A Description of the After-Death States and Processes
'A unique, authentic, detailed account'
We now come to those parts of our account which deal with the post-mortem processes in the inner realms and the subjective experiences of the dead. Death occurs at a distinct moment, when the silver cord, as it is sometimes called, between the physical body and the astral double is severed. This link between the earthly man and his 'soul' principles is of ethereal matter. At this time these principles include not only the fourth and lower fifth (the lower duality), but the upper fifth, sixth and seventh (the upper triad), the Egoic individuality.
After the severing of the cord there is no possibility of return. The man, as we have seen, suddenly becomes unconscious, and the astral double, along with the physical body, begins to disintegrate. The coordinating life of both of them has departed. It is this withdrawal of a person's life from the physical body which inhibits the action of the brain; it then dies and the death of the counterpart brain in the astral body follows. The deceased then has no more contact with the physical world and falls into unconsciousness. All the visions and feelings of the pre-death state now disappear.
The next major stage in the post-mortem journey is what the Masters refer to as the death struggle. Bearing in mind the distinction between the personality and the individuality and their respective natures, we can get an idea of what the death struggle means. The personal man is largely selfish, i.e. egocentric, with his habitual attention given to a mixture of urges, ambitions, loves, hates, indulgences, aspirations, character weaknesses and strengths, etc. all according to the man and his circumstances in life. Very little of this is spiritual, as understood in theosophical or esoteric science. Spiritual here pertains to the entirely unselfish, the purely altruistic elements in man's character and all else that is entirely noble or worthy, such as real unselfish love (not passion), desire to be of service, compassion, behaviour according to the dictates of highest conscience, wisdom and understanding. All these are of a different order from the normal considerations of personality.
The death struggle is the sorting out of these two aspects of man's inner nature, like separating the cream from the milk of experience. The Ego
attracts the spiritual cream and can assimilate that only. None of the baser milk can possibly enter it or become part of it. The milk of the essentially selfish personality stays with what is left in the inner world of the personality. This becomes the content of that entity's memories etc. and remains after the death-struggle in Kama Loka, while its heavenly counterpart, the Ego, enters into Devachan, enriched by the cream (and only the cream) of the last personal existence.
Here is the passage introducing us to the idea:
Thenceforth [i.e. after the separation of the four-principled post mortem entity from second and third principles] it is a "death" struggle between the Upper and Lower dualities. If the upper wins, the sixth, having attracted to itself the quintessence of Good from the fifth - its nobler affections, its saintly (though they be earthly) aspirations, and the most Spiritualized portions of its mind - follows its divine elder (the 7th) into the "Gestation" State; and the fifth and fourth remain in association as an empty shell - (the expression is quite correct) - to roam in the earth's atmosphere, with half the personal memory gone, and the more brutal instincts fully alive for a certain period - an "Elementary" in short. This is the "angel guide" of the average medium. If, on the other hand, it is the Upper Duality which is defeated, then it is the fifth principle that assimilates all that there may be left of personal recollection and perceptions of its personal individuality in the sixth. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p101 (3rd edition), p103 (1st and 2nd editions)]
If the upper duality is defeated there is then nothing of the experience of the just-past life to interest the Ego or worthy to be built into it. It is then as if that life were, in the Master's words, "a page missing from the book of lives".
In the above quotation a "Gestation" state following the "Death struggle" is referred to. The processes of Nature and those after death are natural ones and take time. The period between the conception of a human embryo and the birth of the foetus is referred to as the gestation period. Gestation is the process by which the embryo develops after quickening. This continues up to a critical point when the foetus is ready for entry into the outside world, when it can begin an independent existence.
A corresponding process takes place after the "Death struggle". The seeds of the spiritual content of the late life, having been gathered and quickened in the struggle, gestate to form suitable material to enter into the spiritual world of the Ego. This is an order of being we can hardly imagine because no
terms descriptive of personal existence apply to it. In it we are in the realm of spacelessness, timelessness, complete wholeness, unity, purity, omniscience, omnipotence, and where consciousness suffers none of the limitations of personal existence and is not private to an individual but shared with the commonality of all Egos, on their own plane. This state beggars description, but the spiritual fruit of our personal living has to be transmuted to make it suitable to contribute to our developing Ego.
The conception of the shell or Elementary "roaming in the earth's atmosphere" might cause some difficulty. Firstly, the shell is not physical, it has no physical size in our sense, but it is perceptible to a psychic clairvoyant whose powers are suitably developed. The term shell, as indicated above, is applied to the middle duad (4th and lower 5th principles) when the spiritual Ego has separated from and left it. The earth's atmosphere in this sense is not the physical space surrounding our globe, but a psychic atmosphere attaching to it. This kind of atmosphere is not simply a habitat for Elementaries: it is in fact composed of elemental lives (Elementals: see Appendix), the "soul" of things, in a sense, at our physical level. Nothing happens at our level except by their agency. Elementals must be distinguished from Elementaries. The latter are shells, the psychic remains of men after the Ego has left them, which have no conscience or morality. They are quite irresponsible and manifest (when they do) the worst in human nature.
Regarding further the nature of what can be ingested into the Spiritual Ego, we read:
... neither of the two emanations [Buddhi and Atma] are capable of assimilating but that which is good, pure and holy; hence no sensual, material or unholy recollection can follow the purified memory of the Ego to the region of Bliss. The Karma for these recollections of evil deeds and thoughts will reach the Ego when it changes its personality in the following world of causes [i.e. the next life on earth]. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p102 (3rd edition), p105 (1st and 2nd editions)]
The remaining personal entity, in the case when there was not enough purely spiritual material assimilable by the higher principles, does not remain in Kama Loka, but rather:
... it is caught up and drawn into the great whirlpool of human [personal] Egos; while the sixth and seventh - now a purely Spiritual, individual MONAD, with nothing left in it of the late personality, having no regular "gestation" period [see later] to pass through (since there is no purified personal Ego to be reborn), after a more or less prolonged period of unconscious Rest in the boundless Space - will find itself reborn in another personality on the next planet. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p101 (3rd edition), p104 (1st and 2nd editions)]
(Note: The word Ego (capital 'E') gradually became reserved for the spiritual Individuality, the upper fifth, sixth and seventh principles. Sometimes, as above, it is used otherwise, but when it is, it is usually clearly qualified, in this instance by the word 'personal', and is the same as the ego (small 'e') in modern psychology. What is meant by the 'next planet' is explained in the Appendix.)
We are also told that:
Until the struggle between the higher [spiritual] and middle [personal] duad begins - (with the exception of suicides who are not dead but have only killed their physical triad, and whose Elemental parasites (4th and lower 5th principles) therefore, are not naturally separated from the Ego as in real death) - until that struggle, I say, has not begun and ended, no shell can realize its position. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p168 (3rd edition), p171 (1st and 2nd editions)]
The position of suicides, together with other 'exceptions', is explained later in Chapter Eight.
The term "gestation state" is applied to both the personal ego and the spiritual Ego while still conjoined. During the gestation period the purest contents of the personal mind are being assimilated into the upper triad. During this time, and while the Ego is still attached to the middle duad in Kama Loka, unconsciousness reigns in both the spiritual Ego and the kama-manasic principles which have not yet been abandoned by the Ego and become merely a shell.
The gestation process has been described as follows:
Kama-loka may be compared to the dressing-room of an actor, in which he divests himself of the costume of the last part he played before rebecoming himself properly - the immortal Ego or the Pilgrim cycling in his Round of Incarnations. The Eternal Ego being
stripped in Kama-loka of its lower terrestrial principles, with their passions and desires, it enters into the state of Devachan. And therefore it is said that only the purely spiritual, the non-material emotions, affections and aspirations accompany the Ego into that state of Bliss. But the process of stripping off the lower, the fourth and part of the fifth, principles is an unconscious one in all normal human beings. It is only in very exceptional cases that there is a slight return to consciousness in Kama-loka: and this is the case of very materialistic unspiritual personalities, who, devoid of the conditions requisite, cannot enter the state of absolute Rest and Bliss. [Collected Writings of H.P. Blavatsky Vol.IX p164]
Regarding the consciousness of the shell after the gestation state, we have:
When the sixth and seventh principles are gone, carrying off with them the finer, spiritual portions of that which once was the personal consciousness of the fifth, then only does the shell gradually develop a hazy kind of consciousness of its own from what remains in the shadow of personality. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p168 (3rd edition), p171 (1st and 2nd editions)]
This matter was raised in another place, by the question, "Then what is the nature of the remembrance and self-consciousness of the shell?" The answer:
All that which pertains to the materio-psychological attributes and sensations of the five lower skandhas; all that which will be thrown off as a refuse by the newly born Ego in the Devachan, as unworthy of, and not sufficiently related to the purely spiritual perceptions, emotions and feelings of the sixth, strengthened, and so to say, cemented by a portion of the fifth, that portion which is necessary in the Devachan for the retention of a divine spiritualized notion of the "I" in the Monad - which would otherwise have no consciousness in relation to object and subject at all - all this "becomes extinct for ever": namely at the moment of physical death, to return once more, marshalling before the eye of the new Ego at the threshold of Devachan and to be rejected by It. It will return for the third time fully at the end of the minor cycle, after the completion of the seven Rounds when the sum total of collective existences is weighed - "merit" in one cup, "demerit" in the other cup of the scales. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p168 (3rd edition), p171 (1st and 2nd editions)]
The last eight lines of this passage relate to two further reviews of the previous earth life which occur, in addition to the one at the time of physical death: one on the entry of the Ego into Devachan and the other at the end of the minor cycle (i.e. at the completion of the seventh Round).
Regarding further the nature of the consciousness of the shells or elementaries, as the fourth and half-fifth principles bereft of the higher triad are sometimes called, it was explained:
As I said, ... no better than a reflected or borrowed light. "Memory" is one thing, and "perceptive faculties" quite another. A madman may remember very clearly some portions of his past life; yet he is unable to perceive anything in its true light for the higher portions of his Manas and his Buddhi are paralysed in him, have left him. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p169 (3rd edition), p173 (1st and 2nd editions)]
The Master was pressed for more information concerning the degree and quality of the consciousness of the shell:
A more or less complete, still dim recollection of its personality, and of its purely physical life. As in the cases of complete insanity the final severance of the two higher duads (7th 6th and 5th 4th) at the moment of the former going into gestation, digs an impassable gulf between the two. It is not even a portion of the fifth that is carried away .. The Manas shorn of its finest attributes, becomes like a flower from which all the aroma has suddenly departed, a rose crushed, and having been made to yield all its oil for the attar manufacture purposes; what is left behind is but the smell of decaying grass, earth and rottenness. ..
[Such shells] remind anyone who will have the privilege of enjoying an hour's chat with the illustrious disembodied angels [the shells], more of the inmates of a lunatic asylum made to play parts in private theatricals as means of hygienic recreation, than of the Caesars and Hamlets they would represent. The slightest shock will throw them off the track and send them off raving. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p171 (3rd edition), p174 (1st and 2nd editions)]
This last sentence is a reference to the sort of material that is received through mediums at spiritualistic séances. It is included here to indicate the nature of the entities that 'come through' and how much credence we should place in these messages (see Chapter Nine).
Another question was, "Is the shell conscious of losing anything that feels like life as it gradually disintegrates?” The answer:
No, it is not conscious of this loss of cohesion. Besides, such a feeling in a shell being quite useless for nature's purposes, it could hardly realize something that could be never even dreamed by a medium or its affinities. It is dimly conscious of its own physical death - after a prolonged period of time though - that's all. The few exceptions to this rule - cases of half successful sorcerers, of very wicked persons passionately attached to Self [personal self] - offer a real danger to the living. These very material shells, whose last dying thought was Self, - Self, - Self - and to live, to live! will often feel it instinctively. So do some suicides - though not all. What happens then is terrible for it becomes a case of post mortem licanthropy [lycanthropy: the ability to change into a wolf]. The shell will cling so tenaciously to its semblance of life that it will seek refuge in a new organism in any beast - in a dog, a hyena, a bird, when no human organism is close at hand - rather than submit to annihilation. [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p172 (3rd edition), p175 (1st and 2nd editions)]
The transition from the gestation state to the return of consciousness is described a number of times but the following is apt at this point:
Reviving consciousness begins after the struggle in Kama-Loka at the door of Devachan, and only after the "gestation period". [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p197 (3rd edition), p199 (1st and 2nd editions)]
A little earlier on the previous page there was another reference to this returning consciousness:
From Kama Loka, then, in the great Chiliocosm [a subjective region which includes Kama Loka] - once awakened from their post-mortem torpor, the newly translated "Souls" go all (but the shells) according to their attractions, either to Devachan or Avitchi. And those two states are again differentiating ad infinitum ... [The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett p197(3rd edition), p199 (1st and 2nd editions)]
We should notice this further reference to the post-mortem torpor or unconsciousness, which some find so hard to accept because of spiritualistic communications and other psychic phenomena. Some of these occur soon after death, and we shall see later something of their true nature, which involves a number of factors including the fate of man's principles after death. We must remember when considering the interval between incarnations that
the periods of most of the states after death are long, sometimes very long, in terms of earth years.
In this chapter we have been introduced to the idea of post mortem processes as they affect man's soul in terms of the principles we had previously described. In the normal case he is unaware of what is going on, but there are exceptions. The significant process is that of the "death struggle" where the experience and character of the deceased are sorted so that all that is of a worthy spiritual nature can be assimilated, during the gestation state, by the divine Ego, while all ordinary personal content is rejected. This content does, however, condition the next life via the Skandhas.
When We Die ... Exploring the Great Beyond> Next Page: Chapter 6 The Second Death and Devachan