Are Married Couples Still Married in the Afterlife?

Swedenborg Foundation

by Morgan Beard

It’s a common belief across many cultures that people in love will be reunited after death, and people who have had near-death experiences consistently describe deceased friends and family being there to greet the newly departed. For a couple who is married, or deeply in love, it can be a wonderful promise . . . or the source of some awkward questions. What if one spouse dies and the living one remarries? What if your relationship wasn’t happy and you don’t want to see your spouse again? What if you’re in love with someone but not interested in marriage? What if a person never finds “the one” at all?


Over the course of decades, Emanuel Swedenborg had the extraordinary experience of traveling back and forth between this world and the next; and he wrote detailed accounts of the things that he saw and heard there. It’s up to his readers to decide if they believe him or not; but for those who do, he offers a unique perspective on marriage in the afterlife.

Swedenborg describes seeing married couples reunited after death. But did they stay together eternally? Well . . . maybe:

It often happens that married partners meet [in the afterlife] and welcome each other joyfully. They stay together as well, but for a longer or shorter time depending on how happily they had lived together in the world. Ultimately, unless they had been united by real marriage love (which is a union of minds from heavenly love), they separate after having been together for a while. (Heaven and Hell 494)

This is where Swedenborg departs from the popular view of love in the afterlife: he says that if two people who were together in life weren’t really in love, then they won’t be together in heaven either. Swedenborg describes incompatible couples as gradually growing farther and farther apart. Each is attracted to people with whom they have more in common: “Like are drawn toward like.” However, if two people are truly in love, they will grow closer to each other in heaven.

If people in the afterlife find themselves incompatible with their former partners, or if they never experienced that kind of deep love while on earth, Swedenborg says, they can find their match in heaven:

Throughout heaven, people who are similar gather together and people who are dissimilar part company. This means that every community consists of like-minded people. Like are drawn toward like not by their own will but by the Lord. In the same way, spouse is drawn toward spouse when their minds can be united into one. So at first sight they love each other most deeply, see each other as married partners, and enter into their marriage. This is why all of heaven’s marriages are the work of the Lord alone. (Heaven and Hell 383)

What does it mean to be truly in love? Many people have many different definitions, but Swedenborg has a term for it—marriage love (or, in older translations, conjugial love). This is a huge topic in his theological writings, and if you want to explore it in detail, check out this episode of our weekly webcast. But in a nutshell, for Swedenborg, marriage love means a spiritual union of souls. According to him, the earthly institution of marriage isn’t the same thing as a spiritual marriage; and the experience of being in love with someone doesn’t necessarily equate to the kind of compatibility needed to bond on the level of the soul. To really understand what he means by marriage requires a quick theological detour.

Swedenborg often expresses spiritual principles in binary: Love and wisdom. Good and truth. Will and understanding (or, in some translations, volition and discernment). Throughout his writings, he often associates these characteristics with specific genders; he might say, for example, that wisdom is masculine and love is feminine. That doesn’t mean that only men can be wise and only women can love. Rather, he’s describing a type of complementary energy that’s very similar to the Chinese concept of yin and yang. In Chinese thought, yin (receptive energy) is feminine and yang (projective energy) is masculine. Although that principle is sometimes applied very literally to men and women, philosophically what’s being described are two complementary types of energy that are in their most ideal state when they are joined together in perfect balance.

For Swedenborg, this is the essence of marriage love—two complementary forces or energies merging into one, and he frequently emphasizes the importance of balance between the two, with neither one dominating the other. When discussing concepts like love, good, and will, he’s describing a motive force or energy—something that pushes us into action or guides and supports us when we feel lost. Principles like wisdom, truth, and understanding, on the other hand, are all about structure; it’s about gathering the knowledge and developing the perception to take that positive energy and direct it where it will do the most good. Neither one of these principles will work properly without its other half.

So a spiritual marriage happens when two people who embody these complementary ideas come together, each bringing different perspectives to the union but at the same time like-minded in their goals and values. Although Swedenborg stresses that only two people can share this state at any one time, he leaves open the possibility that we might have more than one potentially right partner—in other words, that it’s not a matter of finding the one person in all the universe who’s right for you, but just a matter of finding a person who’s right for you. And once partners have chosen each other, he adds, their love brings them closer and closer in the afterlife until they appear to be a single person.

For those who aspire to spiritual union with another person, Swedenborg cautions that true marriage love is very rare in this world. While he stresses that people who are married on earth should respect their vows as a sacred obligation, he also says that most people (married or not!) don’t achieve an ideal state until they cross into the afterlife—and maybe not even then. He describes a diverse heaven where the differences between people help to create a greater perfection. People who would rather live alone can do so forever if they like, but people who want a spiritual union can always find that too.

How do you imagine your ideal companion?

For more on what happens after we die and people we might meet in heaven, check out The Lives of Angels, a volume of excerpts from Swedenborg’s writings. His longest work on the subject of earthly and spiritual marriage is Conjugial Love (or, for a more modern translation, Love in Marriage).

Swedenborg and Reincarnation: Rebirth in the Body vs. Rebirth of the Spirit

Swedenborg Foundation

One question we’re asked frequently at the Swedenborg Foundation is, “Did Swedenborg say anything about reincarnation?”

In his writings, Swedenborg gives detailed descriptions of the afterlife—including heaven, hell, and the world of spirits in between—and the stages of development that a person’s mind and soul experience during life on earth and in the spiritual realms after death. He describes a linear process of spiritual growth in which people are born, live on earth, and then continue living and growing eternally in the afterlife.


None of this suggests that Swedenborg would be sympathetic to the idea of living multiple lifetimes on earth. And in fact, in one of his rare explicit references to reincarnation, he depicts a philosopher in the afterlife first arguing in favor of reincarnation and then, having been enlightened by the Lord, disavowing the notion as “insane” (True Christianity §79:6, 8). In True Christianity §171, Swedenborg goes even farther, comparing a particular belief about Jesus to “the absurd notion that someone’s soul can cross over into someone else.” (See the postscript to this article for more on how Swedenborg might have understood the concept of reincarnation.)

In Heaven and Hell §256, he offers an explanation for why it might appear that some people remember past lives:

Angels and spirits actually have memory just as we do. If a spirit were to talk with us from her or his own memory, then it would seem to us entirely as though the thoughts were our own, when they would really belong to the spirit. It is like remembering something that we have never seen or heard.

This is why some of the ancients were of the opinion that after some thousands of years they would return to their former life and all its deeds, and that they had in fact returned. They gathered this from the fact that sometimes a kind of memory would come up of things that they had never seen or heard. This happened because spirits had flowed from their own memory into the images of these people’s thoughts.

Clearly, Swedenborg wouldn’t have supported the idea of a person’s soul being reborn in another earthly body. However, when discussing the process of spiritual growth and rebirth, or regeneration, Swedenborg develops a complex model of how the soul travels through different spiritual states and how those states relate to each other. There are some striking parallels between Swedenborg’s descriptions of this process and Hindu teachings on reincarnation that suggest that maybe the two philosophies aren’t as far apart as they seem.

Hinduism is a religion of diverse beliefs and practices, but speaking very broadly, Hindus believe that we consist of a gross (physical) body and a subtle body. The subtle, or astral, body is defined in different ways by different sources, but it’s often divided into these common elements: the organs of perception, the organs of action, the vital breath (prana), the intellect or wisdom (buddhi), the mind (manas), and the ego (ahamkara). It is this subtle body that survives after death and goes to another spiritual world or plane of existence (loka). There are manylokas, usually divided into seven higher and seven lower; the higher ones are states of spiritual bliss, while the lower ones are states of spiritual suffering. People stay in these lokas until they have expended their good or bad karma, and then they are reborn on earth. This process repeats until a person is good or pure enough to achieve moksha, a release from the cycle of death and rebirth.

The following is a description from Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a well-known American Hindu teacher, that appeared in the magazine Hinduism Today.

Life does not end at the death of the physical body. The body dies but the soul does not. It lives on in a counterpart of the physical body which is called the astral body. The astral body is made of astral matter and resides in a world not unlike this one, called the Devaloka or Second World. In other words, in order to perfect itself, to spiritually unfold and evolve, the soul lives on in another body after death, the astral body. At the right time, according to its karma, it is reborn into a flesh body. Thus the astral body, with the soul within it, enters a new physical body. This same cycle is repeated many times until the soul spiritually unfolds and reaches a certain state of perfection or mature evolution.

A belief in an afterlife that can offer states of joy for the good and suffering for the evil is common to many cultures. But Swedenborg describes in very similar terms to the Hindus the spirit that passes to the afterlife after our body dies: he emphasizes that we are in a human spiritual body after death (see especially Heaven and Hell §§453–454) and that our thoughts, memories, and spiritual senses remain with us (§§461–462). Like Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, Swedenborg describes the soul as living in the spiritual world and continuing to learn and perfect itself (§512).

Swedenborg also, significantly, makes distinctions between the soul (vital energy), the spirit, and the mind:

The soul is nothing more nor less than our life, while the spirit is the actual person, and the body is an earthly thing we carry around in the world. It is only an agent through which our spirit, the actual person, acts in a way that is adapted to the natural world. (Heaven and Hell §602)

Our earthly mind is made up of both spiritual substances and earthly substances. Our thinking results from the spiritual substances and not from the earthly substances. These latter substances fade away when we die, but the spiritual substances do not. So when we become spirits or angels after death, the same mind is still there in the form it had in the world. (Divine Love and Wisdom §257)

Where Hindu scriptures describe an ascending series of higher worlds that a spirit can inhabit (which in some branches are also interpreted as ascending states of consciousness), Swedenborg describes the world of spirits—a plane of existence close to earth but existing on a spiritual rather than a material level—with a series of three heavens above it. These three heavens could also be perceived in terms of being closer to or farther from the center, which is God. “It needs to be quite clear that it is the inner nature of angels that determines which heaven they are in,” Swedenborg writes. “The more the deeper levels [of their minds] have been opened, the more inward the heaven they are in” (Heaven and Hell §33).

But the path of spiritual growth is not a linear one. Hindu texts say that a person can just as easily be reborn in a lower loka as a higher one: if a person incurs bad karma by pursing worldly desires and ignoring their spiritual duties, he or she must live out a lifetime as a lower being in order to learn the lessons they need to move forward. “Life’s ultimate goal is not money, not clothes, not sex, not power, not food or any other of the instinctive needs,” writes Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. “These are natural pursuits, to be sure, but our real purpose on this earth is to know, to love and to serve God and the Gods.”

Swedenborg also describes the occasional step backward as part of an angel’s spiritual life. He says that angels occasionally experience states where their love of God diminishes and they may even fall into a depression. “[The angels] go on to say that the Lord does not produce these changes of their states, since the Lord as the sun is always flowing in with warmth and light, that is, with love and wisdom. Rather, they themselves are the cause, since they love their sense of self and this is constantly misleading them” (Heaven and Hell §158).

For Hindus, the end point of all incarnations is moksha, a word that has its roots in the idea of release or liberation. Again, within Hinduism there are many views of moksha, but the Hindu American Foundation defines it this way:

Moksha is characterized by the overcoming of spiritual ignorance; the complete elimination of material desires and attachments; the perfected ability to live in the present moment and experience absolute peace; and most importantly, the awakening of pure compassion towards all.  Moksha also translates to liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara).  Someone may attain moksha during his or her lifetime or upon the death of his or her physical body.

Swedenborg describes the final state of regeneration in similar terms:

None but those who have experienced a state of peace can appreciate the nature of the peaceful tranquility that the outer self enjoys when there is an end to struggle, or to the disquiet of burning desires and misconceptions. That state is so joyful that it surpasses all our notions of joy. It is not simply an end to our struggles but a vibrancy welling up from deep-seated peace, affecting our outer being beyond the capacity of words to describe it. (Secrets of Heaven §92)

To be sure, there are significant differences between Hindu beliefs on reincarnation and Swedenborg’s concept of regeneration. But fundamentally, both systems describe a long and gradual process of self-directed spiritual development that has as its highest possible end state a release from material desires and a resulting state of deep peace and joy. Where Hinduism teaches that this process takes place through multiple rebirths on earth, Swedenborg sees our earthly life as a seed-state for a much longer and richer existence in the afterlife.

How do you see the process of spiritual growth?


For more on Swedenborg’s concept of regeneration, see Regeneration: Spiritual Growth and How It Works, a compilation of his writings on spiritual growth from many sources, or visit our regeneration page for links to more resources. You can also explore these ideas in more depth in our videos “How to Create Heaven on Earth,” “How to Find Your True Self,” and “The Four Kinds of Love.”


Postscript: Swedenborg’s Understanding of Reincarnation

Today, our ideas about reincarnation are largely shaped by eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Europeans were in regular contact with Asia during Swedenborg’s lifetime, and it’s possible that he was aware of these concepts from eastern philosophy. However, reincarnation was also a widely held belief in ancient Greece, and Swedenborg’s references to reincarnation suggest that this is what he was thinking of when describing this concept in his writings.

For example, in True Christianity §79:6, which contains Swedenborg’s recollection (“memorable occurrence”) of an experience in the spiritual world:

Another philosopher said, “I’ll grant you that the individual forms made out of ether in the highest realm were countless. Nevertheless the number of people born since the world was created has exceeded the number of forms. How then could there be enough of these ethereal forms? So I thought to myself that the souls that go out through people’s mouths when they die come back to the same people after several thousand years. The people go back, therefore, and live a similar life to the one they had before. As we know, many of the wise believe in reincarnation and things like that.”

And in True Christianity §171:

The concept of an eternally begotten Son of God who later comes down and takes on a human manifestation is like the ancient nonsense about human souls created at the beginning of the world that enter bodies and become people. It is also like the absurd notion that someone’s soul can cross over into someone else.

The references in the above passages to “ethereal forms” that came into being at the time of creation and become the souls of human beings were most likely drawn from Swedenborg’s reading of Plato. Plato’s work The Myth of Er contains his most extensive references to reincarnation, although he also mentions reincarnation in his works Phaedrus and Timaeus. While modern scholars question whether Plato himself believed in reincarnation, the concept of reincarnation reappears in both Greek and Roman literature up until the advent of Christianity

Beliefs of ancient Egypt about death?

ancient EgyptThe ancient Egypt Book of the Dead is a collection of funerary instructions placed in coffins and sarcophagi in order to prepare the soul of the deceased for the afterlife and judgment. The scenes are dramatically presented in pictures and words.  A Swedenborgian view, of how natural things correspond to spiritual matters, suggests that the instructions of ancient Egypt are based on a clear understanding of psychological progression of the soul from the outer, or physical world, to the first experiences in the inner, spiritual world. Each individual has to give an account of his character and is assessed by independent judges seen as various gods.

One papyrus shows 42 deities and the soul has to address each one by name and make a negative confession relating to various wrong-doings.

O Far-strider … I have done no falsehood

O Fire-embracer … I have not robbed.

O Double Lion … I have not destroyed food supplies.

O You whose face is behind … I have not misconducted myself or abused a boy

O You of the darkness … I have not been quarrelsome.

The judgment is made more awesome because behind the petitioner stands a monster, called Ammit, which will swallow the guilty immediately.

Let us consider this ritual of ancient Egypt in detail. If we contemplated our own death, how many of us could truthfully answer 42 separate judges and say, “I have not been loud-mouthed.” nor committed any other contraventions of right conduct? Recent research into Near Death Experiences shows that many have experienced similar evaluation in which they saw a play-back of whole periods of their life and felt they were assessing its quality, wasted opportunities or some meanness. They were not condemned, but clearly, someone was alongside witnessing their reactions.

It is perhaps easy to smile at the monster Ammit since if a person fails the first test and is swallowed up, is that the end of judgment? The human mind is more complicated and exists on different levels and has many talents which can be used for doing good or harm. Each one has to be assessed separately. Let us take as an example a frequent social evil in our society — vandalism. If the mind is challenged by an unbroken window or a fence and needs to smash it, then something is seriously wrong. Perhaps the people of ancient Egypt  were more honest during their rituals and put the blame where it belongs as they laid bare the whole mind for assessment, noting which parts of it had been corrupted with its health taken away and harmony destroyed. The mind which can only find its delight in destroying, even in killing, is clearly in a very serious state. It has been devoured by a terrifying monster.

The Christian scripture is just as uncompromising about such assessment which is generally called ‘judgment’. In the words of Christ:

There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops. (Luke 12: 2-3)

The focus of the ancient Egypt ceremony was the weighing of the heart. During embalming, the internal organs were removed from the body and preserved separately in jars. The heart was judged by itself on the scales against Maat, the goddess of Righteousness or Truth. She was represented as a female body, but instead of a head often had a white feather. Her small figurine stood on the scales weighing the heart of the deceased, or she was represented by her symbol, the white feather. Feathers, especially wing feathers, enable birds to fly and to have a wider view of the world below. Similarly, truth elevates our thoughts to give us what we already call ‘a birds eye view.’ The goddess of truth represents the desire for truth which gives us the ability of discernment and separation between truth and falsity.

However, the heart itself can be said to have its own specific importance since it had always been seen as the seat of the emotions, and so it corresponds to our affections. Too often we think that our love is merely a temporary feeling. The ancients had greater respect for the ‘heart’. The idea is that in our love lies the primary seat of our personality. Swedenborg put it very forcefully:

A person’s life really is his love, and the nature of his love determines the nature of his life, and in fact the whole person. But it is the dominant or ruling love which makes the person….  It is the characteristic of a dominant love that it is loved above all else. What a person loves above all else is constantly present in his thoughts, because it is in his will, and constitutes the very essence of his life…Everyone’s sense of pleasure, bliss and happiness comes from his dominant love, and is dependent on this. (TCR 399)

This is an fairly new concept. Love is seen as the very dynamic of our life, of our vital energy and heat. When we love we grow warm in our body. There is a correspondence between the two. When we lack any desire, we grow cold and lack vitality. According to Swedenborg what we mainly love is also the key to our judgment and character. Each person needs to act honestly. ‘What is it that I love more than anything? What is it for which I am prepared to pay any price, make any sacrifice?’ Unless we have understood that much, we cannot know what is going on in our mind.

We can only marvel at the high degree of perception about the working of the mind revealed in ancient sacred texts.

Adapted from material by Christopher Hasler first published by the Swedenborg Movement

Psychology of the Future

by Stanislav Grof,  Suny Series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology, State University of New York Press. 2000. ISBN 0 7914 4622

This book is about modern consciousness research. It is written by one of the founders of transpersonal psychology and covers his ideas regarding non-ordinary states of consciousness. His term for these is ‘holotropic’ experience which signifies ‘moving towards wholeness.’

His discussion draws on for example such fascinating human states of consciousness as past-life experiences, peak experiences, communication with spirit guides and channelling, near-death experiences, crises of shamans like witch-doctors, states of possession, and awakening of Kundalini. He also reports findings from his original research into ‘psychedelic therapy’ and ‘holotropic breathwork’.

One critic has commented ‘If more psychiatrists could be persuaded that human consciousness transcends the limitations of the physical brain and instead is but an aspect of what may best be described as ‘cosmic consciousness,’ we could not only expect treatment modalities to change, but we could also anticipate the possibility of culture-wide rethinking … about the nature of personhood.’

Grof was formerly Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Centre and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr Stanislav Grof

He claims that many mental states that modern psychiatry considers pathological and treats with suppressive medication are instead psychospiritual crises that have a healing and transformative potential.

He worked with his wife Christina for many years inducing and supporting holotropic states of consciousness with emotionally troubled people. They used a combination of accelerated breathing, evocative music and a technique of bodywork claimed to release blocked physical and emotional energy. Grof suggests that this approach brings together and integrates various elements from ancient and aboriginal traditions, Eastern spiritual philosophies and Western depth psychology.

People vary as to how they respond to the holotropic sessions. Some remain quiet and still whilst reporting later they were having profound inner experiences. Others are agitated perhaps showing violent shaking and complex movements. One can observe a wide range of emotions. People appear to relive traumatic memories. But Grof argues this is not a case of re-traumatisation. They are no longer experiencing the event as a child. Now they can analyse and evaluate the memory with therapeutic support from a mature adult perspective.

It is claimed that the therapeutic results of holotropic breathwork have been dramatically and meaningfully connected with specific experiences in the sessions. Grof says that they have seen over the years numerous instances when participants were able to breakout of depression that had lasted several years, overcome various phobias, free themselves from irrational feelings, and radically improve their self-confidence and self-esteem.

Also observed has been the disappearance of severe psychosomatic pains such as migraine headaches. It is also claimed that this therapy leads to large improvements of physical conditions that in medical textbooks are described as organic diseases such as chronic infections.

He writes:

‘In holotropic states, consciousness is changed qualitatively in a very profound and fundamental way…. We typically remain fully orientated in terms of space and time and do not completely lose touch with everyday reality. At the same time our field of consciousness is invaded from contents from other dimensions of existence in a way that can be very intense and even overwhelming. We thus experience simultaneously two very different realities, having each foot in a different world.’

He goes on to say that holotropic states are characterised by dramatic perceptual changes in all sensory areas. When we close our eyes we may see images drawn from personal history or visions portraying plants or animals, scenes from nature, or of the universe. We may be experiencing realms of archetypal beings and mythological regions. And even when we open our eyes, our perception of our surroundings can be illusively transformed by vivid projections of this unconscious material. Various sounds, physical sensations, smells and tastes may also be involved.

He also describes emotions characteristic of these states. Feelings can be very intense. They may range from ecstatic rapture, content and peacefulness, to terror, murderous anger, utter despair, or consuming guilt. Such states of mind seem to match either the celestial paradises or hellish realms described in sacred scriptures of the world’s religions.

He reports that, in these non-ordinary states of consciousness, we may not be able to rely on our judgment of everyday practical matters but we can be flooded by remarkable valid information on a variety of subjects as well as deep insights concerning our personal history, unconscious dynamics, and life problems. He writes that we can also “experience extraordinary revelations concerning various aspects of nature and of the cosmos that by a wide margin transcends our educational and intellectual background.”

Finally he comments that the most interesting insights that become available revolve around philosophical, metaphysical and spiritual issues. And so he thinks heloptropic states of consciousness facilitate deep personality changes and spiritual opening. He believes that systematic disciplined self-exploration using helotropic states in a good setting sooner or later tends to take the form of a deep philosophical and spiritual quest.

‘I have seen on numerous occasions that people, whose primary interest in psychedelic sessions or in holotropic breathwork was therapeutic, professional or artistic, suddenly started asking the most fundamental questions about existence when their inner process reached the transpersonal level.’

He argues that experiences of this kind are the main source of mythologies, philosophies and religious systems describing the spiritual nature of existence.

‘They are the key for understanding the ritual and spiritual life of humanity from shamanism and sacred ceremonies of aboriginal tribes to the great religions of the world.’

Over 200 years before Grof’s book, another explorer of consciousness was the 18th century spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, who meticulously reported what he found. He discovered that his own holotropic experiences also showed that the spiritual dimension of reality can come across in a way that is as convincing as our daily familiarity with the material world.

An early step in his case towards a full state of awareness of what he termed ‘the spiritual world’ was apparently seeing things with his inner vision simultaneously with natural sight. Then came the perception of smells and still later the hearing of the speech of whom he called spirits. Finally there was complete perception of his presence in the spiritual world. He said he was awake to his physical surroundings on earth but was also aware of being part of the other dimension in which he saw, heard, spoke and acted.

The wakefulness of spirit came to appear to him to be exactly the same as bodily wakefulness. At first this perception was probably only occasional. And to start with he was a passive witness of events in the spiritual realm rather than someone interacting with them. However after his full admission he was to make the amazing claim that he was active in both worlds at the same time for the best part of the last 27 years of his life.  He reported conversations with both good and bad spirits.

Swedenborg found that the spiritual world mirrors the spiritual state of people. Likewise, as Grof says, ‘Artists do not limit their topics to those that are beautiful, ethical and uplifting. They portray any aspects of life that can render interesting images.’ Beauty can be found where people are caring and considerate; ugliness where people are resentful or spiteful.

Grof’s book is entitled Psychology of the Future. Swedenborg’s spiritual world reflects not just our inner spirit now but also the future realm we will fully experience as an afterlife following our bodily death. Swedenborg says that in what part of the spiritual world we feel at home depends on the state of our inner character. That applies now as well after our bodily death. According to his spiritual philosophy we form our own inner character not from what we do but from why we do things. Our inner motivation counts towards our destiny.

Grof has a chapter about our reunion with the divine source. How it is fraught with many hardships, risks and challenges. What he says about organised religion could have also come from Swedenborg’s pen. Grof writes :

‘The dogmas and activities of mainstream religions tend to obscure the fact that the only place where true spirituality can be found is inside the psyche of each of us. At its worst organised religion can actually function as a grave impediment for any serious spiritual search, rather than an institution that can help us connect with the divine. By denigrating its members, it makes it difficult to believe that the divine is within them. It might also cultivate in the followers the false belief that regular attendance of formal divine service, prayer, and financial contributions to the church are adequate and sufficient spiritual activity.’

As Swedenborg would say – it is not what we do or what we believe but why we do it and believe it that matters. For it is our inner life that is reflected in our spiritual realm. And so the celestial part of the spiritual world where lived good-hearted people appeared to him as beautiful as the physical world but with nothing of its menace. He reports that true happiness can be found there – not in lazy self-indulgence but in useful active lives of kindness. The hellish part is just the opposite. No friendship can be found there because those in this negative state of spirit are too self-concerned to want to share with or put any trust in others.

For Grof – unlike Swedenborg – holotropic experiences are not unequivocal proof of survival of consciousness after death. However, he points out that according to Western neuroscience, consciousness is a product of the physiological processes in the brain, and thus critically dependent on the body. Very few people, including most scientists, realise that we have no proof that consciousness is actually produced by the brain and that we do not even have a remote notion of how something like consciousness could possibly happen in terms of physical matter.

‘In spite of it, this basic metaphysical assumption remains one of the leading myths of Western materialist science and has profound influence on our entire society.’

Whilst remaining an agnostic about what happens after death, Grof is absolutely clear that none of the interpretations based on careful study of altered states of consciousness are compatible with the monistic materialistic worldview of Western science. At the same time he acknowledges that a belief in survival and karma will have a profound impact on our behaviour. He quotes Plato as saying that disconcern for the postmortem consequences of one’s deeds would be a ‘boon to the wicked.’

As some modern authors have emphasised massive avoidance and even emotional denial of death leads to social pathologies that have dangerous consequences for humanity. Grof writes that modern consciousness research certainly supports this point of view.

Grof has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the transpersonal world and it shows. However the reader should be warned about a tendency towards repetition. Many scientists will probably feel he has over-stated his case. Nevertheless I warmly recommend this book and give it a five star rating.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems