The Hill of Discernment — A. Trevor Barker

6a. The Rationale of the After-Life

[The key to understanding Life is a knowledge of the mysteries of Death. In the Theosophical philosophy Death and Life are not opposites, but each is a doorway into a different realm of LIFE.

These teachings of the after-death life were carefully guarded in the ancient Mystery-Schools, but since 1875 with the founding of the Theosophical Society they have been issued to the public as that portion or new instalment of wisdom which the Masters declare this new cycle demands if our civilization is to be saved from the total embrace of materialism and consequent deterioration and decay.

The articles in this chapter concern (a) the general Theosophical teaching about Death; (b) the difference between the spiritualistic theory and teaching and that of the Ancient Wisdom, and, as fitting perhaps better here than elsewhere, (c) the difference between Theosophical teaching and that of Christian Science.]

The Living Dead

One of the difficulties that we are all faced with in studying this great philosophy, is not so much that as a result of it we do not come to recognise and know certain things — our difficulty is rather in translating the implication of those ideas into action.

Now, it was because we came to a recognition that this is a difficulty the majority of us need to solve, that we were led to choose the title for this series of lectures: — "A Rational Basis for Ethics." What we are trying to do with each subject that we take up is first to consider very briefly what the teachings are; and then to try to extract the ethical implication from the metaphysical teaching, and see how we are going to translate it into action in our lives. That makes the philosophy a living power in our lives if we want it to be so.

I am taking for granted tonight necessarily that you are familiar with the subjects of the two preceding lectures in this series: the first was on the Sevenfold Constitution and Powers of Man; and the second one dealt with Cyclic Law, Reincarnation, and to some extent Evolution. That is the background upon which the great Teachers of life and knowledge have thrown, as it were, upon a screen, the marvelous solutions and explanations that they have to give of the great mysteries of the life after death.

There are at least three ways that this title "The Living Dead" can be understood, because, as you will have divined, that title comes from the Mystery Schools of old time. The Living Dead can be understood as those who have put aside their mortal body — the people that colloquially we call 'dead' people, but who, according to all the great religions of antiquity, and therefore in the teachings of Theosophy, are still indeed living. We can understand the title in that way, and we shall consider the Theosophical teachings on the subject from that point of view.

Then again, this phrase can signify living people, or those that we call living, but who none the less are really and truly dead, in the sense that they are unawakened — spiritually asleep. It is these that in the Mystery Schools of antiquity they called the 'profane' — those who have not been awakened to the reality of the spiritual life.

And there is yet another way of looking at that title: those fewer in number, who, whilst still living in the body have dared to die in their personalities — who have dared to lose their personal lives, and have been reborn, spiritually speaking, and have therefore found their lives.

So we will try briefly to study the subject from these three points of view, amongst others.

May I try to give you a brief sketch of just what the Theosophical teachings are about the passage from what we call life through the intermediate worlds into the after-life, and back in cyclical return to earth again. The teachings on this subject in Theosophical philosophy are very rich. They are treated in great detail, and their implication is of tremendous importance and significance for us here. Then, when I have given you that picture, I will try to extract from it some of the implications of an ethical kind. First at the moment of death everybody — whether dying quietly in their beds, whether what is called insane, or dying by accident or violence — everybody: young, old, under all conditions, experience in the last fleeting moments, when the cord of life is snapped, a complete review of every incident of the life from first to last. That is the first point we want to get the significance of, for surely it means that we have to remember that in the memory of Nature nothing is ever forgotten. Do not let us deceive ourselves for an instant that any single one of our actions can be lost. We may choose to wipe it from our memories and forget it, but the soul memory cannot forget; the memory of Nature does not forget; and therefore sooner or later we have got to face the implications and consequences of our own acts.

Then, the review completed, the whole of the being that is left — the fivefold man — goes into that intermediate realm which in some parts of Christian doctrines is known as purgatory: into that region of purgation where the higher and lower elements of the being of the man are separated into their component parts. Therefore think of all that is left other than the body and life going into the great intermediate realm, and there instantly being subjected to a process by which the lower material parts of the man's being begin to separate by downward attraction from the spiritual efflorescence of his being, which is attracted inevitably upwards, upwards, upwards.

That is a process that happens without the man's will. If he dies a normal death he goes into that after-death condition but without the power to initiate new actions. He is in a subjective world; he can no longer will, perceive and know in a conscious way. He is rather like a man in a dream, or if his life has been very material it will be perhaps more like a nightmare.

Then he experiences what is known as the second death. Now please note this particular teaching, for of all teachings it probably has the greatest significance for those who want really to be reborn either during life on earth, or after death. The separation of the higher principles from the lower, leaves the lower to separate and disintegrate into their component parts — the lower consisting of all that is necessarily transient in Nature: the passions, the evil thoughts, the hatreds, all those qualities that are essentially impermanent and of the nature of death. They are doomed to fade out since there is no permanent survival of man's personality. And directly those principles are separated the last process of which is a struggle resulting in another or second death — then is the man reborn into the Heaven world.

Now what gives him birth there? Simply his spiritual aspirations, his religious yearnings, his philosophical and spiritual meditations of a lifetime; the high, beautiful and holy things that the man's heart was set upon during life; the innumerable mystical dreams and imaginations that most of us weave during life and never have a chance to work out and translate into action. They are ideal pictures, beautiful imaginings, true ideas — unfulfilled spiritual hopes. Now it is these things, not the will whether personal or spiritual, which cause a man to be reborn, spiritually speaking, in the Heaven world which in Theosophical teaching is called the world of Devachan or Sukhavati, the Land of the Gods.

What happens when he gets there, when he enters into that state of consciousness? — for that is what it is. He is reborn as a little child as he was on earth, and his first recollections will be those that he had on earth — of his mother, his parents, his family, and from that tiny babylike beginning will be evolving the abstract effects of his own spiritual thinking, the causes of which were generated in the thought-life of the man's last personal incarnation. There, in that after-death state he will be surrounded with all those that he loved and left on earth — the ideal picture of them, the idealized personalities of father and mother, husband or wife, and friends. He will be provided, as it were, by the creative power of his own imaginative thinking, with the opportunity of carrying to the nth degree his philosophical and mystical researches into the secret ways of the inner heart of Nature. He will be able to enter into the companionship of the great thinkers, the great Sages and Teachers of the human race. He will be able to work out these ideas and translate them, as it seems to him, into action. Yet he is really only living in a glorious dream world, but full of happiness, peace, bliss and the power of the spirit.

And when the full tide of the assimilation process, gradually waning, finally leaves him, with all the spiritual effects of his last personal life fully worked out, assimilated into the fabric of his spiritual being, what happens? Why, the efflorescence of that last life on earth, the fruit of that human soul, is gathered up into the bosom of its Father in Heaven, merging into union with the Spiritual, there to experience the vast panoramic vision of all its past existences — each incarnation as it were a pearl upon the golden thread of life and consciousness. And in the memory of the Immortal Seer is seen every one of the causes that led to such and another effect in life after life on earth: that which he had done of good bringing beautiful results and that which he bad done of evil resulting necessarily in suffering. Finally he sees as a whole the past life that he has just completed, and the destiny which he himself has created of the life that is about to open in his next incarnation — seeing as it were in the ideal thought of his own inner Divinity, the plan laid down there in his own highest spiritual self for the life which he is about to embark upon. Just like an ideal architectural plan of a universe to be — in this case the future life of a man on earth. Then when that wonderful vision of all that he will have to go through is complete, the triumphs of the spirit that he will experience, and the failures due to the blows of karmic destiny — the results of those things of an evil kind which the man had generated in past existences: when all has been seen, he begins to descend step by step, drawing back to himself the life-atoms, the very matter through which he had experienced the passions, desires, and thoughts — good, bad, and indifferent — of the last personality; drawing them all together by the power of attraction and finally emerging on the stage of life once again as a little child.

That in brief is an imperfect picture of the Theosophical teaching about the life after death for those people who die a normal, natural death at the end of their life period. I have purposely left out all the exceptions to the general law, because it would take us too far afield. But when we discover what the implications of these ideas are and we try to work out how to translate these implications into action in terms of ethics, then we begin truly to think; then indeed life begins for us and takes on an entirely different aspect to merely reading about these things in an intellectual way and leaving it there.

We spoke about the review of the past life. That is an automatic process, and we have already seen the implication that nothing is forgotten in the book of Nature, or in the Soul's memory. The man has passed from earth, necessarily leaving behind him all his purely material possessions; and then you have the teaching about the separation of the principles and the second death. Now what are the implications of this idea? First that in terms of a man's spirituality, to the extent to which during life the higher and divine nature of the man had dominated the lower personal nature, to that extent will he pass through the intermediate worlds and purgatorial regions with speed: if a spiritual, if a holy life and pure one, the lower nature will just fade away. The higher will then gravitate upwards, rising like a cork does in the sea — it cannot help itself; and because the lower nature had been transcended during life there is very little to disintegrate, and so it vanishes away like the mist before the rising sun. We see at once the tremendous spiritual benefit to the man who lives in terms of ethics during life even in that one fact.

Consider another aspect of it. Supposing the reverse kind of life bad been led, and you have before you the life of a materialist, a man who has lived in the animal nature, pursuing the objects of the senses, living in his desires, the spiritual nature given no attention to — perhaps hardly wakened at all. The center of gravity is in the animal soul. He must pass a long period in the purgatorial regions, to the extent that he dies with active, vigorous hatreds and passions and desires, and be must suffer the unsatisfied longings which he can no longer assuage in the after-death world. These he will experience as a terrible nightmare, which he is unable to do anything about. A sufficient reason indeed for living an ethical life here — but still worse is to come, because it is just such individuals who can be most easily attracted and drawn into the mediumistic vortex of the spiritualistic seance. Earthly is that animal soul by nature, and earthly are the forces that attract to the spiritualistic seance. And then that discarnate animal — almost devil — seeks to satiate the animal passions, vicariously as it were, through the human beings that he is brought into contact with through the medium; and unfortunately many are the cases of insanity, suicide, obsession, that are caused by such people. Not only do they do damage to the living, but through the excesses that they commit they gradually build into themselves worse and worse tendencies in that part of their nature than they had actually done during earth life. So you get an ethical implication there at once — the condemnation as a practice of getting in touch with these entities through the mediumistic seance, and at the same time a tremendous incentive to leave behind, to turn around from that kind of life while living on earth, because after death it is too late — you cannot do anything about it.

Now the third, and as I think, the most important application of this far-reaching doctrine: what is it that really causes a man to be reborn in the Heaven-world or Devachan? It is really a state during life of spiritual ignorance, a state of spirituality, of spiritual yearnings, spiritual imaginings and strivings, but without that deep understanding of the laws of Nature which would enable the individual to translate that ideal thinking into action in the living present, and therefore he has to work them out in an ideal state instead of here in the objective universe. That means that it is really a state of illusion, although much nearer reality, than earth-life — very much nearer; but nevertheless, from the point of view of a really spiritual self-conscious being such as any of the great Sages and Seers, the great religious Teachers of the human race — from their point of view it is a state of ignorance, and it is something that can be transcended by a certain process. What is it? Simply this: that just as in the after-death state the spiritual nature by its predominance goes instantly into the higher worlds and expresses itself there in a rebirth of the spirit by transcending all the actions of the material, passional, lower nature; so here in order to extract the ethical implication of this idea we have simply to realize that it is possible for us — you and I — at this moment, any time, from day to day, from hour to hour, to die to everything that is of a character that prevents the expression of our own high, divine, spiritual nature and powers. It is those things of a lower nature that are keeping us from a realization of the God Within, that are keeping us from being incarnate Gods here in the temple of the body. To avoid the illusory state — necessary, beneficent and useful as it is — of the Heaven-world, we simply have to take a high ethical standard of life and realize it in the body here and now; and that will mean to lose our personal lives completely from an ordinary point of view. It will be to follow the advice of the Initiate Paul: to die daily that he might be reborn in Christ. This is a possibility for us, and it simply means translating ethics from the realm of the ideal into the living present through action here and now. That is one of the main implications of the whole of the after-death teaching of Theosophy: the possibility first, and then the necessity, the impelling necessity for those who want to live in terms of the spiritual idea — to do the thing in the only place that it can be done, which is on earth here where we are. Here alone can we learn so to dominate by the power of the spirit the lower man, that we become actually reborn during life.

One last idea I want to draw your attention to: the plan that our Paramatman, our own Father in Heaven, has for each one of us; the plan that our own Inner God shows to us before we come into this world, of the incarnation that we are about to embark upon. That is something that has a tremendous importance, for deep down in the spiritual nature of our own being there is that which knows the justice of every single accident that will come to us in the life that is opening: the justice of the rewards and the retribution that we experience seemingly perhaps in some automatic way once the incarnation has begun. For if there is such a picture, such a plan of the ideal working-out of our destiny — destiny that we ourselves have created — then it rests with us so to live during life that we human, thinking entities, can reflect purely and perfectly that ideal plan for the living of our lives that exists in the mind of the God Within. And if we learn to do that in our daily meditation, listening for the voice of the Inner Warrior, our Inner Deity, our Personal Savior, we shall have revealed before our own Inner Spiritual Eye, step by step, the pathway which that Inner Divinity wants us to follow if we only will — and the price of it is simply the willingness to live an entirely different sort of life; a willingness to translate into the living present those simple ethical principles that all the great Teachers of the human race have laid down as essential and necessary for the saving of the souls of men.

The Mysteries of Death

I would like to begin by reading to you a short passage on one of the great mysteries of man's inner nature: the mystery that all of us are confronted with at the final stage of our lives; the mystery that at certain times during the course of our earthly pilgrimage we are brought face to face with when someone with whom we have been closely connected — dear to us possibly — passes over the Great Divide and we are brought into living consciousness with eternal realities.

Now these mysteries that surround the whole great subject of Death absorb modern thought to a quite surprising degree. One of the biggest Movements of our times is that which is called the Movement of Spiritualism — miscalled as we think because it has little to do with Spirit, with the Divine; and it is my purpose tonight, after reading this short passage, to try to elucidate some of the thoughts that are contained therein. These lines are from The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, pp. 170-1. In the pages of that book you will find an at present unexplored treasury of knowledge, a collection of information and facts about all the problems of Death — the problems with which the Spiritualists concern themselves — if you will examine them. Now listen to this:

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.

Is there any one of us who could hope to reach to such language as that? If you have a literary sense you will realize that words like that can come only out of the very heart of being itself, from one of those High Beings — a Mahatma, a Great Soul, one who has learned to attune his mind and heart to great Universal Mind itself, and is one with it. Being master of the forces of his own being he can penetrate into the mysteries of Nature as a conscious, fully intelligent, and potentially omniscient being.


The doctrines that we are going to discuss tonight are not the vain speculations and theories of ancient or modern materialistic scientists who use instruments of matter, instruments of scientific precision; who reason from a collection of facts observable by the external senses, and endeavor to deduce therefrom some working hypothesis which for the time being they will label "the laws of nature." It is not about such so-called scientific facts that we wish to speak, because it is our experience that, in a matter of two or three centuries, such so-called scientific laws change. The scientist discovers that what he thought was truth, was not; and a new theory, a new hypothesis, has to be evolved. From such sources as this we could get no inspiration or light for our mind, and no food for our hearts; no relief for the perplexities under which humanity suffers. Therefore we have to find some other avenue of information and of knowledge; otherwise those great problems that perplex the human heart will not be solved.

So the nature of these doctrines then must come from men who know; and it is the statement of Theosophy — and one of the most helpful and illuminating statements that is to be found in the whole of our philosophy — that not only does Truth exist, being the workings of Nature herself in all departments visible and invisible, within and without and below — but that there are Beings who know — for something which exists merely in the abstract is of no possible use for us; we cannot utilize it unless there are Beings who know. Therefore our approach to knowledge must be directly or indirectly by an approach to those who already have this knowledge: and those, in a word, are the Ancient Teachers of the race who exist as a living Brotherhood among men, sending their Messengers from time to time out into the world — always at work, mostly secretly but nevertheless having witnesses on the scene to testify that Truth, and knowledge of it, exist, and that there is a way by which man may illumine this material brain of his, and learn the Truth if he will.

The truths that we are going to study tonight, then, you can expect will literally strip the veils from this vast Unknown mystery, the mystery that the teachings enshrined — and truly enshrined — in the Christian scriptures simply do not approach at all. Go anywhere you like in any Christian church, and unless by — I was going to say by accident — you happen to come across a learned Kabbalist (and it is most unlikely because you would not find him there) you will not get any knowledge whatsoever of the mysteries of Death. You will be informed that the Almighty, if he had meant you to understand these mysteries, would have given you this information if it had been good for you, and the fact that it is not given in the Christian Bible means that we are to know nothing about it.

Theosophy begins with the statement that an Adept — one who is trained and skilled in Nature's mysteries — can by the power of his own Spirit know all that has been known, all that is known, and all that ever will be known. Now that is a large statement, but it is a necessary one if we are to have the right approach to this problem of the mysteries of Death.


Take the Spiritualist position. Some scientists have joined the ranks of the Spiritualist Movement hoping to gain illumination, scientific facts, and data that will bring knowledge of a mystery of which they are entitled to have information and experience if it be possible, and those who began to investigate along these lines in the beginning of the last quarter of the last century found that in the majority of cases man has simply not got the equipment to enable him to go behind the curtain of matter and examine the process of what happens when a living intelligence passes out of this world — never to return, as far as he knows.

And so we have the first fact that accounts for the existence of a certain class of human beings who call themselves mediums, i. e., persons who have a peculiar constitution — a constitution which is psychically sensitive, in exactly the same way as a cat is. I don't wish to be offensive; don't think that for a moment. A cat is part of the cat-family of nature, and its mechanism is extremely psychically sensitive. Those of you who have ridden on a horse on a dark night will know that horses also are clairvoyant: they see. Cats see, dogs, most animals do; so that these senses that the spiritualistic community imagine are so highly spiritual, are shared, dear friends, by the animal kingdom — nothing more exalted than that; and the nervous mechanism from which this vision functions is that of the sympathetic nervous system, having its seat and controlling factor in what in the human being we call the solar plexus.

Anybody who is physiologically instructed will know that this mechanism is not under the control of our will at all. It is an unconscious function; and therefore, as you would expect, the capacities and so-called powers of a medium will not be under his or her conscious control. On the contrary, a definition of medium is one who is a passive instrument of forces that control and guide him — exterior forces. The medium imagines that because some exterior force comes and as it were hypnotizes him, and he surrenders the control of the divine temple of his body to this extraneous force, therefore it must give wisdom, when he has lost control of it and it begins, like the oracle in ancient times, to give messages that are supposed to come from entities beyond the veil of death.

When somebody loses one who is dear to him, and, not being instructed perhaps in philosophical teachings, feels all the more keenly the loss, it is this human feeling of loss that leads him to be attracted to anyone within reason who declares that he is able to communicate with the one he has lost — a very natural human feeling. So when such people hear that Theosophy challenges the position of Spiritualism, they begin to feel perhaps we are going to take something from them, and they perhaps for the time being give us a wide berth. Then perhaps they examine into Spiritualism; they attend seances — and what do they find? This is the crux of the situation. If they are patient enough and spend enough money: note this, spend enough money: they will see a variety of phenomena. In fact the number of diverse phenomena that they will see and perceive and learn about, and hear theories about, to try to explain them, are simply legion. I could not begin to tell you in an hour's talk more than the outer fringe of the numbers that they deal with; but nevertheless the most common, in whatever particular form of medium you are dealing with, is of course a message of some kind from one who has passed over.

Now then, practically the whole of the Spiritualist Movement is built up on one idea; and it is simply that they can communicate with the dead through mediums. Mediums gain their living this way: and there is roughly the whole thing in a nutshell. Theosophy comes along and says: "But you don't have the philosophy to explain your beliefs. We know you get messages; we know that you get materializations of some entity who is made to look like and assume the features and appearance of someone you knew. That is possible." Then the Spiritualists answer: "But this is evidence. Nobody ever looked like that but so-and-so," — and for the time being you are convinced. They call it evidential value; yet it is in reality one of the things that go to prove how our senses deceive us.


What are the facts underlying this matter? When the last particle of animal soul, as we read from The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, leaves the body what happens? What is the nature of the being who is leaving its tenement of flesh? Whence did it come? Whither has it gone? Can our Christianity explain it? It cannot; it is only the knowledge of the ancient mystery teachings of antiquity that gives you the answer for which men and women are looking today. Who are you? What am I? Am I this body which is endeavoring to utter words and phrases to convey certain ideas to you tonight? Is it the body that is I? No. Therefore when the tenement is cold, that inner flame of intelligence that energizes all manifested lives, and especially human beings, vanishes in a flash. The human consciousness, the inner Ego, the true individuality of the man who is passing, in the last moments before the body is completely cold, lives over again every incident from death to birth: every incident: nothing is left out. So that he understands the long chain of causes that he has set going, the meaning, in all their aggregate sequences, of every incident of life, and these he gathers together in his memory in a period of complete unconscious supervision. This is the first step.

Then what happens? Check what I tell you tonight with what you may have heard stated in the fields of Spiritualism. This inner entity, if he has led a decent and spiritual kind of life, will pass through those disturbing ghostlike regions of the purgatorial and astral world; pass through them very much as a child will pass through a den of vice and be unaffected by it; and then that indwelling consciousness, the Real Man that has shaken off his body, begins to divest itself of that clothing of subtler matter through which he expresses the emotions, feelings, desires, and lower thoughts. This clothing of subtler matter you can think of as corresponding to the physical body on earth; but though the body may be burnt, this form of desire in the shape of the man that we know on earth persists, and if you had the clairvoyant vision you could see the exact likeness of the man or woman that was. The form is the same that in the East they call the Kama-rupa, "the body of desire."

It is around the desire-body that the whole field of psychic phenomena centers, for this cast-off spook, this mere simulacrum of the man that was, has certain peculiar faculties. We cannot call them powers but they are faculties, if you can use the term thus, because these spooks of the dead are made up of matter that is living, and this matter contains the impress and memory of everything that happens to the entity or around the entity during life. The curious thing about the mediumistic function is that directly such an entity is attracted to it, this dynamic force, this mediumistic power, acts very much like the energy that revolves the disc of the gramophone. The 'gramophone' is set, and the medium then repeats whatever incident is wanted out of the memory of the individual that is gone. Whoever goes to a Spiritualistic seance carries with him his own memory of all the long history of his relationship with the one that is lost. It is all there: the appearance of the one he loved, and every incident, happy or unhappy, in the whole long existence. We carry around with us from birth to death the whole record of everything that we have done, thought, said, felt, desired or willed, all that we have seen or heard even; and the medium can read that record, for it can all be seen by one who has the inner vision.

You will be asking: "Well, if all that is left of us after death is a spook, what about our boasted immortality?" Aye, you may well ask, for immortality is something that, according to the Ancient Wisdom Teachings, we have to earn. I asked just now what is the nature of the being that has gone into the Great Unknown. Is it something essentially transitory and material; or is it something divine and immortal, winging its way into the spaces of space with the power and faculties of a god? And the answer to the question is, at least in part, that the transitory or 'devilish' part of it cannot proceed; and yet that upon which the Spiritualist bases his so-called evidence of survival, is the most transitory part — except the body. Strange, isn't it, but it is a fact. That which does wing its way into the inner spaces, cannot be reached by the ordinary medium. Assuming that the entity who has passed on was a spiritual person while on earth, one who had led a clean, religious, and ethical life, be won't be held in the lower purgatorial regions at all. He will have a slight discomfort, perhaps, in shaking himself free of the lower vessels; but it will be in a kind of dream state, and he will experience, later on, either after the longer or shorter dream, something that is equivalent to the passing from earth life: a struggle, a brief struggle, as he frees himself finally from the last clinging bonds of matter. Then that inner entity enters into what in our technical language we call a kind of gestation state — that which precedes birth; for Nature follows the same law everywhere, whether it is the birth of a mosquito, a human being, a planet, a sun or a solar system — the same law operates. It enters into a gestation period, and then very soon it enters into unspeakable peace and bliss where it commences to live over and over again from birth to death the spiritualized memory of the life it was living while on earth, with a memory as vivid as the imagination of a child. If you have watched a child you know what that means.

To the entities in the heaven-world there is no death: they have lost nothing. In their spiritualized dream they are surrounded by those they loved on earth, and they believe themselves to be on earth, for the life there is lived in terms of the real personality. I do not wish to dwell longer on this phase except to say this: that it is possible for us to rise in spirit and contact that entity in that state of unalloyed bliss, absorbed in its dream as it is; but I beg leave to doubt whether any paid medium is capable of doing it. And because the medium cannot rise so high, what happens? You get those puerile messages of mere repetition, containing perhaps what you call evidential value because it quotes some peculiar characteristic that you knew belonged to the entity that is gone. But does it give you anything of real explanation? Does it give you any more knowledge than the individual had in life? None whatever, and generally less.


Now if these theories are true — and you will find it very difficult, and I dare suggest impossible, to explode or knock a hole in them, because they are consistent with Nature: they hold water and are true to the facts as we know them — if these theories are true, there must be a practical application to our lives; for a great Master once said that he who possesses the keys to the mysteries of death is possessed of the keys to life. Why is that so? It means simply this: that if we know what is going to happen to our inner soul nature when it passes into the Great Beyond, we shall be extremely unwise if we do not order our lives in accordance with that knowledge. If you know that to the extent that you live a sensual, devilish kind of life, if you know that a dwelling upon evil during physical life, in act and thought, will so intensify and materialise that which you have to meet face to face after death, if you know that you risk to have no rebirth into the spiritual world at all; that your experience after death will be one of intense suffering, and a suffering that you can do nothing at all about: will you not consider that it is time to do something about it now before it is too late? For, once we have passed over, our lives become dictated by the causes that we have set going in life: our hatreds and passions and desires are the things that will take possession in the after-life and make existence a perfect hell, an evil nightmare of unrequited desire for beings we loved, and which we cannot get rid of. These will surround us in the after-life with all the intensity of a horrible nightmare, and if this is multiplied and intensified as in the most evil cases it is, it means the death of all that is spiritual in us.

On the contrary and in the other pole of consciousness, if we have lived in the ethical and spiritual side of our being, then indeed we have a tremendous incentive and encouragement and hope, for as we live life here, so it will be there; and if you want to know what you are going to discover when you pass the portals of death, study your own life now, and you will have a very good clue to the nature of the experiences that you will then undergo.

What Survives Death?

Our subject is one that must be of intimate and personal concern to every one of us. Every thinking man sooner or later is brought up against this problem; and we have to admit that the religious teaching of the West is almost entirely lacking in a satisfactory explanation of the important question. You may search the New Testament, and, although you will find ethical teaching of deep Wisdom that will satisfy you for the living of your daily life — you will find it there in all its purity if you have the eyes to read it and to understand it — the teaching about the life after death is not given there. It is one of those Teachings that Jesus kept for his disciples, whom he taught in secret, and to whom he explained those Mysteries that Christian priests are inclined to say "were never meant for you and me to understand: they are something over which Nature has drawn a veil, and it is not for us to penetrate, either by the opening of the psychic senses, or by the penetration and understanding of our intellects."

It is because of this lack of information in the orthodox Christian sources in the West that a tremendous demand has been made for at least the last fifty years by thinking and progressive people for something more satisfying; and the two main Movements that have striven to satisfy that very natural human yearning are: the Spiritualistic Movement, so-called, and the Theosophical Movement. Somewhere about 1850 the investigation of psychic and occult phenomena began to develop very strongly in America; and before long mediums whose names will probably be well known to those who are students of the subject, began to perform phenomena in public, and a good deal of evidence was collected; but it aroused, of course, an enormous amount of opposition and incredulity, and the said mediums were getting into very deep water because they were accused — and in many cases unfortunately quite rightly — of fraud. Eventually H. P. Blavatsky, who was at the time in Europe, set out to America to see whether she could do something to give this Spiritualistic Movement a very much needed upward impulse, while providing at the same time a philosophical and rational explanation of the occult phenomena which were undoubtedly taking place even under test conditions. While unmasking fraud where it existed, she also sought to give some help and protection to those mediumistic sensitives who were doing their best, according to their lights, to lead men from a purely materialistic outlook to something which was in their view more spiritual — and all men must admit that if their beliefs were not spiritual at least they were superphysical.

So into that world came H. P. Blavatsky, able to perform with the power of her own will the very phenomena that the psychics of New York and Boston were performing they knew not how, as the unconscious instruments of certain forces which controlled and utilized them. That is a true definition of what a medium is. A medium can function only when some exterior agency takes possession of the lower instrument, which by a variety of means is rendered unconscious: either by trance or hypnotism, or by some other means. Therefore these mediums have no longer any control of their mechanism of consciousness, and they claim that the fact that some invisible, and as they call it spiritual, entity, takes possession of their vehicle and produces varieties of phenomena, proves that their experience is valuable and must be useful and uplifting. It is precisely upon these points that H. P. Blavatsky, while confirming the genuineness of many of these phenomena, uttered a tremendous challenge to all those who accepted the main spiritualistic hypothesis, viz: that these phenomena were the production of excarnate human entities who had returned, so to speak, from the veil of death in order to communicate with their friends who were still living on earth.

H. P. Blavatsky was, as always, extremely uncompromising on the point; she showed, demonstrated, and taught, that these phenomena were not produced by the excarnate human entities that they represented themselves to be. Not at all. There were the phenomena that take place with various kinds of automatic writing; the phenomena of speech that take place in trance; the sermons that were uttered by an entranced medium; and particularly the materializations whereby the images or faces of people that sitters were able to recognise, were materialized by a certain process, thus becoming visible to the audience.

Now the Theosophical teaching in regard to these matters is something entirely different from the Spiritualistic belief, and one of the great truths that H. P. B. hammered home was the fact that these pursuits, these investigations, into the psychic realms of Nature, were actually more materialistic from a certain point of view — that is from a spiritual point of view they were actually more materialistic — than a purely materialistic outlook. She showed, and history proves her to have been correct, that the individuals who pursue these investigations of a psychic nature, who attend Spiritualistic seances, for example, and who constantly have their minds and emotions concentrated in these unwholesome psychic realms, become thereby debased: their spiritual, psychic, physical, and in some cases their moral tone suffers, by reason of the fact that the minds of such people are being concentrated in the world of ghosts and spooks — the atmosphere of the graveyard in other words; and this is an unwholesome thing. Moreover, H. P. Blavatsky pointed out with great truth the extraordinarily unsatisfactory results that come about for the mediums themselves.

To turn from this aspect. (Afterwards, if you wish, you can ask questions in regard to this psychic side of the matter, but I should prefer to turn to the Theosophical teaching as to what happens to the personal man after death.) What is the personal man? He is the collection of psychic and mental energies and emotions which express themselves through the physical body of man during life. A new combination of those bundles of energies is made at the beginning of earth-life for every entity. He is a new combination, and that combination is given a name and a form such as you and I now bear. That combination has never existed before; it never bore that name before, and as such it will never exist again. It is here for a short while; it is transitory; and if we believe that this lower personality of ours is all that there is to survive; if we concentrate our attention upon its wants and needs, and are unable to raise our thought and aspiration to something higher; then we shall be of that vast company that H. P. Blavatsky called "the living dead," the soulless individuals that she said we elbow at every street-corner.

If anything is to survive death, surely you will agree that it has to be worthy of immortality; and therefore the question immediately arises: Is man immortal according to the Theosophical teaching, or is he not? What has just been said would lead you to suppose that man is very decidedly mortal, and one part of him unquestionably is; but if we go a little deeper we find that this personal part of the man is, after all, only the envelope, the container, the instrument, the vehicle through which the flame of spiritual consciousness is striving to irradiate and illuminate and guide this erring personal entity through the intricacies of earth-life, through which intricacies many there are who lose their way.

Therefore we come to the position that man is only conditionally immortal: in other words the real entity who is living his life, and trying to express himself through this lower personality, has to find the way to raise himself inwards and upwards into union with the spiritual, permanent, eternal and immortal part of his own nature; and it is precisely that task that every initiated Adept has succeeded in doing to a greater or less extent. The whole purpose of occult science, the object of the initiation of the Initiate, is to bring him to a recognition that there is within, and brooding above the human individual, a definite entity which can be reached, the energy of which even today for every one of us shines into our personal nature in moments of crisis (personal and otherwise) when the personal man is, as it were, driven right down to his very foundations. It is then that he is forced to look inward and upward to the only source of inspiration that any man really has when he reaches bedrock; and there, when he finds that "still small voice" that can make itself heard if he listens for it (it is the inspiration to spiritual actions of whatever kind, to kindly human actions), there is at these moments the guiding and the saving spiritual energy that comes from the immortal part of his being. For most of us this contact is fragmentary; it is spasmodic; but we do get glimpses of it. It is the main purpose of the study of Theosophical Wisdom: that we shall learn how to make our human brains porous, as Mr. Judge used to say, to that higher influence; so that day by day, week by week, it will beat down into our brains and we shall become more and more permanently aware of that spiritual influence in our lives.

Now this can be done without any mediumship — in fact mediumship militates against the spiritual influence; and yet, you see, the difficulty is that the psychic intermediate state offers such an attractive door to some natures. It is true that with very little difficulty the psychic senses can be opened by every one of us; and then we shall become aware of various kinds of entities that the spiritualists call their "spirit guides" and "angel guides" and what not. If they could see the said guides face to face I think they would get a very rude kind of shock. H. P. Blavatsky went so far as to state that most of the angel and spirit guides that come to mediumistic seances are the spooks of departed entities — not the entities themselves any more than your body is you — and you know the state of the human body after it is buried! You can easily imagine that after death the psychic remnants of your being are not in the cleanest condition. In other words they are disintegrating; and this part of our being, this cast-off remnant through which we expressed our psychic and intellectual emotions during life, has a form in the psychic worlds, which can be seen by sensitives, and it bears the shape and appearance of the human individuals that we were in life. So much so that a perfectly correct description can be given of Mrs. Jones or Mr. Smith, and the sitters can immediately say, "Oh, that is dear Mary," or "our John." "Nobody else was ever just like that. This must be a very holy person who is giving us all this interesting psychic information," — and they believe everything they are told.

Yet what has actually happened? Two things at least are possible, both of them quite different from the explanation given by the believers in the Spiritualistic Movement, and these explanations are definitely interesting. First of all every one of us, in the magnetic sphere that surrounds us, contains an indelible record of every thought and act that we have ever committed from early infancy to old age — a somewhat staggering, perhaps uncomfortable thought; because any mediumistic sensitive can read in this aura or magnetic sphere all that we are doing or have done, and incidently can see, therefore, an image of those people who have made the deepest impression on our lives; and it is in this way that many descriptions and personal incidents are related without the entity concerned even being present. Exactly the same thing can be done from the memory of Nature, for there is recorded everything that takes place in any individual life; and if the psychic is sufficiently developed, that impression on the astral light can also be read.

So these are two possible explanations of phenomena; and yet a third, and a very frequent one, is that the excarnate entity is attracted to the seance, and that spook or ghost (whatever you like to call it) has a complete record of everything that it did and thought and said, but it has no power to act on its own; it is an unconscious bundle of energies that can only be stimulated or galvanized into activity by the psychic and electrical energy of the peculiar power of mediumship. That energy stimulates the ghost and it will play like a phonograph or a gramophone the records of anything that you like to call out from it, generally determined by the particular personal recollections of the sitters.

All the personal part of the man is doomed to disintegration, and only the part that is worthy of immortality really survives. According to the teachings of Theosophy the real entity in man very soon after death falls asleep and becomes unconscious; and in a longer or shorter period of time, determined by the relative degree of spirituality of the individual — the more spiritual the quicker does he shake off the lower vehicles of consciousness, the psychic part of him — he then enters into a period which technically has been called the gestation state, exactly corresponding to the period of gestation of the human entity before physical birth. I should like you, if you will, to note the fact that there is a state after death exactly analogous to the state of gestation of the foetus before physical birth. One of the great Teachers to whom we owe some of the Theosophical teachings has recommended us to keep a spiritual eye upon the physiological processes of human birth if we want to understand some of the mysteries of nature: mosquitos, animals, and man, as well as planets and solar systems, come to birth by identically the same process.

So this entity after death sinks into a state of sleep; and after a certain period of time, which is determined by the ethereality of the spiritual energies that it generated during life, it is reborn in the Devachan, the region of the Gods (the Heaven world in the Christian language), as a little child, and there it will live over again — minus all recollections of the personal lower things; the evil passions, desires, hatreds and so on — it lives over again a kind of spiritualized recollection of all the beautiful and spiritual things that the entity dreamed about during life. Very few of us succeed in working out practically our spiritual aspirations and dreams. We have busy, work-a-day lives, and much remains to be worked out in the after-death state: in this ideal world we live from birth, through youth, adulthood, middle age and old age, and we assimilate and get the very maximum understanding and development of all those aspirations of a spiritual kind that we had during life.

But even this state one of these days comes to an end; and eventually when the period of assimilation and digestion, spiritually speaking, of these energies is completed, then the hour strikes and the entity once again is drawn back inevitably to earth-life, for the fact that it has experienced this state of Devachan, which is a kind of spiritual illusion, though a very high one — the fact that it has experienced that state proves that it has not yet won its freedom from the wheel of birth and death. One of these days we all have to learn the lesson that even that state, which is only possible to those who lead relatively spiritual lives — relatively spiritual: an arrant materialist will not have that experience, and therefore it is a step forward — we all have to learn, I say, that there is a still further step, and that will come when we as individuals learn how to think and act so that the full spiritual meaning of every action and event is assimilated here and now, and for that we have to be fully self-conscious individuals. Then for us the interior worlds are open; there is no more death for us for there is no break in consciousness: consciousness proceeds unbroken, through sleeping and waking, through birth and death. Such a one is worthy and able to bear the burden of his immortality, but he has no Devachan in the sense of which I have been speaking of it. Periods of rest he must have, but that stage of illusion he has conquered and gone beyond.

More about 'What Survives Death'

QUESTION: What of the Lower Quaternary survives death?

ANSWER: The Lower Quaternary in Theosophical parlance includes:

(1) The Body.
(2) The Linga-Sarira, the framework upon which the body is built.
(3) Prana, or life.
(4) Kama-Manas, the lower thoughts, emotions, desires, passions, etc.

These together make up that which we call the personality, and it must be said at once that these do not survive death as a conscious entity under normal circumstances for the ordinary person. If these attributes which make up the personality during life were to survive death it would mean that they would still persist in combination minus the physical body, whereas the exact reverse is the case, since this combination begins immediately after death to fall apart and disintegrate. We repeat, therefore, that as a conscious entity the Lower Quaternary does not survive death. Nevertheless the substance of which the different vehicles of consciousness are built is composed of life-atoms, and therefore has all of it a life of its own. This matter has been impressed with the emotional and thought tendencies during life, and in a very real sense this matter which we have used and expressed our consciousness through belongs to us. We are responsible for its future destiny in very much the same way as parents are responsible for their children. It should not be forgotten, however, that while the responsibility of parents in the way of supervision is very important, nevertheless, the child has an inherent destiny and individuality of its own. Exactly the same is true of the material substance of which the principles of the Lower Quaternary is composed. The substance is not dead: the life-atoms are monadic centers of life and consciousness; and whilst the combination in which they are held together during life as a personal entity is dissolved at death, nevertheless they will be required to enter into a new combination later on, when that part of our being which really does survive once again reimbodies itself.

QUESTION: Does the Upper Triad, as we understand it, survive death?

ANSWER: If we understand it correctly it does survive death. In fact this is the part that does survive. The higher part of Manas, bearing with it the efflorescence of the past personal existence: the fine aroma of the personality that was; all in fact that is worthy of immortality does survive on its own plane, but is neither capable of conscious communication with the living, nor is it subject to the interference of irresponsible mediums. The higher part of our being, represented by the Higher Triad, contains all that is real and eternal in man. It is the very essence, the essential part of him.

QUESTION: Do any of the physical senses survive? Has the discarnate spirit any of the six physical senses, in some form or other? Must we assume that the spirit is blind, deaf, and dumb, without the sense of smell or taste?

ANSWER: (a) The body has no senses, as these are actually centered in the Astral Body or Linga-sarira. These senses persist, therefore, in the Linga-sarira, and provide the explanation of the phenomena exhibited in spiritualism, in connexion with the kama-rupic shell which persists after death for a longer or shorter period, according to the degree of materiality or spirituality of the individual concerned. This kama-rupic shell, when attracted to the medium in a spiritualistic seance, can be stimulated so as to repeat mechanically the sensations, the lower thoughts and memories, with which it was familiar in life.

(b) The discarnate spirit, i. e., the Higher Triad, cannot be said to have six physical senses. On the other hand on its own plane it is fully conscious, is absorbed in a state of spiritual and ecstatic re-living of all the finer and higher thoughts and emotional experiences that were comprised in the dreams, aspirations, and unselfish or spiritual actions of the last incarnation.

(c) The spiritual entity, the Higher Triad, is anything but blind, deaf and dumb from the point of view of its own reflected consciousness; but nevertheless it should be emphasized that the entity is in a subjective state, and therefore incapable of responding to external stimuli.

QUESTION: To what extent do appetite, desires, ambition, hate, envy, jealousy, love, compassion, and similar attributes — of which a man in his physical body is conscious — survive death?

ANSWER: Appetite, desire, emotion, envy, jealousy, being essentially mortal attributes of the lower personality, do not survive as part of the higher conscious individuality. They persist for a while, associated with the kama-rupic shell, but this after death is in a state of disintegration; and finally the combination is dissolved, but the energies which are represented by these lower emotional characteristics constitute what in Buddhistic philosophy is called the skandhas, and these skandhas, impregnated in the life-atoms, await the reincarnating ego at the threshold of Devachan in its return to life. The Lower Quaternary thus absorbs the skandhas into the new combination.

Hatred has a certain quality of survival for — strange paradox — it has a certain spiritual quality about it, but it is a spirituality of evil: it is the basis for the only kind of immortality that the Adept in sorcery is able to experience. To the extent that the ordinary individual permits himself to express this highly disintegrating and destructive energy, he is generating for himself a period in the state which is known as Avichi — a state in every respect the opposite pole of Devachan. The latter is a spiritual and blissful experience, but the former is a spiritual experience of the most intense isolated anguish and suffering.

Love, compassion, the aspiration for Truth, Wisdom, and the Higher Knowledge: these are inherent in the Higher Triad, and therefore without question survive, being part of the immortal and eternal man.

QUESTION: Does memory, as physical man functions in this respect, survive: in other words, does the discarnate spirit have recollection of physical world conditions?

ANSWER: The discarnate spiritual entity has recollection only of the environment associated with the spiritual experiences in the contemplation of which he is absorbed. For example, the spiritual entity will remember the parents he loved; and therefore, since parents must have material surroundings, he will recollect the environment, the home, and all the places, buildings, scenery, and landscapes with which he associates all his higher spiritual experiences; but the parent, the brother or sister, the school-master, or the school-mates, and the incidents connected with those persons which were productive of suffering or sin, will be excluded from the Devachanic memories. The entity in Devachan is in a subjective state, and is therefore unable to perceive material conditions upon the earth which he has left. He is not in the least concerned consciously with what may be happening to the individuals he left behind.

QUESTION: Do ambitions and plans made by the physical man looking to the next incarnation, consciously survive? In other words, can a man in this incarnation consciously plan for the next incarnation, using his daily thought and mental processes as the seed for the next incarnation's harvest and consciously carry these thoughts and plans beyond the grave? In other words, can a man here and now, agree on a definite, consistent plan of life, to be carried through various lives and incarnations?

ANSWER: This is an important and very interesting subject. The individual who recognises the fact that he will have other incarnations, can most certainly plan consciously for those future lives. In so doing, however, he will have to come to the conclusion that what he plans to achieve in future incarnations should be the worth-while things, not those which would turn to ashes in the mouth and be productive of suffering and disillusionment. Whatever the heart of man is set upon that he will achieve and become, either in this life or in some future incarnation. Desire creates opportunity, and "what ye ask that will ye receive; therefore take care what ye will ask." Man is the creator of his own destiny, and decrees absolutely his future reward or punishment. If he seeks material ambitions, power merely for his own gratification, knowledge for his own benefit, forgetting the good of others: even these things can he lay the basis for by developing the faculties which these things demand.

The teaching of Theosophia, the Eternal Wisdom, is to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness, and then all these other things will be added unto him. Since man can create his own future destiny, he will be lacking in wisdom if he does not make his spiritual objective the highest of which he can conceive — to reach to union with his own indwelling Divinity and to dedicate all plans, aspirations, and ambitions whatsoever to the service of the Beloved. This should form the basis of our plans, if any, for future incarnations.

Working towards such a sublime objective, the Pilgrim Soul can agree upon a definite, consistent plan of action to be carried through various lives and incarnations. No man achieves Mahatmaship in that incarnation in which he first sets his foot upon the Path. Several incarnations must be devoted to that task; but once the goal is clearly seen and the vows are taken, all thought, ambition, aspiration, and planning are devoted to the one end. This is shown so beautifully in the Second Discourse of the Bhagavad-Gita:

In this system of Yoga no effort is wasted, nor are there any evil consequences, and even a little of this practice delivereth a man from great risk. In this path there is only one single object, and this of a steady, constant nature; but widely-branched is the faith and infinite are the objects of those who follow not this system.

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