The Path – November 1890


Does Theosophy provide for the recognition and re-union of friends after death? is a question frequently asked by those who find it hard to free themselves from the conceptions of a material philosophy. Unconsciously they still cling to the present, and to the illusions of this world, and while imagining that they are thinking of a spiritual life, are, in reality, formulating only a sort of etherealised physical existence. To gain anything like a true view upon the subject, we must consider what it is that persists, and how it persists, and the question will answer itself.

In the first place, let us take for granted the sevenfold constitution of man, as divided in the Key to Theosophy into a fourfold nature. This gives us 1st, The Higher Self, i.e., "Atma, the inseparable ray of the Universal and ONE SELF, the God above, more than within us." This we instantly recognize as necessarily apart from any idea of mortality or personality.

Then we have as 2nd, The Spiritual Divine Ego, i.e., "The Spiritual Soul or Buddhi in close connection with Manas, or the mind principle. Without Manas, Buddhi is no Ego, but only the atmic vehicle; that is, we must have the self-consciousness of the intellect before we can formulate the idea of "I" at all. Here we have, therefore, simply the union of spirit and intelligence, an abstract consciousness, again impersonal.

No. 3 is the Inner or Higher Ego, i.e., Manas or the intellect, independent of Buddhi, or the Spiritual soul. This is the permanent Individuality, or the re-incarnating Ego. Here, then, we have individuality, a separation from other egos, but not yet the personality, or that "which weaves for man the garment that we know him by".

No. 4 of this division is the Lower or Personal Ego, i.e., the physical man in conjunction with his animal instincts, desires, passions, etc., and the lower Manas, or baser half of the mind. These operate through the physical body and its astral double, and constitute altogether that which we call John Smith, but which clearer-sighted eyes know as the "false personality" of John Smith.

This fourfold division includes all the seven so-called "principles," except Prana, or the vital principle, which is, strictly speaking, the radiating force or energy of Atma, and permeates the whole of the objective Universe.

We have, then, two divisions only of which we can predicate individuality, and of these the first one has merely the individuality of the drops that compose the ocean, to our eyes without distinction, though we can think of them as separate drops. But if we had several bottles of sea water, each tinged with a different color, we could recognise one drop of each tint as it fell, and say to which bottle it belonged. Nevertheless it would not be the water that was different, but only the color, which enabled us to recognise the contents of the various vials. The bottles may stand for the physical body, the color for the Lower Ego, that is, the personality made up of the animal instincts and passions, and the lower half of the mind, those faculties that the higher animals share with us. If we once gain a clear idea of these distinctions, we must recognise that the change which we call Death can have nothing to do with the Higher Self, or God within us, nor with that abstract consciousness we call the Spiritual Ego, but that it severs the chain binding the Higher Ego, or the Intellectual Consciousness, the highest faculties of the mind, to the Lower Ego, or the lower faculties and passions belonging to and operating through the physical body.

What survives this change, then, can only be the highest and most spiritual part of our being, not those qualities which are inherent in the physical nature and must perish with it. There can be nothing left of that entity we knew as John Smith, for instance, but the inmost and highest side of his nature, a side, indeed, that perhaps he had never shown to us. His physical body must return to the elements which composed it, and with it all those passions and emotions, those idiosyncracies of taste and manner which were its offspring, and which together composed the visible being of our friend. This being dwelt with us upon our physical plane, and the trammels of matter, indeed, often prevented our realising that he was other than the character we loved and thought we knew. Perhaps some touch of deeper thought, some flash of insight, may have come to us at some time, and for one brief instant we may have realised that the true individual belonged to a higher plane, and that only there we met his actual self, a self quite independent of all that bundle of physical characteristics that passed for the real man in the ordinary walks of life.

How possible it is even here to lose the sense of individuality, we can easily prove to ourselves by recalling some moment of deep emotion in a crowd — the one great burst of feeling that made the multitude shout "like one man," as the popular phrase is. They were one man, for the limitations of personality were swept away for those who, for the moment, had soared above the physical. There was no question of you or me, only the throb of one heart, the response of one mind

So when John Smith leaves this world, he lays down forever the limitations of that personality he had worn for awhile, just as the actor leaving the theatre drops the "inky cloak" and sombre philosophising of Hamlet, and becomes his real self. He leaves the mimic stage to take up his true part in the great drama of life. John Smith, like the actor, goes into another world, and we, for the present, stay in ours.

And we long to know whether, when our turn comes to pass through the dark portal, we shall recognise our friend upon the other side, forgetting all the time that then we too shall have left our temporary selves behind. As well might Horatio wonder if he shall know and love Hamlet tomorrow. Tomorrow he shall not be Horatio, but the man who played Horatio, and tomorrow night he shall be Cassio, and his friend Othello, and yet the men shall be the same. The difficulty is that we think of ourselves after death as we are now, not as we shall be then. We forget that it is not Jones in the body who is to meet Smith in the spirit, but that both will be on the same plane. We project our physical selves into the spiritual world, and expect to remain unchanged in the presence of "a new heaven and a new earth". The friend who knew and loved John Smith passes, like him, beyond the bounds of personality and the limits of time and space. It is two freed intelligences that encounter, not two mortal men. When the Sadducees asked Christ whose wife after death should be that woman who had married seven husbands, they were told that in heaven is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but there we are as the angels. That is, not only far above any question of sex, but existing as spiritual beings, whose intercourse depends upon no formulated speech, nor even flash of eye, but is that direct communion of mind with mind and soul with soul which marks the highest moments of the highest friendship here, when for a brief instant we dwell with realities and not with illusions.

The John Smith who has finished his brief day of life lies down to the sweet sleep of death, the night of pleasant dreams. The laborer shall be worthy of his hire, and, having earned his rest, there shall come to him a season of repose interrupted only by happy visions, in which, unconscious of having died, he sees himself surrounded by all his dearest ones, and carries out his brightest dreams for the advancement of himself and his fellows. And as the actor who has played his part earnestly and with all his might finds some trace of it lingering about him as he leaves the theatre, and perhaps plays it over again in his dreams, so the being we call John Smith finds something of his last personality clinging to him during the rest of Devachan and coloring all his visions. Meanwhile, as we read in the Key, p. 150, love beyond the grave has a Divine potency which re-acts on the living. The love of the man for his wife, of the mother for her children, will continue to be felt by them, because "pure divine love has its roots in eternity". It will show itself in their dreams, and often as a protection in times of danger, "for love is a strong shield, and is not limited by space or time".

And having in the rest of that quiet night beyond the grave enjoyed the reward of all the good deeds done in that brief day we call life, the inner or Higher Ego of the being we knew here as John Smith takes up the burden of his Karma again in some new part, a part assigned to him by no arbitrary selection, but the inevitable consequence of the way he has played the former ones entrusted to him.

Meantime we must remember what Mr. Sinnett has so well said in his paper on "The Higher Self," v. Key, p. 173. "The process of incarnation is not fully described when we speak of an alternate existence on the physical and spiritual planes, and thus picture the soul as a complete entity slipping entirely from the one state of existence to the other. The more correct definitions of the process would probably represent incarnation as taking place on this physical plane of nature by reason of an efflux emanating from the soul. The Spiritual realm would all the while be the proper habitat of the Soul, which would never entirely quit it; and that non-materializable portion of the Soul which abides permanently on the Spiritual plane may fitly, perhaps, be spoken of as the "HIGHER SELF." (Or Atma, not to be confused with the Spiritual Divine Ego, which is BuddhiManas, or the Higher Ego, which is Manas.)

So, behind the different parts he plays, abides the actor's real self, watching what he does as Hamlet or Othello, and as unaffected thereby as a man upon a mountain top bathed in sunshine is by a thunderstorm rumbling below.

This is the broad outline merely of the theosophic teaching on the subject of re-union after death. That the common idea of a recognition of a physical being by a physical being cannot stand a moment before the test of logical analysis, can easily be proved. An embodied spirit it must be to be recognised, and an embodied spirit, however ethereal that body may be, is still linked to matter, is not yet free from the bondage of this death. And a body, moreover, involves the conceptions of space and time, both incompatible with the idea of pure intelligence.

Then again we are inevitably confronted with this dilemma. Either the personality is arrested at the moment of death, or it is not, and in either case a great gulf ever widens between the dead and their beloved ones. A young mother passes away leaving behind her a new-born infant, and that child, who has never known his mother, grows up to enter the spirit-world, perhaps as an old decrepit man, far older than the mother who bore him.

Or if we hold with the majority of our spiritualistic friends that the spirits of the departed continue to grow in the next life, and to keep pace with us here, the proposition is even more unthinkable. To grow implies accretion until disintegration, and accretion and disintegration imply matter, subject to decay and death. They imply more; some process of assimilation akin to that of earth, as far as regards the body; as regards the mind, some process of accumulated experience, registered facts, mental attrition. Again the concrete enters; conceptions of space, of time, of motion are involved. Nor, granting these, would the results of such a theory be really satisfactory. The mother who loses her baby wants that baby back again: she does not want, after long years of waiting, to be confronted by that child grown to manhood. And then where is that growth to stop? And by what strange process of reversion are the decrepit to become young again? And why should our conceptions of time, founded on the revolutions of our sun and moon, hold good in a spiritual world, "where there is no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it, for the glory of God doth lighten it." Those conceptions of time are proved to us here and now to be absolutely false, a mere illusion of our senses, as we know by the experiences of our dreams and of all strong feelings and earnest thought: why, then, should we predicate them of a higher sphere than ours?

And, moreover, with time our desires change; because born of the physical nature, they alter with its alterations. The friends that left us when we were children and they were children, could not be our friends today. Should they return to us, we should realise that our memory of them is the child's memory of a child, and not the image we hold dear. It is only the immortal that changeth not, in whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning.

There is a deeper meaning in the story of Rip Van Winkle than we ordinarily see therein. When the old man wakes from seeming death to return to his home, he can recognise nothing: all the old landmarks are swept away, all the familiar faces gone, and the only thing that has survived the years is the love in the heart of his child. "For love never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. Then shall I know even as also I am known."

And if even now, in rare and noble moments, we catch glimpses of those higher spheres in which our spiritual selves perpetually abide and hold communion with each other,

           — "meet
Above the clouds, and greet as angels greet,"

if even now we know that all of good, all of true, all of beautiful in those gone before is with us still and ever shall be, can we not learn to realise that, once set free from these physical limitations, this consciousness shall but deepen and intensify? This is the true recognition, this is the union not to be broken by distance or by death, of which Christ said: "At that day (when the Spirit of Truth cometh) ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you."

The Path