Birth, Life and Death are but recurring events in the majestic drama of continued existence — here and in the world beyond. Birth and Death are only names for that mystic curtain that rises and falls as we come and go upon the visible stage of life. Our eyes can neither see, nor see through, this ethereal veil that separates the shifting scenes of this world from the greater realities of invisible realms beyond. For the parts we play here are at best only pale, distorted copies of the splendid experiences of the inner Self.
In very truth we are not less, but far more, consciously alive after the body dies. Then we are free to wing our way back again to our native home and to live there in an exalted sense of spiritual being. For every part of our composite nature has its own place somewhere in the boundless universe to which we human atoms belong.
The mystery of Life and the mystery of Death are but different parts of the same web of the soul's destiny. Life never ceases to ebb and to flow between the shores of the Here and the ethereal realms of the Hereafter.
Death is no more to be feared than sleep. "Sleep is an imperfect death; death is a perfect sleep." In sleep we are free to wander in the wonderland of dreams. Ordinary dreams mean that our natural withdrawal from the unconscious body is not complete enough to leave us free from its influences. When we are only partially withdrawn from its restless vibrations, our dreams are confused, strange, unhappy, or evil. If our withdrawal is still greater but not quite complete, we have happy, peaceful dreams. When wholly free, we retrace our way to inner homelands so distant that even the memory of them all is too vast for the brain to hold. In such magic hours of deep, deep dreamless sleep, the inner man is active and fully conscious in some native spiritual realm, renewing there the strength and courage to meet whatever the coming day may bring.
In sleep the weary body assimilates the food it has taken in, and renews its worn-out cells, preparing for its daily activities. Thus each morning we reincarnate in a renewed and somewhat different body, and also we awake with fresh inner strength. It is all so natural an experience that we take it for granted; yet it repeats in kind and in brief what occurs in the Great Adventure of Death. Sleep and death are brothers. And as "the night-time of the body is the day-time of the soul," so the death of the body is rebirth for the soul.
When, at night, our loved ones are weary and ready for sleep, we do not selfishly arouse them by calling for personal attention. We should be doubly careful at the bedside of the dying and not disturb them by our selfish grief when they are passing into their "last long sleep." For as earthly scenes grow dim, the inner vision becomes clear and strong. However blindly we stumble along life's journey, we die at last with our eyes wide open. Death is a sacred initiation into mysteries of being. It is a solemn time, calling for quiet and silence, that the departing one may go in peace, infilled with the hidden meaning of the life now closing. For after the heart has ceased to beat, and all seems ended, the outgoing forces of life rush through the brain, and the man sees "the whole of his past life marshaled before him in its minutest details. For one short instant the personal becomes one with the individual and all-knowing Ego. But this instant is enough to show him the whole chain of causes which have been at work during his life. He sees and now understands himself as he is, unadorned by flattery or self-deception. He reads his life, remaining as a spectator looking down into the arena he is quitting; he feels and knows the justice of all the suffering that has overtaken him." (H. P. Blavatsky)
This inner vision always occurs, even in sudden death. Its reality is confirmed by many persons resuscitated from drowning. When all but gone, they saw the detailed panorama of their whole life flash before them. Thus they had actual evidence that everything is recorded on the invisible Screen of Time, and that the real Man does know the whole record.
The Theosophical teachings are consistent with each other and with the facts in Nature. There is natural provision for everything that occurs to us in life and death, as these two states are natural parts of our existence. Man and the Universe are alike composite in their natures, and man has, in some degree, everything in the universal Scheme, from spirit to matter. Spiritual man, having descended, through increasingly material levels on his way to human incarnation, naturally retraces his way on the return journey after death.
The familiar division of man into "body, soul, and spirit" briefly refers to his sevenfold nature — that is to say, the elements which make up his being — which is divine, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, vital, astral and physical. These different parts of the human constitution naturally fall apart after death and each goes its own way. Thus when at last the vital forces — prana — leave the body, the physical atoms begin to return to their place in Nature — "dust to dust." The astral or model-body upon which the physical is built, cell for cell, is of an invisible, finer grade of matter. Its atoms also separate and they are diffused into various other astral forms in Nature. The individual stream of pranic life returns to the great ocean of life in which we move and live. Of the lower, personal man, the most persistent elements are his passions and desires, and these impulses and emotions, being earth-born, are earth-bound. Here, in the atmosphere of selfish desire, these disembodied emotions cohere into an ethereal form, to survive for a time as a Kama-rupa, Kama meaning desire, and rupa, body. From this human dross, everything worthy to survive is separated in a kind of purgatorial cleansing, after which comes the "second death." All the gleanings of good are added to the real inner Man, who is ever evolving through experiences in successive incarnations, and absorbing the essence of it all in the periods of refreshment between earth-lives. This spirit, now liberated from all things earthly, re-ascends to the finer airs of its own realms, there to remain until the hour strikes for another life on earth.
When the soul freed itself from the passions and desires, it left behind the Kama-rupa, the dregs of its former personality. Then the Kama-rupa, deprived of vital thought and conscience, fades away in due course of nature; unless as sometimes happens, this dangerous "shade" is drawn to and vitalized by mediumistic natures seeking to communicate with the dead.
"Is there no hope, then, of meeting those who have passed on?" is often asked. There is not only hope but certainty that those who truly love cannot be separated, for love is eternal. Spiritual communion can indeed take place between the departed and the living; but it is for the living to rise to the spiritual planes, either in deep, dreamless sleep or in rare moments of lofty thought and aspiration. Fortunately, in the very nature of things, we cannot drag the liberated soul down to earth's murky atmosphere, though the soulless Kama-rupa may appear in the seance-room. Those who truly love will surely meet again in other lives on earth, and will renew the old ties, though under new names and conditions. How else could we explain love and friendship at first sight?
Bereavement should bring home to us a larger sense of our responsibility, even to our beloved dead. They are resting in the keeping of the Great Law, and absorbing the meaning of their past experiences, and so becoming better prepared to put more of the ideal truth and and beauty of their heavenly visions into their next life on earth. Their sacred silence is a challenge for us to do our part to start new and nobler currents of thought and action, while we are still in this world of causes.
Man is an intelligent and moral being because of Manas, "the mind." This is the dominating principle in his present stage of development — he is more than an animal and less than a god. His mind is dual: the higher mind working with his spiritual nature, the lower mind being used by his selfish, material nature. Thus man is the author of the greatest good and of the worst evil on earth. After death his purely intellectual nature unites with his spiritual or Buddhic principle, they together being the Reincarnating Ego. This is the real man who enjoys the ideal thought-life and spiritual vision in Devachan, or what may be called the "heaven-world" or the world of the gods — Deva means god, and chan means realm, or world.
Devachan is a condition of spiritual life, with various degrees or grades of consciousness extending through realm after realm of beatitude. Though each man's inner treasures of thought and feeling — his noblest aspirations and beautiful ideals — ever elude his grasp when on earth, their realization makes up his soul-satisfying life of bliss and refreshment in Devachan. While this exalted state is, in one sense, like an exquisite dream, yet it is more illumined, more vivid and far more real than anything known on earth. Our spiritual existence is rich in harmony, beauty, and love; all the pain and suffering, all disappointment, privation, heart-ache and loss that were endured in the last life are forgotten.
Nothing, however, is lost of the purified essence of earthly experience, which is assimilated into man's expanding inner nature. Between lives he sees his perfected ideals clearly pictured in heavenly visions. These are impressed upon the reincarnating man as possibilities which he may work out into every-day realities in the conditions of earth-life — and only there. For the kingdom of heaven which is "within" can "come" on earth only when men bring into action their innate spiritual faculties and the creative powers of pure intellect.
When assimilation in Devachan is complete, the refreshed Ego feels the longing for old familiar scenes of activity; it desires to come back and take up its unfinished business with its former associates. Then it begins its return journey from more ethereal realms through the various grades of substance that finally merge into physical matter. At each stage it ingathers whatever of its make-up — the ethereal sheaths of the soul — it had left there in freeing itself for upward flight. At last it reaches earth's atmosphere.
Meantime, the Ego's earthly attributes and characteristics of personality, as well as the physical and astral atoms it had discarded at death, begin to reassemble, feeling the urge for reunion with their own. Again the separated principles form the sevenfold composite being which has been drawn to the family and the conditions that are in keeping with its further growth. Then a baby is born — a little, helpless, unawakened being, but somehow bringing with it a refreshing air of purity and "otherworldliness."
Just before birth, the returning pilgrim sees in a flash of spiritual vision the chain of causes which led him to Devachan and back to the new life about to begin. Seeing the justice and meaning of it all, he accepts it with sublime courage. Then he drinks of the Waters of Oblivion — the "River of Lethe" — and passes through the mystic curtain of birth.
An exception to what usually happens after death occurs, as might be expected, in cases of self-destruction, for suicide is a violation of natural law. The suicide is not really dead though he has lost his physical body. He remains a living man in the lower astral levels close to the earth, and will linger there for the length of years he would have lived but for his rash act. In many cases this is a period of intense mental suffering, and many of these unfortunates are easily attracted to the seance-room, because of the cravings for the gratification of the appetites and desires which can be satisfied only by possessing the body of a living person. This unnatural and uncanny possession is dangerous for all concerned, not only in the immediate but in far-reaching results that may be spiritually disastrous.
For humanity at large, Death is a Wonderful Adventure which alternates with the soul's opportunity for unfolding its spiritual powers in life on earth; but it is only on our "good earth," where body, soul, and spirit working together provide the necessary conditions, that we can attain to complete and lasting Self-knowledge. This world is our school-house of experience. Here the god in man is destined to conquer his animal-nature in the fulness of time, and to move on to a more splendid destiny than our imagination can conceive. A few Great Men, the Masters of Wisdom, have traveled far on the way to perfection. They established the Theosophical Society to bring to their fellow-men a knowledge of how they, too, may tread the same small, old Path to peace and power and vision.