During our waking hours we know what it is like to be alive. Our senses ceaselessly convey information to us about our environment. We are aware of thinking and feeling. We know our moods. We enjoy our health. We suffer our ill-health and limitations. All this for us is life. We live and take it all, or most of it, for granted. We do not concern ourselves overmuch about the why's or the wherefores. Such questionings, if we indulge at all, are very incidental. But for the Theosophical student it is different. He has begun to ask questions and demand answers. He is concerned too not only with beginnings but with endings, with birth and with death.
Most of us most of the time are identified with our personality, our absorbing interest is our personal concern. Our individuality, our inner spiritual Ego, seems not to intrude on our consciousness. We are certainly unaware of it and, in fact, so we are told by those who claim to know, during our waking hours this higher Ego is dormant. It becomes active when we, as personalities, are asleep. Our physical brain does not normally register the activities of our inner Ego, but occasionally we have a dream that we feel is of consequence and of some real significance to us. Maybe it was symbolic and maybe we did not understand it but it provoked a strong feeling that it meant something. We get this feeling on waking even if the dream itself fades quickly. Such dreams especially if they are prophetic and prove true, are said to come from our inner Ego.
Most of our ordinary dreams are incoherent and inconsequential. They are reflections in our semi-waking consciousness of the automatic workings of our personal minds and emotions and sometimes they stem from our bodily condition or discomfort. Some, however, may have some psychological significance.
Theosophy teaches that the Adepts in life have mastered their psychological natures. To them the inner realms of being are as objective as the physical world is to us. They can operate consciously in them. They thus gain a direct knowledge of realms of being denied to most of us. They have given us much information about them. The importance of this is that these inner subjective states are those of our inter-life activities, the after death processes.
We are told that the after-death state is similar to sleeping and dreaming. Our immediate after-death condition depends on the manner of our passing. In the ordinary way, if we die of old age at our appointed time, in the last moments of passing we review our past life in detail. We then lapse into unconsciousness and stay so until certain processes affecting our inner principles are completed. It is said to be important that a dying person's attention should not be distracted from this review by noise about him while it is going on.
At death there is an immediate withdrawal of the co-ordinating life from our physical body and it begins to disintegrate. The vital body disintegrates with it and the vital principle disperses. The lower and higher soul elements sever their connection with the lower vehicles; the 'silver cord' is broken for ever. The spiritual soul, or Ego, at this juncture lapses into a torpor, like a chrysalis within its carapace, so to say, of the combined desire and lower mind principles. These surviving principles now enter a gestation state wherein significant experiences of the life just passed, the spiritual content by way of all that was noblest and best in them is separated out from the totality of that life's memories, to be assimilated by the Ego. The remainder of the life experience of the personal and lower nature remains mysteriously in a dormant state, until reawakened at the dawn of another incarnation. It then, as predisposition and tendency, is attached to, and conditions the mortal soul and, to some extent, the physical body of the new personality.
When this separation of the higher from the lower elements of experience is complete there is a second review of the past life before the emergence of the Egoic butterfly from the chrysalis. After the second review a so-called second death occurs when the Ego separates out from, and leaves the remains of the animal soul, the psyche, to become a shell devoid of the co-ordinating Egoic life. The shell disintegrates in time. Consciousness slowly returns to the Ego after this. The Egoic entity begins to find itself in a heavenly but wholly subjective state of existence. All its idealised hopes, longings, aspirations, there become realised. Relationships of unalloyed confidence and happiness with our loved ones are enjoyed, in idealised surroundings. Worthy ambitions are fulfilled, the best of what pleases us, for example, in art music, scenery is there. This is the grand recompense for all undeserved ills, for unmerited suffering possibly from accident and cruel untimely deprivation; it is the perfect 'balm of hurt minds', the ultimate compensation and rest. Here aspiration is transmuted into faculty for the achievement of our cherished aims, in another life. The stay here is long, as indeed is the total period after death. It is many times longer, centuries rather than decades, than a normal earthly life span. In whatever way a man died, provided he did not die so young as not to have generated enough spiritual force to do so, or otherwise he had not denied himself the experience by a powerful materialistic conviction, he always enjoys a period of this blissful but subjective state. After a longer or shorter time, depending on the spiritual content of the last life, this 'heaven' state begins to grow dim, the images become fainter and intermittent, until unconsciousness closes in again. The death process is now complete and the Ego awaits another birth for another lifetime of experience.
Our immediate state after death can, however, be very different from this normal one. For the man who died in accident or war, or under an operation or who killed himself, the initial state may not be one of unconsciousness. A young person who died unexpectedly might not even know he was dead, so far can consciousness be retained. Between this state, wherein might be experienced some suffering because of the premature separation from all that life held dear for us, and the normal state of immediate and total unconsciousness, there are many degrees of consciousness. These vary from the fullness of that of normal life, through a range of dream states to the unconsciousness of deep sleep. It is said that a person with very strong attachments, complete materiality, or of a really evil nature can become earthbound and can suffer from unfulfilled purpose, remorse for his misdeeds or feel the pangs of unsatisfied carnal desire for a longer or shorter period, depending on his inherent energy .But there is no punishment as such after death - no punisher.
Spiritualistic and psychic phenomena give us some evidence sometimes of these intermediate after death states, A discarnate person who has suffered premature death might communicate quite rationally, for a time, with relatives through a medium who can either see clairvoyantly or hear clairaudiently, or by abandoning temporarily his body in trance to allow the discarnate one to use it to speak through. This is one kind of spirit manifestation, common for example in war time. Another is when the discarnate one, presenting himself or herself at a seance through a medium, is the abandoned shade, or vacated shell, the psychic corpse, of the once living person, to some extent reanimated by the medium's vitality. A third kind of spirit manifestation occurs when the sensitive or medium is able to perceive something of the content of nature's unfading memory, and sees a living portrait of the dead person, in the astral light. This can happen even after centuries have elapsed.
The Theosophical doctrine is that the Ego, the real spiritual entity, can in no circumstances communicate with earth, either through a medium or otherwise, and is unaware of what is going on earth. A living person with a strong link, a powerful affinity, with someone dead and the necessary spiritual faculties developed, can, in some degree, communicate, however, by raising his or her consciousness to the 'heaven' level of the Ego of the departed one.
There are entities of other kinds in the invisible inner planes of the earth's atmosphere. These are termed elemental beings or simply elementals. They are non-human, usually formless centres of life force. They can take on forms thrown out by human thought and passion and they can 'en-soul' the astral light pictures. These are the proximate cause of much spiritualistic and much psychic phenomena. They can manipulate the etheric forces and move material objects, produce sounds, scents and so on. They are, however, quite amoral and irresponsible.
This digression into spiritualistic phenomena may appear irrelevant but they are so often used to justify other views on survival and after death states.
Theosophy, however. is quite specific on this point. We, as personalities, disappear at death, never to return. Something, however, survives us as persons, and that is the residual tendencies which condition our next personality. By this perfect justice is done. The new personality initially reflects exactly, as effects, the causes set in train by the old one. We are now, so to speak, what we have made ourselves to be and we, as persons in another life, will be what we are making ourselves to be now. We are creating our new personality every moment of our present life. We are wholly - and very nearly solely - responsible for it. The karma of our family or national group can condition it too.
In all this we must remember what, or who, we are. We, in this context, are the reincarnating entity, our real Self, our Ego, immortal and divine. It has even been said that Ego is 'omniscient, omnipotent and ubiquitous'. None of us has, as yet, an inkling of the full stature of man but it is the heritage of all of us some day. The attainment of it, however, is not automatic; we have to achieve it. We are told we can hasten that day and not only 'save' ourselves but to a degree elevate the whole of humanity and thereby become 'saviours' of our kind.
For a further exploration of this topic Chapter 8 'Death and After' from 'Exploring the Great Beyond'
Theosophy, The Wisdom Religion > Next Page Reincarnation