Copyright © 1974 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
The spiritual Ego of man moves in Eternity like a pendulum between the hours of life and death. But if these hours marking the periods of terrestrial and spiritual life are limited in their duration, and if the very number of such stages in Eternity between sleep and awakening, illusion and reality, has its beginning and its end, on the other hand the spiritual "Pilgrim" is eternal. Therefore are the hours of his post-mortem life — when, disembodied he stands face to face with truth and not the mirages of his transitory earthly existences during the period of that pilgrimage which we call "the cycle of rebirths" — the only reality in our conception. Such intervals, their limitation notwithstanding, do not prevent the Ego, while ever perfecting itself, to be following undeviatingly, though gradually and slowly, the path to its last transformation, when that Ego having reached its goal becomes the divine ALL. — H.P.B. in Lucifer, January 1889, p. 414
There is probably no subject in the modern world about which so little of value is known and which nevertheless is held so deeply in feeling and thought as that of death. However much we may try to ignore the unpleasant fact of the dissolution of the body, and however much the habit of mockery at things unknown may sway the mind, everyone is interested in, speculates upon, and yearns to know more about death.
The teachings of the esoteric philosophy with respect to that phase of universal life called death are simple to grasp in general outline, though difficult in their more recondite aspects. The principal theme of all the great Mystery schools of antiquity, and of the ceremonials which reflected in dramatic form these inner teachings, was the 'adventures' which the human entity enters upon when the physical body is cast aside. The strongest emphasis was upon the fact that death and sleep are fundamentally the same, not different except in degree; that sleep is an imperfect death and death is a perfect sleep. This is the main key to all the teachings on death; because if we understand what happens during sleep, we will have the Ariadne's thread to a relative comprehension of what takes place at, during, and after, dying.
This is the path of study and training by which neophytes become finally able to remain fully self-conscious while the body is in sleep; and the adept or high chela, through the same training pushed to a still greater length, is able to remain fully aware and active on inner planes after the body dies. The man who has thus made himself more or less fully acquainted with the functions and characteristics of his own nature can, during his lifetime, travel self-consciously out of his body to other parts of the earth and, with increased power, even to other planets. But greater than this is the power to visit self-consciously the inner worlds which environ us, and to bring back a relatively complete recollection of the experiences and knowledge so gained. Indeed, all initiation reposes upon this very fact.
Death is not the opposite of Life, but actually is one of the modes of living — a modification of consciousness, a change from one phase of living to others in subservience to karmic destiny. It were impossible for any entity to live for an instant if he were not dying at the same time: as Paul phrases it, "I die daily." Every man 'dies' when he sleeps; likewise, because our bodies are in a state of constant change, their atoms are in a continuous process of renewal which is nothing but a kind of dying, and which so far as the atoms are concerned is not a relative but a complete death for them. Even while imbodied we are living in the midst of innumerable tiny deaths. As Heraclitus used to say, panta rhei, "all things stream along," in an unceasing state of flux.
Now this incessant movement of change, or of dyings and rebirths — whether these cycles be in time periods of a fraction of a second or be reckoned in millions of years — is, in the last analysis, governed by and expressive of the majestic heartbeat of the cosmic life, of which every entity or being is but a life-atom, highly or less evolved.
It was precisely this general picture of the incomprehensibly vast interacting and interblending revolvings of the armies of beings which was in the minds of ancient initiate-philosophers, as for instance those of India, when they turned with infinite yearning of soul towards the nirvana, in order to gain the aeon-long bliss of the jivanmukta and surcease from the intricate cyclings on the wheel of life, as the Buddha phrased it.
We likewise can apply the above to our own lives since we are all involved in these whirling cycles of the evolutionary movements of the cosmic life, and thus our incarnations and dyings are but ringing the changes of our karmic destiny. Hence we see that neither the Christian nor the scientific view of death is true because both misconstrue the taking up and dropping of bodies as events standing alone, instead of being episodes which we as actors play in the uninterrupted evolutionary progress of our souls.
Death is but a change, a falling into the 'great sleep,' to be inevitably followed not only by a reincarnation or reproduction of oneself upon earth in a future punarjanman, (1) but likewise by intermediate karmic reproductions of oneself in the small in all the different mansions of life which compose the outer and inner realms of the twelvefold universe. It is these whirlings or revolvings of the monad through space and time which are alluded to in the Buddhist writings as samsara, (2) and in the Qabbalah as the gilgulim, and again by the mystical Greeks of certain philosophical schools as the kuklos kosmou, 'cycling of (or through) kosmos' — all of them expressing in different ways the monad's ceaseless peregrinations throughout the cosmic manvantara in and through all the houses of life. While this has particular reference to the human monad, it applies also to all other monads. For as I have so often stated, the monad which begins in any one cosmic manvantara as an unself-conscious god-spark ends as a full-blown self-conscious god with respect to that particular period of manvantaric time, because it has learned through its evolutionary livings and dyings, its imbodiments and metempsychoses therein, all the lessons that that cosmic manvantara enables it to experience.
The death of a man, then, is but a journeying through the spaces of Space, as the monad follows the circulations of the solar system on and through the seven sacred planets and the sun, after which it returns along the same pathways to earth to assume a new human body.
It were quite wrong to imagine that the monad itself is imbodied here on earth, and that after death it is disimbodied. In the first place, the monad is perennially on its own high plane and works through sheaths of consciousness. Consequently, during its post-mortem peregrinations on the inner planes, it is reclothed in every sphere of life that it visits with a sheath or 'body' strictly correspondential to the forces and substances of the different planes of the cosmos through which it passes, both on its ascent and on its descent. On the higher planes of our universe the very ethereal vehicles — kosas in Sanskrit — that it assumes and works through are to us arupa, formless, only because they are so unlike the gross matter of our physical bodies that they are like sheaths of dazzling light. All things are relative; so that while we speak of these highly ethereal or indeed spiritual spheres and their inhabitants as being arupa, other entities living in and on divine planes superior to them would regard these lofty beings as clothed in rupas or forms.
The spiritual tragedy of the West has been the loss of the consciousness of the oneness of cosmic life with all manifested existence. Due to centuries of religious miseducation, and later to erroneous scientific teaching, man today looks upon himself almost instinctively as being something different from the universe. It was Descartes, the seventeenth-century French philosopher, who was instrumental in bringing about this loss of awareness in man's soul of his spiritual identity with the universe, for his philosophical doctrine was based on a supposititious difference between spirit and matter; and this, aided by the loss of spirituality in the teachings and life of the Christian Church, has adversely affected all subsequent philosophy and science in the West. Fortunately, the greatest exponents of modern scientific theory are once more returning, however unconsciously, to the archaic teachings that the soul of man is a spark of the anima mundi, and that force and matter are but two aspects of the same underlying Reality.
Altogether too much emphasis has been placed upon the various bodies or sheaths in man's constitution. These after all are merely temporary vehicles thrown around himself by the inner man who is a monad, a flaming ray from the solar divinity, a ray which descends through all the spheres of cosmic life-consciousness until it reaches this physical plane where it manifests through the substances, mainly of the heart and brain, of imbodied man. Conversely, death and its phases consist in a laying aside of sheath after sheath of consciousness in which the ray had enmeshed itself.
If a man wishes to know his post-mortem destiny, it is necessary to follow the peregrinations of the monadic consciousness per se, for death is primarily a change of consciousness, an enlargement of its sphere of action. He must begin by studying his true self which is his inner individual essence, following in thought this ray continually upwards and inwards along the different foci or consciousness-centers of his constitution.
Cyclical action in nature is but one of the modes by which cosmic karma expresses itself. To give just one illustration: the process of death in man is identic with that of the life-atoms of his physico-astral constitution. When a life-atom 'dies,' which means that its extremely brief imbodied life term is ended, it passes by efflux out of the physical into the astral body, and there with equal rapidity undergoes certain transformations before the jiva or monad of that life-atom ascends through the superior element-principles of man's constitution. Then, after a period of recuperative rest, such a life-atom descends again through the element-principles of man's inner constitution, down into his linga-sarira and thence into the physical vehicle where anew, for its short life term, it helps to build the human body.
Following the same general character of peregrinating efflux, assimilation and rest in the devachan, and the succeeding influx into the astral light and the earth sphere, the human monads pursue their own courses. What the life-atom is to man's physical body, from one viewpoint and on strictly analogical lines, the human spiritual life-atom or human monad is to the earth globe. This likewise applies to all other entities. Herein lies the secret of the true nature of death, which is thus seen to be only another phase of the marvelously intricate webwork of the functions of universal Life.
The life of man on earth is but a stage in the journeying of an ever-unfolding conscious ego, the reimbodying ego, through the physical sphere, and death but the continuance of this journey out of this sphere of earth-being into another one. Physical death is in a very large part brought about by the fact that the unfolding field of human consciousness spreads beyond the capacity of the body to contain it, which, feeling the strains thus put upon it, gradually glides into senescence, finally to be cast aside as a worn-out garment. A short time before the end occurs, the inner principles of the lower quaternary begin to separate on their own planes, and the body makes automatic response to this incipient separation, thus bringing about the physical decline of old age. This point is of great importance, for it shows that physical death does not cause the dissolution of the bonds of the lower element-principles; on the contrary, the body dies because these lower invisible forces, substances, and energies — collectively speaking, the inner and causal life of the quaternary man — have already begun to separate, and the physical body, as time passes, naturally and inevitably follows suit.
The immortal part of man is obviously incomparably more compelling in power and pervading influence in causal realms than is the merely human ego; and hence there is a constant pull upwards to the superior spheres wherein the higher triad of man is native. This mighty spiritual-intellectual attraction acting on the higher part of the intermediate nature of the human constitution, combined with the wear and tear on the physico-astral compound during earth life, are the two main contributing causes of physical death. Death, therefore, is caused primarily from within, and only secondarily from without, and involves an attraction of the reimbodying ego upwards to spiritual-divine spheres, and the progressive decay of the astral-vital-physical vehicle.
It should be clear that it is not a lack of vitality which brings about physical death, or indeed its twin brother sleep, but rather a superabundance of pranic activity. As W. Q. Judge stated, it is this excess of pranic force which through the years so weakens the organs by the stress and strain put upon them by the vital flow of which they are the carriers, that their cohesion and molecular and even atomic power to perform their respective 'duties' or functions are finally destroyed.
It has been frequently said that every individual has a certain limited store of vitality, and that when this has been exhausted, the man must die. What is meant is that the vital-astral-physical organism as a composite entity not only has a certain power of resistance to the streams of pranic life pouring through it, but likewise has its own cohesive power arising in the pranas of the individual molecules and atoms which in their aggregate make the body. In other words, when the pranic energies of the entire constitution wear the body out so that it can no longer function smoothly, it begins to weaken, perhaps becomes diseased. It might be added that this applies likewise to every organ of the body; so that if an excessive strain is put upon any one, it is this organ which weakens first, and in extreme cases may throw the remaining organs into such disarray that disease or even death may ensue.
Closely connected with this subject is the matter of the 'lives' or life-atoms of which every part of our constitution is built. At one time they may be builders or preservers and, at another time, because of undue stress or of some other disintegrative influence, these same life-atoms may become destroyers. But extremes are always dangerous: if, for instance, a group of life-atoms is forcibly compelled to change their atomic and therefore natural and healthy mode of procedure, they then and there — either immediately or progressively — become destroyers instead of builders or preservers. Indeed, the matter of death being caused by an excess of vitality, and likewise a man's falling to sleep, rests upon the fact that the life-atoms of the body have reached a point where their resistance vanishes, or decreases as in sleep. Hence it is that the life-atoms function at one moment as builders or preservers, and at another as destroyers — even regenerators in a sense.
Death, in the vast majority of cases, is preceded by a certain time spent in the withdrawal of the monadic individuality or rather of the reimbodying ego, which takes place coincidentally with the separation of the seven-principled being that man is. (3) The reimbodying ego obeys so strongly the attraction inwards to the unspeakable bliss of the inner worlds that the golden cord of life connecting it with the lower triad is snapped. This is followed by immediate unconsciousness; for nature is very merciful in these things, being guided by quasi-infinite wisdom.
Old age is therefore merely the physical resultant of the preparatory withdrawal of the reimbodying ego from self-conscious participation in the affairs of earth life. With a great deal of truth it may be compared to the period — extending for months or even years — preceding the birth of a child, during which time the returning ego has been undergoing quasi-conscious preparation for its 'death' in the devachan and its descent through the intermediate lower realms into the state appropriate for its imbodiment on this plane. The characteristic conditions of what is known as second childhood represent one of the several natural ways of passing out of this earth life. There is nothing harmful about it; the life is simply ebbing away, while a 'birth' is in preparation in the invisible realms.
The cause of senescence or senility in our present fifth root-race is that the buddhi and the atman are but foreshadowed in their powers as the individual passes beyond middle age, and thus old age is not yet enlightened and strengthened by these higher principles. Similarly, in the fourth root-race, when kama and kama-manas were unfolding, the manasaputric or higher manasic element was only feebly manifesting as a distant radiance. Therefore the average Atlantean, although living on the whole much longer physically than we now do, had an intense and exceedingly vigorous and passional physical life up to middle age, and after a certain period there followed a quick drop in power succeeded by a long and lingering old age.
Towards the end of the seventh root-race of this round we shall have learned to live, at least partially so, in every one of our seven element-principles or monads, so that then, as death approaches, there will be continuous increase not only in spiritual and intellectual faculty, but likewise in psychical attributes. In other words, there will be no 'old' people, because the individual humans will grow steadily grander, stronger and more efficient in every part of their being — until an extremely short period preceding 'death,' which then will be an instantaneous sinking into unconsciousness, a sudden sleep-trance, followed by the dropping of the physical integument.
When a man is suffering a mortal pain his kinsmen surround him and, offering him affection, say: "Do you know me? Do you know me?" So long as his speech does not merge into his mind (manas), his mind into the life (prana), the life into the fire (tejas), the fire into the Supreme Divinity — so long he knows.
Now when his speech is merged into the mind, the mind into the life, the life into the fire, the fire into the Supreme Divinity — then he knows not.
That which is his minuteness (ani), that is one's own essence, that is all, that is truth (satya), that is Atman. That thou art, O Svetaketu. — Chhandogya-Upanishad, VI, 15, 1-3
Anyone who has studied the writings of H.P.B. will realize that all the different parts of the human constitution are represented in the akasic aura permeating and surrounding the human body, and that each one of these parts has its own vibrational rate, its own color and, indeed, its own fundamental musical note. During life this akasic aura — which is the most physical efflux of the auric egg — presents a really marvelous play of color, varying from instant to instant according to the play of thought or of emotion; it is by this means that the trained seer is able to tell from a single glance just what condition of mind or of emotion the man is in, and what his evolutionary status on the ladder of life. This fact has been seized upon by half-baked mystics, and has been so exaggerated and overworked that one hesitates to dwell upon it even briefly.
It is with reference to this akasic aura that the phrases 'the golden cord' or 'the silver thread' of life apply. As death approaches, which implies a withdrawal of the vital essence from the incarnated human being, this akasic aura is co-ordinately indrawn, and thus becomes steadily less strong in action; and at the moment of complete death, which means the severing of the vital aura from the physical body, this akasic aura is reduced to a single cord or thread which finally breaks. Now this cord is of one or another color; sometimes it looks golden, sometimes silver or bluish in tint, sometimes brownish or red or green, and again at other times of a dirty muddy tint — the color depending in each case upon the last thoughts fleeting through the mind of the dying man. Often also the seer observes the cord as parti-colored — golden in its highest parts, verging into indigo-blue with an occasional flash of green, or at times it is shot with red, and the lowest part may be silver or violet.
In all cases the various pranas are involved, because they are the vital field in which the elements of man's constitution work and express themselves. Indeed, this cord is composed of the substance of several of the pranas which progressively leave the tissues and finally the vital organs of the body. When thus deprived of its psycho-vital-magnetic pranic life, the body thereupon is 'dead,' very much as the light bulb, when the electric current is switched off, glows for a short instant and then is dark.
The exact time of the snapping of the cord-filament is not the last breath, nor again even the last beat of the heart, although both of these do mark the moment of apparent death, which is the same as saying the moment of the vanishing of the larger part of the vital cord. For, as long as the panorama of the past life's experiences is passing through the brain, which occurs in all cases of death, there still remains a slender strand of the filament. Only when the panorama finally becomes blank unconsciousness does this last feebly glowing strand disappear — and this is the complete death of the body. Rigor mortis begins instantly then, this being an automatic auric reaction expressing itself as a temporary immobility or 'stiffness' of the pranas latent in the corpse which linger on in a vegetative condition before they fade away.
There is a curious connection between the snapping of the vital cord at death, and the first entrance of the vital influx into the foetus. Just as the breaking of the last strand of the cord means the beginning of complete death, so the first movement of the child in the womb means the first moment of true entrance into the unborn body of the monadic egoic ray from within-above. Then, when the child is born, its first breath is a more or less automatic astral-physical reaction to stimulus from within combined with stimulus from without.
The process of death is complicated. Roughly, the heart 'dies' first, and the brain is the last organ to be quitted by the vital cord. Yet, even after the heart stops, there remains a glowing point therein connected with the active akasa still functioning in the brain and producing the panorama of the past life — this glowing point in the heart vanishing an instant before the last thread of the vital filament disappears. As a general rule the withdrawal of the auric essence begins at the lower extremities and gradually proceeds upwards to the heart, where it pauses briefly and then ascends along the spinal cord into the brain.
However, it would be erroneous to suppose that all the pranas of the incarnated man, considered as an aggregate, leave by way of the brain only. Every orifice of the body during the process of dying becomes a vent or organ of expulsion for the corresponding prana which during life works in and out through such orifice. The generative passages, the anus and the navel, emit certain lower parts of the human vital aura; while the heart, as said, finds its avenue of egress through the spinal cord to the brain. That portion of the imbodied astral, which is the carrier of the intermediate higher effluxes of the ego, leaves the physical vehicle in what would seem to be a cloud of vapor, passing out mainly through the mouth and nostrils. Another portion of the vitality leaves through the ears and eyes. The part of the astral man which, while imbodied, has been the organ of the spiritual and nobler intellectual elements of the constitution, exits the body through what is known in ancient Hindu writings as the brahmarandhra, which is generally described as an aperture or mystical opening in the top of the head in the vicinity of the pineal gland. Thus do the pranas of the body and of the linga-sarira abandon their grip on the molecules and atoms of the physical body, and, leaving these with their own especial pranas, withdraw into the auric egg of the departing entity.
When we speak of the astral man, we refer specifically to the linga-sarira and its withdrawal from the body of the dying man; in fact, once that death has taken place, the linga-sarira hovers around and over the corpse, although linked to it by innumerable tenuous threads of astral pranic substance — what one might call electric or magnetic stuff. Actually, as pointed out, every orifice of the body exudes its own appropriate part of the astral man as a cloud of vapor; and, likewise, every molecule and atom of the body of the dying man gives up its own portion of the general pranas, which wrench themselves free from such molecular and atomic bonds, thus bringing to pass the 'explosion' or outburst of light or radiation which occurs at the moment of death. (4)
It may be of interest to append here a few remarks on the various methods of disposing of the body after death. The practices of mummification or of embalming, as these have been followed by different ancient peoples, and even in our own time by those who wish to keep the body from decay as long as they can, are not good, for the reason that they are an attempt to prevent the transmigration of the life-atoms.
These practices originated in the degenerate times of Atlantis when devachans were short and reimbodiments occurred in fairly rapid succession because of the widespread lack of spirituality among the peoples which then inhabited the earth. The sorcerers and magicians of that period, for unholy reasons of their own, tried to interfere with nature's purifying processes, by embalming and mummifying their dead; they hoped that by the time the ego was next incarnated these mummified bodies would still be intact. Sometimes when this actually happened the mummified cadavers were burned, in order then to free the life-atoms so that these might return to the new body of the reincarnated ego.
Now the embalming and mummification of the body was in part futile, because it had no effect whatsoever on any life-atoms superior to or more ethereal than the lowest astral and physical ones. But the attempt was also in part successful, for the grossest and most physicalized classes of the life-atoms, which otherwise would have pursued the most material circulations of transmigration, were kept from such circulations.
Therefore, when the entity returned to reincarnation after a few thousand years, it received these life-atoms in almost the identic condition to what they previously had been so far as the stamp of experience on them was concerned. These particular life-atoms were thus retarded in their own natural evolutionary journey. It is enough to say that the practice is without moral justification.
As just said, mummification originated in an act of Atlantean black magic — an attempt to thwart nature's all-wise and just processes. Likewise did it arise out of a very typical Atlantean view of the great importance of the material universe and of material life. The custom persisted through the ages long after its meaning was forgotten, and was continued by many Atlanto-Aryan peoples such as the Peruvians, the Egyptians, and others. (The Egyptians and Peruvians, however, were not true Atlanteans, but belonged to some of the carry-over Atlantean stocks living with the new peoples of the Aryan root-race.) It was a part of the heavy Atlantean karma still remaining in our fifth root-race, and expressing itself in material guise.
Far better was the custom of the earliest Aryans to give the bodies of their dead to the cleansing flame, thus freeing the life-atoms as soon as possible and allowing the splendor within to wing its way into the inner worlds without even the shadow of an attraction earthwards, which a dead body does provide. Dust to dust, souls to sun, and spirit to parent star — was the creed of our Aryan forefathers.
Cremation helps the astral body to disintegrate sooner than is the case when the physical body is allowed to decay in the grave, because both the astral body and the cadaver are very intimately conjoined physically and magnetically. In fact they disintegrate almost atom for atom (the only exception being that the skeleton due to its heavy mineral chemical composition may outlast even the astral 'skeleton' of the linga-sarira). As long as the body is decaying in its coffin, the linga-sarira hovers around it; and just so long is the kama-rupa to a certain extent psychomagnetically drawn to the neighborhood of the grave.
Fire is an electrical phenomenon, a manifestation of pranic electricity. Its influence is usually disruptive, but it is also the great constructive builder of the universe, and that is why some of the ancients worshiped it. Physical fire can dissolve nothing beyond its own range of action; it disintegrates the physical molecules and breaks up the cohesion of the chemical atoms and thus sets them free. Cremation, therefore, has no effect whatsoever on the life-atoms, except to hasten the process of chemical dissociation of atom from atom; instead of the slow 'burning' through the years by oxidation, cremation is a quick method of bringing about the same thing.
When a man is truly dead, there is absolutely nothing in him that is in the remotest sense cognizant of what is taking place when the body is cremated — except possibly a vague and pleasant sense of being liberated. This feeling arises because the consuming of the body by fire, and consequently of the linga-sarira, frees the kama-rupa quickly; and in the case of average men, the kama-rupa rises into the higher regions of the kama-loka out of the astral dregs thereof.
Once that the golden cord of life is snapped, there is nothing physical on earth that can disturb the passing of the soul. Nevertheless, about thirty-six hours at least should ensue between the last breath and the disposal of the physical shell. Preferably, funeral services should be short, simple, and with deference to the love that the deceased evoked in the hearts of others.
Among people who fear death, who expect to go to 'heaven' and yet shrink from that beatific experience with every atom of their being, there seems to be a paradoxical instinct to regard this very natural occurrence as a time of woe and desolation. In truth, there is more need for mourning over the birth of a little child than there is for the passing of one who has gone into supernal happiness.
At the last moment, the whole life is reflected in our memory and emerges from all the forgotten nooks and corners picture after picture, one event after the other. The dying brain dislodges memory with a strong supreme impulse, and memory restores faithfully every impression entrusted to it during the period of the brain's activity. That impression and thought which was the strongest naturally becomes the most vivid and survives so to say all the rest which now vanish and disappear for ever, to reappear but in Deva Chan. No man dies insane or unconscious — as some physiologists assert. Even a madman, or one in a fit of delirium tremens will have his instant of perfect lucidity at the moment of death, though unable to say so to those present. The man may often appear dead. Yet from the last pulsation, from and between the last throbbing of his heart and the moment when the last spark of animal heat leaves the body — the brain thinks and the Ego lives over in those few brief seconds his whole life over again. Speak in whispers, ye, who assist at a death-bed and find yourselves in the solemn presence of Death. Especially have you to keep quiet just after Death has laid her clammy hand upon the body. Speak in whispers, I say, lest you disturb the quiet ripple of thought, and hinder the busy work of the Past casting on its reflection upon the Veil of the Future. — The Mahatma Letters, pp. 170-1
The panoramic review usually begins when all the bodily activities and functions have ceased, sometimes indeed before the last heartbeat, and, as a rule, continues after the heart has stopped and the last breath has been expired. It is impossible to state how long this takes, because the length of the review varies so tremendously with the individual. In the case of those of high spirituality, the whole process is completed within a few hours; in that of others, it may be up to twelve hours, possibly longer. Probably six hours on the average is required for this last visioning of the maya of the life just lived. But in all instances the panoramic vision occurs because the brain is suffused with the fleeting scintillations still reaching it from the feathery tendrils of the cord of life, which grows progressively thinner and thinner as the hours pass.
Such a panorama occurs even when a man dies suddenly as the result of some terrible accident, as for instance when the brain is blown to pieces or when the body is burned alive. In these cases, the panorama takes place in the higher parts of the astral brain, which, although it is seriously affected, especially in its more material parts, nevertheless endures as a cohering organ somewhat longer than does the physical brain.
In extreme old age the panorama begins in a vague and tentative manner some days or possibly weeks before physical death, and this is really the cause of the dazed condition that very old people frequently fall into shortly before they die.
Every incident, fact, event, thought, and emotion of a man's life is recorded in the different parts of his being: the emotional events in the kama-manasic part; the mental in the manasic aspect of his constitution; and the spiritual in the buddhi-manasic, etc.; while the linga-sarira and the physical body are themselves permanently marked and often noticeably changed by the experiences undergone throughout the incarnation.
The panorama occurs in all its wondrous detail — no thought or point of action being omitted — because it is the result of instinctive action by the human monad, which, almost unconsciously to itself, dislodges from every secret recess of its inner records, imprinted as these are on its own vital substance, all the details of the life just past. Due to the spiritual forces at work, which are strictly harmonic and karmic, consciousness automatically functions in opening up the panorama by beginning with the first incident that memory has recorded in the life last past, and thereafter proceeds in stately pageantry of imagery until the last thought is reached, the last emotion felt, the last intuition had — and then comes unconsciousness, complete, sudden, and infinitely merciful. This is true death.
Now such a panorama cannot possibly take place in its fullness during the normal lifetime of the man, because his consciousness is so distracted by the manifold events in which he is living, that there is no opportunity for this. What we call memory is merely the ability to read more or less accurately the mental and physiological impressions stamped upon our auric egg, which impressions are carried by the auric flow to the body where they enter the texture of the physical brain and nervous system, and by reaction often make themselves felt as memories of the past.
It is a most marvelous thing that the human consciousness through its body and its various organs not only records with amazing accuracy every mental and emotional event that occurs from day to day, but even photographs on the registers of the inner being an incomprehensibly immense number of sense- and brain- and nerve-impressions of which the everyday consciousness is scarcely aware at all. Yet during the vision every single one of these incidents passes swiftly before the watching eye of the inner man, just preceding his passing from this plane.
Those around the dying often hear them muttering faintly of the events of early childhood, but not understanding this have supposed that it is a vision of heaven, or something of the kind. It is merely the mouth repeating what the brain sees — memories passing in review; and back, behind, stands the seeing Self and judges the past life, and its judgment is infallibly true. It sees the record of things done or undone, the thoughts had, the emotions followed, the temptations conquered or succumbed to; and when the end of the panorama is reached, it sees the justice of it all. In view of its vision of past karma it knows what is coming in the next life. (5)
There is a similar panoramic visioning of the past life, but in less vivid and complete degree, at what is called the second death in the kama-loka. But this is not all, for there is a third recurrence of such a panorama before rebirth, i.e. just before the human monad leaves its devachanic dreaming and becomes again unself-conscious preceding reimbodiment in the human womb. The completeness and accuracy in detail in each case depend upon the type of the ego, for there is no ironclad rule which applies to everyone. There are variations of quality and intensity in all these visionings, depending upon the degree of evolution attained by the human ego.
In the case of individuals of unusual spiritual status, the panorama preceding death (and equally the one which takes place before leaving devachan) often contains glimpses into the second or third preceding lives and possibly into a more distant period in the human ego's past. The ability to see panoramically into the near or distant past of the human ego is proportionate to the degree of spirituality that has been unfolded: the more spiritual the ego, the greater is the power to look into the past; and, indeed, in high chelas or mahatmas this ability becomes active even during imbodied life. Just how far into the remote past the mahatma can delve — if he should want to — depends not only upon his evolved ability, but upon his will to do so; for most of them dislike peering into their former lives (cf. The Mahatma Letters, p. 145).
Even the average man at rare intervals has glimpses not only into a past life or lives, but likewise prophetically into the future. However, he is so slightly trained to recognize these visions for what they actually are — records stamped in the fabric of his own auric egg or on the astral light — that he usually looks upon them as mere dreaming or phantasy. Since he is not evolved enough either to understand what he might see or to discriminate with any degree of accuracy between imagination and the actual auric records, it is downright dangerous for him to attempt to see into the past or future. At the same time it is not to be overlooked that sometimes in disease, or in a trance often brought about by disease, the sufferer may have distorted visions or pictures of the records in the astral light or in his auric egg, but in these cases, being so different from the true panorama occurring at death, the visioning is confused and distorted, and sometimes of so horrible a character as to leave the unfortunate sufferer in a cold sweat of helpless terror.
Those unfortunate people who want to see their past lives simply do not know what they are asking for. Could they do so and realize what the records would include, along with the obvious good that they had done, the likelihood is that they would do everything in their power utterly to erase the pictures from their memory. What normal man would like to look back into all the weak, heartless and ignoble thoughts and deeds recorded by him on nature's picture gallery during lives lived long ago? (6)
Also many people have periods of reminiscence when there seems to be an inflow of the events of early childhood, which memories later subside. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the situation which occurs at death, nor even in seeing one's past lives, but happens simply because the nervous system and brain are at the time in vibrational harmony with the records in one's auric egg, and the brain thus automatically registers these vague and transitory pictures of memory, enabling one to live for a while in the returned consciousness of former years. These cases are fairly common. Commenting upon the subject of memory at the moment of death, H.P.B. says in one of her articles:
The fact is that the human brain is simply the canal between two planes — the psycho-spiritual and the material — through which every abstract and metaphysical idea filters from the Manasic down to the lower human consciousness. Therefore, the ideas about the infinite and the absolute are not, nor can they be, within our brain capacities. They can be faithfully mirrored only by our Spiritual consciousness, thence to be more or less faintly projected on to the tables of our perceptions on this plane. Thus while the records of even important events are often obliterated from our memory, not the most trifling action of our lives can disappear from the "Soul's" memory, because it is no MEMORY for it, but an ever present reality on the plane which lies outside our conceptions of space and time. . . . while physical memory in a healthy living man is often obscured, one fact crowding out another weaker one, at the moment of the great change that man calls death — that which we call "memory" seems to return to us in all its vigour and freshness.
May this not be due as just said, simply to the fact that, for a few seconds at least, our two memories (or rather the two states, the highest and the lowest state, of consciousness) blend together, thus forming one, and that the dying being finds himself on a plane wherein there is neither past nor future, but all is one present? Memory, as we all know, is strongest with regard to its early associations, then when the future man is only a child, and more of a soul than of a body; and if memory is a part of our Soul, then, as Thackeray has somewhere said, it must be of necessity eternal. — "Memory in the Dying," Lucifer, Oct. 1889, pp. 128-9
These wonderful processes of the consciousness whereby the man sees the entirety of the life just ended, and realizes the utter justice of all that he has suffered or enjoyed, are in no sense an effort of the will of the reimbodying ego, but are automatic procedures of the functioning of its own substance. The soul-consciousness of the ego, watching this life-review, is for the time being entirely oblivious of everything else except this panoramic vision. The ego receives an indelible impression which remains with it throughout the devachanic interlude and aids in guiding it to the proper environment for its next physical rebirth.
To recapitulate: every human being who is 'average' — neither highly spiritual and far advanced, nor extremely gross and materialistic — has three panoramic visions: the first, just preceding complete death of the physical body; the second, just prior to and at the time of the second death in the higher kama-lokic planes, meaning the dropping of the kama-rupa and the beginning of the entrance into the devachan; the third, after leaving the devachan and before the subsequent unconsciousness begins immediately preceding entrance of the egoic ray into the womb. This third panoramic vision likewise has something of a prophetic quality about it, for the human ego, thus preparing for the gestation preceding the birth into the physical body, not only sees its past but also has glimpses into the future, and recognizes the justice and the karmic need of the kind of physical environment and body it is entering into.
Now those human beings who are exceedingly gross and materialistic have no devachan, and consequently no true second death, and therefore practically no second panoramic vision; hence they are almost immediately attracted to reincarnation on earth again. They have the first panoramic vision, an adumbration of the second, but no third vision preceding rebirth. Others, such as lost souls and sorcerers of low grade have in every case the panoramic vision at death, always accordant with their psycho-intellectual power, but they can have no devachan. In the cases of congenital idiots and infants who die, these have no panoramic vision whatsoever because they have nothing in the life on earth just closed self-consciously to recollect or to review, the manasic faculty being either 'dormant,' or not yet awakened within them.
Of course, those highly spiritual beings who have not yet learned to live self-consciously after death, have all three panoramic visions.
This life (prana) is born from Atman.
As in the case of a person there is this shadow extended, so it is in this case. By the action of the mind it comes into this body.
As an overlord commands his overseers, saying: "Superintend such and such villages," even so this life (prana) controls the other life-breaths one by one.
The out-breath (apana) is in the organs of excretion and generation. The life-breath (prana) as such establishes itself in the eye and ear, together with the mouth and nose. While in the middle is the equalizing breath (samana), for it is this that equalizes whatever has been offered as food. From this arise the seven flames.
In the heart, truly, is the self (atman). Here there are those hundred and one arteries. To each one of these belong a hundred smaller arteries. To each of these belong seventy-two thousand branching arteries. Within them moves the diffused breath (vyana).
Now, rising upward through one of these [arteries], the up-breath (udana) leads in consequence of good work to the good world; in consequence of evil, to the evil world; in consequence of both, to the world of men.
The sun (Aditya), verily, rises externally as life; for it is that which helps the life-breath in the eye. The divinity which is in the earth supports a person's out-breath (apana). What is between, namely space (akasa), is the equalizing breath (samana). The wind (vayu) is the diffused breath (vyana).
Heat (tejas), verily, is the up-breath (udana). Therefore one whose heat has ceased goes to rebirth, with his senses sunk in mind (manas).
Whatever is one's thinking, therewith he enters into life (prana). His life joined with his heat, together with the self (atman), leads to whatever world has been fashioned [in thought]. — Prasna-Upanishad, III 3-10 (based on R. E. Hume's translation)
The function and the character of the pranas in the human body are reckoned as ten and even twelve in esotericism, yet they also are spoken of as being seven, for the same reasons that the planetary chain is usually stated as consisting of seven globes instead of the full number twelve. However, we use the term prana as a generalizing word to signify the aggregate of psycho-vital-astral fluids which the pranas really are. We may otherwise call them the vital essences.
Even in mediaeval Europe — which of course drew its ideas from ancient Greek and Roman writings — pretty much the same conception of the human body, as being an entity infilled with vital spirits and with humors, prevailed until a relatively recent time, when these were rejected by medical science, which laughed at the superstitions of our forefathers. Nevertheless, these vital spirits and humors corresponded, however imperfectly, to the pranic fluids of ancient Hindu teaching — considered to be both ethereal essences and physical humors. From early mediaeval times up to the recent present, medicine consistently taught that normal physical health in the human body was maintained when these vital spirits and humors were operating in equilibrium, and that disease and even death were products of their malfunctioning. The archaic ages were unanimous in their agreement on these points.
Exoteric Hindu writings usually give their number as five: (1) Prana (a Sanskrit compound: pra, forth; an, to breathe, this verbal root being found in the terms for all the pranas), 'a breathing forth,' and hence the vital essence which controls the respiration, particularly the outbreathing, the inbreathing or reflex action of the lungs is considered to be an automatic adjustment of the function. Its organ or seat is the lungs. (2) Vyana, 'a breathing around or apart,' the vital psycho-astral-physical fluid governing the circulations, whether of the blood or the nerves, and therefore its organs are the veins and arteries on the one hand, and the nerves as the higher aspects of the general circulatory function on the other hand, (3) Samana, 'a breathing together or around,' the breath or essence which has to do with controlling the digestive function as well as the assimilation and distribution of fluids; its organs are the stomach, the bowels, etc. (4) Apana, 'a breathing down or away,' signifying a throwing off, governing the organs of excretion. (5) Udana, 'a breathing upwards or above,' the vital essence which causes upward circulatory movement. Its locus is in the navel with corresponding sympathetic loci in the heart and the spinal column; it controls the movement of the vital essence from the lower organs upwards into the skull.
There are two higher 'pranas': the organ of one is located in the heart and the other in the head. Likewise, there are five other secret 'pranas,' which pertain not so much to the body as to the circulatory 'breathings' or movements of atmic spirit and buddhi-manas in and throughout the human constitution.
All the different pranas of the akasic vital stream really make up the completely imbodied man, because they are the vital fields, or what are sometimes spoken of as the nervous fluids, in and through which the finer spiritual, intellectual, and psychical essences work and manifest themselves. When all the pranas are properly balanced, and no one or more of them is either over-stimulated or sub-active, then the man is healthy throughout his entire constitution. This is why any attempt to meddle with these pranic currents — by yoga or psychic practice — brings about a change in the human constitution, which practice when conducted through ignorant experimentation, as is almost always the case, will invariably result in disease and very likely in subsequent death, or else in psychical and mental disturbance.
The various pranas are not merely vital winds, as the term is commonly translated, but are streams or flows of psycho-astral substance which work in the body as substantial energies. They are all formed of excessively minute particles or atomic units or entities, which indeed are the same as the life-atoms.
In the last analysis, a man's body is built out of these pranic streams of atomic particles. Furthermore, all the pranas which manifest themselves in the human body are the psycho-astral-physical expression of corresponding and causative currents of vitality in the auric egg. Indeed, they are the vital energic form which the auric egg takes on the physical plane; and the auras, which these pranas exude, producing something like a vapor or mist around the body, are their psychomagnetic atmosphere. In other words, the pranas are the vehicle of expression for all the higher attributes and qualities of the human constitution.
The pranas find their respective fields of action in the auric egg, from which they manifest in the physical body, which is the most material concretion of the grosser aspects of the auric egg. Corresponding to the various physical organs, including the different nervous ganglia or plexuses, there are equivalently active centers or foci or ganglia in the auric egg; and indeed, these latter are the originants or auric causes which produce their effects as corresponding centers or organs in the physical body.
Thus it is that the physical body receives the seven or ten pranas from the auric egg which, in its turn, receives them from the monadic centers in the human constitution — ranging from the atman down to the physical body. Due to the unceasing activity of the forces or energies at work in man, these forces flow forth from the different monadic foci of his constitution as streams of vitality, i.e. currents of life-atoms, into the various layers of the auric egg. These streams of vital force actually compose the auric egg, with its compounded vital fluids and their characteristic auric qualities or swabhavas; and thence from the various layers of the auric egg these pranic auras are reflected into the different organs or centers or chakras of the physical body.
Thus, then, the complete man during incarnation, when viewed as an objective entity, presents a most marvelous picture of interacting and continuously coruscating streams of pranic vitality, which in the higher ranges are like currents of flowing light, and in their lower ranges are like streams of quasi-material vitality.(7) What we call magnetism and electricity, each being the alter ego of the other, are but pranic or vital psychomagnetic flows of life. In the manifested cosmos, they are two aspects of the vital activity of our solar hierarch, interblending and combining with the vital magnetism and electricity of our planetary chain, and again with the magnetism and electricity of our globe earth — these cosmic forces representing in the solar system what the different pranas are in the human constitution.
Hence, man on earth, and equivalently other beings on other planets, is surrounded not only by all the pranas of the solar system and of the planetary chains, but likewise by the twelve cosmic magnetisms or electricities flowing into the solar system from the zodiacal constellations which surround it. Bearing this in mind, and remembering which planets are ruled by which houses of the zodiac — modern Occidental astrologers incorrectly say that the planets rule the signs — the student may correlate the swabhavas of the different pranas of man not only to the swabhavas of the planets but likewise to the pranic swabhavas of the zodiacal houses or constellations.
During the lifetime of a man, all these pranas are more or less at work in his constitution. (In one sense, the only difference between a mahatma and an average man is that the mahatma centers his consciousness in his higher pranas, leaving the other pranas to do their quasi-automatic labors in the lower parts of the constitution.) That is why man during incarnation is like a pillar of dazzling light, of which the top portion seems to vanish into the colorless glory of infinity, while the intermediate and lower parts grow progressively more concrete and more pronounced in color until, when the body is reached, the pranas become gross and heavy and furnish the combined swabhava of the imbodied animal monad.
When a man dies, these pranas are successively indrawn by regular stages from the bottom upwards until the human ego undergoes the second death in the kama-loka, sinks into its dreaming or swapna condition, and enters the devachan in the bosom of the spiritual monad. The pranas, which have been able to rise thus far, then re-enter the monads that originally gave them birth when the ego had previously descended from its devachan into incarnation. This is what is meant by the statement that the pranas return to their respective sources in nature.
Finally, it may be said that even the loftiest activities of the human being, such as consciousness, intellection, intuition, etc., are merely different ways of describing the swabhavas of the divine and spiritual pranic forces pouring forth from the monads in the human constitution which are on its higher planes. The significance of this is that all of nature is but imbodied life, otherwise imbodied consciousness, thought, intelligence. It is the highest which produce the lower; so that the vital flows or fluids on the manifested planes, and therefore in and through the physical body, are but the expression of the higher vitality manifesting itself on the lower and lowest planes.
Section 11, Part 2
Main Table of Contents
1. A Sanskrit compound: punar, again; janman, birth. (return to text)
2. A Sanskrit compound formed of the prefix sam, with, and sara, from the verbal root sri, meaning 'to flow along' — a word which when used theosophically implies the modification of consciousness that the excarnate being undergoes by 'flowing along' the rivers of lives, otherwise the circulations of the solar system. These rivers of lives are in constant motion in and on all planes of the visible and invisible worlds. To illustrate: every life-atom, of whatever class, in the solar universe must enter and leave the sun at least once with every beating of the solar heart, and there is one such beat with every cycle of sunspots. (return to text)
3. The separative action precedes physical death by a varying number of months or even years, depending upon the individual, and is thus a preparation for its forthcoming existence in what is for it the next succeeding sphere of effects — the devachan. (return to text)
4. Physical vital electricity, however ethereal and tenuous to our perceptions, is nevertheless quite substantial; and, indeed, the pranas of our physical plane, and almost equally so of our astral plane, are substances relatively material when compared with the pranas of the higher parts of the human constitution. (return to text)
5. To make a practice of reviewing the incidents of the day when one is preparing for sleep, is exceedingly important. Its effect is that of accustoming the mind to consider one's life as a field of action involving responsibility in conduct, giving one the opportunity to draw lessons therefrom. It likewise has the effect on the mind of initiating a habit of panoramic visioning, thus making the self-conscious realization of the events passing before the mind's eye at the moment of death far easier, quicker, and more complete. This habit has also the highly beneficial result of shortening the second panoramic review preceding the second death.
Such ethical or moral examination of the day's events is one of the best possible aids in inducing wisdom in meeting life's problems, and bringing about through reflection, even if more or less unconsciously performed, a spirit of kindliness and understanding for others. A great deal of unnecessary friction and trouble in the world arises out of the mechanical way in which we live in our minds, without adequate self-examination, with little or no analysis of our daily actions and of the thoughts and emotions which bring these actions about. Of course I do not here refer to unwholesome or morbid introspection, but rather to the careful, honest practice of reviewing impartially and critically, as an observer, one's thoughts and deeds. It is a great help in strengthening our moral intuitions. (return to text)
6. Such a stage of remembrance of the details of our past incarnations, so far as the normal man is concerned, will not take place until our earth is inhabited by a race of far more gloriously evolved beings than we are; and this is very fortunate. The exceptions to this rule, as said, are the masters and some of the high chelas, not those who may lay claim to this so-called faculty or power. (return to text)
7. Frequent mention has been made in theosophical literature of the 'nervous fluids' of the physical body. The fact is there are as many nervous fluids in man's physical frame as there are pranas, these being but another name for the seven or ten pranas working in and through the nervous system. It is the pranas which cooperate in producing the general flow of nervous energy or force or nervous vitality. (return to text)