Death is the laying aside of the physical body; but it makes no more difference to the ego than does the laying aside of an overcoat to the physical man. Having put off his physical body, the ego continues to live in his astral body until the force has become exhausted which has been generated by such emotions and passions as he has allowed himself to feel during earth-life. When that has happened, the second death takes place; the astral body also falls away from him, and he finds himself living in the mental body and in the lower mental world. In that condition he remains until the thought-forces generated during his physical and astral lives have worn themselves out; then he drops the third vehicle in its turn and remains once more an ego in his own world, inhabiting his causal body.
There is, then, no such thing as death as it is ordinarily understood. There is only a succession of stages in a continuous life—stages lived in the three worlds one after another. The apportionment of time between these three worlds varies much as man advances. The primitive man lives almost exclusively in the physical world, spending only a few years in the astral at the end of each of his physical lives. As he develops, the astral life becomes longer, and as intellect: unfolds in him, and he becomes able to think, he begins to spend a little time in the mental world as well. The ordinary man of civilized races remains longer in the mental world than in the physical and astral; indeed, the more a man evolves the longer becomes his mental, life and the shorter his life in the astral world.
The astral life is the result of all feelings which have in them the element of self. If they have been directly selfish, they bring him into conditions of great unpleasantness in the astral world; if, though tinged with thoughts of self, they have been good and kindly, they bring him a comparatively pleasant though still limited astral life. Such of his thoughts and feelings as have been entirely unselfish produce their results in his life in the mental world; therefore that life in the mental, world cannot be other than blissful. The astral life, which the man has made for himself either miserable or comparatively joyous, corresponds to what Christians call purgatory; the lower mental life, which is always entirely happy, is what is called heaven.
Man makes for himself his own purgatory and heaven, and these are not planes, but states of consciousness. Hell does not exist; it is only a figment of the theological imagination; but a man who lives foolishly may make for himself a very unpleasant and long enduring purgatory. Neither purgatory nor heaven can ever be eternal, for a finite cause cannot produce an infinite result. The variations in individual cases are so wide that to give actual figures is somewhat misleading. If we take the average man of what is called the lower middle class, the typical specimen of which would be a small shopkeeper or shop-assistant, his average life in the astral world would be perhaps about forty years, and the life in the mental world about two hundred. The man of spirituality and culture, on the other hand, may have perhaps twenty years of life in the astral world and a thousand in the heaven life. One who is specially developed may reduce the astral life to a few days or hours and spend fifteen hundred years in heaven.
Not only does the length of these periods vary greatly, but the conditions in both worlds also differ widely. The matter of which all these bodies are built is not dead matter but living, and that fact has to be taken into consideration. The physical body is built up of cells, each of which is a tiny separate life animated by the Second Outpouring, which comes forth from the Second Aspect of the Deity. These cells are of varying kinds and fulfil various functions, and all these facts must be taken into account if the man wishes to understand the work of his physical body and to live a healthy life in it.
The same thing applies to the astral and mental bodies. In the cell-life which permeates them there is as yet nothing in the way of intelligence, but there is a strong instinct always pressing in the direction of what is for its development. The life animating the matter of which such bodies are built is upon the outward arc of evolution, moving downwards or outwards into matter, so that progress for it means to descend into denser forms of matter, and to learn to express itself through them. Unfoldment for the man is just the opposite of this; he has already sunk deeply into matter and is now rising out of that towards his source. There is consequently a constant conflict of interests between the man within and the life inhabiting the matter of his vehicles, inasmuch as its tendency is downward, while his is upward.
The matter of the astral body (or rather the life animating its molecules) desires for its evolution such undulations as it can get, of as many different kinds as possible, and as coarse as possible. The next step in its evolution will be to ensoul physical matter and become used to its still slower oscillations; and as a step on the way to that, it desires the grossest of the astral vibrations. It has not the intelligence definitely to plan for these; but its instinct helps it to discover how most easily to procure them.
The molecules of the astral body are constantly changing, as are those of the physical body, but nevertheless the life in the mass of those astral molecules has a sense, though a very vague sense, of itself as a whole—as a kind of temporary entity. It does not know that it is part of a man's astral body; it is quite incapable of understanding what a man is; but it realizes in a blind way that under its present conditions it receives many more waves, and much stronger ones, than it would receive if floating at large in the atmosphere. It would then only occasionally catch, as from a distance, the radiation of man's passions and emotions; now it is in the very heart of them, it can miss none, and it gets them at their strongest. Therefore it feels itself in a good position, and it makes an effort to retain that position. It finds itself in contact with something finer than itself—the matter of the man's mental body; and it comes to feel that if it can contrive to involve that finer something in its own undulations, they will be greatly intensified and prolonged.
Since astral matter is the vehicle of desire and mental matter is the vehicle of thought, this instinct, when translated into our language, means that if the astral body can induce us to think that we want what it wants, it is much more likely to get it. Thus it exercises a slow steady pressure upon the man—a kind of hunger on its side, but for him a temptation to what is coarse and undesirable. If he be a passionate man there is a gentle but ceaseless pressure in the direction of irritability; if he be a sensual man, an equally steady pressure in the direction of impurity.
A man who does not understand this usually makes one of two mistakes with regard to it: either he supposes it to be the prompting of his own nature, and therefore regards that nature as inherently evil, or he thinks of the pressure as coming from outside—as a temptation of an imaginary devil. The truth lies between the two. The pressure is natural, not to the man but to the vehicle which he is using; its desire is natural and right for it, but harmful to the man, and therefore it is necessary that he should resist it. If he does so resist, if he declines to yield himself to the feelings suggested to him, the particles within him which need those vibrations become apathetic for lack of nourishment, and eventually atrophy and fall out from his astral body, and are replaced by other particles, whose natural wave-rate is more nearly in accordance with that which the man habitually permits within his astral body.
This gives the reason for what are called promptings of the lower nature during life. If the man yields himself to them, such promptings grow stronger and stronger until at last he feels as though he could not resist them, and identifies himself with them—which is exactly what this curious half-life in the particles of the astral body wants him to do.
At the death of the physical body this vague astral consciousness is alarmed. It realizes that its existence as a separated mass is menaced, and it takes instinctive steps to defend itself and to maintain its position as long as possible. The matter of the astral body is far more fluidic than that of the physical, and this consciousness seizes upon its particles and disposes them so as to resist encroachment. It puts the grossest and densest upon the outside as a kind of shell, and arranges the others in concentric layers, so that the body as a whole may become as resistant to friction as its constitution permits, and may therefore retain its shape as long as possible.
For the man this produces various unpleasant effects. The physiology of the astral body is quite different from that of the physical; the latter acquires its information from without by means of certain organs which are specialized as the instruments of its senses, but the astral body has no separated senses in our meaning of the word. That which for the astral body corresponds to sight is the power of its molecules to respond to impacts from without, which come to them by means of similar molecules. For example, a man has within his astral body matter belonging to all the subdivisions of the astral world, and it is because of that that he is capable of "seeing" objects built of the matter of any of these subdivisions.
Supposing an astral object to be made of the matter of the second and third subdivisions mixed, a man living in the astral world could perceive that object only if on the surface of his astral body there were particles belonging to the second and third subdivisions of that world which were capable of receiving and recording the vibrations which that object set up. A man who from the arrangement of his body by the vague consciousness of which we have spoken, had on the outside of that vehicle only the denser matter of the lowest subdivision, could no more be conscious of the object which we have mentioned than we are ourselves conscious in the physical body of the gases which move about us in the atmosphere or of objects built exclusively of etheric matter.
During physical life the matter of the man's astral body is in constant motion, and its particles pass among one another much as do those of boiling water. Consequently at any given moment it is practically certain that particles of all varieties will be represented on the surface of his astral body, and that therefore when he is using his astral body during sleep he will be able to "see" by its means any astral object which approaches him.
After death, if he has allowed the rearrangement to be made (as from ignorance, all ordinary persons do) his condition in this respect will be different. Having on the surface of his astral body only the lowest and grossest particles, he can receive impressions only from corresponding particles outside; so that instead of seeing the whole of the astral world about him, he will see only one-seventh of it, and that the densest and most impure. The vibrations of this heavier matter are the expressions only of objectionable feelings and emotions, and of the least refined class of astral entities. Therefore it emerges that a man in this condition can see only the undesirable inhabitants of the astral world, and can feel only its most unpleasant and vulgar influences.
He is surrounded by other men, whose astral bodies are probably of quite ordinary character; but since he can see and feel only that which is lowest and coarsest in them, they appear to him to be monsters of vice with no redeeming features. Even his friends seem not at all what they used to be, because he is now incapable of appreciating any of their better qualities. Under these circumstances it is little wonder that he considers the astral world a hell; yet the fault is in no way with the astral world, but with himself—first, for allowing within himself so much of that cruder type of matter, and, secondly, for letting that vague astral consciousness dominate him and dispose it in that particular way.
The man who has studied these matters declines absolutely to yield to the pressure during life or to permit the rearrangement after death, and consequently he retains his power of seeing the astral world as a whole, and not merely the cruder and baser part of it.
The astral world has many points in common with the physical; just like the physical, it presents different appearances to different people, and even to the same person at different periods of his career. It is the home of emotions and of lower thoughts; and emotions are much stronger in that world than in this. When a person is awake we cannot see that larger part of his emotion at all; its strength goes in setting in motion the gross physical matter of the brain. So if we see a man show affection here, what we can see is not the whole of his affection, but only such part of it as is left after all this other work has been done. Emotions therefore bulk far more largely in the astral life than in the physical. They in no way exclude higher thought if they are controlled, so in the astral world as in the physical a man may devote himself to study and to helping his fellows, or he may waste his time and drift about aimlessly.
The astral world extends nearly to the mean distance of the orbit of the moon; but though the whole of this realm is open to any of its inhabitants who have not permitted the redistribution of their matter, the great majority remain much nearer to the surface of the earth. The matter of the different subdivisions of that world interpenetrates with perfect freedom, but there is on the whole a general tendency for the denser matter to settle towards the centre. The conditions are much like those which obtain in a bucket of water which contains in suspension a number of kinds of matter of different degrees of density. Since the water is kept in perpetual motion, the different kinds of matter are diffused through it; but in spite of that, the densest matter is found in greatest quantity nearest to the bottom. So that though we must not at all think of the various subdivisions of the astral world as lying above one another as do the coats of an onion, it is nevertheless true that the average arrangement of the matter of those subdivisions partakes somewhat of that general character.
Astral matter interpenetrates physical matter precisely as though it were not there, but each subdivision of physical matter has a strong attraction for astral matter of the corresponding subdivision. Hence it arises that every physical body has its astral counterpart. If I have a glass of water standing upon a table, the glass and the table, being of physical matter in the solid state, are interpenetrated by astral matter of the lowest subdivision. The water in the glass, being liquid, is interpenetrated by what we may call astral liquid—that is, by astral matter of the sixth subdivision; whereas the air surrounding both, being physical matter in the gaseous condition, is entirely interpenetrated by astral gaseous matter—that is, astral matter of the fifth subdivision.
But just as air, water, glass and table are alike interpenetrated all the time by the finer physical matter which we have called etheric, so are all the astral counterparts interpenetrated by the finer astral matter of the higher subdivisions which correspond to the etheric. But even the astral solid is less dense than the finest of the physical ethers.
The man who finds himself in the astral world after death, if he has not submitted to the rearrangement of the matter of his body, will notice but little difference from physical life. He can float about in any direction at will, but in actual fact he usually stays in the neighbourhood to which he is accustomed. He is still able to perceive his house, his room, his furniture, his relations, his friends. The living, when ignorant of the higher worlds, suppose themselves to have "lost" those who have laid aside their physical bodies; but the dead are never for a moment under the impression that they have lost the living.
Functioning as they are in the astral body, the dead can no longer see the physical bodies of those whom they have left behind; but they do see their astral bodies, and as those are exactly the same in outline as the physical, they are perfectly aware of the presence of their friends. They see each one surrounded by a faint ovoid of luminous mist, and if they happen to be observant, they may notice various other small changes in their surroundings; but it is at least quite clear to them that they have not gone away to some distant heaven or hell, but still remain in touch with the world which they know, although they see it at a somewhat different angle.
The dead man has the astral body of his living friend obviously before him, so he cannot think of him as lost; but while the friend is awake, the dead man will not be able to make any impression upon him, for the consciousness of the friend is then in the physical world, and his astral body is being used only as a bridge. The dead man cannot therefore communicate with his friend, nor can he read his friend's higher thoughts; but he will see by the change in colour in the astral body any emotion which that friend may feel, and with a little practice and observation he may easily learn to read all those thoughts of his friend which have in them anything of self or of desire.
When the friend falls asleep the whole position is changed. He is then also conscious in the astral world side by side with the dead man, and they can communicate in every respect as freely as they could during physical life. The emotions felt by the living react strongly upon the dead who love them. If the former give way to grief, the latter cannot but suffer severely.
The conditions of life after death are almost infinite in their variety, but they can be calculated without difficulty by any one who will take the trouble to understand the astral world and to consider the character of the person concerned. That character is not in the slightest degree changed by death; the man's thoughts, emotions and desires are exactly the same as before. He is in every way the same man, minus his physical body; and his happiness or misery depends upon the extent to which this loss of the physical body affects him.
If his longings have been such as need a physical body for their gratification, he is likely to suffer considerably. Such a craving manifests itself as a vibration in the astral body, and while we are still in this world most of its strength is employed in setting in motion the heavy physical particles. Desire is therefore a far greater force in the astral life than in the physical, and if the man has not been in the habit of controlling it, and if in this new life it cannot be satisfied, it may cause him great and long-continued trouble.
Take as an illustration the extreme case of a drunkard or a sensualist. Here we have a lust which has been strong enough during physical life to overpower reason, common sense and all the feelings of decency and of family affection. After death the man finds himself in the astral world feeling the appetite perhaps a hundred times more strongly, yet absolutely unable to satisfy it because he has lost the physical body. Such a life is a very real hell—the only hell there is; yet no one is punishing him; he is reaping the perfectly natural result of his own action. Gradually as time passes this force of desire wears out, but only at the cost of terrible suffering for the man, because to him every day seems as a thousand years. He has no measure of time such as we have in the physical world. He can measure it only by his sensations. From a distortion of this fact has come the blasphemous idea of eternal damnation.
Many other cases less extreme than this will readily suggest themselves, in which a hankering which cannot be fulfilled may prove itself a torture. A more ordinary case is that of a man who has no particular vices, such as drink or sensuality, but yet has been attached entirely to things of the physical world, and has lived a life devoted to business or to aimless social functions. For him the astral world is a place of weariness; the only thing for which he craves are no longer possible for him, for in the astral world there is no business to be done, and, though he may have as much companionship as he wishes, society is now for him a very different matter, because all the pretences upon which it is usually based in this world are no longer possible.
These cases, however, are only the few, and for most people the state after death is much happier than life upon earth. The first feeling of which the dead man is usually conscious is one of the most wonderful and delightful freedom. He has absolutely nothing to worry about, and no duties rest upon him, except those which he chooses to impose upon himself. For all but a very small minority, physical life is spent in doing what the man would much rather not do; but he has to do it in order to support himself or his wife and family. In the astral world no support is necessary; food is no longer needed, shelter is not required, since he is entirely unaffected by heat or cold; and each man by the mere exercise of his thought clothes himself as he wishes. For the first time since early childhood the man is entirely free to spend the whole of his time in doing just exactly what he likes.
His capacity for every kind of enjoyment is greatly enhanced, if only that enjoyment does not need a physical body for its expression. If he loves the beauties of Nature, it is now within his power to travel with great rapidity and without fatigue over the whole world, to contemplate all its loveliest spots, and to explore its most secret recesses. If he delights in art, all the world's masterpieces are at his disposal. If he loves music, he can go where he will to hear it, and it will now mean much more to him than it has ever meant before; for though he can no longer hear the physical sounds, he can receive the whole effect of the music into himself in far fuller measure than in this lower world. If he is a student of science, he can not only visit the great scientific men of the world, and catch from them such thoughts and ideas as may be within his comprehension, but also he can undertake researches of his own into the science of this higher world, seeing much more of what he is doing than has ever before been possible to him. Best of all, he whose great delight in this world has been to help his fellow men will still find ample scope for his philanthropic efforts.
Men are no longer hungry, cold, or suffering from disease in this astral world; but there are vast numbers who, being ignorant, desire knowledge—who, being still in the grip of desire for earthly things, need the explanation which will turn their thought to higher levels—who have entangled themselves in a web of their own imaginings, and can be set free only by one who understands these new surroundings and can help them to distinguish the facts of the world from their own ignorant misrepresentation of them. All these can be helped by the man of intelligence and of kindly heart. Many men arrive in the astral world in utter ignorance of its conditions, not realizing at first that they are dead, and when they do realize it fearing the fate that may be in store for them, because of false and wicked theological teaching. All of these need the cheer and comfort which can only be given to them by a man of common sense who possesses some knowledge of the facts of Nature.
There is thus no lack of the most profitable occupation for any man whose interests during his physical life have been rational; nor is there any lack of companionship. Men whose tastes and pursuits are similar drift naturally together there just as they do here; and many realms of Nature, which during our physical life are concealed by the dense veil of matter, now lie open for the detailed study of those who care to examine them.
To a large extent people make their own surroundings. We have already referred to the seven subdivisions of this astral world. Numbering these from the highest and least material downwards, we find that they fall naturally into three classes—divisions one, two and three forming one such class, and four, five and six another; while the seventh and lowest of all stands alone. As I have said, although they all interpenetrate, their substance has a general tendency to arrange itself according to its specific gravity, so that most of the matter belonging to the higher subdivisions is found at a greater elevation above the surface of the earth than the bulk of the matter of the lower portions.
Hence, although any person inhabiting the astral world can move into any part of it, his natural tendency is to float at the level which corresponds with the specific gravity of the heaviest matter in his astral body. The man who has not permitted the rearrangement of the matter of his astral body after death is entirely free of the whole astral world; but the majority, who do permit it, are not equally free—not because there is anything to prevent them from rising to the highest level or sinking to the lowest, but because they are able to sense clearly only a certain part of that world.
I have described something of the fate of a man who is on the lowest level, shut in by a strong shell of coarse matter. Because of the extreme comparative density of that matter he is conscious of less outside of his own subdivision than a man at any other level. The general specific gravity of his own astral body tends to make him float below the surface of the earth. The physical matter of the earth is absolutely non-existent to his astral senses, and his natural attraction is to that least delicate form of astral matter which is the counterpart of that solid earth. A man who has confined himself to that lowest subdivision will therefore usually find himself floating in darkness and cut off to a great extent from others of the dead, whose lives have been such as to keep them on a higher level.
Divisions four, five and six of the astral world (to which most people are attracted) have for their background the astral counterpart of the physical world in which we live, and all its familiar accessories. Life in the sixth subdivision is simply like our ordinary life on this earth minus the physical body and its necessities while as it ascends through the fifth and fourth divisions it becomes less and less material and is more and more withdrawn from our lower world and its interests.
The first, second and third sections, though occupying the same space, yet give the impression of being much further removed from the physical, and correspondingly less material. Men who inhabit these levels lose sight of the earth and its belongings; they are usually deeply self-absorbed, and to a large extent create their own surroundings, though these are sufficiently objective to be perceptible to other men of their level, and also to clairvoyant vision.
This region is the summerland of which we hear in spiritualistic circles—the world in which, by the exercise of their thought, the dead call into temporary existence their houses and schools and cities. These surroundings, though fanciful from our point of view, are to the dead as real as houses, temples or churches built of stone are to us, and many people live very contentedly there for a number of years in the midst of all these thought-creations.
Some of the scenery thus produced is very beautiful; it includes lovely lakes, magnificent mountains, pleasant flower gardens, decidedly superior to anything in the physical world; though on the other hand it also contains much which to the trained clairvoyant (who has learned to see things as they are) appears ridiculous—as, for example, the endeavours of the unlearned to make a thought-form of some of the curious symbolic descriptions contained in their various scriptures. An ignorant peasant's thought-image of a beast full of eyes within, or of a sea of glass mingled with fire, is naturally often grotesque, although to its maker it is perfectly satisfactory. This astral world is full of thought-created figures and landscapes. Men of all religions image here their deities and their respective conceptions of paradise, and enjoy themselves greatly among these dream-forms until they pass into the mental world and come into touch with something nearer to reality.
Every one after death—any ordinary person, that is, in whose case the rearrangement of the matter of the astral body has been made—has to pass through all these subdivisions in turn. It does not follow that every one is conscious in all of them. The ordinarily decent person has in his astral body but little of the matter of its lowest portion—by no means enough to construct a heavy shell. The redistribution puts on the outside of the body its densest matter; in the ordinary man this is usually matter of the sixth subdivision, mixed with a little of the seventh, and so he finds himself viewing the counterpart of the physical world.
The ego is steadily withdrawing into himself, and as he withdraws he leaves behind him level after level of this astral matter. So the length of the man's detention in any section of the astral world is precisely in proportion to the amount of its matter which is found in his astral body, and that in turn depends upon the life he has lived, the desires he has indulged, and the class of matter which by so doing he has attracted towards him and built into himself. Finding himself then in the sixth section, still hovering about the places and persons with which he was most closely connected while on earth, the average man, as time passes on, finds the earthly surroundings gradually growing dimmer and becoming of less and less importance to him, and he tends more and more to mould his entourage into agreement with the more persistent of his thoughts. By the time that he reaches the third level he finds that this characteristic has entirely superseded the vision of the realities of the astral world.
The second subdivision is a shade less material than the third, for if the latter is the summerland of the spiritualists, the former is the material heaven of the more ignorantly orthodox; while the first or highest level appears to be the special home of those who during life have devoted themselves to materialistic but intellectual pursuits, following them not for the sake of benefiting their fellow men, but either from motives of selfish ambition or simply for the sake of intellectual exercise. All these people are perfectly happy. Later on they will reach a stage when they can appreciate something much higher, and when that stage comes they will find the higher ready for them.
In this astral life people of the same nation and of the same interest tend to keep together, precisely as they do here. The religious people, for example, who imagine for themselves a material heaven, do not at all interfere with men of other faiths whose ideas of celestial joy are different. There is nothing to prevent a Christian from drifting into the heaven of the Hindu or the Muhammadan, but he is little likely to do so, because his interests and attractions are all in the heaven of his own faith, along with friends who have shared that faith with him. This is by no means the true heaven described by any of the religions, but only a gross and material misrepresentation of it; the real thing will be found when we come to consider the mental world.
The dead man who has not permitted the rearrangement of the matter of his astral body is free of the entire world, and can wander all over it at will, seeing the whole of whatever he examines, instead of only a part of it as the others do. He does not find it inconveniently crowded, for the astral world is much larger than the surface of the physical earth, while its population is somewhat smaller, because the average life of humanity in the astral world is shorter than the average in the physical.
Not only the dead, however, are the inhabitants of this astral world, but always about one-third of the living as well, who have temporarily left their physical bodies behind them in sleep. The astral world has also a great number of non-human inhabitants, some of them far below the level of man, and some considerably above him. The nature-spirits form an enormous kingdom, some of whose members exist in the astral world, and make a large part of its population. This vast kingdom exists in the physical world also, for many of its orders wear etheric bodies and are only just beyond the range of ordinary physical sight. Indeed, circumstances not infrequently occur under which they can be seen, and in many lonely mountain districts these appearances are traditional among the peasants, by whom they are commonly spoken of as fairies, good people, pixies or brownies.
They are protean, but usually prefer to wear a miniature human form. Since they are not yet individualized, they may be thought of almost as etheric and astral animals; yet many of them are intellectually quite equal to average humanity. They have their nations and types just as we have, and they are often grouped into four great classes, and called the spirits of earth, water, fire and air. Only the members of the last of these four divisions normally confine their manifestation to the astral world, but their numbers are so prodigious that they are everywhere present in it.
Another great kingdom has its representatives here—the kingdom of the angels (called in India the devas). This is a body of beings who stand far higher in evolution than man, and only the lowest fringe of their hosts touches the astral world—a fringe whose constituent members are perhaps at about the level of development of what we should call a distinctly good man.
We are neither the only nor even the principal inhabitants of our solar system; there are other lines of evolution running parallel with our own which do not pass through humanity at all, though they must all pass through a level corresponding to that of humanity. On one of these other lines of evolution are the nature-spirits above described, and at a higher level of that line comes this great kingdom of the angels. At our present level of evolution they come into obvious contact with us only very rarely, but as we develop we shall be likely to see more of them—especially as the cyclic progress of the world is now bringing it more and more under the influence of the Seventh Ray. This Seventh Ray has ceremonial for one of its characteristics, and it is through ceremonial such as that of the Church or of Freemasonry that we come most easily into touch with the angelic kingdom.
When all the man's lower emotions have worn themselves out—all emotions, I mean, which have in them any thought of self—his life in the astral world is over, and the ego passes on into the mental world. This is not in any sense a movement in space; it is simply that the steady process of withdrawal has now passed beyond even the finest kind of astral matter; so that the man's consciousness is focussed in the mental world. His astral body has not entirely disintegrated, though it is in process of doing so, and he leaves behind him an astral corpse, just as at a previous stage of the withdrawal he left behind him a physical corpse. There is a certain difference between the two which should be noticed, because of the consequences which ensue from it.
When the man leaves his physical body his separation from it should be complete, and generally is so; but this is not the case with the much finer matter of the astral body. In the course of his physical life the ordinary man usually entangles himself so much in astral matter (which, from another point of view, means that he identifies himself so closely with his lower desires) that the indrawing force of the ego cannot entirely separate him from it again. Consequently, when he finally breaks away from the astral body and transfers his activities to the mental, he loses a little of himself he leaves some of himself behind imprisoned in the matter of the astral body.
This gives a certain remnant of vitality to the astral, corpse, so that it still moves freely in the astral world, and may easily be mistaken by the ignorant for the man himself—the more so as such fragmentary consciousness as still remains to it is part of the man, and therefore it naturally regards itself and speaks of itself as the man. It retains his memories, but is only a partial and unsatisfactory representation of him. Sometimes in spiritualistic séances one comes into contact with an entity of this description, and wonders how it is that one's friend has deteriorated so much since his death. To this fragmentary entity we give the name "shade".
At a later stage even this fragment of consciousness dies out of the astral body, but does not return to the ego to whom it originally belonged. Even then the astral corpse still remains, but when it is quite without any trace of its former life we call it a "shell". Of itself a shell cannot communicate at a séance, or take any action of any sort; but such shells are frequently seized upon by sportive nature-spirits and used as temporary habitations. A shell so occupied can communicate at a séance and masquerade as its original owner, since some of his characteristics and certain portions of his memory can be evoked by the nature-spirit from his astral corpse.
When a man falls asleep, he withdraws in his astral body, leaving the whole of the physical vehicle behind him. When he dies, he draws out with him the etheric part of the physical body, and consequently has usually at least a moment of unconsciousness while he is freeing himself from it. The etheric double is not a vehicle and cannot be used as such; so when the man is surrounded by it, he is for the moment able to function neither in the physical world nor the astral. Some men succeed in shaking themselves free of this etheric envelope in a few moments; others rest within it for hours, days or even weeks.
Nor is it certain that, when the man is free from this, he will at once become conscious of the astral world. For there is in him a good deal of the lowest kind of astral matter, so that a shell of this may be made around him. But he may be quite unable to use that matter. If he has lived a reasonably decent life he is little in the habit of employing it or responding to its vibrations, and he cannot instantly acquire this habit. For that reason, he may remain unconscious until that matter gradually wears away, and some matter which he is in the habit of using comes on the surface. Such an occlusion, however, is scarcely ever complete, for even in the most carefully made shell some particles of the finer matter occasionally find their way to the surface, and give him fleeting glimpses of his surroundings.
There are some men who cling so desperately to their physical vehicles that they will not relax their hold upon the etheric double, but strive with all their might to retain it. They may be successful in doing so for a considerable time, but only at the cost of great discomfort to themselves. They are shut out from both worlds, and find themselves surrounded by a dense grey mist, through which they see very dimly the things of the physical world, but with all the colour gone from them. It is a terrible struggle for them to maintain their position in this miserable condition, and yet they will not relax their hold upon the etheric double, feeling that that is at least some sort of link with the only world that they know. Thus they drift about in a condition of loneliness and misery until from sheer fatigue their hold fails them, and they slip into the comparative happiness of astral life. Sometimes in their desperation they grasp blindly at other bodies, and try to enter into them, and occasionally they are successful in such an attempt. They may seize upon a baby body, ousting the feeble personality for whom it was intended, or sometimes they grasp even the body of an animal. All this trouble arises entirely from ignorance, and it can never happen to anyone who understands the laws of life and death.
When the astral life is over, the man dies to that world in turn, and awakens in the mental world. With him it is not at all what it is to the trained clairvoyant, who ranges through it and lives amidst the surroundings which he finds there, precisely as he would in the physical or astral worlds. The ordinary man has all through his life been encompassing himself with a mass of thought-forms. Some which are transitory, to which he pays little attention, have fallen away from him long ago, but those which represent the main interests of his life are always with him, and grow ever stronger and stronger. If some of these have been selfish, their force pours down into astral matter, and he has exhausted them during his life in the astral world. But those which are entirely unselfish belong purely to his mental body, and so when he finds himself in the mental world it is through these special thoughts that he is able to appreciate it.
His mental body is by no means fully developed; only those parts of it are really in action to their fullest extent which he has used in this altruistic manner. When he awakens again after the second death, his first sense is one of indescribable bliss and vitality—a feeling of such utter joy in living that he needs for the time nothing but just to live. Such bliss is of the essence of life in all the higher worlds of the system. Even astral life has possibilities of happiness far greater than anything that we can know in the dense body; but the heaven-life in the mental world is out of all proportion more blissful than the astral. In each higher world the same experience is repeated. Merely to live in any one of them seems the uttermost conceivable bliss; and yet, when the next one is reached, it is seen that it far surpasses the last.
Just as the bliss increases, so does the wisdom and the breadth of view. A man fusses about in the physical world and thinks himself so busy and so wise; but when he touches even the astral, he realizes at once that he has been all the time only a caterpillar crawling about and seeing nothing but his own leaf, whereas now he has spread his wings like the butterfly and flown away into the sunshine of a wider world. Yet, impossible as it may seem, the same experience is repeated when he passes into the mental world, for this life is in turn so much fuller and wider and more intense than the astral that once more no comparison is possible. And yet beyond all these there is still another life, that of the intuitional world, unto which even this is but as moonlight unto sunlight.
The man's position in the mental world differs widely from that in the astral. There he was using a body to which he was thoroughly accustomed, a body which he had been in the habit of employing every night during sleep. Here he finds himself living in a vehicle which he has never used before—a vehicle furthermore which is very far from being fully developed—a vehicle which shuts him out to a great extent from the world about him, instead of enabling him to see it. The lower part of his nature burnt itself away during his purgatorial life, and now there remain to him only his higher and more refined thoughts, the noble and unselfish aspirations which he poured out during earth-life. These cluster round him, and make a sort of shell about him, through the medium of which he is able to respond to certain types of vibrations in this refined matter.
These thoughts which surround him are the powers by which he draws upon the wealth of the heaven-world, and he finds it to be a storehouse of infinite extent, upon which he is able to draw just according to the power of those thoughts and aspirations; for in this world is existing the infinite fullness of the Divine Mind, open in all its limitless affluence to every soul, just in proportion as that soul has qualified itself to receive. A man who has already completed his human evolution, who has fully realized and unfolded the divinity whose germ is within him, finds the whole of this glory within his reach; but since none of us has yet done that, since we are only gradually rising towards that splendid consummation, it follows that none of us as yet can grasp that entirety.
But each draws from it and cognizes so much of it as he has by previous effort prepared himself to take. Different individuals bring very different capacities; they tell us in the East that each man brings his own cup, and some of the cups are large and some are small, but small or large every cup is filled to its utmost capacity; the sea of bliss holds far more than enough for all.
A man can look out upon all this glory and beauty only through the windows which he himself has made. Every one of these thought-forms is such a window, through which response may come to him from the forces without. If during his earth-life he has chiefly regarded physical things, then he has made for himself but few windows through which this higher glory can shine in upon him. Yet every man who is above the lowest savage must have had some touch of pure unselfish feeling, even if it were but once in all his life, and that will be a window for him now.
The ordinary man is not capable of any great activity in this mental world; his condition is chiefly receptive, and his vision of anything outside his own shell of thought is of the most limited character. He is surrounded by living forces, mighty angelic inhabitants of this glorious world, and many of their orders are very sensitive to certain aspirations of man and readily respond to them. But a man can take advantage of these only in so far as he has already prepared himself to profit by them, for his thoughts and aspirations are only along certain lines, and he cannot suddenly form new lines. There are many directions which the higher thought may take—some of them personal and some impersonal. Among the latter are art, music and philosophy; and a man whose interest lay along any one of these lines finds both measureless enjoyment and unlimited instruction waiting for him—that is, the amount of enjoyment and instruction is limited only by his power of perception.
We find a large number of people whose only higher thoughts are those connected with affection and devotion. If a man loves another deeply or if he feels strong devotion to a personal deity, he makes a strong mental image of that friend or of the deity, and the object of his feeling is often present in his mind. Inevitably he takes that mental image into the heaven-world with him, because it is to that level of matter that it naturally belongs.
Take first the case of affection. The love which forms and retains such an image is a very powerful force—a force which is strong enough to reach and to act upon the ego of his friend in the higher part of the mental world. It is that ego that is the real man whom he loves—not the physical body which is so partial a representation of him. The ego of the friend, feeling this vibration, at once and eagerly responds to it, and pours himself into the thought-form, which has been made for him; so that the man's friend is truly present with him more vividly than ever before. To this result it makes no difference whatever whether the friend is what we call living or dead; the appeal is made not to the fragment of the friend which is sometimes imprisoned in a physical body, but to the man himself on his own true level; and he always responds. A man who has a hundred friends can simultaneously and fully respond to the affection of every one of them, for no number of representations on a lower level can exhaust the infinity of the ego.
Thus every man in his heaven-life has around him all the friends for whose company he wishes, and they are for him always at their best, because he himself makes for them the thought-form through which they manifest to him. In our limited physical world we are so accustomed to thinking of our friend as only the limited manifestation which we know in the physical world, that it is at first difficult for us to realize the grandeur of the conception; when we can realize it, we shall see how much nearer we are in truth to our friends in the heaven-life than we ever were on earth. The same is true in the case of devotion. The man in the heaven-world is two great stages nearer to the object of his devotion than he was during physical life, and so his experiences are of a far more transcendent character.
In this mental world, as in the astral, there are seven subdivisions. The first, second and third are the habitat of the ego in his causal body, so the mental body contains matter of the remaining four only, and it is in those sections that his heaven-life is passed. Man does not, however, pass from one to the other of these, as is the case in the astral world, for there is nothing in this life corresponding to the rearrangement. Rather is the man drawn to the level which best corresponds to the degree of his development, and on that level he spends the whole of his life in the mental body. Each man makes his own conditions, so that the number of varieties is infinite.
Speaking broadly, we may say that the dominant characteristic observed in the lowest portion is unselfish family affection. Unselfish it must be, or it would find no place here; all selfish tinges, if there were any, worked out their results in the astral world. The dominant characteristic of the sixth level may be said to be anthropomorphical religious devotion; while that of the fifth section is devotion expressing itself in active work of some sort. All these—the fifth, sixth and seventh subdivisions—are concerned with the working out of devotion to personalities (either to one's family and friends or to a personal deity) rather than the wider devotion to humanity for its own sake, which finds its expression in the next section. The activities of this fourth stage are varied. They can best be arranged in four main divisions: unselfish pursuit of spiritual knowledge; high philosophy or scientific thought; literary or artistic ability exercised for unselfish purposes; and service for the sake of service.
Even to this glorious heaven-life there comes an end, and then the mental body in its turn drops away as the others have done, and the man's life in his causal body begins. Here the man needs no windows, for this is his true home and all his walls have fallen away. The majority of men have as yet but very little consciousness at such a height as this; they rest dreamily unobservant and scarcely awake, but such vision as they have is true, however limited it may be by their lack of development. Still, every time they return, these limitations will be smaller, and they themselves will be greater; so that this truest life will be wider and fuller for them.
As this improvement continues, this causal life grows, longer and longer, assuming an ever larger proportion as compared to the existence at lower levels. And as he grows, the man becomes capable not only of receiving but also of giving. Then indeed is his triumph approaching, for he is learning the lesson of the Christ, learning the crowning glory of sacrifice, the supreme delight of pouring out all his life for the helping of his fellow-men, the devotion of the self to the all, of celestial strength to human service, of all those splendid heavenly forces to the aid of the struggling sons of earth. That is part of the life that lies before us; these are some of the steps which even we who are still so near the bottom of the golden ladder may see rising above us, so that we may report them to those who have not seen as yet, in order that they too may open their eyes to the unimaginable splendour which surrounds them here and now in this dull daily life. This is part of the gospel of Theosophy—the certainty of this sublime future for all. It is certain because it is here already, because to inherit it we have only to fit ourselves for it.