Copyright © 2011 by Theosophical University Press
Looking upon man in his inmost as a deathless, and during the course of the cosmic manvantara an ever-active, ray from the heart or essence of the universe, and therefore as eternal as the universe itself, what men call death is seen to be the opening of the greatest adventure of life.
Too much emphasis in the West is placed upon the various bodies in man's constitution, but these after all are merely temporary vehicles thrown around himself by the monad, a flaming ray from the solar divinity. It will be impossible to understand death and its mysteries as long as one concentrates attention on the mere bodies or sheaths in which this ray or flame of consciousness periodically enwraps itself. It is necessary to follow the peregrinations of the consciousness per se, if a man desire to know his postmortem destiny. When a man can do this he will no longer fear death, because he will see its non-existence except as a phase of life opening into peregrinations through inner worlds and spheres, till the devachan is reached; and he will recognize death exactly for what it is, the gentlest helper and friend that a man has. Dying means laying aside imperfection for relative perfection, restricted consciousness for an enlarged sphere of consciousness.
Every intuition of man's being tells him that consciousness per se, and apart from its bodies, runs on in unbroken continuity, and experience that man has tells him likewise that manifested or egoic consciousness is continuously undergoing change so that the man remains not the same identic ego even from second to second — for each second brings an ineluctable change in attribute or quality of the percipient or manifested consciousness.
Man is, in the last analysis, a stream or flow of consciousness pausing at intervals as it builds his constitution from the highest to the lowest of him, in order to form knots or foci which are the different consciousness-centers of his constitution. This stream of essential consciousness we can envision as containing at least three inherent qualities or attributes: thought, will, feeling. Yet the stream of essential consciousness in us — so different from the manifest or ego-consciousness — has continued to the present day of our adulthood unbroken, albeit its manifested forms, because working through these knots or foci, have always been changing.
Each one of us can say of himself "I am I" — ego sum. Plunging still more profoundly into the deeps of our own essential consciousness each one of us likewise can say of himself "I am," the same "I am" that came into the conscious perception of the lower cognizing ego when the child-brain first was sufficiently developed to receive cognition. Identically the same "I am" will remain with us in normal cases until the day of physical dissolution; but consider the changes through and in which this essential consciousness has lived and moved and had its being throughout our life. Consider how we have undergone almost uncountable changes of these knots or foci of consciousness, while the essential "I-am-ness" has continued unbroken and in itself has undergone no perceptible modifications whatsoever — albeit the adult man feels an increase in his "I-am-I-ness."
Furthermore, note that this "I am" is virtually identic in all; but that the "I am I" in one is not the same as the "I am I" in another. It is precisely the ego or "I am I" in each of us which distinguishes one from all others, and which brings about the distinctions of individuality that make human beings, and indeed all other units in the hierarchical host.
The highest focus or knot of the essential consciousness, and therefore its first spiritual vehicle, is the buddhic monad, and the essential consciousness itself is the atman or fundamental Self, which is a ray of the paramatman or supreme Self of the cosmos. It is therefore the buddhic monad which is this stream of essential consciousness, the golden thread of unbroken individuality, on which all the inferior substance-principles are threaded, like beads on a chain, passing through all the intermediate foci or knots of the human constitution, and streaming through them as a flow of unbroken radiation. This stream is called the sutratman, a Sanskrit word meaning "thread-self." The sutratman, therefore, is rooted in and flows forth from the buddhic monad, from its monadic essence or atman, but its stream is colored by the progressively unfolding individuality of the reincarnating or reimbodying ego, working through man's inner constitution, his mind and emotions, his aspirations, intellect, and so forth, producing the individual-personal consciousness which is the "I am I."
One of the profoundest teachings of Plato following the Pythagoreans, is that the characteristics, qualities, and functioning of a man's consciousness during life are due to previous reimbodiments of his egoic center, and consequently all his innate knowledge, wisdom, and organic faculty are but reminiscences of former existences, which he called anamnēsis, meaning the gathering together again into a coherent unity of all the energic and substantial conscious activities that the being in the preceding incarnation was. This in a very real sense is actual re-collection or re-memorization of the past: not of details necessarily, but of the aggregate mass of the spiritual and psychological elements coming over from the past which express themselves in the present life as karmic consequences, and which in their totality form man himself. Thus it is evident that Plato taught the same doctrine that the Buddha taught, to wit, that a man is his own karma: all that totality of himself, on all planes and in all phases, which his past lives have made him to be or to become.
Thus we see that the life of a man is the journeying of an ever-unfolding consciousness, the reimbodying ego, through the physical sphere and what is called death is simply a continuance of his journey out of this sphere into another and to us invisible one. Indeed it may be said that physical death is in large part brought about by the fact that the unfolding field of consciousness, even in the course of one life, spreads beyond the capacity of the physical body which, feeling the strains put upon it, gradually deteriorates, glides into senescence, and finally is cast off. A short time before the dissolution of the physical body, the inner constitution of the man — the principles themselves, which are the inner forces and substances of the man — begins to separate, and the body, as time passes, naturally and inevitably follows suit.
The immortal part of man, which is superior to the merely human ego or soul, is a denizen of divine-spiritual spheres. The power and the pervading influences of this higher part of the man are incomparably more compelling in causal realms than is even the spiritual ego or soul, and there is a constant pull upwards to these superior planes; and especially with the approach of death, the reincarnating entity is strongly drawn upwards toward them. This steady and mighty spiritual-intellectual attraction acting on the higher part of the intermediate nature of the human constitution, combined with the wear and tear of the physical and astral bodies of a man during life, are the two main contributing causes of physical death. Death, therefore, is caused from within primarily, and only secondarily from without, involving on the one hand an attraction of the reimbodying ego upwards to spiritual spheres and, on the other hand, the progressive decay of the astral-vital-physical vehicle.
Wherever we look we see all the phenomena of life: entities in all stages of growth or senescence or dying; and one of the most usual manners by which man describes the causes of death is to speak of the "failure" of inner vital powers. Everything begins to die from within outwards; so that one may truly say that if it were possible for the interior constitution of an entity to continue in unimpaired vital activity, the outer or physical body would probably undergo no dissolution at all so long as the unimpaired inner faculties continue in operation; for it is these inner faculties and powers which infill the physical body with all their energy of coherence, and enable it to continue in existence as a "living being." A tree, for instance, does not die because of exterior influences impinging upon it, although these do indeed contribute when inner decay once begins, but a tree begins to decay within, and if the decay be not checked in some manner, it will spread until the entire entity dies. Similarly a sun does not become a cold dead body because of exterior forces, but because of the fact that its own interior forces or energies have expended themselves; indeed, according to scientific thinking, a sun finally "dies" because of the fact it has radiated away all the greater part, if not the totality, of the titanic energies lying within its core.
Death, therefore, takes place from within and works outwards. Old age, senility, or physical decay are thus the physical resultants of this preparatory withdrawal of the reimbodying ego from self-conscious participation in the affairs of earth-life; and may be compared to the antenatal period during which the reimbodying ego, for months or even years, has been undergoing quasi-conscious preparation for its "death" in the devachan and its descent through the intermediate lower realms into physical imbodiment.
There finally comes the hour when the separating constitution of the man reaches the point where the reimbodying ego obeys so strongly the attraction "upwards" or "inwards" to the peace and bliss of the devachan, that the silver cord of life connecting it with the lower triad is snapped. There then immediately ensues the cessation of the activity of the pulsating heart: there is the last beat, and this is followed by instantaneous unconsciousness. Quicker than a flash of lightning, the higher part of the ego is then indrawn up into the spiritual monad, its essential self; and there, resting in the bosom of the monad until the next incarnation on this earth ensues, it remains in the devachan, wrapped in ineffable dreams of successful fulfillment of all its hitherto thwarted aspirations. We may call these experiences "dreams," because they are as much dreaming to the reimbodying ego, as are the ordinary daydreams of a man; but these devachanic dreams are more real to the spiritual ego than the most "real thing" that the physical body with its imperfect senses can report to us.
We must always remember that the devachan is not an objective sphere or plane, but is entirely a series of states of the consciousness itself, which weaves around itself these illusory "pictures" or "visions" which are the apparent reflections of its own internal activities. Consequently, the devachan is in every case an individual devachan for the one who experiences it. Thus a man whose lifetime has been passed in unfulfilled yearnings of a philosophical or scientific character, of a religious or musical nature, etc., will have a devachan which will be exactly correspondential to the dominating flow of his consciousness during life.
But death is not yet complete even when the last pulsation of the heart has taken place, because the brain, being the last organ of the body to die, for some time still remains active, and memory, although unconsciously to the lower human ego, passes in review in regular serial order and without interruption, every single event of the life just ended, from the greatest to the most transitory and minute. From the moment when self-consciousness first began in babyhood, to the last moment of self-conscious perception when the heart ceased beating, the brain sees it all as a continuous flowing panorama of pictures. All passes in review; and the reimbodying ego realizes the perfect justice of all that it has experienced, and receives an indelible impression thereof which remains with it throughout the devachanic interlude and aids in guiding it to the proper environment when it returns to earth for its next rebirth.
Just as the panorama of the whole past life glides past it in review at death, so the identic picture, which has been indelibly stamped into the fabric of being, again passes in review before its "mind's eye" just before the reimbodying ego takes birth anew. This panoramic picture is purely automatic, and the soul-consciousness of the reimbodying ego, watching this wonderful review incident by incident, is for the time being entirely oblivious of everything else. Temporarily it thus lives in the past; and memory dislodges from the akasic record, so to speak, event after event, even to the smallest detail.
There are definite ethical and psychological reasons which by nature's laws inhere in this process; for this rapidly moving panorama comprises the entire reconstruction, mentally speaking, of all done in the past life, imprinting it all indelibly on the fabric of the spiritual memory of the man who is passing.
Finally the end comes; and then the mortal and material portions of the panorama sink into oblivion; while the reimbodying ego retains with it consciously the best and most spiritual and intellectual parts of these memories of the panoramic vision into the devachan.
On p. 187 of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett occurs the following:
That remembrance will return slowly and gradually toward the end of the gestation (to the entity or Ego), still more slowly but far more imperfectly and incompletely to the shell, and fully to the Ego at the moment of its entrance into the Devachan.
The "remembrance" here referred to by the Master K.H. is the panoramic vision, or reviewing of the events of the past life, which occurs in every normal human being at least twice after death, and in some cases three times, and has reference to the experience of different parts of the excarnate constitution. The "gestation" here signifies the preliminary preparation of the reimbodying ego entering into its devachan; just as the gestation of a child precedes its birth on earth, so there is a gestation of the devachanic entity before it enters devachan.
The "shell" in the above extract refers to the kamarupic entity or spook which is cast off at the "second death," shortly preceding the entrance of the ego into the devachanic state, and therefore at the end of the gestation-period. The meaning is that after death the "fourfold" entity — fourfold because it has cast off the lower triad — is in a more or less unconscious or dreamlike state; and the panoramic vision or remembrance returns slowly to the ego at the end of the gestation-period preceding the devachan; but in completion when the gestation-period is ended and when the entity stands as it were on the devachanic threshold. The remembrance returns very imperfectly and incompletely, however, to the kamarupic shell and more or less at the time the kamarupic shell is first dropped by the rising reimbodying ego; and this remembrance must be incomplete and imperfect, because the shell, being a mere garment, although to a certain extent vitalized and therefore quasi-conscious like the physical body, obviously can retain no full recollection of all the past life, because incapable of retaining the spiritual and lofty intellectual vistas of the life just lived. These last inhere in the reimbodying ego.
On page 198, Master K.H. writes:
Deva Chan is a state, not a locality. Rupa Loka, Arupa-Loka, and Kama-Loka are the three spheres of ascending spirituality in which the several groups of subjective entities find their attractions.
The three spheres of "ascending spirituality" are, in their proper order, kamaloka, rupaloka, and arupaloka, and are a brief way of expressing the three generalized states both of matter and of consciousness between the lowest astral and the highest devachanic spheres. Kamaloka is the ordinary astral world, that portion of the astral light which is the world of shells, of cast-off kamarupic entities or spooks; and is itself divided into different stages of ethereality, ascending from the lowest kamaloka or that which is nearest to earth-condition. The kamaloka then merges into the rupaloka, a Sanskrit phrase which means "form-world"; and the rupaloka is in this connection the lower part of the devachanic sphere of being. The rupaloka in its turn is divided into ascending grades of ethereality, so that the highest of the rupaloka merges insensibly into the lowest of the arupaloka or "formless sphere." It is through these three "spheres of ethereality" that the average excarnate entity passes in its postmortem adventure, beginning at the moment of death — but after the panoramic vision — in the lowest part of the kamaloka, and ending with the higher part of the devachan. Although the kamaloka, the rupaloka and the arupaloka may be considered as actual localities or spheres because they are respective portions of the astral light, which is in another sense the linga-sarira of the earth, they are merely so because all the entities inhabiting them must have position in space. The devachan per se is a series of states of consciousness just as the avici is.
On page 188 of The Mahatma Letters one reads:
from the last step of devachan, the Ego will often find itself in Avitcha's faintest state, which, towards the end of the "spiritual selection" of events may become a bona fide "Avitcha."
"Avitcha" is of course a miswriting by the chela-amanuensis for avici. The "spiritual selection" of events is but a phrase which rather neatly describes the selecting by the devachanic entity as it enters into devachan of all the spiritual and lofty intellectual vistas, events, together with all the spiritual emotions and aspirations, of the life last lived on earth. If these vistas and events, etc., are few to re-collect or select, the devachanic state is not high and is undoubtedly a rupalokic devachan. Similarly, if these vistas and events are extremely few, then the devachan is so low or faint that it is practically the same as verging toward the highest part of avici; because the highest part of kamaloka blends insensibly into the very lowest states of the devachan, while the kamaloka's lowest part blends insensibly into the highest conditions of the avici. In other words, there is no solution of continuity as between any two of these three; for both devachan and avici are states: they can blend insensibly into each other.
At death a man lays aside the physical body as he will lay aside a threadbare coat which has served its use. Similarly does he cast off the model-body, which gave the physical body during life its form and characteristics, for the model-body corresponds to the physical body molecule for molecule, cell for cell. The model-body remains with the physical body, or in extremely close proximity to it, and thus is dropped when the physical body is dropped. Both the physical body or sthula-sarira and the linga-sarira are destined for molecular and even atomic decomposition when no longer vitalized by the organic psychoelectric currents that flow from the overshadowing and irradiating reimbodying ego. Likewise the life-atoms of the prana or "electrical field" permeating and having their seat in both the physical and model-body, in very large part fly back instantly, at the moment of physical dissolution, to the natural pranic reservoirs of the planet — or, what comes to the same thing, so far as the first stages of this process are concerned, they are diffused into the surrounding atmosphere.
As stated before, it must not be thought that the physical body dies because of deprivation of "life"; as a matter of fact, the corpse is as full of life as it was before the moment of death. The difference between the two states is that during life the entire constitution of the human being is permeated by the organic vital fluid originating in the substance of the reimbodying ego, which thus acts as a cohering factor — an organic "electrical field" as it were in which all the life-atoms of all the planes of the human being's constitution, the physical body included, inhere and work both collectively and individually, and whose organic impulses and urges they obey because this organic vitality is individualized and dominant over all minor vital expressions. These minor vital expressions are the individual vitalities of each life-atom.
Thus it is that the dead physical body begins to decay because these life-atoms are no longer held in the cohering and dominating control of the organic electrical field but instantly begin, each one for itself, to work "on its own," so to speak, setting up as among themselves collective and individual attractions and repulsions. It is the repulsions, mutually exercised among these life-atoms, which finally prevail, and very quickly too; and it is therefore this enormously large number of life-atoms repelling each other which brings about the breaking up and final complete dissolution of the corpse itself.
It may be added that one reason for the aging of the physical body is the intensity of the unceasing activities of the life-atoms which compose and build the body, and these activities, at times and as age progresses, become so strong that even the dominating influence of the organic electrical field cannot always hold them in check. The consequence is that the body-structure weakens with the atomic forces thus waxing within it, and is finally destroyed by them; and it is likewise these internal vital activities of the life-atoms held in insufficient check by the organic vitality which bring about many if perhaps not all of the various forms of disease of a lasting character.
Thus it is that the body dies, not from a defect of life, but from a superabundance of it. During the growth-time of childhood and youth, the imbodying organic vitality flows in such flood of power that its unifying and building influences prevail over all opposition; but when the efflorescence of faculty and power has been reached, then begins, however feebly at first, the vital activities of the life-atoms as units, bringing about the consequences attendant upon advancing age. Thus it is life which finally kills the body, although it is perfectly true that death begins from within and proceeds outwards, and is due to the progressive separation of the higher portions of the human constitution from the lower.
Old age need never be a period of decrement of the spiritual and intellectual powers of the human being, because however much the process of separation takes place after middle age, nevertheless precisely because the heavy flood of incoming vitality which manifests in youth is no longer so active, this gives the opportunity for the expression of the best that is in him. One reason why so many people in advancing age seem to lose their mental powers is because of a weakened body usually brought about by the mistakes of youth, mistakes often arising in ignorance; or in more rare cases because of vices which have never been subordinated. When the human race shall have advanced somewhat farther, old age will be considered to be the most beautiful period of life because the fullest in intellectual, psychical, and spiritual power, and it will remain so until within a few short hours before actual physical death occurs.
During life man is and also uses a human soul, which is the child of heaven and of earth: that is, of the monadic spiritual splendor and force and of the substantial forces and qualities of matter combined. During life this human soul functions as the vehicle of the superior parent, the monadic ego, as a stepping-down agency of the forces of the monadic essence; it transforms monadic spiritual energy into the soul-energy of the man during life. Now when the body dies, and the lower portions of the human constitution are abandoned, later to fall apart, while the monadic ray or reimbodying ego rejoins its sublime source, the monad, is there no intermediate part which remains of the man who was? There is indeed, but we can no longer call it a man, because man means the human being as we know him during life; nor can we truly call this intermediate part a soul any longer.
During life, the soul is not by any means a fully-evolved god, nor even a more-or-less self-conscious spirit, but is in fact an entity intermediate between a god and a life-atom. As a great Greek philosopher said in substance:
Everyone of us is a spiritual World, and we are joined to this material sphere by the material elements in us, and to the Divine Spirit (Nous) by our highest — our spiritual part. By all our noetic (spiritual) part we abide permanently in the Highest, while we are chained to the lower parts by the lower ranges of the spiritual in us. — Plotinus, "Our Guardian Spirit," Enneads III, iv, 3
Being a composite entity, partaking of both heaven and earth, the soul obviously is not immortal because no composition can endure forever. Immortality for so imperfect and unevolved an entity as the human soul is during physical life would be about the worst hell that could possibly be imagined. When it is realized that perpetual continuity of an imperfect and erring and, in consequence, suffering entity is not only impossible in itself, but, if it were possible, it would indeed be a hell to continue forever in imperfections and restrictions and the consequent servitudes attendant thereupon.
Thus then, what remains is a composite center of transitory consciousness — an intermediate center of consciousness composed on the lower side of all the man's ingrained passions and selfishnesses and hates and of other similar things; and on the higher side composed of the spiritual radiance of the part which has already gone and which even yet sheds of its radiance upon this intermediate center, thus more or less electrifying it by the spiritual energy of the monadic ray that is already speeding to its own realm; and it is this faint spiritual electrification which causes a temporary coherence of the life-atoms of the intermediate composite even as such coherence existed — but then far more strongly than now — during the lifetime of the man.
Now, this intermediate nature is obviously not a complete man. Imagine a man from whom all the best that is in him has gone, and nothing but the lower passional and emotional and higher ordinary human parts remain. It is clear enough that such a being is fit neither for heaven nor for hell (if there were such places). This intermediate and highly composite entity, which is more ethereal than the model-body, remains in kamaloka in a state of stupor; it is not exactly self-conscious; it is rather more like a human being in a dreamy trance. Moreover, there is no suffering, nor is there pain — at least not for the man who has lived a normal life on earth. This surviving "shell" of the human ego or soul remains in this state of quasi-unconscious stupefaction for a greater or less length of time until the process of disintegration of its component life-atoms is completed.
As time passes the mild radiance of the departed reimbodying ego, which had at first more or less electrified it so that it retained a state of quasi-consciousness, slowly fades out, the radiance being withdrawn upwards to rejoin the reimbodying ego from which it had originally come; and as this fading radiance leaves the shell, disintegration of the atoms of the latter proceeds in ever-increasing degree.
The person who has died remains in the kamaloka just as long as his karmic desserts call for, and not one instant longer. Some pass through kamaloka quickly; in certain cases so quickly that they are scarcely aware of it, while some who have lived grossly material lives, plunged in the passions and mental appetites of the intermediate soul, and who have regularly indulged these propensities, and whose desires after death in consequence are of the earth earthly, naturally feel these strong attractions to material existence, and kamaloka, at least in its lower ranges, is a very material state of being.
Kamaloka is not a terrible place, or in any sense of the word one of suffering and pain for normal beings. Indeed, earth-life itself for the average man almost always contains far more suffering and pain, and in far larger degree, than anything that is experienced by the quasi-dreaming, scarcely semi-conscious entity in kamaloka. It is, in fact, a condition of the consciousness happening to the excarnate human entity in the astral light and bringing about the karmic consequences of this entity's meeting with himself in his own consciousness — where he must meet the lower parts of himself. It is likewise in kamaloka that the spiritual part of the excarnate entity must shake off the lower part of himself before the former is freed and ready for its devachanic bliss and rest.
Now the separation of the radiance of the reimbodying ego from its lower astral parts which become the shell, follows strictly the same natural laws that were operative when the physical body and the model-body were cast off and each began to disintegrate into its component elements. This separation of the radiance of the reincarnating ego from the kamarupa is what the ancients called the second death. Plutarch in his essay, "On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon," speaks in rather veiled language of the second death. These lower portions of the intermediate nature remain in the etheric or astral spheres as the shell or spook.
The process of separation takes place on the psychomental plane of consciousness to which the human ego is native, and is automatic, although indeed the consciousness of the reimbodying ego takes its part in aiding the separation because of its steady aspirations upwards, aided by the equally intense attraction of the spiritual spheres upon it. Thus what was once kamarupa, being now deprived of the higher parts of the human constitution which inhere in the reimbodying ego, remains in the astral light as the shell. It is this shell which legend and story in the ancient world religions and philosophies speak of as the shade, often called the ghost or spook. This spook is in form the exact image or copy of the man as he was on earth — at least for a certain period after the radiance of the reimbodying ego has cast it off. But at this point of separation, disintegration of the shell instantly begins, and its appearance after a few months, and much more so after a year or two, is excessively unpleasant to contemplate, for it is in fact an astral corpse and is as disgusting to look upon as would be the corpse of the physical body after the same length of time.
It might be added here that one of the strongest arguments in favor of cremation lies in the fact that it aids the dissolution of the model-body, which thus is no longer attracted magnetically to the decaying corpse, and its dissolution is correspondingly hastened. Furthermore, the shade of shell likewise undergoes more speedy dissolution when there is no decaying physical corpse with which it can exchange life-atoms.
Meanwhile, during and from the beginning of the decay of the astral shell, the higher part, the radiation, is ascending through the superior spheres — which in this case are planes of consciousness even more strongly than they are planes in space — in order to rejoin the spiritual monad and reimbodying ego which in its turn is the radiance of the monad.
The ascending radiance of the reimbodying ego is part of the life-essence of the reincarnating or reimbodying ego. In this radiance inhere all the personalized essence of the egoity of the man who was. Why then does it not follow the monadic ray in its instantaneous reunion at physical death with its source, the monad, as this radiance is an actual part of the already ascended monadic ray? The question is a pertinent one. The radiance, which is a life-stream, and therefore spiritual-intellectual substance of a type, is involved so greatly with the "aroma" of the complete septenary human being who was — in other words the radiance is so humanized — that it needs cleansing of all the lower elements of a humanized character before it is fit or able to rise out of material realms in order to achieve reunion with its monadic source in and through the reimbodying ego. Were the monad, a purely spiritual entity, able to manifest its transcendent powers directly through man and without lower intermediaries or radiances, then such man would be an incarnation of the monad, and would be a man-god, or what comes to the same thing, an avatara or a manushya-buddha — a human buddha acting in the full plentitude of his spiritual-intellectual attributes and powers.
Therefore, this reunion of the radiance with its source cannot at death be immediately achieved, because of its being so heavily laden with material attributes by its sojourn in material bodies; for no ordinary human being as yet is so purely spiritual, so definitively his own spiritual monad, as to render such reunion possible at the instant of death. It is just this purgation of the radiance after death in the intermediate parts of the kamaloka in the astral light that brings about the various postmortem conditions. For a man this radiance is the most important, because it is the spiritual-intellectual element of his constitution; yet it is not the most spiritual, not the most evolved part, although the essential human being. It is actually the highest portion of the personality, and in it lie the seeds of the future personal man-to-be in the next earth-life. The radiance is the efflux or flow of a spiritual and intellectual character, originating in the monad, passing through and working in the reimbodying ego, by which it is transmitted through the lower portions of the human constitution until its last delicate fibrils of consciousness touch the brain and heart, by and through which organs radiances of the Radiance are diffused throughout the physical vehicle by means of the various pranas, thus insuring the diffusion throughout the body both of its organic vitality and the various forms of instinct which the body evidences as a living being.
This radiance, therefore, while in its essence a spiritual-intellectual force or energy, becomes humanized because of the vast number of human experiences passed through in other lives on earth, as well as because of its experiences in other worlds and on other planes as the field of human consciousness. It is not pure spirit because it has become entangled in the human elements of man's constitution. In other words, it has entered into material realms lower than its own native sphere. By so doing it has of course in some degree raised the life-atoms of which these lower matters are composed, which are in consequence stimulated into higher forms of activity by this contact with the radiance.
As this radiance from the reincarnating or reimbodying ego ascends toward its father in heaven, toward its junction with the spiritual monad, it passes through different planes or spheres of being of the interior and invisible worlds; and in each one of which it sheds the life-atoms which belong to that world, and which are as yet of too substantial a character to be gathered into the bosom of his radiance for an ascent to still higher spheres.
The life-atoms of the three highest principles of man, the divine atmic flame, the buddhic monad, and the higher ego or spiritual soul, also follow the same course of action; but in their cases only when the respective life-terms of each of these are ended. As these three life-terms are exceedingly long, that of the higher ego being counted in billions of years, and the life-terms of the other two comprising even much greater periods, therefore these three highest principles are virtually immortal.
Thus the radiance of the reimbodying ego, constantly attracted upwards and slowly vanishing out of the lower realms, journeys onwards as postmortem time passes, until all that is beneath the spiritual-intellectual essence of this radiance is left behind in the astral light; then, being rejoined with the reimbodying or reincarnating ego, the latter, now become a quasi-spiritual entity, is fit to rejoin its spiritual monad, man's inner god. In the enclosing spiritual atmosphere of this monad, the reimbodying ego then rests in ineffable peace and bliss in devachan for a long term of years, depending in each case upon the spiritual aroma or karmic consequences derivative from its last life on earth.
As man is essentially a stream of consciousness, and therefore supposedly conscious in all his parts, why does he become unconscious when he dies? Because at the moment of death there is an instantaneous transfer of the locus of self-consciousness (which ordinarily is in what we call the brain-mind), to the highest part of the stream of consciousness which man is; and just because during his lifetime man has not allied his self-cognizing mind with this higher part of himself, considered as a flow of consciousness, he sinks into what is then to him blank unconsciousness. Yet strictly speaking, it is as fully "consciousness" as before, indeed consciousness a million times more truly conscious, because it now is the essence of consciousness — no longer a self-cognizing brain-mind consciousness.
Pure and unrestricted consciousness is the very essence of man's own being, and self-consciousness is the activity of one or other of the "knots" or foci of consciousness; any such whirlpool of consciousness caused by the characteristic activity of such a "knot" of consciousness has a limiting and restricting effect. The time will come in the far distant aeons of the future when these foci or knots of consciousness, producing the karmic resultant of what we call self-consciousness, will disappear, because the stream of consciousness will flow in direct and uninterrupted sequence.
It is thus a curious paradox that self-consciousness is a temporary phase in the evolution of pure consciousness itself. When we shall have outgrown the existence within us of these various "knots" or foci of consciousness, which makes us men with our limitations of consciousness, then our essential consciousness will become cosmic in its reaches, and the individual "Dewdrop slips into the Shining Sea." We shall then be a million times as conscious as at present, but no longer self-conscious on these lower planes. Nevertheless we shall be self-conscious on far higher planes because we shall then be peregrinating and evolving through them, producing therein the then superior "knots" or foci of consciousness such as we now produce on these planes of matter.
A little child can be taken as an illustration: Speak to it about some beautiful philosophic truth, or about some scientific discovery. Does it pay strict attention to what you say? No, because it is not yet self-conscious and intellectually active in the higher part of its constitution; nevertheless the child grows in understanding, and, as the years pass, begins to think and to become self-conscious of what its parents had been talking to it about. Just so does evolution bring out of men what is already latent in them; and thus it is that men will learn little by little to transfer the seat of self-consciousness from the mere brain-mind into the higher and incomparably stronger parts of themselves, so that they will consciously function in almost cosmic fields.
Now this process, mutatis mutandis, is exactly what happens to man's consciousness after death. The brain-mind in which we ordinarily live sinks into unconsciousness. But the highest part of this brain-mind, which is the lower end of the ray from the reimbodying ego, is after the kamaloka experience nevertheless intensely active in its devachanic state. If even when we lay down at night and sink into what is to us a state of complete unconsciousness, this is only because we have not yet learned during the day to become self-conscious in our higher parts; and if even the body and its brain-mind can do this, and if we return in the morning and become self-conscious in the body again, then assuredly is it thus when casting off this integument of flesh: we wing our way into the stellar spaces — but to return.
Hypnos kai thanatos adelphoi, said the Greeks: "Sleep and death are brothers." But in very truth, sleep and death are fundamentally one. The only difference is that sleep is an imperfect death, death is a perfect sleep. The mystical Sufi poets sing the same old tale of sleep and death:
Nightly the souls of men thou lettest fly
From out the trap wherein they captive lie.
Nightly from out its cage each soul doth wing
Its upward way, no longer slave or king.
Heedless by night the captive of his fate;
Heedless by night the Sultan of his State.
Gone thought of gain or loss, gone grief and woe;
No thought of this, or that, or So-and-so.
. . .
E'en common men in sleep are caught away.
Into the Why-less Plains the spirit goes,
The while the body and the mind repose.
. . .
Yet for a while each night the spirit's steed
Is from the harness of the body freed:
"Sleep is Death's brother": come, this riddle rede!
But lest at day-break they should lag behind,
Each soul He doth with a long tether bind,
That from those groves and plains He may revoke
Those errant spirits to their daily yoke.
— Jalalu'ddin Rumi, Mathnawi (trans. E. G. Browne)
When a man sleeps he dies — but imperfectly, so that the golden thread of life and consciousness still vibrates in even the physical brain during the sleep, producing the dreams that sometimes delight him, that often harass and disturb him. The thread of radiance is still unbroken there, so that the ego, who during sleep has left the lower mind and the body behind and is soaring out into the spaces, returns along this golden vital thread linking the monad to the astral-vital brain of the body. On the other hand, when a man dies, it is precisely like falling into a deep sleep: utter unconsciousness; and then, instantaneously, like the sounding of a soft golden note, the soul is free.
What about dreams? Is there a parallel between the dreams of the sleeping state and those of the afterdeath state? There is far more than a mere parallel, there is identity both of process and of fact; the differences lie in degree only. All dreams depend upon two factors: first, the mechanism of the psychic consciousness of the individual who dreams, and secondly, two kinds of forces impinging upon this mechanism. The first kind of force is the solar, lunar, and planetary influences under which an individual is born, which of course are working upon such individual uninterruptedly from birth until death — and to a certain extent after death. The second kind of force is the reaction of the events and experiences arising in the waking-life of the individual, which reaction affects the psychic consciousness automatically when the individual is asleep. These two kinds of forces or influences, therefore, control the direction and guide the operations of the psychic consciousness of the dreamer.
There is a certain danger in putting too much importance upon the matter of dreams and their interpretations. It is of course true that some dreams are prophetic; to a large extent they come true because they are the foreshadowings of the automatic working of consciousness of what that consciousness itself, because of its biases and tendencies, will bring to pass in the future. If we designate the consciousness of X and its succeeding two increments of unfolding by Y and Z, then Y and Z are inherent in X, latent in it, and will in time be unfolded from it; but the dreaming consciousness here called X may very possibly unloose the increment Y, and Y + Z, which will be brought forth in the future in the waking life of the man, so that such a dream becomes a prognostication of what the consciousness will unfold to be at some time in the future — first in the measure of Y, then in the measure of X + Y + Z. Consequently dreams of this kind may be called prophetic, but they are by no means common; although it could be argued that if an observer of this hypothetical dreaming man were quasi-omniscient, he would be able to discern in all the dreams of the man what the future would produce in the man's life. But it is obvious that there are very few such perfect soothsayers or dream interpreters!
Most dreams are erratic, helter-skelter in type, and therefore wholly unreliable; and one should be extremely careful not to follow such dreams. There have been cases where people have gone insane from trusting too much to the supposedly prophetic character of their dreams. It is only the full adept or initiate who is able to understand every dream, and to know whether it be a true and prophetic one or merely an ordinary psychic reaction from the experiences of the day just past.
Turning then to the matter of death, the question might here arise: Is there progress for the ego in devachan? If progress means the assimilation and the digestion of all that the entity in his last incarnation has learned or experienced or gathered into his consciousness, then we may call it progress; but if progress means that devachan is a realm of originating causes, where causative thoughts are originated which impel him to evolve farther, then the answer is no. Even in devachan we progress only in the sense that we have stored up experiences which in the devachan we are experiencing anew, assimilating, making integral parts of our character; so that when we return we ought to be a little farther advanced in unfoldment than when last we died. But in the devachan we do not undertake new adventures in life because we evolve no new causative thoughts impelling us to do so. Does a man progress in sleep-dreaming? No.
The fact of the matter is that anyone who studies the workings of his consciousness, with limiting his observations to any one function or plane thereof, will with practice be enabled to understand just in what ways the postmortem state of consciousness of the human being differs from this waking state of consciousness — what is called by the old Sanskrit philosophical term jagrat. This is because the essence of man is essentially a stream of consciousness focalized at different portions of this stream, called the various souls or egos or knots of human conscious existence. So true is this that the rule applies with thousandfold force to the nature of the consciousness of those noblest flowers of the human race, such as the buddhas or christs. There is no fundamental difference between the consciousness of the ordinary man and that of the human god-man, because the stream of consciousness is in either case the same; the distinction lies not in essential differences, but in larger unfolding into self-conscious perception and egoic realization of the higher and vaster ranges which the human man-god has evolved forth from within his own inmost seat of being, which is his link with the cosmic consciousness.
If a man will follow his consciousness in its workings from hour to hour and from day to day, and hence as a part of the workings of his consciousness study his dreams at night, he will find a master-key to knowing what death and sleep really are, including the so-called mystery of how they come upon him. He will know before death precisely what will happen to him as a center of consciousness after he has sloughed off the physical body at the critical phase of life called death.
The first important fact to remember is that there is just one thing that an entity in this universe cannot ever do; and it matters not what its grade in evolutionary status may be, nor in what cosmic hierarchy the being may find itself. It cannot annihilate itself, precisely because it is in its essence of being a droplet, a jiva or monad of the cosmic ocean of "mind-stuff." Were a mathematical point of this cosmic essence of consciousness able to annihilate itself or to undergo annihilation, it would be equivalent to saying that the essence of the universe itself could be annihilated.
The second point is that at the moment of death no man, unless he be an initiate or adept, knows that he is then dying. This does not refer to the days or hours preceding death, but to the instant when "death" actually occurs. The closer the approach of death, the more does the egoic consciousness lapse into a feeling of unutterable peace, including the gradually increasing indifference to surrounding circumstances. Slowly the egoic self-consciousness glides into what we commonly call unconsciousness, and this continues until the golden vital chain is withdrawn into the inner parts of the constitution, and then these inner parts of the man are free. The egoic consciousness or ordinary self-consciousness is then truly asleep — actually and not merely metaphorically so.
"Consciousness" and "unconsciousness" are not different things; nor is unconsciousness the opposite pole of consciousness. For consciousness or self-consciousness, is really a derivative of unconsciousness. What is commonly called unconsciousness is really essential and fundamental consciousness; and what is called consciousness, that is, the ordinary day-to-day faculty of perception and realization of one's existence, is the functioning of one of the knots or foci of consciousness. Unless this point is clearly understood, no man can ever hope to understand the nature of the essential consciousness in himself and its various operations and conditions or states of expression, one of which states is self-consciousness.
Consequently the lapse into unconsciousness at the moment of death is a rising into essential consciousness of the higher nature, which the imperfectly evolved knot or focus producing ordinary self-consciousness cannot bring into egoic realization. The essential consciousness is therefore like the ocean, and self-consciousness is like a droplet thereof or a small vortex, producing by its intense localized activity the to us real but nevertheless essentially unreal or mayavi conception called self-consciousness.
Thus it is that a man is enabled to say of himself not only "I am," which is cognition, however imperfect, of the fundamental or essential Consciousness, but he does this through that knot or focus of consciousness within him which recognizes itself as "I am I." This does not mean, however, that the higher in evolution a human being evolves, the more "unconscious" he will become. On the contrary, the higher the man goes, the more does he become the self-expressing ego of the essential or general consciousness which is the stream flowing from the monadic root of his being. Evolution thus produces not only a paradoxical enlarging of the focus of egoic self-consciousness into the immense general consciousness of his being, but likewise this ego-knot transfers its seat of action to higher and greater foci in his constitution and does so in progressively larger measure.
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. No man at the precise instant of falling asleep knows that he is at that instant lapsing into sleep. Instant unconsciousness supervenes at the critical juncture, and it may or may not be succeeded by dreams.
Death is in all respects identical with this process of falling asleep. It matters not at all how death comes: whether by age, disease, by outside violence, or by suicide. Furthermore, both in ordinary sleep and when dying, the process of lapsing into unconsciousness may be almost instantaneous or it may be slow, but it is precisely the same. All men die as well as fall to sleep in this way; the lapse into sleep itself, whether at night or when dying, is as instantaneous as a snap of the fingers, and indeed quicker. Furthermore the instant of death always brings for a longer or shorter period the unutterable peace of perfect "unconsciousness," which is like a foretaste of devachan, just as the careful observer will find to be his experience when he falls to sleep at night.
The Esoteric Tradition tells us that there are seven states in which the human consciousness can be and express its functions. These may again be reduced to four basic states or conditions. The first is jagrat, which means the waking state. The next is svapna, the dreaming-sleeping state. During the day we are in the jagrat] condition of the consciousness; at night when we dream we are in the svapna condition.
The third state is called sushupti, the deepest sleep of common experience, in which the sleep is so relatively complete that there is no dreaming at all, because the human self-consciousness is temporarily plunged into profound self-oblivion. It is only rare and unusually evolved human beings who can at will enter into this state of sushupti while alive in the physical body. Nevertheless, during sleep the consciousness not infrequently enters into the sushupti condition, and it is to the credit of the man when this happens. It is a becoming at-one of the man's human self-consciousness with the manasic consciousness or manasaputra-element within him. Were we accustomed to entering into sushupti because of practice in doing it during life, we should retain our self-consciousness when lapsing into sleep or into death. Those who can enter into this condition while alive, and thus ally themselves with corresponding and high spiritual attributes and functioning states of their consciousness, are the seers.
The fourth state is the turiya-samadhi, which only the finest flowers of the human race have ever attained; but which all men someday will attain. The turiya-samadhi then is the state of consciousness which the buddhas and christs, and occasionally other great but less evolved men, reach in their times of spiritual ecstasy.
These are the four basic conditions into which the human consciousness can enter and at least temporarily remain: jagrat, our waking state; svapna, our sleeping-dreaming state; sushupti, the state of becoming at one with the essential droplet of cosmic mind within us; and turiya-samadhi, the same as sushupti but on a higher plane, signifying a becoming at-one, for a longer or a shorter time, with the essential being of our own cosmic divinity.
It is important to remember that these four basic conditions of the human consciousness corresponding with the four bases of the structure of the universe as well as of the constitution of the human being, are operative in the afterdeath states as well as in sleep. Now the first three states are passed through by everyone when he dies. As death approaches, jagrat, the waking state, becomes dim; there then slowly ensues the falling into dreaming, daydreaming especially, and this is the state of svapna. Men and women of advanced age show that they are already entering this condition. The word likewise applies to the dreaming experienced during sleep. The man thus approaching death is becoming more or less conscious in certain ranges of the astral realms. When he rises out of this state, either by will, or when he sloughs off the lower physical attractions after death and he enters the devachanic condition, then if his devachan is in the higher ranges he is in the pure sushupti-state, the state of pure egoic consciousness. Now this sushupti condition is a state of "unconsciousness" to the average imbodied man, but it is only so because the mind is not yet accustomed to live in it self-consciously. It actually is therefore a state of the most vivid and intense consciousness per se.
Any human being may, if he pursue the right course and live the life appropriate to it, have individual self-conscious experience of these wonders of consciousness, and can experience "death" as often as he please and come back from the experience vastly improved. It is not something unnatural or weird or mysterious. Yet a very earnest warning should here be uttered against foolish and unwise introspection improperly conducted, and against any sort of tampering with the apparatus of the mind. These unguided attempts themselves will defeat the objective in view. The point is not to practice tricks with the lower mind by means of any kind of unwise attempt to follow or do "yoga," but to study one's essential consciousness — to know oneself, as the Greek oracle at Delphi so wisely advised.
He who will think earnestly of these four states of consciousness, into which he may at will throw himself with adequate practice, will know what it is to pass beyond the gates of death and to do so consciously. Let this be understood literally.
When one stands at the bedside of a loved one who is passing on, let peace reign in the heart, banish agitation from the mind, and let there be utter quiet. Disturb not by voice or lamentation the wonderful mystery of the entering of the consciousness of the dying one into the farther state. He is in every sense of the word falling to sleep; and just as it would be a deliberate cruelty to a tired man to stand at his bedside and annoy him and move him in order to keep him awake just because one does not desire him to sleep, a thousand times more is it cruelty to do so in the case of death, which is the greater sleep. Let him go free.
For of death, that blessed angel of mercy should not be feared. It is nature's most blessed relief and rest, for it is sleep, perfect and complete, and filled with ineffably lovely dreams. The man who has died sleeps in peace; and his spiritual soul, the peregrinating monad, gaudet in astris — rejoices in the stars.