THE MASTERS’ TEACHINGS on DYING and LIFE AFTER DEATH
In the remarkable correspondence known as The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett written from 1880 t0 1885, extensive information was imparted on the subjects of death, and life after life. It is interesting to note that many of these teachings were being made available to Western minds possibly for the first time in recorded history.
When these teachings were being communicated, Spiritualism was captivating the hearts and minds of many seekers both in the UK, Europe, and the American Continent. Undoubtedly the Spiritualist movement played an important part in awakening people in the West to reflect more on the possibility of life existing after death. However, much of the interest was confined to attempts by grieving relatives to contact loved-ones who had left this earthly plane. The belief system surrounding Spiritualism was in most cases totally focused on departed souls whom they called “spirits” inhabiting “Summerland” – that dimension of consciousness which in the Ageless Wisdom is referred to today as the astral plane. There were also many misconceptions as to the true nature of the contacts made during séance sessions.
The Masters explain that they were not against true Spiritualism per se but against indiscriminate mediumship, especially trance possessions. Their desire was to deepen the perceptions of those involved in Spiritualism to assist them to explore further into the more profound realm of spiritual philosophy rather than limiting their fascination to departed “Spirits” and “Summerland.”
Since the latter part of the 19th century, attitudes with regard to life after death have undergone a transformation, albeit a gradual and slow one. And I propose that the teachings of the Masters, through these letters and later theosophical works, has played its part in raising public consciousness on this all-important subject.
We have seen of course the meteoric rise of research on Near Death Experiences; that and the greater numbers of people reporting such happenings has also played a major part in changing public attitudes. No doubt one of the reasons for the proliferation of experiences is the increased sophistication of medical technology in resuscitating those on the threshold of death. Perhaps, also, people are no longer afraid of speaking openly about such occurrences without being considered mad-caps and quacks. We have also seen a marked growth in the interrelation and mingling of peoples from the East with the West with its indelible effect on western society and thought. For example, the influx of Tibetan peoples including Buddhist lamas fleeing from the oppression of the Chinese invasion, beginning in the 1950s, migrating to western countries has made its impact.
Tibetan teacher, Sogyal Rimpoche, author of the book: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying was appalled when he first came to the west in the 1970s of attitudes towards death, and the lack of any real process and programs to assist dying patients and their families for the inevitable transition. As a result, he initiated a movement to help rectify this situation which drew upon the wisdom of the east, especially Tibetan Buddhism. His book, which became very popular, outlined this approach and offered many useful practices.
Interestingly the Tibetans have been referred to in spiritual literature as “the guardians of knowledge about life after death.” This may be in part due to a remarkable treatise written by a Tibetan saint in the 8th century A.D. – Padma Sambhava – which became known as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Although the teachings in this work are largely symbolic, some of the specifics given by Masters Koot Hoomi and Morya, especially the concept of the bardos, parallel this treatise; this is not surprising as both these Mahatmas had a strong connection with Tibet and the “Himalayan Brotherhood.” There is also plenty of evidence that H.P. Blavatsky spent several years in Tibet being tutored by these Masters. One of the monasteries she is alleged to have frequented was the Tibetan monastery of Shigatze, and this place of spiritual learning is mentioned several times in the letters.
The Last Moments
In the first instance, the teachings of the Masters with regard to dying echo beliefs expressed in Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Christianity. They stress the tremendous importance of the last thoughts and desires at the moments leading up to death for these determine our state of consciousness in the after life. The Christians subscribe to the belief that reflections on Jesus in the last moments will lead to salvation, whereas in Hinduism it is stated that the last desires will not only determine the nature of life after death, but will also affect the next incarnation.(ML 23B, p. 170)
We may perceive, understandably, it is not an easy feat to entertain positive and spiritual thoughts at the actual moment of passing unless contemplation on the Divine have become part of one’s daily practice. There is the well-known Hindu story of the shop keeper who gave names of deities to each of his children to ensure he would remember to call upon God and the Divine at the time of passing. However, when it came to the actual moment, all his children were gathered around the bed, and the question that came uppermost in his mind was “who is left minding the shop?”
The Masters Koot Hoomi and Morya are specific in stating in the letters that most average good people dying natural deaths will still remain in the earth’s atmosphere for a few days to a few years (counting in earth time although it is noted that time in the inner dimensions time differs a great deal from time in the earthly realm). This period depends really on how ready one is to outlive the patterns established in the emotional and mental aspects of one’s being that has formed the persona during the previous incarnation. (ML 20C, p. 133)
It is important to emphasize at this juncture, a point made by the Teachers and which is corroborated by later spiritual writers: no-one dies insane or unconscious. (ML 23B, p.170) We are assured that even a madman will have his instant of perfect lucidity. In The Key to Theosophy (p. 127), which is purported to have been inspired by the Master K.H., H.P. Blavatsky states that “for one short instant the personal becomes one with the individual all-knowing Ego.” In this case, let it be clarified, the Ego refers to the Higher Self and immortal part of our nature and not the limited self which we associate with egoism. If this moment of clarity is recognized for what it really is, it can represent a truly wondrous opportunity for enlightenment and spiritual freedom which is known in Hinduism as “moksha.”
It is further stated, “this instant is enough to show to him the whole claim 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.” ( The Key to Theosophy, p. 127)
Another highly significant factor stressed by the Masters is the truth that in those last moments before the soul leaves the body, the soul lives his whole life again. Each of us sees the entire panorama pass by as in a film from the last happenings running backwards to the earliest times of one’s life This process is a totally involuntary process without any judgment involved, and is one we cannot affect in a conscious manner.
There have been numerous documented cases of people who have been on the threshold of dying, as for example in drowning, and they certainly corroborate this truth that “the whole life is reflected in our memory and emerges from all forgotten nooks and crannies … event after event”. (ML 23B, p. 170)
The Masters have some strong and poignant advice for those present at a death-bed scene. As much is happening to the soul of the departing one, it is imperative their work not be impeded by any distraction such as incessant chatter, and weeping. Those assisting are advised to “speak with whispers and to keep quiet until death has laid her clammy hand upon the body.” Otherwise, as the Master explains, we may “hinder the busy work of the Past casting its veil upon the veil of the Future.”(ML 23B, p. 170)
The Next Stage
In the Mahatma Letters a rather complex description is provided of what happens to the various aspects of our being following the dying process. In order to grasp this we have to gain a clearer idea of what really makes up the human constitution. The Ageless Wisdom represents the human being as being partly divine and immortal, and partly human and mortal, which are referred to respectively as the Higher or the Spiritual Self and the Lesser, Lower Self or Personality.
The Higher, Spiritual Self has three aspects: Intelligent Mind capable of great creativity and abstract thought (Higher Manas), the Intuitive, all-compassionate nature (Buddhi), and Spirit, which includes the spiritual will (Atma). The Lesser Self comprises the physical body plus its vital counterpart, the etheric body, the components of the emotions, and the everyday or lower mind. In the teachings presented in the Letters the higher three aspects are variously referred to as the fifth (beginning with higher mind), sixth and seventh principles and the lower self as the first (beginning with the physical body), second, third, and fourth principles.
When death is underway, the soul leaves first the physical body and then a little later the vital body (the etheric or vital body- on which the physical is moulded) along with its prana, the source of energy for the body. Sometimes the soul can linger in the vital body for an extended period and may be seen as a phantom; however, as long as unnatural means are not employed to sustain the vital body (as was practiced in ancient Egypt through mummification), the soul can become free of the etheric within a matter of hours. Cremation practices in the west were first introduced by those partial to the teachings of Theosophy; as time passes, this practice is becoming increasingly the norm and this is beneficial both for the environment and for the passage of the soul.
The Purification Process
The person who dies a natural death will usually remain in the so-called “Kama-loka” or astral world and following a period of unconsciousnss and repose will awaken and be drawn to activites in this realm of existence similar to those engaged upon in life. One can say that in the Kama-loka, we create our own reality according to the state of our consciousness we departed the earthly life. It is suggested by the Masters that the less evolved will tend to sleep even right through this period. Although time is certainly different in the astral dimensions of consciousness (actually speeded up) we can say that this stage of the after-life can vary from simply hours (which is rare) to years (of earth time).
This is also referred to as a period of purification and “gestation” in which the soul and what has remained of the personality learns to detach from clinging desires, passions and negative mental states. The time of this process will vary a great deal depending on many factors, especially those pertaining to karma. Eventually, sooner or later, the higher part of our being comprising the 5th, 6th, and 7th principles, detaches itself from the lesser self which subsequently then becomes a shell. This is known in theosophical literature as the “second death.” The shell left behind is really comprised of the discarded animal nature and basically it is these astral shells that mediums are animating during séances. These can survive for a time and are also referred to as elementaries. Later on they dissipate and break up. Unfortunately, mediums very often mistake these elementaries for the souls of the departed and in some cases they have even been described as “angel-guides.”
Regarding unnatural deaths such as suicides, and accidents, the Masters have plenty to say. In the case of suicide much depends on the motive and it is not ruled out that there have been examples in history of suicide being performed as an act of sacrifice. In most cases, the soul is held in a “holding pattern” until the time has passed that represents the time one would have spent in incarnation if suicide had not intervened. (ML 20C, p. 132)
As for accidents, it is pointed out there are such things as “accidents” which have not been precipitated through karma; Blavatsky refers for instance to cases of “unmitigated suffering.” In such cases, the soul will experience compensation in the next incarnation. For those thrust suddenly into the after-life, it is comforting to read there is a group and special department of angelic beings (dhyan chohans) whose main role is to assist these souls in making much-needed adjustments to their new state of being. (ML 20C, p. 131)
The Devachan Bardo
Following this period of “gestation” when, as the Masters express it, the personal Ego is “purified, made holy,” the soul enters a state of intense happiness and bliss referred to in Buddhism as Devachan. The Masters provide in their correspondence to A.P. Sinnett and A.O. Hume a great deal of fascinating information on this aspect of the after-life. They describe it as the third phase in the period between death and rebirth. In The Tibetan Book of the Dead the duration in the after life state is generally termed the bardo but it is divided into three main divisions.(ML 16, pp. 105 – 106)
Devachan can be equated, to some extent, with the heaven and paradise of Christianity with one glaring exception. In Christianity, heaven is presented as a non-ending state lasting into perpetuity. For this reason the Masters admonished HPB for comparing it to the Christian heaven. (ML 16, p. 106) In the Ageless Wisdom teachings, there are no ultimate everlasting conditions; everything is cyclic and even those sufficiently enlightened to experience and enter Nirvana do so only for a certain cycle, even though it may seem to go on into eternity; and when this cycle has finished, Nirvanees resume their evolutionary journey with its various commitments and duties whether it involves this planet or other planetary schemes.
Although it does not last into infinitude, Devachan, unequivocally, is a state of unalloyed bliss and happiness in which “no pain, no grief nor even the shadow of sorrow” darkens its bright horizon. There the purified soul is in the company of all one’s loved ones regardless of whether they are in fact still in the earth plane or not, and one is engrossed in all the affections , activities, and pursuits that brought happiness on Earth. This state is of course still an illusionary one – although highly refined – yet it is an ideal condition subject entirely to one’s own idea of paradise. And obviously, one person’s idea of paradise can greatly differ from that of another individual. (ML 16, pp.101 – 102)
So, as the Masters expound, there are many states of Devachan. It can also be described as an intensely selfish state. Yet, there is no denying, it occurs as a reward for all the meritorious acts and words expressed in the recent and fast-fading incarnation. However we must not fall into the trap of mistaking Devachan for Nirvana. The latter is a genuine experience of the Reality that lies beyond all illusion.
Interestingly, for the individual experiencing Devachan, time is not a factor as there is no cognizance of the passage of time in this state. In some ways this can be compared to the absorption and lack of realization of the passage of time experienced when we are engrossed in activities that bring us great happiness. Paradoxically, though, the Masters teach that the period spent in Devachan varies greatly and depends upon the amount of good karma accumulated as the result of merited deeds, activities, thoughts and words in the previous life. The Master gives an analogy as follows: “Fill with oil Den’s little cup, and a city reservoir of water, and lighting both see which burns longer. The Ego is the wick and Karma the oil, the difference in the quantity of the latter (in the cup and the reservoir) suggesting to you the great difference in the duration of various Karmas.” (ML 16, p. 106)
A surprising aspect to Devachan is the idea there is the possibility to develop further interests and talents already manifested in previous life and lives. Blavatsky assures us: “Devachan is an idealized and subjective continuance of earthly life.” The Masters actually refer to two stages of Devachan. The first being the rupa or form stage and the second being the arupa or formless stage.The first features the living out of the spiritual aspirations of the previous life. As those ideals are exhausted, our inner self then enters the second stage. There we can live in a state of spiritual bliss for an immense period depending on the karma created in the previous incarnation. However, even in the arupa stage it is still an illusory state, albeit of a very high order. (ML 16, pp.105 – 106)
Later proponents of the Ageless Wisdom have indicated that in a similar way, disciples and those treading the spiritual path are likely to bypass the Devachan bardo in order to return more quickly to earthly life to complete the task of mastering the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of his/her being. More importantly it is also bypassed for the purpose of engaging in service to humanity and the planet.
Communication Between the Living and the Dead
A perplexing question is whether those of us still in the earthly realm can contact loved ones who have passed on and are currently in Devachan. First of all we need to recall that those in this state are oblivious to any suffering or pain. The Masters are quite adamant in stating that those who have passed on into Devachan cannot have “direct communion with those left behind simply because it would inevitably involve suffering on one or both parties. However, they do not discredit the possibility of indirect communion for those who express a pure love for the departed relative or relatives. It is intimated that if the love is pure enough it will reach them and prove to be beneficial to both the sender and the recipients.
In The Key to Theosophy, Blavatsky gives two exceptions to the rule regarding the possibility of communication of the living with the departed. The first exception she cites is during the days that follow immediately the death of a person and before the Soul passes into the devachanic state. The second exception is found in the teaching with regard to Nirmanakayas. These are adepts or Saints who have won the right to Nirvana but who out of pity for humanity renounce the Nirvanic state. Blavatsky informs us that such saints determine to remain in spirit on our earth. She writes: “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.”
Sleep and Life After Life
This article would not be replete without including some thoughts on comparing Sleep and Death. The Masters in their correspondence to A.P. Sinnett and A.O. Hume do not comment on this but useful reflections are found in later theosophical writings such as those of Alice A. Bailey which were purported to be inspired by Djual Khool (Djwhal Khul), the chela of the Master Koot Hoomi, who became an Adept. In these it is specified that death is literally the withdrawl from the heart and the head of two major streams of energy. The first is the soul or consciousness aspect anchored in the brain in the region of the pineal gland; the second is that aspect of the life current which animates every atom of the body and produces the principle of coherence or integration and is focused on the right side of the heart. From these two points, the pineal gland in the brain, and the right side of the heart, the spiritual man seeks to control his vehicle of expression, the physical body.
Death differs from sleep in that both streams of energy are withdrawn. In sleep only the thread of energy anchored in the brain is withdrawn and when this happens the man becomes unconscious regarding the physical world. However, his consciousness or sense of awareness can be focused elsewhere, for example in the astral dimension of consciousness. As indicated by many spiritual writers, our most vivid dreams can be recollections of actual happenings and activities in the astral realm and its various gradations. However, because the life thread is still anchored to the heart, the individual who may be having these experiences in sleep is able to return to the physical body without difficulty.
The Masters Koot Hoomi and Morya clarify that after death it is the Kama-rupa – better known now as the astral body – that becomes the vehicle in which we function until the purification and gestation period has passed. Then, as mentioned before, the soul becomes free of the trammels of the lesser self and can enter into Devachan and the realms of the higher mind.
It is perhaps of some solace, as we come to grips with the inevitable process of death and dying, to know that every night we “die” to the physical plane of existence and are alive and functioning elsewhere. We also need to remember we have already achieved the facility in leaving the physical body. Because as yet we cannot bring back into the physical brain memories of leaving and returning, most of us fail to relate sleep and death. As the Master Djwhal Khul expresses it: “Death after all is only a longer interval in the life of physical functioning; one has only gone abroad for a longer period (before coming back into incarnation).”
The only difference between the two is that the magnetic thread preserving the life force is intact and represents the path of return to the body. In death the life thread is snapped making return to the same physical vehicle impossible.
The importance of understanding the Ageless Wisdom teachings on this whole subject of death cannot be over-estimated. As the Master Koot Hoomi comments in the Mahatma Letters: “He who holds the key to the secrets of Death is in possession of the keys of life.”