WHEN WE DIE - Exploring the Great Beyond
by Geoffrey Farthing
Chapter VII - Rebirth and Karma
A Description of the After-Death States and Processes
On first starting our studies of the after-death states, we may never have entertained the idea of reincarnation or Karma, except perhaps in the most superficial way and with much reservation. Now having become acquainted with other ideas which would have seemed improbable but which we now perhaps see as feasible, the ideas of re-birth or re-incarnation and of universal Law governing the life processes are possibly more acceptable.
We are now coming full circle - the period in Devachan is ending, the processes of rebirth are starting, with the Egos about to leave Devachan. In the light of some of what has been written about the Ego's return to earth life since these Letters were published, its unconsciousness prior to rebirth according to the Masters should be particularly noted.
We have dealt with all the phases of the after-death process and seen that none of them lasts for ever. There is no eternity spent in any of them. As to how long we spend in each of the states, we were told that:
... the period between death and rebirth (Bardo) ... may last from a few years to a kalpa. It is divided into three sub-periods (1) when the Ego delivered of its mortal coil enters into Kama-Loka (the abode of Elementaries); (2) when it enters into its "Gestation State"; (3) when it is reborn in the Rupa-Loka of Devachan. Sub-period (1) may last from a few minutes to a number of years - the phrase "a few years" becoming puzzling and utterly worthless without a more complete explanation; Sub-period (2) is "very long" .. longer sometimes than you may imagine, yet proportionate to the Ego's spiritual stamina; Subperiod (3) lasts in proportion to the good KARMA, after which the monad is again reincarnated. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p103 (3rd edition), p105 (1st and 2nd editions)]
A further question was asked, presumably to get some more specific information: "Does this state of spiritual beatitude [Devachan] endure for years? for decades? for centuries?" The answer:
For years, decades, centuries and millenniums oftentimes multiplied by something more. It all depends upon the duration of
Karma. Fill with oil Den's [A.P. Sinnett's small son's] little cup, and a city Reservoir of water (sic), and lighting both see which burns the longer. The Ego is the wick and Karma the oil; the difference in the quantity of the latter in the cup and the reservoir) suggesting to you the great difference in the duration of various Karmas. Every effect must be proportionate to the cause. And, as man's terms of incarnate existence bear but a small proportion to his periods of inter-natal existence in the manvantaric cycle, so the good thoughts, words and deeds of any one of these "lives" on a globe are causative of effects, the working out of which requires far more time than the evolution of the causes occupied. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p103 (3rd edition), p106 (1st and 2nd editions)]
Having seen that none of the phases of our after-life states lasts forever, we can examine what happens at the end of them. The physical body is disposed of by burning, burying or, in some countries, given to vultures. The astral double disintegrates along with it and eventually the constituents of our mortal souls also disperse. None of these, however, disappears without trace; each leaves a residue behind it in the inner worlds. These are the physical, psychic and mental tendencies and predispositions (skandhas) which, so to speak, constitute the accumulated experience of our past life, the balance in the account book of that life, and are brought forward to the next incarnation. The new man will be conditioned by these residues, the results of previous lives. It is through these skandhas that we come into a new life with predispositions in all the elements of our personal make-up, our characters in short, and all this according to the working of the perfectly just law of Karma.
The Master explains:
If you ask a learned Buddhist priest what is Karma? - he will tell you that Karma is what a Christian might call Providence (in a certain sense only) and a Mahomedan - Kismet, fate or destiny (again in one sense). That is that cardinal tenet which teaches that, as soon as any conscious or sentient being, whether man, deva, or animal dies, a new being is produced and he or it re-appears in another birth, on the same or another planet, under conditions of his or its own antecedent making. Or, in other words, that Karma is the guiding power, and Trishna (in Pali Tanha) the thirst or desire to sentiently live - the proximate force or energy, the resultant of human (or animal) action, which, out of the old Skandhas produce
the new group that form the new being and control the nature of the birth itself. Or to make it still clearer, the new being is rewarded and punished for the meritorious acts and misdeeds of the old one; Karma representing an Entry Book, in which all the acts of man, good, bad or indifferent, are carefully recorded to his debit and credit - by himself, so to say, or rather by these very actions of his. There, where Christian poetical fiction created, and sees a "Recording" Guardian Angel, stern and realistic Buddhist logic, perceiving the necessity that every cause should have its effect - shows its real presence. The opponents of Buddhism have laid great stress upon the alleged injustice that the doer should escape and an innocent victim be made to suffer, - since the doer and the sufferer are different beings. The fact is, that while in one sense they may be so considered, yet in another they are identical. The "old being" is the sole parent - father and mother at once - of the "new being". It is the former who is the creator and fashioner of the latter, in reality; and far more so in plain truth, than any father in the flesh. And once that you have well mastered the meaning of Skandhas you will see what I mean. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p107 (3rd edition), p110 (1st and 2nd editions)]
The Master describes skandhas, which are the basic mechanisms at all levels, including the physical, by which individual characteristics are transmitted from the old to the new personality. They are the attributes that:
form and constitute the physical and mental individuality we call man (or any being). This group consists (in the exoteric teaching) of five Skandhas, namely: Rupa - the material properties or attributes; Vedana - sensations; Sanna - abstract ideas; Samkara - tendencies both physical and mental; and Vinnana - mental powers, an amplification of the fourth - meaning the mental, physical and moral predispositions. We add to them two more ... connected with, and productive of Sakkayaditthi, the "heresy or delusion of individuality" and of Attavada "the doctrine of Self", both of which (in the case of the fifth principle, the soul) lead to the maya of heresy and belief in the efficacy of vain rites and ceremonies, in prayers and intercession.
Now, returning to the question of identity between the old and the new "Ego". I may remind you once more, that even your Science has accepted the old, very old fact distinctly taught by our Lord, viz. - that a man of any given age, while sentiently the same,
is yet physically not the same as he was a few years earlier (we say seven years and are prepared to maintain and prove it): buddhistically speaking, his Skandhas have changed. At the same time they are ever and ceaselessly at work in preparing the abstract mould, the "privation" of the future new being. Well then, if it is just that a man of 40 should enjoy or suffer for the actions of the man of 20, so it is equally just that the being of the new birth - since he is its outcome and creation - should feel the consequences of that begetting Self or personality. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p108 (3rd edition), p111 (1st and 2nd editions)]
This is a very important passage as, put another way, it means that during every moment of our present earth life, we are making what will be ourselves in the next earth life. It also means that as well as punishing the guilty, Karma avenges and compensates the innocent. We are further told:
Motive is everything and man is punished in a case of direct responsibility, never otherwise. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p129 (3rd edition), p132 (1st and 2nd editions)]
In response to an objection that it is only the body that changes because of molecular transformation which has nothing to do with mental evolution, the Master replied with a question:
But perhaps, to our physiological remark the objectors may reply that it is only the body that changes, there is only a molecular transformation, which has nothing to do with the mental evolution; and that the Skandhas represent not only a material but also a set of mental and moral qualities. But is there, I ask, either a sensation, an abstract idea, a tendency of mind or a mental power, that one could call an absolutely non-molecular phenomenon? Can even a sensation or the most abstract of thoughts which is something, come out of nothing, or be nothing? [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p109 (3rd edition), p112 (1st and 2nd editions)]
In the Letters, the Masters discuss special cases of cause and effect. One of these covers the case of a generous public benefactor, as follows:
The "reward provided by nature for men who are benevolent in a large, systematic way" and who have not focused their affections upon an individual or speciality, is that - if pure - they pass the quicker for that through the Kama and Rupa-Lokas into the higher sphere of Tribhuvana, since it is one where the formulation of abstract ideas and the consideration of general principles fill the thought of its occupants. Personality is the synonym for limitation,
and the more contracted the person's ideas, the closer will he cling to the lower spheres of being, the longer loiter on the plane of selfish social intercourse. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p197 (3rd edition), p200 (1st and 2nd editions)]
Another special case concerns the Master's correspondent who was a man accepted in Society and who was concerned with social standing. The Master was well aware of this. In this case:
The social status of a being is, of course, a result of Karma; the law being that "like attracts like". The renascent being is drawn into the gestative current with which the preponderating attractions coming over from the last birth make him assimilate. Thus one who died a ryot may be reborn a king, and the dead sovereign may next see the light in a coolie's tent. This law of attraction asserts itself in a thousand "accidents of birth" - than which there could be no more flagrant misnomer. When you realize at least the following - that the skandhas are the elements of limited existence, then will you have realized also one of the conditions of Devachan which has now such a profoundly unsatisfactory outlook for you. Nor are your inferences (as regards the well-being and enjoyment of the upper classes being due to a better Karma) quite correct in their general application. They have an eudaemonistic [moralizing] ring about them which is hardly reconcilable with Karmic Law, since those "well-being and enjoyment" are oftener the causes of a new and overloaded Karma than the production or effects of the latter. Even as a "broad rule" poverty and humble condition in life are less a cause of sorrow than wealth and high birth ... [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p197 (3rd edition), p200 (1st and 2nd editions)]
In the light of the statement "like attracts like" there could be a question as to why a king might be reborn a ryot (one of low birth). Obviously the effective affinity would be one of character, inner nature, not physical circumstances. The determining karmic factor in this case would be thoughts and feelings. A rich man (a king) born to his surroundings would pay them no more heed than a poor man born to his. A poor man might have a very rich nature, a rich man a very poor or mean one, like Chancellor Bacon referred to earlier.
In answer to another question the Master replied:
What has the number of incarnations to do with the shrewdness, cleverness, or the stupidity of an individual? A strong craving for physical life may lead an entity through a number of incarnations and
yet these may not develop its higher capacities. The Law of Affinity acts through the inherent Karmic impulse of the Ego, and governs its future existence. Comprehending Darwin's Law of Heredity for the body, it is not difficult to perceive how the birth-seeking Ego may be attracted at the time of rebirth to a body born in a family which has the same propensities as those of the reincarnating Entity. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p398 (3rd edition), p404 (1st and 2nd editions)]
The whole of this account of death and the complicated inter-life states has to be seen against the background of the vast universal scheme of which it forms an integral part. The after-death processes of human beings are reflected in the grand cosmic process of Life with its everlasting comings and goings of living beings, and its own periods of rest and activity. We humans play a significant or, according to the doctrine, a central role in the great cyclic pageant of existent being.
In general, then, we have shown that Karma is the all-embracing Law of cosmic action, and under it, as the law of cause and effect, everything, collectively and individually, and all that we do and all that befalls us here and hereafter is within its embrace.
Late in the series of Letters there is one which expands our ideas about Karma and its application to our reincarnating Egos. Their accumulated Karma - or rather the carried-forward balance of it - is stored in the Auric Envelope. It is this which forms the skandhas of the next personality. These skandhas as we have seen determine our mental and moral propensities. The skandhas are, however, themselves made by the efforts, habits, urges, strengths, weaknesses and so on of personalities in life. They are parents, mother and father of the next life more truly than are the physical ones.
Although the after-death processes reach a climax in Devachan (or Avitchi), it is not the end of the interlife period. When the stay in Devachan is finished unconsciousness gradually overcomes the Ego, like the enfeeblement of old age, and the processes of rebirth are started. These are complex.
Firstly, the quickening process is begun when the karmic residue of the last life has been exhausted in Devachan by the ever-living Ego (Monad plus the higher or spiritual aspects of Manas) revivifying the dormant (during the inter-life period) Auric Egg, the container of the skandhas. These skandhas are conditioned (by previous lives) elementals or life atoms, ready to be awakened and to become effective again. They form a new astral body and a new Kama-rupa with their residual characteristics to manifest themselves in the character of the new foetus. Here is a descriptive passage:
Now, the Linga-Sarira remains with the Physical Body, and fades out along with it. An astral entity then has to be created (a new Linga-Sarira provided) to become the bearer of all the past Tanhas and future Karma. How is this accomplished? The mediumistic "spook", the "departed angel", fades out and vanishes also in its turn as an entity or full image of the Personality that was, and leaves in the Kamalokic world of effects only the records of its misdeeds and sinful thoughts and acts, known in the phraseology of the Occultists as Tanhic or human "Elementals". It is these Elementals which - upon entering into the composition of the "astral form" of the new body, into which the Ego, on its quitting the Devachanic state, is to enter according to Karmic decree - form that new astral entity which is born within the Auric Envelope, and of which it is often said "Karma, with its army of Skandhas, waits at the threshold of Devachan". For no sooner is the Devachanic state of reward ended, than the Ego is indissolubly united with (or rather follows in the track of) the new Astral Form. Both are Karmically propelled towards the family or woman from whom is to be born the animal child chosen by Karma to become the vehicle of the Ego which has just awakened from the Devachanic state. Then the new Astral Form, composed partly of the pure Akasic Essence of the Auric "Egg", and partly of terrestrial elements of the punishable sins and misdeeds of the last Personality, is drawn into the woman. Once there, Nature models the foetus of flesh around the Astral, out of the growing materials of the male seed in the female soil. Thus grows out of the essence of a decayed seed the fruit or eidolon of the dead seed, the physical fruit producing in its turn within itself another and other seeds for future plants. [H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Vol.XII, p609]
According to this, then, not only is the model of the new human-to-be and who shall be its mother wholly determined by his past lives, but also the very environment and likely circumstances of upbringing in their major aspects are decided by Karma, and are, according to law, perfectly appropriate. The Ego does not choose any of these but it does have an outline preview of the life to come:
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 realizes all the causes that
have led to it. He realizes 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 Karmic law, he first descended into matter and incarnated in the first man of flesh. The "golden thread" sees all its "pearls" and misses not one of them. [Key to Theosophy part.IX, p162]
So the cycle is completed from death to rebirth. From the sudden onset of unconsciousness at death through a possible series of Kama-lokic dreams to certainly a prolonged abundance of blissful ones in Devachan, we pass into unconsciousness again prior to the dawning of a new life when we awake as an infant into whatever our new life has in store for us. We start with some initial know-how gleaned in past lives, but also with some handicaps, Karmic limitations. We have now, however, another opportunity of overcoming them. This little book may have given us some hints as to how this is accomplished.
When We Die ... Exploring the Great Beyond > Next Page Chapter 8 Exceptions: Suicides and Accidents