When people wonder if the personality survives death, the answer is that the personality doesn’t even survive while we are alive. We are not the same person we were five, 10, or 15 years ago and it would be a sorry state if we were.
Our personalities are constantly evolving, transforming, growing. If the question becomes “Does the individual survive death?” the answer is “What’s an individual?” In reality what we call “me” is different from day to day, week to week, year to year. Which individual are you talking about, the young person who is in love and full of romance and desire, or the child who was full of innocence and wonder? Perhaps we must wait for the one who is senescent and dying. Which one would you survive as?
Perhaps none. Vedanta tells us that the afterlife brings the opportunity for a creative leap. As our choices continue to expand, we will experience a new reality that is far richer than the conventional notion of heaven.
The biggest difference is that in the afterlife the input of the five senses no longer stimulates us. The furniture of the mind has been cleared away, leaving a space that is both inside and outside ourselves. It is full of possibilities. Anything can be born there. In this dream space we realize the transience of all things and the immensity of the unknown.
The stage of “crossing over”–the temporary realm preceding the full experience of the afterlife–still feels personal. People report seeing their deceased friends and relations, for example. The dying person continues to see the room in which his body lies, and memories and associations keep tying him back to physical existence. The possibility of taking a creative leap has yet to be realized.
Adapted from Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2006).