Before I come to a conclusion, let’s look at what we are when the body/mind we think we are is no longer. What I am and you are, which is ‘I’, cannot die because it has never been born. ‘Living’ is only the elaboration in sequential duration of what is otherwise our normal state, which is what we call ‘death’. Only objects appear to be born and to die and ‘I’ is not an object. I’ is simply ‘I’. Call it Mind, Consciousness or even God if you want. It (which, of course, is not an ‘it’) is outside Time and therefore eternal, without form and thus infinite and forever unchanging. What is eternal and infinite can never die.
But don’t forget – it can also never be known because it is what we are. After dying there can be no consciousness of anything because there is only Consciousness or Mind and Mind cannot be aware of Mind except in its manifested state of phenomenal existence we know as life. What does appear to die is this organic machine which, during its life, has been the apparatus through which ‘I’ has functioned, just as ‘I’ goes on functioning through all the other machines that are still living after ‘our’ death. This machine, this ‘bag of bones’, at some point packs up because it malfunctions to such an extent as a result of disease, old age or being dropped from a great height that Mind can no longer operate through it. Mind must move on without regret – there’s nothing personal about it. But Mind doesn’t go anywhere. Why? Because there is nowhere for it to go – it is nowhere and everywhere – what the physicist recognises as non-locality. When Ramana Maharshi was on his deathbed, he asked why those around him were crying and when he was informed he said: “But where do they imagine I could go to?” and he surely knew.
What about the soul? Clearly, if the phenomenal ‘me’ is a body that ceases to function at death and a psyche that depends on the body to function, there can be no ‘leftovers’. But might there be something like an ‘imprint’ that survives? After all, if our thoughts are part of manifestation – and what else can they be? – then they may well have a life of their own, particularly if they are based on intentions that are thwarted by the inexorable manifestation of what-is. As thoughts are phenomenal, they must be subject to and unfolded in Time.
Perhaps this is where the idea of karma came from. Karma cannot mean rebirth because there is nothing to be reborn but it might be the rebirth or rather the recurrence of unresolved desires. Each thought, each I-concept, each intention is perhaps a minute energy blip, fading with Time but recurring through the body/minds that are still living. This might even account for the phenomenon of memory carry-overs from one body to another. After all, if there is energy behind the I-concept, it is not likely to remain inactive just because the body it was identified with has perished. This is an idea that chimes with the understanding that the Awakened do not produce karma because they no longer have a self to generate desire or intentions.