Death And After

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Death And After

By Annie Besant


Among the various conceptions presented by the Esoteric Philosophy, there are few, perhaps, which the Western mind has found more difficulty in grasping than that of Devachan, or Devasthan, the Devaland, or land of the Gods.

[The name Sukhavati, borrowed from Tibetan Buddhism, is sometimes used instead of that of Devachan. Sukhavati, according to Schlagintweit, is “the abode of the blessed, into which ascend those who have accumulated much merit by the practice of virtues” and “involves the deliverance from metempsychosis” (Buddhism in Tibet, p. 99). According to the Prasanga school, the higher Path leads to Nirvana, the lower to Sukhavati. But Eitel calls Sukhavati the “Nirvana of the common people, where the saints revel in physical bliss for eons, until they reenter the circle of transmigration” (‘Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary’). Eitel, however, under “Amitabha” states that the “popular mind” regards the “paradise of the West” as “the haven of final redemption from the eddies of transmigration”. When used by one of the Teachers of the Esoteric Philosophy it covers the higher Devachanic states, but from all of these the Soul comes back to earth.] 

And one of the chief difficulties [Page 52] has arisen from the free use of the words illusion, dream-state, and other similar terms, as denoting the devachanic consciousness – a general sense of unreality having thus come to pervade the whole conception of Devachan. When the Eastern thinker speaks of the present earthly life as Maya, illusion, dream, the solid Western at once puts down the phrases as allegorical and fanciful, for what can be less illusory, he thinks, than this world of buying and selling, of beefsteaks and bottled stout. But when similar terms are applied to a state beyond Death – a state which to him is misty and unreal in his own religion, and which, as he sadly feels, is lacking in all the substantial comforts dear to the family man – then he accepts the words in their most literal and prosaic meaning, and speaks of Devachan as a delusion in his own sense of the word. It may be well, therefore, on the threshold of Devachan to put this question of “illusion” in its true light.

In a deep metaphysical sense all that is conditioned is illusory. All phenomena are literally “appearances”, the outer masks in which the One Reality shows itself forth in our changing universe. The more “material” and solid the appearance, the further it is from Reality, and therefore the more illusory it is. What can be a greater fraud than our body, so apparently solid, stable, [Page 53] visible and tangible? It is a constantly changing congeries of minute living particles, an attractive centre into which stream continually myriads of tiny invisibles, that becomes visible by their aggregation at this centre, and then stream away again, becoming invisible by reason of their minuteness as they separate off from this aggregation. In comparison with this ever-shifting but apparently stable body how much less illusory is the mind, which is able to expose the pretensions of the body and put it in its true light. The mind is constantly imposed on by the senses, and Consciousness, the most real thing in us, is apt to regard itself as the unreal. In truth, it is the thought-world that is the nearest to reality, and things become more and more illusory as they take on more and more of a phenomenal character. 

Again, the mind is permanent as compared with the transitory physical world. For the “mind” is only a clumsy name for the living Thinker in us, the true and conscious Entity, the inner Man, “that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour shall never strike”. The less deeply this inner Man is plunged into matter, the less unreal is his life; and when he has shaken off the garments he donned at incarnation, his physical, ethereal, and passional bodies, then he is nearer to the Soul of Things than he was before, and though veils of [Page 54] illusion still dim his vision they are far thinner than those which clouded it when round him was wrapped the garment of the flesh. His freer and less illusory life is that which is without the body, and the disembodied is, comparatively speaking, his normal state. Out of this normal state he plunges into physical life for brief periods in order that he may gain experiences otherwise unattainable, and bring them back to enrich his more abiding condition. As a diver may plunge into the depths of the ocean to seek a pearl, so the Thinker plunges into the depths of the ocean of life to seek the pearl of experience; but he does not stay there long; it is not his own element; he rises up again into his own atmosphere and shakes off from him the heavier element he leaves. And therefore it is truly said of the Soul that has escaped from earth that it has returned to its own place, for its home is the “land of the Gods”, and here on earth it is an exile and a prisoner. This view was very clearly put by a Master of Wisdom in a conversation reported by H. P. Blavatsky, and printed under the title “Life and Death”.[ See "Lucifer" of October 1882, Volume 11, No. 62 ] The following extracts state the case: 

The Vedântins, acknowledging two kinds of conscious existence, the terrestrial and the spiritual, point only to the [Page 55] latter as an undoubted actuality. As to the terrestrial life, owing to its changeability and shortness, it is nothing but an illusion of our senses. Our life in the spiritual spheres must be thought an actuality because it is there that lives our endless, never-changing immortal I, the Sutratma. Whereas in every new incarnation it clothes itself in a perfectly different personality, a temporary and short-lived one …. The very essence of all this, that is to say, spirit, force, and matter, has neither end nor beginning, but the shape acquired by this triple unity during its incarnations, their exterior, so to speak, is nothing but a mere illusion of personal conceptions. This is why we call the posthumous life the only reality, and the terrestrial one, including the personality itself, only imaginary.

Why in this case should we call the reality sleep, and the phantasm waking? This comparison was made by me to facilitate your comprehension. From the standpoint of your terrestrial notions it is perfectly accurate.

Note the words: “From the standpoint of your terrestrial notions”, for they are the key to all the phrases used about Devachan as an “illusion”. Our gross physical matter is not there; the limitations imposed by it are not there; the mind is in its own realm, where to will is to create, where to think is to see. And so, when the Master was asked: “Would it not [Page 56] be better to say that death is nothing but a birth for a new life, or still better, a going back to eternity?” he answered:

This is how it really is, and I have nothing to say against such a way of putting it. Only with our accepted views of material life the words “live” and “exist” are not applicable to the purely subjective condition after death; and were they employed in our Philosophy without a rigid definition of their meanings, the Vedântins would soon arrive at the ideas which are common in our times among the American Spiritualists, who preach about spirits marrying among themselves and with mortals. As amongst the true, not nominal, Christians so amongst the Vedantins – the life on the other side of the grave is the land where there are no tears, no sighs, where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, and where the just realise their full perfection. 
The dread of materialising mental and spiritual conceptions has always been very strong among the Philosophers and oral Teachers of the far East. Their constant effort has been to free the Thinker as far as possible from the bonds of matter even while he is embodied, to open the cage for the Divine Swallow, even though he must return to it for awhile, They are ever seeking “to spiritualise the material”, while in the West the continual tendency has been [Page 57] “to materialise the spiritual”. So the Indian describes the life of the freed Soul in all the terms that make it least material – illusion, dream, and so on – whereas the Hebrew endeavours to delineate it in terms descriptive of the material luxury and splendour of earth – marriage feast, streets of gold, thrones and crowns of solid metal and precious stones; the Western has followed the materialising conceptions of the Hebrew, and pictures a heaven which is merely a double of earth with earth’s sorrows extracted, until we reach the grossest of all, the modern Summerland, with its “spirit-husbands”, “spiritwives”, and “spirit-infants” that go to school and college, and grow up into spirit-adults.

In “Notes on Devachan”, [ "The Path" , May 1890 ] someone who evidently writes with knowledge remarks of the Devachani:

The a priori ideas of space and time do not control his perceptions; for he absolutely creates and annihilates them at the same time. Physical existence has its cumulative intensity from infancy to prime, and its diminishing energy from dotage to death; so the dream-life of Devachan is lived correspondentially. Nature cheats no more the Devachani than she does the living physical man. Nature provides for him far more real bliss and happiness there than she does here, [Page 58] where all the conditions of evil and chance are against him. To call the Devachan existence a “dream” in any other sense than that of a conventional term, is to renounce for ever the knowledge of the Esoteric Doctrine, the sole custodian of truth.

“Dream” only in the sense that it is not of this plane of gross matter, that it belongs not to the physical world. 

Let us try and take a general view of the life of the Eternal Pilgrim, the inner Man, the human Soul, during a cycle of incarnation. Before he commences his new pilgrimage – for many pilgrimages lie behind him in the past, during which he gained the powers which enable him to tread the present one – he is a spiritual Being, but one who has already passed out of the passive condition of pure Spirit, and who by previous experience of matter in past ages has evolved intellect, the self-conscious mind. But this evolution by experience is far from being complete, even so far as to make him master of matter; his ignorance leaves him a prey to all the illusions of gross matter, so soon as he comes into contact with it, and he is not fit to be a builder of a universe, being subject to the deceptive visions caused by gross matter – as a child, looking through a piece of blue glass, imagines all the outside world to be blue. [Page 59] The object of a cycle of incarnation is to free him from these illusions, so that when he is surrounded by and working in gross matter he may retain clear vision and not be blinded by illusion. Now the cycle of incarnation is made up of two alternating states: a short one called life on earth, during which the Pilgrim-God is plunged into gross matter, and a comparatively long one, called life in Devachan, during which he is encircled by subtle matter, illusive still, but far less illusive than that of earth. The second state may fairly be called his normal one, as it is of enormous extent as compared with the breaks in it that he spends upon earth; it is comparatively normal also, as being less removed from his essential Divine life; he is less encased in matter, less deluded by its swiftly-changing appearances. Slowly and gradually, by reiterated experiences, gross matter loses its power over him and becomes his servant instead of his tyrant. In the partial freedom of Devachan he assimilates his experiences on earth, still partly dominated by them – at first, indeed, almost completely dominated by them so that the devachanic life is merely a sublimated continuation of the earth-life – but gradually freeing himself more and more as he recognises them as transitory and external, until he can move through any [Page 60] region of our universe with unbroken self-consciousness, a true Lord of Mind, the free and triumphant God. Such is the triumph of the Divine Nature manifested in the flesh, the subduing of every form of matter to be the obedient instrument of Spirit. Thus the Master said:

The spiritual Ego of the man moves in eternity like a pendulum between the hours of life and death, but if these hours, the periods of life terrestrial and life posthumous, are limited in their continuation, and even the very number of such breaks in eternity between sleep and waking, between illusion and reality, have their beginning as well as their end, the spiritual Pilgrim himself is eternal. Therefore the hours of his posthumous life, when unveiled he stands face to face with truth, and the short-lived mirages of his terrestrial existence are far from him, compose or make up, in our ideas, the only reality. Such breaks, in spite of the fact that they are finite, do double service to the Sutratma, which, perfecting itself constantly, follows without vacillation, though very slowly the road leading to its last transformation, when, reaching its aim at last, it becomes a Divine Being. They not only contribute to the reaching of this goal, but without these finite breaks Sutratma-Buddhi could never reach it. Sutratma is the actor, and its numerous and different incarnations are the actor’s parts. I suppose you would not apply to these parts, and so much the less to their costumes, the term of personality. [Page 61] Like an actor the soul is bound to play; during the cycle of births up to the very threshold of Parinirvana, many such parts, which often are disagreeable to it, but like a bee, collecting its honey from every flower, and leaving the rest to feed the worms of the earth, our spiritual individuality, the Sutratma, collecting only the nectar of moral qualities and consciousness from every terrestrial personality in which it has to clothe itself, forced by Karma, unites at last all these qualities in one, having then become a perfect being, a Dhyan Chohan [ "The Path", May 1890 ]

It is very significant, in this connection, that every devachanic stage is conditioned by the earth-stage that precedes it, and the Man can only assimilate in Devachan the kinds of experience he has been gathering on earth.

A colourless, flavourless personality has a colourless, feeble devachanic state.[ "Notes on Devachan", as cited ] 

Husband, father, student, patriot, artist, Christian, Buddhist – he must work out the effects of his earth-life in his devachanic life; he cannot eat and assimilate more food than he has gathered; he cannot reap more harvest than he has sown seed. It takes but a moment to cast a seed into a furrow; it takes many a month for that seed to grow into the ripened ear; but [Page 62] according to the kind of the seed is the ear that grows from it, and according to the nature of the brief earth-life is the grain reaped in the field of Aanroo.

There is a change of occupation, a continual change in Devachan, just as much and far more than there is in the life of any man or woman who happens to follow in his or her whole life one sole occupation, whatever it may be, with this difference, that to the Devachani this spiritual occupation is always pleasant and fills his life with rapture. Life in Devachan is the function of the aspirations of earth-life; not the indefinite prolongation of that “single instance”, but its infinite developments, the various incidents and events based upon and outflowing from that one “single moment” or moments. The dreams of the objective become the realities of the subjective existence . . . The reward provided by Nature for men who are benevolent in a large systematic way, and who have not focused their affections on an individual or speciality, is that, if pure, they pass the quicker for that through the Kama and Rupa Lokas into the higher sphere of Tribhuvana, since it is one where the formulation of abstract ideas and the consideration of general principles fill the thought of its occupant [ “Notes on Devachan”, as before. There are a variety of stages in Devachan; the Rupa Loka is an inferior stage, where the Soul is still surrounded by forms. It has escaped from these personalities in the Tribhuvana.] [Page 63]

Into Devachan enters nothing that defileth, for gross matter has been left behind with all its attributes on earth and in Kamaloka. But if the sower has sowed but little seed, the devachanic harvest will be meager, and the growth of the Soul will be delayed by the paucity of the nutriment on which it has to feed. Hence the enormous importance of the earth-life, the field of sowing, the place where experience is to be gathered. It conditions, regulates, limits, the growth of the Soul; it yields the rough ore which the Soul then takes in hand, and works upon during the devachanic stage, smelting it, forging it, tempering it, into the weapons it will take back with it for its next earth-life. The experienced Soul in Devachan will make for itself a splendid instrument for its next earth-life; the inexperienced one will forge a poor blade enough; but in each case the only material available is that brought from earth. In Devachan the Soul, as it were, sifts and sorts out its experiences; it lives a comparatively free life, and gradually gains the power to estimate the earthly experiences at their real value; it works out thoroughly and completely as objective realities all the ideas of which it only conceived the germ on earth. Thus, noble aspiration is a germ which the Soul would work out into a splendid realisation in Devachan, and [Page 64] it would bring back with it to earth for its next incarnation that mental image, to be materialised on earth when opportunity offers and suitable environment presents itself. For the mind sphere is the sphere of creation, and earth only the place for materialising the pre-existent thought. And the soul is as an architect that works out his plans in silence and deep meditation, and then brings them forth into the outer world where his edifice is to be builded; out of the knowledge gained in his past life, the Soul draws his plans far the next, and he returns to earth to put into objective material form the edifices he has planned. This is the description of a Logos in creative activity:

Whilst Brahma formerly, in the beginning of the Kalpas, was meditating on creation, there appeared a creation beginning with ignorance and consisting of darkness. … Brahma, beholding that it was defective, designed another; and whilst he thus meditated, the animal creation was manifested. … Beholding this creation also imperfect, Brahma again meditated, and a third creation appeared, abounding with the quality of goodness. [Vishnu Purana, Book 1, Chapter 5 ]

The objective manifestation follows the mental meditation; first idea, then form. Hence it will be seen that the notion current among many Theosophists that Devachan is waste time, is but one of the illusions due to the gross matter that blinds them, and that their impatience of the idea of Devachan arises from the [Page 65] delusion that fussing about in gross matter is the only real activity. Whereas, in truth, all effective action has its source in deep meditation, and out of the Silence comes ever the creative Word. Action on this plane would be less feeble and inefficient if it were the mere blossom of the profound root of meditation, and if the Soul embodied passed oftener out of the body into Devachan during earth-life, there would be less foolish action and consequent waste of time. For Devachan is a state of consciousness, the consciousness of the Soul escaped for awhile from the net of gross matter, and may be entered at any time by one who has learned to withdraw his Soul from the senses as the tortoise withdraws itself within its shell. And then, coming forth once more, action is prompt, direct, purposeful, and the time “wasted” in meditation is more than saved by the directness and strength of the mindengendered act.

Devachan is the sphere of the mind, as said, it is the land of the Gods, or the Souls. In the before quoted “Notes on Devachan” we read:

There are two fields of causal manifestations: the objective and the subjective. The grosser energies find their outcome in the new personality of each birth in the cycle of evoluting individuality. The moral and spiritual activities find their sphere of effects in Devachan. [Page 66]

As the moral and spiritual activities are the most important, and as on the development of these depends the growth of the true Man, and therefore the accomplishing of “the object of creation, the liberation of Soul”, we may begin to understand something of the vast importance of the devachanic state. 



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