Life, Death and Dreams
Geoffrey A. Farthing
The Theosophical Society in England 1974
We can only reach knowledge and understanding in our own way, each for himself. Much therefore in this paper is speculative in the sense that the author has sought and expressed some meanings that he has not necessarily found explicit in the mass of data given in the theosophical classical literature on the above subjects. The data are used accurately as given us, sometimes in the form of quotations with references, but some of the construction put on them is speculative and may not be true. The author's constructions are, however, a synthesis of a mass of information gathered over many years of study. It is hoped that this essay will provide food for thought, discussion and further study. The paper takes the form of an exposition of the author's views, setting a theme. Then separately in the appendices are extracts from the literature. It is hoped that these will be looked up by students so that they are read in their full context. If this is done it could provide the basis for a fairly extensive study course in Theosophy.
Life is something we all feel we know something about at first hand because we are alive. We know what it feels like. We may never examine that realization much, but to the extent that we do, we know what life is. Similarly we all dream or at least can remember having dreamed, and we are all certain of our own eventual demise even if that prospect does not unduly worry us. The subject of life, death and dreams is one then that concerns us all even if we do not pay it much attention in the ordinary way. For theosophical stu4ents, however, it is of more interest. The word 'Theos' is, for them, synonymous with Deity in a pantheistic sense, and in Mme Blavatsky's writings Deity equates to life in all its aspects. Theosophy is therefore a study or knowledge of life, in the very widest and deepest sense.
As a teaching, or a subject for study, Theosophy gives us much information about what happens to us at and after death. It also tells us about the nature and significance of dreams, and compares the sleeping with the after-death states. Mme Blavatsky and the Masters of the Wisdom, from whom she obtained so much of her information about these things, are quite categorical in what they tell us. Authoritative statement is a characteristic of all H.P.B. 's writing on occult matters and this reflects the Masters' assertion that they know for themselves what they were telling us about. We do not have to believe them but, for them, what they were telling us was no mere matter of belief or opinion.
In the theosophical teaching death and sleep are shown in some important respects to be similar, except that in the former the ties between the 'soul' elements and the body of the once living person are severed from it for ever, whereas in sleep they remain intact. In sleep the physical body with its brain is rendered passive and apart from its internal activities which call for no active participation or even awareness from the sleeper, all activity is suspended. The body and its counterpart, the astral double, are resting.
There are some interesting other parallels between death and sleep, indicating activity in the inner, subjective realms of being. It is being discovered that dreaming is essential to the process of rest and recuperation. This has been shown in experiments on living people, using instruments which can indicate various kinds of brain activity. With these instruments it is possible for an observer to know when someone is dreaming, and it has been shown that if a subject is repeatedly woken up just as he begins to dream, he is deprived of an essential recuperative aspect of sleep. On waking he feels unrested and if the interruption of his dreaming is continued for an extended time, say for a few nights, the nervous health of the subject is affected. He becomes irritable, depressed and nervous. There is a footnote (p. 49) in the section on dreams in the Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge which becomes significant in this context, "The word dream means really 'to slumber - the latter function being called in Russian dreamatj "
It appears from the teaching that dreaming when regarded as the seeing of pictures subjectively, in the mind's eye, so to speak, however vividly is to be distinguished in quality from the subjective 'devachanic' after death experience, which is likened to dreaming. As we shall see the normal dream experience occurs when consciousness is returning and memory impressions received while we have .been asleep are impressed on our consciousness. The source of these memory impressions may be physiological or they may be Egoic (note - man's nature is considered here as threefold: body and soul which comprise his mortal 'personality' and a spiritual individuality, immortal, the Ego) as we shall see. The devachanic experience, on the other hand, is partial Egoic consciousness conditioned by the spiritual content of our immediate past personal experience. This kind of Egoic consciousness can not normally be registered directly in the brain consciousness during life unless we have achieved the ability to do so by long training. Nevertheless the after-death devachanic experience can be regarded as a kind of 'personal' Egoic rest, a period of recuperation as well as of compensation.
We should notice that life, or the life-process, continues through both the post death states and, more obviously of course, during sleep and dreaming.
Daily events and objective activity, death and subjective dreams are all seen to be part of the grand, all-inclusive cyclic process of life itself.
Many current ideas about death and what happens to us thereafter have been derived from spiritualistic literature, of which there is a vast quantity and diversity, but as theosophical students will know there is a wide divergence between the theosophical and spiritualistic descriptions of those states and between their explanations of psychic phenomena. This is both confusing and productive of doubts. It calls into question the reliability of our 'authority'. As something of an assurance to theosophical students the following quotation from an article written by H. P. Blavatsky in 1883, for a French Society's Bulletin, may be helpful:
Some important points arise from this quotation; one is that an adept's investigations of the inner realms are not done at psychic level with psychic senses. It is done at Egoic level with Egoic faculties, far transcending the psychic ones, during, as the quotation says, "the solemn moments of union of their divine Monad with the universal Spirit ... " This distinction has, in later theosophical literature, been too often overlooked, and never noticed or even known about by the Spiritualists. This has had the most serious consequences. It means that the theosophical view of these things has seldom been put, and therefore seldom understood even in theosophical circles.
Another point lies in the words towards the end of the quotation, "for those who study it". Theosophy cannot become a science, in the sense indicated, unless it is studied, and here it surely means Theosophy as presented to us by those adepts who have established the 'definite science' .
The quotation also answers those critics of the theosophical teachings concerning death and psychic phenomena, who say that things in these matters have changed recently and that therefore the adepts' explanations do not fit the modern facts. If Nature in these things has been the same for 10,000 years, it is not likely that she has suddenly changed in about the last 100 years or so.
This word 'life' embraces a vast range of meaning. We can apply it to ourselves as units of life, in many ways. We can apply it to society, nations and mankind as a whole. We can apply it to Nature and all her flora and fauna. We can see it as an act of living, the daily, yearly round of activity of living things and of man, of the business of all creatures, with every living thing about its particular business. We can study it in terms of behaviour patterns in individuals and groups. We can explore motivations, urges, primitive or otherwise, conscious and unconscious. We can investigate the processes of memory and learning and the significance of experience. All this is life in the broad context. All these aspects come within the ambit of life, and to some extent we are all familiar with them.
Theosophy however takes us beyond the familiar. It expands and deepens our view. It introduces us specifically to areas of speculation (even knowledge) which before we must have considered quite unspecific and even non-existent. Theosophy provides us with some mental furniture in those rooms of the mind which might otherwise have remained bare. It does this, however, in philosophic and probably unfamiliar terms to which we must accustom ourselves if we would get the full impact of its message.
Life, like electricity, can only be known by its manifestations. Like electricity, life according to Theosophy or Occultism is inherent in all manifestation, in everything. Theosophy postulates a septenary universal scheme. It says this seven-fold scheme applies to all levels or modes of being and that these levels correspond to the inner as well as the outer obvious realms of Nature. The inner we know as the world of invisible powers and energies, and of our inner life, we know our thoughts and feelings; the outer is what we can see, touch, taste, smell and hear.
Occultism adds that the lower states of being, even those normally invisible to us, are objective to, (i.e. perceivable by) beings who can operate in consciousness at the higher levels by their having developed the appropriate faculties to do so. It is said for example that there is a kind of radiation field around all creatures and things and that in it the subtle aspects of their
characteristic qualities can be seen with the appropriately developed sense. In the case of man, this field, often referred to as his aura, contains indications in colour and patterns of his emotional and mental development and his temporary psychological and even spiritual states or activities. They can be seen by an observer with the necessary clairvoyant faculties. They are therefore objective to the observer whereas for the subject himself they are merely feelings or thoughts that for him are subjective.
A subtle point to notice here is that although we commonly regard our thoughts and feelings as subjective, we can nevertheless be aware of them. They then become objects of, or to, our consciousness. This indicates that our consciousness as such is distinct from that which it can be aware of. When so separated out from them, we can see our thoughts and know our feelings as something distinct from us as observers. This ability is important in our journey to self -discovery and spiritual development.
In the seven-fold scale of being, four levels have to do with the manifested side of being. At these levels things have form and exist in time. The remaining three have to do with the subjective, often referred to as the formless side. The three higher levels are the essential constituents of the knower, the ultimate subject, our very selves, when we are identified with our consciousness and not with our bodies, emotions and thoughts. These higher three levels are outside the normal limitations of space and time.
In the theosophical literature the so-called lower aspects of manifested being are referred to as a quaternary ( or tetraktys) , and the higher three as a trinity .This trinity in man reflects the trinitarian aspects of Cosmos at the highest levels of being, and is the underlying basis of all religious trinities. In Theosophy the trinity is symbolized as father, mother and son, the male and female aspects of the ONE LIFE, and the son, the manifest product or progeny. To reconcile the Christian trinity with this, the Holy Ghost must be regarded as the female aspect.
One of life's principal qualities, again like electricity, is that it is productive of motion, movement, dynamism, activity. Occultism says that, like electricity, all these are convertible into or derivable from heat and even light. In this sense, though, light is regarded as the interior quality of being, relating to consciousness, something akin to the 'light' of our mind wherein we 'see' our thoughts, our mental concepts or imaginings. Heat is synonymous with the old philosophers' elements office, universal primordial energy. It does not take much insight to realize that this is the basic element of all being. In the terms of science it is that which at physical level raises the condition of matter above absolute zero temperature and therefore permits any being, as we know it, at all. At absolute zero temperature it is speculated
that as matter would have no energy content, it would collapse. It would cease to exist in any sense that we know as existence.
Occultism postulates that this fire or energy and matter are aspects of the same thing. There cannot be one without the other. Occultism does not allow of inorganic matter. It says that what is regarded as inorganic is matter of substance wherein life energies are relatively dormant and which is relatively simple in structure. Organic matter is that of which living bodies are composed, in which the molecules are complex and relatively 'sophisticated' in function. Occultism says that during a period of manifestation, when there is an objective universe, two great processes are taking place. One is that matter, in its simplest form as rudimentary parcels of energy, is being built up continuously and as continuously annihilated. The other is that this rudimentary simple matter is continuously being differentiated and aggregated to form the constituents of our chemical elements and thence of living substances and the forms of all creatures. These are continuously being destroyed, but the experience gained, whether in the substance itself or in the units of life of living forms, is continuously being garnered by life.
This process applies to all the inner as well as the outer realms of being. It is also important to remember that ultimately all is life. Even 'atoms' of the most tenuous - to us subjective - matter or substance are units of life, and even these 'lives' can learn. This is the underlying and necessary basic explanation of the evolutionary process. No experience, however we choose to regard it, is ever lost. We are taught that fIfe and substance, or energy and matter, are aspects of the same and ONE THING. They, or It, constitute all potentiality , the possibility of all attributes and quality and all potency or power. This is, of course, an abstract concept. There are some deep mysteries at this level of thought. For example, there cannot be any such thing as absolute latency. This needs explanation. To the great processes of Nature there are no absolute beginnings and everything becomes what it is as a result of precedent. There is an ever-becoming, by cycles, which never ceases under the impulses of what has been described as 'perpetual Motion' .This process is the working of immutable law, some of the manifestations of which we shall see later.
Life is synonymous with activity and we must notice that the occult view of the energy aspect of it is that it underlies consciousness itself and animation where mind is involved. Consciousness embraces a wide range of potential experience, varying from mere and dim response to vital full awareness of oneself in one's surroundings. Consciousness, however, necessarily involves substance and, at objective levels, a form in which it can arise. In man and animals, when alive in the physical world, this seat of consciousness
is the brain. In other living things consciousness may be diffused over the whole organism as, say, over the whole surface of its skin.
We said that all life-forms are the result of, or are conditioned by, precedent nothing in Nature starts ab initio. A complete cycle of being comprises a period of existence in manifestation, of activity, and a period of non-being, of no objective existence, of inactivity and rest. Life itself does not cease, it becomes inactive. It is the forms it uses that fall either into a state of rest as in the short cycle of day and night, or die and disintegrate as in the longer cycle of life and death. Life, then, so to say, enters into a state of non-existence.
Alternation is an aspect of Universal Law. This law of coming and going is inherent in all Nature and never ceases to apply. It is for ever pulsing in some incomprehensible way even during periods of universal rest.
There is one Life manifesting through and sustaining the whole universe: all life, as lives, is from and of this ONE. There is this single common source but the potentialities of life are infinite and it requires, at any time during a period of universal activity an almost infinite variety of forms to give expression to so much of its potentiality as has become expressed, unfolded, actualised in the vast aeons of evolutionary time in this and preceding universes. Universes, as well as everything in them, obey the cyclic law of manifestation. They come and go as does everything else. They have their days of activity and their nights of rest.
Summarizing what has been said about Life so far, somewhat abstractly perhaps one sees that it is the essence in every respect of Cosmos, both our immediate and the remote Universe, with all that is in it from atoms to planets and from the minutest filter-passing virus through to all that lives in the vegetable and animal kingdoms right up to man. Through all and everything life is One, constituting an underlying unity wherein everything and everyone lives, moves and has its or his being, literally, and of which everything essentially is. There is no thing or principle in all nature more original, basic or fundamental than this Unity .Inherent in the One Life, expressed or latent , is all property, quality, characteristic, type, kind, attribute, potentiality. There is nothing whatever apart from it.
Not only does Being - and all beings - stem from it but all activity , motion, emotion, locomotion: thinking, knowing, loving, animation, even awareness and consciousness itself. Life and consciousness are synonymous. But consciousness can far transcend anything we know by that name, right up to Absolute Consciousness which, as explained to us because it is absolute, is unconsciousness in any sense in which we normally use that word.
All activity or process in Nature is according to Law, man is free to operate
with or against this Law but whereas his choice and action may be free, the Law's reaction becomes his inescapable fate. The Law is inherent in Life, and the consequence always in the cause. There is the ONE LIFE and the ONE LAW and the two are ONE, DEITY Itself. The Law is implacable and its adjustments to restore balance and harmony inexorable.
Nature's 'purpose' seems to be, on one hand, the unfoldment of consciousness to ever higher states so as to include in itself more and more of what is , and on the other, multiplication, in more and more units of consciousness which are to become self-aware not only of their environment but then of themselves in it. As they develop their consciousness, their environment expands and becomes for them ever richer in content. At the human stage the treasures of the ever-deepening realms of inner being open up to ever growing perceptions. It is said that at the end of vast cycles of such development all things and creatures re-merge with the UNITY whence they emerged at the dawn of their individual life cycles. Nature's processes are cyclic and, according to Universal Law, and there is progress - an ever burgeoning becoming by cycles within cycles ad infinitum. During periods of activity there is the bringing forth and development of faculty , of a sense or some particular characteristic or quality and of competence, know-how, skill in action.
In the genesis of Cosmos the elements of Fire, Air, Water, Earth are brought forth in due order; and each of them plays its essential part in due season in the constitution of our world and its inhabitants. In the vast process of universal becoming even so-called matter is educated by Life. Living things are affected by their experiences. Their bodies and inner vehicles making them fit for ever higher faculty and consciousness to function in.
Life is a great educator. Living is learning, for man as for everything else. All development stems from living. Even sleep and death, apparent inactivaties, have their place in the great process. They are passive, recuperative and assimilative periods, the counterparts to the active causative ones in the overall progressive process we call LIFE.
It was said at the beginning that Theosophy takes us beyond the familiar, and that we must accustom ourselves to the terms of its philosophy if we would see what it has to say. The subject of death is an example of this.
Whereas we are all quite familiar with death, or at least the idea of it, through its universality in nature and our immediate experience of it, at
some time or another, in the death of our pets, friends, relatives and loved ones, we will probably find the idea of being, or a kind of existence, in a state of non-being, i.e. without a physical body, very unfamiliar, quite puzzling and even contradictory .
Theosophy postulates, however, that in terms of inherent life, something persists in the inner worlds after living forms have died. This something may be as life generally, common to countless 'bodies' which go to make a generic life form, like grass, where no particular entity as such persists, or it may be as an individuality like that of the essential inner entity (Ego) of man. The difficulty for us is to discover, in terms meaningful to ourselves, how this life, and especially our individual life, can persist. What does persistence in this sense mean, especially when we have said that Life must have a vehicle in which to operate? This question becomes particularly significant when we come to consider it in the light of the law of cycles, how that law can apply to what we commonly regard as the seemingly insubstantial things we call our souls. But life must have vehicles in which to operate even in these inner realms. In esotericism these are regarded as 'substantial', and therefore they too must come and go. In other words they are mortal, as are our physical bodies, but something persists, even beyond them.
Let us consider the problem of being and non-being in this light. It is fairly easy to get the idea of being. We can sense our own beingness. We would admit to being 'beings' .We speak of our being. We say, for example, that we sense something with every fibre of our being. We would relate this beingness to our existence. We exist, we have being. Notice that this being is only cognisable to us because of our self-consciousness, our awareness of our self.
Now what sort of being do we have in death? We have a guide here according to Theosophy. It says, "As above, so below". The two Eastern words manvantara and pralaya are often used to denote periods of activity and/or rest in this sense of being and non-being, but they are usually applied to worlds and universes, not to individual men and women, nor to the creatures or plants within or on them. These do, however, obviously have their successive periods of activity and rest and, it is postulated, of being and non-being. The periods of rest are of two kinds; one is where a globe, solar system, universe or anything else goes into a period of dormancy, a state comparable to that of sleep, but where it stays in existence; the other is where, its life activities finished, it goes into a state comparable to death and where eventually its form disintegrates.
When a world or other heavenly body or system enters a period of dormancy,
its inner life vehicles stay attached to it; dormant. When its death occurs or final pralaya begins, its inner vehicles or principles are transferred to, and enter into what might be called a neutral or 'zero state' (technically called a 'laya' centre or state). They are then, so to speak, in cold store, but they can be re-vivified and then they enable the essential life of the globe or system to re-manifest in a new body when its period of rest is finished. These principles carry with them the harvest of experience of their previous period of activity. This harvest becomes the seed of what will come to be in the new period of objective existence or activity. In the case of man, his inner characteristics are thereby transferred to a re-formed set of inner principles which form his next succeeding personality .In the case of man this re-emergence into manifested objective being is referred to as re-incarnation.
This concept of harvest and seed gives us the idea of some kind of being in latency, in a state of non-being. The old world or old solar system is no more. Its principles are in a state of non-being, but in the deep inner recesses of Nature, the inner process, the law, still operates. The pulse of life is ceaseless and at the appointed hour the impulse to a new period of activity stir and the process of re-becoming starts. In the non-being however the experiences of the past life is stored in the persisting memory of the having been. An explanation of this mystery lies in the idea of ultimate Unity, wherein everything is, latent or patent. The theosophical concept of the nature of Space, as homogeneous root substance in which potentially all is, we have another illustrative idea.
Nothing in nature is or can ever be completely isolated from all else because of this. all-pervading, universal essence which in the final analysis, sustains everything. Space, in this sense, is dimensionless like the inner sphere of out consciousness or our field of imagination. Our creative faculty is centred in our unit of awareness and any imagined thing that we create is necessarily in that field, our sphere of consciousness. From our centre of consciousness we can invest anything in that subjective space with attributes, colours, shape etc. This is the process of creation generally. It all happens from a postulated centre, and always from within outwards, and according to cyclic law.
As with worlds, so with men. The physical vehicle dies and decays. In this event the soul, the vehicles of psychic and mental being, and of activity at the manifest level, also in due season die and disintegrate. A man's soul comprises, however, two elements .One relates to our feeling at the emotional level and to our thinking in a self-centred way at the personal level. The other sensation associated with the physical body which has to do with its vitality , the
'life' force operating in and through it. Both of these components of our inner being are separated from the physical body at death and disintegrate sooner or later. Their elements in turn return to the common pool of life-stuff for use by other units of life according to the grand economy of Nature.
To summarize and clarify the information on man's constitution, the Egoic entity in man is a trinity, in Western terms is i) Spirit, ii) Vehicle of Spirit and iii) Mind (higher) - in Eastern terms it is Alma, Buddhi and Manas. These reflect the Cosmic divine trinity, the manifested Deity of a manvantara. Principles i) and ii) taken together are referred to as the Monad. This trinity is the divinity in man (the Ego). This is his ultimate potentiality, of which he, as an objective being in life, manifests so much as his personal vehicle can respond to and express. These personal vehicles, in Western terms are i) his physical body, ii) his vital body (astral counterpart or double) iii) vital force or energy, and iv) his emotional and desire vehicle. In Eastern terms these are his i) sthula sharira, ii) linga sharira, iii) prana and iv) kamarupa.
Much of our difficulty in understanding unconscious existence, like sleep, seems to arise from our failure to apprehend the nature of the universal Life Essence, sometimes referred to as the Monad, in us. The Life Essence is always one. It never fragments. The phenomenon of unit consciousness arises from the apparent separateness of the units of manifest being, atoms, life-forms etc. and of the unit of mind in man, in which it has, or seems to have, for the time being a discrete existence. It is in individual mind that consciousness as we know it arises. The Life Essence, Monad, is not conscious in our ordinary meaning of that term, even though it is the root of all consciousness. It underlies awareness of any kind, at any level, in anything. In any scheme of manifestation, it is often referred to as monads, lives, life atoms, when associated with a unit life - and is so referred to in Theosophy.
It is in the Monad that lie all the potentialities of Spirit. In any scheme of being like a Universe, there is some programme of development being worked out. Areas of potentiality, the parameters of particular properties, qualities and powers are being actualised in and through the periodically manifesting matter, forms and beings of that scheme. In our system these demarked characteristic potentialities are symbolized in the Seven Sacred Planets, each planet having its own characteristic properties. Each thing in Nature, including man, manifests something of each of these characteristics. Man's range of response to them is greater than any other creature's. One or more characteristic is emphasized in any particular man. Man here is the inner man, his soul elements.
H.P.B. tells us that the spiritual Ego lives a life of its own, a mental activity, wherein it is self-conscious, but its consciousness far transcends
any of which we can conceive. She says it is 'omniscient, omnipotent and ubiquitous' and knows the past and future. During our waking life it is tied, so to speak, to our personality and, because of the personality's limitations and almost complete lack of ability to communicate with or receive impressions from the Ego, the Ego is doomed to a dormant or torpid condition. During the times, however, when the lower man is dormant, as in sleep, or if we can accomplish it in deep meditation, the Ego becomes active on its own plane and in its own mode of existence.
This occurs during the inter-life period when the Egoic entity, having assimilated the residue of the last life, is enjoying its restorative sleep of death in a state of consciousness which, relative to our objective waking state, we could only call dreaming. It is in a subjective state in which is experienced a bliss of personal fulfilment of all one's heartfelt worthy desires, in relationship with loved ones, esteemed colleagues and so on. This is a state known in the literature as Devachan. The devachani is now doing what seems most satisfactory and enjoyable in every way to him or her, in surroundings most congenial to it. The Ego here, of course, as the devachani, feels itself to be a complete human being, a man or woman.
By the time the Ego leaves Devachan for another rebirth all that was left of the previous personality has ceased to be. After the spiritual content of the previous life experience has been abstracted, the vehicles comprising the soul of the ex-personality sooner or later disintegrate. We are familiar with the means of the disposal of the physical body. On the inner plane the astral vital counterpart of it disintegrates along with the physical body, liberating the previously held prana or vital force. The desire and emotional vehicle (kama rupa), which incidentally becomes separate only after death not having a separate discrete existence during life, is left. It has a kind of shadow consciousness for a while, and then it too in due time disintegrates. The disintegration of this vehicle may in exceptional cases be delayed even up to many centuries, but in any case it is certainly delayed until the ingestion of all relevant life experience and the extraction of its spiritual content have been completed. Not until this has been accomplished does the Ego reawaken to start its conscious devachanic experience.
There are two aspects or levels of mind. The one, the higher one, associated with Monad, constitutes, as we have seen, the third element of the Egoic trinity. The other, the lower one, forms a mental element closely associated with the kama vehicle, with which it forms a psychic duad, the animal soul, sometimes so called. This is the mortal soul of man. After death the Ego, until it awakens in Devachan, is encased in this kama-manasic shell while the process, normally a long one, of gestation, or the assimilation by
the Ego of the fruits of the past life of value to it, takes place. During this time, so we are told, the Ego - contrary to spiritualistic belief - is always unconscious. There is apparently no conscious existence for the Ego in the psychic realms of kama-loka in the normal case after death, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. Only adepts can use the kama rupa as a vehicle of consciousness.
Death then for the Ego is a release. For the personality it is an ending. There is a parallel in the case of a globe like our Earth when its passes into mahapralaya, at the end of its life when it parts with its life principles for ever. The globe itself dies and like other bodies disintegrates in time. The life principles go into abeyance, (the laya centre) until a new world or universal period of activity, or as in the case of a man a new incarnation, is due, then the essential 'soul' elements of the previous world (or personal) existence are re-assembled to form the inner principles of the new globe (or man) for a new period of objective existence. It is these residual elements (skandhas) that are stored as the karmic results of previous existences. It is said that in the case of a man's psychic body the very material of the old one is re-assembled. Karmic results mean those effects resulting from causes set going in our lives. We are accumulating these every moment of our living. They determine the nature of our next life, both as to what kind of personality we shall present to the world and, to a degree, our future circumstances.
The instrument for the operation of karmic law in these circumstances is interesting. According to Theosophy anything that has ever happened world shattering event, simple innocent thought, moments of magnanimity or meanness, ecstasy or misery - all are recorded for ever. Nothing is ever lost. There is an indelible imprint made on the living plastic substance of Cosmos. This is called akasha at the highest levels, the Astral Light at the lower ones. Egoic action affects the higher akashic levels, constituting its indelible memory. Personal action affects the Astral Light. At the lower levels, even though we may have no cognisance of the contents of the Astral Light, we can be affected by them. Pictures in it can be ensouled by elemental life, becoming entities and so able to affect us psychically and influence our motivations. We are the victims of our own crimes, discovered or not, and the beneficiaries of our own bequests.
It is these elemental ensouled pictures or portraits in the Astral Light that are the proximate cause of many spiritualistic-type materializing phenomena, of messages from the 'other world' by voice or through automatic writing, and so on. A medium must always be present to supply the necessary vital force for any phenomenon and to supply the substance from his (or her) lower three principles to produce materializations. The real Spirits (Egos) of the dead
have in general nothing to do with such phenomena, however much it may appear that they do. On this matter H.P.B. was particularly emphatic.
Death for us, then in our deepest beings is a withdrawal into life but of a different and higher, more spiritual order. We do not remember afterwards the event of our death or the time we are 'dead' because we have lost our normal vehicles of consciousness and have not as yet developed the necessary spiritual faculties. In the majority of us our lower vehicles, those constituting our personality, are not only not responsive enough, lacking the necessary refinement, but, because of their desire prompted actions, are too obtrusive. They claim too much of our attention. Our post-mortem life comprises our devachanic dream. This dream state, we are told, is more 'real' to us than our present objective life is now. We should notice that according to this teaching, we do not traverse the various planes of being, the astral, the karmic, and so on, in consciousness after death, as some writers on these subjects have said. H.P.B. has explained how the visions of those near death, including those during what are now called near death experiences (N. D. E.) have included their erstwhile loved ones from the past, sometimes in idealized surroundings. Many writers have instanced these visions as glimpses into the astral world, but we are told they cease at the moment of death. In fact, for the ordinary man, the 'astral' world, kama-loka, in spite of its seven levels is, according to H. P. B., at its lower levels particularly an undesirable place from which, in the ordinary way, we are mercifully protected.
We are told specifically in the literature that there is no punishment after death, but there may in exceptional circumstances be some suffering. This is the case with what are called exceptions. These are mostly cases of premature death by accident or suicide and especially where a deceased person was one with strong physical appetites.
References: See Lucifer Oct/Nov 1890; Spiritism in 209 and 307: C.W.III. 171/74; Key 109 (3rd edition); M.L. 109/110
In our discussion on life and death, we may have been introduced to new concepts, got some data we never had before and have been given a bent to our thinking which may be illuminating but perhaps also disconcerting. Some of our belief is possibly being challenged. Theosophy, however, can be difficult philosophically and conceptually, especially to start with, but it is quite categorical in its teaching. If we attempt to use it to justify our previously
held convictions or to supplement beliefs which do not accord with it, we are in difficulty. We have a choice between the teaching and our belief. Beliefs, dear to us in themselves but which do not completely satisfy us in some particular way can give rise to healthy questions. These can open the way to new worlds but strong beliefs, sacred or otherwise can also be insuperable obstructions. The claim here made for Theosophy is that it is based on fact. Its teachings tell us of the nature of Nature herself in all her depths and aspects: it is not a matter of belief in the ordinary sense. It trains the mind and leads to knowledge. The subject of dreams introduces us to a private world, even if an ephemeral one which cannot be shared directly with others. Most of us spend about a third of our lives asleep. What is happening to us then? What part does sleep play in life? What happens when we dream? What parallels are there between death and sleep?
In looking at life from a theosophical point of view there must be some facets which will have struck us more than others. Is not the idea of Unity one of these? All life is one. Is not the idea of the universality of consciousness, that is that everything is Nature manifests consciousness in some degree and kind, such another? Is not the idea of levels of consciousness another special point but one vital for understanding? We have learned about the three-fold nature of man as body, soul and spirit. These words have now perhaps a deeper meaning. This basic threefold division of man is extended in Theosophy to a sevenfold constitution. The body comprises the dense body, the astral double and the vital life force. The soul is the twofold mento-emotional mortal soul, and spirit is regarded as a triplicity of mind (higher), a vehicle of spirit and spirit itself. We are told that this sevenfold constitution of man exactly reflects that of Cosmos.
Unity, the One Life, Spirit, Consciousness with its various levels and its appropriate vehicles at each of these levels, are basic to the study and understanding of Theosophy. The Unity is Ultimate Be-ness. It manifests as diversity and in multiplicity. Spirit as sun, in the process becomes spirits, planets etc., seemingly separate entities, reflections of the One in the lower worlds of objective being. In personal existence we are such satellites, deriving our being from Spirit, but divorced in power and consciousness from It by personal limitations on the one hand and imperfections and impurities on the other. The latter to a degree, proceed from the former. The body, soul and spirit classification is the minimum classification necessary to understand dreams. The distinction between Ego and personal life is also basic. Before we can discuss dreams we have to understand something of the nature of sleep. We are all familiar with the idea of sleep as rest, as recuperation of energies. According to Theosophy sleep becomes necessary when our lower
vehicles have, so to say, become supercharged with life. During our waking time life energies, radiations etc., are pouring in on us and accumulate to the point where they overburden us. We must retire to refresh ourselves in the less powerfully energetic realms of being. In H.P.B.'s words
We are told that during sleep the physical body with its brain (the normal seat of consciousness) and its astral counterpart becomes passive except for the automatic processes necessary to keep it alive and healthy, like breathing, digestion, blood circulation and so on. The volitional activity of the mento-emotional complex (kama-manas) also ceases, but again some automatic activity continues as a kind of momentum generated during the waking activity. This does not normally register in consciousness, either as dream or otherwise, at the time, but it does affect the memory areas of the brain and can be brought through to consciousness on waking as the fleeting content of dream. This subconscious activity fills the passive memory with the previous day's memories or problems and so on, most often in a symbolic and chaotic way. H.P.B. distinguishes these automatic dreams from what she regards as dreams proper. We are, of course, often waking, or nearly so, many times during a normal night's sleep. Dreaming is not restricted to the time just before waking finally in the morning .
She goes so far as to say that the term 'dream' should be reserved for one kind of experience - the automatic, or the other - the impressed memory (e.g. of Egoic activity), but not both as they are quite different and distinct. She regards proper dreams as being the result of the activities of the Ego, the Higher Ego, our atma-buddhi-manas trinity, during the times that the personal ego, or personality, is asleep or otherwise rendered passive, as in meditation. She further says that there is a channel of communication always functioning, more or less between the Ego and physical consciousness.1n our waking states it manifests as our 'still small voice' of conscience which we mayor may not heed. She further says that the Egoic consciousness at its own level is infinitely greater than anything the personality can experience. This is the realm of Divinity. She says,
There is an interesting description of H.P.B. herself being aware of Egoic inspiration direct into waking consciousness, given by her in letters to her aunt Mme Fadeef and her sister Vera Zhelihovsky. These are quoted by
Mary K. Neff in her Personal Memoirs of H.P. Blavatsky. (Ch. XXXIII, 243/44, and see also Ch. XXXVII, 279). These extracts bring this exalted state of consciousness, so often imagined to be one of nebulous exultation, into a sharp focus of understandable reality. But they tend to oversimplify Egoic capabilities. Quoting H.P.B. again,
All the activities of the Ego at its level are recorded in Akasha, the universal primeval substance of living light, of which, as we have seen, at lower levels the Astral Light is a modification. In the Astral Light all the inner workings of personality, our thoughts, our desires and even the images of our physical forms, actions and events are recorded. It is these images in the Astral Light that play such an important part in spiritualist phenomena.
It is explained later that these activities are "reflected in the brain of the sleeper ... " and he brings through to waking consciousness a fading and distorted memory of these impressions. H.P.B. says that sometimes we are unaware of these dreams on waking, but some event, in itself quite insignificant, can cause the memory of them to flash into consciousness later. It is only these dreams, related to Egoic activity, that H.P.B. is prepared to allow as dreams. The rest are due to the physiological functioning of our bodies or to the automatic activity of our animal soul and lower personal mind. In addition to these categories she does mention that we can be 'impressed' during sleep by adepts - good or bad.
We are told one or two other interesting things. One is that the astral double (linga sharira) is sleeping when the physical body sleeps and is entirely passive, but it can be projected by a powerful desire impulse. It is this that is projected into the form which a sick and sometimes dying person sees of loved ones who are the subject of the dying person's thoughts. In other cases it can be projected but not far from the physical body because of the necessity
to keep intact the connecting 'silver cord'. If that is broken, death ensues. The body of real astral projection is not the astral double but one purposely or unconsciously created, and into which consciousness may be transferred, known as the mayavi rupa, or illusion body.
Another question, she was asked, important in the light of what has been said about astral plane activity during sleep, was, "Can there be any connection between a dreamer and an entity in kama-loka?" (T. B. L:, 62.) (Kama-loka is the technical Eastern name for that plane of being of our emotions and desires which became known in later theosophical literature as the astral plane.) She answers:
Then she goes on with a stern warning.
There are a number of other incidental but very interesting questions dealt with by her in these Transactions.
There are many significances in this answer that should be noticed - for example, a Devachanee does not know what is going on in the physical or psychic planes.
In dealing with Life it was seen that it is intimately related to what we know as consciousness. Consciousness of some kind wells up in all Nature's forms. In man it is special; he knows himself as 'I am I'. This particular knowledge is the result of a connection with the higher, spiritual realms of being, where it is said man's real Being is, his Ego, his Higher Self. This Self is an entity, an individuality, in its own right, but never separate from the ONE LIFE. The more the subject of Life is studied the more significant become these two in concepts of the immortal inner Ego or Self and the Universal SELF. In our look at death what seems significant is the universal order, or law, of rhythm by which everything has its period of life and then must die or disappear from the objective world. This coming and going applies equally in the inner psychic and mental worlds of what we call the psychic or animal soul. There is no permanence there. But LIFE itself goes on, its myriad streams informing its myriad kinds of forms. Each coming and going is a period of activity which eventually ceases, but even in inactivity LIFE with all its then dormant powers and qualities persists in some mysterious way. There is literally no beginning and no end; every end is a beginning. "I am Alpha and Omega, the fIrst and the last, the beginning and the ending," says 'God' in various scriptures. But 'God' goes on forever.
Death then for us is an experience of our Higher Self. This Self is then released for a period of freedom from the trammels of personality, the psychic and physical vehicles but, by inexorable law, that Self must assume them again and again until, paradoxically and under his increasing impulse and influence, they become regenerate, purified, fit vehicles, for his expression to act as a channel for the Divine down-pouring Life. This is the culminating state of human existence. It is for all of us who will make the effort - it is the long term goal to be striven for, human perfection.
In dreams we may have a dim presaging of this life which, in richness, quality and power, so transcends our present one. Yearnings born of faint glimpses, be they ever so limited and distorted, stir our inner being so that we are led little by little to notice our inner nature, to heed its promptings and sense something of the great freedoms and powers to which it would lead us if only we could hear its voice, The Voice of the Silence, more clearly and insistently, and really do its bidding.
|Part 2 : Appendices|