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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

Teachings on Life After Death

We take up the third of our Studies in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, and this particular branch of study we are going to do is a part of the teachings on life after death — than which, as we Theosophists think, there is nothing more important for humanity to gain an insight into, at a time when the world is over-ridden by the activity of probably more than twenty-five million Spiritualists: viz., those who are concerned to a greater or lesser degree with what the Mahatmas have called "the cult of the Worship of the Dead."

I think that we may take it that we are not wrong in attributing so much importance to this branch of our teaching, in so far as we find that such a vast amount of space in the early teachings was devoted to this particular subject; and nowhere else in the whole range of occult literature will you find so complete an explanation of man's progress and what happens to him after he casts aside this temporary physical body. It tells us the nature of man; what he is in his inner composite being, made up of many entities held together by one dominating individuality.

The Theosophist looks at this vast problem — the mystery of death — from a viewpoint entirely different naturally from the orthodox Church conception, which is unenlightened by these Ancient Teachings. Right at the beginning we have a statement made by one of the writers of these letters which strikes a note which is clean out of reach of ordinary thought upon such subjects. Here it is:

Those who know they are dead in their physical bodies (we quote from page 128) — can only be either adepts or — sorcerers; and these two are the exceptions to the general rule.
Many people think, having their preconceptions and their ideas colored by the notions of modern spiritualism, that a man when he dies simply steps aside from his body and enters into a wider, freer range of life: stronger and freer for the loss of the dead weight of the material body. But this is not the teaching of Theosophy, and never has been. Here is this challenging statement: that average human beings, normal human beings who have led ordinary sorts of lives, are not aware that they are dead when they pass into the great sphere of effects that in the Roman Catholic teaching they speak of as "the purgatorial regions," and which in Sanskrit terminology is called the Kama-loka, the region of desire. When the entity enters there he is already bereft not only of his body, but also of the magnetic framework of astral matter upon which his body was built — the substance that the Spiritualist refers to as ectoplasm; and he loses also the life principle which animates these two lower principles; all three of them together fade away after the destruction of the physical body.

And now you have left a fourfold entity that enters into this region of Kama-loka — this sphere of desire; and the Master tells us that they are not conscious there to begin with, and that only those who have progressed far upon the Path of Occultism whether white or black — retain their sense of identity and continuity of consciousness when they enter into this sphere, and where they still remember themselves in their ego, so to say as "I am I." Now this is a strange statement, and I shall have again to return to it because one of the aspects of the problem of immortality is bound up with this conception.

And now the writer goes on to elaborate this idea a little:

Both [i. e., the adept and the sorcerer] having been "co-workers with nature," the former for good, the latter — for bad, in her work of creation and in that of destruction, they are the only ones who may be called immortal in the Kabalistic and the esoteric sense of course.
I wonder how you would define immortality to yourself if you were to sit down and think about it? Here again the Theosophist regards immortality in quite a different way from the ordinary person. We believe in and affirm the immortality of the higher, divine part of man's nature — declare in fact that it is an immortal entity; but that which in the real sense of the word may truly be called Man — Manas, the thinker — is this immortal? It is only, in Theosophical parlance, conditionally immortal. In other words that you and I on our pathway through earth life are called upon so to run the race of human life and destiny that we shall succeed in merging our human, thinking soul — our Human Ego — with that immortal, divine counterpart whose ray lightens and inspires us during earth life. When we shall succeed in doing that, then during life here on earth we become in the Esoteric and Kabalistic sense immortal entities. Here is the Master's definition: "Complete or true immortality — which means an unlimited sentient existence, can have no breaks and stoppages, no arrest of Self-consciousness." This means that every moment of the night and day, waking or sleeping, the Adept is fully aware of his identity — his consciousness to his own reflective self is awake. When he lays his body down to sleep at night he steps aside from it, and leaves it there like a garment you put on a chair before getting into bed. But he retains his self-consciousness, steps aside as a conscious being, and because he has won this power during life (and remember it is only during life that we can win these powers) so he has it after death; so he is able when the hour comes, the moment of destiny when an incarnation closes, to enter with just the same confidence into that region of Kama-loka and to transcend it and go beyond it, because he has won his immortality during life. Such a being was H. P. B. — she to whom we owe the teachings that have inspired the modern Theosophical movement since its inception in 1875. She has a very telling and very interesting phrase on p. 38 of her Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett where she hopes that a certain Mrs. Gordon

will not dishonour by evoking me with some medium. Let her rest assured that it will never be my spirit nor anything of me — not even my shell since this is gone long ago.
The "shell" is of course the cast-off vessel of psychic emanations or remains, which is the chief inspirer of the majority of mediums in the spiritualistic seances. On that subject we shall have more to say in our next study on "Spiritualism and Psychic Phenomena." But I wanted to refer to this statement that her shell had gone long ago. This can but open our minds and enlarge our vision in certain respects as to what we have to do if we are ever going to begin to tread the same path that she and the Mahatmas behind her have trodden. It means that this lower personality of ours has got to be transcended to the point when this Kama-rupa, this gross form, this element of passion and desire, is burnt up in the fire of Spiritual Wisdom that comes from the Higher Self; burnt up to the point that it disappears. And then, clothed in that vesture through which the Adept works in the inner spheres when the personality is gone, shall we be free indeed — "walkers of the sky" as those who reach this state of consciousness are called in The Voice of the Silence.

Now what happens in the region of Kama-loka when the entity enters there? I would like to give you these short extracts from the book itself, because the Master's own words are so much more illuminating. I will read a paragraph here from page 103:

Every one but that ego which, attracted by its gross magnetism, falls into the current that will draw it into the "planet of Death" — the mental as well as physical satellite of our earth — is fitted to pass into a relative "spiritual" condition adjusted to his previous condition in life and mode of thought. To my knowledge and recollection H. P. B. explained to Mr. Hume that man's sixth principle, as something purely spiritual could not exist, or have conscious being in the Deva-Chan, unless it assimilated some of the more abstract and pure of the mental attributes of the fifth principle or animal Soul: its manas (mind) and memory.
You see now there is the statement of the conditioned immortality of the soul. The intermediate real thinking principle in us, if it would persist and survive in the after life, has got to have that in it which is worthy of immortality. It has got to have that element of eternal thinking and living and high aspiration and purpose that, by the very force of the attraction it sets up in the higher worlds, will draw the disembodied entity up as it were and give it birth, to use the language of Theosophy — to give it birth in the Devachan or Heaven-world. You know that a man is born in the after life just as a little child. Nature repeats itself by analogy all the time. Birth — human birth into the earth world — is a very real death to the Divine being that descends and incarnates. And Death when we understand it aright is the birth in the divine regions of a God.

Just think of the analogy of an entity being born as a little child on earth, with its parents and home life, surrounded by those that care for and love it, and then, because this is an event here which we cannot doubt since we have all experienced it, therefore will it have its reflective analogy — in that which will take place after death; and we as entities, if we have lived decently, ordinarily decently, will be reborn as little children in this after state, having therein full memory of all that took place during earth life that was good and pure and had in it the elements of immortality. I will return to that in a little while. That was by way of explanation of the phrase "the more abstract and pure of the mental attributes of the fifth principle."

When man dies his second and third principles die with him; the lower triad disappears, and the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh principles form the surviving Quaternary.
Now to this Kama-loka question:

Thenceforth it is a "death" struggle between the Upper and Lower dualities.
meaning that the entity is now bereft of his body and has entered the sphere of Kama-loka. He has lost his three lower principles; four are left, and henceforward it is a death struggle between the Higher duad and the Lower. We know what are these Higher and Lower duads. The higher is purely spiritual; the lower consists of the thinking apparatus and the desires and passions. Emotions, higher and lower, are comprised in the lower duad. And now a struggle takes place.

If the upper wins, the sixth, having attracted to itself the quintessence of Good from the fifth — its nobler affections, its saintly (though they be earthly) aspirations, and the most Spiritualized portions of its mind — follows its divine elder (the 7th) into the "Gestation" State; and the fifth and fourth remain in association as an empty shell — (the expression is quite correct) to roam in the earth's atmosphere, with half the personal memory gone, and the more brutal instincts fully alive for a certain period — an "Elementary" in short. This is the "angel guide" of the average medium.
We have got something very interesting there. The entity falls asleep — immediately or within a few days after death in normal cases (and for the moment we are talking about average human beings, not Adepts, not Theosophists or students of Occultism necessarily, but just men and women who lead ordinary, average decent lives). The entity has a complete review of every incident of the past life that passes through the brain before the Spiritual eye of the Ego — immediately following the moment when the body is declared to be dead. In this connexion the Master says (we quote from p. 171):

Speak in whispers, ye, who assist at a death-bed and find yourselves in the solemn presence of Death. Especially have you to keep quiet just after Death has laid her clammy hand upon the body. Speak in whispers, I say, lest you disturb the quiet ripple of thought, and hinder the busy work of the Past casting on its reflection upon the Veil of the Future.
We are told moreover that it is this Divine hour of reflexion and revelation that will actually determine the whole course of its future incarnation. Then the entity falls asleep. Within a quicker or shorter time it enters a state in which it is relatively unconscious — unconscious entirely from the point of view that it can neither perceive anything nor can it perform actions. It has no will to do. It is in a region of effects, and it is at the mercy entirely of its own destiny as created by the man during life. If he was upward aspiring, if he had noble thoughts and desires, if he loved a little — not even greatly — there will be enough in the higher spiritual portion of him to create that upward attraction of the higher principles that will gradually cause them to separate from the lower. The man is unconscious; but if there was a very material, egotistical, or even criminal life, then there is such an attraction — force of gravity — in the lower principles, that the lower man yields no meed of spiritual essence to the higher.

Still pursuing the course, then, of this entity, the average mortal who falls asleep: this immediate precipitation of all the different elements of his being takes place, and is referred to symbolically as the struggle in the Kama-loka — not dissimilar to the struggle and ordeal of the passing from the physical body. It is a drawing apart of that which has been held together for a whole incarnation. Now, assuming that there is enough in the higher part of the human, thinking principle, enough of higher emotion and higher thoughts, when the drawing apart is completed, the lower part immediately crystallizes into an elementary — a shell — which pursues its own course ultimately to disintegration and falling apart of the elements that made up this entity. But the Higher part, what happens to it? Does it become conscious immediately? No. It goes into that state which is exactly analogous to the pre-natal state of a child of human parents — into a gestation state — see how nature repeats itself. And there after resting asleep, growing and preparing, the entity finally at the end of this period of gestation, awakes and becomes conscious. But it becomes conscious at the period of its first conscious memories of its child state at the beginning of the last incarnation. And so it begins life over again in a kind of ideal Paradise, surrounded with its parents, with its brothers and sisters, and those that loved it on earth; it lives there, and grows from infancy, through youth, adulthood, old age, going through all the spiritual experiences and working them out in absolute and complete bliss, resting in the bosom, as it were, of its own Christ principle — its own Lord of Splendor and Light — its own Inner God.

Necessarily there is a term — there comes an end to this experience of the Ego in the Heaven-world. There will come a time when the spiritual store of energies which have given it birth there and kept it there during all this time, become completely assimilated — just as there comes a period when you completely assimilate the meal you took a few hours ago; and then the entity immediately begins to descend — mind you it is a gradual process: as the birth and awaking to consciousness there was gradual, so is the re-descent gradual. Nevertheless the store of karmic energies on the opposite side of the scale, i. e. the evil tendencies, thoughts, desires, wrong actions, and their consequences which everyone creates to a greater or less degree during his passage through earth life — we have not referred to this so far. What do you think happens to these? Very important for us, for the Theosophic teaching is that there is no hell, no punishment in the ordinary religious understanding of the term, for the entity after death, i. e., for the average people; but this bundle of tendencies awaits the redescending ego after its experience in the Heaven world, awaits it, according to the occult teaching "at the threshold of Devachan"; and then, as the entity descends, putting down the ray of its energy into the lower planes, it then by attraction, magnetic affinity, re-collects the very matter — yes, the material substance — of which its lower vehicles were composed in the past life. It also gradually reclothes itself with those old tendencies, the effects of which it will have to work out in the succeeding earth life. So that the hell the Theosophist believes in is veritably here. Here we have to work out all karmic retribution, all those things that we did that were contrary to that Law of Unity and Harmony of the Universe.

There are only two immortal feelings, love and hatred — and that is a strange statement, is it not? You can be immortal in love, and you can also be relatively immortal in hatred. You can ally yourselves with the forces that make for regeneration: wisdom, understanding, life and progress; or you can identify yourselves with the forces of death and destruction and hatred and evil. These are the world's eternal ways. Verily, "he who holds the keys to the secrets of Death is possessed of the keys of life." Yes indeed, if we understand these teachings correctly, we have the key that will enable us to realize how to live now that we may enter on to the Path of Light, not only here during this life, but enter into those regions of bliss in the higher worlds, that will enable us to be merged in that Universal Over-Soul in which we know that we live and move and have our being. These are a few of the ideas that you will find worked out in very great detail in The Mahatma Letters.



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