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Our Life After Death
First Digital Edition 2017 curated by Gianluca Ruffini
What the World of Spirits Is
Each of Us Is Inwardly a Spirit
Our Revival from Death
After Death, We Are in a Fully Human Form
We Leave Nothing Behind except Our Earthly Body
What We Are Like after Death
Our First State after Death
Our Second State after Death
Our Third State after Death
It is Not as Hard as People Think It isto Live a Life That Leads to Heaven
Appendix: Children in Heaven
About Emanuel Swedenborg
There are of course many paths that lead up to the summit of Emanuel Swedenborg’s sweeping spiritual vision of the life beyond. In my case, I came to discover Swedenborg through my research into near-death experiences (NDEs)-those compelling revelations, occurring on the threshold of apparent imminent death, that appear to usher individuals into a realm of transcendent beauty where time dissolves into eternity and God’s light is everywhere. Even before I came to see the unmistakable parallels between the world Swedenborg had described for us more than two centuries ago and that which contemporary near death experiencers were being vaulted into as a result of some kind of near-death crisis, others had already made this connection clear. Indeed, the first, and still in many ways the best, book to be written on the near-death experience in our own time, LifeAfter Life by Raymond A. Moody, Jr., contained a section where those parallels were explicitly discussed. In it, Moody highlighted
Swedenborg’s teachings concerning what happens at the moment of death and afterward. My appreciation of Swedenborg’s writings has from the beginning been filtered through and indeed enhanced by my study of near-death experiences and my pondering of their obvious implications both for life after and before death. The book you now hold in your hands is in fact one that, by drawing from Swedenborg’s best-known and enduringly popular work on this subject, Heaven and Hell, provides an excellent introduction to Swedenborg’s vision and understanding of the life beyond. As one quickly learns, this rendering is not one that stems from theological dogma but is, rather, rooted in Swedenborg’s own personal and extraordinary sojourns into the spiritual world itself. His revelations, however, do not derive from the kind of brief glimpses that near-death experiences have often reported to me and other NDE researchers, but from sustained and deliberate forays into this domain. As Swedenborg himself says, he was not merely told but shown through direct experience what the dying person encounters, both at the moment of physical death and afterward, and he was enabled to have such experiences frequently over the last third of his lifetime, a period of nearly three decades. Thus Swedenborg is hardly just a precursor to today’s NDEers; he is a true seer and, as such, he had already mapped the realm that NDE research has tried to sketch out with its own methods. What is the nature of this world? Here, Swedenborg makes it plain, we enter into a domain where the “essence” of ourselves is disclosed, and where we-and others-see ourselves with razor sharp precision for who we really are. Death changes nothing, but reveals everything about us. This is just one of the many points of correspondence between Swedenborg’s teachings and the findings of NDE research, by the way, which indicates that many persons have a detailed “life review” in which they are led to see not merely how they have lived, but the inner meaning and motivations of their actions, and the effects of those actions upon others. At death, we enter a world where, in short, our inner essence becomes “the environment” in which we find ourselves. In the end, Swedenborg says, “everyone returns after death to his own life.” A person who has lived a life of self-centered cruelty finds himself continuing to live that way, far from the light of God. On the other hand, a person who has truly lived for others and for whom the existence of the Divine is at the heart of his life, is already in heaven, Swedenborg asserts, and continues to experience directly the Light of heaven after death and to find himself in the company of like-minded others. Either way, according to Swedenborg, everyone “is going to be an image of his affection, or his love.” So it is, if we follow Swedenborg’s teachings, that we are building our heaven and hell now, and living in them now, too, depending on the inner meaning of our actions in the world.
This, to me, is the great moral lesson in Swedenborg’s vision of the afterlife-and it is one that once again coincides with the moral implications of NDEs: as the beloved Sufi poet Kabir has it, “what is found now is found then.” Near-death experiences emphasize the importance of being involved with the world, not withdrawing from it; of serving others and not merely paying lip service to traditional religious pieties; of knowing, with certainty, that God exists and that there is a life after death. For them, it is their NDEs that have made plain the undeniable truth of these things. Yet Swedenborg was enabled to see all this, and so much beyond this, through his incomparable experiences in the spiritual realm. And because of his remarkable intellect and powers of expression, his writings, as excerpted in this book, contain a depth of wisdom and understanding that no modern NDEes could ever hope to match. Which is why I say the study of NDEs only leads up to Swedenborg’s world - it can scarcely begin to suggest its compass. Yet NDE research is, I think, for contemporary students of Swedenborg an important confirmation of his insights into the afterlife. During Swedenborg’s own lifetime, and certainly afterward, there were many who dismissed his supposed visions, even while acknowledging that he had exceptional psychic or clairvoyant powers. Some, of course, thought him quite mad. However, in the light of NDEs-and literally millions of persons across the globe have had these experiences-it is no longer possible to deny that Swedenborg’s visions have a definite experiential foundation. Too many people have seen what Swedenborg did-if not so far-and have drawn essentially the same conclusions as he did, for it to be tenable to explain away his experiences as merely some kind of idiosyncratic fancy or morbid hallucination. It is ironic that while many world-famous figures have of course long honored Swedenborg and recognized his greatness, it is the collective testimony of millions of ordinary men and women who have described what it is like to die that is helping to bring his sobering yet inspiring vision of life after death to many new readers today. The Swedenborg Foundation has provided a real service in compiling this volume, which will now introduce you directly to some of the essential writings of Emanuel Swedenborg on life after death. May it be a spur to you to examine further the works of this spiritual genius.
Author of Life at Death and Heading Toward Omega
This volume presents an excerpt from Emanuel Swedenborg’s timeless classic, Heaven and Hell. Written more than two hundred years before Raymond A. Moody’s Life After Life launched the study of near death experiences, Heaven and Hell describes, from the point of view of a firsthand investigator, our passing to the spiritual world after death and the shape of our life there. Since its initial publication in 1758, it has inspired countless thinkers, writers, and artists. Some scholars see it as forming one of the crucial links between the Enlightenment and Romanticism. This version is based on the translation by George F. Dole, originally published in the Swedenborg Foundation’s New Century Edition of the Works of Emanuel Swedenborg. The focus of this edited version has been to expand the terms that readers usually find difficult in Swedenborg and to represent the clarity of Swedenborg’s thought in each sentence, rather than to preserve a level of diction identical to his. The resulting version has been rechecked against the Latin at each step of the way to ensure that the text does not stray from Swedenborg’s original meaning. For this edited version, some passages within Swedenborg’s original chapters have been omitted or rearranged. In a very few instances, the material in some sentences has been condensed. These omissions and rearrangements have not been indicated in the text. Readers who find this sample of Swedenborg’s work intriguing are invited to read the full version in Heaven and Hell.
Our Life After Death
What the World of Spirits Is
The world of spirits is neither heaven nor hell but a place or a state of being between the two. It is where we first arrive after death. From there in due course we are either raised into heaven or thrown into hell, depending on how we have lived in this world. It became clear to me that it is a halfway place when I saw that the hells were underneath it and the heavens above it, and that it is a halfway state of being when I learned that as long as we are in it, we are not yet in either heaven or hell. In the following pages, where I say “spirits,” I mean people in the world of spirits; while by “angels” I mean people in heaven. There is a vast number of people in the world of spirits, because that is where everyone is first gathered and where everyone is examined and prepared. There is no fixed limit to our stay there. Some people barely enter it and are promptly either taken up into heaven or thrown down into hell. Some stay there for only a few weeks, others for a number of years, though not more than thirty. The variations in the length of our stay occur because of the correspondence or lack of correspondence between our deeper and our outer natures. In the following pages I will be explaining just how we are prepared and led from one state of being into another. After we die, just as soon as we arrive in the world of spirits, we are carefully sorted out by the Lord. Evil people are immediately connected with the hellish community their ruling love had affiliated them with in the world, and good people are immediately connected with the heavenly community their love and kindness and faith had affiliated them with in the world. Even though we are sorted out in this way, we are still together in that world and can talk to anyone when we want to, to friends and acquaintances from our physical life, especially husbands and wives, and also brothers and sisters. I have seen a father recognizing and talking with his six sons. I have seen many other people with their relatives and friends. However, since they differed in character because of their life in the world, they parted company after a little while. However, people who go into heaven from the world of spirits do not see people who go into hell, and vice versa. Nor do those in each group recognize the others in it unless they have a similar character because of a similarity in what they love. The reason they can see these other people when they are in the world of spirits but not when they are in heaven or hell is that while they are in the world of spirits they are brought into states of being like those they were in during their physical lives, one after another. After a while, though, they settle into a constant state of being that agrees with the state of their ruling love. In this state of being, people recognize others only if what they love is similar, since similarity unites and dissimilarity separates. Just as the world of spirits is a state of being halfway between heaven and hell, it is also a halfway place, as I mentioned earlier. The hells are underneath it and the heavens above it. All the hells are closed on the side that faces that world, and are accessible only through holes and crevices like those in rocks and through broad gaps that are guarded to prevent anyone from coming out without permission, which is granted only in cases of real need. Heaven, too, is bounded on all sides, and the only access to any heavenly community is by a narrow way whose entry is also guarded. These exits and entrances are what are called the doors and gates of hell and heaven in the Word. The world of spirits looks like a valley surrounded by mountains and cliffs, with glens and rising ground here and there. The doorways and entrances to heavenly communities become visible only to people who have been readied for heaven, and no one else finds them. There is one entrance going from the world of spirits to each community, and beyond that there is only one path; but as the path goes upward, it splits into many. The doorways and gates to the hells are visible only to the people who are about to enter them. The gates open for them, and then they can see dark, sooty-looking caves slanting downward into the depths, where there are still more gates. Rank, foul stenches breathe out from them. Good spirits flee from these odors because they are repelled by them, but evil spirits are drawn toward them because they find them enjoyable. In fact, just as we enjoy our own evil in this world, we find enjoyment after death in the stench that corresponds to our evil. This can be compared to the enjoyment shown by carrion birds and beasts, such as crows and wolves and pigs, which fly or run toward rotting corpses as soon as they get wind of them. I heard one man who screamed aloud in utter torment at a breath of air from heaven, but was calm and happy when a breath from hell reached him. There are two doors, so to speak, within each of us as well, one facing hell and open to evil and false things from there, the other facing heaven and open to good and true things from there. The door to hell is opened for people who focus on what is evil and on the falsity that comes from evil, though just a little light from heaven flows in through certain cracks, which enables us to think, reason, and speak. On the other hand, the door to heaven is opened for people who focus on what is good and thus on what is true. There are actually two paths that lead to our rational mind, one from above the mind or from inside it, through which goodness and truth enter from the Lord, and one from below the mind or from outside it, through which evil and falsity infiltrate from hell. The rational mind itself is in the middle, where these two paths meet; so the more light from heaven is let in, the more rational we are, and the more that light is shut out, the less rational we are, however the situation may appear to us. I have mentioned these things so that our correspondence with heaven and with hell may be known. While our rational mind is in the process of being formed, it corresponds to the world of spirits. What is above it belongs to heaven, and what is beneath it belongs to hell. In people who are being readied for heaven, the higher aspects of the mind open, and the lower close against the inflow of evil and falsity. In people who are being readied for hell, the lower aspects open, and the higher close against the inflow of goodness and truth. As a result, the latter people can look only downward, toward hell, and the former people can look only upward, toward heaven. Looking upward is looking toward the Lord, because he is the common center that everything in heaven faces. Looking downward, though, is looking away from the Lord toward the opposite center, the center toward which everything in hell faces and gravitates.
Each of Us Is Inwardly a Spirit