer them. After all, how can timelessness come to a conclusion?)It is essentially a problem of identification. There is the idea that there is a person capable of coming to an end, or a being that is searching for enlightenment. Searching for it gives the impression there is a person that doesn’t have it already. Wonderful stuff.

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