after death and rebirth
One of the great tragedies of our present outlook on existence is our attitude to that recurring event which we call death. We approach it, for the most part, with fear and loathing, seeking by every means to resist its call, prolonging, often beyond its usefulness, the activity of the physical body as a guarantee of "life". Our dread of death is the dread of the unknown, of complete and utter dissolution, of being "no more". Despite the vast amount of evidence gathered over the years by the many spiritualist groups that life of some kind continues after death; despite the intellectual acceptance by many that death is but an awakening into new and freer life; in spite of the growing belief in reincarnation; notwithstanding the testimony of the wisest Teachers down the ages, we continue to approach that great transition with fear and trepidation.
What makes this attitude so tragic is that it is so far from the reality, the source of so much unnecessary suffering. Our fear of death is our fear that our identity will be obliterated. It is this which terrifies. If we did but realise and experience that that identity is an immortal Being which cannot die or be obliterated, our fear of death would vanish. If, further, we realised that after so-called death we enter into a new and clearer light in which the sense of our identity is altogether more vivid, and also that there are yet higher aspects of our Being of which till then we are unaware which await our recognition, our whole approach to death would change for the better.
We would see death and physical-plane life as stages in an endless journey to perfection, and death as the door into far less limiting experience on that road. Freed from the confines of the physical world, our consciousness would find great new vistas of meaning and beauty hitherto denied it. In the time immediately ahead, the Masters and Their Disciples will teach the truth of that experience we call death and open up for all a great new freedom. We will learn to accept death for what it is: restitution of our vehicles to their source — "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" — and liberation into new and meaningful life.
The process of dying
The death of the dense physical body begins when the soul withdraws its energy from its vehicle. This can take place over a longer or shorter period of time. A series of heart-attacks or an illness which becomes steadily graver could be the sign that the soul is beginning this process. As soon as death takes place, the subtle bodies — the astral and the mental bodies within the etheric vehicle — withdraw from the dense physical body. This, too, can take place quickly or more slowly, but the Masters advise that one should wait for three days before burial or cremation to ensure that the etheric body has completely withdrawn from its physical counterpart.
The individual consciousness concerned is then left in the etheric body which in its turn will also be discarded. The particles of substance making up the etheric vehicle will then stream back into the ocean of etheric energy which surrounds us. The speed of that disintegration process depends upon the individual’s karma. When the etheric vehicle has been cast off, the astral sheath gives the person consciousness on the astral plane, where he will remain for a time on one or other of the seven astral planes which best corresponds with his astral nature. There he will once again have to deal with the desires carried over from his earthly life, and often remains so enmeshed in these that life on that plane becomes a reality to him. If the consciousness is very much focussed on the astral, with very little mental focus, such a person could remain on the astral plane for a long time — "long" to our way of thinking, for outside the realm of the physical brain there is no such thing as time.
On this astral plane one does what, normally, one would have been doing in incarnation on the physical plane. And though life on the astral plane is a fact, as it is a fact on the dense-physical plane, it is nevertheless only an illusion. All our hopes, fears and aggression, our hatreds, jealousies and vices, form powerful thought-forms which must, sooner or later, be dissolved. Therefore the only hell which exists is that which we have created ourselves on the astral planes. The hell which we encounter is the hell of our own desires, our atrocities, our own separation and our own grudges and fears which inhabit the astral realm. This is the principle behind the advice that the Masters always give — to learn to control our thoughts and emotional reactions.
For that reason it is also important to raise the consciousness as high as possible at the time of death, using the last nerve reflex to drive the consciousness through the astral and the lower mental levels onto higher mental levels as far, as fast and as consciously as possible. That is why it is so important that there should be some preparation for death and in the future people will be taught how to die consciously in order to do this. To overcome the fact that some people do not realise that they are dead, there are disciples, initiates and some of the Masters active on the astral plane, protecting people and making them aware of the fact that they have died.
For most people, the greatest fear of death exists in their expectation of loss of identity and consciousness; of loneliness and cessation of contact with family and friends. Far from experiencing such a loss, the dead man finds that, freed from the limitations of the physical vehicle, his conscious awareness is heightened immeasurably. He sees both ways: the world of forms which he has just left and the new world into which he has come, with familiar people around him ready to welcome him into that more liberated state. At the same time, he can still tune into the feelings and thoughts of those left behind. So far from being a traumatic experience, death for many is so gentle and smooth that they do not realize that they are dead and require the help of those whose task it is to acquaint them with this fact.
After the death of the physical body, the individual concerned remains on those astral planes which correspond most closely to the point of development attained by him in physical life. On those subtle levels our faculties of perception become freed from the process of thinking and reasoning which function through the physical brain. All knowledge and experience can be directly seen, heard, felt and known in their full significance. There is instantaneous perception, knowledge and beauty and a type of joy and liberation such as we cannot know on the material plane.
On the higher astral levels this direct experience is of a more ecstatic kind, of a higher, more refined emotional nature, corresponding to the higher astral levels of the heart centre. A person who has attained a certain level of development before death experiences an almost constant ecstasy and joy on those levels, a sense of beauty and splendour which is the reflection on that plane of Buddhi or Love-Wisdom. Buddhi is actually a state of rapture which can be expected on the physical plane when a high degree of buddhic contact is achieved during meditation.
When a person has achieved a certain degree of mental focus he will not stay on the astral plane for very long for the astral vehicle would by then be relatively refined and harmonious. It will be able to dissolve more rapidly so that its particles can return to the reservoir of astral matter or energy, as did the etheric vehicle to the etheric plane. Incidentally, all these planes — the etheric, the astral and the mental levels — are only sub-levels within the cosmic-physical (and are, of course, really states of consciousness). It may explain it better were I to say that the Masters are conscious on cosmic-physical, cosmic-etheric, cosmic-astral and the cosmic-mental planes.
The experience on the mental plane is of an entirely different, more mental kind. Here it is less a matter of rapture than of knowledge or wisdom; not only the rapture but the great significance and meaning underlying it can be known on that level. Someone sufficiently evolved, intuitively aware, understands this and the purpose and the Will of God.
For more advanced people existence on the mental plane would be the last experience before coming into incarnation once again. But it is possible that the mental body in its turn might be dissolved, after which the individual concerned would live in a state of pralaya, in Devachan. This is a non-mental, non-astral, non-material state of existence somewhere between death and life. It is a state of being, out of incarnation, where the life impulse is in abeyance. It is a state of unending bliss, an experience of perfect peace. To live in pralaya does not mean that one is unconscious but no conscious learning process takes place prior to taking incarnation again. It is being taken up into the Absolute, from whence one returns under law when group need demands it.
In pralaya the soul lives in its own realm with no other purpose than to be the soul. Because there are no lower vehicles in this state of existence, the soul will not gain any experience, as it does on the other levels. Progress of a specific kind can only be made on these other levels. The soul comes into incarnation directed by the Logos in accordance with group purpose and the Plan. It is a great sacrifice for the soul to descend onto the physical plane and take incarnation, which takes place under the self-sacrificing will of the soul. This self-sacrificing power of soul-will is a great driving force. In pralaya there is no will to incarnate. It is possible to remain in pralaya for a few dozen to thousands of years until such time as a group of souls is sent out of pralaya into incarnation because the time is right and the circumstances suitable. The soul body, or causal body, gains experience in this manner. The causal body receives more soul-knowledge, soul-consciousness, as its vehicles become more refined.
This refining process of the soul vehicles, the material, the astral and the mental bodies, takes place by means of the so-called permanent atoms. These are atoms of matter, physical, astral and mental, around which the bodies for a new incarnation are formed. The permanent atoms retain the vibratory rate of the individual at the moment of death. If that person has made great progress, his or her bodies will subsequently be more refined, akin to the vibration of this permanent atom and, due to the magical working of the soul, will increasingly attract matter of a sub-atomic nature. In this way, the permanent atoms will spiral up to reach increasingly higher frequencies. Because a body attracts matter to it of a similar vibratory rate, each advancement through each life will bring a more refined body of increasingly higher vibration. The permanent atoms are therefore nuclei which attract the atomic particles from which first the mental, then the astral and subsequently the etheric-physical bodies are formed — after which the gross physical body ‘precipitates’.
The permanent atoms of an individual are not influenced by experience out of incarnation but are connected to the causal or soul body. The causal body is a sort of reservoir of all perception, all knowledge and all experience of the physical, the astral and the mental realms. A ‘silver’ cord connects the soul and its body with the three permanent atoms. Consciousness is continuous in this cord so that when it is time for the soul to reincarnate once again, particles of matter of like vibration are magically attracted to form around the permanent atoms. The permanent atoms therefore still vibrate at the same frequency as in the previous life and are permeated with the consciousness of those levels. The energy vibration is in the particles of matter which retain consciousness of the point to which they have evolved. The causal body, the receptacle where this consciousness is accumulated and stored, is to be found on the highest of the four mental levels.
At the beginning of subsequent incarnations, when the vehicles are ready, the soul pours its energy from the causal body into its mental, astral and physical sheaths. The accumulated knowledge and experience, gained over a succession of previous lives, pours down from the soul level to the physical brain which retains as much as it can consciously absorb, use and know. This knowledge cannot really be tapped until the brain centres have been sufficiently awakened to be used in this way. Where this does occur, we have what we call a genius. In the soul is mirrored the monad or spiritual will, Buddhi, the spiritual intuition, and manas, higher mind. A genius is able to attune him or herself to the soul level and to that of manasic or buddhic consciousness, or thinking. This is the source of that higher knowledge and superior talent held in store from experience in previous lives. A genius is therefore someone who has a close and instantaneous contact with the soul, and can bring the wisdom and knowledge from that level down into the physical brain because the brain centres, which in most people remain unused, have been opened.
The important factor in relation to the incarnational process is that we incarnate not individually, but in groups. While, of course, individual incarnation does take place, it is only incidental to the greater event of group rebirth. This group rebirth proceeds cyclically, according to certain laws governing the manifestation of energies or Rays, and connected also with the point in evolution of the groups involved.
The question is often posed about the length of time between incarnations, and a great deal of information has been published on this, much of it erroneous and necessarily speculative. The fact is that there are enormous differences in the length of periods out of physical manifestation, both of individuals and of groups. Some souls have an extraordinarily rapid cycle of incarnations and pralayas while others spend aeons between each incarnational experience and the next. There is no "average" time (remembering always that we are speaking about physical-plane time; outside the physical brain, time does not exist). However, it is possible to give a generalized picture which (with many variations) accounts for the incarnational pattern of three main groups within humanity under the impact of three Laws.
The Law of Evolution
The masses today are, largely, focused in the emotional-astral vehicle — their consciousness is still mainly that of the Atlantean or fourth root race whose evolutionary goal was the perfection of the astral body. Many millions now in incarnation were part of the Atlantean race and still demonstrate powerfully the emotional tendencies of that race.
For them, the less advanced, the period out of incarnation is usually short. Being "young", as egos, they still have much to learn and are drawn magnetically into physical-plane life by the thought-forms which bind them to the earth plane and by the karmic ebb and flow which has arisen on earth. They do not have much say in the matter themselves, but, under the law of evolution, they are cyclically impelled, again and again, to incarnate, to learn and to experience, and by trial and error, pain and suffering, to make eventually the free choice: the conscious return out of matter back to spirit and liberation.
Due to the fact that they have not created such strong earthly ties and are more flexible, freer, with more mental focus, those who are somewhat more evolved tend to stay for a longer period out of incarnation. Also, they need more time to absorb and assimilate (because of their richer personality experience) that which can only be taken up and assimilated on the higher planes, out of incarnation.
As I have already said, more evolved egos spend a greater or lesser period of "time" in the experience of pralaya, in devachan, a state of existence between death and rebirth in which there is no impulse to incarnate again. Pralaya, or the experience in devachan, corresponds to the Christian idea of paradise. There these souls will wait, sometimes for short periods, sometimes for untold ages, until the need arises for the presence of that particular group on the physical plane. All souls are on one or other of seven streams of energy — the seven rays — and as these rays come into manifestation so too do groups of souls on these rays. These more advanced egos come in, therefore, not individually, nor swept in blindly under the law of evolution as are their less advanced brothers, but under group law, for a certain purpose, under the influence of a specific ray energy and in connection with some aspect of the Plan. Each generation brings into incarnation a group equipped with the knowledge and ability to deal, more or less, with the problems of that period. In this way the Plan is gradually developing and unfolding through the work of successive groups coming into incarnation again and again; groups who may well disappear out of incarnation for aeons at the end of an era.
There is another group who come into incarnation very quickly: the most advanced individuals, the disciples and initiates. Neither the law of evolution nor group law governs their return but another law impells them to rebirth: the Law of Service. They choose consciously to incarnate of their own free will. Because they know the Plan and wish to serve the Plan, they decide, under the assignment of their own personal Master or not, how best they can serve. But because they are initiates, the Master, who knows the path which will lead them to their goal, watches over them and advises when they should return into certain environments and circumstances. The initiate will also want to return then to continue where he or she left off in order to be of further service. They repeatedly and quickly take incarnation to work through the last few steps of the Path of Initiation. The aim is to work off karma rapidly and so free and equip themselves for service. The soul impresses its vehicle with this desire during incarnation and so obviates any desire of the disciple for the bliss of pralaya in devachan.
Another reason for rapid cycles of incarnation may be the necessity of "rounding out" the disciple’s equipment by concentrating one-pointedly for several lives on acquiring some quality otherwise lacking; or to contribute some special quality, perfectly developed in him, to the work of a particular group or nation.
Every soul incarnates and re-incarnates under the Law of Rebirth. Groups of souls come in together in order to work out karma created in the past. Hence this law provides the opportunity to repay ancient debts, to recognize and work with old friends, to accept ancient responsibilities and obligations and to bring to the surface for re-use talents and qualities acquired long ago. What beauty and order there is, therefore, in this law which governs our appearance on this plane.
To summarize, we can say that reincarnation depends on the particular destiny of the individual. If he or she is not sufficiently developed, there is no destiny as yet; the individual is simply drawn back into incarnation. When the man has progressed somewhat further his destiny becomes a group destiny. In the case of a disciple or initiate, however, the cycles of incarnation are governed by his individual destiny and above all by his desire to serve.
Benjamin Creme, the chief editor of Share International, lectures throughout the world on the emergence of Maitreya -- the World Teacher -- and His group, the Masters of Wisdom. Click here to see Mr. Creme's upcoming lecture venues or here to listen to his previous talks located on this site.