Present Attitudes to Death

I undertook to take up with you the processes of dying and to consider a little more fully the factor of death – the most familiar experience (could the physical brain but recall it and realize it) in the life of the reincarnating entity or soul. Let me make some comments as to the attitude of man to the experience of “restitution.” This is a peculiarly occult word, largely used by the initiate when speaking of death. The outstanding attitude associated with death is one of fear. This fear is based upon the – at present – mental uncertainty as to the fact of immortality. Beyond the proven fact of some form of survival, established by the psychical research groups, immortality or the permanent existence of what we usually mean when we speak of the “I” remains as yet in the realm of wishful thinking or of belief. This belief can be founded on Christian premises, upon religious affirmation based on rationalizing the matter, and on the more scientific approach which argues that economic necessity requires that that which has been so long in evolving and which is the culminating result of the evolutionary process cannot be lost. It is interesting to note that there is no evidence upon our planet of any higher evolutionary product than that of the human kingdom; even for the materialistic thinker, the uniqueness of man is to be found in his various stages of consciousness and in his capacity to present for investigation all stages of consciousness, from that of the illiterate savage, through all the intermediate stages of mental effectiveness up to the most advanced thinkers and geniuses, capable of creative art, scientific discovery and spiritual perception.

Putting it very simply, the question which the theme of death arouses is: Where is the “I,” the occupying tenant of the body, when that body is relinquished and disintegrates? Is there, in the last analysis, an occupying tenant?

Human history records the endless search for assurance upon this subject; this search culminates today in the numerous societies which are occupying themselves with the attempt to prove immortality and to penetrate into those fastnesses of the spirit which apparently give sanctuary to that “I” which has been the actor on the physical plane and which has hitherto baffled the most earnest seeker. The incentive of fear lies behind this frantic search; it is an unfortunate fact that the majority of the people (apart from a few enlightened scientists and similar intelligent seekers) who engage in the usually questionable techniques of the seance room, are emotional types, easily convinced and only too ready to accept as evidence that which the more intelligent seeker would immediately repudiate.

Let me here make my position clear as regards the great spiritualistic movement which has done so much in the past to prove the fact of survival, and which has also, in certain of its phases, done so much to mislead and deceive mankind. Under this general term, I class also the various psychical research groups and exempt all sincere scientific work. None of these groups has as yet proven their case. The mystery and the foolishness of the average seance room, and the work of the mediums, have nevertheless demonstrated the presence of an inexplicable factor; the laboratories of the scientific research worker have scarcely proved even that. For every case of the definitely acceptable appearance of a discarnate person there are thousands of cases which can be explained upon the grounds of gullibility, telepathic rapport (with the bereaved person, but not with anyone who has passed over), the seeing of thought-forms by the clairvoyant and the hearing of voices by the clairaudient, and also by trickery. Note that I refer to “acceptable appearances” of a returning spirit. There is enough evidence to warrant belief in survival and to prove its factual nature. Upon the grounds of the inexplicable phenomena of contact with the supposedly dead which have been noted, investigated and proven, and upon the character of the men who testify to the fact of these phenomena, we can affirm that something, survives the “restitution” of the material body to the eternal reservoir of substance. It is on this premise that we proceed.

Today the phenomenon of death is becoming increasingly familiar. The world war has launched millions of men and women – civilians and those in the various branches of the armed forces of all the nations – into that unknown world which receives all those who discard the physical form. Conditions are at this time such that in spite of the ancient and deep seated fear of death, there is emerging in the consciousness of mankind the realization that there are many worse things than death; men have come to know that starvation, mutilation, permanent physical incapacity, mental disability as the result of war and the strain of war, the observation of pain and agony which cannot be relieved, are indeed worse than death; also, many know and believe (for such is the glory of the human spirit) that the relinquishing of the values for which men have fought and died down the ages and which are deemed essential to the life of the free human spirit is of greater significance than the process of death. This attitude, characteristic of the sensitive and the right thinking people at this time, is now emerging upon a large scale. This means the recognition, alongside of the ancient fear, of an unconquerable hope of better conditions to be found elsewhere, and this need not necessarily be wishful thinking but an indication of a latent subjective knowledge, slowly coming to the surface. Something is on its way as a result of human distress and human thinking; this is today sensed; this fact will be later demonstrated. Opposing this inner confidence and subjective realization are old habits of thought, the developed materialistic attitude of the present, the fear of deception, and the antagonism of both the scientist and the religious man or churchman. The former rightly refuses to believe that which remains still unproven and seems also not to be susceptible of proof, whilst religious groups and organizations have no confidence in any presentation of truth which they have not formulated in their own terms. This lays an undue emphasis upon belief and thus stultifies all enthusiastic investigation. The discovery of the fact of immortality will come from the people; it will eventually then be accepted by the churches and proven by science, but this not until the aftermath of the war is over and this planetary disturbance has subsided.

The problem of death, needless to say, is founded upon the love of life which is the deepest instinct in human nature. The determination that nothing is lost under divine law is a recognition of science; eternal persistence in some form or another is universally held to be a truth. Out of the welter of theories, three major solutions have been proposed; these are well known to all thinking people. They are:

  1. The strictly materialistic solution, which posits the experience and expression of conscious life as long as the physical, tangible form exists and persists, but also teaches that after death and the subsequent disintegration of the body there is no longer any conscious, functioning, self-identified person. The sense of the “I,” the awareness of a personality in contradistinction to all other personalities, vanishes with the disappearance of the form; personality is believed to be only the sumtotal of the consciousness of the cells in the body. This theory relegates man to the same state as any of the other forms in the three other kingdoms in nature; it is based on the non-sensitivity of the average human being to life, withdrawn from a tangible vehicle; it ignores all evidence to the contrary and says that because we cannot see (visually) and prove (tangibly) the persistence of the “I” or the immortal entity after death, it is non-existent. This theory is not held by so many as it was in earlier years, particularly during the materialistic Victorian age.
  2. The theory of conditional immortality. This theory is still held by certain fundamentalist and theologically narrow schools of thought and also by a few of the intelligentsia, primarily those of egoistic tendency. It posits that only those who reach a particular stage of spiritual awareness, or who accept a peculiar set of theological pronouncements, can receive the gift of personal immortality. The highly intellectual also argue at times that the crowning gift to humanity is a developed and cultured mind, and that those who possess this gift are likewise endowed with eternal persistence. One school dismisses those who are what they regard as spiritually recalcitrant or negative to the imposition of their particular theological certainties, either to complete annihilation as in the materialistic solution, or to a process of eternal punishment, thus at the same time arguing for a form of immortality. Owing to the innate kindness of the human heart, very few are vindictive or unthinking enough to regard this presentation as acceptable, and of course among those we must class the unthinking people who escape from mental responsibility into a blind belief in theological pronouncements. The Christian interpretation as given by the orthodox and the fundamentalist schools proves untenable when submitted to clear reasoning; among the arguments which negate its accuracy lies the fact that Christianity posits a long future but no past; it is likewise a future entirely dependent upon the activities of this present life episode and accounts in no way for the distinctions and differences which distinguish humanity. It is only tenable upon the theory of an anthropomorphic Deity Whose will – as it works out in practice – gives a present that has no past but only a future; the injustice of this is widely recognized, but the inscrutable will of God must not be questioned. Millions still hold this belief, but it is not so strongly held as it was one hundred years ago.
  3. The theory of reincarnation, so familiar to all my readers, is becoming increasingly popular in the Occident; it has always been accepted (though with many foolish additions and interpretations) in the Orient. This teaching has been as much distorted as have the teachings of the Christ or the Buddha or Shri Krishna by their narrow-minded and mentally limited theologians. The basic facts of a spiritual origin, of a descent into matter, of an ascent through the medium of constant incarnations in form until those forms are perfect expressions of the indwelling spiritual consciousness, and of a series of initiations at the close of the cycle of incarnation, are being more readily accepted and acknowledged than ever before.

Such are the major solutions of the problems of immortality and of the persistence of the human soul; they aim to answer the eternal questioning of the human heart as to Whence, Why, Whither and Where? Only the last of these proposed solutions offers a truly rational reply to all of them. Its acceptance has been delayed because, ever since the time of H. P. Blavatsky, who formulated this ancient truth for the modern world in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, it has been so unintelligently presented; it has been handicapped owing to the fact that the Eastern races have always held it, and – from the Western angle – they are heathen and the heathen “in their blindness bow down to wood and stone,” to quote one of your fundamentalist hymns. How curious it is to realize that, to the man from Eastern countries, the religious people in the West do likewise, and can be seen on their knees before the Christian altars bearing statues of the Christ, of the Virgin Mary and of the Apostles.

The occultists of the world, through the theosophical societies and other occult bodies, so-called, have greatly damaged the presentation of the truth anent reincarnation through the unnecessary, unimportant, inaccurate and purely speculative details which they give out as truths anent the processes of death and the circumstances of man after death. These details are largely dependent upon the clairvoyant vision of astral psychics of prominence in the Theosophical Society. Yet in the Scriptures of the world these details are not given, and H.P.B. in The Secret Doctrine gave none. An instance of this inaccurate and foolish attempt to throw light upon the theory of rebirth can be seen in the time limits imposed upon departed human souls between incarnations on the physical plane and the return to physical rebirth – so many years of absence are proclaimed, dependent upon the age of the departed soul and its place upon the ladder of evolution. If, we are told, the soul is very advanced, absence from the physical plane is prolonged, whereas the reverse is the case. Advanced souls and those whose intellectual capacity is rapidly developing come back with great rapidity, owing to their sensitive response to the pull of obligations, interests and responsibilities already established, upon the physical plane. People are apt to forget that time is the sequence of events and of states of consciousness as registered by the physical brain. Where no physical brain exists, what humanity understands by time is non-existent. The removal of the barriers of the form, stage by stage, brings an increasing realization of the Eternal Now. In the case of those who have passed through the door of death and who still continue to think in terms of time, it is due to glamor and to the persistence of a powerful thought-form. It indicates polarization upon the astral plane; this is the plane upon which leading Theosophical writers and psychics have worked, and upon which they have based their writings. They are quite sincere in what they say, but omit to recognize the illusory nature of all findings based on astral clairvoyance. The recognition of a pronounced time factor, and the constant emphasis laid upon timing, are characteristic of all highly developed people in incarnation and of those whose lower, concrete minds are powerful in caliber. Children and child-races on the one hand, and those highly advanced people whose abstract minds are functioning (through the medium of the interpretive lower mind), usually have no sense of time. The initiate uses the time factor in his relations and his dealings with those living upon the physical plane, but is detached within himself from all recognition of it elsewhere in the universe.

Therefore the use of the term “immortality” infers timelessness and teaches that this timelessness exists for that which is not perishable or conditioned by time. This is a statement requiring careful consideration. Man reincarnates under no time urge. He incarnates under the demands of karmic liability, under the pull of that which he, as a soul, has initiated, and because of a sensed need to fulfil instituted obligations; he incarnates also from a sense of responsibility and to meet requirements which an earlier breaking of the laws governing right human relations have imposed upon him. When these requirements, soul necessities, experiences and responsibilities have all been met, he enters permanently “into the clear cold light of love and life” and no longer needs (as far as he himself is concerned) the nursery stage of soul experience on earth. He is free from karmic impositions in the three worlds, but is still under the impulse of karmic necessity which exacts from him the last possible ounce of service that he is in a position to render to those still under the Law of Karmic Liability. You have, therefore, three aspects of the Law of Karma, as it affects the principle of rebirth:

  1. The Law of Karmic Liability, governing life in the three worlds of human evolution, and which is ended altogether at the fourth initiation.
  2. The Law of Karmic Necessity. This governs the life of the advanced disciple and the initiate from the time of the second initiation until a certain initiation higher than the fourth; these initiations enable him to pass on to the Way of the Higher Evolution.
  3. The Law of Karmic Transformation, a mysterious phrase governing the processes undergone upon the Higher Way. These fit the initiate to pass off the cosmic physical plane altogether, and to function upon the cosmic mental plane. It is concerned with the release of those like Sanat Kumara, and His Associates in the Council Chamber at Shamballa, from the imposition of cosmic desire which demonstrates upon our cosmic physical plane as spiritual will. This should be to you an arresting thought. It will be obvious, however, that there is little that I can say upon this subject. The knowledge involved is not yet mine.

To turn now to another aspect of our theme. There are, speaking in the larger sense, three major death episodes.

There is, first of all, the constant recurrence of the fact of physical death. This is familiar to all of us through its extreme frequency, could we but realize it. This recognition would rapidly eliminate the present fear of death. There is then the “second death” spoken of in the Bible, which is in this present planetary cycle associated with the death of all astral control over the human being. In the larger sense, this second death is consummated at the fourth initiation, when even spiritual aspiration dies, being no more needed; the Will of the initiate is now fixed and immovable, and astral sensitivity is no longer required.

There is a curious counterpart to this experience upon a much lower level in the death of all astral emotion which takes place for the individual aspirant at the time of the second initiation. It is then a complete episode and is consciously registered. Between the second and the third initiations, the disciple has to demonstrate a continuity of non-response to astralism and emotionalism. The second death, to which I am here referring, has to do with the death or the disappearance of the causal body at the time of the fourth initiation; this marks the completion of the building of the antahkarana and the institution of direct, unimpeded continuity of relationship between the Monad and the personality.

The third death takes place when the initiate leaves behind him, finally and with no prospect of return, all relation with the cosmic physical plane. This death, necessarily, lies far ahead for all in the Hierarchy and is at present only possible and permissible for a few in the Council Chamber at Shamballa. It is not, however, a process through which Sanat Kumara will pass. He underwent this “transformation” many aeons ago, during the great cataclysm which inaugurated the Lemurian Age, and which was induced by His cosmic experience and the need for an inflow of energy from extra-planetary Beings.

I have given these brief summations so as to enlarge your general understanding of what the Masters call “the extension of death in space.” Nevertheless, in the following pages we shall confine ourselves to the theme of the death of the physical body and of the subtler bodies in the three worlds; we shall deal also with the processes which bring about the reabsorption of the human soul into the spiritual soul upon its own plane, the higher mental plane; we shall consider the reassimilation of substance and the appropriation of matter in order again to reincarnate.

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Excerpted from: Esoteric Healing – Chapter IV – The Basic Requirements for Healing

By Alice Bailey& Djwhal Khul