Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and was quite renowned in his day for his contributions in various fields of natural science. His writings were first oriented towards anatomy, physiology, and psychology gained substantial recognition. Later in his life, he experienced a religious crisis and began to write of experiences of being in communication with spiritual entities. His later spiritual writings abound with vivid descriptions of what life after death is like. The parallels between his out-of-body spiritual experiences and NDEs are quite remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that in Dr. Raymond Moody‘s ground-breaking book on near-death experiences, Life After Life, has an entire section devoted these parallels. In this article you will learn these parallels and read an excerpt from Swedenborg’s most famous work entitled Heaven and Hell which was translated into the book entitled Awaken From Death. NDE expert Dr. Kenneth Ring (www.kenring.org) also wrote an introduction to the Swedenborg Foundation’s edition of Our Life after Death: A Firsthand Account from an 18th-Century Scientist and Seer which is also published here. Swedenborg’s vision of the afterlife also corresponds with St. Teresa of Avila who once said, “After you die, you wear what you are.”
1. Dr. Ken Ring’s Introduction to Emanuel Swedenborg’s Book
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 is our own time, Life After 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, 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.
[Swedenborg’s book,] is in fact one that, by drawing from Swedenborg, best-known and enduringly popular work on this subject, Heaven and Hell, presides 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 expenencers 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 NDErs; 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, 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 experiencers 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 NDE 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 [his] book, contain a depth of wisdom and understanding that no modern NDEer 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.
2. Emanuel Swedenborg and His Out-of-Body Journeys
The following information comes the section of Dr. Raymond Moody‘s book, Life After Life, on Emanuel Swedenborg.
Swedenborg described what happens when bodily functions such as respiration and circulation cease. This description is similar to what people describe when dying during an NDE.
“Still man does not die, but is only separated from the corporeal part which was of use to him in the world … Man, when he dies, only passes from one world into another.”
Swedenborg wrote how he himself has been through the early stages of death and had experiences outside of his body. This corresponds to the out-of-body experience component of the NDE.
“I was brought into a state of insensibility as to the bodily sense, thus almost into the state of the dying; yet the interior life with thought remaining entire, so that I perceived and retained in memory the things which occurred, and which occur to those who are resuscitated from the dead … Especially it was given to perceive … that there was a drawing and … pulling of … mind, thus of my spirit, from the body.”
During Swedenborg’s out-of-body experiences, he encountered beings whom he identifies as angels. They ask him, in effect, if he is prepared to die. This corresponds to NDEs where spirit guides appear and help the experiencer.
“Those angels first inquired what my thought was, whether it was like the thought of those who die, which is usually about eternal life; and that they wished to keep my mind in that thought.”
The communication which took place between Swedenborg and the spirits are direct transfers of thought – a way of communicating in which there is no possibility of misunderstanding. This corresponds to people having NDEs who describe communication as being telepathic.
“Whereas spirits converse with each other by universal language … Every man, immediately after death, comes into this universal language … which is proper to his spirit … The speech of an angel or a spirit with man is heard as sonorously as the speech of a man with a man; yet it is not heard by others who stand near, but by himself alone; the reason is, because the speech of an angel or spirit flows first into the man’s thought …”
Swedenborg described how the newly dead often do not realize they are dead because they still inhabit a body resembling their physical body in several respects. This kind phenomenon appears in many NDE testimonies such as that of Dr. George Ritchie.
“The first state of man after death is similar to his state in the world, because then in like manner he is in externals … Hence, he knows no otherwise than the he is still in the world … Therefore, after they have wondered that they are in a body, and in every sense which they had in the world … they come into a desire of knowing what heaven is, and what hell is.”
Swedenborg described how – compared to physical life – the spiritual life has less limitations. Perception, thought, and memory are more perfect. Time and space no longer pose the obstacles they once had in physical life. This corresponds with NDE testimonies describing how thought becomes more expansive and how the afterlife realms exist in a timeless state.
“All the faculties of spirits … are in a more perfect state, as well their sensations as their thoughts and perceptions.”
According to Swedenborg, the dying person may meet with other departed spirits whom they knew in life. These other spirits are there to help the dying person in their transition to life on the Other Side. This corresponds to NDE testimony involving the experiencer being welcomed by loved ones in a kind of homecoming.
“The spirit of man recently departed from the world is … recognized by his friends, and by those whom he had known in the world … wherefore they are instructed by their friends concerning the state of eternal life …”
Swedenborg wrote how the departed person may have their entire life shown to them in a vision. The departed person remembers every detail of it and there is no possibility lying or concealing anything. This corresponds to the life review of NDEs.
“The interior memory … is such that there are inscribed in it all the particular things … which man has at any time thought, spoken, and done … from his earliest infancy to extreme old age. Man has with him the memory of all these things when he comes into another life, and is successively brought into all recollection of them … All that he had spoken and done … are made manifest before the angels, in a light as clear as day … and … there is nothing so concealed in the world that it is not manifested after death … as if seen in effigy, when the spirit is viewed in the light of heaven.”
Swedenborg also mentioned the “light of the Lord” which permeates the hereafter. It is a light of ineffable brightness which Swedenborg claims to have glimpsed himself. It is a light of truth and of understanding. This corresponds to the otherworldly Light seen in many NDEs.
3. Insights from Emanuel Swedenborg’s Out-of-Body Journeys
Dr. Moody provides insights of how Swedenborg’s experiences provide striking parallels to contemporary near-death experiences.
During several of Swedenborg’s near-death experiences, he would witness people dying and see their happenings in the afterlife. He stated that immediately following death, there is a period of self-discovery in which the social masks worn by people on Earth dissolve away and the true self is revealed. Each person then shapes their own eternity to correspond with their real inner nature. Some people become irrational, driven by fear and greed. Such people are in a spiritual condition which Swedenborg called “hell.” Hell is a psychological condition corresponding to the suffering that people experience on Earth when they allow themselves to be driven by the blind greed of their own egos. There are no devils in hell to inflict punishments because in the hellish spiritual condition each person acts out their own malice by tormenting others. This is perfectly described in Howard Storm‘s NDE of hell.
After death, most people find within themselves the psychological state Swedenborg called heaven. It is a joyous condition and a state of expanded awareness, of perceiving more and more of the grand plan of creation. The heaven which Swedenborg experienced, corresponds to good deeds and not creeds. Therefore, persons from many cultures and religions form the societies of heaven. Swedenborg often mentioned that these societies – the “Church of the Lord” as he calls them – are universal. This Church of the Lord consists of all those who have lived in the goodness of love according to their own spiritual life on Earth.
Swedenborg’s journeys into the afterlife provide us with more than just a glimpse of the Other Side; they provides us a very clear picture. The following is an excerpt from Awaken From Death – an English translation of Swedenborg’s classic Heaven and Hell.
4. A Person’s Strongest Love Is Revealed at Death
There is a strongest love which a person keeps after death and which never changes throughout eternity. Everyone has a considerable number of loves, but they all go back to their strongest love which a person makes one with – or taken all together – comprise it.
All the elements of intention that are in harmony with their strongest love are called desires, because they are desired. Some of these desires are more inward, some more outward. There are some desires that are directly bound; some are nearer, some are farther away. There are various kinds of subordination.
Taken all together, they make up a kind of kingdom. Thus, a person’s desires are organized within themselves even though they are completely unaware it. To some extent, however, this is made known to people in the afterlife where they have an outreach of thought and affection depending upon this organization. This becomes an outreach into the heavenly communities if the strongest love is made up of the desires of heaven. But this becomes an outreach into hellish communities if the strongest love is made up of desires of hell. From this information, we then can understand the following:
- After death, people become their desire or impulses.
- Throughout eternity, people stay the way they are insofar as their impulses or strongest love is concerned.
- People who have a heavenly and spiritual desire will enter heaven; while people who have a physical and worldly desire without a heavenly and spiritual desire will enter hell.
- People do not keep their faith if it does not come from a heavenly desire.
- Desire in action is what lasts; hence this is the person’s true life.
After death, a person is his desire or intention (impulses). This has been made clear to me by observing experiences over and over again. The whole of heaven is divided into communities on the basis of differences in the good that comes from desire. Every single spirit who is raised into heaven and becomes an angel is taken to the community where his or her desire is, and once there they are where they belong, so to speak – as though they were at home, where they were born. An angel senses this and makes close friends with others like themselves.
When they leave and go to another community, there is a certain constant resistance. This is the effect of their longing to return to those who are like themselves which means to their own strongest love. This is how close friendships are formed in heaven. The same holds true in hell, where people also form friendships on the basis of desires which are opposed to heavenly ones.
We may establish that, after death, people are their desire from the fact that there is a removal after death, a kind of carrying away of the elements which are not consistent with their strongest love. If people are good, then all the things that are discordant, or that disagree with their true love, are removed and, so to speak, are carried away. In this way they are installed in their own desire. The same happens with people who are evil (the difference being that true things are carried away from them), until finally all individuals become their own true inner desire. This takes place when a spirit-person is brought through into the third state described below. Once this has happened, people constantly turn their face toward their inner desire, keeping it always before their eyes wherever they turn.
The same holds true for people in this world: their own desires leads them, too, and they are led by others by means of their own desires. It is all the more true when they become spirits, because then they are not allowed to present the semblance of any other desire, or to pretend a desire that is not really theirs.
All personal associations in a person’s life is evidence of the fact that people’s spirits reflect their strongest love. In fact, whenever anyone acts and talks in keeping with someone else’s desire, that person seems complete, with a fully expressive, cheerful, lively face. But whenever anyone acts and talks contrary to someone else’s desire, that person’s face begins to change, to become hazy, and to fade from view. Eventually the whole person vanishes as though they had never been there. I have often been amazed that this is so, since nothing like it occurs in our world; but I have been told that something like this does happen to the spirit of a person which is no longer within another person’s view when it turns away from that other.
Several times I have been enabled to see how good, simple folk wanted to educate evil people in matters of truth and goodness, and how such people ran away from this education; and when they reached their own kind, they grasped the false elements that suited their desire with an intense pleasure. I have also been enabled to see good spirits talking with each other about true things, which the good people present listened to eagerly, while the evil ones who were also present paid no attention whatever, just as though they did not hear anything.
Paths are visible in the spiritual world. Some lead to heaven, some to hell; one to one community, one to another. Good spirits travel only along paths that lead to heaven, to the community which is involved in the particular good that comes from their own desire. They do not see paths leading in other directions. Evil spirits follow only paths that lead to hell, to the particular community there which is involved in the evil that comes from their own desire. They do not see paths leading in other directions; and even if they do, they do not want to follow them.
Then, after the first and second states have been completed, these two classes are separated so that they no longer see or recognize each other. Everyone becomes their own desire, not only in regard to the more inward elements of their mind, but also in regard to the more outward matters that are proper to their face, body, and speech; for all people become an image of their desire, even in outward things.
People who are involved in a physical desire are wholly incapable of living in heaven’s warmth, since heaven’s warmth is heavenly desire. They are however capable of living in hell’s warmth, which is a desire of cruelty toward other people who do not support them. The pleasures of this desire are various kinds of contempt for others, of enmity, hatred, and revenge. When they are involved in these, they are involved in their own life, utterly ignorant of what it means to do something good to others on the basis of and for the sake of the good act itself – only of acting on the basis of what is evil and for the sake of what is evil.
People who are involved in a physical desire cannot breathe in heaven. If an evil person is taken there, he draws each breath like someone hard pressed in a struggle. But people who are involved in a heavenly desire breathe more freely and live more fully the farther into heaven they are.
5. The First Stage After Death Involves More Outward Aspects
There are three stages people pass through after their death before arriving in heaven or hell. The first stage involves their more outward aspects, the second stage involves their more inward aspects, and the third stage is a state of preparation. People pass through these stages in the world of spirits.
Insofar as the first stage is concerned – the stage involving people’s more outward aspects – this is where people come to immediately after death.
All people have more inward and outward aspects to their spirit. A person’s more outward aspects are the means by which they adjust to the their body in the physical world (especially his face, speech, and manner) for associating with other people. But the spirit’s more inward aspects are the ones which belong to the person’s intention and resultant thought, which are seldom evident in the face, speech, or manner. From infancy, people get used to displaying friendliness, kindness and sincerity, and hiding their real thoughts and feelings. So, as a matter of habit, they reflect a moral life and civic life outwardly, no matter what they are like inwardly.
This habit is the source of people’s virtual ignorance of what lies deeper within them and also of their inattention to these matters.
Everyone’s first stage after death is very much like their condition in the physical world, since at that point they are similarly involved in outward matters. They have much the same face, speech, and spirit. Consequently, they have much the same moral and civic life.
This is why they are then quite unaware that they are not still in the physical world unless they pay attention to things happening to them and to what they were told by angels when they were awakened – namely, that they are now spirits.
So the one life continues into the other. Death is only a crossing over.
Whenever individuals in the spirit world think about someone else in the spirit world, they set the person’s face before themselves in their thought, together with many other things that characterized the person’s life. When they do that, the other person becomes present as though he had been called and summoned.
This kind of thing happens in the spiritual world because thoughts are communicated there and because distances do not have the same attributes as they have in the natural world. This is why everyone, upon first arriving in the spirit world, is recognized by friends, relatives, and acquaintances of one sort or another. And this is why they communicate with each other and associate with each other along the lines of their friendships in the physical world.
So they are taught by their friends about the state of eternal life and are taken around to different places – into different communities. Some are taken to cities, some to gardens and parks; but most are taken to splendid places because this sort of place delights the outward nature they are still involved in. Then they are intermittently led into thoughts they had during their physical life about the soul’s condition after death, about heaven and hell, until they come to resent their former utter ignorance of things like this, and resent the Church’s ignorance of such matters.
[Webmaster Note: In the hellish earthbound realm, people are able to travel anywhere on Earth as well. The powers of the mind after death can be first realized in this earthbound realm where more spiritually developed souls are able to guide them to higher realms if they so desire. Swedenborg’s description of the first stage is similar to accounts of near-death experiences in this earthbound realm.]
Almost all of them are eager to know whether they will get into heaven. Most of them believe they will because they have led a moral and civic life in the physical world, without considering that both evil and good people lead lives that are similar in outward aspects and do good works for other people in a similar fashion, attend church, listen to sermons and pray. They are wholly unaware that outward behavior and outward worship do not accomplish anything; but rather it is the inner elements – from which the outward ones come – that really counts.
Hardly one out of several thousand people knows what their own inner elements are, or knows that those inner elements are where heaven and the church dwell within a person.
All the people who arrive from the physical world are put in connection either with a particular community in heaven or with a particular community in hell; but this applies only to their more inward elements. These more inward elements, however, are not visible to anyone as long as the spirits are involved in more outward matters, since outward matters are used to cover and hide inner matters, especially by people who are involved in something evil on a more inward level. Later on, when they come into the second stage, their more inward elements become obvious because at this point their more inward elements are opened and their more outward ones recede.
6. The Second Stage After Death Involves More Inward Aspects
The second stage after death is called the stage of the more inward elements, because at that point people are brought into an involvement in the more inward things belonging to their mind, or their intention (impulses) and thought, while the more outward things they were involved in during their first stage go to sleep.
As a result, when people are in this stage they are involved in their true selves and in their real lives. Thinking freely from one’s very own affection reflects a person’s real life, and is the real person.
People in this stage are thinking on the basis of their very own intention, which means they are thinking from their very own affection or desire. At this point, their thinking brings about a unity with their intention – such a unity in fact – they hardly seem to be thinking at all and are simply intending. It is about the same when they communicate; except they communicate with a certain fear that the things their intention is thinking about might come out naked. This is because their fear becomes part of their intention in the physical world due to the demands of a civic life.
Absolutely everyone is directed into this stage after death because it is the actual state of the spirit. The earlier stage is the way people were in their spirit when they were in the company of others which is not their proper condition.
Once people are in this condition that is proper to their more inward concerns, it becomes very obvious what kind of people they were intrinsically in the physical world. At this point, they are acting on the basis of what really belongs to them. If they were inwardly involved in something good while in the physical world, then they behave rationally and wisely – more wisely in fact – than they did in the physical world because they are released from their ties to a physical body and are therefore free from the things that darken and, so to speak, cloud things over.
On the other hand, if they were involved in something evil in the physical world, then they behave senselessly and crazily – more crazily in fact – than they did in the physical world because they are free and not repressed. When they lived in the world, they were sane in outward matters because they were using them to fabricate a rational person. So once these outward matters are taken away from them, their madness is unveiled.
All people who, while living in the physical world, were involved in what is good and who acted out of conscience (those who have acknowledged something divine and loved divine truths, especially those who have applied them to their lives), it seems to all such people that when they are brought into the condition proper to their more inward concerns, it is as though they have been roused from sleep and come awake or have come from darkness into light.
They are thinking on the basis of heaven’s light and therefore out of a deeper wisdom. They are acting on the basis of what is good and therefore out of a deeper affection. Heaven is flowing into their thoughts and affections with something very deeply blessed and pleasant which they had not known about before.
They are in communication with heaven’s angels. At this time, they also recognize the Lord and are worshiping him out of their real life. They are involved in their very own life when they are in this stage of their more inward elements as we have just stated. Furthermore, they are recognizing and worshiping him from their freedom because their freedom is part of their deeper affection.
They are then withdrawing from what is outwardly holy and are entering into that which is inwardly holy where true worship takes place.
No one enters hell until they are engaged in their own evil and engaged in the false things that are evil. This is because no one there is allowed to have a divided mind – to think and say one thing while intending something else. All who are evil there will think what is false because of their evil and will speak out of their evil’s falsity. Both their thinking and their speech will come from their intention and therefore out of their own proper desire and its delight and pleasure, in the same way they thought within themselves in the physical world when they were thinking from their more inward affection.
All souls arrive at the type of community where their spirits were in the physical world. In fact, every person on Earth is bonded to a particular heavenly or hellish community: the evil person to a hellish one and a good person to a heavenly one. A person is guided there step-by-step and eventually gains entrance.
When evil people are involved in the condition of their more inward elements, they are turned in stages toward their own community. Eventually they are turned straight toward their community before their condition is completed. Once this condition is completed, they hurl themselves into the hell where there are people like themselves.
[Webmaster Note: This is a very good description of the Void experienced in NDEs. It is where nothing there exists but our own true inward nature. The purpose for this realm or “stage” is to reflect and understand who we have become from the physical life just lived. Seeing ourselves as we really are can be a paradise if love is found there. The love within us then draws us out of the Void and toward the light. But if there exists mostly “evil” within us, then we may remain in the Void for some time or return to the Earthbound realm. This is hell for those who are bound there; but it is not eternal damnation. It is God’s “time out” place for people to deal with their problems. And like all “Prodigal Sons,” those in hell will eventually come to their senses, have a change of heart and be rescued.]
A separation of evil souls from good soul occurs in the course of this second stage, whereas during the first stage they were together. The reason for this is that, as long as people are involved in their outward concerns, it is the same as when they were in the physical world. Evil people are together with good ones and good people are together with evil ones. But it becomes different when they are brought into involvement on the basis of their more inward concerns and left to their own nature or intention.
The separation of good people from evil people occurs in various ways. Broadly speaking, it occurs when evil people are taken around to those communities which they were in contact with through their good thoughts and affections during their first stage. In this way, they are taken to those communities where they were persuaded by their outward appearance that they were not evil. Normally, they are taken on an extensive circuit where their true self is continuously exposed to good souls. Upon seeing the evil souls, the good souls turn away. As they turn away, the evil souls also turn away from the good ones and turn toward the region of hellish communities which they truly belong.
7. The Third Stage After Death is Preparing For Heaven Through Instruction
The third stage of the soul after death is a state of instruction. This stage is for people who are entering heaven and in the process of becoming angels. It is not for those people entering hell because they cannot be taught. As a result, the second stage is also the third stage for those entering hell. It concludes when they completely turn toward their own desire and therefore turn toward a hellish community where its members are involved in similar desires. When this has been accomplished, they intend and think from this desire – and since their desire is hellish – they intend nothing but evil and think nothing but falsehood. They are delighted in their intentions and thoughts because they belong to this hellish desire. Consequently, they spurn anything that is good and true which they adopted earlier as it was only a useful tool for their desire.
However, good people are brought through the second stage into a third stage – that of preparing for heaven by means of instruction. No one can be prepared for heaven except by means of insights into what is true and good through instruction. This is because people cannot know what is good and true on a spiritual level, or what is evil and false, unless they are taught. In the physical world, it’s possible to know what is good and true on a civic and moral level and what is called fair and honest. This is because there are civil laws which teach falsehoods. There are also social contexts in which a person learns to live by, such as moral laws, all of which deal with what is honest and right. But what is good and true on a spiritual level is not learned in the physical world, but rather in heaven.
Unless people realize and recognize these facts, they cannot think spiritually. Without thinking about these matters, they cannot intend them. If one does not know something, they cannot think about it. If one does not think about it, they cannot intend it. When a person does intend these things, then heaven flows in. The Lord’s life flows into the person’s life through heaven. The divine essence flows into intention and through intention into thought. Then through thought into life. Intention and thought are the source of a person’s spiritual life.
We can see from these considerations that there is no learning what is good and true on a spiritual level from the physical world; but rather from heaven. And we see how no one can be prepared for heaven except by being taught.
The Lord brings the good souls who are to be taught to these places after their second has been completed. However, this does not apply to everyone because some people have been taught in the physical world and have already been prepared for heaven by the Lord. They are brought into heaven by another route. Some of these people are brought in immediately after death.
[Webmaster Note: I believe Swedenborg is referring to people who grew spiritually on Earth and therefore bypass the Earthbound realm and the Void and go straight into heaven.]
Once souls have been prepared for heaven though instruction (which takes only a short time amount of time because the souls are taught spiritual concepts which include many elements at the same time), they are dressed in angelic clothes – most of which are white as though made of linen. Once dressed, they are brought to a path that heads up toward heaven and are committed to angel guardians there. Then they are accepted by other angels and introduced into communities where there are many forms of happiness.
[Webmaster Note: Swedenborg’s description of this third stage agrees with those NDE experiencers who have entered and left the tunnel and enter into the light where they are met by loved ones, religious figures, the Council of Elders, etc.]
8. The Way to Heaven is Not Hard
Some people believe it is hard to lead a heaven-bound life (which is also called a spiritual life) because they have heard that a person needs to renounce the world, give up the appetites associated with the flesh and live like spiritual beings. They believe to lead a heaven-bound life means nothing short of rejecting what is worldly – especially wealth and prestige – and walk around in constant devout meditation on God, salvation, and eternal life. They believe they must pass their time in constant prayer and in reading the Word and devotional literature. They believe they must renounce the world and live constantly by the spirit instead of by the flesh. But an abundance of experience and discussion with angels has enabled me to know that leading a heaven-bound life is completely different from this. In fact, people who renounce the world and live by the spirit in this fashion build up a mournful life for themselves – one that is not receptive of heavenly joy. This is because everyone’s life on Earth stays with them when they enter the spiritual realm. On the contrary, if people are to accept a life in heaven, they must by all means live in the physical world and become involved in its functions and dealings. Then through a moral and civic life they will receive a spiritual life. This is the only way a spiritual life can be formed in people and their spirit be prepared for heaven.
Living an inward life and not an outward life at the same time is like living in a house with no foundation. It gradually settles, or develops cracks and gaps, or totters until it collapses.
If we examine a person’s life with rational acuity, we discover it to be threefold: there is a spiritual life, a moral life, and a civic life. These lives are distinct from each other. There are people who live a civic life but not a moral or a spiritual one. Then there are people who live both a civic life and a moral life and a spiritual as well. These are the ones who are leading heaven’s life – the others are leading the world’s life separated from heaven’s life.
The first conclusion to be drawn from this is that a spiritual life is not separated from a natural one, or from the world’s life. Rather, they are bonded together like a soul with its body. If they become separated, it is as previously just mentioned, like living in a house without a foundation.
The considerations about to be presented will make it possible to see that it is not as hard to lead a heaven-bound life as some people believe it is.
Who can’t live a civic and moral life? Everyone is introduced to it from the cradle on and is acquainted with it from his life in the world. Everyone, good or bad, leads it as well, for who does not want to be called honest and fair?
Almost everyone practices honesty and fairness in outward matters, even to the point of seeming honest and fair at heart, or as though they were behaving out of real honesty and fairness. Spiritual people need to live the same way which they can do just as easily as natural people. The only difference is that spiritual people believe in what is divine and behave honestly and fairly – not just because it is in keeping with civil and moral laws, but because it is in keeping with divine laws.
People who are thinking about divine matters while they are active are in touch with the angels of heaven. To the extent that they are doing this, they are joined to them and in this way their inner person is opened, which seen in its own right, is the spiritual person.
When people are like this, they are adopted and led by the Lord without realizing it. Then anything honest and fair that they do as part of their moral and civic life is done from a spiritual source. Doing something honest and fair from a spiritual source is doing it out of what is genuinely honest and fair, or doing it from the heart.
The laws of a spiritual life, the laws of a civic life, and the laws of moral life are handed down to us in the precepts of the Ten Commandments. The laws of a spiritual life are found first. Then the laws of civic life are found next. Finally, the laws of moral life are found last.
People who are simply natural, live by these precepts in the same way spiritual people do – in outward form. They worship the divine in similar fashion, go to church, listen to sermons, put on a pious face, do not kill, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness, and do not cheat their fellows out of their possessions. But the natural person does this simply for themselves and for the world, or for appearances.
As for people who have recognized at heart what is divine, who have focused on divine laws in the deeds of their lives, and have lived by the precepts of the Ten Commandments, things are different for them. When they are led into their inward aspects, it is like coming from darkness into light, from ignorance into wisdom, and from a mournful life into a blessed one. This is because they are involved in what is divine, and therefore in heaven.
We can now see that it is not as hard to lead a heaven-bound life as many people think. Whenever something gets in the way which people know is dishonest and unfair, something their spirit moves toward, it is simply a matter of thinking they should not do it because it is against the divine precepts. If people get used to doing this – and by getting used to it gain a certain disposition – then little by little they are joined to heaven. As this takes place, the higher reaches of their mind are opened. As their minds are opened, they see what things are dishonest and unfair. When they see what is dishonest and unfair, they can break away from them. No evil can be broken away from until after it is seen.
This is a stage where people can enter due to their freedom. And who cannot think this way due to their freedom? Once this has begun, the Lord works out all good things for them and arranges things so they not only see evil elements but dislike them and eventually turn away from them. This is the meaning of the Lord’s words, “My yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
A heaven-bound life is not a life withdrawn from the world but a life involved in the world. A life of piety without a life of love (which occurs only in this world) does not lead to heaven. Rather, it is a life of love, a life of behaving honestly and fairly in every task, every transaction, every work, and from a more inward source which leads to a heavenly one. This source is present in life when a person behaves honestly and fairly because it is in keeping with divine laws. This life is not hard.