The Key to Theosophy
H. P. Blavatsky
THE KAMA-LOKA AND DEVACHAN
THE FATE OF THE LOWER “PRINCIPLES”
ENQUIRER. You spoke of Kama-loka, what is it?
THEOSOPHIST. When the man dies, his lower three principles leave him for
ever; i.e., body, life, and the
vehicle of the latter, the astral body or the double of the living man.
And then, his four principles—the central or middle principle, the animal soul
or Kama-rupa, with what it has
assimilated from the lower Manas, and the higher triad find themselves in Kama-loka.
The latter is an astral locality, the limbus of scholastic
theology, the Hades of the ancients, and, strictly speaking, a locality
only in a relative sense. It has neither a definite area nor boundary, but
exists within subjective space; i.e.,
is beyond our sensuous perceptions. Still it exists, and it is there that
the astral eidolons of all the beings that have lived, animals
included, await their second death. For
the animals it comes with the disintegration and the entire fading out of their astral
particles to the last. For the human eidolon it begins when the
Atma-Buddhi-Manasic triad is said to “separate” itself from its lower
principles, or the reflection of the ex-personality,
by falling into the Devachanic state.
ENQUIRER. And what happens after this?
THEOSOPHIST. Then the Kama-rupic phantom, remaining bereft of
its informing thinking principle, the higher Manas,
and the lower aspect of the latter, the animal intelligence, no longer
receiving light from the higher mind, and no longer having a physical brain to
work through, collapses.
ENQUIRER. In what way?
THEOSOPHIST. Well, it falls into the state of the frog when certain
portions of its brain are taken out by the vivisector. It can think no more,
even on the lowest animal plane. Henceforth it is no longer even the lower
Manas, since this “lower” is nothing without the “higher.”
ENQUIRER. And is it this nonentity which we find materializing
in séance rooms with Mediums?
THEOSOPHIST. It is this nonentity. A true nonentity, however, only as to
reasoning or cogitating powers, still an Entity,
however astral and fluidic, as shown in certain cases when, having been
magnetically and unconsciously drawn toward a medium, it is revived for a time
and lives in him by proxy, so to speak. This “spook,” or the
Kama-rupa, may be compared with the jelly-fish,
which has an ethereal gelatinous appearance so long as it is in its own
element, or water (the medium’s specific AURA),
but which, no sooner is it thrown out of it, than it dissolves in the hand
or on the sand, especially in sunlight. In the medium’s Aura, it lives a kind
of vicarious life and reasons and speaks either through the medium’s brain or
those of other persons present. But this would lead us too far, and upon other
people’s grounds, whereon I have no desire to trespass. Let us keep to the
subject of reincarnation.
ENQUIRER. What of the latter? How long does the incarnating Ego
remain in the Devachanic state?
THEOSOPHIST. This, we are taught, depends on the degree of spirituality
and the merit or demerit of the last incarnation. The average time is from ten
to fifteen centuries, as I already told you.
ENQUIRER. But why could not this Ego manifest and communicate with mortals as Spiritualists will have it? What is there to prevent a mother from communicating with the children she left on earth, a husband with his wife, and so on? It is a most consoling belief, I must confess; nor do I wonder that those who believe in it are so averse to give it up.
THEOSOPHIST. Nor are they forced to, unless they happen to prefer truth
to fiction, however “consoling.” Uncongenial our doctrines may be to
Spiritualists; yet, nothing of what we believe in and teach is half as selfish
and cruel as what they preach.
ENQUIRER. I do not understand you. What is selfish?
THEOSOPHIST. Their doctrine of the return of Spirits, the real
“personalities” as they say; and I will tell you why. If Devachan—call
it “paradise” if you like, a “place of bliss and of supreme felicity,”
if it is anything—is such a place (or say state), logic tells us that
no sorrow or even a shade of pain can be experienced therein. “God shall wipe
away all the tears from the eyes” of those in paradise, we read in the book of
many promises. And if the “Spirits of the dead” are enabled to return and
see all that is going on on earth, and especially in their homes,
what kind of bliss can be in store for them?
THEOSOPHISTS DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE RETURN OF PURE “SPIRITS”
ENQUIRER. What do you mean? Why should this interfere with their bliss?
THEOSOPHIST. Simply this; and here is an instance. A mother dies, leaving
behind her little helpless children—orphans whom she adores—perhaps a
beloved husband also. We say that her “Spirit” or Ego—that
individuality which is now all impregnated, for the entire Devachanic period,
with the noblest feelings held by its late personality,
i.e., love for her children, pity
for those who suffer, and so on—we say that it is now entirely separated from
the “vale of tears,” that its future bliss consists in that blessed
ignorance of all the woes it left behind. Spiritualists say, on the contrary,
that it is as vividly aware of them, and more so than before, for
“Spirits see more than mortals in the flesh do.” We say that the bliss of
the Devachanee consists in its complete conviction that it has never
left the earth, and that there is no such thing as death at all; that the post-mortem
spiritual consciousness of the mother will represent to her that she
lives surrounded by her children and all those whom she loved; that no gap, no
link, will be missing to make her disembodied state the most perfect and
absolute happiness. The Spiritualists deny this point blank. According to their
doctrine, unfortunate man is not liberated even by death from the sorrows of
this life. Not a drop from the life-cup of pain and suffering will miss his
lips; and nolens volens, since
he sees everything now, shall he drink it to the bitter dregs. Thus, the loving
wife, who during her lifetime was ready to save her husband sorrow at the price
of her heart’s blood, is now doomed to see, in utter helplessness, his
despair, and to register every hot tear he sheds for her loss. Worse than that,
she may see the tears dry too soon, and another beloved face shine on him, the
father of her children; find another woman replacing her in his affections;
doomed to hear her orphans giving the holy name of “mother” to one
indifferent to them, and to see those little children neglected, if not
ill-treated. According to this doctrine the “gentle wafting to immortal
life” becomes without any transition the way into a new path of mental
suffering! And yet, the columns of the “Banner of Light,” the veteran
journal of the American Spiritualists, are filled with messages from the dead,
the “dear departed ones,” who all write to say how very happy they
are! Is such a state of knowledge consistent with bliss? Then “bliss” stands
in such a case for the greatest curse, and orthodox damnation must be a relief
in comparison to it!
ENQUIRER. But how does your theory avoid this? How can you reconcile the theory of Soul’s omniscience with its blindness to that which is taking place on earth?
THEOSOPHIST. Because such is the law of love and mercy. During every
Devachanic period the Ego, omniscient as it is per se, clothes itself,
so to say, with the reflection of the “personality” that was. I
have just told you that the ideal efflorescence of all the abstract,
therefore undying and eternal qualities or attributes, such as love and mercy,
the love of the good, the true and the beautiful, that ever spoke in the heart
of the living “personality,” clung after death to the Ego, and therefore
followed it to Devachan. For the time being, then, the Ego becomes the ideal
reflection of the human being it was when last on earth, and that is
not omniscient. Were it that, it would never be in the state we call Devachan at
ENQUIRER. What are your reasons for it?
THEOSOPHIST. If you want an answer on the strict lines of our philosophy,
then I will say that it is because everything is illusion (Maya)
outside of eternal truth, which has neither form, colour, nor limitation. He who
has placed himself beyond the veil of maya—and such are the highest
Adepts and Initiates—can have no Devachan. As to the ordinary mortal, his
bliss in it 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. In short, it bathes in a sea of
uninterrupted felicity spanned only by events of still greater felicity in
ENQUIRER. But this is more than simple delusion, it is an existence of insane hallucinations!
THEOSOPHIST. From your standpoint it may be, not so from that of
philosophy. Besides which, is not our whole terrestrial life filled with such
delusions? Have you never met men and women living for years in a fool’s
paradise? And because you should happen to learn that the husband of a wife,
whom she adores and believes herself as beloved by him, is untrue to her, would
you go and break her heart and beautiful dream by rudely awakening her to the
reality? I think not. I say it again, such oblivion and hallucination—if
you call it so—are only a merciful law of nature and strict justice. At any
rate, it is a far more fascinating prospect than the orthodox golden harp with a
pair of wings. The assurance that “the soul that lives ascends frequently and
runs familiarly through the streets of the heavenly Jerusalem, visiting the
patriarchs and prophets, saluting the apostles, and admiring the army of
martyrs” may seem of a more pious character to some. Nevertheless, it is a
hallucination of a far more delusive character, since mothers love their
children with an immortal love, we all know, while the personages mentioned in
the “heavenly Jerusalem” are still of a rather doubtful nature. But I would,
still, rather accept the “new Jerusalem,” with its streets paved like the
show windows of a jeweller’s shop, than find consolation in the heartless
doctrine of the Spiritualists. The idea alone that the intellectual
conscious souls of one’s father, mother, daughter or brother find their
bliss in a “Summer land”—only a little more natural, but just as
ridiculous as the “New Jerusalem” in its description—would be enough to
make one lose every respect for one’s “departed ones.” To believe that a
pure spirit can feel happy while doomed to witness the sins, mistakes,
treachery, and, above all, the sufferings of those from whom it is severed by
death and whom it loves best, without being able to help them, would be a
ENQUIRER. There is something in your argument. I confess to having never seen it in this light.
THEOSOPHIST. Just so, and one must be selfish to the core and utterly
devoid of the sense of retributive justice, to have ever imagined such a thing.
We are with those whom we have lost in material form, and far, far nearer to
them now, than when they were alive. And it is not only in the fancy of the Devachanee,
as some may imagine, but in reality. For pure divine love is not merely the
blossom of a human heart, but has its roots in eternity. Spiritual holy love is
immortal, and Karma brings sooner or later all those who loved each other with
such a spiritual affection to incarnate once more in the same family group.
Again we say that love beyond the grave, illusion though you may call it, has a
magic and divine potency which reacts on the living. A mother’s Ego filled
with love for the imaginary children it sees near itself, living a life of
happiness, as real to it as when on earth—that love will always be
felt by the children in flesh. It will manifest in their dreams, and often in
various events—in providential protections and escapes, for love is a
strong shield, and is not limited by space or time. As with this Devachanic
“mother,” so with the rest of human relationships and attachments, save the
purely selfish or material. Analogy will suggest to you the rest.
ENQUIRER. In no case, then, do you admit the possibility of the
communication of the living with the disembodied spirit?
THEOSOPHIST. Yes, there is a case, and even two exceptions to the rule.
The first exception is during the few days that follow immediately the death of
a person and before the Ego passes into the Devachanic state. Whether
any living mortal, save a few exceptional cases—(when the intensity of the
desire in the dying person to return for some purpose forced the higher
consciousness to remain awake, and
therefore it was really the individuality,
the “Spirit” that communicated)—has derived much benefit from the
return of the spirit into the objective plane is another question. The
spirit is dazed after death and falls very soon into what we call “pre-devachanic
unconsciousness.” The second exception is found in the Nirmanakayas.
ENQUIRER. What about them? And what does the name mean for you?
THEOSOPHIST. It is the name given to those who, though they have won the
right to Nirvana and cyclic rest—(not “Devachan,” as the latter
is an illusion of our consciousness, a happy dream, and as those who are fit for
Nirvana must have lost entirely every desire or possibility of the world’s
illusions)—have out of pity for mankind and those they left on earth renounced
the Nirvanic state. Such an adept, or Saint, or whatever you may call him,
believing it a selfish act to rest in bliss while mankind groans under the
burden of misery produced by ignorance, renounces Nirvana, and determines to
remain invisible in spirit on this earth. They have no material body,
as they have left it behind; but otherwise they remain with all their principles
even in astral life in our sphere. And such can and do communicate with
a few elect ones, only surely not with ordinary mediums.
ENQUIRER. I have put you the question about Nirmanakayas because
I read in some German and other works that it was the name given to the
terrestrial appearances or bodies assumed by Buddhas in the Northern Buddhistic
THEOSOPHIST. So they are, only the Orientalists have confused this
terrestrial body by understanding it to be objective and physical
instead of purely astral and subjective.
ENQUIRER. And what good can they do on earth?
THEOSOPHIST. Not much, as regards individuals, as they have no right to
interfere with Karma, and can only advise and inspire mortals for the general
good. Yet they do more beneficent actions than you imagine.
ENQUIRER. To this Science would never subscribe, not even modern psychology. For them, no portion of intelligence can survive the physical brain. What would you answer them?
THEOSOPHIST. I would not even go to the trouble of answering, but would
simply say, in the words given to “M. A. Oxon,” “Intelligence is
perpetuated after the body is dead. Though it is not a question of the brain
only… It is reasonable to propound the indestructibility of the human spirit
from what we know” (Spirit Identity,
ENQUIRER. But “M. A. Oxon” is a Spiritualist?
THEOSOPHIST. Quite so, and the only true Spiritualist I know of,
though we may still disagree with him on many a minor question. Apart from this,
no Spiritualist comes nearer to the occult truths than he does. Like any one of
us he speaks incessantly “of the surface dangers that beset the ill-equipped,
feather-headed muddler with the occult, who crosses the threshold without
counting the cost.”
Our only disagreement rests in the question of “Spirit Identity.” Otherwise,
I, for one, coincide almost entirely with him, and accept the three propositions
he embodied in his address of July, 1884. It is this eminent Spiritualist,
rather, who disagrees with us, not we with him.
ENQUIRER. What are these propositions?
THEOSOPHIST. “l. That there is a life coincident with, and independent
of the physical life of the body.”
“2. That, as a necessary corollary, this life extends beyond the life
of the body” (we say it extends throughout Devachan).
“3. That there is communication between the denizens of that state of
existence and those of the world in which we now live.”
All depend, you see, on the minor and secondary aspects of these
fundamental propositions. Everything depends on the views we take of Spirit and
Soul, or Individuality and Personality.
Spiritualists confuse the two “into one”; we separate them, and say
that, with the exceptions above enumerated, no Spirit will revisit the
earth, though the animal Soul may. But let us return once more to our direct
subject, the Skandhas.
ENQUIRER. I begin to understand better now. It is the Spirit, so to say, of those Skandhas which are the most ennobling, which, attaching themselves to the incarnating Ego, survive, and are added to the stock of its angelic experiences. And it is the attributes connected with the material Skandhas, with selfish and personal motives, which, disappearing from the field of action between two incarnations, reappear at the subsequent incarnation as Karmic results to be atoned for; and therefore the Spirit will not leave Devachan. Is it so?
THEOSOPHIST. Very nearly so. If you add to this that the law of
retribution, or Karma, rewarding the highest and most spiritual in Devachan,
never fails to reward them again on earth by giving them a further development,
and furnishing the Ego with a body fitted for it, then you will be quite
FEW WORDS ABOUT THE SKANDHAS
ENQUIRER. What becomes of the other, the lower Skandhas of the personality, after the death of the body? Are they quite destroyed?
THEOSOPHIST. They are and yet they are not—a fresh metaphysical and
occult mystery for you. They are destroyed as the working stock in hand of the
personality; they remain as Karmic effects, as germs, hanging in the atmosphere of the terrestrial
plane, ready to come to life, as so many avenging fiends, to attach themselves
to the new personality of the Ego when it reincarnates.
ENQUIRER. This really passes my comprehension, and is very difficult to understand.
THEOSOPHIST. Not once that you have assimilated all the details. For then
you will see that for logic, consistency, profound philosophy, divine mercy and
equity, this doctrine of Reincarnation has not its equal on earth. It is a
belief in a perpetual progress for each incarnating Ego, or divine soul, in an
evolution from the outward into the inward, from the material to the Spiritual,
arriving at the end of each stage at absolute unity with the divine Principle.
From strength to strength, from the beauty and perfection of one plane to the
greater beauty and perfection of another, with accessions of new glory, of fresh
knowledge and power in each cycle, such is the destiny of every Ego, which thus
becomes its own Saviour in each world and incarnation.
ENQUIRER. But Christianity teaches the same. It also preaches progression.
THEOSOPHIST. Yes, only with the addition of something else. It tells us
of the impossibility of attaining Salvation without the aid of a
miraculous Saviour, and therefore dooms to perdition all those who will not
accept the dogma. This is just the difference between Christian theology and
Theosophy. The former enforces belief in the Descent of the Spiritual Ego into
the Lower Self; the latter
inculcates the necessity of endeavouring to elevate oneself to the Christos, or
ENQUIRER. By teaching the annihilation of consciousness in case of
failure, however, don’t you think that it amounts to the annihilation of Self,
in the opinion of the non-metaphysical?
THEOSOPHIST. From the standpoint of those who believe in the resurrection
of the body literally, and
insist that every bone, every artery and atom of flesh will be raised bodily on
the Judgment Day—of course it does. If you still insist that it is the
perishable form and finite qualities that make up immortal man, then we
shall hardly understand each other. And if you do not understand that, by
limiting the existence of every Ego to one life on earth, you make of Deity an
ever-drunken Indra of the Puranic dead letter, a cruel Moloch, a god who makes
an inextricable mess on Earth, and yet claims thanks for it, then the sooner we
drop the conversation the better.
ENQUIRER. But let us return, now that the subject of the Skandhas is disposed of, to the question of the consciousness which survives death. This is the point which interests most people. Do we possess more knowledge in Devachan than we do in Earth life?
THEOSOPHIST. In one sense, we can acquire more knowledge; that is, we can
develop further any faculty which we loved and strove after during life,
provided it is concerned with abstract and ideal things, such as music,
painting, poetry, etc., since Devachan is merely an idealized and subjective
continuation of earth-life.
ENQUIRER. But if in Devachan the Spirit is free from matter, why should it not possess all knowledge?
THEOSOPHIST. Because, as I told you, the Ego is, so to say, wedded to the
memory of its last incarnation. Thus, if you think over what I have said, and
string all the facts together, you will realize that the Devachanic state is not
one of omniscience, but a transcendental continuation of the personal life just
terminated. It is the rest of the soul from the toils of life.
ENQUIRER. But the scientific materialists assert that after the death of man nothing remains; that the human body simply disintegrates into its component elements; and that what we call soul is merely a temporary self-consciousness produced as a bye-product of organic action, which will evaporate like steam. Is not theirs a strange state of mind?
THEOSOPHIST. Not strange at all, that I see. If they say that
self-consciousness ceases with the body, then in their case they simply utter an
unconscious prophecy, for once they are firmly convinced of what they assert, no
conscious after-life is possible for them. For there are exceptions to
POST-MORTEM AND POST-NATAL CONSCIOUSNESS
ENQUIRER. But if human self-consciousness survives death as a rule, why should there be exceptions?
THEOSOPHIST. In the fundamental principles of the spiritual world no
exception is possible. But there are rules for those who see, and rules for
those who prefer to remain blind.
ENQUIRER. Quite so, I understand. This is but an aberration of the blind man, who denies the existence of the sun because he does not see it. But after death his spiritual eyes will certainly compel him to see. Is this what you mean?
THEOSOPHIST. He will not be compelled, nor will he see anything. Having
persistently denied during life the continuance of existence after death, he
will be unable to see it, because his spiritual capacity having been stunted in
life, it cannot develop after death, and he will remain blind. By insisting that
he must see it, you evidently mean one thing and I another. You speak
of the spirit from the spirit, or the flame from the flame—of Atma, in
short—and you confuse it with the human soul—Manas… You do not understand
me; let me try to make it clear. The whole gist of your question is to know
whether, in the case of a downright materialist, the complete loss of
self-consciousness and self-perception after death is possible? Isn’t it so? I
answer, It is possible. Because, believing firmly in our Esoteric Doctrine,
which refers to the post-mortem period, or the interval between two
lives or births, as merely a transitory state, I say, whether that interval
between two acts of the illusionary drama of life lasts one year or a million,
that post-mortem state may, without any breach of the fundamental law,
prove to be just the same state as that of a man who is in a dead faint.
ENQUIRER. But since you have just said that the fundamental laws of the after death state admit of no exceptions, how can this be?
THEOSOPHIST. Nor do I say that it does admit of an exception. But the
spiritual law of continuity applies only to things which are truly real. To one
who has read and understood Mundakya Upanishad and Vedanta-Sara all this becomes
very clear. I will say more: it is sufficient to understand what we mean by
Buddhi and the duality of Manas to gain a clear perception why the materialist
may fail to have a self-conscious survival after death. Since Manas, in its
lower aspect, is the seat of the terrestrial mind, it can, therefore, give only
that perception of the Universe which is based on the evidence of that mind; it
cannot give spiritual vision. It is said in the Eastern school, that between
Buddhi and Manas (the Ego), or Iswara and Pragna
there is in reality no more difference than between a forest and its trees,
a lake and its waters, as
the Mundakya teaches. One or hundreds of trees dead from loss of vitality, or
uprooted, are yet incapable of preventing the forest from being still a forest.
ENQUIRER. But, as I understand it, Buddhi represents in this simile the
forest, and Manas-taijasi
the trees. And if Buddha is immortal, how can that which is similar to it, i.e.,
Manas-taijasi, entirely lose its consciousness till the day of its new
incarnation? I cannot understand it.
THEOSOPHIST. You cannot, because you will mix up an abstract
representation of the whole with its casual changes of form. Remember that if it
can be said of Buddhi-Manas that it is unconditionally immortal, the same cannot
be said of the lower Manas, still less of Taijasi, which is merely an attribute.
Neither of these, neither Manas nor Taijasi, can exist apart from Buddhi, the
divine soul, because the first (Manas) is, in its lower
aspect, a qualificative attribute of the terrestrial personality, and the second
(Taijasi) is identical with the first, because it is the same
Manas only with the light of Buddhi reflected on it. In its turn, Buddhi would
remain only an impersonal spirit without this element which it borrows from the
human soul, which conditions and makes of it, in this illusive Universe, as
it were something separate from the universal soul for the whole period of
the cycle of incarnation. Say rather that Buddhi-Manas can neither die
nor lose its compound self-consciousness in Eternity, nor the recollection of
its previous incarnations in which the two—i.e.,
the spiritual and the human soul—had been closely linked together. But it is
not so in the case of a materialist, whose human soul not only receives nothing
from the divine soul, but even refuses to recognise its existence. You can
hardly apply this axiom to the attributes and qualifications of the human soul,
for it would be like saying that because your divine soul is immortal, therefore
the bloom on your cheek must also be immortal; whereas this bloom, like Taijasi,
is simply a transitory phenomenon.
ENQUIRER. Do I understand you to say that we must not mix in our minds the noumenon with the phenomenon, the cause with its effect?
THEOSOPHIST. I do say so, and repeat that, limited to Manas or the human
soul alone, the radiance of Taijasi itself becomes a mere question of time;
because both immortality and consciousness after death become, for the
terrestrial personality of man, simply conditioned attributes, as they depend
entirely on conditions and beliefs created by the human soul itself during the
life of its body. Karma acts incessantly: we reap in our after-life
only the fruit of that which we have ourselves sown in this.
ENQUIRER. But if my Ego can, after the destruction of my body, become plunged in a state of entire unconsciousness, then where can be the punishment for the sins of my past life?
THEOSOPHIST. Our philosophy teaches that Karmic punishment reaches the
Ego only in its next incarnation. After death it receives only the reward for
the unmerited sufferings endured during its past incarnation.
The whole punishment after death, even for the materialist, consists, therefore,
in the absence of any reward, and the utter loss of the consciousness of one’s
bliss and rest. Karma is the child of the terrestrial Ego, the fruit of the
actions of the tree which is the objective personality visible to all, as much
as the fruit of all the thoughts and even motives of the spiritual “I”; but
Karma is also the tender mother, who heals the wounds inflicted by her during
the preceding life, before she will begin to torture this Ego by inflicting upon
him new ones. If it may be said that there is not a mental or physical suffering
in the life of a mortal which is not the direct fruit and consequence of some
sin in a preceding existence; on the other hand, since he does not preserve the
slightest recollection of it in his actual life, and feels himself not deserving
of such punishment, and therefore thinks he suffers for no guilt of his own,
this alone is sufficient to entitle the human soul to the fullest consolation,
rest, and bliss in his post-mortem existence. Death comes to our
spiritual selves ever as a deliverer and friend. For the materialist, who,
notwithstanding his materialism, was not a bad man, the interval between the two
lives will be like the unbroken and placid sleep of a child, either entirely
dreamless, or filled with pictures of which he will have no definite perception;
while for the average mortal it will be a dream as vivid as life, and full of
realistic bliss and visions.
ENQUIRER. Then the personal man must always go on suffering blindly the
Karmic penalties which the Ego has incurred?
THEOSOPHIST. Not quite so. At the solemn moment of death every man, even
when death is sudden, sees the whole of his past life marshalled before him, in
its minutest details. For one short instant the personal becomes one
with the individual and all-knowing Ego. But this instant is
enough to show to him the whole chain of causes which have been at work during
his life. He sees and now understands himself as he is, unadorned by flattery or
self-deception. He reads his life, remaining as a spectator looking down into
the arena he is quitting; he feels and knows the justice of all the suffering
that has overtaken him.
ENQUIRER. Does this happen to everyone?
THEOSOPHIST. Without any exception. Very good and holy men see, we are
taught, not only the life they are leaving, but even several preceding lives in
which were produced the causes that made them what they were in the life just
closing. They recognise the law of Karma in all its majesty and justice.
ENQUIRER. Is there anything corresponding to this before re-birth?
THEOSOPHIST. There is. As the man at the moment of death has a
retrospective insight into the life he has led, so, at the moment he is reborn
on to earth, the Ego, awaking from the state of Devachan, has a
prospective vision of the life which awaits him, and realizes all the causes
that have led to it. He realizes them and sees futurity, because it is between
Devachan and re-birth that the Ego regains his full manasic
consciousness, and re-becomes for a short time the god he was, before, in
compliance with Karmic law, he first descended into matter and incarnated in the
first man of flesh. The “golden thread” sees all its “pearls” and misses
not one of them.
IS REALLY MEANT BY ANNIHILATION
ENQUIRER. I have heard some Theosophists speak of a golden thread on which their lives were strung. What do they mean by this?
THEOSOPHIST. In the Hindu Sacred books it is said that that which
undergoes periodical incarnation is the Sutratma, which means literally
the “Thread Soul.” It is a synonym of the reincarnating Ego—Manas
conjoined with Buddhi—which absorbs the Manasic recollections of all
our preceding lives. It is so called, because, like the pearls on a thread, so
is the long series of human lives strung together on that one thread. In some
Upanishad these recurrent re-births are likened to the life of a mortal which
oscillates periodically between sleep and waking.
ENQUIRER. This, I must say, does not seem very clear, and I will tell you why. For the man who awakes, another day commences, but that man is the same in soul and body as he was the day before; whereas at every incarnation a full change takes place not only of the external envelope, sex, and personality, but even of the mental and psychic capacities. The simile does not seem to me quite correct. The man who arises from sleep remembers quite clearly what he has done yesterday, the day before, and even months and years ago. But none of us has the slightest recollection of a preceding life or of any fact or event concerning it… I may forget in the morning what I have dreamt during the night, still I know that I have slept and have the certainty that I lived during sleep; but what recollection can I have of my past incarnation until the moment of death? How do you reconcile this?
THEOSOPHIST. Some people do recollect their past incarnations during
life; but these are Buddhas and Initiates. This is what the Yogis call
Samma-Sambuddha, or the knowledge of the whole series of one’s past
ENQUIRER. But we ordinary mortals who have not reached Samma-Sambuddha, how are we to understand this simile?
THEOSOPHIST. By studying it and trying to understand more correctly the
characteristics and the three kinds of sleep. Sleep is a general and immutable
law for man as for beast, but there are different kinds of sleep and still more
different dreams and visions.
ENQUIRER. But this takes us to another subject. Let us return to the materialist who, while not denying dreams, which he could hardly do, yet denies immortality in general and the survival of his own individuality.
THEOSOPHIST. And the materialist, without knowing it, is right. One who
has no inner perception of, and faith in, the immortality of his soul, in that
man the soul can never become Buddhi-taijasi, but will remain simply Manas, and
for Manas alone there is no immortality possible. In order to live in the world
to come a conscious life, one has to believe first of all in that life during
the terrestrial existence. On these two aphorisms of the Secret Science all the
philosophy about the post-mortem consciousness and the immortality of
the soul is built. The Ego receives always according to its deserts. After the
dissolution of the body, there commences for it a period of full awakened
consciousness, or a state of chaotic dreams, or an utterly dreamless sleep
undistinguishable from annihilation, and these are the three kinds of sleep. If
our physiologists find the cause of dreams and visions in an unconscious
preparation for them during the waking hours, why cannot the same be admitted
for the post-mortem dreams? I repeat it: death is sleep.
After death, before the spiritual eyes of the soul, begins a performance
according to a programme learnt and very often unconsciously composed by
ourselves: the practical carrying out of correct beliefs or of
illusions which have been created by ourselves. The Methodist will be Methodist,
the Mussulman a Mussulman, at least for some time—in a perfect fool’s
paradise of each man’s creation and making. These are the post-mortem fruits
of the tree of life. Naturally, our belief or unbelief in the fact of conscious
immortality is unable to influence the unconditioned reality of the fact itself,
once that it exists; but the belief or unbelief in that immortality as the
property of independent or separate entities, cannot fail to give colour to that
fact in its application to each of these entities. Now do you begin to
ENQUIRER. I think I do. The materialist, disbelieving in everything that cannot be proven to him by his five senses, or by scientific reasoning, based exclusively on the data furnished by these senses in spite of their inadequacy, and rejecting every spiritual manifestation, accepts life as the only conscious existence. Therefore according to their beliefs so will it be unto them. They will lose their personal Ego, and will plunge into a dreamless sleep until a new awakening. Is it so?
THEOSOPHIST. Almost so. Remember the practically universal teaching of
the two kinds of conscious existence: the terrestrial and the spiritual. The
latter must be considered real from the very fact that it is inhabited by the
eternal, changeless and immortal Monad; whereas the incarnating Ego dresses
itself up in new garments entirely different from those of its previous
incarnations, and in which all except its spiritual prototype is doomed to a
change so radical as to leave no trace behind.
ENQUIRER. How so? Can my conscious terrestrial “I” perish not only for a time, like the consciousness of the materialist, but so entirely as to leave no trace behind?
THEOSOPHIST. According to the teaching, it must so perish and in its
fullness, all except the principle which, having united itself with the Monad,
has thereby become a purely spiritual and indestructible essence, one with it in
the Eternity. But in the case of an out-and-out materialist, in whose personal
no Buddhi has ever reflected itself, how can the latter carry away into the
Eternity one particle of that terrestrial personality? Your spiritual “I” is
immortal; but from your present self it can carry away into Eternity that only
which has become worthy of immortality, namely, the aroma alone of the flower
that has been mown by death.
ENQUIRER. Well, and the flower, the terrestrial “I”?
THEOSOPHIST. The flower, as all past and future flowers which have
blossomed and will have to blossom on the mother bough, the Sutratma,
all children of one root or Buddhi—will return to dust. Your present
“I,” as you yourself know, is not the body now sitting before me, nor yet is
it what I would call Manas-Sutratma, but Sutratma-Buddhi.
ENQUIRER. But this does not explain to me, at all, why you call life
after death immortal, infinite and real, and the terrestrial life a simple
phantom or illusion; since even that post-mortem life has limits,
however much wider they may be than those of terrestrial life.
THEOSOPHIST. No doubt. The spiritual Ego of man moves in eternity like a
pendulum between the hours of birth and death. But if these hours, marking the
periods of life terrestrial and life spiritual, are limited in their duration,
and if the very number of such stages in Eternity between sleep and awakening,
illusion and reality, has its beginning and its end, on the other hand, the
spiritual pilgrim is eternal. Therefore are the hours of his post-mortem life,
when, disembodied, he stands face to face with truth and not the mirages of his
transitory earthly existences, during the period of that pilgrimage which we
call “the cycle of re-births”—the only reality in our conception. Such
intervals, their limitation notwithstanding, do not prevent the Ego, while ever
perfecting itself, from following undeviatingly, though gradually and slowly,
the path to its last transformation, when that Ego, having reached its goal,
becomes a divine being. These intervals and stages help towards this final
result instead of hindering it; and without such limited intervals the divine
Ego could never reach its ultimate goal. I have given you once already a
familiar illustration by comparing the Ego, or the individuality, to an actor, and its numerous and various incarnations to
the parts it plays. Will you call these parts or their costumes the
individuality of the actor himself? Like that actor, the Ego is forced to play
during the cycle of necessity, up to the very threshold of Parinirvana,
many parts such as may be unpleasant to it. But as the bee collects its
honey from every flower, leaving the rest as food for the earthly worms, so does
our spiritual individuality, whether we call it Sutratma or Ego. Collecting from
every terrestrial personality, into which Karma forces it to incarnate, the
nectar alone of the spiritual qualities and self-consciousness, it unites all
these into one whole and emerges from its chrysalis as the glorified Dhyan
Chohan. So much the worse for those terrestrial personalities from which it
could collect nothing. Such personalities cannot assuredly outlive consciously
their terrestrial existence.
ENQUIRER. Thus, then, it seems that, for the terrestrial personality,
immortality is still conditional. Is, then, immortality itself not
THEOSOPHIST. Not at all. But immortality cannot touch the non-existent:
for all that which exists as SAT, or emanates from SAT, immortality and Eternity
are absolute. Matter is the opposite pole of spirit, and yet the two are one.
The essence of all this, i.e., Spirit, Force and Matter, or the three
in one, is as endless as it is beginningless; but the form acquired by this
triple unity during its incarnations, its externality, is certainly only the
illusion of our personal conceptions. Therefore do we call Nirvana and the
Universal life alone a reality, while relegating the terrestrial life, its
terrestrial personality included, and even its Devachanic existence, to the
phantom realm of illusion.
ENQUIRER. But why in such a case call sleep the reality, and waking the illusion?
THEOSOPHIST. It is simply a comparison made to facilitate the grasping of
the subject, and from the standpoint of terrestrial conceptions it is a very
ENQUIRER. And still I cannot understand, if the life to come is based on justice and the merited retribution for all our terrestrial suffering, how in the case of materialists, many of whom are really honest and charitable men, there should remain of their personality nothing but the refuse of a faded flower.
THEOSOPHIST. No one ever said such a thing. No materialist, however
unbelieving, can die for ever in the fullness of his spiritual individuality.
What was said is that consciousness can disappear either fully or partially in
the case of a materialist, so that no conscious remains of his personality
ENQUIRER. But surely this is annihilation?
THEOSOPHIST. Certainly not. One can sleep a dead sleep and miss several
stations during a long railway journey, without the slightest recollection or
consciousness, and awake at another station and continue the journey past
innumerable other halting-places till the end of the journey or the goal is
reached. Three kinds of sleep were mentioned to you: the dreamless, the chaotic,
and the one which is so real, that to the sleeping man his dreams become full
realities. If you believe in the latter why can’t you believe in the former;
according to the after life a man has believed in and expected, such is the life
he will have. He who expected no life to come will have an absolute blank,
amounting to annihilation, in the interval between the two re-births. This is
just the carrying out of the programme we spoke of, a programme created by the
materialists themselves. But there are various kinds of materialists, as you
say. A selfish, wicked Egoist, one who never shed a tear for anyone but himself,
thus adding entire indifference to the whole world to his unbelief, must, at the
threshold of death, drop his personality for ever. This personality having no
tendrils of sympathy for the world around and hence nothing to hook on to
Sutratma, it follows that with the last breath every connection between the two
is broken. There being no Devachan for such a materialist, the Sutratma will
re-incarnate almost immediately. But those materialists who erred in nothing but
their disbelief will oversleep but one station. And the time will come when that
ex-materialist will perceive himself in the Eternity and perhaps repent that he
lost even one day, one station, from the life eternal.
ENQUIRER. Still, would it not be more correct to say that death is birth into a new life, or a return once more into eternity?
THEOSOPHIST. You may if you like. Only remember that births differ, and
that there are births of “still-born” beings, which are failures of
nature. Moreover, with your Western fixed ideas about material life, the words
“living” and “being” are quite inapplicable to the pure subjective state
of post-mortem existence. It is just because, save in a few
philosophers who are not read by the many, and who themselves are too confused
to present a distinct picture of it, it is just because your Western ideas of
life and death have finally become so narrow, that on the one hand they have led
to crass materialism, and on the other, to the still more material conception of
the other life, which the spiritualists have formulated in their Summer-land.
There the souls of men eat, drink, marry, and live in a paradise quite as
sensual as that of Mohammed, but even less philosophical. Nor are the average
conceptions of the uneducated Christians any better, being if possible still
more material. What between truncated angels, brass trumpets, golden harps, and
material hell-fires, the Christian heaven seems like a fairy scene at a
It is because of these narrow conceptions that you find such difficulty
in understanding. It is just because the life of the disembodied soul, while
possessing all the vividness of reality, as in certain dreams, is devoid of
every grossly objective form of terrestrial life, that the Eastern philosophers
have compared it with visions during sleep.
WORDS FOR DEFINITE THINGS
ENQUIRER. Don’t you think it is because there are no definite and fixed terms to indicate each “Principle” in man, that such a confusion of ideas arises in our minds with respect to the respective functions of these “Principles”?
THEOSOPHIST. I have thought of it myself. The whole trouble has arisen
from this: we have started our expositions of, and discussion about, the
“Principles,” using their Sanskrit names instead of coining immediately, for
the use of Theosophists, their equivalents in English. We must try and remedy
ENQUIRER. You will do well, as it may avoid further confusion; no two theosophical writers, it seems to me, have hitherto agreed to call the same “Principle” by the same name.
THEOSOPHIST. The confusion is more apparent than real, however. I have
heard some of our Theosophists express surprise at, and criticize several essays
speaking of these “principles”; but, when examined, there was no worse
mistake in them than that of using the word “Soul” to cover the three
principles without specifying the distinctions. The first, as positively the
clearest of our Theosophical writers, Mr. A. P. Sinnett, has some comprehensive
and admirably-written passages on the “Higher Self.” (Vide
Transactions of the “LONDON LODGE of the Theos. Soc.,” No.
7, Oct., 1885.) His real idea has also been misconceived by some, owing to his
using the word “Soul” in a general sense. Yet here are a few passages which
will show to you how clear and comprehensive is all that he writes on the
… “The human soul, once launched on the streams of evolution as a
human individuality, passes through alternate
periods of physical and relatively spiritual existence. It passes from the one
plane, or stratum, or condition of nature to the other under the guidance of its
Karmic affinities; living in incarnations the life which its Karma has
pre-ordained; modifying its progress within the limitations of circumstances,
and,—developing fresh Karma by its use or abuse of opportunities,—it returns
to spiritual existence (Devachan) after each physical life,—
through the intervening region of Kamaloca—for rest and refreshment and
for the gradual absorption into its essence, as so much cosmic progress, of the
life’s experience gained “on earth” or during physical existence. This
view of the matter will, moreover, have suggested many collateral inferences to
anyone thinking over the subject; for instance, that the transfer of
consciousness from the Kamaloka to the Devachanic stage of this progression
would necessarily be gradual;
that in truth, no hard-and-fast line separates the varieties of spiritual
conditions, that even the spiritual and physical planes, as psychic faculties in
living people show, are not so hopelessly walled off from one another as
materialistic theories would suggest; that all states of nature are all around
us simultaneously, and appeal to different perceptive faculties; and so on… It
is clear that during physical existence people who possess psychic faculties
remain in connection with the planes of superphysical consciousness; and
although most people may not be endowed with such faculties, we all, as the
phenomena of sleep, even, and especially… those of somnambulism or mesmerism,
show, are capable of entering into conditions of consciousness that the five
physical senses have nothing to do with. We—the souls within us—are not as
it were altogether adrift in the ocean of matter. We clearly retain some
surviving interest or rights in the shore from which, for a time, we have
floated off. The process of incarnation, therefore, is not fully described when
we speak of an alternate existence on the physical and spiritual
planes, and thus picture the soul as a complete entity slipping entirely from
the one state of existence to the other. The more correct definitions of the
process would probably represent incarnation as taking place on this physical
plane of nature by reason of an efflux emanating from the soul. The Spiritual
realm would all the while be the proper habitat of the Soul, which would never
entirely quit it; and that non-materializable portion of the Soul
which abides permanently on the spiritual plane may fitly,
perhaps, be spoken of as the HIGHER SELF.”
This “Higher Self” is ATMA, and of course it is
“non-materializable,” as Mr. Sinnett says. Even more, it can never be
“objective” under any circumstances, even to the highest spiritual
perception. For Atman or the “Higher Self” is really Brahma, the
ABSOLUTE, and indistinguishable from it. In hours of Samadhi,
the higher spiritual consciousness of the Initiate is entirely absorbed in
the ONE essence, which is Atman, and therefore, being one with the whole, there
can be nothing objective for it. Now some of our Theosophists have got into the
habit of using the words “Self” and “Ego” as synonymous, of associating
the term “Self” with only man’s higher individual or even personal
“Self” or Ego, whereas this term ought never to be applied except to
the One universal Self. Hence the
confusion. Speaking of Manas, the “causal body,” we may call it—when
connecting it with the Buddhic radiance—the “HIGHER EGO,” never the
“Higher Self.” For even Buddhi, the “Spiritual Soul,” is not the SELF,
but the vehicle only of SELF. All the other “Selves”—such as the
“Individual” self and “personal” self—ought never to be spoken or
written of without their qualifying and characteristic adjectives.
Thus in this most excellent essay on the “Higher Self,” this term is
applied to the sixth principle or Buddhi (of course in
conjunction with Manas, as without such union there would be no thinking principle
or element in the spiritual soul); and has in consequence given rise to just
such misunderstandings. The statement that “a child does not acquire its sixth
principle—or become a morally responsible being capable of generating
Karma—until seven years old,” proves what is meant therein by the HIGHER
SELF. Therefore, the able author is quite justified in explaining that after the
“Higher Self” has passed into the human being and saturated the
personality—in some of the finer organizations only—with its consciousness
“people with psychic faculties may indeed perceive this Higher Self through
their finer senses from time to time.” But so are those, who limit the term
“Higher Self” to the Universal Divine Principle, “justified” in
misunderstanding him. For, when we read, without being prepared for this
shifting of metaphysical terms,
that while “fully manifesting on the physical plane… the Higher Self still
remains a conscious spiritual Ego on the corresponding plane of Nature”—we
are apt to see in the “Higher Self” of this sentence, “Atma,” and in the
spiritual Ego, “Manas,” or rather Buddhi-Manas, and forthwith to
criticise the whole thing as incorrect.
To avoid henceforth such misapprehensions, I propose to translate
literally from the Occult Eastern terms their equivalents in English, and offer
these for future use.
The remaining “Principle” “Prana,” or “Life,” is,
strictly speaking, the radiating force or Energy of Atma—as the Universal Life
and the ONE SELF,—ITS lower or rather (in its effects) more physical, because
manifesting, aspect. Prana or Life permeates the whole being of the objective
Universe; and is called a “principle” only because it is an indispensable
factor and the deus ex machina of the living man.
ENQUIRER. This division being so much simplified in its combinations will answer better, I believe. The other is much too metaphysical.
THEOSOPHIST. If outsiders as well as Theosophists would agree to it, it
would certainly make matters much more comprehensible.
“Some things that I do know of Spiritualism
and some that I do not.”
A few portions of this chapter and of the preceding
were published in Lucifer in the shape of a “Dialogue on the
Mysteries of After Life,” in the January number, 1889. The article was
unsigned, as if it were written by the editor, but it came from the pen of
the author of the present volume.
Iswara is the collective consciousness of the
manifested deity, Brahma, i.e., the
collective consciousness of the Host of Dhyan Chohans (vide SECRET
DOCTRINE); and Pragna is their individual wisdom.
the radiant in consequence of its union with Buddhi; i.e., Manas,
the human soul, illuminated by the radiance of the divine soul. Therefore,
Manas-taijasi may be described as radiant mind; the human reason
lit by the light of the spirit; and Buddhi-Manas is the revelation of the
divine plus human intellect and self-consciousness.
Some Theosophists have taken exception to this phrase,
but the words are those of Master, and the meaning attached to the word
“unmerited” is that given above. In the T. P. S. pamphlet No. 6, a
phrase, criticised subsequently in LUCIFER, was used which was intended to
convey the same idea. In form, however, it was awkward and open to the
criticism directed against it; but the essential idea was that men often
suffer from the effects of the actions done by others, effects which thus do
not strictly belong to their own Karma—and for these sufferings they of
course deserve compensation.
The “re-incarnating Ego,” or “Human Soul,” as
he called it, the Causal Body with the Hindus.
The length of this “transfer” depends, however, on
the degree of spirituality in the ex-personality of the disembodied Ego. For
those whose lives were very spiritual this transfer, though gradual, is very
rapid. The time becomes longer with the materialistically inclined.
“Shifting of Metaphysical terms” applies
here only to the shifting of their translated equivalents from the Eastern
expressions; for to this day there never existed any such terms in English,
every Theosophist having to coin his own terms to render his thought. It is
nigh time, then, to settle on some definite nomenclature.