WHEN WE DIE - Exploring the Great Beyond
by Geoffrey Farthing
Chapter II - Necessary Information
A Description of the After-Death States and Processes
One of the new ideas to which our study of the after-death processes as they affect us human beings introduces us is that the whole subject has to be seen against the vast background of the universal scene. The Universe has to be regarded not only as a dynamic whole with everything in it involved in progressive change, but as a living whole with everything in it manifesting some aspect of One Life. As an example of progressive change, there is our own life story: we are born, grow up, reach maturity and our prime, then we suffer a slow decline into old age and eventually we die. But we are changing all the time, in an irreversible direction. This is the normal course, which includes such common exceptions as accidents, fatal illnesses and other sudden deaths. All of these have to be taken into account, just as in Nature few things survive into really old age. We shall see that this process of an ageing existence between a coming into being and a going therefrom is universal; it is an aspect of universal Law and applies to everything.
Another idea is that of continuity. The universal process is continuous and everlasting. However, whereas the process itself is endless, everything that plays a part in the scheme of things is ephemeral, lasting only for its day, whether that day be a fraction of a second or millions of years. This idea includes another, that of the continuum or state of being (or non-being) between life-periods, that is, between appearances in our physical realm. The idea is that between the death and re-birth of anything (an animal or human being, say, or even a universe) there is a causative thread relating that thing to similar things that existed both before its present existence and after its existence has apparently ceased. We are familiar with the genetic mechanism of inherited characteristics in plants and animals; the idea now being considered postulates that there is something similar
in the inner invisible worlds. The chain of any particular stream of life is continuous, some links are visible and others, alternate ones, are invisible. As a bald statement this may seem questionable, but as an illustration let us take a baby with its individual character from the moment of its birth. An easy answer to the question, "Where does it (character) come from?", is "From its parents". But this, as we shall see, is not the complete answer. There is another question. How can it be that children of the same parents can be so very different from each other and from their parents, not only physically but also in character,? These character differences are much wider than the most diverse physical characteristics found in families. It must be that they came from some cause lingering somewhere before birth.
We see Nature as a continuous process. But do these cycles of days and nights, periods of activity and rest, of life and death, merely repeat themselves endlessly? The process itself is endless but it is apparently progressive. Each cycle is obviously terminable, but each cycle of whatever magnitude is part of a greater cycle along the axis of which the smaller cycle is only an incident, a component part, as a minute is within an hour, or a day in a lifetime of some years. This concept of cycles and of alternation and progression along an axis is fundamental to our subject of death in the context of the universal life process.
The progress of cycles, say days, forming part of a larger cycle, say years, and of years forming part of a life-time, is also illustrative of the process of progressive change. This means that during any period of life we, like all other things, are subject to experiences which affect us. Experience is cumulative: at the end of a day we are not quite the same as we were at the beginning. Similarly, at the end of a life-time we are certainly not the same as we were when we were born. We have had a life-time of experience. This cumulative experience and change in the very long term is the rationale behind the evolutionary process because, as we shall see, the inner subjective world of experience can and does affect the outer objective world. The teaching is that all natural processes proceed "from the within to the without", from subjectivity to objectivity.
It becomes obvious that our ideas on evolution have to be modified and extended. Thinking in large-scale general terms, we see the kingdoms of Nature as examples of stages of evolutionary development: from the mineral comes the vegetable, from the vegetable comes the animal. Some regard
man as a super-intelligent animal, others regard humanity as a distinct kingdom. The extension of thinking now required is the recognition that the evolutionary scheme does not stop with the human kingdom. The physical process may be regarded as stopping there, but the inner development of man does not. It continues into superhuman realms, of which there are said to be three stages. These are the further development of inner faculty and potency, to a degree - in the later stages - altogether beyond anything conceivable for man as we normally know him.
Evolution, according to this teaching, is a progressive unfolding of spiritual faculty. In man, for example, there is the slow development of moral responsibility, of an overriding control over his animal nature, a decreasing interest in the toys of life as he becomes more adult, accepting responsibility particularly for his own state, as well as manifesting more of the truly human characteristics of understanding, concern for others, altruism, sympathy, compassion, love, in short all that we term spirituality. This unfolding eventually leads to levels far transcending that of even the most gifted man we can imagine. He becomes a being of a different order altogether; of such are the Initiates and Adepts referred to earlier.
The evolutionary process is also cyclical. Overall it is progressive but each growth stage has to be recapitulated at the start of each new cycle before further progress can be made. For example, a new-born baby has to manifest in its new life what it has learned in terms of character in previous lives before it can begin to develop its faculties further through new experience and the learning of new skills.
The beings comprising the post-human kingdoms are, by definition, superhuman. They play significant parts in the development and government of Cosmos. Be it noted, however, that they are themselves products of the universal process. They have had to become what they are. They were not made as such. To us they may seem as gods; collectively they certainly are 'GOD', but they do not constitute an entity to which that term could be applied. Beyond them, or any manifest thing or being, is the Absolute, endless, immutable, and truly infinite, that which is "beyond the reach of thought". The superhuman beings still associated with our physical realm are the Masters of the Wisdom, Sages, Seers and founders of the great religions: Krishna, Lao Tse, Confucius, Apollonius of Tyana, St Paul, Plato, Buddha and Christ, for example.
The existence of beings just higher than man as we ordinarily know him is germane to our subject. It is from them that we have this knowledge of the after-death states. Being under the constraints of Initiation they are for the most part under a vow of secrecy and may not divulge publicly what they know.
Now we come to another idea, perhaps very unfamiliar and maybe difficult to accept at first. It is that nothing in the divine economy is ever wasted. This applies not only to physical things but also to subjective things in the inner worlds. There is, so to speak, a universal memory and a total conservation of 'what is'.
These ideas lead us on to yet others. One is that of invisible worlds. We have just used the words "subjective" and "inner". These terms usually pertain to mind, feeling or consciousness, which are not physical phenomena; nevertheless they are entirely real; they are within everyone's experience. They are important to us. They are the rich stuff of our inner life. Both thinking and feeling are human faculties. In the next chapter we shall see that, for them to register in consciousness, they must have a sort of being: they must be something or we could not be aware of them. This is yet another important idea: everything in the universe, whether it be an insect, a flower, an atom, a tree, a man, or a feeling, a thought, an imaginary picture, a concept, a flash of anger, or an upwelling of affection, is something, an existence - whether enduring or fleeting, and its impress remains in the universal memory for ever.
A corollary to this is that if it is something, it must exist in some form or another. There must be something to give it a being, something through and/or in which it operates. This may not be immediately obvious but an illustration may help. Suppose we want to move an object, lift a bucket, for example; we have to apply force. Now the force cannot by itself lift the bucket. It needs an instrument, a hand or an arm, to make it effective. Force by itself is a mere abstraction and cannot do anything without a
means of application. The same rule applies in the inner worlds. That which gives effect to such things as thinking and feeling is known as a principle. We shall see that the inner man is composed of principles and, anticipating the next chapter, it is these which constitute man's soul, the fate of which is the subject of this book.
In studying the subject of death, we soon discover that it is inseparable from life. Maybe up to now we have seen it as the end of life. We have perhaps known its awful finality, especially in our own bereavements, when those who, in terms of normal life and all it means, have gone from us. We know that our loved one has somehow left the body for ever, and that what departed was the real person. We are confronted with a corpse, an empty shell. We are now going to see what happens to the one just dead, both as regards his principles and his experiences.
A few more fundamental concepts are necessary before we can even reasonably comprehend the after-death processes.
We have not mentioned universal Law as such, but we have seen something of its aspects: evolution, alternation and cycles. Now we must extend our view to include the idea of cause and effect. According to the Law, every effect - and that means everything that is, everything that now exists - is the result of antecedent causes. In our thinking about the Law and this aspect of cause and effect, we have to grasp the further idea that there are worlds or realms of causes, as in our life here, and there are after-death worlds or realms of effects, which are conditioned solely by the world (here) of causes. Whatever we do, think or say now is a cause in that sense. The chain of causation is infinitely complex and in its infinite workings is quite beyond the comprehension of man. But we can see it exemplified in simple instances. We rub a match-head on an abrasive surface, the match lights. This seems a simple cause and effect combination. On examination, however, it demonstrates how complex are the workings of the Law. Matches had to be invented. The ingredients for a match-head had to be assembled, mixed and applied to a match stick. The matches had to be made available to us via transport, the shop, the shop-assistant. We had to have the necessary money, and so on, and so on.
Because of this complexity we cannot possibly see how the Law will work in specific cases. For example, unbeknown to us, our matches may have been kept in a damp place, and the expected result of striking one would not happen. The Law would not have been defective; we would simply have been ignorant of all the factors involved.
Another principal aspect of the Law is its adjusting and harmonizing role. The Universe works according to Law in all its departments. Everything is subject to the Law. It is this Law which, in Cosmos, preserves the equilibrium between the mighty forces playing on the heavenly bodies on the macrocosmical scale, to maintain relative stability, and those which operate within the atoms of physical matter at the microcosmical level. This marvellous interplay throughout the whole scheme is the key to the self-preservation of the universe.
The Law works not only on the physical level but also in the inner (to us, subjective) worlds as well, where its workings have a moral element. In terms of consequences, a man's motives are as important, if not more so, than his actions. A cruelty or pain inflicted intentionally will have very different retributive effects on the perpetrator from a similar hurt inflicted unintentionally. The Eastern name now commonly used in the West for the Law, is Karma. We shall see how important is a knowledge of its workings to our understanding of what goes on after death.
Another new idea necessary for our understanding of the hereafter concerns what is commonly called creation. We are mostly used to the notion that if anything, from a universe to a man, exists, it must somehow have been created or brought into being. And with this we associate the idea of a creator. For many of us, when thinking in cosmic terms, that creator is God. In our present study we have to look at that idea from a new point of view. What do we mean by creation? Is it a bringing forth of something out of nothing? Is such an idea really tenable? For example, do parents really create their off-spring or do they initiate a process with all its elements already existent in themselves? And is not even the process already established? They certainly did not invent it. Neither can they design in looks and character what their children will be. Can the begetters then really be regarded as creators?
Looked at like this, natural creation is not quite what we may have thought. Man-made creations like works of art, buildings, boats and so on, certainly appear to have been designed and manufactured by someone; but the final product did not result from nothing. Again we can ask, what is creation?
In this new view of things, it is postulated that behind all created things there is an everlasting something, an absolute SOMETHING that always IS. That self-existing SOMETHING, however, not only is the root of all the substance in the Universe but also has a life aspect in which the principle of consciousness is inherent. This SOMETHING is the very root or origin of being. From it stems all vitality or animation in every thing or being in Cosmos, and in its aspect as memory it is the origin of design and form in Nature. It tends to reproduce what was before, in other worlds. Everything, therefore, has two aspects: one is substance (or matter) to give it form, the other is sentiency or consciousness. These are rudimentary at the lowest evolutionary levels, but they become complex as the ladder of being is ascended. In this concept, therefore, everything in the whole cosmic scheme is living. There is no dead matter, and everything, even what is called inorganic substance, is conscious in its degree. The original SOMETHING behind all existence is dual, having itself the aspects of Matter and Consciousness. This latter may be regarded simply as the energy
inherent in the atoms of matter. In the teachings we are considering it is called Spirit, and in this sense everything is spiritual in its essential nature.
In another sense, Spirit is all Potentiality. Evolution is the process whereby this potentiality is actualized, made manifest or expressed. To our finite minds the universe must appear as infinite both in extent, according to our ordinary ideas of magnitude, and in depth, in terms of inwardness or subjectivity with respect to our ordinary objective perceptions. The inner realms are the invisible, abstract ones, of powers, qualities and so on. It is from these inward, spiritual realms that physical things with their natures and characteristics are projected into objectivity. This is the true process of what is called creation.
It is not within the scope of this book to explain in detail where the forms, shapes and colours of things come from, but briefly they are the manifestations of some of the inherent potentialities of Spirit: they are the accumulated results of the actualized experience of living things, the aggregate results of their brief spells of physical existence. As everything in the Cosmos is living, so there are living beings in these worlds normally invisible to us. These beings also have their experiences and are changed by them. They too evolve. At lowly levels these beings are elementary entities, known as Elementals. (See Appendix for more information about them and the role they play in the scheme of things.)
It is necessary to introduce, even though without expanding, these ideas so as to show that nothing, not even creation, is arbitrary, i.e. comes about at the whim of a 'Creator'. Rather all that happens is according to Law. The whole sequential process is one of Law, of cause and effect, . The Law is intelligent (what this means is explained in the Appendix) and embraces not only retribution but also recompense. To regard Law as the highest Deity would accord with the teaching. In its workings it is inexorable. In our human terms, "God is not mocked, for whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (II Cor.vi.7): this is indeed the Law which in Eastern literature and throughout this book is recognized as Karma.
We shall see how applicable are all these ideas to our after-life.
One danger of explanations of the kind given here is that they may seem to omit consideration of the truly human values of kindness, love, compassion, mercy and all that otherwise makes up the meaningful content of our lives. But such is not the case. For life's richness, its beauties, the delights of colour, form, our habitually favourite things, our associations with people, events and places, even our efforts, hopes, disappointments and so on are the stuff of life. Our lives consist of this wealth of memories, responses, appreciations, the whole content of our inner life, and it is all this which determines the nature of our after life.
Another basic concept supplementary to that of the inner subjective realms is that they comprise a series of various levels, or that they operate in various modes. Primarily there are seven of these levels. These are often regarded as planes of existence or as modes of consciousness, or as the habitat of entities who function in them, from the physical up to the highest spiritual levels.
Related to the concept of various levels is the further one that there are alternate spheres of existence: spheres of effects which are conditioned by what happens in spheres of causes. For example, much of what we dream is conditioned by our experience in daily life and our reactions to it, both emotional and mental. Our dream world in this case is one of effects with respect to our causative world of everyday activity. In the ordinary way, when we are in a dream state we do not know we are dreaming and we cannot alter the course of the dream. To that extent the dream state is one of effects and further, when we are in it we cannot alter or do anything - consciously or otherwise - to affect the real world. The Masters tell us that there are similar worlds of causes and worlds of effects at the cosmic level. When the life of a planet comes to an end, its period of activity, of causes, is then finished and there begins a period of inactivity or rest, a state of effects. These worlds of effects are sometimes referred to as intermediary spheres between those of active, causative existence.
From the preceding information it should now be possible to see that the story of the after-death states reflects, among other things, the law of alternation, with its cycles of life and death continuously repeated. Rebirth or reincarnation is the culmination of the after-death processes. Our death and then our coming back into birth, the re-emergence from the state of non-being (from our physical point of view), with all the personal characteristics we then possess, are events in a continuous chain. As we shall see, our present personal lives are much more the parents of our next life than our future physical mothers and fathers will be.
To summarize: in this chapter we have introduced many ideas essential to an understanding of the after-death processes described in this book. They are all rich in associations and contemplation of them opens up wide vistas of understanding. Perhaps the most important is that of the Universe as a living Unity which necessarily includes each and every one of us. The corollary to this is that everything in the Universe is living, is indeed a life. There is no dead matter. Everything is sentient in its own degree. In later developmental stages of these lives, as the kingdoms are ascended, mere sentience becomes what we know as consciousness, until in man it becomes self-consciousness, and he achieves awareness not only of his environment but also of himself in it.
Everything in a Universe comes and goes; this is the law of cycles. Even the Universe itself manifests periodically, but the duration of its periods of activity and rest are unimaginably long in terms of our earth years.
Each cycle of existence, by reason of accumulated experience, is higher, that is, it is further along the road to perfection than its predecessor; this is the process of evolution. All is in a state of endless progressive change. The cosmic process is everlasting. Life, in this sense, is everlasting.
Because things necessarily come and go according to this cyclic law, life and death constitute a cycle and are inseparable. Death is the discarding of forms which have served their temporary purpose, since the irreversible ageing process must inevitably take its toll. With the disappearance of forms (such as our bodies), life enters into a state of non-being, but it does not cease.
The multitudinous functions of Nature, in a completely comprehensive sense, are all according to Universal Law. The Law has a number of aspects. The principal ones are: cyclic alternation; cause and effect; continuous adjustment, the preservation of equilibrium, balancing; perpetual motion, continuous change; progressive development, the unfolding of infinite spiritual potentiality.
Change is wrought by experience. Everything in Cosmos is learning, learning to fulfil an ever higher function. The One Life in its multitudinous forms moves up through the kingdoms. The culmination of this process on earth is Man. Humanity is qualifying to pass into super-humanity. This is the purpose of his many existences on this earth.
This immense achievement could not possibly be made in one lifetime. It takes many - very many - lifetimes, and this is the underlying reason for successive lives or reincarnation. What reincarnates and how each life's experience is assimilated and accumulated in each individual is the subject of this book.
Since humanity is made up of individuals, its progress can come only through each of its component units, and each of us is such a unit. Do we not therefore have a great responsibility, not only for ourselves but for the whole human family? That is an important idea that comes from this study, probably the most important we could ever have.
This chapter introduces the salient ideas of the grand doctrine as they relate to the post-mortem states, but in the extracts from the literature quoted in succeeding chapters, the Masters use unfamiliar words and terms. Explanations of these in the text would break the narrative, but many of these will be found in the Glossary and there is additional information in the Appendix.
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