Theosophy teaches that after a person dies the Ego and its non-physical bodies undergo a process consisting of multiple stages before reincarnating. The process may be very brief (as in young children or cases of premature death) or it can be as long as 3,000 years. Theosophical literature, particularly the MAHATMA LETTERS, has extensive teachings about the after-death states, some of which have received validation in parapsychological studies in the past century or so.
Life Span. Each person is born with a certain quantity of life-energy like the oil in a lamp. When the oil is exhausted the person dies even if apparently healthy. When however, the life-energy is not exhausted and the person meets a violent death, then the Ego continues to be conscious and alive, minus the physical body.
There is a distinction therefore between a natural death and a premature death. The latter is of three kinds: death by accident, murder, and suicide. Each of these will undergo a different after-death process depending upon the circumstances of the death. These shall be separately discussed below.
Physical Death. The last organ to die, according to the Mahatma Letters, is the brain. At the moment of death, a person recalls one’s entire life in a span of a few seconds. “The dying brain dislodges memory with a strong supreme impulse. . . . 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” (ML, p. 326). This recall has been affirmed by recent researches conducted on NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES, such as those of Dr. Raymond Moody. The last dominant thoughts of a person will determine the “life principle” of one’s future existence, and the nature of these thoughts will depend upon the predominant character during the person’s life. There is lucidity at the moment of death — even among madmen — as the process of life recall is undergone. The Mahatma KOOT HOOMI therefore admonishes people to keep silence when a person is dying to avoid disturbing the thoughts and processes that will mold the Ego’s future life.
There is a non-physical silver cord that connects the physical body and the kama-rupa (Desire Vehicle). When this is broken, death becomes permanent. This cord has been observed by clairvoyants since the ancient times. The Bible refers to this in the book of Ecclesiastes 12:5-6: “Because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken . . .”
At the moment of death, an apparition of the person just died may be seen by people at a distance. This is the involuntary projection of the mental illusory body or mayavi-rupa. The image is based on the perception of the dying person, hence the apparition is often seen in the clothes they wear at the moment of death. Blavatsky says if the dying person is drowning, the image will appear as if dripping with water. This is different from the apparitions of dead people due to the “reflections in the astral light” and not due to the projection of the illusory body (ML Appendix I, p. 502).
The Separation of the Principles. To understand what follows after physical death, one must be familiar with the seven human principles: the physical body, the etheric double (linga-sarira), life-energy (prana), the desire-body (kama-rupa), the mind (manas), the spiritual soul (buddhi) and the spirit (Atma).
In the case of a normal death, the lowest three principles are separated from the higher four. These three are the physical body, the etheric double (linga-sarira), and prana. There is a loss of consciousness and the entity will be in its kama-rupa or desire body. The environment where it enters into is called kama-loka or the desire-world. The Ego goes into sleep and loses all recollection until it reawakens in Devachan. Those who know that they are physically dead, says the Mahatma Letters, are either Adepts or sorcerers. This stage in kama-loka may last from a few hours to several years, depending upon the Ego, the nature of death, and other factors.
It then goes into a long period of “gestation” where it prepares for entry into Devachan. The length of this period has been described by the Mahatma K. H. as dependent upon one’s “spiritual stamina.”
Second death. At the end of the gestation period, the entity will now undergo a “second death” when the lower two principles will separate from the higher two, that is, kama-rupa together with the mental body will now detach from the Atma-Buddhi. In this process of separation there is a struggle that will determine how much of the mental body will go with the Atma-Buddhi, and how much with the kama-rupa. Upon separation, the kama-rupa and mental body become a “shell” that will gradually disintegrate in time. These shells are the “spirits” generally contacted by mediumistic seances.
In very rare cases where the person is extremely selfish, the entire mental body may be drawn towards the kama-rupa, thus depriving the Atma-Buddhi with the necessary vehicle for future incarnations. This is what is called a “LOST SOUL,” an intelligent being in kama-loka which is destined for annihilation because it is no longer linked to its immortal source, the Atma-Buddhi. When the wickedness is of a “spiritual, refined” nature, such a soul goes to AVICHI, the antithesis of Devachan, which is often said to be the earth itself. The lost soul may still retain a lot of life-energy, however, and can even incarnate again and again until its vitality is exhausted. As a shell, it may become a DWELLER ON THE THRESHOLD that gets attracted to a new personality that may be formed by the former parent Ego (Atma-Buddhi). There is still a possibility of re-linking between the soul and its parent Ego when there is the slightest spark of repentance in it. Lost souls that become non-entities, however, and which do not deserve Avichi, slide down to the Eighth Sphere, a globe denser than the earth and is spoken of as the “furnace of nature” where the materials of the soul are recast for future development.
Devachan. The purer part of the mental body that goes with the Atma-Buddhi will be the Ego that will reincarnate in a subsequent life. After the “second death” the Ego enters into the Devachanic state which is blissful, where no traces of sorrow can enter. It is oblivious of what is happening in the physical world. The Ego may stay in Devachan for ten to fifteen centuries, depending upon the wealth of experience of the preceding physical life. Devachan however is not the same as the heaven of Christians. It is a subjective state where the unfulfilled yearnings of the Ego are realized.
The Mahatma Letters states that children who die before the age of seven, and those who live as congenital idiots, will not enter Devachan, but will be reincarnated quickly. The literature of psychical research, particularly the work of Ian Stevenson, also suggests that there are adults who may be reincarnated quickly especially when they died of accident or violence. (See DEVACHAN.)
When the Ego enters Devachan, the shell which is left behind develops “a kind of hazy consciousness of its own from what remains in the shadow of personality” (ML, p. 327).
When the devachanic rewards come to an end, the ego then forms another mental and emotional vehicle drawn from the life-atoms of the preceding life. These atoms, also called TANHIC ELEMENTALS, await the Ego as it leaves Devachan, and will determine the type of personality the Ego will have in the succeeding life.
Premature deaths. With premature deaths — accident, murder, and suicide — the fates of the Egos after death are different. Their death-hour has not yet come, and their reservoir of life-energy has not been exhausted. They are not actually “dead” but only have lost their physical bodies as a vehicle. They may retain consciousness and can hence communicate with the living. They are also called Elementaries, Earthbound souls, or “Earth-walker.”
The Mahatma Letters mentions that the after-death states of those who died prematurely differ according to the circumstances of their death. Those who died of accidental death and which are “good and innocent Egos” will have no recollection of the accident and enter into a sleeping state (with or without happy dreams) until the time of their natural death with the exceptions previously mentioned. When they do dream, they “move and live among their familiar friends and scenes.” Those who die due to fits of temporary insanity similarly go into a state of slumber.
Those who are sensual and selfish, on the other hand, “suffer all the tortures of a horrible nightmare,” and will wander about and be drawn by mediums who open up opportunities for gratifying their desires. The extreme cases become Pisacas or virtual demons that incite living human beings to crimes. “The majority — neither very good nor very bad, the victims of accident or violence (including murder) — some sleep, others become Nature pisachas, while a small minority may fall victims to mediums and derive a new set of skandhas from the medium who attracts them” (ML, p. 239).
Suicides, who tried to escape their suffering, only find themselves still alive and conscious without a physical body, regretting their actions, and thus suffer with intensity.
The Mahatma Letters specifically mentions the case of Guiteau, the assassin who killed President Garfield, and who was later executed. “Guiteau is gone into a state during the period of which he will be ever firing at his President, thereby tossing into confusion and shuffling the destinies of millions of persons, where he will be ever tried and ever hung. Bathing in the reflections of his deeds and thoughts — especially those he indulged in on the scaffold” (ML, p. 214).
Communication with the dead. As a general rule, communication with the dead is not possible due to the unconscious state of the Ego in kama-loka. Later, when the Ego awakens in Devachan, the gap between Devachanic consciousness and normal consciousness prevents such contact. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as the following:
A. When the person died prematurely, such as in accident, murder or suicide. Under these circumstances, while the after-death states are not all uniform, contact is possible in some cases.
B. When the consciousness of a living person is drawn to the consciousness of the person just died prior to its entry into the “gestation” period.
C. When a purified living person is able to elevate his or her consciousness to the Devachanic level and communicate with the Ego in Devachan.
Claimed communication with the dead among Spiritualists, with the exception of those few cases noted above, is actually communication with the astral shells (kama-rupas) of Egos which have gone on to Devachan.
The Mahatma Letters strongly warns against the attempts of mediums to contact the Elementaries. “Woe to those whose Trishna [thirst] will attract them to mediums, and woe to the latter, who tempt them with such an easy Upadana [material cause for existence]. For in grasping them, and satisfying their thirst for life, the medium helps to develop in them — is in fact the cause of — a new set of Skandhas [attributes], a new body, with far worse tendencies and passions than was the one they lost” (ML, p. 200).
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