- Does some aspect of our personality survive bodily death?
- If it does survive, where does it go?
- Eternal heaven or hell?
- Or perhaps we merge into some sort of spiritual oneness.
- At the end of one lifetime, do we embark upon another?
Some say no. But there are strong reasons for thinking it does. You’ll find some of them discussed later in this article. Meanwhile, here are the basic teachings of the Vedic philosophy, the teachings given by the ancient wisdom literature of India.
According to the Vedic literature, the psychophysical entity with which we now identify ourselves is not our true self. The true self is neither the body nor the mind, nor a combination of both. The Vedic sages tell us that the body and mind are but gross and subtle coverings of the self.
Underlying these temporary coverings, the real self is a spark of spiritual consciousness, eternal and unchanging but temporarily misidentifying itself with matter in the form of the body and mind. And this real self, the Vedic sages
tell us, survives the death of the body and lives on.
There are problems with that.
- It implies that God is cruel—he gives no second chance.
- It implies that God is unfair—he stacks the deck in favor of some souls, against others.
For example, a person born in a good Christian family will get every opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ, put his faith in Christ, and, according to Christian teachings, be saved. But if you’re born in an atheistic or unenlightened family—well, tough luck.
- It leaves no sensible way to explain why people (or, for that matter, any living beings) are born in different circumstances.
Why should one person be born rich, another poor, one healthy, another diseased? If we live only once, it seems the best you can say is “It’s just chance”—which is no explanation at all.
Perhaps. But this seems to presuppose that the soul has its origin in spiritual oneness too, emerges from that oneness as a personal being, and then returns to that oneness again.
This leaves many questions to be answered.
- How and why, from that oneness, would personality emerge?
- Why, from oneness, should a plurality of personal beings appear? Why in so many varieties? And what could determine what those varieties will be?
- And why would the living being automatically return to that oneness again?
The idea that personal beings somehow spring forth from an impersonal oneness runs into problems like the ones mentioned above. But even supposing it’s true, why suppose that at death we automatically merge into oneness again?
Of course, we can speculate that only some of us do, or that we do so only under certain circumstances. But then we’re back to the original question: What happens to the rest of us, or where do we go meanwhile? That is, If personality does survive, where does it go?
The Bhagavad-gita says, “As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”