The age old question of what happens when we die can most probably only truly be determined at that moment of reckoning. Nevertheless we ponder and I'd like to share some thoughts on the subject.
Some people think the mind is the brain but that seems incorrect since the brain is physical, can be photographed, operated on in surgery and is clearly physical in nature. The mind on the other hand is not physical which leads me to the belief that whilst the brain is part of the body, the mind is part of the spirit - something greater than the body and without the same physical constraints of life and death that the body experiences.
Some religions believe that our body and mind are separate entities, and so even though the body disintegrates at death, the continuum of the mind remains unbroken. Instead of ceasing, the mind simply leaves the present body and goes to the next life. As I have got older and improved my meditation practices I have grown to share this view. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains it as our mind in death leaving our body and going to the next life, just like a guest leaving a guesthouse and going somewhere else.
One way to gain an understanding of past and future lives Geshe Kelsang Gyatso suggests, is to examine the process of sleeping, dreaming and waking, because this closely resembles the process of death, intermediate state and rebirth into the new body. The only significant difference he suggests is that after the clear light of sleep has ceased, the relationship between our mind and our present body remains the same, whereas after the clear light of death this relationship is broken with the mind forming relationship with a new body.
Some people remember their dreams whilst others have more difficulty. For those who remember, the concept of waking in a new body and life without being able to remember may seem very unlikely. For those who don't remember dreams, this may be a more easily believable concept.
Is it important that we consciously remember from one life to the next? Or is is enough that at an energetic and vibrational level we experience spiritual growth? Perhaps too, the more we enhance our spiritual growth within our present physical existence, the more likely we will be able to reach a level of transference where we can remember our lessons and experiences on a conscious plane, from one life to the next.
A question that arises for me with this realization is why we can be prepared to spend so much time looking after our transitory physical being (I shudder at the thought of the amount of energy and money spent in plastic surgery) and so little time in meditation, looking after our eternal mind/spirit? With the hustle and bustle of our every day lives, we often fail to take time out to connect with our own soul being. Is it any wonder so many people find life meaningless, purposeless? Is it any wonder the incidence of mental illness continues to increase at a rather alarming rate. And yet the cure we offer is often a pill, a physical response to a spiritual problem. No wonder drugs for mental illness have so many side effects and so relatively little success.
Personal development, the process of self awareness and understanding, is therefore essential not only for helping find our life purpose in this life and ensuring we create a life of meaning for ourselves, or for ensuring present day good mental health, but also as part of a greater spiritual development continuum. So if you are not doing so already, make personal development, in whatever form it takes and works for you, part of your daily practice today!