Life After Death
by Dr. Jennifer P. Tanabe
Like many people, I have come to enjoy reading books on life after death. I don't know if it is just a curious desire to learn about our future, even if it is only fictionalized, that comes to us as we grow older and face the finitude of our physical lives and of those we love, or if this is due to development in our world view, such as proposed in the Celestine Prophecy. Perhaps it is both. In any case, it came to me that Unification Thought also has much to say about life after death, and that this would be a worthy topic for an article in this series.
There are some basic questions on this topic, some of which are answered, some consistently and others in different ways, in the various accounts of life after death that are available to us. These begin with the most basic, "Is there life after death?" and continue on through such issues as what form it takes, do we have a body, can we see, hear, smell etc., are there animals and plants, are there such places as heaven and hell, how is it determined where we go, can we "fly" through space and even time, where do we live, are couples together, where is God (if there is God) and how can we see/experience God. In this article, then, I shall address these questions and offer answers to them based on Unification Thought.
Now, before I begin, there is one problem with this topic that is insurmountable to most of us, namely, that we have not experienced life after death! Most authors on the topic, therefore, claim to have communication from those who have. In other words, they either themselves are in contact with the spirit(s) of some dead person(s), or they have interviewed those who are in such communication. Dr. Sang Hun Lee, the Director of the Unification Thought Institute, remained hesitant to discuss this topic for many years, for the reason that he had no way to obtain such knowledge. However, after his wife passed on, and he received communications from her through someone on earth (published in the April, 1993 and May, 1993 issues of Unification News), he began to develop this area in more detail. Thus, in the texts on Unification Thought to date, such as Essentials of Unification Thought, there is no direct discussion of life after death, although many of the important questions can be answered quite easily from the material presented there. Those answers, plus information from the letters and other recent writings, form the basis of this article.
So, the first and most basic question: is there life after death? Unification Thought explains clearly that human beings have both a physical person and a spirit person. When the physical person dies, the spirit person discards it like an article of clothing which is no longer needed. Having discarded the physical person, the spirit person goes on to the spirit world, where it lives forever (Essentials of Unification Thought, p.44). Thus, there is no question that there is life after death for human beings.
The next question is what form this life takes. If the physical body can be likened to our "clothing" then what does our actual "person" look like? The spirit person, according to Unification Thought, is composed of spirit elements which cannot be seen by our physical senses. However, when perceived by spiritual senses, it has the same appearance as that of the physical person. In other words, we have the same type of body that we have in our physical lives, it's just made of spirit elements instead of physical elements. And these spirit elements are no less real than physical elements, they are just a different, but corresponding, level of existence. So we don't become amorphous bright lights that float around, or get subsumed into some kind of cosmic consciousness. We appear like the people we have been in our physical life.
Can we see, hear, smell, etc., with these spiritual "bodies"? Indeed, we can. Our spiritual "bodies" correspond to our physical bodies in every aspect, including the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste. Thus, spirit persons can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste spiritual sights, sounds, smells, etc. with these five senses in the same way that we can in the physical realm. Why not? Can you imagine an eternity of darkness, silence, without the smell of flowers, the songs of birds, no music, no visual arts, no wondrous textures to run your hands over, no sweet or spicy aromas to enjoy? I can't, not for eternity, not without going crazy. Unless I become a being that is so radically different from my current existence, and then how would I be me? Human beings absolutely need stimulation from their environment, received through their senses. Studies have shown that when deprived of any sensory stimulation, people soon begin to hallucinate. It's not our nature to live in isolation from the world, without any contact. And this is our eternal nature as spiritual beings, not just a requirement of our physical bodies.
So, what is there to see, hear, smell, etc. in the spiritual realm? Well, this is one of those questions that it is hard to answer without going there, and so my answers are limited. In one of her letters from the spirit world Mrs. Lee says that the spirit world is not different from earth: it has flowers, birds, and animals of all kinds, rain, day and night. She also mentions beautiful fragrances, birds singing, lovely music, and how beautiful it is. However, there are different levels in the spirit world, and the environment is different in the different levels.
This brings up the question of the existence of heaven and hell, and how it is determined where each person goes after their life on earth. Unification Thought points out that it is not the "body" of the spirit person that determines the nature of our eternal life in the spirit world, but rather the mind. Moreover, since the spirit person develops based on the actions of the person during their physical life, the mind of the spirit person reflects the character and life of the person on the earth. Thus, a person who valued truth, goodness, beauty, and true love, and whose life on the earth brought great happiness to others, will experience much love and joy in their eternal spiritual life. On the other hand, a person who lived selfishly, seeking material pleasures, and exploiting and harming others while on the earth, cannot but experience a lonely, suffering existence in the eternal spiritual realm. Therefore, different levels, which we can call heaven and hell, exist in the spirit world, and our life on the earth determines which realm becomes our eternal fate.
According to Mrs. Lee, those who live in the higher realms live in houses with rooms similar to those on earth. However, since time and space are expressed differently in the spiritual realm than on earth, if someone wants to see someone else they can instantly meet them in another place just by thinking of them. This part is somewhat difficult for us to understand, bound as we are by time and space on this earth. However, think of how it is in a dream: you can be in a room at home and the next instant you are in a room filled with people from your childhood. I believe that "travel" in the spirit world is somewhat like that, just more under our conscious control!
Similarly, time has a different expression in the spirit world. Even in the physical world time has many forms. For example, waiting a few minutes for a late companion may seem like hours, while the hours spent in conversation with that person may fly by feeling like only a few minutes. In the same way, a dream may cover many hours, days, or even months or years of "dream time" in terms of the activities the dreamer is involved in, nonetheless in actual, physical time, i.e. the amount of time the dreamer was dreaming as measured by an outside observer, everything takes place within a few minutes. Thus, there are clearly different experiences of time, depending on the activity, the people involved, and many other factors.
In the spirit world, then, while I don't want to claim that "time travel" is possible, it is not a problem to imagine that visiting several different places within the same time period is quite reasonable. For example, my husband recently discussed with his father (in Japan) that on the anniversary of the day that his mother passed on into the spirit world he would be in Korea and I would be in America. While his father would offer prayers with other family members in their hometown in Japan, my husband and I would offer prayers in Korea and America, respectively. And although my father-in-law initially protested that she would not be able to visit us in Korea and America since she would be visiting her home in Japan on that day, my husband reassured him that such situations were not a problem in the spirit world.
Now we start to come to the really important questions: are couples together in the spirit world, and what about God. First, it is clear that it is our relationships with others that determine how pleasant our life in the spirit world will be. This is because we can only meet together with people with whom we have developed a good relationship, either directly during our lives on the earth, or indirectly through relating to similar people on the earth. Therefore, the first determining factor regarding couples is whether or not they developed a harmonious relationship during their lives on the earth, in other words, do they actually want to be together for eternity.
Now, assuming that they desire an eternal life together, do they live together or are they just able to meet on certain occasions? This is a tricky one because, as the Unification Thought view of history points out, we are in a time of transition from the sinful history, brought about by the human fall, through the history of re-creation and restoration into the future where the ideal world of creation will be realized (Essentials of Unification Thought, p.262). Thus, although it is the original ideal of creation for human beings to marry, have children, and live together in the eternal spirit world, this has not happened yet. In fact, although there have been many good marriages, producing happy families, even those couples did not receive the blessing of eternal marriage from God. Without this blessing, marriage is indeed "until death us do part."
The reason for such severe judgment is that marriage is the key to experiencing God. Unification Thought explains that God is not seen or heard, even in the spirit world, but must be experienced through our hearts. Furthermore, the family is the place in which we experience God's love the most directly (Essentials of Unification Thought, p.204). One reason that many books on life after death currently on the market do not include direct experiences of God is because, without families based on marriages blessed by God, we cannot truly experience God directly, even in the spirit world. Some authors come close, such as M. Scott Peck in his recent In Heaven as on Earth: A Vision of the Afterlife, whose fictional characters experience God through working in committees. As one who hates committee meetings, I had a hard time with this idea initially! However, I realized that his point is that we experience God through harmonious relationships with others. Unification Thought makes this more specific, and I think more personal and realistic, by affirming that the family relationships between husband and wife and children are the basis for true experience of God.
Finally, then, let me conclude by asking a crucial question: if blessed marriages are the way to experience God eternally in the spirit world, what type of marriage will be blessed? You can answer this yourself, from any faith perspective, but I will offer some suggestions: God is eternal, unchanging, unique, and absolute. Therefore we can expect that God would want blessed marriages to have these attributes. Eternal means having an eternal commitment to one's spouse, not just a temporary one while they are beautiful, rich, or able to bear children. Unchanging also means commitment to that one person, without seeking relationship with others for variety, or to avoid responsibility to that person and their children. Unique means that there is no other couple like yours: your couple has the potential to make a special contribution to humankind and to bring joy to God in a way that no other couple can. You will also produce unique children. Absolute means that there is an absolute standard for marriage: polygamous relationships, same sex marriages, incestuous relationships, and other deviations are not viable alternatives. Blessed marriages are for eternity; they are between a man and a woman who develop a unique harmonious relationship, practicing fidelity, and who take responsibility to raise their children according to the original ideal of creation. So I hope and pray that we can use our time in this physical world to develop our spirits in preparation for our eternal life, and that we can meet in the spiritual world together with our beloved spouses with whom we live for eternity, and with whom we directly experience God.