The worst inheritance of the West in the present era is the fear of death.
It has been said that it dates from a very short time before what we know as the year 1 b.c. It need not have attained the proportions it has but for the emphasis laid upon it by the growing Christian cult in all its many phases. Unfortunately it was the central point of that cult and was given a home in every shade of the churches. If Reincarnation and Karman had been made that central doctrine, the world might be better today. Even to the Christian system, these doctrines would not be strange, because, though it would be going too far to say that they were taught in their fulness in the early Church, yet in the Gospels they are indicated as accepted doctrines. Karman in the Wheat or Corn teachings is expressed in the terms "What ye sow that shall ye also reap." Reincarnation, among other instances, is expressed by the idea that "Jesus" is made to say that John is Elias.
Many a mystic saying woven into the Gospels has more than one meaning, and both or more may be true. A case very much in point is that in one aspect the Resurrection is Reincarnation, though there are one or two reasons why this fact was played down a good deal. One is that the Mystery intended to be conveyed by the drama was desired to relate more to the final drama of "Reincarnation" from the deadness of material life to the real "body" of the spiritual perfect man, a thing which might take place at the end of countless incarnations on earth, the becoming of a god from being a man.
This is well expressed in the figure of the man dying in order that the god might live, the Jesus dying that the Barabbas might live. Unfortunately hard and fast materialism was growing apace and even the learned men of the churches believed the whole drama referred to the physical death of a man on a cross of wood; this in spite of the fact that for centuries the wood of the cross itself was worshiped — the man on it is a later addition.
So for a couple of millenniums the West has been soaked in the idea of the terror of death, and it cannot be expected that this "hypnotic" idea of death being so terrible, inculcated for many centuries until it had become a mold of mind, should be outgrown or broken in a day. But the gentle influence of Theosophy and its presentation in the West of other religions than the orthodox religion of the Middle Ages is working its ferment, and fear is beginning to recede.
The whole matter is admirably expressed in a nutshell by saying that when we die we enter into a perfect sleep and when we sleep we enter into an imperfect death. It has also been roughly expressed by saying that when we sleep we put on the same clothes the next morning, but when we die we put on an entirely new suit, though even that suit is made of the same atoms as the old one. In fact we are always attracting out ancient atoms and throwing off those which do not rightly belong to us.
In all this there is always more to be learned or explained. For instance, instead of "body and soul," Theosophy shows that MAN breaks up after death into several constituent parts or aspects, each going its own way. We do not often think of it, but in sleep likewise we break up into more than one part: the body is left more or less inert; the "mind" may dream; the "soul" may go here, the "spirit" there. Most of us are so untrained that we can hardly appreciate these distinctions. Someday we shall. But they have always been known by trained mystics of the private schools. Lucretius makes Ennius say (a verse also attributed to Ovid):
Terra tegit carnem, tumulum circumvolat umbra,
Orcus habet manes, spiritus astra petit.
The earth covers the flesh; the shade, the spook, hovers around the tomb, The manes go to Orcus and the spirit seeks the stars.
Orcus is the Underworld, usually translated for want of better knowledge by the fantastic word Hell.
Obviously volumes could be written, have been written, on this fascinating subject, but here we would like to call attention to a matter of the utmost importance with regard to both sleep and death.
It is clear that one of pure, calm, lofty, spiritual thoughts normally dreams of corresponding things. It is also clear that one whose whole mental atmosphere is populated with low, hot, turbulent, earthy thoughts will be more likely to dream of similar things. Diet and illness also have their effects on sleep and are also causes set going by the individual himself. There are some exceptions where evil influences from outside affect him, but even so he is responsible for his weakness if he is susceptible to them.
Since a man's karman is the sum total, the resultant, of all he has done to date, in fact is himself, it is normal for him to think before bedtime of the main impressions of the day, though there may be some other strong thought in the ascendant. It is equally natural that the last thought should color the whole night's experience or dreaming, and also give the keynote for the starting of the next day. A problem or a question thought over just before sleeping almost invariably returns to the mind the next morning, digested and solved in the simplest fashion. Some observe this process more than others, but it must be a commoner experience than many imagine.
This is the reason for seeking to hold a state of mind before sleeping which is as high and spiritual as possible, free from lower thoughts and tendencies. There is an ancient saying, "Those who worship the gods go to the gods." If the thoughts are divine in tendency then there is no reason to suppose that the real MAN will not go to the divine in his hours of sleep. There is an old Sanskrit verse which reads: "That which a man longs for, that he becomes." It is the same idea, which if we accept leads to another remarkable conclusion. It is wrong to attempt to draw down to earth the souls of departed friends or relatives, particularly when we realize that the amount of impersonation of such by all sorts of spooks and "spirits" is enormous. It is good, however, to raise one's self to the plane where the real, pure, Self of our loved ones may be, and commune with them in that way. Words have little or nothing to do with the matter, but often enough the impression received by a higher part of the nature, a spiritual impression so to say, translates itself on the way down to the brain mind into actual pictures and words often giving a feeling of great happiness, and of even having really seen and talked with the loved one.
It would be well if more were known of the after-sleep states, if sleep and death are the same in differing degree, then the identical statements must apply, with such variations as are called for by the different situation.
When death comes and the body lies still, the brain occupies a short space of time in passing in review the events of the life just concluded. Impartially the higher faculties of the MAN assess and judge every thought and deed, however small, much as one might imagine a spiritual film unrolling before the eye of the spirit. Time being an illusion it is just as possible for a whole lifetime to pass through the brain in a few moments as it is for it to pass in a single dream.
The analogy with sleep is that the last thoughts at death color the whole of the after-death state so far as thought processes are concerned and give it a direction which may color the beginning of the following life. Precisely as the thoughts of the day tend to give the tone at the end of the day, so the actions and thoughts of the life give the tone at the end of the life. The Egyptians pictured the life as a day and the many incarnations taken together as a lifetime.
The practical application of these observations is that when a person dies, there should be no great lamentation and grief or other disturbing influences, but it should be remembered that the one who is passing is engaged in the most solemn process, call it initiation if you will, of the whole life, and one which affects the life after "death" and the future life after that. Quiet, still and calm should be the atmosphere of the death room that the speeding soul may go on its way in peace.
Even after that there should be no attempt at all to recall the soul of the loved one. It cannot be recalled, but it is quite possible that some injury may be done to it by the attempt to disturb it. And if we do believe that the soul rests after death, it is plain that the desire to recall it is purely selfish. The desire to rise to a spiritual plane of purity and unselfishness where there may be some sort of "synchronous vibration" with the spiritual part of the dead may be good, even though the stepped down effect may seem to the brain-mind like a vision or a conversation such as belongs to no spiritual plane at all.
Another practical application of the above ideas is the voluntary and conscious marshalling of the events of the day, in our minds before sleeping, impersonally examining the thoughts and desires, failures and successes, and judging them in the light of the impersonal Nous, the spiritual discriminating part of our nature. Like the forty-two assessors of the dead in the Egyptian book of the "Coming Forth by Day," Higher Manas, spiritual Man, the "immortal" part of our being, will calmly pass in review each thought, each word, each deed, and will say, "That was right"; "That was wrong"; "That must be bettered"; "That should not have been omitted"; "That must be done next time," — as it is roughly expressed in a Pythagorean fragment. Those thoughts and actions which have the password of purity and selflessness may pass the portals into the "Kingdom of Heaven." The others must go into the melting pot and be refined, changed, purified.
If at death some such process occurs, surely it is most natural that we ourselves should institute on the brain-mind plane such an analogous little ceremony of initiation, not as a mere formality but with the full intention and will to act up to the judgment formed. This is appropriate during the half hour before sleeping. Real life has a distinct purpose in every minute of the day if we wish to grow away from the irresponsibility of children.
Hypnos kai thanatos adelphoi — Sleep and death are brothers.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE