[The following article, "The Living Dead," was given as a lecture at the H. P. B. Lodge of the T. S. (Point Loma) in London, England, in 1934, by the late A. Trevor Barker. It is published here in connexion with the notice of his death on July 17th of this year, appearing elsewhere in these pages, as a tribute to one of our most valued contributors. Readers of THE FORUM will be pleased to know that the Editors have several of Dr. Barker's unpublished articles for future use in this magazine, and that the Literary Staff at Point Loma have likewise in mind the possibility of publishing the collected writings of Dr. Barker, or at least many of them. It is too soon to say whether this hope can be realized, but for those who are acquainted with the product of Dr. Barker's thought, and have been uplifted and inspired thereby, this hope, we feel, is sufficient to arouse deep interest. — Eds.]
One of the difficulties that we are all faced with in studying this great philosophy, is not so much that as a result of it we do not come to recognize and know certain things — our difficulty is rather in translating the implication of those ideas into action.
Now, it was because we came to a recognition that this is a difficulty the majority of us need to solve, that we were led to choose the title for this series of lectures: — "A Rational Basis for Ethics." What we are trying to do with each subject that we take up is first to consider very briefly what the teachings are; and then to try to extract the ethical implication from the metaphysical teaching, and see how we are going to translate it into action in our lives. That makes the philosophy a living power in our lives if we want it to be so.
I am taking for granted tonight necessarily that you are familiar with the subjects of the two preceding lectures in this series: the first was on the Sevenfold Constitution and Powers of Man; and the second one dealt with Cyclic Law, Reincarnation, and to some extent Evolution. That is the background upon which the great Teachers of life and knowledge have thrown, as it were, upon a screen, the marvelous solutions and explanations that they have to give of the great mysteries of the life after death.
There are at least three ways that this title "The Living Dead" can be understood, because, as you will have divined, that title comes from the Mystery Schools of old time. The Living Dead can be understood as those who have put aside their mortal body — the people that colloquially we call "dead" people, but who, according to all the great religions of antiquity, and therefore in the teachings of Theosophy, are still indeed living. We can understand the title in that way, and we shall consider the Theosophical teachings on the subject from that point of view.
Then again, this phrase can signify living people, or those that we call living, but who none the less are really and truly dead, in the sense that they are unawakened — spiritually asleep. It is these that in the Mystery Schools of antiquity they called the "profane" — those who have not been awakened to the reality of the spiritual life.
And there is yet another way of looking at that title: those fewer in number, who, whilst still living in the body have dared to die in their personalities — who have dared to lose their personal lives, and have been reborn, spiritually speaking, and have therefore found their lives.
So we will try briefly to study the subject from these three points of view, amongst others.
Now may I try to give you a brief sketch of just what the Theosophical teachings are about the passage from what we call life through the intermediate worlds into the after-life, and back in cyclical return to earth again. The teachings on this subject in Theosophical philosophy are very rich. They are treated in great detail, and their implication is of tremendous importance and significance for us here. Then, when I have given you that picture, I will try to extract from it some of the implications of an ethical kind. First at the moment of death everybody — whether dying quietly in their beds, whether what is called insane, or dying by accident or violence — everybody: young, old, under all conditions, experience in the last fleeting moments, when the cord of life is snapped, a complete review of every incident of the life from first to last. That is the first point we want to get the significance of, for surely it means that we have to remember, that in the memory of Nature nothing is ever forgotten. Do not let us deceive ourselves for an instant that any single one of our actions can be lost. We may choose to wipe it from our memories and forget it, but the soul memory cannot forget; the memory of Nature does not forget; and therefore sooner or later we have got to face the implications and consequences of our own acts.
Then, the review completed, the whole of the being that is life — the five-fold man, goes into that intermediate realm which in some parts of Christian doctrines is known as purgatory: into that region of purgation where the higher and lower elements of the being of the man are separated into their component parts. Therefore think of all that is left other than the body and life going into the great intermediate realm, and there instantly being subjected to a process by which the lower material parts of the man's being begin to separate by downward attraction from the spiritual efflorescence of his being, which is attracted inevitably upwards, upwards, upwards.
That is a process that happens without the man's will. If he dies a normal death he goes into that after-death condition but without the power to initiate new actions. He is in a subjective world; he can no longer will, perceive and know in a conscious way. He is rather like a man in a dream, or if his life has been very material it will be perhaps more like a nightmare.
Then he experiences what is known as the second death. Now please note this particular teaching, for of all teachings it probably has the greatest significance for those who want really to be reborn either during life on earth, or after death. The result of the separation of the higher principles from the lower, leaving the lower to separate and disintegrate into their component parts — the lower consisting of all that is necessarily transient in Nature: the passions, the evil thoughts, the hatreds, all those qualities that are essentially impermanent and of the nature of death. They are doomed to fade out since there is no permanent survival of man's personality. And directly those principles are separated — the last process of which is a struggle resulting in another or second death — then is the man reborn into the Heaven world. Now what gives him birth there? Simply his spiritual aspirations, his religious yearnings, his philosophical and spiritual meditations of a lifetime; the high, beautiful and holy things that the man's heart was set upon during life. The innumerable mystical dreams and imaginations that most of us weave during life and never have a chance to work out and translate into action. They are ideal pictures, beautiful imaginings, true ideas — unfulfilled spiritual hopes. Now it is these things, not the will whether personal or spiritual, which cause a man to be reborn, spiritually speaking, in the Heaven world which in Theosophical teaching is called the world of Devachan or Sukhavati, the Land of the Gods.
What happens when he gets there, when he enters into that state of consciousness — for that is what it is? He is reborn as a little child as he was on earth, and his first recollections will be those that he had on earth — of his mother, his parents, his family, and from that tiny babylike beginning will be evolving the abstract effects of his own spiritual thinking, the causes of which were generated in the thought-life of the man's last personal incarnation. And there, in that after-death state he will be surrounded with all those that he loved and left on earth — the ideal picture of them, the idealized personalities of father and mother, husband and wife, and friends. He will be provided, as it were, by the creative power of his own imaginative thinking, with the opportunity of carrying to the nth degree his philosophical and mystical researches into the secret ways of the inner heart of Nature. He will be able to enter into the companionship of the great thinkers, the great Sages and Teachers of the human race. He will be able to work out these ideas and translate them, as it seems to him, into action. Yet he is really only living in a glorious dream world, but full of happiness, peace, bliss and the power of the spirit. And when the full tide of the assimilation process, gradually waning, finally leaves him, with all the spiritual effects of his last personal life fully worked out, assimilated into the fabric of his spiritual being, what happens? Why, the efflorescence of that last life on earth, the fruit of that human soul is gathered up into the bosom of its Father in Heaven, merging into union with the Spiritual, there to experience the vast panoramic vision of all its past existences — each incarnation as it were a pearl upon the golden thread of life and consciousness. And in the memory of the Immortal Seer is seen every one of the causes that led to such and another effect in life after life on earth: that which he had done of good bringing beautiful results and that which he had done of evil resulting necessarily in suffering. Finally he sees as a whole the past life that he has just completed, and the destiny which he himself has created of the life that is about to open in his next incarnation — seeing as it were in the ideal thought of his own inner Divinity, the plan laid down there in his own highest spiritual self for the life which he is about to embark upon. Just like an ideal architectural plan of a universe to be — in this case the future life of a man on earth. Then when that wonderful vision of all that he will have to go through is complete, the triumphs of the spirit that he will experience, and the failures due to the blows of Karmic destiny — the results of those things of an evil kind which the man had generated in past existences; when all has been seen, he begins to descend step by step, drawing back to himself the life atoms, the very matter through which he had experienced his passions, desires, and thoughts, good, bad, and indifferent, of the last personality; drawing them all together by the power of attraction and finally emerging on the stage of life once again as a little child.
That in brief is an imperfect picture of the Theosophical teaching about the life after death for those people who die a normal natural death at the end of their life period. I have purposely left out all the exceptions to the general law, because it would take us too far afield. But when we discover what the implications of these ideas are and we try to work out how to translate these implications into action in terms of ethics, then we begin truly to think; then indeed life begins for us and takes on an entirely different aspect to merely reading about these things in an intellectual way and leaving it there.
We spoke about the review of the past life. That is an automatic process, and we have already seen the implication that nothing is forgotten in the book of Nature, or in the Soul's memory. The man has passed from earth necessarily leaving behind him all his purely material possessions; and then you have the teaching about the separation of the principles and the second death. Now what are the implications of this idea? First that in terms of a man's spirituality, to the extent to which during life the higher and divine nature of the man had dominated the lower personal nature, to that extent will he pass through the intermediate worlds and purgatorial regions with speed: if a spiritual, if a holy life and pure one, the lower nature will just fade away. The higher will then gravitate upwards, rising like a cork does in the sea — it cannot help itself; and because the lower nature had been transcended during life there is very little to disintegrate, and so it vanishes away like the mist before the rising sun.
We see at once the tremendous spiritual benefit to the man who lives in terms of ethics during life even in that one fact. Now consider another aspect of it. Supposing the reverse kind of life had been led, and you have before you the life of a materialist, a man who has lived in the animal nature, pursuing the objects of the senses, living in his desires, the spiritual nature given no attention to — perhaps hardly wakened at all. The center of gravity is in the animal soul. He must pass a long period in the purgatorial regions, to the extent that he dies with active, vigorous hatreds and passions and desires, and he must suffer the unsatisfied longings which he can no longer assuage in the after-death world. These he will experience as a terrible nightmare, which he is unable to do anything about. A sufficient reason indeed for living an ethical life here — but still worse is to come, because it is just such individuals who can be most easily attracted and drawn into the mediumistic vortex of the spiritualistic seance. Earthly is that animal soul by nature, and earthly are the forces that attract to the spiritualistic seance. And then that discarnate animal — almost devil — seeks to satiate the animal passions, vicariously as it were, through the human beings that he is brought into contact with through the medium; and unfortunately many are the cases of insanity, suicide, obsession, that are caused by such people. Not only do they do damage to the living, but through the excesses that they commit they gradually build into themselves worse and worse tendencies in that part of their nature than they had actually done during earth life. So you get an ethical implication there at once — the condemnation as a practice of getting in touch with these entities through the mediumistic seance, and at the same time a tremendous incentive to leave behind, to turn around from that kind of life while living on earth, because after death it is too late — you cannot do anything about it.
Now the third, and as I think, the most important application of this far-reaching doctrine: what is it that really causes a man to be reborn in the Heaven-world or Devachan? It is really a state during life of spiritual ignorance, a state of spirituality, of spiritual yearnings, spiritual imaginings and strivings, but without that deep understanding of the laws of Nature which would enable the individual to translate that ideal thinking into action in the living present, and therefore he has to work them out in an ideal state instead of here in the objective universe. Now that means that it is really a state of illusion, although much nearer reality, than earth-life — very much nearer; but nevertheless, from the point of view of a really spiritual self-conscious being such as any of the great Sages and Seers, the great religious Teachers of the human race — from their point of view it is a state of ignorance — something that can be transcended by a certain process. What is it? Simply this: that just as in the after-death state the spiritual nature by its predominance goes instantly into the higher worlds and expresses itself there in a rebirth of the spirit by transcending all the actions of the material, passional, lower nature; so here in order to extract the ethical implication of this idea we have simply to realize that it is possible for us — you and I — at this moment, any time, from day to day, from hour to hour, to die to everything that is of a character that prevents the expression of our own high, divine, spiritual nature and powers. It is those things of a lower nature that are keeping us from a realization of the God Within, that are keeping us from being incarnate Gods here in the temple of the body. To avoid the illusory state — necessary, beneficent and useful as it is — of the Heaven-world, we simply have to take a high ethical standard of life and realize it in the body here and now; and that will mean to lose our personal lives completely from an ordinary point of view. It will be to follow the advice of the Initiate Paul: to die daily that he might be reborn in Christ. This is a possibility for us, and it simply means translating ethics from the realm of the ideal into the living present through action here and now. That is one of the main implications of the whole of the after-death teaching of Theosophy: the possibility first, and then the necessity, the impelling necessity for those who want to live in terms of the spiritual idea — to do the thing in the only place that it can be done, which is on earth here where we are. Here alone can we learn so to dominate by the power of the spirit the lower man, that we become actually reborn during life.
One last idea I want to draw your attention to: the plan that our Paramatman, our own Father in Heaven, has for each one of us; the plan that our own Inner God shows to us before we come into this world, of the incarnation that we are about to embark upon. That is something that has a tremendous importance, for deep down in the spiritual nature of our own being there is that which knows the justice of every single accident that will come to us in the life that is opening: the justice of the rewards and the retribution that we experience seemingly perhaps in some automatic way once the incarnation has begun. For if there is such a picture, such a plan of the ideal working-out of our destiny — destiny that we ourselves have created — then it rests with us so to live during life that we human, thinking entities, can reflect purely and perfectly that ideal plan for the living of our lives that exists in the mind of the God Within. And if we learn to do that in our daily meditation, listening for the voice of the Inner Warrior, our Inner Deity, our Personal Savior, we shall have revealed before our own Inner Spiritual Eye, step by step, the pathway which that Inner Divinity wants us to follow if we only will — and the price of it is simply the willingness to live an entirely different sort of life; a willingness to translate into the living present those simple ethical principles that all the great Teachers of the human race have laid down as essential and necessary for the saving of the souls of men.
1. Reprinted from The English Theosophical Forum, March 15, 1934. (return to text)
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