Sleep and death are brothers, according to the old Greek proverb. However, they are not merely brothers, born of the same fabric of human consciousness, but are in all verity one, identical. Death is a perfect sleep, with its interim awakenings of a kind, such as in the devachan [heaven-world], and a full human awakening in the succeeding reincarnation. Sleep is an imperfect fulfillment of death, nature's prophecy of the future death. Nightly we sleep, and therefore nightly we partially die. Indeed, one may go still farther and say that sleep and death and all the various processes and realizations of initiation are but different phases or operations of consciousness, varied forms of the same fundamental thing. Sleep is largely an automatic functioning of the human consciousness; death is the same, but in immensely greater degree, and is a necessary habit of the consciousness in order that it may gain for the psychological part of the constitution a resting and an assimilation of experience.
Initiation is a kind of temporary 'death' of all the lower man, a 'sleep' of the lower psychological nature, and a magical awakening to an intense awareness of the higher psychological part upon which is then radiating the inner light of the man's monadic consciousness. Thus it is that initiation comprises both sleep and death and uses these functions of consciousness in order to free the 'inner man' for the marvelous experience on inner planes that initiation brings about.
Anyone who has stood at the bedside of one who is dying must have been strongly impressed with the extraordinary similitude between the coming of death and going to sleep. The sole distinction between death and sleep is one of degree. Precisely as in death, the consciousness during sleep becomes, following upon a brief period of complete unconsciousness, the seat or active focus of forms of inner mental activity which we call dreams.
In sleep, the psychological or personal part of man is non-manifesting through the physical brain; in point of fact, it is this absence, this temporary disjunction of the intermediate nature which is the efficient cause of sleep. The body sleeps because the personal man is no longer there. When we go to sleep at night, we slip into a state of complete unconsciousness only because we have not yet learned during the daytime to become self-conscious in the higher parts of us. . . .
The vital thread of life and consciousness still vibrates in even the physical brain of a man during sleep, producing dreams, some that delight him and others that harass and perplex him. The thread of radiance remains unbroken, so that the ego, which has left the lower mind and the body behind and is soaring out into the spaces, is able to return along this luminous thread linking the monad to the astral-vital brain of the sleeping body. When a man dies, it is exactly like falling into a very deep sleep, utter, sweet unconsciousness, except that the vital cord is snapped and then, instantaneously, like the sounding of a soft golden note, the soul is free.
What happens to a man during sleep is an adumbration of what will happen to him at death. The personal ego goes into oblivion and its consciousness is withdrawn into the spiritual part where it rests and has temporary peace. During sleep, certain parts of man's inner constitution wing their way into the spaces of the solar system. The migration of course is very short; sometimes like a lightning flash, where one has slept only a few moments. But time to pure consciousness does not exist; time pertains to material existence. . . .
During sleep and after death, each individual goes to those places which he has earned for himself by his thought and his aspirations, or lack of them; in other words, it is all a matter of synchronous vibration — a man goes to his natural home, whether high or low. The cause of such peregrinations inheres fundamentally in the psychomagnetic attractions to these different localities in the solar systems, which are 'stations' along the devious routes of the circulations of the cosmos; and since the consciousness is accustomed to these routes through long ages of habit, each of the various parts of the human constitution follows its own particular direction in these circulations.
There is not only a close analogy, but an identity — both of process and of fact — between the dreams had during sleep and those of the after-death state. Dreams depend upon two main factors: (a) the mechanism of the psychic consciousness, and (b) the two kinds of forces impinging upon this mechanism, which control the direction and guide the operations of the psychic consciousness of the dreamer. Of these forces, the first kind is the solar, lunar, and planetary influences under which an individual is born; and the second is the automatic reaction to the events and experiences that had occurred during the waking state.
The astrological influences under which an individual is born are the conjoined action of all the solar, lunar, and planetary powers in the solar system; but in every case certain powers predominate because of their swabhava (a Sanskrit term meaning "self-being" or "self-becoming," i.e. essential character or individuality) — this swabhava coalescing with the man's own swabhava because of identity of origin; and it is this identity of origin or of powers which causes these forces or influences to act most strongly upon him. Therefore, while all human beings have dreams which are more or less alike, everyone has dreams of his or her own characteristically unique type. . . .
The nature of a man's dreams is determined almost wholly — yet by no means entirely — by his waking life. The little child, for example, has no positive dreams of any kind; its experiences are still too trifling. Its mind, even its brain, are not yet set or fully formed; nevertheless on occasion it will have frightening dreams, but these are usually caused by automatic psychologic reactions in the child's sleeping brain to some disturbance that it has experienced when awake.
Most of us have dreams which are neither very delightful nor very terrifying, but which often are mixed — inchoate and confused. The reason is obvious, for our dreams are but reflections of our waking hours. Sometimes our mind is bent to the things of the spirit and the ways of beauty and harmony, and at other times gives way to thoughts of a completely opposite character, which at night (or after death in the kama-loka [world of desire]) return to us in our dreams.
It is thought that makes all dreams. The evil man, one who is so selfish, and whose imagination and feelings are so restricted and imprisoned that a kindly impulse seldom if ever enters his consciousness, feels the unfailing reaction: when he dreams, which is frequently, he is in an emotional and mental hell. His thoughts haunt his brain like avenging ghosts, and afflict his dreaming consciousness. Contrariwise, the man who yearns to help his fellows, is impersonal, of lofty thinking, very rarely has evil dreams; if he dreams at all, he has dreams that the gods might envy. . . .
Dreams of any kind are the earth-side of a man's character coming into pictorial action again in the mind, and therefore are 'effects' and not 'causes'; and this is why the devachan is called the sphere of effects and our earth-existence, wherein originate the causative life-impulses, the sphere of causes. (Cf. The Mahatma Letters, pp. 47-8.) This does not mean that earth-life is the only sphere of causes; the statement refers only to incarnated human beings, and the effects produced after death by their thoughts and feelings and actions while imbodied. Thus, neither in the devachan nor when a man is dreaming at night does he originate any positive or inventive courses of action, although it is occasionally true that the dreams of a man, by reaction on the mind, may consciously or unconsciously somewhat influence the thoughts of the waking man.
There is a certain danger, however, in putting too much importance upon the matter of dreams and their interpretation. Occasionally dreams are prophetic, but to a large extent they 'come true' because they are the foreshadowings of the automatic working of consciousness, i.e. of what the consciousness itself, because of its biases and tendencies, will bring to pass in the future. Therefore, it could very plausibly be argued that if an observer of a dreaming man were quasi-omniscient, he would be able to discern in all the dreams of the man what his future would be. But it is obvious that there are very few such perfect soothsayers or dream-interpreters!
Truly prophetic dreams do not occur in the devachan, but can do so during sleep because they arise in the stored knowledge of the reincarnating ego, which latter attempts to impress the sleeping brain with a "radiation" of prophetic foresight. This does happen upon very rare occasions, but one should examine such dreams very suspiciously and not automatically look upon them as guides in life. In general, it is far better to ignore one's dreams, for very few people indeed are sufficiently awakened inwardly to know whether a dream is of a prophetic character or one which is merely an ordinary psychic reaction of the usually erratic and confused brain-mind. (Many dreams, again, while not truly prophetic, nevertheless can tell the one who studies his own mental and vital processes something at least, and possibly much, of what his character is. Very often the body, or the passions and feelings, react upon the sleeping brain producing pictures therein, and the one who knows how to read these dreams from careful self-examination, without morbidity, may get useful warnings or reminders that his life and emotions are not just what they should be. But, as said, it is far wiser to forget dreams of all kinds, unless they be of such immensely vivid character, and so impress us when we are awake, that we have the intuition that we had better hold such dreams in mind.)
If a man can — and will — study his consciousness during the day as well as the reactions upon his percipient mind to the various impacts of the daily events, he will have a master key to knowing precisely what will happen to him, as a center of consciousness, both during sleep and after death. If he desire to know how he will feel or what he will cognize at the moment of death, let him grip his consciousness with his will and study the actual processes of his falling asleep — if he can! No man, however, at that precise instant knows that he is lapsing into sleep. For a time he seems to himself to be thinking, and the more intensely he thinks the farther is sleep from him — and then he is off, he is asleep! Instant unconsciousness supervenes at the critical juncture, and it may or may not be succeeded by dreams.
Death is identical with this process of falling asleep. It matters not at all how we die: whether by age, by disease, or by violence. The instant of death always brings for a period the unutterable peace of perfect unconsciousness, which is like gliding into a beginning, a foretaste as it were, of the devachanic bliss, just as the careful observer will find to be his experience when falling to sleep.
Finally, I venture to call attention once more to the point that the mind will automatically go on functioning along the exact lines of thought which one had preceding either sleep or death. Hence the extreme importance of having one's mind in order and peaceful before going to sleep — or before dying; to refuse entrance to any thoughts of dislike, hatred or evil. As the great Pythagoras taught in the verses attributed to him by his disciple Lysis, which form a part of the so-called Golden Verses of Pythagoras:
Admit not sleep to thy drooping eyes,
Ere thou hast well reviewed each one of the day's deeds.
In what was I remiss? What did I do? What duty was not fulfilled?
(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, November 1980. Copyright © 1980 by Theosophical University Press. From Fountain-Source of Occultism, pp. 608-14)
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