It is often believed that the ‘Self’, the idea that some hold concerning their body to distinguish it and their experiences from the rest of the world, is something that can be maintained at all into the afterlife. This is the problem, as not only do some call Heaven “afterlife”, but some also hold that the Self is maintained in the personal form. It is problematic because life as a person understands it is not present in heaven. The Self is there, but not the personal type. I think that the Self as a person experiences it (that is, the type of Self that some hold to distinguish themselves from other things) is somewhat incorrect.
My conception of Self is that there is the personal type in addition to the true type. The true type of Self (the universal Self) is simply what ties the world to living things, thoughts, experiences, and anything that comes to form in life. The personal Self, on the other hand, is unique to living things (humans especially) because it is viewed as an entirely individualistic thing that is a result of a hierarchy of causes. The personal Self is a feeling, one with the utility of forming an identity, and is the result of the illusion of a hierarchy of causes. Personal Self is the end while the universe is the means. Not only is the personal Self the loneliest conception of a person in relation to the universe, but it also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of it.
As I see it, from what has been hinted to me by theology, as well as spoken loudly to me in Ethics, Self is best understood only in the universal sense. Certain Zen Buddhists practice specific rituals and exercises in order to gain this understanding, to deny the personal Self. More accurately, I think, is the Upanishadic conception of Self. Buddhism consistently grapples with the impermanent, so it is easily thought of the Self as one of the many things to be extinguished. The Upanishadic Self is eternal, all-encompassing, and indwelling all. This is also hinted at in Christianity.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…” (Corinthians 6:19).
“It is true the body is perishable, but within it dwells the imperishable Self. This body is subject to pleasure and pain; no one who identifies with the body can escape from pleasure and pain. But those who know they are not the body pass beyond pleasure and pain to live in abiding joy.” (The Chandogya Upanishad, Chap. VIII, 12.1).
The universal Self can be understood as a frayed thread, spread infinitely, and frayed again on each bit. The physical state we hold is a spool, capturing thread upon our conception, rolling up more and more as we develop (and we do not stop developing). The spool spins as we live, changing as we age, but spinning the eternal thread. It is painted with colors as we experience, made unique in the moment it is spooled, but never unattached to the rest.
Death is the separation of the spool from the Self. Most would identify closer with their personalities than their bodies, so it becomes important to know what happens to the Self. Many who understand only the personal Self believe either the popular Christian notion of heaven (which I agree with in its essence but it is so heavily bastardized by the worldly things that it is completely foreign to what it should be) or the atheist/Buddhist view of the Self of being snuffed out eternally. It creates a fear or desire of death, mixes experience and emotion with understanding, and makes a person anxious.
Heaven, to me, is merely the return to the universal Self. The unspooling of personal experience and time, eliminating the weight of the spool, becoming closer to the universe (not that we were that far).
Heaven in a more old fashioned Christian sense is that of angels sitting on the clouds, all of them pure, none of them feeling the deep anxiety and hatred of life. Free from all desires and in unity with god. In some branches of Hinduism, it is the same. To be with God, that is, to be of the substance in its purest form. This is the achievable heaven. The spool weighs us down from heaven, it is merely in a brief knot that the thread makes, and is free to flow with the wind once its spool dies.
Or there is a hell too, I am not sure. If there is, then that really changes the game.