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Death is the opener, the one giving vision; death is the greatest and loveliest change that the heart of nature has in store for us. — G. de Purucker, Golden Precepts of Esotericism
"O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" We are all familiar with these beautiful words of Paul, but alas, how little real consolation have they given to bereaved hearts! For there has been no teaching or experience to bear out their promise of divine assurance. And yet the truth has been close beside us all the time, whispering to our hearts in the very voice of our own love for our departed: Spiritual man is eternal: there are no dead.
Love itself is the evidence of our spiritual survival — true love, which is unselfish and undemanding, pure, forgiving, and indestructible. Can we ever cease to love, though we may at least cease continually to mourn, those who have preceded us into the Land of Light? Our love, just because it is indestructible, must spring from something in us which is also undying, for how can a quality be greater than the source from which it springs?
It is here, in love itself, that we must look for proofs that the human spirit lives for all time. But we must not forget that it is real love only, and not selfish emotional clinging, that can open for us the door of true spiritual communion with our departed.
Theosophy tells us that the seeming separation from our loved ones at death is not a reality, and that we live in illusions. Does not even physical science tell us that matter is "mostly holes"? Yet matter and external life seem to have become for us all that we care to understand. We live almost entirely in the material aims and interests of our personalities — our brain-minds or our emotional mentality. And these personalities, being of the earth earthy and bound up with the bodily things that perish with the body, themselves die and pass away from human ken. The great lesson we have to learn, if we would keep in spiritual touch not only with the dead but with all those who are absent from us in the flesh, is the fleeting nature of the personality. We must learn to understand our personal selves for the transitory things they are. Then, discovering and living in the spiritual reality behind them and within them, we shall find our inner immortal selves and begin to live in and for that permanent root of our being. When we can do that, we shall see; we shall know ourselves as being immortal today — now — in this moment! And we shall then also recognize the true selves of those we love, and experience in every moment of our lives the fact that we are together always, always in real touch with one another even when the bodily eyes do not see the beloved face and the bodily ears hear not the voice of the absent. It is knowledge alone of our spiritual selves and of the inner spiritual selves of those we love that will give us the victory over death.
There is indeed truth to be had. It is within the power of each one of us to solve all our problems and find healing for every sorrow. Death is not a mystery in the sense of something that cannot be understood. The truths about death are within the reach of all of us.
It is only our ignorance of the spiritual facts behind material life that surrounds death with such grief and dread and fearfulness. If we will but have courage and determination we may lift the veil and find, by means of our own awakened spiritual faculties, that death is but an entrance to a higher form of being on a plane where we and our loved ones are inseparable; and that, together always, "we advance from age to age and from heights to greater heights forever."
Ignorance is our greatest enemy, and above all else ignorance of our own nature. Man, know thyself! for in thee lie all the possibilities and realities of the universe. It is because most of us know practically nothing of ourselves beyond that narrow groove of living in which our thoughts and feelings daily repeat themselves, that we are ignorant about why we are here and whither we are bound.
The illusory and deceptive nature of material things is being gradually brought home to the thoughtful by the work of modern science. Physicists, for example, tell us that our bodies in the last analysis are made up of small electric particles which science classifies as electrons, protons, neutrons, etc., but which theosophy calls lives or life-atoms. If all the particles in a human body could be packed together, we are told they would be no larger than a speck of dust. And yet it is this speck — spread out as it were by the magic of the life forces — which makes this relatively enormous, seemingly solid physical body. Similarly, a table, a block of marble, or any "solid" body is really a mass of these particles vibrating with such inconceivable rapidity that our eyes cannot see between them, and so we sense the illusion of solidity, as when we whirl a lighted stick, it appears to our vision like a complete circle of fire. Thus we understand how it is that what we have always thought of as "solid reality" is actually an illusion, though real enough when looked at from the viewpoint of experience.
We have also recently discovered that there are forms of matter which we cannot see because their rates of vibration are not perceptible to our senses — like infrared and the ultraviolet light rays, one too slow and the other too swift in its oscillations for us to see them, though their existence is proved by photography and other experimental tests.
If then we are to understand the mysteries of life and death — to see and to know those things of the spiritual realms which are beyond our present perceptions — we must realize the deceptive nature of merely material things. And we have to recognize the meaning to us of the existence of forms of matter which are beyond our present ken. We must understand what science is just beginning to demonstrate, but which theosophy, the ancient wisdom-science, has taught for ages: that the real universe is built, not of matter, but of consciousness. Man is not a body, for that is illusory. He is a center, a unit of consciousness, imbodied in a garment of impermanent flesh.
The body and the personality or brain-mind — that is, our everyday selves — are not of course to be undervalued, for they are our tools, our apparatus for experience in the world around us where our present evolution is taking place. Indeed, a true understanding of our personalities would enable us to develop them into a beauty and usefulness now undreamed of. But we cannot do this, nor can they be trained to serve us properly, until we can step aside in our thoughts and view them in their relation to the deeper, undying self in which lies the key to all our "mysteries."
We are bewildered often by our own moods and mental conditions. We do not understand why we are so changeable from day to day. But we know that there is within us something permanent which can recognize these changes and observe them, something by which we have carried forward our sense of identity from childhood to old age, and through all the experiences which so greatly alter character. This permanence within is the true self, which persists beneath our moods much as the sea remains unaltered for all the waxing and waning tides and storms that undulate its surface. And this abiding reality within is our spiritual self.
In thinking this over we see that the real person can be best understood if we regard him not so much as a body or a mind, but as a consciousness. The word "consciousness" is one with which we should familiarize ourselves, for consciousness is the stuff with which evolution works. It is the basis of all life and growth and being. And a human being is really a complex of different kinds of consciousness in which the spiritual self is the binding element — the invisible core, so to speak. Even the leading exponents of science no longer look upon consciousness as something which is a byproduct of the brain, but as the fundamental stuff of existence (see The Esoteric Tradition, 3rd & rev. ed., pp. 203-7).
Now what do we mean by consciousness? Radically, it is the sense of I AM: I exist: I am alive, feeling, and experiencing. But this I AM is only the root of ourselves, the impersonal, universal basis. During life this sense of root-consciousness develops into many forms: bodily consciousness, emotional and mental consciousness, and greatest of all, self-consciousness: the sense of I AM I — I am myself and no one else. Each of these various kinds of consciousness itself grows into a complex, or bundle, of energies, which exist in us as centers of activity.
That this is true we recognize in the fact that different individuals are pretty sure to think or feel in certain characteristic ways. We do not expect a miser to act upon a sudden impulse of generosity. He has built up through thought and habit certain strong centers of feeling that dominate him, even when generosity might serve his own interests. But most of us have not developed in so definite a way and so are hardly aware of the growth of this inner psychological organism of loosely knitted centers of feeling, any more than we are aware of the growth of our bodies.
Nevertheless, these centers are there. We identify ourselves daily, first with one then with another, as our moods testify. We have built these centers ourselves throughout the years. They are the basis of our characters and actions. All the tyrannies of temperament, the difficulty of breaking habits or getting rid of prejudices are due to the existence of these centers of energy which we have all unaware been building within us all our lives. So it is to the study of consciousness that theosophy first of all directs us. The mystery of death is one of the mysteries of consciousness.
The similarity between sleep and death has impressed all thinkers. The ancient Greeks had a saying: "Sleep and death are brothers." For death is the same phenomenon as sleep on a larger and deeper scale. We all recognize sleep as a temporary state because we understand it, or imagine that we do. But we think of death as the end of life when, as a matter of fact, death should not be coupled with life in that way. We ought not to say "life and death" but birth and death. We do not think of birth as a final thing because we know it is followed by death. But theosophy shows us that neither is death final. Death is not only a birth of the spiritual man into a higher sphere of existence, but death in its turn is followed eventually by man's rebirth upon earth. So that it is life or consciousness which is the great enduring fact; and birth and death are but rhythmic events in the endless circle of the conscious evolution of all things.
Thus in our daily experiences we find that sleeping and waking are also the rhythmic events through which this life rounds out our personal development. If we would but observe ourselves more closely in the light of theosophical teachings, and would link up death with the experiences of our ordinary consciousness, it would cease to be such a dark and hopeless riddle. Once recognized as an understandable part of our evolution and as being rich in interest and new discoveries for the mind and heart, the study of death adds a new and wonderful chapter to the romance of our spiritual history.
. . . I tell you, my Brothers, that each one of you, given the right key, can solve all the mysteries of Sleep and therefore of Death, because Sleep and Death are psycho-physical brothers. . . . Exactly the same succession of events takes place in death that ensues when we lay ourselves in bed at night and drop off into that wonderland of consciousness we call Sleep; . . . Death and Sleep are brothers. What happens in sleep takes place in death — but perfectly so. What happens in death and after death, takes place when we sleep — but imperfectly so. — G. de Purucker, Questions We All Ask, Series II, No. 19
Now if we consider a little more observantly our various states of consciousness, we find another valuable clue. But what do we mean by states of consciousness? Most of us, you see, rarely think of ourselves as anything but bodies animated by a physical brain. We do not go deeply enough into our own inner life to realize that the real part of us consists of our consciousness centering itself at different times in different parts of our constitution. This is very simple to understand if we will reflect upon the fact that even our commonplace daily life is made up of states of consciousness as different as possible from one another.
Some of these "states" or functions of our consciousness are emotional, such as anger, grief, happiness, or excitement; occasionally they are purely intellectual, as in the work of a scientist or a writer; again we may center ourselves, when we are hungry or tired or have suffered a painful accident, entirely in the body. At night our consciousness passes into still other and less familiar functions or aspects of ourselves.
Nearly everyone has had the experience, when walking along the street, or in reading or conversing, of noticing something that instantly recalled a vivid dream of the preceding night. Or, upon waking in the morning, one's mind is full of some dream experience that, though sharp and significant at the moment, fades hopelessly as waking consciousness returns. In the first instance the dream might never have been remembered but for the external event which recalled it. Both instances show, however, that we have experiences in consciousness of which we may remain ordinarily unaware, but which on their own level are as vivid as those of the brain when awake. How many such experiences has the inner self not had that are never recollected by the waking self! Yet they have existed, have at the moment been as real as waking life, as real as those infrared and ultraviolet rays which we never see. Moreover they have had their share in shaping us to what we are. And herein lies the clue above referred to.
So if we would understand death we must study our own consciousness, we must know ourselves. For, as already emphasized, consciousness is the fundamental fact of the universe. Modern science, so long convinced that consciousness was a mere byproduct of matter, is now gradually, through some of our foremost scientists, coming to the theosophical point of view, and are beginning to talk about consciousness as the reality behind all phenomena. Two passages are here quoted from men of different temperaments and outlook, the first being from Max Planck, regarded as one of the soundest and most original researchers:
. . . I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness. — The Observer, London, January 25, 1931
Sir James H. Jeans, another original scientific researcher, expresses the same idea in almost identical words:
I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe. . . . It may well be, it seems to me, that each individual consciousness ought to be compared to a brain-cell in a universal mind. — The Observer, London, January 4, 1931
With the basic thoughts expressed in the above quotations theosophy, the ancient wisdom, is in complete agreement. It has been teaching them as long as mankind has existed. But we now begin to see where this idea leads us: If consciousness is the fundamental reality in the universe and each person is an individual center of that consciousness, this shows him to be as real and therefore as indestructible as the universe itself. He is a droplet of the universal life.
Indeed, the universe itself is made up of consciousnesses, stretching in innumerable degrees of development downward from mankind to the lower kingdoms, to the electron, and even below; then upward, from mankind to divinity — an endless scale of hierarchical beings of which we are an integral part. We are parts of a living whole, so that until the universe itself passes away, we and all creatures composing it cannot cease to exist. We are sharers in its continuity.
This idea is emphasized again and again in theosophical literature, but particularly by G. de Purucker, who tells us:
You don't live outside of the Universe, you are a part of it, as a part is an integral portion of the whole. . . . What the Universe is, that you are; what you are, the Universe is. — Questions We All Ask, Series II, No. 20
Know thyself, O son of man! For in thee lie all the mysteries of the Universe. Thou art its child; inseparable from it shalt thou ever be; for It is thou and thou art It. This is the pathway to all wisdom, to all knowledge, to all achievement. It is also therefore the pathway of evolution — of evolving, of unfolding, what is folded up or latent within you. — Op. cit., Series II, No. 30
In connection with the similarity between sleep and death the following interesting suggestion has been made:
If one desire to know how he will feel when he dies, let him when he lies down to sleep, grip his consciousness with his will and study the actual processes of his falling asleep — if he can! It is easy enough to do this once the idea is grasped and practice in the exercise has become more or less familiar. — G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, 3rd & rev. ed., p. 447
We must re-educate ourselves if we would be able to solve life's deeper problems. It is our present habit to identify ourselves with our personal consciousness; that is, those mental and emotional concerns which center in self-interest or personal desire. If we would understand and conquer the mysteries of either life or death we must study ourself as a center of spiritual consciousness, a divine pilgrim progressing ever upward upon the glorious pathway of self-directed evolution.
We die because we are, in our innermost, a spiritual being. Life on this earth is only part of our evolution. Our spirit-soul is native to the invisible spiritual worlds and only sojourns here for a while in order to round out its experience and to afford an opportunity for growth to the innumerable less evolved entities, such as life-atoms, which make up its earthly vehicle.
The spiritual self reincarnates here during life after life after life; but between these lives it returns to its home in the inner worlds and pursues there the higher ranges of its evolution.
The real reason why we die is because, deep within us, the spiritual self feels the call of its "homeland." The time comes when it grows weary of the burden of flesh and longs for the freedom and light of the spiritual realms. So, little by little in the case of the average human being, the spirit loosens its hold upon its earthly tenement and prepares to depart upon its sublime homeward way.
What we call death means far more than almost anyone realizes. Laying down its physical body or encasement is not all that the spiritual tenant has to do in order to be free for its journey to the inner spheres. For man is a composite being. He has not only a physical body but his spirit-soul also uses a psychological vehicle — his personality. This is made up of mental and emotional states of consciousness. It is a complex tissue which in its selfishness and materiality weighs down the spirit even more heavily than does the physical body. This garment of personality must also be sloughed off and must in its turn suffer dissolution. And this later process is called in the esoteric philosophy, the second death.
Death therefore is really the breaking up of these two lower aspects of consciousness, the physical and the psychological, into their respective elements. The body is dissolved and disappears. All the ephemeral energy centers of the psychological nature — those of the passions, the earthly desires and appetites, and the purely personal mental activities — dissolve away into the life-atoms of which they were built by the thoughts and actions of the individual who has been using them. The real person, the spiritual self, having thus sloughed off — like the butterfly its chrysalis — these enshrouding earth vehicles, can then wing its way into the freedom and joy of its native spiritual realms.
The whole wonderful, mystical process of death is assisted by the law of periodicity which governs the life of all things. For death and birth are themselves twin manifestations of this universal law of periodicity. All life has two poles, the positive and the negative. Everything swings pendulum-like between night and day, heat and cold, ebb and flow, storm and sunshine, systole and diastole, sleeping and waking — also between birth and death. But as the second of each of these pairs — the ebb, the cold, the systole, and sleep — are really only periods in themselves and not endings, so theosophy maintains that death is not an ending but is the beginning of a period of life of another kind. And being but a period, it must be followed again by birth.
So it is this law of periodicity underlying the manifestation of all active, composite beings which assists the spiritual self to achieve freedom from its earthly tabernacle. But this event, this so-called death — which we can see — is only the turn of the tide, beyond which the undying, physically invisible self is carried outward by its spiritual ebb upon the boundless ocean of unending existence.
Let us remember, however, that
. . . Death is never sudden; . . . nothing goes in nature by violent transitions. Everything is gradual, and as it required a long and gradual development to produce the living human being, so time is required to completely withdraw vitality from the carcass. — H. P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled 1:480
Old age is nothing to fear. It is a blessing. It is a splendor seen as through a veil, of the life beyond, the higher life, the life in which the higher incarnating ego lives, literally. Shadows — coming events casting their shadows before, the shadows of the splendor to be — such is a fine old age! — G. de Purucker, Golden Precepts of Esotericism, chapter 2
MAN'S SEVEN PRINCIPLES
In order to understand more clearly what happens after death and how the inner spiritual self abandons one by one the garments or vehicles through which it gains experience here, let us briefly examine the seven principles of our composite nature.
The following diagram, beginning with the spiritual as the first and highest principle, will give a brief idea of them:
Atma-buddhi is the monad, the spirit-soul. The word monad means a "unit" of life or consciousness — an individual. A monad exists at the heart of every being — star, planet, animal, plant, atom, electron — no matter what. In ourselves we can regard it more graphically as his spiritual self, the sense of I am. Atman is a ray of pure universal spirit, linking us with the ALL. Buddhi is pure intelligence, wisdom, and love. It acts as a vehicle or channel to step down the light of the universal into the human constitution. From buddhi spring all our highest qualities: compassion, discrimination, sympathy, and conscience, as well as the visions of genuine spiritual seership or exalted genius. Atma-buddhi is pure consciousness, which is common to all beings, though without manas (as in the animals) it cannot function intellectually.
Manas is the "thinker" in man. It is our ego, the seat of self-consciousness, by which we feel, "I am I and no one else." Through it we relate consciously to others and to our environment and thus are able to carry on our own self-directed evolution. It is manas which gathers in and remembers the experiences of individual life in all the worlds; and these, when finally absorbed by the universal spirit, constantly enrich the unfoldment of cosmic consciousness. These three higher principles are divine in their origin.
The lower quaternary is that composite vehicle, made up of the animal-vital qualities in nature, which evolution on this earth in past ages prepared for the use of manas, the self-conscious thinker. In this diagram we observe that manas is dual, for this self-conscious thinker or ego, once it takes up its work on this earth by means of a physical body, must associate itself on its lower side with the animal quaternary. This association it is which makes the personality or human ego, which we call the lower manas.
But the higher side of manas is associated with the wisdom and light of buddhi; and it is this higher side which is the reincarnating ego, the higher manas. The reincarnating ego does not experience death; but lower manas, being the product only of the association of manas with the mortal part of human nature, exists but during earth-life and meets its dissolution at the second death.
THE LOWER QUATERNARY
We come now to the kama-rupa, the highest aspect of the lower quaternary and one of the most powerful and important elements in human nature. Kama-rupa means literally "desire-body" and is that center of animal appetites, passions, and emotions which is the basic inciting energy in the lives of the majority. For are we not most of us more easily swayed by our passions and appetites, or by self-interest and prejudice, than by unselfishness and impersonal wisdom?
The kama-rupa, as just stated, has been developed by past evolution through many ages. During human life it is that bundle or complex of energies needed by the higher triad to come into touch with the material kingdoms of nature on this earth. To conquer and transform this desire-complex into a center of spiritual desire instead of animal and selfish propensities is one of the evolutionary tasks of manas, the reincarnating ego.
As the thinker within us chooses to be swayed by the lower quaternary or the spiritual self, it makes bad or good karma which shapes its present and future lives. And the object of reincarnation is that through experience and self-directed effort over a long series of earth-lives, the thinker may learn through pleasure and pain the fleeting and unsatisfactory nature of all things connected with the lower quaternary. Then, finally discovering how to ally himself with the spiritual self, it will raise its mortal parts into immortality.
Another important principle for us to understand is the so-called astral body or linga-sarira. Linga means "model" or "pattern," and sarira, an impermanent form. It is described by Dr. de Purucker in his Occult Glossary as the sixth substance-principle of the human constitution,
the model or framework around which the physical body is built, and from which, in a sense, the physical body flows or from which the physical body develops as growth proceeds.
Prana we may think of as the "field" of vital energies circumscribed by our astral-physical organism. It is an aggregation of vital life-atoms drawn from nature's reservoirs and determined as to kind and activity by the karmic affinities and characteristics of the person concerned. In a study of afterdeath states these principles are not as important to understand as the higher ones, for both are dissipated almost immediately after death. The same is true of the physical body.
Let us see now what happens to these principles at death. First, the higher triad departs from the lower quaternary, and the latter immediately begins to fall apart. Dissolution of the physical body at once sets in and this releases its astral model-body or linga-sarira, which also disintegrates. Prana or vitality passes back into the reservoirs of nature.
Upon the withdrawal of the higher triad and the break-up of the three lower principles, the kama-rupa is, so to say, separated out as a bundle or rupa (form) of desire energies. It is soulless of course, for the higher triad, the real self, has gone; but it will persist for a longer or shorter time according as the passional selfish nature of the individual was encouraged, or was controlled and refined, during the life just ended.
But where does this kama-rupa exist? And is it still alive and active? This shell of the person that was exists now in what is called in theosophy the kama-loka, i. e., the "place" or "world" of desire.
This kama-lokic afterdeath state is important for us to understand, for it has a very real bearing upon human progress and happiness. The whole psychological realm extending in consciousness between earth-life and devachan, the spiritual heaven-world, is known in theosophy as the kama-loka. Another quotation from the Occult Glossary will explain this kama-lokic sphere:
Kama-Loka (Sanskrit) A compound which can be translated as "desire world," . . . It is a semi-material plane or rather world or realm, subjective and invisible to human beings as a rule, which surrounds and also encloses our physical globe. It is the habitat or dwelling-place of the astral forms of dead men and other dead beings — the realm of the kama-rupas or desire-bodies of defunct humans. "It is the Hades," as H. P. Blavatsky says, "of the ancient Greeks, and the Amenti of the Egyptians, the land of Silent Shadows."
It is in the kama-loka that the second death takes place, . . . The highest regions of the kama-loka blend insensibly into the lowest regions or realms of the devachan; . . .
When the physical body breaks up at death, the astral elements of the excarnate entity remain in the kama-loka or "shadow world," with the same vital centers as in physical life clinging within them, still vitalizing them; and here certain processes take place. The lower human soul that is befouled with earth-thought and the lower instincts cannot easily rise out of the kama-loka, because it is foul, it is heavy; and its tendency is consequently downwards. It is in the kama-loka that the processes of separation of the monad from the kama-rupic spook or phantom take place; and when this separation is complete, which is the second death above spoken of, then the monad receives the reincarnating ego within its bosom, wherein it enjoys its long rest of bliss and recuperation.
The second death is a gradual process and for the average human being is entirely unconscious. It is a perfectly normal process. Remember that by death we mean simply the dissolution of the elements of a body. We are no more aware of this second death than we are conscious of the daily and quite normal and healthy breakdown of the tissues of the body, or of the gradual and more subtle changes always taking place in our characters, for the bundle of energies called the kama-rupa or desire-body is instinctual only. But though it is ordinarily unconscious, it yet preserves for a time the stamp, the characteristic personal impress, of the person to whom its energies belonged — the human individual, in short, who brought the kama-rupa into being. And it is this fact which it is so important for us to understand.
A very large number of spiritistic manifestations are due to the fact that the medium and the sitters attract, by the magnetism of intense desire, grief, or curiosity, these shells or masks or kama-rupas of the departed, left as their remnants in the kama-lokic sphere. Such shells can be magnetically drawn into the thought-atmosphere of the seance room and, vitalized and given concrete direction by the vitality of the medium and "circle," are galvanized into a fictitious life. Then these automata can, like phonographic records, give off phrases, recollections, and ideas closely associated with the life and personality of the departed. Or they can reflect, like a photographic plate, the thoughts of those in the circle. Theosophy maintains that an enormous percentage of so-called "communications from the dead" are of this class.
That these communications are rarely anything but such automatic repetitions is evident when we remember that no creative philosophy of this world or the next, no hints for new paths of scientific research, or for archaeological and historical discovery, have come from the seance room. A "Summerland" which is but a rainbow-hued repetition of earth-life is about all that almost two centuries of modern spiritistic experiments have given us. What tentative new lines of research have resulted from Spiritism have been the result of living rather than departed intelligences.
This, however, is but the negative side of the matter, as a later chapter will set forth.
The following listing sums up briefly the various processes and conditions which are brought about by the separation of our seven principles after death:
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