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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Devachan

A compound word formed of the Sanskrit word deva (usually translated “god”) and the Tibetan word chan (denoting a region, land, or country). The Tibetan word would be, in English transliteration, bde-ba-can. The final c (in can) is pronounced as ch and, obviously, bde-ba is the Tibetan rendering of the Sanskrit deva, with the initial b not actually pronounced. A literal translation of the term devachan, therefore, would be “place of the gods,” although the Tibetan would more literally be “having the nature of happiness.” In Pure Land Buddhism, devachan is called Sukhavati, i.e. “Happy Land.” But devachan is not identical with the Heaven of orthodox Christianity, since devachan is a temporary state after which the soul will develop the urge to reincarnate, whereas Heaven is conceived of by Christians as a permanent state.

Theosophical literature teaches that upon the death of a human being, the physical body is discarded together with the linga-sarira (etheric double or matrix body). The consciousness is now lodged in the desire-body (kama-rupa), which is still attached to the mental, spiritual and atmic principles of the human being (see HUMAN CONSTITUTION). The soul then enters into a temporary state of unconsciousness during which it undergoes a gestation period (see DEATH AND AFTER-DEATH STATES). After a period of sleep that varies in length according to the individual circumstance, the soul undergoes a second death wherein the kama-rupa (desire body) is similarly discarded, the latter drawing towards it the gross portions of the human mind (manas). On the other hand, the Monad, that is, the Atma-Buddhi, assimilates to itself the “good, pure and holy” part of the mind. The Ego then, after discarding the body, etheric double, prana, desire body, and the gross elements of the mind, enters into devachan. The Mahatma Letters state that “no sensual, material or unholy recollection can follow the purified memory of the Ego to the region of Bliss” (ML, p. 194).

In the later writings of ANNIE BESANT and Charles W. LEADBEATER, it is stated that the soul “wakes up,” as it were, in the astral plane in its desire body. In some of the sublevels of this state, the soul is said to live a community life in the astral world, similar to the physical world, with houses, buildings, churches, etc. The inhabitants of these regions are said to gather and form communities (Ancient Wisdom). This alternative view has been a source of debate among theosophists for many decades since it varies with the teachings found in the Mahatma Letters, where it is stated that the average souls are said to be unconscious in kama-loka or the desire world (except for suicides and victims of violence), to awaken only in devachan. The latter has two distinct stages: the rupa-loka (world of forms) and the higher arupa-loka (the formless world).

All theosophical literature, however, are in agreement that in devachan one lives in a state where one’s virtues, unselfish thoughts, and aspiration from one’s previous life are developed in a kind of spiritual meditation or dream-like state. When one is in this state, one cannot be dragged back, as it were, to communicate with those still in physical bodies, thus mediumistic communication could only occur with either earth-bound souls or with the discarded astral bodies (termed “shells” in theosophical literature) of those who have gone on into devachan. It is for this reason that theosophical literature tends to disparage (as well as discourage) mediumistic communications as well as “sitting for development” of mediumistic abilities. There are occasional, though rare, exceptions, however; a very few “sensitives” are able to raise their own consciousness to the devachanic level and form a kind of communicative rapport with souls at that level. This would not apply, of course, to the ordinary trance medium.

In the Key to Theosophy, Helena P. BLAVATSKY states that the bliss of the average individual in devachan is complete:

It is an absolute oblivion of all that gave it pain or sorrow in the past incarnation, and even oblivion of the fact that such things as pain or sorrow exist at all. The Devachanee lives its intermediate cycle between two incarnations surrounded by everything it had aspired to in vain, and in the companionship of everyone it loved on earth. It has reached the fulfilment of all its soul-yearnings. And thus it lives throughout long centuries an existence of unalloyed happiness, which is the reward for its sufferings in earth-life. (Key Sec. 9)

The devachanic state, then, is a state of enjoyable subjective illusion produced by the happy and noble thoughts and acts of the individual while he or she was physically incarnate. The soul in such a state is not omniscient and does not see what is happening in the physical world that it has left behind. The karma of evil deeds is temporarily suspended, and only the karma of benevolent thoughts and deeds are carried into devachan. It is like a dream, “only a hundred fold intensified” (ML, p. 191).

There are many varieties of devachanic states. “As many varieties of bliss, as on earth there are shades of perception and of capability to appreciate such reward. It is an ideated paradise, in each case of the Ego’s own making, and by him filled with the scenery, crowded with the incidents, and thronged with the people he would expect to find in such a sphere of compensative bliss” (ML, p. 192). The devachanic experience goes through stages analogous to earth life, i.e., the after-life analogy of physical growth and death: “the first flutter of psychic life, the attainment of prime, the gradual exhaustion of force passing into semi-consciousness, gradual oblivion and lethargy, total oblivion and — not death but birth: birth into another personality” (ML, p. 358).

According to the Mahatma Koot Hoomi, the moral and spiritual qualities of a person will find in devachan “a field in which their energies could expand themselves.” The aspirations or the researches into abstract principles of nature will find its fruition in it, to last until “karma is satisfied in that direction, the ripple of force reaches the edge of its cyclic basin,” and the individual would now be ready for another incarnation — the field of causes. Thus devachan is not merely a monotonous repetition of some pleasant experience (ML, p. 355).

The length of time spent in devachan “lasts in proportion to the good Karma” of the individual. On the average, it is said to last from ten to fifteen centuries. It is said that Plato has not reincarnated even after 25 centuries. Leadbeater and Besant have suggested that the period usually averages between 500 and 2000 years, although that period may be considerably shortened for children who die young or for highly developed souls who choose to incarnate more rapidly to aid in the process of human evolution.

On the suggestion that devachan is but a subjective illusion, the Mahatma Koot Hoomi wrote: “Say — it is but a dream, but after all what is objective life itself but a panorama of vivid unrealities?” (ibid.). But since there is no sense of time in devachan — neither memory of the past or concern for the future — all is, as it were, a kind of vivid dream (CW X:316).

According to theosophy, not all who physically die enter devachan. Children who die young, for example (usually before the age of seven), get reincarnated quickly as they have not yet gathered the material or experiences that will reap a blissful condition in devachan. Other exceptions are some of those who die prematurely and who may be reborn immediately, such as victims of suicide, murder or accident. Such cases have been described by Prof. Ian Stevenson in his several books detailing his investigation of cases of children who remember their previous incarnation, as well as in articles written by some of his associates, such as Satwant Pasricha who conducted a survey in her home area of Uttar Pradesh to determine the frequency of such cases in that part of India. Other exceptions are advanced souls who defer devachan and choose to be reincarnated quickly in order to serve humanity in physical life, as mentioned above (CW VI:245), as well as Adepts and Initiates. Since the latter have transcended the illusory veils of the mind, they have no devachan.

See also DEATH AND AFTER-DEATH STATES; HUMAN CONSTITUTION; KAMA-RUPA; ASTRAL BODY; HEAVEN; HELL; KARMA.

V.H.C./R.W.B.

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