ASPECTS OF DIVINE LAW
In the literature the importance of a proper understanding of the twin laws of Karma and Reincarnation is stressed. Reincarnation is the periodic embodiment of the immortal spiritual Entity, the Ego, into a new physical body at the start of a personal life. Karma is the law of periodicity or alternation under which this happens and it is also that law which determines from previous causes the nature, the characteristics of the new person, and also the place, parents and other circumstances of the birth.
In the literature, again, particularly in the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, there is a detailed account of the processes of dying and afterwards. At each stage Karma is involved. The after-death states are all according to Law but the experience of the deceased is always quite individual and dependent on their thoughts and actions during life.
One of the most descriptive passages in the Letters is a long one. It relates the operations of the Law to the individual in life, in death, and as it affects the circumstances of rebirth.
If you ask a learned Buddhist priest, what is Karma? - he will tell you that Karma is what a Christian might call Providence (in a certain sense only) and a Mahomedan - Kismet, fate or destiny (again in one sense). That it is that cardinal tenet which teaches that, as soon as any conscious or sentient being, whether man, deva, or animal dies, a new being is produced and he or it reappears in another birth, on the same or another planet, under conditions of his or its own antecedent making. Or, in other words that Karma is the guiding power, and Trishna (in Pali Tanha) the thirst or desire to sentiently live - the proximate force or energy, the resultant of human (or animal) action, which, out of the old Skandhas produces the new group that form the new being and control the nature of the birth itself. Or to make it still clearer, the new being is rewarded and punished for the meritorious acts and misdeeds of the old one; Karma representing an Entry Book, in which all the acts of man, good, bad, or indifferent, are carefully recorded to his debit and credit - by himself, so to say, or rather by these very actions of his. There, where Christian poetical fiction created and sees a "Recording" Guardian Angel, stern and realistic Buddhist logic, perceiving the necessity that every cause should have its effect - shows its real presence. The opponents of Buddhism have laid great stress upon the alleged injustice that the doer should escape and an innocent victim be made to suffer, - since the doer and the sufferer are different being. The fact is, that while in one sense they may be so considered, yet in another they are identical. The "old being" is the sole parent - father and mother at once - of the "new being". It is the former who is the creator and fashioner of the latter, in reality; and far more so in plain truth than any father in flesh. And once that you have well mastered the meaning of Skandhas you will see what I mean. [MLC 68, 198-9]
Skandhas are shortly the predispositions and tendencies, emotional, mental
and to a degree physical, brought forward from the old to the new personality.
In other words, they condition it as effects of causes generated in the
After a series of 'purificatory' processes after actual physical death, during which generally the deceased in unconscious, consciousness slowly returns and the 'person' finds himself in idealized spiritual blissful surroundings. This state is known as Devachan:
"Who goes to Devachan?" The personal Ego of course, but beatified, purified, holy. Every Ego - the combination of the sixth and seventh principles - which after the period of unconscious gestation is reborn into the Devachan, is of necessity as innocent and pure as a new-born babe. The fact of his being reborn at all, shows the preponderance of good over evil in his old personality. And while the Karma (of evil) steps aside for the time being to follow him in his future earth-reincarnation, he brings along with him but the Karma of his good deeds, words, and thoughts into this Devachan. "Bad" is a relative term for us ... and the Law of Retribution is the only law that never errs. Hence all those who have not slipped down into the mire of unredeemable sin and bestiality - go to the Devachan. They will have to pay for their sins, voluntary and involuntary, later on. Meanwhile they are rewarded; receive the effects of the causes produced by them. [MLC 68, 190]
The period in Devachan
... lasts in proportion to the good Karma, after which the monad is again reincarnated.... "In all these Rupa-Lokas the Devas (Spirits) are equally subjected to birth, decay, old age and death" means only that an Ego is borne thither, then begins fading out and finally "dies", i.e., falls into that unconscious condition which precedes rebirth;...they leave a world of bliss to be reborn in a world of causes.
The period lasts
For years, decades, centuries and milleniums, oftentimes multiplied by something more. It all depends upon the duration of Karma. [MLC 68, 194-5]
The mechanism whereby each individual man proceeds in his evolutionary journey from life to life is beautifully described:
The latter (Occultism) teaches that - (a) the life-atoms of our life-principle (Prana) are never entirely lost when a man dies. That the atoms best impregnated with the life-principle (an independent, eternal, conscious factor) are partially transmitted from father to son by heredity, and partially are drawn once more together and become the animating principles of the new body in every new incarnation of the Monads. Because (b), as the individual Soul is ever the same, so are the atoms of the lower principles (body, its astral, or life-double, etc.), drawn as they are by affinity and Karmic law always to the same individuality in a series of various bodies, etc., etc. [S.D. II, 671-2]
Much is said in theosophical literature about the after-death states (particularly in the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett). It is made abundantly clear in those letters that all the after-death states are effects of causes generated during the lifetime of individuals upon Earth.
The correct comprehension of the law of Karma is entirely opposed to the idea (of rites and ceremonies after death). As no person's karma can be either lightened or overburdened with the good or bad actions of the next of kin of the departed one, every man having his karma independent and distinct from that of his neighbour - no more can the departed soul be made responsible for the doings of those it left behind. [C.W.IV, 507]
There are some very illustrative passages concerning the workings of Karma and our state after death. The following are some sample extracts:
In each birth the personality differs from that of the previous or next succeeding birth. Karma, the deus ex machina, masks (or shall we say reflects?) itself now in the personality of a sage, again as an artisan, and so on throughout the string of births. But though personalities ever shift, the one line of life along which they are strung like beads, runs unbroken . .
This is followed by the statement:
The time will come ... when the Ego [i.e., the one line of Life, the spiritual individuality] will regain its consciousness of all its past stages of existence ...
These two quotations give "the key to a correct understanding of the question as to what Karma propels the higher Ego into the next birth...".
Another informative quote is as follows:
... no human soul is yet born utterly depraved, and ... there was a time during the youth of the sinful human personality when it had worked out some kind or other of Karma; and ... it is this that survives and forms the basis of the Karma to come. [C.W.IV, 571]
The fifth principle [Mind] of the sensual, highly depraved man, may well and will perish, while the Karma of his youth, though not strong and complete enough to secure for him a bliss in Devachan and union with his higher principle - is yet sufficiently outlined to allow the monad a grasp on it for the next rebirth.... it so happens sometimes that the Karma of a personality is not fully worked out in the birth that follows. Life is made up of accidents, and the personality that becomes, may be hindered by circumstances from receiving the full due its Karma is entitled to, whether for good or for bad. But the Law of Retribution will never allow itself to be cheated by blind chance. There is then a provision to be made, and the accounts that could not be settled in one birth will be squared in the succeeding one. [C.W.IV, 572]
(Note: monad here is the monad proper, i.e. Atma and Buddhi, plus Higher Manas.)
Regarding the after-death states we have the following:
... although one particular personality may be so depraved as to be entirely dissociated from the spiritual monad and go into the eighth sphere, where annihilation is its lot, yet the impressions of the previous personalities upon the higher Ego have in them potentially enough to evolve a new physical Ego ...
In the same manner, the Ego when at the end of its long pilgrimage will regain consciousness of those personalities only which have made a sufficiently strong spiritual, hence indelible, mark on the monad, while the memory of the conscious acts of the particular depraved personality which goes to the eighth sphere will be entirely obliterated. [C.W.IV, 572-3]
The information we are given about the after-death states can give us a completely new view of death itself. After death we are in a conscious intermediate state between lives.
Were people to study the scriptures of all nations and interpret their meaning by the light of esoteric philosophy, no one would fail to become, if not anxious to die, at least indifferent to death. We should then make profitable use of the time we pass on this earth by quietly preparing in each birth for the next by accumulating good Karma. [C.W.VII, 48]
As we have seen, there is a mechanism which transmits the effects of past lifetimes into our present one. This is by way of life-atoms or Elementals. Concerning any particular man we have the following:
All that bundle of Egotism, that apparent and evanescent "I", disappears after death,... Nothing remains now of that "bundle" to go to the next incarnation, except the seed for future Karma that Manas may have united to its immortal group, to form with it - the disembodied Higher Self in "Devachan". [C.W.VII, 186]
In a general dissertation on Karma, H.P.B. defines metempsychosis as "the transmigration of the human soul into an animal form". She distinguishes between that and "Reincarnation, or the rebirth of the same Ego in successive human bodies".
Useless to tell him [ the seeker after truth} that Nature, propelled by Karma, never recedes, but strives ever forward in her work on the physical plane; that she may lodge a human soul in the body of a man, morally ten times lower than any animal, but she will not reverse the order of her kingdoms; and while leading the irrational monad of a beast of a higher order into the human form at the first hour of a Manvantara, she will not guide that Ego, once it has become a man, even of the lowest kind, back into the animal species - not during that cycle (or Kalpa) at any rate. [C.W.XI, 137]
The teachings tell us much in detail about the after-death states where most of us spend most of our time in the centuries between lives. As we will see from the following extract, it is not an unconditioned state:
The same unerringly wise and just rather than merciful Law, which inflicts upon the incarnated Ego the Karmic punishment for every sin committed during the preceding life on Earth, provided for the now disembodied Entity a long lease of mental rest [Devachan] i.e. the entire oblivion of every event, aye, to the smallest painful thought, that took place in its last life as a personality, leaving in the soul-memory but the reminiscence of that which was bliss, or led to happiness. [Key, 140]
There is no accident in the coming together again in future lives of groups of people, including the members of families. We read:
... for pure divine love is not merely the blossom of a human heart, but has its roots in eternity. Spiritual love is immortal and Karma brings sooner or later all those who loved each other with such a spiritual affection to incarnate once more in the same family group. [Key, 150]
A reminder of how our after-life and future lives are determined by our present actions is as follows:
Karma acts incessantly: we reap in our after-life only the fruit of that which we have ourselves sown in this. [Key,160]
That is reinforced by the following:
Our philosophy teaches that Karmic punishment reaches the Ego only in its next incarnation. After death it receives only the reward for the unmerited sufferings endured in its past incarnation. The whole punishment after death, even for the materialist, consists, therefore, in the absence of any reward, and the utter loss of the consciousness of one's bliss and rest. Karma is the child of the terrestrial Ego, the fruit of the actions of the tree which is objective personality visible to all, as much as the fruit of all the thoughts and even motives of the spiritual "I"; but Karma is also the tender mother, who heals the wounds inflicted by her during the preceding life, before she will begin to torture this Ego by inflicting on him new ones. [Key, 161]
Nowhere else but in the teachings of Theosophy as given us by the Masters (sometimes through H.P.B.) do we have the detail of our after-life and what conditions it.
Occult science teaches that the frame of mind in which a man dies, is
of the utmost importance owing to the abnormal and psychic state in which he then is. The last thought of a dying person does much to influence his immediate future.... This is not meant, however, to endorse the superstition of a "death-bed repentance", for the immutable justice and harmony of the karmic Law can only return a fleeting effect for a fleeting cause; and the rest of the Karmic debt must be paid in future earth-lives.... at death we shall be judged by our own Higher Self, and under the conduct of the agents of the Karmic Law (the Demiurgos collectively), will have to reincarnate again into the prison of the body, until the past evil Karma has been exhausted. For until the last farthing of the Karmic debt is exhausted, we can never be untied from the wheel of "Samsara" [the great cycle of births and deaths of the immortal Ego]. [C.W.XIII, 74-5fn]
In the Masters' account of the after-death states they say that in Devachan victims of undeserved suffering receive their recompense. Many have questioned this on the score that in their view of Karma there cannot be any undeserved suffering. The following passage justifies the Masters' view:
... it is not the injustice or mistakes of Karma which are the causes of such "undeserved misery" but other causes, independent of the past Karma of either the producer or the innocent victim of their effects, new actions generated by the wickedness of men and circumstances; i.e., the punishment of those who caused these new Nidanas (or causal connections) and the reward of him who suffered from them undeservedly."
ENQ. Then the personal man must always go on suffering blindly the Karmic penalties which the Ego has incurred?
THEO. Not quite so. At the solemn moment of death everyman, even when death is sudden, sees the whole of his past life marshalled before him, in its minutest details.... this instant is enough to show to him the whole chain of causes which have been at work during his life....
ENQ. Does this happen to everyone?
THEO. Without any exception. Very good and holy men see ... not only the life they are leaving, but even several preceding lives in which were produced the causes that made them what they were in the life just closing. They recognize the law of Karma in all its majesty and justice. [Key, 162]
Then there is the significant statement concerning the processes of rebirth:
The law of retribution as Karma waits man at the threshold of his new incarnation... [C.W.VII, 180fn]
As said before, the Masters have given us a detailed account of the after-death processes and those of rebirth:
ENQ. And what is it that regulates the duration, or special qualities of these incarnations?
THEO. Karma, the universal law of retributive justice.
ENQ. Is it an intelligent law?
THEO. For the Materialist, who calls the law of periodicity which regulates the marshalling of the several bodies, and all the other laws in nature, blind forces and mechanical laws, no doubt Karma would be a law of chance and no more. For us, no adjective or qualification could describe that which is impersonal and no entity, but a universal operative law. If you question me about the causative intelligence in it, I must answer you I do not know. But if you ask me to define its effects and tell you what these are in our belief, I may say that the experience of thousands of ages has shown us that they are absolute and unerring equity, wisdom, and intelligence. For Karma in its effects is an unfailing redresser of human injustice, and of all the failures of nature; a stern adjuster of wrongs; a retributive law which rewards and punishes with equal impartiality. It is, in the strictest sense, "no respecter of persons", though, on the other hand, it can neither be propitiated, nor turned aside by prayer. [Key, 198]
Among the details of the after-death processes given by the Masters is what happens to the victims of accident and to suicides. The victims are not responsible for their deaths but suicides are.
Motive is everything and man is punished in a case of direct responsibility, never otherwise. In the victim's case of the natural hour of death was anticipated accidentally, while in that of the suicide, death is brought on voluntarily and with a full and deliberate knowledge of its immediate consequences. [MLC 70c, 213]
The Masters are quite explicit about the nature of the post-mortem entities
that can communicate, through mediums, with the living, and about the
dangers to them of doing so.
But if the victim of accident or violence be neither very good, nor very bad - an average person - then this may happen to him. A medium who attracts him will create for him the most undesirable of things; a new combination of Skandhas and a new and evil Karma. [MLC 68, 198]
Now, the causes producing the "new being" and determining the nature of Karma are, as already said - Trishna (or "Tanha") - thirst, desire for sentient existence and Upadana - which is the realization or consummation of Trishna or that desire. And both of these the medium helps to awaken and to develop nec plus ultra in an Elementary, be he a suicide or a victim. [MLC 68, 200]
When the after-death processes are complete - mostly after a very long time, sometimes millennia - rebirth by stages commences. The characteristics of the new being, and even the domestic and group circumstances into which it will be born, are determined by Karma.
... the new being is rewarded and punished for the meritorious acts and misdeeds of the old one; Karma representing an Entry Book, in which all the acts of man, good, bad, or indifferent, are carefully recorded to his debit and credit ... [MLC 68, 198]
Even the sex of the new personality to be is determined by Karma:
... is sex a mere accident of each birth ...?
A mere accident - as you say. Generally a chance work yet guided by individual Karma, - moral aptitudes, characteristics and deeds of the previous birth. [MLC 61, 157]
On earth it is the physiological and mental defects, the sins of the progenitors which are visited upon the issue: in that land of shadows, the new and yet unconscious Ego-foetus becomes the just victim of the transgressions of its old Self, whose karma - merit and demerit - will alone weave out its future destiny. [MLC 18, 66]
1. I.U. ISIS UNVEILED, Vols I and II, all editions same pagination. H. P. Blavatsky.
2. S.D. THE SECRET DOCTRINE, Vols I, II
and III, Original Edition and C.W. series
[Vol III is 1897 ed. or in C.W.XII] H. P. Blavatsky.
3. C.W. THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF H.P.
BLAVATSKY, 14 Vols, edited by
Boris de Zirkoff
4. Key THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY, Original Edition. H. P. Blavatsky.
5. MLC THE MAHATMA LETTERS TO A.P. SINNETT,
[Same content but different pagination in 2nd and 3rd Editions]