Originally published 1907; third and revised edition, 1921.
Chapter 1. The Mystery of Death
Chapter 2. The Place of Death in Evolution
Chapter 3. The Process of Release
Part II (41K)
Chapter 4. The Second Death
Chapter 5. Devachan
Chapter 6. The Preparation for the Next Incarnation
Chapter 7. The Individuality and its Impersonations
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There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. -- Shakespeare
"If a man die shall he live again?" How many myriad times has this question been asked since the days of Job, and how many times imperfectly answered! But in this age of transition an opportunity has been given the Western world to obtain a more accurate view of life, and what is called death, than has been possible since the destruction of the Mysteries in Greece, Egypt, and western Asia.
The popular dread of death and the misconceptions concerning it arise from ignorance, the parent of evil. We are yet ignorant of our own true nature; humanity is a sealed book to itself; and no wonder, therefore, the future looks dark, uncertain, and forbidding.
We all, at least all who have begun to study their own natures impersonally, feel a certain cramping bondage in our lives, a sense of limitation. We tremble on the brink of discovering that life contains far greater possibilities than we had dared to hope for, and that we are not living up to the height of our powers. We dimly suspect that there is a higher principle in us that must come out and take control, and our intuitions, timid and faint though they may be, and clouded by the materialism of the age, tell us that the death of the physical body cannot be the end of all things for us. Without a future existence for the larger man that we feel stirring in our hearts at times, human life would indeed be "a discreditable episode on one of the meanest of the planets"!
How is it that our boasted intellectual progress has left us more ignorant, hopeless, and bewildered than ever in respect to this supreme question? Why do we wear gloomy looks and black clothes, and entertain hopeless grief and dread in our hearts, when this natural and inevitable shadow crosses our path? Our popular theology tells us "Death is a mystery, we must hope for the best," and that the only proof of the resurrection is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and opened the gates of Paradise for the faithful -- a 'proof' which is no proof to the majority of people. But orthodoxy is undermined today by scientific criticism, and many of its leading exponents have abandoned what were believed to be its central features. Today the churches speak with mental reservation and quavering voices of Heaven, Hell, and the plan of Salvation; the ringing note of certainty is wanting, for the Huxleys and Spencers have thoroughly shaken the walls of the creeds with their trumpet-blasts of criticism. Few persons honestly believe in the old orthodoxy or in any plan of salvation at all. Dispassionate study of the Higher Criticism and a judicious regard of the unspiritual career of Christendom during the past nineteen weary centuries have thrown back the more thoughtful and, necessarily, the masses who follow, into doubt or indifference. Acts speak louder than words and it is not to be denied that the lives of men today show that they have, in the main, lost the simple enthusiastic faith that sent Ridley and Latimer to the stake, or fired the fine ladies of Florence to sacrifice their vanities at the bidding of Savonarola. It is even considered impolite to speak on such subjects as the future life in general society! The crudity of the teachings of the churches on the subject of what happens after death is well typified by the lines of the famous hymn of Dr. Watts, beginning:
When rattling bones together fly
From every quarter of the sky.
The publication of such gross caricatures of the truth has led people to doubt, justly enough, whether their self-appointed teachers know any more of the mystery of death than they themselves; and, as a natural consequence, those to whom the future is all dark, either cling to lives of hopeless suffering with the tenacity of despair, or destroy themselves in reckless disregard of the warnings they despise. The increase of suicide is one of the most menacing signs of the times.
Science on its part has nothing definite to affirm and refuses to answer the question of the possibility of a future life for man. The scientific world hardly dares to admit there is such a question at all, and prefers to devote its attention to researches of inferior consequence. No doubt this attitude of scientific thought is but a temporary reaction against the absurd and obsolete dogmas of theology, but the fact remains that the anxious truthseeker receives no answer, and that in pursuing what is called the practical, science strangely ignores the most practical questions of all, i.e., what are we here for; where have we come from; and where do we go? And in doing this Science today unscientifically disregards the testimony of a vast mass of facts bearing upon the question, and ignores the opinion of the greatest minds of the ages.
But if we shake off the preconceived prejudices we may have gathered from the vagaries of learned theological ignorance, or the negations, of scientists, we will admit that the importance of the subject is undeniable; it is only the possibility of gaining any certainty on the subject that is doubtful. What a different thing life is to one who realizes that "The soul of man is immortal and its future is the future of a thing whose growth and splendor have no limits" (Idyll of the While Lotus), and that it is in his own hands for weal or woe, from what it appears to one who thinks, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. How is the materialist going to confront the 'King of Terrors' when the icy hand suddenly strikes the beloved one? Will not his pride of negation bend at that crisis? -- for much of modern skepticism is born of conceit. It is not impossible that at such times a strange, wild hope, a flash from a higher source may startle him as he gazes down the street of tombs, the Appian Way of dead hopes and attachments.
The teachings of theosophy, simple in their broad outlines, profound as nature in their details, have come as a revealer to those who are seeking the way to truth. Theosophy reconciles the conflict between science and religions; it is nothing new; the truths it brings forward are as old as the hills, but it puts them in a manner conformable to the temper of the age. William Q. Judge says:
Embracing both the scientific and the religious, Theosophy is a scientific religion and a religious science. It is not a belief or dogma formulated or invented by man, but is a knowledge of the laws which govern the evolution of the physical, astral, psychical, and intellectual constituents of nature and of man.
There is nothing grotesque in theosophy; it is a system which is scientific and not merely speculative. It is as inevitable as the multiplication table.
But theosophy demands one difficult thing from the student -- an unprejudiced attitude of mind, for it takes a real effort to change our standpoint and to admit that our ignorance has been perpetuated by sheer unwillingness to climb to the heights where a broader view can be obtained.
Though theosophy opens a new realm of nature to the student and unveils facts and their meanings that have been lost or buried, it is not dogmatic; it does not demand acceptance under penalties. Theosophy could not be dogmatic and continue to be theosophy, for it teaches man to look within himself for the truth and not to accept the testimony of another person, or of any book, as infallible. The real teacher is one who puts you in a position to find out truth for yourself. In Oriental theosophy he is called the guru, or guide and adjuster, and his duty is not to cram quantities of startling facts into the learner, but to show him how to travel from the known to the unknown. We are told that if we follow the path of brotherly conduct in all our acts and thoughts, the path of self-discipline and self-purification, the royal and only road to the higher wisdom will be found. In the poetical words of H. P. Blavatsky:
There is a road steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road, and it leads to the Heart of the Universe. I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that leads inward only and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore. There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer, there is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through; there is no difficulty that strong intellect cannot surmount. For those who win onward there is reward past all telling, the power to bless and serve Humanity. For those who fail there are other lives in which success may come.
As we persevere in sincere altruistic effort for the uplifting of our 'other selves,' our brothers, the darkest shadows will be lifted, and the mystery of death be solved, for our vision will be so pure that we shall see things as they really are. H. P. Blavatsky said that she was instructed to put forward the teachings of theosophy primarily "to break the molds of mind"; that is to say, to give the brightest and most spiritual minds of this age the opportunity of finding for themselves the truth by showing them the line of search and the method of commencing.
While, as we must all agree, the purpose of man's evolution is to lead him to the complete knowledge of the universe in its height and depth, and to the enjoyment of its glory, this cannot be done until he becomes one with the higher self, the divine soul behind our separated human personalities, that divine soul which is the Christos, the true Vine of which we are the branches. To attain this godlike state we have to break down the wall of selfishness dividing one from the other; we have to identify our personal interests with those of the whole, and consciously to feel the unity of the human race -- that brotherhood which is a fact in nature, and which is not a sentiment or a fanciful conceit of idle dreamers.
The theosophical teachings about man after death are the simplest and most rational intimations that could be looked for on a subject of such profound obscurity to the ordinary human mind. Above all, they are not speculations as to what may be, like the poems of Dante or Milton. They are the results of the observations of millenniums by those advanced helpers of the race who have pierced the veil and who have been able to enter consciously into many states of which we can hardly imagine the existence. Though these teachers have not given out nearly all the knowledge in their possession, many teachings belonging to the regions of the higher Mysteries being reserved as they cannot be revealed yet in our present state of evolution, enough is plainly set forth to satisfy reasonable inquirers who have got away from the misleading prejudices and limitations of orthodox bigotry or materialistic science.
For convenience, because the English language has not developed the suitable terms, we shall use the few Eastern words which H. P. Blavatsky adopted to save time in endlessly long explanatory sentences. The words may be found in Sanskrit or other Oriental languages, but the meanings attached to them by H. P. Blavatsky are not always precisely the same nowadays in the original languages from which they were taken. The special uses of the few terms used will become quite clear as we proceed. Every science requires a certain number of words of technical meaning and it would be curious if theosophy, the science of life, were an exception.
As a necessary introduction to the teaching of what takes place after the last breath is drawn we must have a fair idea of what man really is. In another Manual the complex nature of the human principles has been described at length. For our present purpose the following convenient arrangement of the principles or subdivisions of our nature as published by H. P. Blavatsky is sufficient, but we may notice in passing that several other slightly modified classifications were used by her as well.
The various Eastern schools of psychology differ as to the best arrangement, for the principles can be grouped in different divisions. What we call the physical body -- i.e., the illusory appearance produced by the passing of material molecules through the ideal astral matrix -- being so mutable can be safely ignored. Strictly speaking, it is not a principle at all. The Egyptian and ancient Greek classifications are still other modifications, but H. P. Blavatsky decided that the following order was the most suitable for her pupils.
We must never fall into the vulgar error of thinking of these principles as entirely separate things, like the coats of an onion; during waking life our consciousness is playing through the whole set of principles, atma excepted, as it really stands above everything else. The human consciousness cannot be defined intelligibly; at best we can say it is the feeling of 'I-am-I' and no other. The seven principles somewhat resemble the seven prismatic colors which appear to be one, white, when united, but when separated are found to have individual characteristics. Force and matter are admittedly indestructible, and conscious intelligence makes them coherent and orderly in their manifestation; otherwise chaos would ensue. The power of feeling inherent in us penetrates the different principles; but in our present state the mental self-consciousness is what makes us human, though unfortunately with the rarest exceptions this is merely the lower intellection and not the higher mind or the complete manas. When humanity is fully self-conscious on every plane of existence it will stand forth as the divine man it is destined to become.
After death the higher manas withdraws into itself its 'shadow,' the higher aroma of the lower manas, which has been prominent during life, and which we erroneously think is our real self; it is this dual manasic principle, therefore, that we have to watch, chiefly, in its postmortem experiences.
To get an adequate idea of the conditions after death we must realize that the center of feeling giving us the sense of I-am-I, our individual consciousness, is able to identify itself with each of the different aspects or planes of nature. These identifications are usually, though inexactly, called changes of consciousness. It is a matter of common recognition that a person is in an entirely different state when concentrated upon the solution of some difficult mathematical problem from the one he is in while enjoying a Christmas dinner or listening to worthy music; the intuitive consciousness which directs right action as in a flash, heedless of the slow process of reasoning, is different again; and then there are the little-understood states of dreaming and dreamless sleep. Theosophy being essentially based upon the study of consciousness, follows the individual perception through these states of consciousness and many others not yet recognized by science, until the personal limitations melt away into the whole, and "the dewdrop slips into the shining sea." Throughout all the ramifications of this marvelous journey let us never forget that it is the conditions that change, not the perceiving, conscious center.
There are many planes or conditions in nature's marvelous storehouse, and the vehicles or sheaths that the soul has created in order that it may understand these planes by plunging into them, are limitations. As we get away from the physical world and the brain-cells of physiology, the vehicles of consciousness are found to be of more subtle matter than the terrestrial, more ethereal, in harmony with the new conditions. A helpful method is to consider them as possessing higher speed and different qualities of vibration, and consequently, unfamiliar properties and energies.
The list of principles previously given leads to an important point in connection with consciousness after death. To understand this we must dwell upon the strange fact that a center of self-consciousness can apparently emanate or put out an automatic consciousness resembling the light thrown by a lamp on a wall. It lights up a dimmer sensibility latent in the atoms of the associated substance. So, after death, the astral man or ethereal double of the body, though intrinsically mindless, has an automatic memory, an induced or reflected intelligence from its association with the lower manas, which persists for a while, but must not be mistaken for that of the real ego.
There are other separate persistences of consciousness after death which will be referred to later on, but the principle is the same. The full consciousness neither disappears into annihilation at death, nor does it exist in the same conditions as during life but passes on to higher and inner states of being, leaving behind it sundry vehicles or emanations which have a reflected life and sensibility of their own, lasting for various periods according to the energy put into that part of the nature during life, and derived from their contact with the real ego. To get even a dim appreciation of the release of the higher manas by death, the student is urged to dwell on this possibly novel conception to him of the temporary persistences of partial reflections and survivals of the lower passions of the human being now undergoing the process of purification.
Perhaps this important point can be grasped more clearly if we watch the automatic department of our minds which intelligently, even if vaguely, answers questions, counts figures, and does other simple mental acts while 'we' are profoundly absorbed in reverie. It is quite common to read a page without having the slightest recollection of a word, because the connection between the real center of perception and the automatic consciousness has been temporarily separated. Some businessmen, again, devise their most important enterprises while the lower mentality is automatically occupied with a game of cards. The same part of our nature has the power to shut the doors of memory against the higher man, and prevent their being opened for a while. Many instances of dual consciousness in daily life will occur to the reader, without referring to the merely physical consciousness of the body, which we all know can be absolutely disregarded for a while, as in the case of soldiers not feeling their wounds in the excitement of battle.
From the knowledge that consciousness can be in more than one state at the same time, paradoxical though it seems, it is but a short step to see that a continuation of a lower order of intelligence in a subtle body, after the breaking down of the bond uniting the whole, is not by any means an extraordinary idea.
The instinctive intelligence, reflex action, or what you will, in a decapitated turtle or conger-eel, which will bite, if irritated, for hours after being cut up; or the automatic memory in a heart which keeps it beating for a long time after removal from the body, are illustrations of similar persistence; and the semi-animal sensibility of the venus' fly-trap or the sensitive-plant is closely allied. The appreciation of the complex groups of semi-conscious subordinate 'men' combining with the real man to form a human being, is of similar nature to the comprehension of a solid geometrical figure from the study of its component faces laid out on a flat plane. Like the geometrical figure which at last combines in the mind, as a solid, the unity of the principles has to be felt by the inner perception.
Observe carefully that these semi-intelligent emanations -- passions and desires -- have bodily form to manifest in, however tenuous and ethereal it may be and however temporary. This point will be further dealt with later, but it is necessary to refer to it now for fear of misunderstanding.
The normal consciousness, composed of all the aspects of mental and emotional consciousness, added to the lower sensations of the physical cells and the organs of the body, we call our personal self, and it is this that is greatly modified by death, which weeds out the impermanent and intensifies the self-consciousness of the inner or higher ego.
Change is necessary for progress in the present condition of things. The feeling of selfhood is partially induced from the element of change in the surroundings. Though we have obviously to advance beyond this attitude of mind, which exists because of our incomplete development, yet at this moment each perceives his own existence by the relationship of himself to what is not himself; and that relationship, to be felt, requires friction or change. Although, philosophically speaking, behind all stands the Spectator, the Watcher, the atma-buddhi, yet from the standpoint of the lower mind, absolute changelessness of conditions would be equivalent to nonexistence. We only feel the presence of still water by a difference of temperature; when the temperature becomes the same as that of the finger the water is not felt. We should lose all knowledge of our existence if there were no changes of consciousness. Absolute consciousness would be the same as non-existence to us as individual human beings, for the same reason that absolute light without the slightest shade or variety of color would be the same in effect as pure darkness, from want of contrast -- or otherwise, from lack of change. 'Death,' therefore, is a necessary part of life for us at present, for it gives the greatest possible change of conditions, and ushers in a new order of existence for a while.
Carrying further the idea of change, the alternation of life and death -- cyclic manifestation and repose -- is a fundamental law of the universe; but what is withdrawal and dissolution from one aspect is the opening into keener life when regarded from the other pole of being. So the death of the body allows the soul to be born into a larger life, to seek spiritual refreshment until the inevitable periodic law draws it back into reincarnation again on earth -- to be, like Adam, "clothed in skin," in order to gain a further share of experience in the material world.
Earthly existence is, from the higher aspect, death, not only allegorically or mystically, but actually; for the higher ego, when entangled with the brain-mind, temporarily loses its celestial knowledge, and is only able to re-enter the higher spiritual states, in the case of the normal man, during dreamless sleep. Sleep is indeed the twin brother of death, and in greater measure than modern thinkers suppose.
It must not be thought that man has to undergo rebirths on earth forever, although a large number of such experiences are necessary under cyclic law. After material conditions and temptations have been mastered, other regions open out and physical incarnation, being unnecessary, is left behind.
Having gained a broad idea of what man really is we are better prepared to understand the process of release from the prison of the body; for death is a deliverer in the present conditions of earth-life, with its rampant selfishness and animality. Death is the friend to the higher spiritual nature. Life as led today is fraught with far greater suffering than death; to millions it is life that is the King of Terrors, judging by the terrible increase in the number of suicides. But the person who really feels the continuity of life, its indestructibility, and who has felt the heart-touch even for a moment, has no more fear of death than of any other natural process in the experience of the soul. He knows that death is not an unprecedented catastrophe or unlooked-for event, but a change natural to the state of evolution we are in at present. Doubtless it is a great and transforming change, and many strange portals and tortuous passages have to be traversed, but the real, immortal man knows the password 'purification' -- which will unlock the mystic doors.
After the last breath has been expired and all seems over, some time usually elapses before the inner man has absolutely finished with his earthly tenement. Concentrated for a while in the deepest centers of the brain and totally unconscious of the body he is now leaving, man reads the record of his past life, drawn from the imperishable register of the astral light, which nothing can modify; every event is presented in the startling vividness of life itself, long forgotten incidents are resurrected, and during the few moments before the loosing of the silver thread, the past stands out in minutest detail and also as a whole, so that the complete chain of cause and effect is seen. This is the first Judgment Day, and there is no escape from this living picture-gallery; for the man, now the spectator of his deeds as if they were those of another, is compelled to be honest and to recognize where he failed and where he succeeded, where the lower nature conquered or where the higher gained the day. No excuses can be made at this awful moment. In many cases of apparent drowning the sufferers have been able to recollect passing through a similar profoundly impressive experience, though no doubt it is far less vivid than the vision at the time of real death.
That this solemn retrospect may bring forth its deepest results, that the facing of the calm dispassionate judgment of the higher ego may not lose its full efficacy, a peaceful atmosphere in the chamber of death is most important. Though the senses have ceased to convey their messages to the brain, and the inner man can give no sign of his presence, any extreme agitation in his surroundings, such as excess of grief in the survivors, is felt through other channels and produces a retarding effect upon the rightful progress toward more and more inward states. Abandonment to the extremity of woe by those to whom the departing soul is closely attached is a positive injury to it, and should never be allowed. It is really a form of self-indulgence, and is not characteristic of true unselfish love, nor suitable for a moment fraught with such momentous consequences. It is necessary to speak very plainly on this point, for it is one of primary importance to all who love their fellow-men. Many persons seem to take a morbid kind of enjoyment in the over-indulgence in grief, a pride in being able to display supreme emotion. All the great religious teachers and philosophers of the world have censured extreme abandonment to sorrow. They knew it injures both the living and the dying. The solemn trial the loved one is passing through while re-living the past at the time of death and for a while after, should not be interrupted, nor should the soul be embarrassed by the despairing grief of the bereaved ones who often seem at those times to have lost utterly all hope or trust in the higher Law.
This is a very delicate and sacred subject and in trying to help those who are in severe pain a sympathetic though firm touch is needed. Here is a time when theosophy comes like a breath of fresh air, with its gentle message of healing to the stricken mourners. To all who have realized, even a little, the principle of universal brotherhood in their lives, the way quickly opens out of the close atmosphere of self-centered grief into the healthy air of generous service. Tears? yes, but let them be transmuted from tears of despair to tears of tender sympathy. Excess of grief on the part of the bereaved is an unbrotherly yielding to personal emotion, a subtle form of self-gratification. Besides the obvious weakening and disheartening after-effect on the survivors, it seriously retards the pilgrim soul on his dark journey. But trust in the higher Law, tender reminiscence combined with a loving desire for the purification and progress of the lost one, and a firm putting down of uncontrolled and sentimental lamentation, help to build a bridge of light for the friend who is crossing the mysterious river. Dignified self-control on the part of the survivors generates the atmosphere of peace, and surely it is a great comfort to feel that high spiritual and sympathetic feeling can really give help in the time of trial, though no external sign may be shown in return.
The touching Bible story of David's conduct when his son was threatened with death is a beautiful illustration. After doing everything in his power to ward off the danger while the child still lived -- fasting and weeping -- as soon as there was no further hope he calmly returned to his duty, chastened and purified, saying, "Now that he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." (2 Sam., 12)
Once we realize the inner spiritual unity of the whole of humanity, embodied or disembodied, i.e., the deeper meaning of universal brotherhood, there is no room for hopeless grief which arises from the implicit denial of the great truth that the kingdom of God is within us and that we are the temples of God.
While the retrospect of the past is taking place and the brain-mind is yielding up the minutest recollections forgotten since the moment which saw them born, the bodily form is breaking up under the pressure of a change in polarity. H. P. Blavatsky puts it thus:
When a body dies it passes into the same polarity as its male [positive] energy, and repels therefore the active agent, which, losing hold of the whole, fastens on the parts or molecules, this action being called chemical. -- The Secret Doctrine 1:526
The active energy is prana, the vital solar force which animates all things, permeating everything, like water in a sponge. In life the body is polarized oppositely to this, and so, by the well-known law of nature, a healthy interplay exists between the two. It is a case of manifestation through the action of the pairs of opposites. In electric action for instance, every output of positive electricity has to be balanced by a corresponding display of negative energy. During the day the solar pranic energy has been accumulating and by the hour of bedtime this positive flood begins to overpower the resisting negative forces of the body, which is then actually too full of vitality. It can no longer stand the strain and sleep is necessary to restore the balance. In death the body is completely overpowered by prana, we die from an excess of life, for the tremendous force rushing through the cells tears them apart, and destroys them in consequence of there being no opposing force strong enough to resist the pressure. William Q. Judge says:
When we awake we are in equilibrium as to our organs and life; when we fall asleep we are yet more full of energy than in the morning; it has exhausted us; it finally kills the body. Such a contest could not be waged for ever, since the whole solar system's weight of life is pitted against the power to resist focused in one small human frame.
A time comes in the life of every person when the mysterious disintegrating tendency increases rapidly and the body succumbs to what often seems an insufficient physical cause. The existence of this cyclic period of breaking-up is derived from the past and is largely hereditary. Man is a creature of habit and there is a strong hereditary tendency for successive generations to do the same things at the same periods of life. The development of the unborn child, the various physiological changes in the body, the arrival of the teeth, beard, etc., follow recognized cycles. Further still, evil tendencies, such as a craving for drink, have been observed to break out at exactly the same age in father and son, extending sometimes over several generations. Likewise a period when the body gives up the fight against the natural pressure of the solar system comes to everyone, the length of normal life seldom exceeding seventy years.
Can this change be overcome and healthy life be lengthened indefinitely? If we lived wisely and were pure in act and thought we should not be the sport of this habit, which is of our own creation. Once this critical time is tided over there is no reason why life should not be prolonged. If we were truly selfless we should be able to lay down or take up the body at will, and not as now have it wrenched from us. But as the human race will obviously continue to perpetuate present conditions for a long time to come, we may dismiss further consideration on this point, as it would carry us beyond the scope of this essay. Very few persons would care to live on after the death of all their friends in new circumstances for which they had not been prepared in early life. The lesson contained in the legend of the Wandering Jew, an ordinary man who can never find rest but has to carry about the horrible memories of his past, is not encouraging to those who may fancy an immensely long life in their present consciousness would be a desirable thing. We are irresistibly reminded of the Greek story of the love of Eos (the dawn) for Tithonus, son of Priam. The goddess succeeded in gaining immortality for her human spouse, but forgot to ask for eternal youth, and so the poor man became decrepit and miserable in course of time.
Eternal youth in the legend, of course, typifies the child-state we have lost, for without that, eternal life would be a terrible infliction. Jesus put the matter very plainly when he told the people that they could not enter the kingdom of heaven until they had become as little children. Fortunately the merciful law of reincarnation gives the mind a complete break, as the memory of former lives is not contained in the new brain, and the man of desire does not know how to evoke it. Those few exceptional persons who have attained the power of safely passing through the dangerous cyclic period are, by the very nature of the case, qualified to endure the new conditions which greatly prolonged life must bring.
The disintegrating impulse would be easily resisted and the average length of healthy, useful activity increased if it were not that the selfish passional nature has been allowed to grow inordinately strong. The passions, coalescing into one dominant force in later life, form an enemy which takes advantage of the hereditary tendency to dissolve, and at last, as if with glee, gives the fatal blow. The final disintegration of the physical body is only the accentuation of the process of breaking up which is continually in action throughout life.
Consider for a moment what is this body which seems so firm and stable. Is it the material molecules? Hardly, for they are in a constant state of flux, passing into the frame and out of it ceaselessly. Not for one minute is the body in the same condition; as each particle yields up its quota of energy it is hurried away to be revivified by the sunshine; man's body is the least permanent of all his principles; in fact, so evanescent is it that some schools of Eastern philosophers have declined to call it one of the principles at all. It is like a river. How can we define a river accurately? Is it the bed, or the water? Both are forever changing; the sparkling drops never stay one moment, but glide along to their ocean home, not, however, to remain there long, but to rise again in vapor and unite into some other stream. The river-bed itself changes in shape, in position, and in depth. In fact the river in itself is really the persisting 'ideal form' behind the everchanging particles. When the ancients named their rivers 'Father' Tiber, or the 'Son' of Brahma (Brahmaputra) they were allegorizing this point in poetical language. The matter of our bodies is as unstable as the water in the rivers, and as a further resemblance, on leaving the body to pass into the outer air it is not quite the same, for it has been impressed with some of the reflected consciousness of the man, it has been raised or lowered as the case may be. The water of the river is colored by the geological strata it has passed through, the vegetation that it has supported, or the refuse that has been shot into it. The molecules leaving an alcoholic victim are in a very much lower condition than those from a pure, self-controlled person. The impress the molecules receive does not pass off quickly, and in fact, as like attracts like, the grosser ones are continually finding their way into the bodies of the more coarsely minded people and helping to keep them back; the more refined and spiritually impressed particles cannot be retained except by those persons with whom they are harmonious. From the standpoint of universal brotherhood this fact impresses upon us the importance of pure thought and clean living; it shows that the unity of the race on every plane has a scientific basis. None of us can escape the influence of the rest, and no one is without the power of helping or degrading his fellows, consciously or otherwise, not only by his actions and his thoughts, but by the very complexion he gives to the atoms of his body.
THE DISSOLUTION OF THE ASTRAL FORM
As the mortal frame begins to decompose in the grave, or better still, in the flame of the crematorium, the astral body is released. The astral body is practically a second human form, mortal and perishable, a semi-material mold holding the particles of the physical body in their places; it is the ethereal matrix of the molecules, the double or the eidolon of the Greeks. It changes little during life, after the body reaches maturity, differing in that respect greatly from the physical body, but after death it immediately begins to dissolve into its own grade of matter. It is not spiritual at all, and it has no proper consciousness of its own; it has little to do with the progress of the soul, unless it is artificially stimulated or vivified, when it normally becomes a hindrance. As a rule, it fades out like a smoke-ring from a pipe, which has a definite form for a while. Alfred Russel Wallace, the eminent biologist, was surprised to find the great tensile strength of this principle during some experiments he once made with a medium. The astral double has occasionally been seen by sensitive persons near graves, for it cannot get far away from the body, and many ghost-stories have probably originated from this. After the complete destruction of the physical body the astral form entirely disappears, and cremation has great power in breaking it up rapidly.
Now we are coming to one of those teachings which, though eminently reasonable in themselves, and perfectly in harmony with our highest intuitions and strongest common sense, require a complete change from the ordinary theological method of considering the things of the inner world, or from the materialistic notions we have in so many cases consciously or unconsciously imbibed from the atmosphere of doubt and sarcasm and controversy regarding the existence of the soul which is so prevalent today.
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