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'Theosophy - What's it all about?' - Chapter 5, Life After Death
by Geoffrey Farthing
'A brief summary of a wonderfully exciting and vitally important subject.'
We all have to die sometime. We must all speculate on what is going to happen to us in the 'hereafter'.
From what has been written so far, it will have been gathered that there is in fact no question of there not being life after death of the physical body. There is no possibility of there not being! What is now of concern to us is what manner of life it is and what it may be like for us.
An important fact to notice about our waking life, and sometimes our dreaming life, is that during it we are continually receiving impressions. If any scene, event, action, spoken or written word, noise, does not impress us, that is register in consciousness, then, for us, it does not exist or did not happen and so forms no part of our lives, although certain subliminal impressions may affect our behaviour.
Another fact is that there are two distinct sorts of impression. There are those which come to us from outside via our senses and there are those that arise inside us as feelings or mental pictures such as occur during dreams.
These impressions may provoke us to action. In waking life such actions usually affect environment and other people can see what we do or at least the results of it. These actions may be reflexive or instinctive, like blinking our eyes if some sudden danger threatens them, or they may be voluntary and under our control.
In dreams action is usually inconsequential and irrational. It is neither instinctive nor voluntary, but we seem to be motivated in some way by vague fears or desires and what we do in our dream is not observable by anyone else. Dream experiences are subjective and our actions not normally under our control. We are mostly irrational in them. For us to affect the course of our dreams intentionally we have, as it were, to wake up in them and realize we are
dreaming. Then sometimes we can decide to do something and in our dream to do it, without waking up.
These various shades of awareness and volition are important when considering our after-death states.
There are many descriptions of the next world and the post-mortem states. Every religion has its beliefs and the spiritualists have provided us with many accounts. There is much in ancient literature on the subject too. The account which follows, in that it takes notice of much popular lore and in that it includes and reconciles all the more factual 'evidence', seems to deserve our acceptance above all others.
Regarded objectively, the processes of dying, as opposed to being killed, are as follows: with the malfunctioning of a vital organ or even at the will of the ensouling entity, the process of death is started. Life begins to withdraw from the body, starting at the extremities. It withdraws slowly into the head until eventually, so the seers tell us, the soul leaves the physical body. The soul is the astral double together with, at this stage, all the other vehicles or principles of the man. The astral double as previously described, can under suitable circumstances be seen soon after death as the ghost of the departed. This ghost, normally closely associated with the physical body in ordinary circumstances, can only be seen by the clairvoyant. In a sleeping person it can become detached from the physical body but it is always attached to it by a 'silver cord' of ethereal substance. In death, after the separation of the bodies, the silver cord breaks. When this has occurred there is no possibility of the soul re-entering the body. The freed astral double soon disintegrates. The vital principle leaves it and dissipates.
Soon after this a 'death struggle' takes place between the personality vehicles and those constituting the individuality. If there is enough really spiritual content in the life just lived, the individuality wins and the processes of postmortem state continue. Only in rare cases is the balance tipped the other way and the life just lived is then as if it had never been. It is a page missing from the great 'Book of Life' of that Ego. Then after a long period in a dormant
state within the mento-emotional vehicles, the life withdraws from them, leaving a psychic corpse behind. When this withdrawal is complete a so-called second death occurs and the individual is free from the last of what it once felt to be its personality. The individuality now has as its vehicle of being only its higher triplicity, that is, its higher thought principle, its intuitional vehicle and its purely spiritual principle. During the disintegration period of its earthly personality vehicles, the spiritual content or residue of the life just closed is 'distilled' from them and assimilated by the higher mind principle, the spiritual Ego. It is this 'distillation' accumulated from many past lives that gives the Ego its particular individual qualities.
After a period of existence as a purely Egoic entity, and this is usually, by earth time, said to be a very long time, up to hundreds of years, a wonderful process of quickening takes place. The Ego gathers magnetically around itself mento-emotional materials to form new vehicles on those planes, and when ready waits for the right kind of physical body to suit its needs and, so far as possible, to fulfil its future destiny. The embryo body to which it attaches itself is eventually born. The soul principles then takes possession of the new body and as an infant with its dawning consciousness, the Ego sees the light of another ordinary earth life. As a new person it proceeds to go through all the stages of growing up, manifesting its inherited bodily characteristics, but with a lot of its own inherent qualities gradually showing forth in the unfolding personality.
This is a very shortened and simplified version of the life story of a human being after death and it does not tell us much of what we as individuals experience during the process, but the next part of this story does. It tells what the experience of an ordinary man is at death and after, that is of one who dies naturally, of old age in his bed after an ordinary life. There are variations on this theme, depending on the development of the individual and on the circumstances of his past life and of his death, but they constitute exceptions to the rule.
In the later stages of the withdrawal of life from the body, when death has apparently occurred, memory
dislodges from the physical brain and the events of the past life are reviewed and evaluated. This requires concentration and quietness in the death chamber is very desirable. As soon as this review is finished, the silver cord breaks and unconsciousness intervenes. The person's perceptive faculties now cease for ever. The Ego now enters a 'gestation' period, unconscious, while the process of 'distillation', mentioned above, of the spiritual content of the life just finished, proceeds. At the onset of this process the 'deathstruggle' takes place. If there was no spiritual content to be assimilated into the spiritual soul of the man, the life just lived is void and all trace of it is lost. But this is not the normal case. After the period of gestation during which the spiritual aroma of the life is conveyed to or absorbed by the higher mind principle of the individuality, there is another review of the past life, and a so-called second death. Consciousness then slowly returns and the Ego finds himself in just those surroundings in which he had thought he would be after death or where he would most like to be. They are so just because he makes them so. The man is in a subjective, purely spiritual state, a very vivid dream condition, but he does not know he is dreaming. It is the perfect dream, without any disturbing thoughts or any knowledge of what is happening to his family, business or possessions on earth to mar it. In other words, he is receiving no impressions from outside himself. All the things he loved to do or would have loved to do are there and he can do them. All the people he knew and loved, friends and family are there too. All the places, real or imaginary , where he longed to be are there for him to visit and enjoy. This is the great healing experience, the recompense in full measure for the injustices of the world, the soothing restorative, the great, great sleep of nature knitting up "the ravell'd sleeve of care".
His time in this state of bliss is long but, as with all things, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has as it were its seasons of spring, of summer and autumn and finally of winter. The man then has had his fill of this heavenly world. The desire for the hard experience of concrete physical existence begins to stir in his being and
eventually he 'dies' to his heavenly world, subsides into unconsciousness again and waits his turn to be born again on earth.
It is important to notice that in this normal case there is no question of any punishment after death. Karmic redress takes place on the plane of being where it is incurred. In his heaven state our man did not know he was dreaming. His activity was all subjective. He would therefore not be able to do anything that would affect his surroundings objectively. If he had been able to know he was dreaming he might have been able to exercise his own volition and alter intentionally the course of the dream. In other words, he might have become self-consciously active on that plane of existence.
We said that a man's experience after death depended on his development, a development attainable only during earth life, that is, in the world of causes. The next world, for the great majority of us, is a world of effects only, a subjective mental state. By this development we mean that it is possible for a man to develop his astral 'senses'. It is possible for him to develop his powers and to retain consciousness on the inner planes. If he can do this he becomes a living free-acting entity on those planes, a causative agent on them. This is relatively an advanced stage depending on the level on which one can be active.
If such a stage of development has not been reached then, when the Egoic life has withdrawn from the mento-emotional vehicles, only a residual elemental life persists in them for a time and they have only a dim shadow consciousness of their own. They become, as said, previously, psychic corpses, kama-manasic 'shells', but in them for a time resides the habitual motivating characteristics and mind memories of the departed. It is these shells which, when enlivened by the 'life' energy of a medium, use the medium's physical vehicle to speak or act through and so evince the mannerisms, knowledge, tricks of speech and so on, of the departed. But the departed is not there, he is either unconscious or in his dream heaven world. Usually this contact in normal cases can occur only when the Ego has left the shell and awakened to his blissful but dream
heaven state. With accidents it is different. Only the physical vehicle is lost; all other principles are intact. Such persons can communicate through mediums, but for the sake of the persons and the mediums this is to be discouraged.
Can we contact our loved ones after their death? Only by raising ourselves to their level of consciousness. They cannot and do not under any normal circumstances 'come down' to us. If they could they would disturb their recompensing dream and know the pangs of earth life again.
A contentious point that must be touched on is that of purgatory. The word seems to be used of a state of being in the after-life when 'the soul' is purged of its carnal desires and it is inferred this could not be effected if the Ego were unconscious. But there is a confusion here between punishment and purging. There is, with rare exceptions, no punishment after death. This purgatorial condition seems to apply in cases of premature death, as for instance in accidents, as just mentioned, in lusty youth or manhood when all physical appetites are at their height. In such cases the person is only deprived of a physical body. All his other principles and vehicles are complete and operating. He therefore retains consciousness. He would not know he was dead. Now, because he has no physical body he cannot fulfil his carnal desires. This state has to be endured until either the subject goes unconscious and sleeps until such time when he would have died anyway, when the normal processes of death commence, or his passions subside through lack of satisfaction. As we explained at the beginning of this chapter, there are many variations on the basic theme. The executed murderer repeats his crime, sees his victim and suffers remorse over and over again. The suicide repents out his normal span and so on.
It is realized that many questions concerning the afterlife are left unanswered. We are aiming, however, only to put over some of the fundamental points to assist in a general understanding. A large number of questions arise from psychic phenomena. For example, who or what are the likenesses of dead people seen by the clairvoyant in certain circumstances? Some answers are deducible from what has
gone before. A clairvoyant seer may be seeing the soul form of a 'dead' person. In other cases he may be seeing his own mental creations or those of others. The creative powers of the mind are wonderful indeed. For a proper appreciation and understanding of this great subject much study with a freedom from emotion, from wishful thinking, from preconception and from fear, is a necessity.The teaching adds that this round of birth and death is not everlasting. Our lives are given us so that we may learn. We can learn the secrets of life however only while we are alive. The real Adepts have done just that. They have so developed all their vehicles of consciousness that in any circumstance, or on any plane of being they can retain full self-consciousness and be masters of their environment. This is a relative immortality and is for all of us, who achieve it - some day. But true immortality comes only when we have remerged our being with the ONE whence originally, at the beginning of our time, we emerged.
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