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The Key to Theosophy


H. P. Blavatsky


Section 9




ENQUIRER. You spoke of Kama-loka, what is it?

THEOSOPHIST. When the man dies, his lower three principles leave him for ever; i.e., body, life, and the vehicle of the latter, the astral body or the double of the living man. And then, his four principlesthe central or middle principle, the animal soul or Kama-rupa, with what it has assimilated from the lower Manas, and the higher triad find themselves in Kama-loka. The latter is an astral locality, the limbus of scholastic theology, the Hades of the ancients, and, strictly speaking, a locality only in a relative sense. It has neither a definite area nor boundary, but exists within subjective space; i.e., is beyond our sensuous perceptions. Still it exists, and it is there that the astral eidolons of all the beings that have lived, animals included, await their second death. For the animals it comes with the disintegration and the entire fading out of their astral particles to the last. For the human eidolon it begins when the Atma-Buddhi-Manasic triad is said to separate itself from its lower principles, or the reflection of the ex-personality, by falling into the Devachanic state.

ENQUIRER. And what happens after this?

THEOSOPHIST. Then the Kama-rupic phantom, remaining bereft of its informing thinking principle, the higher Manas, and the lower aspect of the latter, the animal intelligence, no longer receiving light from the higher mind, and no longer having a physical brain to work through, collapses.

ENQUIRER. In what way?

THEOSOPHIST. Well, it falls into the state of the frog when certain portions of its brain are taken out by the vivisector. It can think no more, even on the lowest animal plane. Henceforth it is no longer even the lower Manas, since this lower is nothing without the higher.

ENQUIRER. And is it this nonentity which we find materializing in sance rooms with Mediums?

THEOSOPHIST. It is this nonentity. A true nonentity, however, only as to reasoning or cogitating powers, still an Entity, however astral and fluidic, as shown in certain cases when, having been magnetically and unconsciously drawn toward a medium, it is revived for a time and lives in him by proxy, so to speak. This spook, or the Kama-rupa, may be compared with the jelly-fish, which has an ethereal gelatinous appearance so long as it is in its own element, or water (the mediums specific AURA), but which, no sooner is it thrown out of it, than it dissolves in the hand or on the sand, especially in sunlight. In the mediums Aura, it lives a kind of vicarious life and reasons and speaks either through the mediums brain or those of other persons present. But this would lead us too far, and upon other peoples grounds, whereon I have no desire to trespass. Let us keep to the subject of reincarnation.

ENQUIRER. What of the latter? How long does the incarnating Ego remain in the Devachanic state?

THEOSOPHIST. This, we are taught, depends on the degree of spirituality and the merit or demerit of the last incarnation. The average time is from ten to fifteen centuries, as I already told you.

ENQUIRER. But why could not this Ego manifest and communicate with mortals as Spiritualists will have it? What is there to prevent a mother from communicating with the children she left on earth, a husband with his wife, and so on? It is a most consoling belief, I must confess; nor do I wonder that those who believe in it are so averse to give it up.

THEOSOPHIST. Nor are they forced to, unless they happen to prefer truth to fiction, however consoling. Uncongenial our doctrines may be to Spiritualists; yet, nothing of what we believe in and teach is half as selfish and cruel as what they preach.

ENQUIRER. I do not understand you. What is selfish?

THEOSOPHIST. Their doctrine of the return of Spirits, the real personalities as they say; and I will tell you why. If Devachancall it paradise if you like, a place of bliss and of supreme felicity, if it is anythingis such a place (or say state), logic tells us that no sorrow or even a shade of pain can be experienced therein. God shall wipe away all the tears from the eyes of those in paradise, we read in the book of many promises. And if the Spirits of the dead are enabled to return and see all that is going on on earth, and especially in their homes, what kind of bliss can be in store for them?


ENQUIRER. What do you mean? Why should this interfere with their bliss?

THEOSOPHIST. Simply this; and here is an instance. A mother dies, leaving behind her little helpless childrenorphans whom she adoresperhaps a beloved husband also. We say that her Spirit or Egothat individuality which is now all impregnated, for the entire Devachanic period, with the noblest feelings held by its late personality, i.e., love for her children, pity for those who suffer, and so onwe say that it is now entirely separated from the vale of tears, that its future bliss consists in that blessed ignorance of all the woes it left behind. Spiritualists say, on the contrary, that it is as vividly aware of them, and more so than before, for Spirits see more than mortals in the flesh do. We say that the bliss of the Devachanee consists in its complete conviction that it has never left the earth, and that there is no such thing as death at all; that the post-mortem spiritual consciousness of the mother will represent to her that she lives surrounded by her children and all those whom she loved; that no gap, no link, will be missing to make her disembodied state the most perfect and absolute happiness. The Spiritualists deny this point blank. According to their doctrine, unfortunate man is not liberated even by death from the sorrows of this life. Not a drop from the life-cup of pain and suffering will miss his lips; and nolens volens, since he sees everything now, shall he drink it to the bitter dregs. Thus, the loving wife, who during her lifetime was ready to save her husband sorrow at the price of her hearts blood, is now doomed to see, in utter helplessness, his despair, and to register every hot tear he sheds for her loss. Worse than that, she may see the tears dry too soon, and another beloved face shine on him, the father of her children; find another woman replacing her in his affections; doomed to hear her orphans giving the holy name of mother to one indifferent to them, and to see those little children neglected, if not ill-treated. According to this doctrine the gentle wafting to immortal life becomes without any transition the way into a new path of mental suffering! And yet, the columns of the Banner of Light, the veteran journal of the American Spiritualists, are filled with messages from the dead, the dear departed ones, who all write to say how very happy they are! Is such a state of knowledge consistent with bliss? Then bliss stands in such a case for the greatest curse, and orthodox damnation must be a relief in comparison to it!

ENQUIRER. But how does your theory avoid this? How can you reconcile the theory of Souls omniscience with its blindness to that which is taking place on earth?

THEOSOPHIST. Because such is the law of love and mercy. During every Devachanic period the Ego, omniscient as it is per se, clothes itself, so to say, with the reflection of the personality that was. I have just told you that the ideal efflorescence of all the abstract, therefore undying and eternal qualities or attributes, such as love and mercy, the love of the good, the true and the beautiful, that ever spoke in the heart of the living personality, clung after death to the Ego, and therefore followed it to Devachan. For the time being, then, the Ego becomes the ideal reflection of the human being it was when last on earth, and that is not omniscient. Were it that, it would never be in the state we call Devachan at all.

ENQUIRER. What are your reasons for it?

THEOSOPHIST. If you want an answer on the strict lines of our philosophy, then I will say that it is because everything is illusion (Maya) outside of eternal truth, which has neither form, colour, nor limitation. He who has placed himself beyond the veil of mayaand such are the highest Adepts and Initiatescan have no Devachan. As to the ordinary mortal, his bliss in it is complete. It is an absolute oblivion of all that gave it pain or sorrow in the past incarnation, and even oblivion of the fact that such things as pain or sorrow exist at all. The Devachanee lives its intermediate cycle between two incarnations surrounded by everything it had aspired to in vain, and in the companionship of everyone it loved on earth. It has reached the fulfilment of all its soul-yearnings. And thus it lives throughout long centuries an existence of unalloyed happiness, which is the reward for its sufferings in earth-life. In short, it bathes in a sea of uninterrupted felicity spanned only by events of still greater felicity in degree.

ENQUIRER. But this is more than simple delusion, it is an existence of insane hallucinations!

THEOSOPHIST. From your standpoint it may be, not so from that of philosophy. Besides which, is not our whole terrestrial life filled with such delusions? Have you never met men and women living for years in a fools paradise? And because you should happen to learn that the husband of a wife, whom she adores and believes herself as beloved by him, is untrue to her, would you go and break her heart and beautiful dream by rudely awakening her to the reality? I think not. I say it again, such oblivion and hallucinationif you call it soare only a merciful law of nature and strict justice. At any rate, it is a far more fascinating prospect than the orthodox golden harp with a pair of wings. The assurance that the soul that lives ascends frequently and runs familiarly through the streets of the heavenly Jerusalem, visiting the patriarchs and prophets, saluting the apostles, and admiring the army of martyrs may seem of a more pious character to some. Nevertheless, it is a hallucination of a far more delusive character, since mothers love their children with an immortal love, we all know, while the personages mentioned in the heavenly Jerusalem are still of a rather doubtful nature. But I would, still, rather accept the new Jerusalem, with its streets paved like the show windows of a jewellers shop, than find consolation in the heartless doctrine of the Spiritualists. The idea alone that the intellectual conscious souls of ones father, mother, daughter or brother find their bliss in a Summer landonly a little more natural, but just as ridiculous as the New Jerusalem in its descriptionwould be enough to make one lose every respect for ones departed ones. To believe that a pure spirit can feel happy while doomed to witness the sins, mistakes, treachery, and, above all, the sufferings of those from whom it is severed by death and whom it loves best, without being able to help them, would be a maddening thought.

ENQUIRER. There is something in your argument. I confess to having never seen it in this light.

THEOSOPHIST. Just so, and one must be selfish to the core and utterly devoid of the sense of retributive justice, to have ever imagined such a thing. We are with those whom we have lost in material form, and far, far nearer to them now, than when they were alive. And it is not only in the fancy of the Devachanee, as some may imagine, but in reality. For pure divine love is not merely the blossom of a human heart, but has its roots in eternity. Spiritual holy love is immortal, and Karma brings sooner or later all those who loved each other with such a spiritual affection to incarnate once more in the same family group. Again we say that love beyond the grave, illusion though you may call it, has a magic and divine potency which reacts on the living. A mothers Ego filled with love for the imaginary children it sees near itself, living a life of happiness, as real to it as when on earththat love will always be felt by the children in flesh. It will manifest in their dreams, and often in various eventsin providential protections and escapes, for love is a strong shield, and is not limited by space or time. As with this Devachanic mother, so with the rest of human relationships and attachments, save the purely selfish or material. Analogy will suggest to you the rest.

ENQUIRER. In no case, then, do you admit the possibility of the communication of the living with the disembodied spirit?

THEOSOPHIST. Yes, there is a case, and even two exceptions to the rule. The first exception is during the few days that follow immediately the death of a person and before the Ego passes into the Devachanic state. Whether any living mortal, save a few exceptional cases(when the intensity of the desire in the dying person to return for some purpose forced the higher consciousness to remain awake, and therefore it was really the individuality, the Spirit that communicated)has derived much benefit from the return of the spirit into the objective plane is another question. The spirit is dazed after death and falls very soon into what we call pre-devachanic unconsciousness. The second exception is found in the Nirmanakayas.

ENQUIRER. What about them? And what does the name mean for you?

THEOSOPHIST. It is the name given to those who, though they have won the right to Nirvana and cyclic rest(not Devachan, as the latter is an illusion of our consciousness, a happy dream, and as those who are fit for Nirvana must have lost entirely every desire or possibility of the worlds illusions)have out of pity for mankind and those they left on earth renounced the Nirvanic state. Such an adept, or Saint, or whatever you may call him, believing it a selfish act to rest in bliss while mankind groans under the burden of misery produced by ignorance, renounces Nirvana, and determines to remain invisible in spirit on this earth. 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.

ENQUIRER. I have put you the question about Nirmanakayas because I read in some German and other works that it was the name given to the terrestrial appearances or bodies assumed by Buddhas in the Northern Buddhistic teachings.

THEOSOPHIST. So they are, only the Orientalists have confused this terrestrial body by understanding it to be objective and physical instead of purely astral and subjective.

ENQUIRER. And what good can they do on earth?

THEOSOPHIST. Not much, as regards individuals, as they have no right to interfere with Karma, and can only advise and inspire mortals for the general good. Yet they do more beneficent actions than you imagine.

ENQUIRER. To this Science would never subscribe, not even modern psychology. For them, no portion of intelligence can survive the physical brain. What would you answer them?

THEOSOPHIST. I would not even go to the trouble of answering, but would simply say, in the words given to M. A. Oxon, Intelligence is perpetuated after the body is dead. Though it is not a question of the brain only It is reasonable to propound the indestructibility of the human spirit from what we know (Spirit Identity, p. 69).

ENQUIRER. But M. A. Oxon is a Spiritualist?

THEOSOPHIST. Quite so, and the only true Spiritualist I know of, though we may still disagree with him on many a minor question. Apart from this, no Spiritualist comes nearer to the occult truths than he does. Like any one of us he speaks incessantly of the surface dangers that beset the ill-equipped, feather-headed muddler with the occult, who crosses the threshold without counting the cost.[1] Our only disagreement rests in the question of Spirit Identity. Otherwise, I, for one, coincide almost entirely with him, and accept the three propositions he embodied in his address of July, 1884. It is this eminent Spiritualist, rather, who disagrees with us, not we with him.

ENQUIRER. What are these propositions?

THEOSOPHIST. l. That there is a life coincident with, and independent of the physical life of the body.

2. That, as a necessary corollary, this life extends beyond the life of the body (we say it extends throughout Devachan).

3. That there is communication between the denizens of that state of existence and those of the world in which we now live.

All depend, you see, on the minor and secondary aspects of these fundamental propositions. Everything depends on the views we take of Spirit and Soul, or Individuality and Personality. Spiritualists confuse the two into one; we separate them, and say that, with the exceptions above enumerated, no Spirit will revisit the earth, though the animal Soul may. But let us return once more to our direct subject, the Skandhas.

ENQUIRER. I begin to understand better now. It is the Spirit, so to say, of those Skandhas which are the most ennobling, which, attaching themselves to the incarnating Ego, survive, and are added to the stock of its angelic experiences. And it is the attributes connected with the material Skandhas, with selfish and personal motives, which, disappearing from the field of action between two incarnations, reappear at the subsequent incarnation as Karmic results to be atoned for; and therefore the Spirit will not leave Devachan. Is it so?

THEOSOPHIST. Very nearly so. If you add to this that the law of retribution, or Karma, rewarding the highest and most spiritual in Devachan, never fails to reward them again on earth by giving them a further development, and furnishing the Ego with a body fitted for it, then you will be quite correct.


ENQUIRER. What becomes of the other, the lower Skandhas of the personality, after the death of the body? Are they quite destroyed?

THEOSOPHIST. They are and yet they are nota fresh metaphysical and occult mystery for you. They are destroyed as the working stock in hand of the personality; they remain as Karmic effects, as germs, hanging in the atmosphere of the terrestrial plane, ready to come to life, as so many avenging fiends, to attach themselves to the new personality of the Ego when it reincarnates.

ENQUIRER. This really passes my comprehension, and is very difficult to understand.

THEOSOPHIST. Not once that you have assimilated all the details. For then you will see that for logic, consistency, profound philosophy, divine mercy and equity, this doctrine of Reincarnation has not its equal on earth. It is a belief in a perpetual progress for each incarnating Ego, or divine soul, in an evolution from the outward into the inward, from the material to the Spiritual, arriving at the end of each stage at absolute unity with the divine Principle. From strength to strength, from the beauty and perfection of one plane to the greater beauty and perfection of another, with accessions of new glory, of fresh knowledge and power in each cycle, such is the destiny of every Ego, which thus becomes its own Saviour in each world and incarnation.

ENQUIRER. But Christianity teaches the same. It also preaches progression.

THEOSOPHIST. Yes, only with the addition of something else. It tells us of the impossibility of attaining Salvation without the aid of a miraculous Saviour, and therefore dooms to perdition all those who will not accept the dogma. This is just the difference between Christian theology and Theosophy. The former enforces belief in the Descent of the Spiritual Ego into the Lower Self; the latter inculcates the necessity of endeavouring to elevate oneself to the Christos, or Buddhi state.

ENQUIRER. By teaching the annihilation of consciousness in case of failure, however, dont you think that it amounts to the annihilation of Self, in the opinion of the non-metaphysical?

THEOSOPHIST. From the standpoint of those who believe in the resurrection of the body literally, and insist that every bone, every artery and atom of flesh will be raised bodily on the Judgment Dayof course it does. If you still insist that it is the perishable form and finite qualities that make up immortal man, then we shall hardly understand each other. And if you do not understand that, by limiting the existence of every Ego to one life on earth, you make of Deity an ever-drunken Indra of the Puranic dead letter, a cruel Moloch, a god who makes an inextricable mess on Earth, and yet claims thanks for it, then the sooner we drop the conversation the better.

ENQUIRER. But let us return, now that the subject of the Skandhas is disposed of, to the question of the consciousness which survives death. This is the point which interests most people. Do we possess more knowledge in Devachan than we do in Earth life?

THEOSOPHIST. In one sense, we can acquire more knowledge; that is, we can develop further any faculty which we loved and strove after during life, provided it is concerned with abstract and ideal things, such as music, painting, poetry, etc., since Devachan is merely an idealized and subjective continuation of earth-life.

ENQUIRER. But if in Devachan the Spirit is free from matter, why should it not possess all knowledge?

THEOSOPHIST. Because, as I told you, the Ego is, so to say, wedded to the memory of its last incarnation. Thus, if you think over what I have said, and string all the facts together, you will realize that the Devachanic state is not one of omniscience, but a transcendental continuation of the personal life just terminated. It is the rest of the soul from the toils of life.

ENQUIRER. But the scientific materialists assert that after the death of man nothing remains; that the human body simply disintegrates into its component elements; and that what we call soul is merely a temporary self-consciousness produced as a bye-product of organic action, which will evaporate like steam. Is not theirs a strange state of mind?

THEOSOPHIST. Not strange at all, that I see. If they say that self-consciousness ceases with the body, then in their case they simply utter an unconscious prophecy, for once they are firmly convinced of what they assert, no conscious after-life is possible for them. For there are exceptions to every rule.


ENQUIRER. But if human self-consciousness survives death as a rule, why should there be exceptions?

THEOSOPHIST. In the fundamental principles of the spiritual world no exception is possible. But there are rules for those who see, and rules for those who prefer to remain blind.

ENQUIRER. Quite so, I understand. This is but an aberration of the blind man, who denies the existence of the sun because he does not see it. But after death his spiritual eyes will certainly compel him to see. Is this what you mean?

THEOSOPHIST. He will not be compelled, nor will he see anything. Having persistently denied during life the continuance of existence after death, he will be unable to see it, because his spiritual capacity having been stunted in life, it cannot develop after death, and he will remain blind. By insisting that he must see it, you evidently mean one thing and I another. You speak of the spirit from the spirit, or the flame from the flameof Atma, in shortand you confuse it with the human soulManas You do not understand me; let me try to make it clear. The whole gist of your question is to know whether, in the case of a downright materialist, the complete loss of self-consciousness and self-perception after death is possible? Isnt it so? I answer, It is possible. Because, believing firmly in our Esoteric Doctrine, which refers to the post-mortem period, or the interval between two lives or births, as merely a transitory state, I say, whether that interval between two acts of the illusionary drama of life lasts one year or a million, that post-mortem state may, without any breach of the fundamental law, prove to be just the same state as that of a man who is in a dead faint.

ENQUIRER. But since you have just said that the fundamental laws of the after death state admit of no exceptions, how can this be?

THEOSOPHIST. Nor do I say that it does admit of an exception. But the spiritual law of continuity applies only to things which are truly real. To one who has read and understood Mundakya Upanishad and Vedanta-Sara all this becomes very clear. I will say more: it is sufficient to understand what we mean by Buddhi and the duality of Manas to gain a clear perception why the materialist may fail to have a self-conscious survival after death. Since Manas, in its lower aspect, is the seat of the terrestrial mind, it can, therefore, give only that perception of the Universe which is based on the evidence of that mind; it cannot give spiritual vision. It is said in the Eastern school, that between Buddhi and Manas (the Ego), or Iswara and Pragna[3] there is in reality no more difference than between a forest and its trees, a lake and its waters, as the Mundakya teaches. One or hundreds of trees dead from loss of vitality, or uprooted, are yet incapable of preventing the forest from being still a forest.

ENQUIRER. But, as I understand it, Buddhi represents in this simile the forest, and Manas-taijasi[4] the trees. And if Buddha is immortal, how can that which is similar to it, i.e., Manas-taijasi, entirely lose its consciousness till the day of its new incarnation? I cannot understand it.

THEOSOPHIST. You cannot, because you will mix up an abstract representation of the whole with its casual changes of form. Remember that if it can be said of Buddhi-Manas that it is unconditionally immortal, the same cannot be said of the lower Manas, still less of Taijasi, which is merely an attribute. Neither of these, neither Manas nor Taijasi, can exist apart from Buddhi, the divine soul, because the first (Manas) is, in its lower aspect, a qualificative attribute of the terrestrial personality, and the second (Taijasi) is identical with the first, because it is the same Manas only with the light of Buddhi reflected on it. In its turn, Buddhi would remain only an impersonal spirit without this element which it borrows from the human soul, which conditions and makes of it, in this illusive Universe, as it were something separate from the universal soul for the whole period of the cycle of incarnation. Say rather that Buddhi-Manas can neither die nor lose its compound self-consciousness in Eternity, nor the recollection of its previous incarnations in which the twoi.e., the spiritual and the human soulhad been closely linked together. But it is not so in the case of a materialist, whose human soul not only receives nothing from the divine soul, but even refuses to recognise its existence. You can hardly apply this axiom to the attributes and qualifications of the human soul, for it would be like saying that because your divine soul is immortal, therefore the bloom on your cheek must also be immortal; whereas this bloom, like Taijasi, is simply a transitory phenomenon.

ENQUIRER. Do I understand you to say that we must not mix in our minds the noumenon with the phenomenon, the cause with its effect?

THEOSOPHIST. I do say so, and repeat that, limited to Manas or the human soul alone, the radiance of Taijasi itself becomes a mere question of time; because both immortality and consciousness after death become, for the terrestrial personality of man, simply conditioned attributes, as they depend entirely on conditions and beliefs created by the human soul itself during the life of its body. Karma acts incessantly: we reap in our after-life only the fruit of that which we have ourselves sown in this.

ENQUIRER. But if my Ego can, after the destruction of my body, become plunged in a state of entire unconsciousness, then where can be the punishment for the sins of my past life?

THEOSOPHIST. Our philosophy teaches that Karmic punishment reaches the Ego only in its next incarnation. After death it receives only the reward for the unmerited sufferings endured during its past incarnation.[5] The whole punishment after death, even for the materialist, consists, therefore, in the absence of any reward, and the utter loss of the consciousness of ones bliss and rest. Karma is the child of the terrestrial Ego, the fruit of the actions of the tree which is the objective personality visible to all, as much as the fruit of all the thoughts and even motives of the spiritual I; but Karma is also the tender mother, who heals the wounds inflicted by her during the preceding life, before she will begin to torture this Ego by inflicting upon him new ones. If it may be said that there is not a mental or physical suffering in the life of a mortal which is not the direct fruit and consequence of some sin in a preceding existence; on the other hand, since he does not preserve the slightest recollection of it in his actual life, and feels himself not deserving of such punishment, and therefore thinks he suffers for no guilt of his own, this alone is sufficient to entitle the human soul to the fullest consolation, rest, and bliss in his post-mortem existence. Death comes to our spiritual selves ever as a deliverer and friend. For the materialist, who, notwithstanding his materialism, was not a bad man, the interval between the two lives will be like the unbroken and placid sleep of a child, either entirely dreamless, or filled with pictures of which he will have no definite perception; while for the average mortal it will be a dream as vivid as life, and full of realistic bliss and visions.

ENQUIRER. Then the personal man must always go on suffering blindly the Karmic penalties which the Ego has incurred?

THEOSOPHIST. Not quite so. At the solemn moment of death every man, even when death is sudden, sees the whole of his past life marshalled before him, in its minutest details. For one short instant the personal becomes one with the individual and all-knowing Ego. But this instant is enough to show to him the whole chain 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.

ENQUIRER. Does this happen to everyone?

THEOSOPHIST. Without any exception. Very good and holy men see, we are taught, not only the life they are leaving, but even several preceding lives in which were produced the causes that made them what they were in the life just closing. They recognise the law of Karma in all its majesty and justice.

ENQUIRER. Is there anything corresponding to this before re-birth?

THEOSOPHIST. There is. As the man at the moment of death has a retrospective insight into the life he has led, so, at the moment he is reborn on to earth, the Ego, awaking from the state of Devachan, has a prospective vision of the life which awaits him, and realizes all the causes that have led to it. He realizes them and sees futurity, because it is between Devachan and re-birth that the Ego regains his full manasic consciousness, and re-becomes for a short time the god he was, before, in compliance with Karmic law, he first descended into matter and incarnated in the first man of flesh. The golden thread sees all its pearls and misses not one of them.


ENQUIRER. I have heard some Theosophists speak of a golden thread on which their lives were strung. What do they mean by this?

THEOSOPHIST. In the Hindu Sacred books it is said that that which undergoes periodical incarnation is the Sutratma, which means literally the Thread Soul. It is a synonym of the reincarnating EgoManas conjoined with Buddhiwhich absorbs the Manasic recollections of all our preceding lives. It is so called, because, like the pearls on a thread, so is the long series of human lives strung together on that one thread. In some Upanishad these recurrent re-births are likened to the life of a mortal which oscillates periodically between sleep and waking.

ENQUIRER. This, I must say, does not seem very clear, and I will tell you why. For the man who awakes, another day commences, but that man is the same in soul and body as he was the day before; whereas at every incarnation a full change takes place not only of the external envelope, sex, and personality, but even of the mental and psychic capacities. The simile does not seem to me quite correct. The man who arises from sleep remembers quite clearly what he has done yesterday, the day before, and even months and years ago. But none of us has the slightest recollection of a preceding life or of any fact or event concerning it I may forget in the morning what I have dreamt during the night, still I know that I have slept and have the certainty that I lived during sleep; but what recollection can I have of my past incarnation until the moment of death? How do you reconcile this?

THEOSOPHIST. Some people do recollect their past incarnations during life; but these are Buddhas and Initiates. This is what the Yogis call Samma-Sambuddha, or the knowledge of the whole series of ones past incarnations.

ENQUIRER. But we ordinary mortals who have not reached Samma-Sambuddha, how are we to understand this simile?

THEOSOPHIST. By studying it and trying to understand more correctly the characteristics and the three kinds of sleep. Sleep is a general and immutable law for man as for beast, but there are different kinds of sleep and still more different dreams and visions.

ENQUIRER. But this takes us to another subject. Let us return to the materialist who, while not denying dreams, which he could hardly do, yet denies immortality in general and the survival of his own individuality.

THEOSOPHIST. And the materialist, without knowing it, is right. One who has no inner perception of, and faith in, the immortality of his soul, in that man the soul can never become Buddhi-taijasi, but will remain simply Manas, and for Manas alone there is no immortality possible. In order to live in the world to come a conscious life, one has to believe first of all in that life during the terrestrial existence. On these two aphorisms of the Secret Science all the philosophy about the post-mortem consciousness and the immortality of the soul is built. The Ego receives always according to its deserts. After the dissolution of the body, there commences for it a period of full awakened consciousness, or a state of chaotic dreams, or an utterly dreamless sleep undistinguishable from annihilation, and these are the three kinds of sleep. If our physiologists find the cause of dreams and visions in an unconscious preparation for them during the waking hours, why cannot the same be admitted for the post-mortem dreams? I repeat it: death is sleep. After death, before the spiritual eyes of the soul, begins a performance according to a programme learnt and very often unconsciously composed by ourselves: the practical carrying out of correct beliefs or of illusions which have been created by ourselves. The Methodist will be Methodist, the Mussulman a Mussulman, at least for some timein a perfect fools paradise of each mans creation and making. These are the post-mortem fruits of the tree of life. Naturally, our belief or unbelief in the fact of conscious immortality is unable to influence the unconditioned reality of the fact itself, once that it exists; but the belief or unbelief in that immortality as the property of independent or separate entities, cannot fail to give colour to that fact in its application to each of these entities. Now do you begin to understand it?

ENQUIRER. I think I do. The materialist, disbelieving in everything that cannot be proven to him by his five senses, or by scientific reasoning, based exclusively on the data furnished by these senses in spite of their inadequacy, and rejecting every spiritual manifestation, accepts life as the only conscious existence. Therefore according to their beliefs so will it be unto them. They will lose their personal Ego, and will plunge into a dreamless sleep until a new awakening. Is it so?

THEOSOPHIST. Almost so. Remember the practically universal teaching of the two kinds of conscious existence: the terrestrial and the spiritual. The latter must be considered real from the very fact that it is inhabited by the eternal, changeless and immortal Monad; whereas the incarnating Ego dresses itself up in new garments entirely different from those of its previous incarnations, and in which all except its spiritual prototype is doomed to a change so radical as to leave no trace behind.

ENQUIRER. How so? Can my conscious terrestrial I perish not only for a time, like the consciousness of the materialist, but so entirely as to leave no trace behind?

THEOSOPHIST. According to the teaching, it must so perish and in its fullness, all except the principle which, having united itself with the Monad, has thereby become a purely spiritual and indestructible essence, one with it in the Eternity. But in the case of an out-and-out materialist, in whose personal no Buddhi has ever reflected itself, how can the latter carry away into the Eternity one particle of that terrestrial personality? Your spiritual I is immortal; but from your present self it can carry away into Eternity that only which has become worthy of immortality, namely, the aroma alone of the flower that has been mown by death.

ENQUIRER. Well, and the flower, the terrestrial I?

THEOSOPHIST. The flower, as all past and future flowers which have blossomed and will have to blossom on the mother bough, the Sutratma, all children of one root or Buddhiwill return to dust. Your present I, as you yourself know, is not the body now sitting before me, nor yet is it what I would call Manas-Sutratma, but Sutratma-Buddhi.

ENQUIRER. But this does not explain to me, at all, why you call life after death immortal, infinite and real, and the terrestrial life a simple phantom or illusion; since even that post-mortem life has limits, however much wider they may be than those of terrestrial life.

THEOSOPHIST. No doubt. The spiritual Ego of man moves in eternity like a pendulum between the hours of birth and death. But if these hours, marking the periods of life terrestrial and life spiritual, are limited in their duration, and if the very number of such stages in Eternity between sleep and awakening, illusion and reality, has its beginning and its end, on the other hand, the spiritual pilgrim is eternal. Therefore are the hours of his post-mortem life, when, disembodied, he stands face to face with truth and not the mirages of his transitory earthly existences, during the period of that pilgrimage which we call the cycle of re-birthsthe only reality in our conception. Such intervals, their limitation notwithstanding, do not prevent the Ego, while ever perfecting itself, from following undeviatingly, though gradually and slowly, the path to its last transformation, when that Ego, having reached its goal, becomes a divine being. These intervals and stages help towards this final result instead of hindering it; and without such limited intervals the divine Ego could never reach its ultimate goal. I have given you once already a familiar illustration by comparing the Ego, or the individuality, to an actor, and its numerous and various incarnations to the parts it plays. Will you call these parts or their costumes the individuality of the actor himself? Like that actor, the Ego is forced to play during the cycle of necessity, up to the very threshold of Parinirvana, many parts such as may be unpleasant to it. But as the bee collects its honey from every flower, leaving the rest as food for the earthly worms, so does our spiritual individuality, whether we call it Sutratma or Ego. Collecting from every terrestrial personality, into which Karma forces it to incarnate, the nectar alone of the spiritual qualities and self-consciousness, it unites all these into one whole and emerges from its chrysalis as the glorified Dhyan Chohan. So much the worse for those terrestrial personalities from which it could collect nothing. Such personalities cannot assuredly outlive consciously their terrestrial existence.

ENQUIRER. Thus, then, it seems that, for the terrestrial personality, immortality is still conditional. Is, then, immortality itself not unconditional?

THEOSOPHIST. Not at all. But immortality cannot touch the non-existent: for all that which exists as SAT, or emanates from SAT, immortality and Eternity are absolute. Matter is the opposite pole of spirit, and yet the two are one. The essence of all this, i.e., Spirit, Force and Matter, or the three in one, is as endless as it is beginningless; but the form acquired by this triple unity during its incarnations, its externality, is certainly only the illusion of our personal conceptions. Therefore do we call Nirvana and the Universal life alone a reality, while relegating the terrestrial life, its terrestrial personality included, and even its Devachanic existence, to the phantom realm of illusion.

ENQUIRER. But why in such a case call sleep the reality, and waking the illusion?

THEOSOPHIST. It is simply a comparison made to facilitate the grasping of the subject, and from the standpoint of terrestrial conceptions it is a very correct one.

ENQUIRER. And still I cannot understand, if the life to come is based on justice and the merited retribution for all our terrestrial suffering, how in the case of materialists, many of whom are really honest and charitable men, there should remain of their personality nothing but the refuse of a faded flower.

THEOSOPHIST. No one ever said such a thing. No materialist, however unbelieving, can die for ever in the fullness of his spiritual individuality. What was said is that consciousness can disappear either fully or partially in the case of a materialist, so that no conscious remains of his personality survive.

ENQUIRER. But surely this is annihilation?

THEOSOPHIST. Certainly not. One can sleep a dead sleep and miss several stations during a long railway journey, without the slightest recollection or consciousness, and awake at another station and continue the journey past innumerable other halting-places till the end of the journey or the goal is reached. Three kinds of sleep were mentioned to you: the dreamless, the chaotic, and the one which is so real, that to the sleeping man his dreams become full realities. If you believe in the latter why cant you believe in the former; according to the after life a man has believed in and expected, such is the life he will have. He who expected no life to come will have an absolute blank, amounting to annihilation, in the interval between the two re-births. This is just the carrying out of the programme we spoke of, a programme created by the materialists themselves. But there are various kinds of materialists, as you say. A selfish, wicked Egoist, one who never shed a tear for anyone but himself, thus adding entire indifference to the whole world to his unbelief, must, at the threshold of death, drop his personality for ever. This personality having no tendrils of sympathy for the world around and hence nothing to hook on to Sutratma, it follows that with the last breath every connection between the two is broken. There being no Devachan for such a materialist, the Sutratma will re-incarnate almost immediately. But those materialists who erred in nothing but their disbelief will oversleep but one station. And the time will come when that ex-materialist will perceive himself in the Eternity and perhaps repent that he lost even one day, one station, from the life eternal.

ENQUIRER. Still, would it not be more correct to say that death is birth into a new life, or a return once more into eternity?

THEOSOPHIST. You may if you like. Only remember that births differ, and that there are births of still-born beings, which are failures of nature. Moreover, with your Western fixed ideas about material life, the words living and being are quite inapplicable to the pure subjective state of post-mortem existence. It is just because, save in a few philosophers who are not read by the many, and who themselves are too confused to present a distinct picture of it, it is just because your Western ideas of life and death have finally become so narrow, that on the one hand they have led to crass materialism, and on the other, to the still more material conception of the other life, which the spiritualists have formulated in their Summer-land. There the souls of men eat, drink, marry, and live in a paradise quite as sensual as that of Mohammed, but even less philosophical. Nor are the average conceptions of the uneducated Christians any better, being if possible still more material. What between truncated angels, brass trumpets, golden harps, and material hell-fires, the Christian heaven seems like a fairy scene at a Christmas pantomime.

It is because of these narrow conceptions that you find such difficulty in understanding. It is just because the life of the disembodied soul, while possessing all the vividness of reality, as in certain dreams, is devoid of every grossly objective form of terrestrial life, that the Eastern philosophers have compared it with visions during sleep.


ENQUIRER. Dont you think it is because there are no definite and fixed terms to indicate each Principle in man, that such a confusion of ideas arises in our minds with respect to the respective functions of these Principles?

THEOSOPHIST. I have thought of it myself. The whole trouble has arisen from this: we have started our expositions of, and discussion about, the Principles, using their Sanskrit names instead of coining immediately, for the use of Theosophists, their equivalents in English. We must try and remedy this now.

ENQUIRER. You will do well, as it may avoid further confusion; no two theosophical writers, it seems to me, have hitherto agreed to call the same Principle by the same name.

THEOSOPHIST. The confusion is more apparent than real, however. I have heard some of our Theosophists express surprise at, and criticize several essays speaking of these principles; but, when examined, there was no worse mistake in them than that of using the word Soul to cover the three principles without specifying the distinctions. The first, as positively the clearest of our Theosophical writers, Mr. A. P. Sinnett, has some comprehensive and admirably-written passages on the Higher Self. (Vide Transactions of the LONDON LODGE of the Theos. Soc., No. 7, Oct., 1885.) His real idea has also been misconceived by some, owing to his using the word Soul in a general sense. Yet here are a few passages which will show to you how clear and comprehensive is all that he writes on the subject:

The human soul, once launched on the streams of evolution as a human individuality,[6] passes through alternate periods of physical and relatively spiritual existence. It passes from the one plane, or stratum, or condition of nature to the other under the guidance of its Karmic affinities; living in incarnations the life which its Karma has pre-ordained; modifying its progress within the limitations of circumstances, and,developing fresh Karma by its use or abuse of opportunities,it returns to spiritual existence (Devachan) after each physical life,

through the intervening region of Kamalocafor rest and refreshment and for the gradual absorption into its essence, as so much cosmic progress, of the lifes experience gained on earth or during physical existence. This view of the matter will, moreover, have suggested many collateral inferences to anyone thinking over the subject; for instance, that the transfer of consciousness from the Kamaloka to the Devachanic stage of this progression would necessarily be gradual[7]; that in truth, no hard-and-fast line separates the varieties of spiritual conditions, that even the spiritual and physical planes, as psychic faculties in living people show, are not so hopelessly walled off from one another as materialistic theories would suggest; that all states of nature are all around us simultaneously, and appeal to different perceptive faculties; and so on It is clear that during physical existence people who possess psychic faculties remain in connection with the planes of superphysical consciousness; and although most people may not be endowed with such faculties, we all, as the phenomena of sleep, even, and especially those of somnambulism or mesmerism, show, are capable of entering into conditions of consciousness that the five physical senses have nothing to do with. Wethe souls within usare not as it were altogether adrift in the ocean of matter. We clearly retain some surviving interest or rights in the shore from which, for a time, we have floated off. The process of incarnation, therefore, is not fully described when we speak of an alternate existence on the physical and spiritual planes, and thus picture the soul as a complete entity slipping entirely from the one state of existence to the other. The more correct definitions of the process would probably represent incarnation as taking place on this physical plane of nature by reason of an efflux emanating from the soul. The Spiritual realm would all the while be the proper habitat of the Soul, which would never entirely quit it; and that non-materializable portion of the Soul which abides permanently on the spiritual plane may fitly, perhaps, be spoken of as the HIGHER SELF.

This Higher Self is ATMA, and of course it is non-materializable, as Mr. Sinnett says. Even more, it can never be objective under any circumstances, even to the highest spiritual perception. For Atman or the Higher Self is really Brahma, the ABSOLUTE, and indistinguishable from it. In hours of Samadhi, the higher spiritual consciousness of the Initiate is entirely absorbed in the ONE essence, which is Atman, and therefore, being one with the whole, there can be nothing objective for it. Now some of our Theosophists have got into the habit of using the words Self and Ego as synonymous, of associating the term Self with only mans higher individual or even personal Self or Ego, whereas this term ought never to be applied except to the One universal Self. Hence the confusion. Speaking of Manas, the causal body, we may call itwhen connecting it with the Buddhic radiancethe HIGHER EGO, never the Higher Self. For even Buddhi, the Spiritual Soul, is not the SELF, but the vehicle only of SELF. All the other Selvessuch as the Individual self and personal selfought never to be spoken or written of without their qualifying and characteristic adjectives.

Thus in this most excellent essay on the Higher Self, this term is applied to the sixth principle or Buddhi (of course in conjunction with Manas, as without such union there would be no thinking principle or element in the spiritual soul); and has in consequence given rise to just such misunderstandings. The statement that a child does not acquire its sixth principleor become a morally responsible being capable of generating Karmauntil seven years old, proves what is meant therein by the HIGHER SELF. Therefore, the able author is quite justified in explaining that after the Higher Self has passed into the human being and saturated the personalityin some of the finer organizations onlywith its consciousness people with psychic faculties may indeed perceive this Higher Self through their finer senses from time to time. But so are those, who limit the term Higher Self to the Universal Divine Principle, justified in misunderstanding him. For, when we read, without being prepared for this shifting of metaphysical terms,[8] that while fully manifesting on the physical plane the Higher Self still remains a conscious spiritual Ego on the corresponding plane of Naturewe are apt to see in the Higher Self of this sentence, Atma, and in the spiritual Ego, Manas, or rather Buddhi-Manas, and forthwith to criticise the whole thing as incorrect.

To avoid henceforth such misapprehensions, I propose to translate literally from the Occult Eastern terms their equivalents in English, and offer these for future use.








Atma the inseparable ray of the Universal and ONE SELF. It is the God above, more than within, us. Happy the man who succeeds in saturating his inner Ego with it!







the Spiritual soul or Buddhi, in close union with Manas, the mind-principle, without which it is no EGO at all, but only the Atmic Vehicle.









Manas, the Fifth Principle, so called, independently of Buddhi. The Mind-Principle is only the Spiritual Ego when merged into one with Buddhi,no materialist being supposed to have in him such an Ego, however great his intellectual capacities. It is the permanent Individuality or the Re-incarnating Ego.








the physical man in conjunction with his lower Self, i.e., animal instincts, passions, desires, etc. It is called the false personality, and consists of the lower Manas combined with Kama-rupa, and operating through the Physical body and its phantom or double.



The remaining Principle Prana, or Life, is, strictly speaking, the radiating force or Energy of Atmaas the Universal Life and the ONE SELF,ITS lower or rather (in its effects) more physical, because manifesting, aspect. Prana or Life permeates the whole being of the objective Universe; and is called a principle only because it is an indispensable factor and the deus ex machina of the living man.

ENQUIRER. This division being so much simplified in its combinations will answer better, I believe. The other is much too metaphysical.

THEOSOPHIST. If outsiders as well as Theosophists would agree to it, it would certainly make matters much more comprehensible.

*** *** ***

[1] Some things that I do know of Spiritualism and some that I do not.

[2] A few portions of this chapter and of the preceding were published in Lucifer in the shape of a Dialogue on the Mysteries of After Life, in the January number, 1889. The article was unsigned, as if it were written by the editor, but it came from the pen of the author of the present volume.

[3] Iswara is the collective consciousness of the manifested deity, Brahma, i.e., the collective consciousness of the Host of Dhyan Chohans (vide SECRET DOCTRINE); and Pragna is their individual wisdom.

[4] Taijasi means the radiant in consequence of its union with Buddhi; i.e., Manas, the human soul, illuminated by the radiance of the divine soul. Therefore, Manas-taijasi may be described as radiant mind; the human reason lit by the light of the spirit; and Buddhi-Manas is the revelation of the divine plus human intellect and self-consciousness.

[5] Some Theosophists have taken exception to this phrase, but the words are those of Master, and the meaning attached to the word unmerited is that given above. In the T. P. S. pamphlet No. 6, a phrase, criticised subsequently in LUCIFER, was used which was intended to convey the same idea. In form, however, it was awkward and open to the criticism directed against it; but the essential idea was that men often suffer from the effects of the actions done by others, effects which thus do not strictly belong to their own Karmaand for these sufferings they of course deserve compensation.

[6] The re-incarnating Ego, or Human Soul, as he called it, the Causal Body with the Hindus.

[7] The length of this transfer depends, however, on the degree of spirituality in the ex-personality of the disembodied Ego. For those whose lives were very spiritual this transfer, though gradual, is very rapid. The time becomes longer with the materialistically inclined.

[8] Shifting of Metaphysical terms applies here only to the shifting of their translated equivalents from the Eastern expressions; for to this day there never existed any such terms in English, every Theosophist having to coin his own terms to render his thought. It is nigh time, then, to settle on some definite nomenclature.




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