AND THE LIFE AFTER DEATH
By Geoffrey Hodson
OUR subject this evening can scarcely fail to be of the greatest interest and importance to every one of us; for who is there among us who has not been called upon to experience the pain of bereavement, who has not felt a desire to know where the loved ones have gone, to know something of the conditions of the life after death into which they have entered and upon which we must all embark when our time comes, as one day inevitably it must? It is at such junctures in human life that the teachings of Theosophy possess especial power to console and to illumine. Theosophy has power to console because it affirms most positively that there is a life beyond the grave, that the body alone dies, whilst the immortal son of God, the real ego, lives on eternally. Theosophy reaffirms the great teaching in the Bible which gives the solution to the problem of life after death in the words: “God created man to be immortal; in the image of His own eternity created He him.” There, if we can receive it, is the real answer to the question as to whether life continues after death.
Theosophy has power to illumine, also, because it shows how man may know for himself, while still on this earth, the facts of the life beyond the grave. It teaches that there resides in man a faculty by means of which the veil hiding the invisible world from our sight may be rent asunder, and the facts and phenomena of that world, the conditions of life in it, be seen, investigated, and understood. This extended vision, which is a sixth sense, latent in the majority, awakened in the few, will be used quite normally and naturally by later races. When developed and used of set purpose in these days, this faculty enables its possessor to do what later races of mankind will do: to explore at firsthand and in full waking consciousness the worlds of the life after death, to meet their inhabitants face to face, and to study with scientific accuracy the conditions under which they live.
This is an arresting and, if true, important statement, one which demands deep consideration. It is not my subject this evening; I cannot, therefore, give to it the time which it deserves. I must ask you to accept the existence of this faculty as a hypothesis, susceptible of test and proof in due course, for almost all theosophical teachings concerning the invisible worlds are gained by the use of such extended vision as an instrument of research.
If you will grant that there is such a faculty—not the negative psychism of the entranced medium, but the positive, trained power under the control of the will, just as is physical vision—if you will grant that, then assume with me that we are in the chamber of death, watching with the seeing eye the transition from this world to the next of someone dying from old age or disease: What shall we see?
As the hour of dissolution approaches, we shall see the life-forces of the body being withdrawn from the extremities and centred in the heart, there to be visible as a glowing focus of light. After this, sensation in the lower limbs is greatly diminished. Then, as death draws nearer, the life-forces are withdrawn still further and focussed in the middle of the head, in the third ventricle of the brain, which is the centre of egoic consciousness during physical life.
The dying person may or may not still be physically conscious. If unconscious, in a coma preceding death, he will be visible to clairvoyant sight, out of the body and in his superphysical vehicle. This vehicle is built up of much finer matter than our ether, and in outline resembles almost exactly the physical body; it is, in fact, its counterpart. It differs in appearance from the physical in that the matter of which it is built is self-luminous, so that it glows as if lighted from within, and it is surrounded by an atmosphere, visible as light in constantly changing colours.
These colours of the aura, as it is called, correspond to states of consciousness and are seen to vary with every change of feeling and thought. There is, indeed, a veritable science to which I may refer in passing; the science of the correlation of states of consciousness with the colours of the aura. A rush, of sympathy for someone in pain or trouble, for example, suffuses the aura with green; intellectual effort suffuses it with yellow. This room shows just now a great deal of the yellow of intellectual activity. That particular colour is just above and behind the head, and it probably gave rise to the nimbus of the Saint, although everyone displays it during thought processes. Blue denotes devotional activity; lilac, spirituality; rose deepening to crimson, love. Red is the colour of anger and irritability; brown, of selfishness; and so on. As stated, these colours are visible to clairvoyant sight, so that by looking at people’s auras it is possible to tell the kind of thoughts and feelings to which they habitually give expression, to discover their temperament and character. Naturally, such a power is not used save by permission and for research purposes.
Thus, the aura will be visible around the dying person, who, physically unconscious, is now outside his physical body, floating just above it, and joined to it by a stream of flowing forces which shine with a delicate silvery light. This current flows between the head of the physical body and the head of the superphysical, connecting them, and so long as it continues to flow there is always the possibility of physical awakening; once it is broken, as at the moment of death, there is no longer any possibility of return. All apparent cases of resuscitation are in reality only awakenings into bodies that were not dead.
The dying person may return temporarily to his body, and on opening his eyes may see some of the phenomena of the next world, make references to people not physically present. When the actual moment of death arrives, the “silver cord” is seen to break, and the man himself to rise as though released from some gravitational pull. Although not absolutely certain, I am inclined to think that the exact moment of death for each one of us is fixed, but whether this is so or not, the moment comes, the cord breaks, the man is free of his body and can awaken in it no more. The signs of death appear in it. Its work is done.
In nearly all cases, man is as unconscious of dying as of falling asleep. He passes, as it were, upon a sigh from this world to the next. He is generally engaged in a process of review in which the events of the life just closed pass before his mind’s eye in clear perspective; causes and effects are correlated, successes and their results, failures and their outworkings. This process of review is very important, for from it is distilled a certain wisdom, the fruitage of the life just closed. It is for this reason that we should be mentally, emotionally, and physically quiet in the chamber of death, lest by an excess of grief we disturb the loved one in this important process. He is now living in his subtler body, the body of feeling, and is therefore highly sensitive to the forces of thought and emotion. Our thoughts should rightly be turned in love towards him, and in blessing and aspiration for his progress inwards to the inner worlds, but calmly and with self-control. In Theosophy we are taught to dwell not so much upon our own great loss as upon their transcendent gain; and transcendent gain it is to be freed from the physical body and its limitations.
The review ended, there generally follows a period of complete unconsciousness which may last from thirty-six to forty-eight hours, varying with the individual. Then the awakening into the new life occurs, and the man, frequently still unaware of what has happened, looks about him. In nearly all cases some friend or relative is awaiting him; or if he has none such to welcome him into the new life, then some member of the great band of helpers whose work it is to welcome newcomers comes forward to receive him. Such helpers are members of a great and highly trained band of servers deputed to this particular work of assisting new arrivals. These welcome newcomers explain the new life, and help them to settle down to it as comfortably as possible. Few if any in these days enter that world without some hand being stretched forth to welcome and assist them in the first stages of the new life. What will be the nature of this new life?
At this point I must say something which will perhaps be difficult to believe, but since I know it to be true and of great importance in our study I must put it before you. It is that the world to which our friends have gone and to which we shall all go when our time comes is no strange land, for we go there every night whilst our physical bodies sleep. Sleep has aptly and truly been called the twin brother of death. We may go further and call them the same thing; for whilst the physical body sleeps we are awake in the body which we shall use after death. Our dreams are in part the confused memories of our life in that world which we bring back on awakening. The difference between sleep and death lies in the fact that in sleep the “silver cord” which links us to the body is not broken. In death, the cord is broken, and as we have then no link with the physical body we are unable to return to it. It is, however, no strange land to which we awaken at bodily death, for we already know it well, and in many cases have our place there, and our work.
The next general principle which I wish to put before you is that the conditions in which a person finds himself after death depend almost entirely upon his temperament and upon the nature of the life he has led on the physical plane. We each see the world around us through the windows of our temperament. The sunny natured, friendly individual awakens after death to a sunny, friendly world; whilst the gloomy, self-centred individual may awaken to a dull, gloomy, and somewhat lonely world—not because that world is lonely, but because the self-centred individual does not inspire and is unable to give friendship. Happily, the pain of the boredom and isolation which such people have unconsciously created for themselves, spurs them into changing their attitude towards life.
To move now from general to particular statements, clairvoyant investigation reveals in new arrivals a tendency to pursue in the new life sublimated forms of those occupations which most appealed to them on earth. Thus, the scientific investigator whose ideal on earth was the pursuit of truth finds that he can follow truth there as here. He finds, too, that his investigations are far more fruitful there than here, because he has left the world of densest matter, is conscious in much finer substance and nearer to the world of causes; and it is in the higher consciousness and in the world of causes that truth and understanding abide. He finds that many of the factors in the structure of matter and in evolution which were previously hidden from him are now objectively revealed. The laws and forces under which atoms combine in certain ways to form the molecules of the different elements, the development of cell from protoplasm, from single cell to man, the great mystery for the biologist, is understood more clearly there, for the operation of the Divine Mind and Its embodiments may be everywhere observed. The flowing forces of which this physical world is an illusionary product are visible as such in the next world. The great engineers of the Logos, the beings who direct the flowing of these forces, operating and administering the processes and laws of Nature, the angelic hosts, can be seen at work, and from them much may be learnt. The scientific investigator thus finds himself in a world in which his work is far more fruitful than on earth. Indeed, in the after death world one finds groups of scientists, gathered together by affinity of temperament, absorbed in their accustomed pursuit of knowledge, equipped with laboratories, observatories, and research stations, and not only investigating but teaching as well. For there is a continuation of education there, educationists; like scientists and all other specialized workers, tending to follow their own bent, giving their time to unravelling the problems met with in their work, and to the carrying of that work to a higher state of perfection than was possible on earth. Very often, ideas thus discovered in the inner world are picked up by minds incarnate here on earth, for there is considerable interplay and interchange of thought between the dwellers in the two worlds.
Similarly, the artist, he for whom beauty is the goal, finds that in that world his quest can be carried far nearer to its consummation than was possible in the world of dense physical matter. If he be painter or sculptor, no longer in the dull pigments of earth need he reproduce his visions, but instantly and automatically the responsive matter of the next world assumes forms appropriate to his thought. And not only is his vision objectified before him, but he finds, to his great joy, that he can refine and remould it until relative perfection is attained. And because groups are drawn together in that world by affinity of temperament rather than by racial or family relationship, he finds himself nearer to his own kind, a member, probably, of one of the many groups of similar workers dedicated to the pursuit of beauty, to the discovery through the beautiful of their highest selves.
For the musician, too, the way is open to a wider, deeper understanding of his art. Music has, on the inner planes, aspects of which we normally know little down here. The musician finds, for example, that music there is not so much heard as seen. If physical music is observed clairvoyantly it is seen to produce forms in the glowing, self-luminous matter of the inner worlds, this living, responsive matter being thrown into changing, iridescent forms by the sound and the intent of the music. In the inner planes, too, the real Song of Creation can be heard, that ever-uttered Word of God which is the theme of the great symphony of creation.
This exquisite responsiveness of the matter of the inner worlds to every change of thought and feeling is one of the first discoveries the student makes when his inner eyes are opened. He finds, as do those who enter those worlds at death, that thought is a mighty power, potent to affect the lives of others as well as to help him on his way, if he uses it aright.
The reformer, the servant, the healer, the physician, each finds, if he can enter into it, a new world of service opening up before him. If the true spirit of the healer is in him, the physician will find coming to him for help—men and women with twisted minds and tortured feelings, people who have died with uneasy consciences, with duties left undone, with vices unconquered, obliquities of vision, complexes and other psychical disturbances. Such conditions are far more sources of difficulty there than here, for that is the world of emotion. People thus disturbed are greatly in need the services of a physician. There is, in fact, a great host of workers dedicated to this task of re-attuning and reharmonizing those in need.
The business man, for the first few days after his passing, tends to gravitate by force of habit to his old business premises; but he soon finds that he cannot affect his colleagues. They do not respond to his presence or his thoughts. They do not even know that he is with them.
Happily, however, the wider interests and greater freedom of the new life, the responsive and buoyant body he is using, his realization that the greater causes of business here do not obtain in his new sphere, and that consequently there is not much to be busy about in that direction, soon draw him away from his physical preoccupations. The life after death can indeed be the beginning of a most wonderful freedom; for the grinding business necessities which, doubtless for our own good, keep us busy here and tend to chain our thoughts and feelings to material things, no longer exist.
Food, for example, though one of the great causes of business and personal effort on this plane, ceases to have any significance there, for all the nourishment our subtle bodies need is absorbed automatically from the atmosphere. The air there, as here, is charged with the life-force of God, outpoured through the sun, and contains all that is needed for bodily sustenance in that world. The whole process of its absorption and assimilation is as unconscious as is breathing on the physical plane. Food, consequently, is no problem there, and its provision is not a source of business activity.
Clothing there is made by thought. Since the matter of the next world responds instantly to thought, to think of oneself as clothed is to be clothed. Whilst one finds people in various attire, of the fashion of their own day or race, the most general raiment would seem to be a convenient, loose garment, the colour and decoration of which can be changed instantly at will.
Transportation? Again we move thought-impelled. To think of oneself in a place is to move to that place, swiftly or slowly, at will, by a delightful, floating motion as of flying. Dreams of the body as light and easily elevated, as gliding gently or swiftly through the air, are frequently memories of the normal mode of progression in the world of the life after death.
Shelter, the fourth of the great sources of business and human effort on the physical plane, is also created by thought in the next world. There, as here, people gather together in houses and cities. Privacy is needed in the after-death life just as it is needed on earth, but not shelter from the climate, for our adverse climatic conditions are not reproduced there.
Thus, life in that world is as varied and fascinating as life on this earth; indeed, more so, for there is not only an almost endless variety of activities from which to choose, but each activity can be pursued further and for a longer period than on earth, where certain pressing necessities make their demands. There are, for instance, not only centres for child-life, services for the newcomer and for those in need, but all the normal, healthy activities of human beings seeking greater light and joy and usefulness along the lines of knowledge, love, and beauty. There are religious centres, too, and to enter a church on that plane is to find that religion elevates the worshipper to far greater heights than are usually attained on earth. This is partly because the objects of worship are visible, being thought-created, and partly because emotion is there more pure and more powerful. At the east end of the church there will not be symbols and stained-glass windows so much as living images, perhaps of the Saviours of the world, of the Saints, or of the Angelic Hosts. These are not so much phantasms created by human thought as living representations into which their great Originals pour some of Their love and consciousness and which They use as channels for the outpouring of Their blessing and Their power. And since all this is visible to the worshipper there, religious services evoke a fervour and depth of response rarely experienced down here and provide a religious belief founded far more upon living experience than upon blind faith.
Such are the general conditions which we shall all indubitably find when our time comes to go there or when we gain the power to see clairvoyantly into that world from this. One might round out such a description of the normal conditions by adding to it information about the abnormal. For suicides, for example, there would seem to be at least three varieties of after-death experience. The nobly and unselfishly motivated suicide, after the shock which generally accompanies sudden death, settles down to the new life under the normal conditions previously described. Often there is, in these cases, no coma, and no time in which the person can readjust his consciousness in the ordinary way to the altered conditions of his life, but the very purity of his consciousness will assist him to make that readjustment, to see the facts of the new life in correct perspective directly his eyes open to it.
Suicides of the second class, less worthy because more selfishly motivated, sink into blank unconsciousness immediately on leaving the physical body, and remain in that condition until the time at which their ordinary death would have come upon them. Then, by the operation of some law of rhythm, they awaken, and take up their position in the new life. It is this fact of awakening when the natural term of physical life would have ended which has led me to believe that the time of death is fixed—by our own conduct, of course—that, apart from abnormal happenings, such as suicide, there is a time of natural death fixed for each one of us.
The third class of suicide is less enviable still. This comprises those men, rather gross and sensual, who have committed suicide in the full flush of life, often driven to it by passion or fear. In the new life they are still chained to the things of earth; their gross desires keep them earthbound; they can see the replica in subtle matter of the physical plane, and, unable to free themselves from that, they live in the half-world between this world and the next. Driven by desires and passions which they cannot fully satisfy, they seek gratification by entering places of sensual indulgence on the physical plane, uniting their consciousness with that of the drunkard or the sensualist indulging there. In such circumstances the physical plane people experience intensification of their desires, so that the relationship, even though they are ignorant of it, is as harmful for them as for the earthbound souls obtaining gratification through them.
To the theosophist, possessed of this knowledge, suicide is always a mistake. Suicide solves no existing problems, and undoubtedly raises new ones, thereby complicating the situation from which it is used as a means of escape. For, eventually, every obligation must be met, every debt paid, every pain lived through. “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” It is far better, therefore, to endure a situation, no matter how painful it may be, than by attempted evasion to perpetuate and intensify its difficulties. Suicide does intensify difficulties, because it brings the additional complication of self-murder, the karmic reaction from which may adversely affect successive incarnations.
The person who dies in the grip of a vice has a decidedly unpleasant time, for he is now living in his emotional body and is consequently experiencing his particular craving with an intensity unknown to him when the matter of his physical body greatly reduced or damped it down. With no means of gratifying that vice of necessity it burns itself out in him, often through weeks and months of acute suffering. If there be a hell anywhere, then it is this condition of intense and ungratifiable craving. Such a hell presents at least four differences from the Hell of orthodox religion. First, it is not a place; it is a state of consciousness, as also is Heaven. According to the condition of our consciousness, we can be in either, wherever our bodies may be. Second, this suffering is not imposed as a punishment after judgment by an external authority; it is self-produced, as is all suffering and all joy. They are natural and automatic reapings from preceding sowings. Third, the suffering caused by unsatisfied desire is not eternal punishment. Even a human father would not be so illogical and cruel as to condemn his son to perpetual punishment for a sin committed in time. On the contrary, what begins in time must end in time. The post-mortem suffering resulting from an unconquered vice lasts only so long as does the energy spent in its indulgence. When that dies out, the man is free of it, and assumes his new life. Last of the differences between this condition and that normally associated with the orthodox idea of Hell is that such suffering is by no means a futile experience. On the contrary, it can be fruitful in the extreme. For by its intensity it registers itself almost permanently upon the consciousness of the sufferer, who, thus realizing cause and effect, learns his lesson therefrom for all time. This realization by the inner man will affect the next life, in which he will probably be born with an intense repugnance to that particular form of self-indulgence. It is doubtless for this reason that the conditions immediately beyond the grave are regarded as purgatorial.
In conclusion, a few words may perhaps be said concerning the child after death. To those who have experienced the most difficult to bear of all bereavements, the loss of a child, I would say that if you could but see the happiness to which the child has gone, your grief would be greatly assuaged. In the next world, the life of a child is lovely, joyous, full of happiness. Children there are cared for, as tenderly as the wisest and gentlest parents would care for them, by those who on that plane have given themselves to such service, and who are assisted not infrequently by members of the angelic hosts. There are centres of child-life in the inner world. They are a combination of home, school, and college, in beautiful surroundings, where the children are guided, trained, and loved. Their relations and friends come to the children during sleep, sometimes assisting in the curriculum of their new home. The children have, therefore, not lost the companionship of those they love, and know but little of pain or loss.
The child, after death, either completes the normal life cycle through the emotional and mental planes back into egohood or he reincarnates quickly. If the first, he “grows up” to a youthful maturity, very beautiful, very refined in appearance, delicately spiritualized, with soft, luminous eyes. Then, at the second death, as it is sometimes called, the emotional body is laid aside, and the consciousness functions in the mental body, finding therein an even more perfect happiness and peace. This state corresponds to the Paradise of orthodoxy. In it, the child reaps, as do all who complete the cycle of birth and death, the fruits of all idealistic and spiritual aspirations, and when these have worked themselves out the mental body is laid aside and the consciousness that has made the pilgrimage is withdrawn into the inner Selfhood, enriched and developed by all the experiences it has undergone.
Rapid reincarnation would, however, appear to be quite general in the case of children dying young. Some debt to Nature, incurred by a transgression in a previous life, suicide perhaps, has now been paid. The way is then open for a successful re-entry into physical incarnation, the same youthful mental and emotional bodies being retained. Parents are found—often, by the way, the same parents—and the mother is expectant again within two or three years of her previous loss. Many mothers seem instinctively to know that the same ego has returned to them. Many have assured me of this, and of their interest and delight when noting how the appearance and manners of the new child in part supported that intuition. The new incarnation then continues its normal course.
Thus we see that, in the loss of a child, painful though it inevitably must be, there is in reality little for which we need to grieve. Even if our little ones do not return to our own arms, we have not lost them; they are with us, as are all our beloved dead, here and now, all about us, but temporarily out of our perspective. Although we cannot see them, because of our lack of the necessary vision, they have not finally disappeared, nor ceased to be. If we truly love them, our immortal selves are one with theirs for all eternity, and when we sleep we have their personal companionship. When our time comes to enter the higher worlds, we shall meet them, and in that reunion realize the unfailing unity of all who truly love.
And may this be our last thought: in death there is nothing to fear. Rarely is an individual conscious of the act of leaving his body. He slips away as in sleep, tranquilly, peacefully, without pain. Death is but release into a more beautiful life. Birth is not a beginning. Death is not an end. Both are but oft-recurring incidents in the long series of lives by means of which we climb upwards to full spiritual knowledge of ourselves, to adeptship. Let us press forward to that goal, recognizing death as but a bodily incident upon the way. In so doing, death will indeed be “swallowed up in victory.”
For us men there is no death, for we are immortal Sons of God. Death exists only in the eye that beholds it. Death touches only the physical body, freedom from which releases us in large measure from the blinding power of matter. For this body, and this physical matter of our world, conceal from us the spiritual realities within them, just as the veil of day hides the ever-shining stars.