The Theosophical Forum – April 1937

WHAT SURVIVES DEATH? (1) — A. Trevor Barker

[This lecture dealing with after-death states clarifies certain points of teaching, often hazy in the minds of students, that deal with the Theosophical explanation of Spiritistic phenomena. The occurrences in the seance-room cannot be satisfactorily explained without the light that Theosophy has to throw on the process of man's disimbodiment at death. — Eds.]

Our subject is one that must be of intimate and personal concern to every one of us. Every thinking man sooner or later is brought up against this problem, and we have to admit that the religious Christian teaching of the West is almost entirely lacking in a satisfactory explanation of the important question. You may search the New Testament, and, although you will find ethical teaching of deep Wisdom that will satisfy you for the living of your daily life — you will find it there in all its purity if you have the eyes to read it and to understand it — the teaching about the life after death is not given there. It is one of those Teachings that Jesus kept for his disciples, whom he taught in secret, and to whom he explained those Mysteries that Christian priests are inclined to say "were never meant for you and me to understand: they are something over which Nature has drawn a veil, and it is not for us to penetrate, either by the opening of the psychic senses, or by the penetration and understanding of our intellects."

It is because of this lack of information in the orthodox Christian sources in the West that a tremendous demand has been made for at least the last fifty years by the thinking and progressive people for something more satisfying, and the two main Movements that have striven to satisfy that very natural human yearning are: the Spiritualistic Movement, so-called, and the Theosophical Movement. Somewhere about 1850 the investigation of psychic and occult phenomena began to develop very strongly in America, and before long mediums whose names will probably be well known to those who are students of the subject, began to perform phenomena in public, and a good deal of evidence was collected; but it aroused, of course, an enormous amount of opposition and incredulity, and the said mediums were getting into very deep water because they were accused — and in many cases unfortunately quite rightly — of fraud. Eventually H. P. Blavatsky, who was at the time in Europe, set out to America to see whether she could do something to give this Spiritualistic Movement a very much needed upward impulse, while providing at the same time a philosophical and rational explanation of the occult phenomena which were undoubtedly taking place even under test conditions. While unmasking fraud where it existed, she also sought to give some help and protection to those mediumistic sensitives who were doing their best, according to their lights, to lead men from a purely materialistic outlook to something which was in their view more spiritual — and all men must admit that if their beliefs were not spiritual at least they were super-physical.

So into that world came H. P. Blavatsky, able to perform with the power of her own will the very phenomena that the psychics of New York and Boston were performing they knew not how, as the unconscious instruments of certain forces which controlled and utilized them. And that is a true definition of what a medium is. A medium can function only when some exterior agency takes possession of the lower instrument, which by a variety of means is rendered unconscious: either by trance or hypnotism, or by some other means. Therefore these mediums have no longer any control of their mechanism of consciousness, and they claim that the fact that some invisible, and as they call it spiritual, entity, takes possession of their vehicle and produces varieties of phenomena, proves that their experience is valuable and must be useful and uplifting. It is precisely upon these points that H. P. Blavatsky, while confirming the genuineness of many of these phenomena, uttered a tremendous challenge to all those who accepted the main spiritualistic hypothesis, viz: that these phenomena were the production of excarnate human entities who had returned, so to speak, from the veil of death in order to communicate with their friends who were still living on earth.

H. P. Blavatsky was, as always, extremely uncompromising on the point; she showed, demonstrated, and taught, that these phenomena were not produced by the excarnate human entities that they represented themselves to be. Not at all. There were the phenomena that take place with various kinds of automatic writing; the phenomena of speech that take place in trance; the sermons that were uttered by an entranced medium; and particularly the materializations whereby the images or faces of people that sitters were able to recognise, were materialized by a certain process, thus becoming visible to the audience.

Now the Theosophical teaching in regard to these matters is something entirely different from the Spiritualistic belief, and one of the great truths that H. P. B. hammered home was the fact that these pursuits, these investigations, into the psychic realms of Nature, were actually more materialistic from a certain point of view — that is from a spiritual point of view they were actually more materialistic — than a purely materialistic outlook. She showed, and history proves her to have been correct, that the individuals who pursue these investigations of a psychic nature, who attend Spiritualistic seances, for example, and who constantly have their minds and emotions concentrated in these unwholesome psychic realms, become thereby debased: their spiritual, psychic, physical, and in some cases their moral tone suffers, by reason of the fact that the minds of such people are being concentrated in the world of ghosts and spooks — the atmosphere of the graveyard in other words; and this is an unwholesome thing. Moreover, H. P. Blavatsky pointed out with great truth the extraordinarily unsatisfactory results that come about for the mediums themselves.

To turn from this aspect. Afterwards, if you wish, you can ask questions in regard to this psychic side of the matter, but I should prefer to turn to the Theosophical teaching as to what happens to the personal man after death. What is the personal man? He is the collection of psychic, and mental energies and emotions which express themselves through the physical body of man during life. A new combination of those bundles of energies is made at the beginning of earth-life for every entity. He is a new combination, and that combination is given a name and a form such as you and I now bear. That combination has never existed before; it never bore that name before, and as such it will never exist again. It is here for a short while; it is transitory; and if we believe that this lower personality of ours is all that there is to survive; if we concentrate our attention upon its wants and needs, and are unable to raise our thought and aspiration to something higher; then we shall be of that vast company that H. P. Blavatsky called "the living dead"; the soulless individuals that she said we elbow at every street-corner.

If anything is to survive death, surely you will agree that it has to be worthy of immortality, and therefore the question immediately arises: Is man immortal according to the Theosophical teaching, or is he not? What has just been said would lead you to suppose that man is very decidedly mortal, and one part of him unquestionably is; but if we go a little deeper we find that this personal part of the man is, after all, only the envelop, the container, the instrument, the vehicle through which the flame of spiritual consciousness is striving to irradiate and illuminate and guide this erring personal entity through the intricacies of earth-life, through which intricacies many there are who lose their way.

Therefore we come to the position that man is only conditionally immortal: in other words the real entity who is living his life, and trying to express himself through this lower personality, has to find the way to raise himself inwards and upwards into union with the spiritual, permanent, eternal and immortal part of his own nature; and it is precisely that task that every initiated Adept has succeeded in doing to a greater or less extent. The whole purpose of occult science, the object of the initiation of the Initiate, is to bring him to a recognition that there is within, and brooding above the human individual, a definite entity which can be reached, the energy of which even today for every one of us shines into our personal nature in moments of crisis (personal and otherwise) when the personal man is, as it were, driven right down to his very foundations. It is, then, that he is forced to look inward and upward to the only source of inspiration that any man really has when he reaches bedrock; and there, when he finds that "still small voice" that can make itself heard if he listens for it (it is the inspiration to spiritual actions of whatever kind, to kindly human actions), there is at these moments the guiding and the saving spiritual energy that comes from the immortal part of his being. For most of us this contact is fragmentary; it is spasmodic; but we do get glimpses of it. It is the main purpose of the study of Theosophical Wisdom: that we shall learn how to make our human brains porous, as Mr. Judge used to say, to that higher influence; so that day by day, week by week, it will beat down into our brains and we shall become more and more permanently aware of that spiritual influence in our lives.

Now this can be done without any mediumship — in fact mediumship militates against the spiritual influence; and yet, you see, the difficulty is that the psychic intermediate state offers such an attractive door to some natures. It is true that with very little difficulty the psychic senses can be opened by every one of us, and then we shall become aware of various kinds of entities that the spiritualists call their "spirit guides" and "angel guides" and what not. If they could see the said guides face to face I think they would get a very rude kind of shock. H. P. Blavatsky went so far as to state that most of the angel and spirit guides that come to mediumistic seances are the spooks of departed entities — not the entities themselves any more than your body is you — and you know the state of the human body after it is buried! You can easily imagine that after death the psychic remnants of your being are not in the cleanest condition. In other words they are disintegrating; and this part of our being, this cast-off remnant through which we expressed our psychic and intellectual emotions during life, has a form in the psychic worlds, which can be seen by sensitives, and it bears the shape and appearance of the human individuals that we were in life. So much so that a perfectly correct description can be given of Mrs. Jones or Mr. Smith, and the sitters can immediately say, "Oh, that is dear Mary," or "our John." "Nobody else was ever just like that. This must be a very holy person who is giving us all this interesting psychic information," — and they believe everything they are told.

Yet what has actually happened? Two things at least are possible, both of them quite different from the explanation given by the believers in the Spiritualistic Movement, and these explanations are definitely interesting. First of all every one of us, in the magnetic sphere that surrounds us, contains an indelible record of every thought and act that we have ever committed from early infancy to old age — a somewhat staggering, perhaps uncomfortable thought; because any mediumistic sensitive can read in this aura or magnetic sphere all that we are doing or have done, and incidentally can see, therefore, an image of those people who have made the deepest impression on our lives, and it is in this way that many descriptions and personal incidents are related without the entity concerned even being present. Exactly the same thing can be done from the memory of Nature, for there is recorded everything that takes place in any individual life, and if the psychic is sufficiently developed, that impression on the astral light can also be read. So these are two possible explanations of phenomena; and yet a third, and a very frequent one, is that the excarnate entity is attracted to the seance, and that spook or ghost (whatever you like to call it) has a complete record of everything that it did and thought and said, but it has no power to act on its own; it is an unconscious bundle of energies that can only be stimulated or galvanized into activity by the psychic and electrical energy of the peculiar power of mediumship. That energy stimulates the ghost and it will play like a phonograph or a gramophone the records of anything that you like to call out from it, generally determined by the particular personal recollections of the sitters.

All the personal part of the man is doomed to disintegration, and only the part that is worthy of immortality really survives. According to the teachings of Theosophy the real entity in man very soon after death falls asleep and becomes unconscious, and in a longer or shorter period of time, determined by the relative degree of spirituality of the individual — the more spiritual the quicker does he shake off the lower vehicles of consciousness, the psychic part of him — he then enters into a period which technically has been called the gestation state, exactly corresponding to the period of gestation of the human entity before physical birth. I should like you, if you will, to note the fact that there is a state after death exactly analogous to the state of gestation of the foetus before physical birth. One of the great Teachers to whom we owe some of the Theosophical teachings has recommended us to keep a spiritual eye upon the physiological processes of human birth if we want to understand some of the mysteries of nature: mosquitos, animals, and man, as well as planets and solar systems, come to birth by identically the same process.

So this entity after death sinks into a state of sleep; and after a certain period of time, which is determined by the ethereality of the spiritual energies that it generated during life, it is reborn in the Devachan, the region of the Gods (the Heaven world in the Christian language), as a little child, and there it will live over again — minus all recollections of the personal lower things; the evil passions, desires, hatreds and so on — it lives over again a kind of spiritualized recollection of all the beautiful and spiritual things that the entity dreamed about during life. Very few of us succeed in working out practically our spiritual aspirations and dreams. We have busy, work-a-day lives, and much remains to be worked out in the after-death state: in this ideal world we live from birth, through youth, adulthood, middle age and old age, and we assimilate and get the very maximum understanding and development of all those aspirations of a spiritual kind that we had during life.

But even this state one of these days comes to an end; and eventually when the period of assimilation and digestion, spiritually speaking, of these energies is completed, then the hour strikes and the entity once again is drawn back inevitably to earth-life, for the fact that it has experienced this state of Devachan, which is a kind of spiritual illusion, though a very high one — the fact that it has experienced that state proves that it has not yet won its freedom from the wheel of birth and death. One of these days we all have to learn the lesson that even that state, which is only possible to those who lead relatively spiritual lives — relatively spiritual: an arrant materialist will not have that experience, and therefore it is a step forward — we all have to learn, I say, that there is a still further step, and that will come when we as individuals learn how to think and act so that the full spiritual meaning of every action and event is assimilated here and now, and for that we have to be fully self-conscious individuals. Then for us the interior worlds are open; there is no more death for us for there is no break in consciousness: consciousness proceeds unbroken, through sleeping and waking, through birth and death. Such a one is worthy and able to bear the burden of his immortality, but he has no Devachan in the sense of which I have been speaking of it. Periods of rest he must have, but that stage of illusion he has conquered and gone beyond.

FOOTNOTE;

1. Public lecture at Conway Hall, London, October 14, 1936, under the auspices of the Phoenix Lodge, Adyar T. S. and London Lodge, Point Loma T. S. (return to text)


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