A comprehensive description, in outline, of the processes and subjective states in the period between lives, with some information about spiritualistic and psychic phenomena.
To revert to the processes of dying and the after life:
In answer to a question (17, P.143:147): "But do the thoughts on which the mind may be engaged at the last moment necessarily hinge on to the predominant character of its past life." The Master says (P.167 170 ) : "It cannot be otherwise. The experience of dying men - by drowning and other accidents - brought back to life, has corroborated our doctrine in almost every case. Such thoughts are involuntary and we have no more control over them than we would over the eye's retina to prevent it perceiving the colour which affects it most At the last moment, the whole life is reflected in our memory and emerges from all the forgotten nooks and corners picture after picture, one event after the other. The dying brain dislodges memory with a strong supreme impulse, and memory restores faithfully every impression entrusted to it during the period of the brain's activity. That impression and thought which was the strongest naturally becomes the most vivid and survives so to say all the rest which now vanish and disappear for ever, to reappear but in Devachan." [Note: Devachan is a subjective dreamlike state described later.] "No man dies insane or unconscious as some physiologists assert. Even a madman, or one in a fit of delirium tremens will have his instant of perfect lucidity at the moment of death, though unable to say so to those present. The man may often appear dead. Yet from the last pulsation, from and between the last throbbing of his heart and the moment when the last
spark of animal heat leaves the body the brain thinks and the Ego lives over in those few brief seconds his whole life over again. Speak in whispers, ye, who assist at a death-bed and find yourselves in the solemn presence of Death. Especially have you to keep quiet just after Death has laid her clammy hand upon the body. Speak in whispers, I say, lest you disturb the quiet ripple of thought, and hinder the busy work of the Past casting on its reflection upon the Veil of the Future."
The review of the life just past and the importance of the last impressions with which it leaves us had been touched on (P.124:128) earlier, " ... when, as in a dream, the events of a long life, to the minutest details, are marshalled in the greatest order in a few seconds in our vision". (Footnote: "That vision takes place when a person is already proclaimed dead. The brain is the last organ that dies) - that feeling will become the fashioner of our bliss or woe, the life principle of our future existence."
Immediately after death has occurred, it is said that (P.125:129) : "His Mayavi rupa [i.e. ethereal body shadow. P.195:198] may be often thrown into objectivity, as in the cases of apparitions after death; but, unless it is projected with the knowledge of (whether latent or potential), or, owing to the intensity of the desire to see or appear to someone, shooting through the dying brain, the apparition will be simply –automatical; ...”
The reference to apparitions after death is interesting as the phantom appearance of someone just dead to a loved one who may not even have known that the death was imminent, is by no means uncommon.
Now we come to the references dealing with the person's subjective state immediately after dying. In talking about immortality and continuing consciousness,
which we will come to later, the Master finishes an explanation (P.125:128) so: "Thus, when a man dies, his 'Soul' (fifth prin.) becomes unconscious and loses all remembrance of things internal as well as external. Whether his stay in Kama Loka [Note: see later] has to last but a few moments, hours, days, weeks, months or years; whether he died a natural or a violent death; whether it occurred in his young or old age, and, whether the Ego was good, bad, or indifferent, -his consciousness leaves him as suddenly as the flame leaves the wick, when blown out." This is quite categorical and it is followed with, "When life has retired from the last particle in the brain matter, his perceptive faculties become extinct forever, his spiritual powers of cogitation and volition - (all those faculties in short, which are neither inherent in, nor acquirable by organic matter) for the time being."
This is a reiteration in other words of what was said earlier (P.48) about " … souls in their transition state, whose dormant faculties and individuality lie as a butterfly in its chrysalis;" And again (P.169:172): "But in that individual, in the Ego - 'good, bad or indifferent' in the isolated personality, - consciousness leaves as suddenly as 'the flame leaves the wick'."
We have to become a little technical to follow what comes next. It is necessary to say that according to the Masters' classification, Man has seven principles (see TABLE I). The first is his physical body, the second is an energetic life principle, the third is a "body" like his mayavi rupa referred to above, which is a counterpart of his physical body but in "etheric" matter. The fourth is his Kama-rupa, his desire or emotion "body", constituted of a matter responsive to emotional stimuli. The fifth is his mental principle (manas), the vehicle of mind, which is in two levels, the lower being closely
linked with the emotional principle, the higher being the real "thinker". This last is the individuality, focused in manas, comprising when in association with man's sixth (the spiritual soul or Buddhi) and his seventh (Atma or Spirit) principles, the EGO or Higher Self, a spark of the One Life, the Divinity in man.
Now we can return to the Letters (P.101:103). "When man dies his second and third principles die with him; the lower triad disappears, and the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh form the surviving Quaternary."
There is still further corroboration of the Ego's unconsciousness at this stage (P.184:186). "Every just disembodied four-fold entity -whether it died a natural or a violent death, from suicide or accident, mentally sane or insane, young or old, good, bad, or indifferent loses at the instant of death all recollection, it is mentally annihilated; it sleeps its akasic sleep in the Kama-loka. This state lasts from a few hours (rarely less), days, weeks, months - sometimes to several years. All this according to the entity, to its mental status at the moment of death, to the character of its death, etc."
There is a passage in The Key to Theosophy that ought to be particularly noted in connection with our state or condition after death (P.93, in the old editions) : "ENQ. - I have heard you say that the Ego, whatever the life of the person he incarnated in may have been on earth, is never visited with post mortem punishment."
"THEO. - Never, save in very exceptional and rare cases of which we will not speak here. ..."
(Note: It seems these "very exceptional and rare cases" are those of entities who find themselves in "the lower world of effects", after particularly wicked lives.)
"ENQ. - But if the Ego is punished in this life for misdeeds committed in previous lives, then it ought to be rewarded also, whether here, or when disincarnated."
"THEO. - And so it is. If we do not admit of any punishment outside this earth, it is because the only state the spiritual Self knows of, hereafter, is that of unalloyed bliss."
"ENQ. - What do you mean?
"THEO. - Simply this: crimes and sins committed on the plane of objectivity and in a world of matter, cannot receive punishment in a world of pure subjectivity. We believe in no hell or paradise as localities; in no objective hell-fires. ... " "What we believe in is a post-mortem state or mental condition, such as we are in during a vivid dream. ..." (Note:i.e. Devachan, see later.)
There is a qualification (P.120:123) of the statement about the immediate loss of consciousness at the instant of death. The passage there is consistent with the reference to "the lower world of effects" made in the passage first quoted and another one (P.129:132) later on describing the experience after death of Guiteau, who shot the newly elected President Garfield of the U.S.A. (July 2,1881).
"Exceptional cases, my friend. [P.123.] Suicides can and generally do, [Note: we do not have the question] but not so with others. The good and the pure sleep a quiet blissful sleep, full of happy visions of earth-life and have no consciousness of being already for ever beyond that life. Those who were neither good nor bad, will sleep a dreamless, still a quiet sleep; while the wicked will in proportion to their grossness suffer the pangs of a nightmare lasting years: their thoughts become living things, their wicked passions - real substance, and they receive back on their heads all the misery they have heaped upon others. Reality and fact if described would yield a far more terrible Inferno than even Dante had imagined !"
When We Die ... > Next Page Chapter 4 The "Death Struggle" and "Gestation State"