THEOSOPHY, Vol. 10, No. 4, February, 1922
(Pages 113-115; Size: 10K)
THE DEATH OF THE BODY
[Part 2 of a 7-part series]
SCIENCE regards man as an aggregation of atoms temporarily united by a mysterious force called the life-principle, but the Theosophical teaching is that he is a septenary being, -- the real man being the Triad Atma-Buddhi-Manas -- and the four lower instruments or vehicles are shown to be the kama-rupa, or passions and desires, the life principle, the astral body, and the physical body. These four lower material constituents are transitory and subject to disintegration in themselves as well as to separation from each other.
To the materialist the only difference between a living and a dead body is that in one case the force is active, in the other latent. When it is extinct or entirely latent the molecules obey a superior attraction which draws them asunder and scatters them through space. This dispersion must be death.
But Theosophy reveals that when the hour arrives for the separation of the four lower vehicles to begin the combination can no longer be kept up, the physical body dies, the atoms of which each of the four is composed begin to separate from each other, and the whole collection being disjointed is no longer fit for one as an instrument for the real man. This is what is called death among us mortals, but it is not death for the real man because he is deathless, persistent, immortal.
What is now called human flesh is so much matter that one day was wholly mineral, later on vegetable, and now refined into human atoms. Is it possible to conceive of such a thing as death where the very molecules of the dead body manifest an intense vital energy? If death is but the stoppage of a digesting, locomotive, and thought-grinding machine, how can death be actual and not relative before that machine is thoroughly broken up and its particles dispersed? So long as any of them cling together the centripetal vital force may overmatch the dispersive centrifugal action.
The breath leaves the body and we say the man is dead, but that is only the beginning of death; it proceeds on other planes. When the frame is cold and eyes closed, all the forces of the body and mind rush through the brain, and by a series of pictures the whole life just ended is imprinted indelibly on the inner man not only in general outline, but down to the smallest detail of the most minute and fleeting impression. At this moment, though every indication leads the physician to pronounce for death, and though to all intents and purposes the person is dead to this life, the real man is busy in the brain, and not until his work there is ended is the person gone. When this solemn work is over the astral body detaches itself from the physical, and, life-energy having departed, the remaining five principles are in the plane of kama-loka.
Struggling out of the body the entire man goes into kama-loka -- to purgatory -- where he again struggles and loosens himself from the lower skandas. So when the body dies the immortal man -- the Triad -- flies away to another state, the astral becomes a shell of the once living man, and requires time to dissipate.
And now perhaps it may not be out of place to inquire what assurance can any physician have beyond external evidence that the body is really dead? The best authorities agree in saying that there are none. In the case of what physiologists would call "real death," but which is not actually so, the astral body has withdrawn; perhaps local decomposition has set in. But the man is not dead when he is cold, stiff, pulseless, breathless, and even showing signs of decomposition; he is not dead when buried, nor afterward, until a certain point is reached. That point is when the vital organs have become so decomposed that if reanimated they could not perform their customary functions; when the mainsprings and cogs of the machine, so to speak, are so eaten away by rust that they would snap upon the turning of the key.
Until that point is reached the astral body may be caused, without miracle, to reenter its former tabernacle, either by an effort of its own will or under the resistless impulse of one who knows the potencies of nature and how to direct them. The spark is not extinguished, but only latent -- latent as the fire in the flint, or the heat in the cold iron. Nothing but total decomposition is an irrefutable proof that life has fled forever and that the tabernacle is tenantless. Demokritus asserted that there existed no certain signs of real death. Pliny maintained the same. Asclepaides, a learned physician and one of the most distinguished men of his day, held that the assurance was still more difficult in the cases of women than in those of men.
The Kabalists say that a man is not dead when his body is entombed. Death is never sudden; for according to Hermes, nothing goes in nature by violent transitions. Everything is gradual, and as it required a long and gradual development to produce the living human being, so time is required to completely withdraw vitality from the carcass.
"Death can no more be an absolute end than birth a real beginning. Birth proves the pre-existence of the being as death proves immortality," says the French kabalist, Eliphas Levi. And again he says, "Change attests movement, and movement only reveals life. The corpse would not decompose if it were dead; all the molecules which compose it are living and struggle to separate. And would you think that the Spirit frees itself first of all to exist no more? That thought and love can die when the grossest forms of matter do not die? If the change should be called death, we die and are born again every day, for every day our forms undergo change."
The scientific physician who denies both astral body and spirit, and admits the existence of nothing more than the life-principle, judges death to occur when life is apparently extinct. When the beating of the heart and the action of the lungs cease, and rigor mortis is manifested, and especially when decomposition begins they pronounce the patient dead. But the annals of medicine teem with examples of "suspended animation" as the result of asphyxia by drowning, the inhalation of gases, and other causes; life being restored in the case of drowning persons even after they had been apparently dead for twelve hours.
How shall the man be brought back to life again? The answer is, the interior body must be forced back into the exterior one, and vitality reawakened in the latter. The clock has run down, it must be wound. If death is absolute, if the organs have not only ceased to act, but have lost the susceptibility of renewed action, then the whole universe would have to be thrown into chaos to resuscitate the corpse -- a miracle would be demanded.
Levi says that resuscitation is not impossible while the vital organism remains undestroyed, and the astral spirit is yet within reach. "Nature," he says, "accomplishes nothing by sudden jerks, and eternal death is always preceded by a state which partakes somewhat of the nature of a lethargy. It is a torpor which a great shock or the magnetism of a powerful will can overcome."
The same knowledge which enabled Jesus, Apollonius, and Elisha to recall their several subjects to life, made it possible for the ancient hierophants to animate statues, and cause them to act and speak like living human creatures.
The question at issue is not whether a dead body can be resuscitated -- for to assert that would be to assure the possibility of a miracle, which is absurd -- but to assure ourselves whether the medical authorities pretend to determine the precise moment of death.
[Part 3 of a 7-part series]
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(1) NOTE--[This article] is compiled from The Ocean of Theosophy, by William Q. Judge -- pages 32, 42, 57, 62, 83, 99, 109 -- and from Isis Unveiled, by Madame H. P. Blavatsky, -- Volume I, pages 479, 480, 482, 485.
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