'There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road, and it leads to the very heart of the Universe: I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore. There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer; there is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through; there is no difficulty that strong intellect cannot surmount. For those who win onwards there is reward past all telling—the power to bless and save humanity; for those who fail, there are other lives in which success may come'.
It is generally assumed that very little is known about what happens to us when we die. Though much has been written in the past on the subject of death, it is mostly either allegorical or speculative. All religions give accounts of events following death but they are usually not specific and do not stand up to careful investigation. Spiritualism also gives a fragmented story of the post-mortem journey, which relies mainly on information received through mediums. These accounts vary according to the experience of each 'spirit'. They lack consistency in important details. Scientists, with the exception of a few who have investigated spiritualistic phenomena, have not seriously attempted to penetrate the veil.
Throughout history there has been a tradition of a secret knowledge, hidden in folk lore, fairy stories and philosophical and even religious books. This ancient wisdom has been preserved by thinkers and teachers throughout the ages. Examples of the greatest of these custodians are Krishna, Hermes, Zoroaster, Jesus and particularly the Buddha. Much of this wisdom, when it came to be made known, threatened the institutional orthodoxy of its day. Its proponents were persecuted and it went 'underground'. This protected not only the 'knowers' but also the knowledge from those who would misinterpret and misuse it.
In the late 19th century this wisdom re-emerged. It was re-presented by a Russian mystic and author, Madame Helena Blavatsky. She not only introduced much of this ancient religious philosophy to the West, weaving together its myriad threads in her writings, but also added some esoteric truths, parts of which the ancient, arcane, ageless teachings, never before made public. The aggregate of her writings constituted the foundations of modern Theosophy.
Initiates in the Arcane Sciences, now called Adepts, or Masters of the Wisdom, inspired her immense literary outpourings, and within this vast wealth of teachings is a comprehensive and detailed account of what happens when we die.
In the West death is generally regarded as the end of all we know and are; it is final; there is nothing beyond. Although the Spiritualist movement has done much in recent times to encourage belief in the existence of an after-life of some kind, this relies on the evidence of entities 'on the other side' who have survived the grave. These messages may be acceptable to the masses of people but for the thinker they do little to dispel the darkness and fear which has surrounded the subject of death for many centuries, especially in the West.
The views of the spiritualists, however, differ greatly from the teachings of the Masters on this subject. The knowledge of the latter extends far beyond the early stages of the after-death process. They put dying into its spiritual context, showing that it is not the end of everything, that Man is a complex being made up of many parts, and that each of us has a continuing higher Ego which survives death, taking on many physical incarnations as part of its spiritual evolution.
The claims put forward here are related to the inner subjective realms of being. They explain by stages the whole process, itself subject to universal law. Against that background, death and the after-death states can be seen as part of the whole scheme of Nature herself.
WHAT ARE WE'?
It is a tenet of the Esoteric Science that nothing lasts for ever; living forms die but something of them persists afterwards in the inner worlds. The process is continuing and universal, and connects together the life of all ephemeral entities that come and go, including our human physical existences. In other words, there is a persisting part of us that is virtually immortal, on an endless evolutionary journey. This is not what we usually think of as us, our physical bodies and our personalities, but an enduring part of ourselves we shall now call spiritual or divine.
In order to understand this universal process as it applies to us, we must first understand what we, as total beings are.
Every person is a composite being with, it is said, seven constituent aspects or principles. The basic constitution of Man, as described by St Paul, is body, soul and spirit, but in Esotericism these are further divided to make seven. The occult philosophy tells us that consciousness must have a vehicle through which to operate. Each of our principles is actually or potentially such a vehicle, but during earth life all our subjective activities are normally centred in the physical brain.
We know that everything surrounding us is composed of physical matter in three states: solid, liquid and gas. We are aware of these through our physical senses, which can however receive only those messages from the outside world to which they can respond, namely the objective physical world: but there are others of an increasingly ethereal nature the more spiritual they become. For example, just because one listens to AM on the radio, it does not mean that programmes on FM, long wave and medium wave are not being transmitted. In other words, the fact that we are normally unaware of something does not mean that it does not exist ... we are just not 'tuned in' to receive what is being 'broadcast' on other wavelengths.
There are, as already mentioned, levels other than the physical. One of these, closely associated with the physical, is that of life energy, the lift force, which is essential to all living organisms. This manifests in the physical body via a special vehicle or principle known as the astral body. These three, the life force (prana in Eastern terms), the astral body (linga sarira) and the physical body, are known as the lower triad.
Apart from these three we have feelings, emotions like anger and love, which in themselves are not physical but subjective, inner. Similarly, we can use imagination, we can reason, think and so on. While our minds are distinct areas of consciousness, though separate from our emotions, they are closely related.
So to the physical we must add emotional and mental vehicles. These two aspects of man's being are vehicles of consciousness at their respective levels; together they are often referred to as the middle duad and comprise the mortal soul. With the lower triad they constitute the whole man as we know him in incarnation and are specifically called the Personality.
The mental principle or vehicle responsible for our thought processes can be regarded as divided into a lower and higher mind. Memory, imagination, and logical thinking, the normal mundane mental activities, are considered as of the lower mind. The higher mind activities are those including, for example, spontaneous 'common sense’, abstract thought and ideas, creativity, and conscience.
The middle duad together with the body constitutes the personality referred to above. The higher mind, more concerned with broad principles and abstracts, is where the human consciousness of 'I am I' arises. Together with two even higher, spiritual principles, Spirit proper and its vehicle (Atma and Buddhi in Eastern terms), higher mind constitutes the upper triad, commonly referred to as the Ego, the Individuality (as opposed to the Personality), the divine Self, called the immortal Soul, because it is virtually identical with the ONE SELF of the Universe. It is the Individuality, not the Personality, which persists and reincarnates through our long series of personal lives.
Spirit (Atma) is the ultimate dynamism of all life, operating in a totally distinctive way in all things depending on their nature, characteristics and functions. Its vehicle (Buddhi) is the seat of intuition - direct knowing - and of our highest spiritual aspirations. Yet regardless of all these aspects of his constitution, man is always a unity - one Being.
Although that which is behind the universal process is continuous, everlasting and unchanging, in the process itself every thing in existence at any time is transient.
Nothing whatsoever in the whole Cosmos, neither worlds nor men nor the tiniest conceivable things, no event, no time period, no process lasts forever. Everything is subject to change. Everything comes and goes. Although the universal process is continuous, everlasting and unchanging, every thing in existence at any time within the process, whether it exists for a fraction of a second or millennia, is temporary.
The manifest universe is One Being which, however, is always progressively changing. There is no such thing as dead matter. Life is inherent in all things, from the smallest atom to the largest heavenly body. The human body is composed of a vast number of atoms, molecules and cells, all lives collectively sustaining a single life, in man a unit of consciousness. The nature of forms, and their behaviour, is determined by directly related past causes. The combined behaviour of all things in Nature constitutes a total process, the way Nature works: it is the Universal Law, known as Karma.
The after-death processes are in accordance with this Law which has a number of aspects: one is alternation or cycles, another is cause and effect. Death and rebirth alternate as part of the cyclic process. What happens to each of us is determined by what we do in life. The Law also conditions our next and subsequent lives. It determines the type of physical body, family environment, opportunities and hardships, we will all have in life. While we are alive we are continually modifying aspects of our inherent nature. At death the essence of those aspects — known as skandhas remains in the inner worlds to determine our next life character.
These skandhas become effective on the birth of the new body into the physical world where all the causes of Karma are generated. So the new personality cannot escape the consequences of sins, voluntary and involuntary, of the old one. Even though the new personality cannot usually remember the deeds or misdeeds of the old one, the memory of all our lives does return to the Ego at major intervals in its long spiritual journey to perfection and freedom.
Perhaps the best description of Karma is in Madame Blavatsky's The Key to Theosophy:
Karma means action. The whole universe demonstrates an inherently regulated process in action. The Law keeps the Universe in equilibrium; without it planets would fly off their courses and chaos would reign. Karma represents an entry book into which all the thoughts and deeds of mankind individually and collectively, good, bad or indifferent, are recorded, as debit or credit. Not only do individuals get their deserts, but so do families, groups and nations; even humanity as a whole.
The past wholly conditions the present but within that constraint man has freedom of choice, He can decide in most circumstances what he will do. Having done it, however, he must take the consequences.
Our human living and dying and inter-life states must be seen against the background of the whole universal process, of which indeed they form an integral part. The Law as it applies to the universe, applies to man. The alternating cycles of rest and activity are models for what happens to each of us in life and in death.
AT THE MOMENT OF DEATH
At the moment of death, the life force withdraws from the body, which then ceases to act as a co-ordinated whole. The individual cells of the body, however, do not die immediately but the supply of blood to them ceases. They therefore no longer receive essential nutrients, nor are their waste products washed away. The processes of putrefaction set in and the body slowly decomposes. It disintegrates, together with the astral body, or double as it is sometimes called, and the life force is freed and returns to the 'ocean' of life energy from which it came.
Up to the moment of death the body housed a tenant, a unit of conscious life, but immediately after the withdrawal of the life force, the tenant leaves forever and unconsciousness closes in. However, without knowledge of the continuity of life after life, too often man has shown resentment against what should be gentle and fearless subsiding into death.
What actually occurs at death has been explained by one of the Masters of the Wisdom in some detail:
The Masters' teaching is that we recall every detail of our life at the moment of death when the dying brain dislodges all its memories. This is an involuntary process. After death all action of the brain ceases. It dies and then follows the death of its counterpart in the astral body. The deceased now has no more direct contact with the physical world, and all the visions and feelings of the pre-death state cease.
The fact of the review of the life just past is confirmed by those who have been resuscitated from drowning, from severe wounds or from being close to death for any other reason. Another common factor in most near-death experiences, is the meeting of an obstacle, or the passage through a tunnel towards a light, with the impression that if the obstacle were surmounted or the light were reached there would be no return: death proper would have taken place. Those near death reported that they enjoyed a sense of great peace and happiness. Often they did not want to return to earth life. Some, however, felt they had to return for the sake of their family or other duty or obligation. Many of them were radically changed by the experience. They had seen a purpose in life, and stressed that love was essential in all relationships.
When old people are near death they often report being in beautiful surroundings, such as a garden, where they see loved ones apparently waiting to greet them at their passing. This can also be the case in the near death experience.
SEPARATING CREAM FROM MILK
After the death of the physical body there are several distinct phases in the post-mortem process. The early stage involves a sorting out of results of our passions and mental experiences. The higher spiritual ones are assimilated into the immortal Soul (Ego) while the lower leave behind as a residue the personal psychic tendencies and predispositions, the skandhas, which determine the character of the new being and the conditions of the next life. In this way, the new being is 'rewarded' and 'punished' for the meritorious acts and misdeeds of the previous life. This is Karma.
Immediately after death consciousness ceases; the natural post mortem processes then start. These involve the inner principles, the middle duad and the upper triad. As we have seen, the physical and astral bodies disintegrate and the life principle flows away. The passional and lower mental principles of the personal man are left intact and still conjoined to the Ego (the Individuality). A process of separation of the lower personal from the higher spiritual content of the past life then takes place. This is known as the 'death struggle' in esoteric literature.
Most people are largely self-centred, subject to a mixture of urges, ambitions, loves, hates, indulgences, all with their strengths and weaknesses. Some possess the higher qualities of unselfishness or altruism. Whatever we give expression to during our lives is recorded as part of the activities of that life. All our life's experiences are subject to the after-death sorting process which separates the purely spiritual from the selfish or non-spiritual elements. It is like separating spiritual ‘cream' from the milk of ordinary personal experience. The baser, non-spiritual aspects, are always only milk: The Ego can assimilate only the 'cream'. When the separation is finished the personal psychic vehicles the middle duad, are left behind while the Egoic triad - the truly spiritual man, - together with the 'cream' proceeds to the next phase.
In time, normally after a few years, the personal lower elements, the middle duad, also disintegrate, leaving their skandhas behind. This residue then goes dormant - into cold store so to speak - until it is revived at the onset of the next incarnation to condition the 'soul' of the new person to be, the Ego's next life on earth.
Anticipating the rest of our account the table overleaf shows each stage of the after-death period, from death to rebirth. Each stage is briefly described. The table can usefully be referred to during the study of each chapter. It puts their contents into the setting of the complete after-death journey. It is important to notice that no personality - except in exceedingly rare special cases - ever reincarnates. Each incarnation is distinct from those before it and those after it but it is conditioned by the previous one. Each life is as a causative link in a long chain, the Egoic chain, of many, many lives.
THE PLACE OF PASSION AND DESIRE (THE KAMA-LOCA)
Kama-Loca is the Hades of the ancient Greeks, the Amenti of the Egyptians: it is the post mortem region where the astral bodies or 'shells' (the middle duad) remain until they fade away after the exhaustion of the emotional-cum-mental impulses that created them. These 'shells' are psychic corpses with a lingering, but fading residual life. While this life lasts they can be effective through a medium in a séance room. The 'shells' form only after the death of the physical body.
When the 'death struggle' is over these separated kamic elements, or 'milk’, constitute the temporarily surviving elements of the personal soul. They retain the late personality's memories and idiosyncracies. It is the nature and quality of the earthly desires of the person while alive that determine its experiences and the duration of its stay, (normally unconscious,) in Kama-Loca, but see later for exceptions to the rule.
The Master describes the death struggle as follows:
A period of 'gestation' follows the 'death struggle' when the spiritual content (the cream) of the previous life's experiences are assimilated by the Ego before its emergence into Devachan, the next after-death stage.
Shells are known technically as Kama-Rupas (rupa - form). Sometimes they are known as Elementaries (as distinct from Elementals), the psychic remains of the deceased after the spiritual Ego has separated from them and withdrawn.
THE STATE OF BLISS (DEVACHAN)
Devachan means 'the place of the gods'. It is the blissful state that the Ego enjoys after the death struggle and gestation. This state is similar to the Hindu's Svarga, the Moslem's Paradise or the Christian's Heaven, but is not an actual equivalent of them.
The common concept of heaven is the dwelling place of God, inhabited by angels and good spirits. It is often thought of as the home, the state of being in the afterlife, of the saved, the chosen ones, the blessed, after some form of a last judgment. Heaven also describes the celestial spheres in contrast to either life on earth or to the underworld, the place of the damned.
Devachan is a subjective state wholly conditioned by the spiritual content of the immediate past life on Earth. It is also a 'personalized' state. Without some element of the late person's mind, the Ego would have no sense of identity. The personalized Ego is rewarded in Devachan for its unselfishness on Earth. It is a state of intense 'self-ness', with no pain, no sadness to darken its light and happiness.
The Masters tell us that we create our own Devachan, mostly during the last days, or even moments, of our intellectual, sentient lives. For each of us it is like a perfect dream, but one that is for us reality in which we create for ourselves all we wish to see and do and have with us all those we have loved. We cannot, however, actually see or contact our loved ones on Earth. With the death of our physical body and the disintegration of our astral we have no means of doing so. We are not aware of anything they may be suffering as a result of our death, nor of anything affecting their circumstances there.
In the devachanic states there are as many varieties of bliss as on Earth: as many shades, forms, colour and sound, and also as many levels of ability to perceive and appreciate them.
As in physical earth life there is for the Ego in Devachan a life-cycle, beginning with a 'birth' and emergence into Devachan, with a slow return of consciousness together with a momentary but intense and detailed remembrance of the past life. This is followed by maturity, full awareness, and then a slow decline, not into death but rebirth as a baby into a new earth life.
RESURRECTION OR REBIRTH
We come into our new life with all the main elements of our character already formed according to the perfectly just law of Karma. We really are what we have made ourselves - and inevitably we will become what we are now making of ourselves.
The sudden onset of unconsciousness at death normally persists through Kama-Loca until our awakening in Devachan with its blissful and vividly real 'dreams'. Then after a due period, determined by the spiritual stamina of the Ego, there is a relapse into unconsciousness: but it is said that just prior to our rebirth we have a pre-vision of the main current of our new life to come. We eventually wake again as an infant into whatever that new life has in store for us.
The processes of rebirth are the same as those after death but in reverse order. The Ego initiates the rebirth process by revivifying the middle principles of the new personality-to-be together with its conditioning skandhas. A new model-body (the astral) is then formed also similarly conditioned. This is quickened by life force (prana) and the whole complex guided to a mother-to-be who has karmic links with the incipient child. The normal processes of physical nature then take their course.
ACCIDENTS AND SUICIDES
The account of the after-death states just given applies to a normal case of a person dying, in due course, of natural causes. There are exceptions: those who die prematurely, before their karma-allotted time. They have therefore to live out in Kama-Loca what should have been their natural life-span. These exceptions include 'accidents'; which cover sudden death from such causes as earthquakes, cyclones and floods, as well as from wars, riots, vehicle crashes and so on. It is while they are in Kama-Loca, but before severance from their Egos, that they can communicate with relatives and friends left behind, through spiritualistic mediums.
Victims, whether good or bad, are not responsible for their deaths; even if the death was a retribution for actions in previous lives; it was not the direct result of an act deliberately committed. However, the average victim of an accident has after-death experiences different from those who die normally. The Masters give us this picture of their post mortem journey:
This gloomy picture of accidental death only applies to the very 'sinful and sensual'; the fate of the average victim is kinder. The good and innocent subject of an accident either slumbers surrounded by happy dreams or sleeps a profound sleep. There may be, however, some conscious realization that had the victims lived their life through to a natural end, they might have resolved some of the outstanding Karma and perhaps learned some control over the vices and passions of their lower nature. A shortened life means that the anticipated cycle of experience, learning and assimilation has not been completed, and this affects the post mortem states.
Suicides also have to remain in Kama-Loca up to the allotted time when they should have died. Their fate, however, can be much worse than the victims of accident. As they are themselves responsible for shortening their own life, they have interfered knowingly with the natural process of living and dying. Motive is everything ... so the suicides' fate is very different from that of accident victims.
The Masters describe their experience as follows:
Those who try to escape their difficulties in life by killing themselves are only postponing issues, not resolving them. The Law will invariably provide another set of circumstances which their new personality will have to confront, maybe in even more difficult conditions. The workings of Karma are inevitable and inexorable.
Another major group of premature deaths is that of children dying young. As they have lived so short a time, their life experience may not justify a prolonged stay either in Kama-Loca or Devachan. Sometimes, though rarely, so little has been the experience that after death the psyche (or Kama-Manas) of the child is never separated from the immortal Ego. The child then returns with all its principles intact. These are the rare cases of real personal reincarnation. Early deaths in childhood often result in a vivid memory in the next life of the past life, complete with many details (see cases investigated by Professor Stevenson).
The Masters have much to say about the dire consequences of mediums contacting victims of accident or suicides:
LIFE'S PROGRESSIVE MARCH,
Written by Ian Wilson
Edited by Geoffrey Farthing & Dee Shipman
From the book 'When We Die' by Geoffrey Farthing
First Published The Blavatsky Trust 1996. Web version 2017.