The Theosophical Forum – April 1941


Consciousness After Death

I have heard that after-death consciousness in the Kama-loka is really only a dream-consciousness, however vivid. Is it, then, ever possible to be conscious, while in the Kama-loka, of what takes place on earth?

G. de P. — The matter of the human soul being conscious after death of what passes on earth, or among truly loved friends, is very far from being the simple thing that the spiritists imagine. They do not know the teaching of the god-wisdom, and it is quite natural for them to think that the human consciousness should go on uninterrupted after death with perhaps a slight unconsciousness at the moment of death itself. They utterly fail to take into account the frightful, perfectly ghastly, torture that in nearly every case possible, such consciousness after death would mean, could the dead look back upon earth and see what is happening to the ones left behind, and feel the utter inability to help; see disease, misery, wickedness perhaps, crime perhaps, sin, misfortune, as well as the good things.

Nature is infinitely more just and kind than that. And this is the reason why for all normal human beings, that is those neither very high nor very low, in other words, neither for initiates, nor for great sorcerers, unconsciousness supervenes at death, and the kama-loka is what I have often described it to be.

But, here is an interesting point. It has been said regarding the kama-loka and the devachan that the more spiritual the man or woman who dies, the less is the kama-lokic experience. The soul of such a noble spiritual character shoots through the kama-loka like a meteor, and unconscious of it, and therefore unconscious of things on earth. So you see that when we rise above the average of good men and women and begin to enter the class of somewhat nobler souls we have the characters that make for no post-mortem consciousness whatsoever, no consciousness of the kama-loka horrors or dreads or fears, but immediate unconsciousness awakening into a very blissful devachan after the second death.

Now then, going still higher, when we have reached the grade of the initiates: they by this time have been taught to remain conscious not only in sleep, but after death also. But they do this self-consciously, and the after-death state in their cases has no terrors or horrors for them, except perhaps the disgust that they feel for astral cesspools.

Of course, in the case of sorcerers or extremely malignant and evil characters, they have a long kama-lokic experience, very intense, and just because their consciousness is still so earthly, they can even by magnetic sympathy in many cases come to see as it were, or to feel as it were, as in a sort of day-dream what is passing on earth, not every detail but, depending upon the individual, a more or less clear "getting it."

A Substitute for Corporal Punishment

I understand that Theosophists do not believe in corporal punishment. If that is correct, my question is, What have you to substitute in those not infrequent cases where nothing but physical force seems to command respect?

H. T. Edge — Kindred to the question of capital punishment, now so much discussed, is that of corporal punishment, the arguments for and against which follow similar lines. The general trend is towards mitigation of physical violence, whether in schools, prisons, or the army and navy; but now and again we see some letter or article in the papers advocating corporal punishment as being the only effectual means of dealing with certain cases. Instances are quoted to show how crimes of violence are put down by its employment, and encouraged by its abrogation; and the alleged salutary effect of the cane on youthful natures of a certain type is mentioned with approval.

Corporal punishment is an appeal to the lower nature of man; and, as such, it must be classed with other forms of appeal to the lower sentiments, such as bribery and threats. The temporary effectiveness of these means is not disputed; but objection is made to their use, either on the ground of the harm they do in the long run, or because they violate higher principles which we value. These arguments are sufficient to meet the case of corporal punishment as an habitual practice; thus employed, it would tend toward the debasement both of individuals and of the tone of the school or community in which it prevailed. Against the occasional resort to violence stronger arguments may be needed. Advocates thereof may bring up such cases as that of the celebrated Dr. Arnold of Rugby, who reduced a disorderly school to a state of exemplary discipline by resorting to the wholesale use of the cane. Dr. Arnold's success in his immediate object is unquestionable; but if claims of justification are to be rested on the fact of success, it will be essential for those claiming such justification to be successful. Again, the Doctor was admittedly a man of such exceptional qualities that the mere use of the cane on this occasion is a detail; and it does not follow that an imitator would achieve the same success. We all know the story of the ass in a lion's skin, as also that of the frog that tried to blow himself out to the size of the ox. Next comes the question whether Rugby school could not have been reduced to order without the use of the cane — more effectually, perhaps, than with it — whether, in fact, Arnold's method was not a second-best, adopted in default of a best. Finally we have to consider whether the atmosphere thus created by Arnold in his school is just the kind of atmosphere we propose to create in any school or community of the present day; and this, of course, only with the presumption that it is possible for most people, or for any people at all, to imitate Arnold, a man of such exceptional character.

Letters to the papers from "Indignans," or some such person, advocating flogging for wife-beaters, appear from time to time. They usually make the mistake of considering special cases as apart from the general public polity, and this prevents the writers from realizing how many other things their proposed policy would entail if the principle were once admitted. In short, we cannot flog wife-beaters and stop short at that; for logic and consistency would demand a similar treatment of other kinds of offenses. It is the realization of this fact that often prevents the adoption of measures which, if they could be considered apart, might be deemed permissible or desirable. The principle of administrative resort to violence is deprecated as a part of general policy, and cannot be admitted in particular cases without endangering the principle. Even though it should be admitted that wife-beaters ought to be whipped, still this question of general policy might prevail against the special plea; it is not only the welfare of the criminal that we have to consider, but the welfare of the community as a whole. And the community might well be considered as incurring greater risk from such a resort to rough methods than it would from refraining.

In the case of a school, even the advocates of corporal punishment, if they are sincere in recommending it as a means to discipline, must admit that it would be better if the discipline could be secured without violence. For it is not to be supposed that anyone recommends corporal punishment from sheer love thereof. Their justification, therefore, reduces itself to the advocating of a second-best in default of a best. "Let us cane," they say, "since we do not know how to secure order in any better way."

Sometimes it is contended that the objectors to corporal punishment are inexperienced theorists, and that experienced persons know better. Let us therefore put the case as strongly as possible, so as to cover all occasions that can arise in practice. Let it be granted that a boy in a school is of so coarse and degenerate a nature that all appeals to him are useless and the only thing he respects is physical pain. Let it be granted that corporal punishment would immediately reduce him to order for the next month. We will admit that the boy actually craves corporal punishment and does all he can to provoke its infliction; also that his master knows of this craving and that he could save himself much trouble by gratifying it. Most people under such circumstances would yield and inflict the cuff or the flogging; and, considering the many drawbacks they have to contend with, we should not be too ready to blame them. Nevertheless the necessity, if a necessity, is a regrettable one. The act is a kind of confession of failure. The subconscious craving for corporal punishment, and the feelings which follow its infliction, are of the nature of animal propensities. It may require years of patience and endurance to deal with such a case without resorting to physical violence, but progress will be made, and thus the higher nature will be aroused to co-operate with the master in the cause of discipline, and fear will no longer be the ruler.

As to corporal punishment in the state, the same arguments apply to it as to capital punishment. In practice it would amount to a resort to the principle of attempting to destroy violence by violence. If we may make the same assumption as the advocates of corporal punishment make — namely, that the state has both the right and the power to act in the suggested manner — we suggest that the wife-beater be taken from his home and kept in a reform institution until such time as he should show by his conduct that it was safe to let him out again. It may be some time before we can have such institutions for criminals of all sorts; nevertheless that must be the ideal before us; if we are to have ideals at all, let them be high.

If anything remains to be said, it might be a word on the difference between firmness and anger, orderly maintenance of discipline and the resort to violence. Take for illustration the familiar case of the schoolmaster whose own nature is so unregulated that he can keep order only by the constant use of the cane; and contrast it with that of the master whose mere presence in the room is enough to reduce every pupil to absolute silence and order. It is the weaklings who have to resort to violence, not the strong. The real key to the control of others is self-control; and this is not a mere theory but a fact of experience, for vindication of which we may safely appeal to experienced persons.

Karman as Reward or Punishment

(1) I was asked whether the crucifixion of Jesus, or the martyrdom of any great soul, could be considered deserved karman? (2) Is it not unfortunate to stress the idea of reward or punishment as the necessary result of Karman? Does not the reward and punishment theory give a very limited outlook upon which to base a philosophy of life? (3) Do we not sometimes have advanced problems to master, new karman to meet? — D. G. M.

Abbott Clark — (1) The crucifixion of Jesus is an allegory of initiation. Jesus was an Avatara and an Avatara does not make personal karman. The sacrifice of great souls for humanity deserves love and gratitude, not the martyrdom they usually get. They certainly "deserve" better treatment. However, this discussion is largely a play on words. Their sufferings are karman as all conditions are, but not in the sense of "deserts."

(2) The querent is quite right in thinking that "reward" and "punishment" are unfortunate terms to use in a philosophical or scientific discussion of so profound a subject as is Karman in its deeper aspects. But most men are neither philosophers nor scientists. To most people Karman is the most practical of all our Theosophical subjects. Karman is an impersonal, colorless process of nature. It is we who give it a color as an expression of our feelings. Karman does not reward or punish. It is we who reward or punish ourselves by setting in motion good or evil causes. We are the cause. Karman is the process, and the "reward" or "punishment" are words we use to describe the quality of the result.

A teacher of children has to use reward and punishment to get results. The children cannot yet understand moral laws apart from results, and the results are usually classed as either painful or pleasant, or as rewards or punishments. To get results, to effect improvement in human conduct, you have to use methods and speak in a language that will be understood by, and will appeal to, the grade of intelligence addressed. It is a case of "milk for babes and meat for men."

In a race of men who live for rewards and in fear of punishments and whose ignorance of the karmic law threatens to lead them to destroy themselves and their civilization, you have to teach Karman in terms they will understand and appeal to motives to which they will respond. That being so, and H. P. Blavatsky being both wise and practical, she uses the words "reward" and "punishment" to designate the classes of karmic results. See The Key to Theosophy, Sections VII, VIII, and XI, where the words and the idea of reward and punishment are repeatedly used. However it will be an excellent thing when children can be taught to forget the selfish motives of fear and favor, reward and punishment, by being ever inspired to love the good, the true, and the beautiful, and to love duty and right action for impersonal motives. Thus they would avoid many of the usual mistakes in life with their resultant pain and sorrow. (3) As we advance we certainly do have new conditions to meet and new problems to master and each has its own Karman. New problems, new Karman.

Why Teach Impersonality

Why does Theosophy stress the importance of an impersonal outlook on life? Is impersonality a vital factor of Universal Brotherhood? Did Shakespeare touch one of the strings of the cosmic harp when he wrote, "Love thyself last"? Hamlet. — A. W. N.

W. E. S. — Impersonality means putting the thought of others first, and when faced with difficult decisions choosing that line of action or conduct which least advantages you personally but gives prime importance to the welfare of others. It means understandingly to "love yourself last," as the questioner suggests in quoting from Shakespeare.

Yes, impersonality is recognition of the all-embracing sway of universal brotherhood, which unites in one essential whole all that is, from the highest god of any hierarchy of superior beings to lowest elemental. All are linked together. All are essentially one. A technical grasp of this as revealed by the Theosophical teachings of hierarchies: of interlinking and interlocking spheres and worlds; of lokas and talas; of the doctrine of invisible worlds; and a clear conception of the illuminating Theosophical exposition of the two streams of consciousness, the matter (the dark) side and the spirit (the light) side, and their fundamental oneness — meditation on those subjects and an understanding even in part of their far-reaching extension will bring growing conviction of the innate brotherhood of all that is.

Understanding of this extends within your consciousness to a realization that this brotherhood that pervades the Universe is also in man and is a thing to be practised; for a Theosophical truth when once realized is not a thing limited to intellectual or even philosophical appreciation, but stirs, impels rather, the sincere thinker to the daily effort to seek application of it. The Theosophist who faces the facts of life therefore tries to live impersonally for the benefit of others. Thus the man in his purely human personal nature finds his influence circumscribed to just that plane; but liberated, even partially, he is freed to undertake larger duties of intellectual and spiritual import which affect an ever widening circle. He is on the road to fuller awakening, which comes in fulness when he reaches Buddahood, becomes one with his inner Buddha.

The simple facts are that personality reflects those qualities which bind, narrow, constrict the spiritual being within us. Therefore are we taught to seek to lead out the hid god-like attributes which are lasting and impersonal. This inevitably brings freedom and a more conscious allying of oneself with the brotherhood of evolving souls which forms all Nature.

Man's personality is something which through long ages has been evolved out of himself, not something therefore to be shunned as inherent evil. That is absurd. But on the other hand it should not be idealized as it so generally and blatantly is. It has its rightful place. It is the necessary vehicle of the individuality within us. It is the lesser human intermediate part of man. It is necessary for the expression of our present human life. There is much in it that not only is good but that we can look upon with real affection; but after all it is the vacillating human soul, which reflects the ordinary psychical and emotional phenomena of life. It is but the mask of the real actor-man who pilgrims through the spheres.

The business of life is to lift this lesser part until it becomes the greater; and as one does this he gains self-mastery and learns the secrets of Nature. Attainment of even a certain amount of impersonality is acquirement, therefore, of a degree of occult power; for the higher the being, the larger is his sphere of activity and the more impersonal is his work — until finally, like Father Sun whose rays shine beneficently alike on all beings, he becomes so thoroughly allied with the inner Impersonality, the inner Individuality, that he likewise becomes benignly sunlike, shedding his spiritual influence, without thought of self, on all that lives.

The Theosophical Forum