I’ve heard teachers I respect say different things about what happens when you die (drop the body) post-enlightenment. Something I read recently discussed the variety and I realized a resolution to the differences.
Before we go into it, the first thing to understand is that we go through a series of lifetimes, driven by past karma (cause and effect) and unresolved desires. When we awaken, non-stop samadhi (silence in activity & bliss) roasts the remaining seeds of future actions/desires and we mostly step off the “wheel” of karma. With the completion of our human life, we resolve the last of the sprouted seeds. We are thus no longer reborn. (Though I understand that if we reach some basic awakening but not a full enlightenment and have unfinished business, we may have a choice to come back and finish the job. This would be one reason why we sometimes see people awaken early and easily, picking up where they left off. We may also make the shift during death.)
In the Vedic literature, there are 6 systems of Philosophy. These are known as the upangas or darshanas. Each (except the 1st) reflects the reality of a different stage of evolution. The last of these is Vedanta or “end of the Veda”, also known as Uttara Mimamsa. The primary text is the Brahma Sutras, though sometimes people associate the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita with Vedanta due to their stories of the essence of full awakening.
Vedanta speaks of the total oneness of Brahman and on that all the highest sages are agreed. But there are 2 schools of thought about what happens after an enlightened yogis death. Both are described in the Vedas so I suggest we actually have a choice, driven in part by our history and tendencies.
One is Advaita or non-duality (without distinctions) of whom Adi Shankara is the best known exponent. He taught of a total oneness where the atma merges into Oneness with Brahman. On death of the body, any individuality or form would dissolve. The wave settles into the ocean. Totality of Oneness. (This is much deeper than the internal unity of nirvana/ Self-realization/ cosmic consciousness – this earlier stage is where ego (individual self) becomes atman(cosmic Self))
Other masters such as Ramanuja, Madhva, and Narayana speak of the transcendent space or world within Brahman.
This outlook is called Dvaita or “with distinctions”(not dualism)[see comments]. This space within pure awareness is known as Vaikuntha Loka and is beyond all universes, humans and devas (angels). It is the first space, the first expression. We’d gain a pure light body and retain a subtle value of individuality and live with other such enlightened sages and forms of God. The ultimate heaven we could say.
As a friend observed, from that state one would have the option of returning as what the Buddhists call a Bodhisattva, an enlightened sage that may appear on occasion or for a time. Avatars (God in human form) such as Krisna reside there and may arise from there.
Ultimately though, Shankara’s is the highest truth. Some of these other masters refer to this transcendent space as eternal and the light body as absolute. However, while one may remain in this space for astonishingly long times, that space is not eternal. In a recent article on Yugas, I described some of the larger cycles of time. One cycle of Yugas is known as a Mahayuga. 1,000 Mahayugas is a day of Brahma. 100 Years of Brahma is a life of Brahma. A lifetime of Vishnu is 1,000 lives of Brahma. A lifetime of Shiva is 1,000 of Vishnus. And a time of the Divine Mother is 1,000 of Shiva. When the Divine Mother sleeps, that transcendent space is unexpressed. Now, 429 million trillion (Yukteswar) or 154 billion trillion (standard) years is a long time, but it’s not eternal. 😉
This can also be further established with 2 other references. The story of Bhusunda the crow unusually being able to continue between creations while the great sage Vasishtha does not. And the experience of creation ending that may be part of a Unity shift. At some point, all those waves will dissolve back into the ocean. At least for a time.
Are we to dissolve or hang around awhile first? Be bliss or live bliss? Our own destination we’re not likely to know clearly until well along. We usually even forget why we’re here while in human form. But it can be amusing to consider.