WHEN WE DIE - Exploring the Great Beyond
by Geoffrey Farthing
Chapter IV - Dying and Soon After
A Description of the After-Death States and Processes
The experiences of many people who have been regarded as clinically dead but who have recovered have been recorded and investigated during this century. The typical experience, of which there are many variations, has a number of common features.
Most sufferers who had been in pain reported an immediate release from it, much to their great relief. In some cases, the subjects said they had somehow become separated from their physical body which they then could see, for example on an operating table or lying in the road after an accident. They said that this was a strange experience as they could not understand their retention of consciousness without a body. Sometimes they tried to talk to doctors or nurses or on-lookers whom they could see, but they got no response. It became obvious that others could not see them; it was as if they were not there, or invisible, and certainly were not making themselves heard at the physical level. This was not a dream state or an hallucination because, on recovery, they could often relate accurately what had been going on and what people had said. Checks made afterwards on what had actually been happening and what people had in fact said often confirmed that what had been seen and heard was correct; sometimes, however, the account was not wholly accurate.
Another common element of this near-death experience is that of a review of the life just past in considerable detail. Sometimes everything seems to have been recalled, even details from early childhood.
Then commonly there was the feeling or visual impression of being confronted with some kind of barrier: a wall, fence, ditch, or even a tunnel. It seemed that in some way this had to be traversed, surmounted or passed through.
Most subjects reported that at some moment after their 'demise' they had met an august Being, a "Figure of Light". All who had this experience felt an immediate and complete sympathy with this figure, and some were in awe of it. They felt it to be of some majesty, even divine. Many likened it to the subject of their devotions in their religious practices. The review of the past life sometimes took place in the presence of this
Being, who always showed complete and sympathetic understanding, no matter what was being reviewed. No blame or criticism was uttered or felt. Most subjects felt a great peace and happiness and did not want to return to their old lives. Sometimes, however, they felt that they had to do so, or they were told that they must return for the sake of a young family or some duty. Others were told that their time had not yet come. Sometimes, as they passed over, they were met by previously deceased relatives or friends who welcomed them and said they had been expecting them. Such relatives and friends were often in idealized surroundings.
On returning from this experience, many found that both they and their outlook on life were changed. They sometimes said they had understood that earth-life was an education, and that they should learn what they could and use their time well. Many also felt their attitudes to others changed. Affection, love and compassion were dominant feelings.
We must remember that in all these cases the people were not actually dead, but they were certainly nearly so. Most of them felt that, if they had crossed the barriers or passed into the light at the end of the tunnel, they would have been really dead, as far as their physical bodies were concerned, and that then there would then have been no return.
There are other kinds of near-death experiences we should note. Sometimes, in the case of very old people, there are visions of beautiful gardens, loved ones long since departed, and, in some cases, those very near death seem to become second-sighted or clairvoyant. They see entities in their room that others cannot see. If the entities are human, they may even talk to them, so real are the presences.
As we shall see, the story we are about to unfold will touch on most of these points. Our account lays stress on the review of the past life and the most prominent thoughts which occupy the dying person. These affect not only the post-mortem experiences, but even the next earthly life.
The greater part of the information about the after-death states in this book is taken from the long series of letters on this and other esoteric subjects which two of the Masters wrote to Mr A.P. Sinnett in the years 1880-85. These letters were all published in book-form as The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, the originals of which are in the British Library. In this account the many passages quoted are from these letters. It will be seen that they are authoritative and very descriptive because the Masters claim to KNOW what they are writing about.
One of the Masters who had described the process of dying was asked, "But do the thoughts on which the mind may be engaged at the last
moment necessarily hinge on to the predominant character of its past life?" He answered:
It cannot be otherwise. The experience of dying men - by drowning and other accidents - brought back to life, has corroborated our doctrine in almost every case. Such thoughts are involuntary and we have no more control over them than we would over the eye's retina to prevent it perceiving that colour which affects it most. At the last moment, the whole life is reflected in our memory and emerges from all the forgotten nooks and corners picture after picture, one event after the other. The dying brain dislodges memory with a strong supreme impulse, and memory restores faithfully every impression entrusted to it during the period of the brain's activity. That impression and thought which was the strongest naturally becomes the most vivid and survives so to say all the rest which now vanish and disappear forever, to reappear but in Devachan. No man dies insane or unconscious - as some physiologists assert. Even a madman or one in a fit of delirium tremens will have his instant of perfect lucidity at the moment of death, though unable to say so to those present. The man may often appear dead. Yet from the last pulsation, from and between the last throbbing of his heart and the moment when the last spark of animal heat leaves the body - the brain thinks and the Ego lives over in those few brief seconds his whole life over again. Speak in whispers, ye, who assist at a death-bed and find yourselves in the solemn presence of Death. Especially have you to keep quiet just after Death has laid her clammy hand upon the body. Speak in whispers, I say, lest you disturb the quiet ripple of thought, and hinder the busy work of the Past casting its reflection upon the Veil of the Future. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p167(3rd edition), p170(1st and 2nd editions)]
A passage in The Key to Theosophy supplements this:
At the solemn moment of death every man, even when death is sudden, sees the whole of his past life marshalled 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. [The Key to Theosophy Ch.IX p162]
The all-knowing Ego would correspond to the Figure of Light in the near-death experience, but then the Ego would be perceived against the mental or religious background of the dying person.
The term Devachan has been introduced and needs clarifying at this point. It means a blissful subjective state that the Ego (the two and a half upper principles) enjoys after its emergence from a period of unconsciousness while the baser elements of the personal psyche are sloughed off. It is a state wholly conditioned by the spiritual content of the immediate past life on earth. In an earlier Letter the Master explains:
... remember ... that we create ourselves our devachan as our avitchi while yet on earth, and mostly during the latter days and even moments of our intellectual, sentient lives. That feeling which is the strongest in us at that supreme hour when, as in a dream, the events of a long life, to the minutest details, are marshalled in the greatest order in a few seconds in our vision*, that feeling will become the fashioner of our bliss or woe, the life-principle of our future existence .. The real full remembrance of our lives will come but at the end of the minor cycle - not before. (* That vision takes place when a person is already proclaimed dead. Our brain is the last organ that dies.) [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p124 (3rd edition), p127 (1st and 2nd editions)]
The minor cycle is explained in the Glossary, but it is necessary here to define Avitchi, which is a state opposite to Devachan. Devachan is compensative and blissful while Avitchi is retributive and unhappy.
The Master's statement that "we create ourselves our devachan as our avitchi ... and mostly during the latter days and even moments" of our lives, was not fully understood; and in answer to a further question, he said:
It is a widely spread belief among all the Hindus that a person's future pre-natal state and birth are moulded by the last desire he may have at the time of death. But this last desire, they say, necessarily hinges on to the shape which the person may have given to his desires, passions etc., during his past life. It is for this very reason, viz. - that our last desire may not be unfavourable to our future progress - that we have to watch our actions and
control our passions and desires throughout our whole earthly career. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p167 (3rd edition), p 170 (1st and 2nd editions)]
Now we come to what happens immediately after dying. It is necessary first, however, to define another critical term, Kama Loka, (with some variations of spelling). It is literally the place of emotion, of passion, desire, urges for carnal satisfactions, likes, dislikes and so on. It is a place where, in the case of normal death in due season from natural causes, the Ego subsides into unconsciousness during the early stages of post mortem existence. In other cases, mostly of premature death, it is the place of complete or partial personal consciousness and memory of the past life, often a sort of dream state, varying in intensity, occasionally of real suffering, remorse, etc., in what remains of the personal psyche. The Master gives us this description:
Thus, when man dies, his "Soul" (5th principle) becomes unconscious and loses all remembrance of things internal as well as external. Whether his stay in Kama Loka has to last but a few moments, hours, days, weeks, months or years; whether he died a natural or a violent death; whether it occurred in his young or old age, and whether the Ego was good, bad, or indifferent, - his consciousness leaves him as suddenly as the flame leaves the wick, when blown out. When life has retired from the last particle in the brain matter, his perceptive faculties become extinct forever, his spiritual powers of cogitation and volition - (all those faculties in short, which are neither inherent in, nor acquirable by organic matter) - for the time being. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p125 (3rd edition), p128 (1st and 2nd editions)]
Confirmation was sought about the Master's statement that at death a man's "consciousness leaves him as suddenly as the flame leaves the wick ...” and the reply was:
Well? can a physical brain once dead retain its perceptive faculties; that which will perceive in the shell is something that perceives with a borrowed or reflected light. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p144 (3rd edition), p147 (1st and 2nd editions)]
Here we should notice the precision of the wording.
Perceptive faculties are the means by which we are able to be aware both of what is going on around us in the physical world (via our senses), and also of our inner reactions to it (our thoughts and feelings). All this perception must stop at death. We must also understand what the shell is. It is the still integrated active personal psyche - the remains of the ordinary man when
his physical vehicle, its life principle and his upper principles have left it. There is more on this subject of consciousness in these psychic remains in Chapter Five.
There were further corroborations of the Ego's unconsciousness at this stage, for example:
Every just disembodied four-fold entity [i.e. the middle duad (Kama-Manas) and the two highest principles (Atma, Buddhi)] - whether it died a natural or a violent death, from suicide or accident, mentally sane or insane, young or old, good, bad, or indifferent - loses at the instant of death all recollection, it is mentally annihilated; it sleeps its akasic * sleep in the Kama Loka. This state lasts from a few hours (rarely less), days, weeks, months - sometimes to several years. All this according to the entity, to its mental status at the moment of death, to the character of its death, etc. (* Akasha is matter of extreme refinement, e.g. the substance dreams are made of, at their level.) [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p184 (3rd edition), p186 (1st and 2nd editions)]
Then concerning further what happens at death, we have:
When man dies his second and third principles die with him; the lower triad disappears, and the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh principles form the surviving Quaternary) [the four-fold entity above]. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p101 (3rd edition), p103 (1st and 2nd editions)]
We are also told that immediately after death has occurred:
... his Mayavi-rupa [i.e. ethereal body-shadow; see Glossary] may be often thrown into objectivity, as in the cases of apparitions after death; but, unless it is projected with the knowledge of [the
projector] (whether latent or potential), or, owing to the intensity of the desire to see or appear to someone, shooting through the dying brain, the apparition will be simply - automatical; it will not be due to any sympathetic attraction, or to any act of volition, and no more than the reflection of a person passing unconsciously near a mirror, is due to the desire of the latter. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p125 (3rd edition), p129 (1st and 2nd editions)]
The reference to apparitions after death is interesting because the phantom appearance of someone just dead to a loved one - even at a distance, and who may not even have known that the death was imminent - is by no means uncommon. Similarly it may happen that the ethereal likeness of one recently dead may appear, under certain atmospheric conditions, over a new grave. That would not be the Mayavi-rupa, as we shall learn later.
The Master gives much information on spiritualistic phenomena including the cases when those in Kama Loka can communicate (indirectly through mediums) with those on earth. This is dealt with in Chapter Nine.
There is another passage concerning possible states of consciousness in Kama Loka:
In Kama Loka those who retain their remembrance, will not enjoy it at the supreme hour of recollection. Those who know they are dead in their physical bodies can only be either adepts - or sorcerers; and these two are the exceptions to the general rule. Both having been "co-workers with nature", the former for good, the latter - for bad, in her work of creation and in that of destruction, they are the only ones who may be called immortal - in the Kabalistic and the esoteric sense of course. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p124 (3rd edition), p128 (1st and 2nd editions)]
Other cases of exceptions and premature deaths are dealt with in Chapter Eight, and the Master said more on immortality which is included in Chapter Ten. The "supreme hour of reflection" is the time when normally all Egos (if not either Adepts or Sorcerers) become aware of all their previous existences. This hour comes at the end of the minor cycle referred to later.
In this chapter, then, we have described the typical experiences of those who have been declared clinically dead but who have recovered. We have seen how some very aged people before they die have visions of those who have gone before and sometimes of entities visiting them in their rooms.
The Masters have told us how our last-minute thoughts have a significant effect not only on our post mortem states but even on our next life on earth. This was followed by the clear statement that in the normal way we all go
unconscious at the moment of death and then such visions as we may have had cease.
Immortality has been mentioned; we shall see later what that could mean.
At the instant of death certain processes concerned with the inner principles of the deceased begin. These are described in detail in the following chapters. In the study of the information we have of the after death states, it is necessary to keep in mind the unfamiliar notion that man is essentially dual, i.e. (1) as a personality and (2) as an individuality, the Ego. In life these two aspects operate together but after death they separate. The personal, lower two principles (Kama and half of Manas) remain after the demise of the lower triad (physical body, astral body and life principle) and enter into the subjective realm of Kama Loka. Here they may, while still conjoined to the Ego, have a variety of experiences from virtually complete unconsciousness through a range of dreamlike states, to full consciousness for a time. The Ego itself during this period is unconscious, while any retained consciousness is in the personal psychic remains only for the time of their duration. The content of any such consciousness is drawn entirely from the past life's experience, as indeed is that of the Ego, when consciousness returns to it in Devachan. Finally, only what was spiritually worthy can be assimilated into the Ego, as will be seen in the next chapter.
The fuller meaning of all the key terms used in this chapter will become apparent as they are used in their different contexts in the following chapters.
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