There are innumerable accounts of what happens to us when we die. In Western literature, many of these originate from Spiritualistic sources, from those, it is said, who are already "there". This gives the stories great validity for those who believe that the actual "spirits" of the dead manifest at séances, either through a medium in a trance or by speaking through a clairaudient sensitive. The sensitive, if he or she is clairvoyant, may also see the "spirits," as seems to be the case at the more ordinary kind of spiritualist meeting where persons in the audience receive messages from departed ones, whether members of the family or otherwise. These messages are not, in themselves, of any consequence to anyone except those receiving them, but the phenomenon is significant. Accounts of what happens when we die, received in this fashion, are, as we have already said, inconsistent with many discrepancies in matters of fact.
The account given here stems from men - living men, not disincarnate ones - who claim to know what they are talking about through having been made to experience the post-mortem states during their initiation into the deeper aspects of the Esoteric Science. It is further claimed that there is not, nor has there been for thousands of years, any discrepancy between the descriptions given us by those who have had this experience.
A quite detailed account of the processes and subjective states after death according to these initiates is given in some of the letters of two such initiates to A. P. Sinnett, received between 1881 and 1884.
Briefly, the process for the normal case, exceptions to which are dealt with later, is that the life or vitality of the dying person ebbs out of the physical body. While this is happening the astral body is separating from, but remains for a time attached to, the physical body through "the silver cord," so often referred to in spiritualistic and psychic literature.
This cord is the connecting link, of fine atherical substance between the physical and the inner principles. At death this cord breaks, and when this has occurred the inner and irreversible processes of death begin. Nothing then can call the person back to life.
When this severance has taken place, the astral double, together with the physical body, begins to disintegrate but, it is said, it stays in the vicinity of the body. Sometimes, so the stories go, this phantom is seen in favourable atmospheric conditions over a new grave. The vital principle leaves the disintegrating double and returns to the general pool of life force (Prana).
Life, as the higher spiritual principles (five, six, and seven), is now centred in the mind-cum-emotional vehicle (the fourth principle), the psyche, of the deceased person. Then begins a process of "gestation" or assimilation of the significant experience of the last personality by the upper levels of the fifth principle, the higher mind, of the persisting individuality, as defined previously in Chapter 6. This individuality or Ego, however, is a purely spiritual entity of the highest order, and only the really spiritual essence of the previous life experience is of interest to it and can be assimilated by it.
During the earlier part of the period between lives on earth this assimilation takes the form of the transformation of the elements of experience into faculty, i.e. the ability to do things; and this will in turn be reflected in the capabilities of the next personality. This gestation process, we are told, takes a long time, sometimes centuries. When it is completed the ex-personality is said to pass through a second death. The Ego then awakens slowly to consciousness from a slumbering or torpid state which it usually falls into at death. On awakening, it enters a long period, again some centuries, so we are told, of unalloyed happiness. This is a period of recuperation and recompense for unmerited suffering and for the fulfillment of all the worthy hopes and ambitions of the late personality, in a blissful subjective state. The objective realizations of these things can be achieved only in the next physical life.
This blissful state, called in the literature Devachan, comes slowly to an end. When it is completely over, the Ego puts a ray, or spark, of itself down into the psychic realms where, at the various levels, the appropriate substances for a set of mental and emotional vehicles, are re-collected to form the psyche of a new person to be.
This psyche, however, will be conditioned entirely by the nature and doings of the previous one: even its previous constituent materials are gathered together again, so it is said.
When the psyche is thus reconstituted the astral double is formed and quickened and then awaits attachment to the embryo of a new physical vehicle. This in turn takes on the form and certain characteristics of the already existing new astral body, which acts as a pattern for it. The primary physical characteristics will be derived from the genetic factors contributed by the new parents, one or both of whom in their turn will usually have some previous karmic connections with the person to be.
The total period between lives is normally long, up to some centuries. Lengths assigned to this period may range from immediate reincarnation to thousands of years, varying in individual cases according to a number of factors. As an indicator, however, 1,000 to 1,500 years seems to be the average for a person dying a normal death after a reasonably full life.
So much for the after-death processes as they affect the principles of man. What is happening during this time in the consciousness of the deceased? We are told that before the severance of the silver cord there is a full review of the life just lived. This is a solemn and important undertaking, lasting for an hour or two after death has apparently taken place, which should not be interrupted by noise and the business of laying out the body and so on. The deceased is noticing and assessing the highlights of his past life. These strike chords of memory and thought and are seen in this review in a very objective manner, in their proper relative importance. It is said that the main cast of thought so engendered in these moments largely determines the nature of the future life.
When this review is finished, in the normal case, the subject falls into unconsciousness. The Ego, the fount of individual consciousness, is normally fully conscious all the time on its own plane. In the dying process, however, it seems to have a strong connection with the ex-personality, in which personal consciousness was centred in the brain. This is now no longer functioning, but the Ego is not yet released from its trammels.
In the exceptional cases previously referred to, mostly of premature death by accident, suicide, and so on, we are told that personal consciousness can be retained to such an extent that sometimes the person does not know he is dead. In other cases he may enter a dreamlike or even deep sleep state. In instances of accident
or suicide the person who is complete except for a physical body can communicate, through a medium, with people on earth.
In the case of the premature death of a person of strong physical appetites or other worldly connections, there can be distress because the personal man is still conscious but is no longer able to satisfy his desires. He is in rather the same position as an avid smoker who has run out of cigarettes or tobacco when the shops are closed, and this can be torture! Apart from this kind of suffering there is no punishment, as such, after death. The karmic consequences of our wrong doing are visited on us in this world where our misdeeds are committed, not in the inner worlds. These inner worlds are worlds of effects only. We cannot create new debts and obligations, nor sin against our fellows there: nor in the ordinary way can we perform any positive good in spite of some strongly held beliefs to the contrary.
Reverting to the normal situation, the onset of unconsciousness starts the process of transferring to the Ego the refined spiritual results, if any, of our past life. We are told that very seldom does it happen that a man has no spiritual credit balance to insure, and condition, a stay in the blissful state of Devachan. That state, then, is enjoyed by most of us. A complete materialist who strongly and continuously denies any life after death can, however, inhibit any conscious enjoyment of Devachan. It is interesting to note that there is a close correspondence between this Devachanic 'dream' state and our nightly one of dreaming in the ordinary way. It has now been discovered that if our dreaming, as indicated to an observer by rapid eye movement, is interrupted as soon as we enter it, and this is kept up so as to prevent our having normal dreaming periods for a few nights, we become nervous and irritable. In other words, dreaming is a necessary recuperative activity essential to our proper rest whether at night or during the after death state. The Devachanic experience, whether we are aware of it or not, is an essential element in the long sleep of death. Before we eventually enter Devachan which we do slowly as consciousness returns, we again review our previous life's experiences. When this review is complete we experience the second death, previously referred to. We are parting with our ex-personality forever. The Ego is now separated from its old psyche, the fourth and lower parts of the fifth principles.
At the departure of the Ego, these discarded psychic principles become an empty shell, a husk, the reliquiae, as said of our mortal soul, known as an elementary. This shell, or elementary, does retain for a period a dim consciousness of its own, and it can prolong it’s existence if it can draw life energy from a medium, or through the medium from a group of sitters. For this to happen the medium may not be known as such and may evince no abnormal tendencies. He or she may be just a mediumistic type of person from whom the elementary can get vitality. In extreme cases a strong elementary can vampirize the living, not of their physical blood but of their vital life energy, sometimes leaving them as deficient as if they had severe anaemia. Such instances have been known, but fortunately for all of us, they are - now at any rate - very rare.
To return to our "heaven" state, it has been mentioned that there all our finer hopes and aspirations are fulfilled. We also apparently find ourselves in just the surroundings and with those friends, relatives, and loved ones with whom we would most wish to be.
This is a subjective state of complete contentment with nothing whatever to mar it. We have no knowledge of anything or anyone we left behind, nor their circumstances. We have no means of communication with the physical world. Such means as we once had, have disintegrated in the processes of death. It is important to note, however, that there can be communication between Egos at their own level of being, and a person still living in the physical world whose Ego, during sleep, enjoyed such communication with another Ego with whom bonds of love had been established, would be aware of having communicated. Such a feeling might be brought through in a dream or as a mere feeling, vague or strong, during waking hours. It seems that it is possible to acquire and train this faculty of Egoic communication. (See Letter 4, Some Unpublished Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, pp. 136/137.)
Our purpose here is not fully to describe the after death processes and states but to set the stage with sufficient information to enable us to appreciate later explanations of various kinds of relevant psychic phenomena. In these explanations, much misunderstanding may be avoided if it is kept clearly in mind that Mme. Blavatsky uses the word "spirit" to apply only to the Ego, or the three-fold divine human Self.
All the instruments through which that Self operates (however dimly in most cases) she regards as living mechanisms variously motivated, imperfect, severely limited, and completely irresponsible in themselves. They are in fact mere temporary illusions with which the personal man, in his ordinary consciousness, wholly identifies himself during his lifetime.
Regarding further the mortal soul of man, his Kama-rupa, there is, as we have seen, a bridge or link, (technically known as Antahkarana), between this and the Ego, the Individuality. About this bridge we are told the following:
At death it (the Antahkarana) is destroyed as a path, or medium of communication, and its remains survive as Kama Rupa, the "shell." It is this which the Spiritualists see sometimes appearing in the séance rooms as materialised "forms" which they foolishly mistake for the "Spirits of the Departed." So far is this from being the case that in dreams, though Antahkarana is there, the personality is only half awake; therefore Antahkarana is said to be drunk or insane during our normal sleeping state. If such is the case during the periodical death, or sleep, of the living body, one may judge what the consciousness of the Antahkarana is like when it has been transformed after the 'eternal sleep" into Kama Rupa.
(S.D..III, p. 521-22.)
Many of us have been brought up with ideas of reward and punishment for our good and evil actions. These reflect into conventional religious teachings about heaven and hell after death. Heaven is for the good; hell for the bad. Sin, we are told, divorces us from God, our means of Salvation, who lives in heaven, where everlastingly we can enjoy his company and that of the blessed if we do not sin or, according to some, if we repent of our sins before we die. We have more to say on this subject later but the following may prepare us for quite a new way of thinking about these things.
An enquirer asks:
But if my Ego can, after the destruction of my body, become plunged in a state of entire unconsciousness, then where can be the punishment for the sins of my past life?
The answer was:
Our philosophy teaches that karmic punishment reaches the Ego only in its next incarnation.
After death it receives only the reward for the unmerited sufferings endured during its past incarnations. The whole punishment after death, even for the materialist, consists therefore, in the absence of any reward, of the utter loss of the consciousness of one's bliss and rest. Karma is the child of the terrestrial ego, the fruit of the actions of the tree which is the objective personality visible to all, as much as the fruit of all the thoughts and even motives of the spiritual "I"; but Karma is also the tender mother, who heals the wounds inflicted by her during the preceding life, before she will begin to torture this Ego by inflicting upon him new ones. If it may be said that there is not a mental or physical suffering in the life of a mortal which is not the direct fruit and consequence of some sin in a preceding existence; on the other hand, since he does not preserve the slightest recollection of it in his actual life, and feels himself not deserving of such punishment, and therefore thinks he suffers for no guilt of his own, this alone is sufficient to entitle the human soul to the fullest consolation, rest, and bliss in his post mortem existence. Death comes to our spiritual selves even as a deliverer and friend. For the materialist who, notwithstanding his materialism, was not a bad man, the interval between two lives will be like the unbroken and placid sleep of a child, either entirely dreamless or filled with pictures of which he will have no definite perception; while for the average mortal it will be a dream as vivid as life, and full of realistic bliss and visions.
Question: Then the personal man must always go on suffering blindly the Karmic penalties which the Ego has incurred?
Answer: Not quite so. At the solemn moment of death every man, even when death is sudden, sees the whole of his past life marshaled before him, in its minutest details. For one short instant the personal becomes one with the individual and all-knowing Ego. But this instant is enough to show him the whole chain of causes which have been at work during his life. He sees and now understands himself as he is, unadorned by flattery or self-deception. He reads his life, remaining as a spectator looking down into the arena he is quitting;
he feels and knows the justice of all the suffering that has overtaken him.
Question: Does this happen to everyone?
Answer: Without any exception. Very good and holy men see. we are taught. not only the life they are leaving. but even several preceding lives in which were produced the causes that made them what they were in the life just closing. They recognise the law of Karma in all its majesty and justice.
Question: Is there anything corresponding to this before rebirth?
Answer: There is. As the man at the moment of death has a retrospective insight into the life he has led. so, at the moment he is reborn on to earth. the Ego. awaking from the state of Devachan. has a prospective vision of the life which awaits him and realises all the causes that have led to it. He realises them. and sees futurity, because it is between Devachan and rebirth that the Ego regains his full manasic consciousness and rebecomes for a short time the god he was. before. in compliance with the Karmic law. he first descended into matter and incarnated in the first man of flesh. The "golden thread sees all its "pearl s and misses not one of them.
(Key. 3rd Ed., pp. 109/10).
As mentioned in the Preface. there is. must be. much repetition in dealing with any subject from the point of view of Occultism. In this chapter we are primarily dealing with death and after. but many important side issues must be noticed before the story can have even a reasonable completeness. so that what is given can form the data for prolonged and deep thought; this is the only way to extract real meaning out of it. Incidentally. it could be said that anyone who knows enough and thinks enough must inevitably become a Theosophist or real Occultist.
Here are some illuminating supporting passages. They take the form of comments on points raised in a letter from H.R.H. (a Prince of Siam) to the Editor of Lucifer (H.P.B.). The quotations from his letter are in square brackets. They are all in the context of our theme and contain much teaching. some of it corroborating what has already been said.
[This Akasa (or Universe) although it is self-existing, absolute, infinite ... is yet subject to the immutable law of change.]
A contradiction. A thing cannot be absolute and still subject to change. What H.R.H. means to say, we suppose, is that space or the abstract universe (Akasa) is infinite and immutable; but that this universe is subject to changes in its periodical manifestations.
[if the solar system ... were to be destroyed ... the matter which constitutes their bodies will ... be turned into elements ... other systems of heavenly bodies ... will naturally ... form out of the molecules of matter and dormant forces a new system to supply the vacancy.] .
This is certainly not orthodox exoteric Buddhism. But it comes very near to our esoteric philosophy or "Budhism" (Wisdom religion) taught by our Lord secretly to his Arhats. (Remember this is being written primarily to and for a Buddhist. Author. )
[by virtue of the living species, new beings are made up by the attractions of their affinities from the remains of those which have died long before.]
This is precisely the doctrine taught (see The Secret Doctrine, VoI. II) with regard to the animal world, of which all the bodies of mammals have been formed out of the cast off atoms of various mankinds which preceded ours. Animals were "created" later than Adam and brought to him to be named (vide, Chap. ii, Genesis.) In the Puranas, it is the various Rishis who are the reputed parents of divers animals and even of birds and amphibious monsters.
[What I call a soul is nothing but the active force or attraction in man which, when he dies, must die with him.]
This is too materialistic - we fear. The "Soul" is certainly not immortal, but the ETERNAL KARMIC EGO, that
which reincarnates, is. This is esoteric philosophy, of course, not orthodox Buddhism.
[If there exists an objective Nirvana ... ]
No "objective Nirvana" can exist in Nature. Nirvana is a state, not a mode of visible objectiveness, nor a locality. Nirvana, as Nagasena said to the king, IS - but does not exist.
[I am unable to believe that an immortal soul exists.] H.R.H. is evidently unacquainted with esoteric philosophy. The latter believes neither in a God who fabricates souls out of nothing, nor that there is such a thing as any place "outside" the Universe, since the Universe is infinite and limitless. But we must also demur to the idea that SPACE can ever be "used up," whether during Manvantara (or life cycle) or during pralaya. the period of absolute Rest, when SPACE remains the same, i.e., eternal, immutable, as it ever was and as it will ever be, since abstract SPACE is but another name for the absolute ALL.
[let us strive to cultivate a universal love, which will undoubtedly tend to good actions, the only tools with which we can paint our perfect likeness at death.]
KARMA, TANHA AND SKANDHAS, are the almighty trinity in one, and the cause of our rebirth. The illustration of painting our own present likeness at death, and that likeness becoming the future personality is very poetical and graphic, but we claim it as an occult teaching. What H.R.H. means to infer, as we understand it, is this. At the solemn moment of death no man can fail to see himself under his true colours, and no self-deception is of any use to him any longer. Thence the following thing happens. As at the instant of drowning man sees marshaled past his mind's eye the whole of his life, with all its events, effects and causes, to the minutest details, so at the moment of death, he sees himself in all his moral nakedness, unadorned by either human flattery or self- adulation, and, as he is; hence, as he. or rather, as his astral double combined with his Kama principle - shall be.
For the vices, defects and especially the passions of the preceding life become, through certain laws of affinity and transference, the germs of the future potentialities in the animal soul (Kama-rupa). hence of its dependent, the astral double (linga sarira)-at a subsequent birth. It is the personality alone which changes; the real reincarnating principle, the Ego, remains always the same; and it is its KARMA that guides the idiosyncrasies ,nd prominent moral traits of the old "personality" that was (and that the Ego knew not how to control), to reappear in the new man that will be. These traits and passions pursue and fasten on the yet plastic third and fourth principles of the child, and-unless the Ego struggles and conquers-they will develop with tenfold intensity and lead the adult man to his destruction. For it is they who are the tools and weapons of the Karmic LAW of RETRIBUTION. Thus, the Prince says very truly that our good and bad actions "are the only tools with which we paint our likenesses at death, for the new man is invariably the son and progeny of the old man that was. (C. W.X,174-6.)
As we have seen the skandhas are the karmic residue, in terms of 'predispositions and tendencies', of a lifetime's activity. They are what we have built into our personal character. They are transmitted from one personality to the next as something similar to our inherited physical characteristics but where the last personality is the sole parent. They represent a conditioning of the 'life atoms' comprising our inner vehicles. In the interlife period these atoms go dormant and remain so until they are quickened by the vivifying Egoic ray during the preparatory processes at the start of a new life. The life atoms reassemble the substances at appropriate levels for the reconstitution of the new psyche. A new mortal soul, made in the image of its maker, the old personality, is born so to speak into its own world and awaits a new mother to give it birth on earth in a new physical body.
On this subject there is the following passage in The Secret Doctrine. (II, p. 671): "The latter (Occultism) teaches that (a) the life atoms of our (Prana) life principle are never entirely lost when a man dies.
That the atoms best impregnated with the life-principle (an independent, eternal, conscious factor) are partially transmitted from father to son by heredity, and are partially drawn once more together and become the animating principle of the new body in every new incarnation of the Monads. Because (b), as the individual Soul is ever the same, so are the atoms of the lower principles (body, its astral, or life double, etc.), drawn as they are by affinity and Karmic law always to the same individuality in a series of various bodies, etc. , etc. "
Here we hope we have shown that death is not a simple, single isolated incident but a long drawn out, complex process, and that no thing or state in nature, inner or outer, is eternal or everlasting, not even death.
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