THEOSOPHY, Vol. 19, No. 9, July, 1931
(Pages 406-411; Size: 18K)
(Number 5 of a 10-part series)

STUDIES IN REINCARNATION

V

AFTER-DEATH MEMORIES

PERHAPS of those details of the reincarnation cycle dealt with by Theosophy so briefly and abruptly -- so mechanically, due to the limitations of the language -- the Devachanic period is one of the most intriguing to popular mind. In this world of Kali Yuga, where is found no joy unadulterated, no rest untainted by anticipation of future labor; and where, alas, there is much human sorrow unameliorated by hope -- no wonder that a purely halcyon sojourn of blissful oblivion should draw the hearts of Theosophists even as the glitter of the "New Jerusalem" dazzled the eyes of the old-time Christian. For this very reason, perhaps, antagonists have found in the Devachan merely a substitute for the Christian Heaven, introduced into the "new" system for the same reason that it existed in the old; a counterbalance to that "hangman's whip," Hell, whose prototype is found in Theosophy and named Avitchi.

But when the whole nature of man is considered, the rationale of mental action and the complex nature of consciousness understood, these states are seen to be anything but artificial. They are philosophical; they are more than philosophical, they are natural. And they are more than natural: they are inevitable. It is the incapacity of Western language to describe states which differ for every individual, and in which every individual passes through limitless shadings of sensation, good, bad and indifferent, that brings about this "cut-and-dried" seeming. It is also the crude theological habit of considering those states in the light of rewards and punishments, rather than as what they are -- inevitable sequences to causes set in motion -- that interferes with flexibility of understanding.

Theosophy teaches that the whole trend and tenor of the after-death states is directed by the last dominant thought in the consciousness of the dying man; and some have felt this determining factor of too light calibre to befit the aftermath. Yet it could not be otherwise; for at the last dire extremity all things except those which seemed to the man during life of first importance, necessarily fade far into the background; and the last clinging represents a concentration and intensification of the underlying passion of a lifetime. Thus, in the man devoted to family, the last thought is of loved ones, and the substance of it is too ethereal for full flowering before the spiritual and immortal memories are freed from impurity by the series of disintegrations of consciousness which follow physical death. So, until those disintegrations are nearly complete, he must needs slumber, with but an occasional drowsy stirring in his Akashic lethargy. And so for any altruistic or affectional activities that may have ruled the thoughts.

But it is far otherwise with the unfortunate who perishes in terror or reluctance; in the midst of unsated lusts and unquenched hates; such a man, drawing together by emotional automatism the substance of all his unhealthy past, creates therefrom an ambulatory hell of inescapable terrors and insatiable longings. Inescapable, because they exist in, and are formed from, the substance of his own mind; insatiable, because it is only the external organs of sensation that have perished, the inner and real being freed to a more intense activity than before. And if a man, in the midst of saving distractions during life, has been unable to free himself from his basenesses already half-defeated by their clogging material vehicles, what hope has he after death -- until Nature shall have run her full purging course?

The key to the after-death states lies in the fact that each type of conscious action in a man works through an appropriate substantial vehicle, in which the impressions and memories characteristic of that type of thought are stored; for the most part stored in oblivion until the end of life, because the hasty nature of Occidental life permits but a brief and cursory scanning -- if any at all -- of the stream of memory pouring ever into the abysses of the "subconscious." But when the physical body is stripped off, every possible contact -- we speak now of normal death -- with the world of externalities, is lost therewith. The contents of mind then become objective to consciousness, exactly as they become objective in dreams; they now constitute the individual's entire universe, the sole reservoir of sensation upon which he may draw. He has lost the balance-power to compare states of consciousness; it would be as impossible to convince him that he is dead as it would be to convince a dreaming man of the reality of waking life, could one enter that state to speak to the latter. His first vehicle of consciousness after bodily dissolution is the kama-rupa; the passion principle fused with that form of matter -- just beyond the physical, and in some circumstances physically visible -- called the "astral body." But this vehicle is responsive only to impacts from the crudest, lowest motions of consciousness. In it can take form only the worst of the man's life-time storage of experience, whether of lust or hate or terror -- or merely of intense mental concentration on an effort or an emotion; much as men weary to death, instead of falling asleep, sometimes torture themselves all night long in vain dream-repetition of their labors. In such manner the unreconciled murderer rehearses over and over his crime, his trial, his execution up to the crash -- his last physical sound -- that signifies the parting vertebrae. A physician-suicide -- a man of keen intelligence and some philosophical knowledge -- spoke through mediums to a friend; being still "undead" he could be reached until the natural life-term of his complex of "principles" should be reached. And the story that he told was that he found himself hopelessly in the grasp of the chain of events ushering in his end; the dark meditation leading to the fatal resolves; the shot; oblivion; then the weary round over; and over and over again. Self-conscious enough to be aware of his condition, he nevertheless could do nothing to halt the remorseless repetition of events in his own consciousness; for that set of events had now become his objective world, its wheels moving on the momentum of the power put into them by himself while living, and fated so to move until the power had become dissipated by internal friction. All this is realistically portrayed under the guise of fiction in the first of the "Nightmare Tales," by H. P. Blavatsky.

It is possible for a man while living to create for himself a Kamaloka condition where there is no more chance of thoughts of hope, or cheer, or love to enter than there is possibility of physical sight or sound reaching him through the vanished organs; nor in such a state can there be any conception or perception of the fact that it must end. For him it is eternal hell indeed. If the truth were known about these states -- and they are no idle dreams or speculations --men would not dare suicide even on the rack; men would save their worst enemies from sudden death at any cost; and capital punishment would be seen for what it is -- a mass crime of unparalleled evil consequence.

But with the disintegration of the principles or vehicles in which such mental experiences inhere, they gradually become impossible; and in the case of the grossly sensual or completely materialistic, blank unconsciousness supervenes until the new-born child wakes for the first time. The extreme of Kamaloka becomes an astral Avitchi -- Avitchi being confined to no particular state, but capable of being experienced on any plane. In the astral form it may and often does endure for centuries or millenniums. In the case of the successful sorcerer, it is a conscious state, a basis of action and creation of fresh Karma; such an Avitchee affects the mind of the race intentionally for ill, working behind the scenes, even as the Nirmanakaya -- or deceased Adept of the Right Hand -- affects it for good.

But for the man who, however bad in his lower qualities, has nevertheless felt impulses of love and unselfishness, has been moved unsensually by art and beauty, has had aspirations for the better, the fading of Kamaloka due to the decomposition of the passional vehicles, ushers in the dawn of a self-contained period of ineffable glory. Every noble impulse or memory, unlocked from its repository by the rotting away of the Kama-rupa, becomes the seed of a tree of thought whose ramifications are limited only by the plastic power of the man's imagination -- a power comparatively vast indeed in even commonplace men, when released from matter. The Devachanee is master of a world exactly as he would have it, considering him as one now divested of all evil tendency for the nonce. There are no other beings there; he creates them for himself as he would have them. There are no glories of natural beauty there; he creates them as he would have them, from the plastic substance which is his present soul-vehicle. The faintest germ of noble desire is realized instanter, for nothing hinders. The faintest struggle of mental effort becomes instantly the full-fledged conception; the attempt to solve a problem engenders at once the full solution before his mind -- self-proving, because there is none to contradict. And no doubt there are in that state many emotional, religiously devotional Theosophists, whose ambitions centered upon "communications with Masters," now in blissful hallucination undergoing chelaship as they have imagined it; reaching the feet of Masters -- as they have imagined Them; becoming themselves Adepts, Mahatmas, Dhyani, Planetary Spirits, "Logoi," and what-not; all as they have imagined such states and powers. How long they will thus slumber in blissful delusion -- who can say? The average for the race is 1200 to 1500 years; it may endure for tens of thousands of years. But in all cases where experienced, no trouble or misgiving can reach there, because all vehicles of thought capable of carrying or transmitting such feelings are dead and dissipated. Nor can there be any conception that the state must end.

Until at last in all cases, whether after a short time or a long, there supervenes a rise of spiritual entropy; the spiritual energy stored in the preceding life is gradually decentered to all parts of the Devachanic vehicle, assimilated and absorbed to a dead level. The spiritual imagination gravitates to a standstill; the images pale, droop, fade out and die; a deep lassitude, a peaceful slumber falls upon the exhausted soul. And ere long there comes to earth another new-born babe, "trailing clouds of glory," his eye dimmed with a tear, and his vocal chords alive with dismay over a reminiscent glimpse of the somber contrast between what was and what is about to be....

It is not wise to dogmatize or to lay down hard and fast conceptions of these states and combinations of states, which are as complex as human nature, as variable as human vagary. In a very old book, the Tibetan Bardo Thödol, the after-death states are described in great detail, and there is an elaborate ceremonial designed to help the deceased pass through them in full consciousness and so avoid their snares. In this book, the glories come first, immediately after decease, and, agreeable with the Theosophic teaching about Devachan, in mind-images dictated by the religious affinities of the dead. Afterward set in lower and lower stages, leading finally to rebirth. Is this a delusion or perversion? Or is perchance Theosophy wrong in transposing the states? Neither, we think. The Bardo Thödol carries inferentially the explanation in itself, and to those for whom it is written the states may actually come in reverse order. It is, to begin with, a book under the auspices of the Dugpa, the Red-Cap or sorcerer school of occultism. The practices enjoined upon the believer both before and after death are purely Dharmakayic in purport, the whole object being to avoid rebirth and to enter a purely personal state of selfish bliss. The life of the Red-Cap Lama is devoted -- when not to worse ends -- to such practices as will bring this about. He dies -- carefully and with premeditation -- with his mind concentrated upon the heavenly visions immediately to follow, and with determination to make use of them for individual escape from the pangs of rebirth. Thus "the ruling passion strong in death," coupled with a high degree of self-conscious introspection, must infallibly bring what he expects just after death. But failing of his whole object, and becoming victim to the states, inevitably the dying desire and its results become outworn, and the vices of his nature, not conquered, but suppressed for a selfish purpose, are finally uncovered and have their day. All his religious desires, being the motive power of his life, his hourly concern, produce his first states. His purely human nature, submerged in life, produces the secondary states -- and rebirth. With the Occidental the opposite is the case. Beyond a doubt the ceremonial of the Red-Cap sects is closely analogous to the Hindu practices spoken of in Theosophy, whose object is to produce a prolonged Devachan, and whose outcome, if successful, is a birth out of time and place, equivalent to "a sojourn in hell," as recompense for a robbed Nature and robbed duties.

But the West has its religious manias, its personal selfish aspirations, its idolatries, conducive to the same result.


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

DO WE REMEMBER?

When the children come to visit me, they love to dress up in my clothes, and "play lady." One day, Betty May had spent an unusually long time in my room, and finally came out in a long dress, with a scarf wound round her head. She said,

"Look, Grannie! This is the way we dressed when we were Indians."

"Oh, were you an Indian?" I queried innocently.

She looked at me with surprise in her eyes, and said,

"Of course. And you too, Grannie. Don't you remember? What is the name of that country where we lived when we were Indians?"

I asked if it were India, maybe, but she said, no, that wasn't the right name.

Then I asked, "Were the babies Indians, too?"

Quickly she answered, "Oh, no. Not Jackie. Jackie was another kind of man. Jackie looked like this" -- and she drew herself up very straight and folded her arms across her chest.

"How about Jim and Sue? Were they Indians?"

She looked very serious for a minute, and then said,

"I don't remember, Grannie."

Then someone came in, and we were never able to pick up the thread again, until several weeks later when she told me, "Mother doesn't know all the things we know, Grannie."

"Why doesn't she, dear?" I said.

"Because, she hasn't been to our country."

"But how do you know, Betty May?" I asked.

The only answer I could get was, "You know, Grannie."

And then we say, we don't "remember."


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STUDIES IN REINCARNATION
VI
BROKEN MEMORIES
(Part 6 of a 10-part series)

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