The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
May 2002 Vol. 5 Issue 3
Many religions, ancient and modern, teach that after human beings die, their immortal souls pass through various "heavens" and "hells" which are divided into steps or grades of ascending bliss or suffering. Similarly, theosophical literature explains that after the death of the physical body, each entity is drawn to the appropriate sphere to which the karmic destiny of the entity and the entity's own character and impulses magnetically attract it. Theosophists call these post-mortem worlds or spheres or states of consciousness avichi, kama-loka, and devachan, which correspond roughly to Dante's Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Judith Tyberg in Sanskrit Keys to the Wisdom-Religion provides the following definitions of these after-death states.
Avichi: An after-death state of evil realizations of many degrees, experienced by those who have lived lives of wickedness, sensuality, avarice, deceit, etc. Unless an individual can rise from this state, drawn upwards by some flash of the divine nature's having expressed itself during life, he will after long misery and suffering finally enter the Eighth Sphere or Planet of Death, and having there been "ground over in nature's laboratory," will vanish from this sphere.
Kama-loka: Kama-loka is literally the "desire-world," a compound of the Sanskrit kama (desire) and loka (world). It is the invisible astral region which penetrates and surrounds the earth. The ruling force in it is desire devoid of intelligence. It is the realm of purgatory through which all human beings must pass after death. Therein the reincarnating ego frees itself of its grosser astral and kamic clothing in order that it may rise higher. Good people usually pass through the kama-loka practically unconsciously, whereas those who are not so good awaken to a semi-dream state of an unhappy nature, and the evil-minded suffer a vivid night-mare. What is known as the "second death" takes place in kama-loka. This death is the separation between the immortal reincarnating ego and the body of lower mental and psychical energies. When the reincarnating ego is thus freed, it enters the devachan accompanied by the aroma of all its past experiences, while the lower part remains in kama-loka as the kama-rupa, or "desire-body," and soon disintegrates if it is left alone and not drawn to mediumistic seances, etc.
Devachan: A state of mental bliss and rest enjoyed by the reincarnating ego after the separation of the higher and lower principles in the astral realms. In devachan a person's spiritual thoughts, yearnings, and aspirations reach their fruition in a happy dream state. But those who have laid up no "treasures in heaven" do not enter devachan, but are reborn on earth after their passage through kama-loka or the astral realms of desire. The length of the devachanic dreams depends on the grade of spiritual aspiration during earth-life. As a rule, the higher the spiritual yearnings are, the longer and richer is the devachan. However, high initiates who are masters of life and death do not need this state of rest accompanied by illusory dreams, but return very quickly to carry on their spiritual labors for the hierarchy of compassion.
These three states of devachan, kama-loka, and avichi can be experienced by us right here on earth while we are awake; and in sleep we may suffer or enjoy dreams of kama-loka or devachan. We are drawn in sleep and death, and even in conscious life, to the states whither our attractions lead us.
"Do Heaven and Hell Exist?" is our subject. We will be discussing such questions as: What happens to us when we die? Most religions teach of a post-mortem judgment and the existence of regions of reward and punishment; are these actual places, metaphors for spiritual processes, or simply a way of controlling people while they are alive? When, where, and how do the consequences of our thoughts and actions come back to us? Who would judge a soul? How? Who or what determines what is good or bad, permitted or prohibited? Is there any reason for us to fear death? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge.
The topics for the monthly discussion group for the next few months are:
June 20: Self-Transformation -- Our Hardest Task
July 18: Beyond Materialism
August: Old Age, Disease, and Death
September: Mind: The Slayer of the Real
October: How Powerful Are Our Genes?
November: Exploring the Theosophic Tradition
December: Is Taking Life Ever Justified?
Death is simply a transition to another aspect of life, exactly as birth is. The real self is the inner self, not the body. No fire, no weapons, nothing can destroy the real self; only the body and other lower parts of the human constitution are mortal and are, like empty shells, left behind at the end of an incarnation. At death the inner self or reincarnating ego sets out on a wonderful journey which should fill us with great reverence.
According to theosophy, the natural process of dying starts many months before physical death occurs (cf. G. de Purucker, Fountain-Source of Occultism, Sections 11-12, Death and the Circulations of the Cosmos). As the higher aspects of the human constitution begin slowly to withdraw, a shock goes through the entire organism which indicates the approaching event. Physical death begins only when the eternal pilgrim is ready to set out.
Let's take a more detailed look at the transition from the physical to the spiritual world. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett explains that:
At the last moment, the whole life is reflected in our memory and emerges from all the forgotten nooks and corners picture after picture, one event after the other. – p. 170
As the panoramic vision draws to an end, the connection between the physical body and the inner being withdraws. The moment comes when the life-thread irrevocably snaps and the polarity of the body changes. We are composite beings, and the life-atoms which form the different parts of our constitution must return after death to their respective realms to follow their own cycles: earth to earth, water to water, air to air, fire to fire. The lower parts of the constitution, including the material aspect of mind, disintegrate into various classes of life-atoms and circulate through the kingdoms of nature.
The separation of the lower elements from the immortal being is a purification process. This "second death" has been depicted as going through kama-loka, hades, or purgatory. The mortal aspects separate from the immortal, which latter are drawn into still higher aspects of the spiritual self. The more strongly we are connected to the material side of nature, the longer this process is. Conversely, the more spiritual our life and thought have been, the easier our transition into the spiritual world.
After this second death, all of a spiritual character in the past life is drawn into our immortal monadic essence. Then a wondrous journey begins through the inner spheres, with the reincarnating ego resting in perfect bliss and peace. It processes and assimilates the experiences of the past life, integrating them into its character, in the same way as food is digested and tissue is rebuilt during sleep. This dream state, or devachan, has the individual quality of each person's noblest thoughts and aspirations.
However, the monad's inner journey is much more than a recompense for the sorrows of earth-life. The spiritual self travels through the inner being of the earth, where on each sphere it briefly imbodies in a suitable vehicle. Next it journeys through the sacred planets to the heart of our solar system, the sun. Then the return journey begins. On each of the sacred planets the monad takes up again the clothes it laid aside on its outward journey. Finally there is another panoramic vision into the rosy dawn of our new incarnation, viewing the mountains and valleys of the coming life. We see the seeds that we have brought with us, our karmic portion. But before birth we drink from the River of Lethe, the waters of oblivion, because at this point in our evolution we are not ready to live with the constant consciousness of our past. The reincarnating ego then creates the circumstances for a new human life.
While death is a doorway into a spiritual world, it is also a time of passivity. In that state we cannot change anything, we can only dream the dreams we have woven into the spiritual side of our lives. Death warns us that we should live aright, for after death we cannot change the course of life any longer. Death is a doorway into a wonderful world, and no one should be afraid of it. It urges us to use our lifetime wisely to shape our tomorrows, to actively and consciously use our divine possibilities. Only thus can we unfold the forces latent within and use them as a blessing for creation. Let us ready ourselves each moment to stride through the portals of death well prepared.