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Sunday, 24 August 2014

Spiritual Karma in the Next World

In the Next World, compiler and elucidator, A. P. Sinnett, transcribes actual narratives of personal experiences by some who have passed on. In his introduction he writes that whether from the point of view of ordinary religious belief or from that reached by theosophical teaching, most people look forward to some kind of life hereafter, but are rarely enabled to frame conceptions of that life with any degree of detail. And it not infrequently happens that when people who have passed over get an opportunity, by the methods of ordinary mediumship, of communicating back to friends in physical life, they seem mainly desirous of reaffirming the familiar truth that to be happy hereafter one must be decently well behaved in this life. The warning as a rule makes no deep impression on the hearers, because no particular novelty surrounds the idea; in so far as it fails with so many people to become a commanding motive of action, that is probably due to the vague mist of uncertainty that envelops all future conditions of existence. If people who pass over would devote their efforts to giving us minute descriptions of the new circumstances in which they find themselves, that would make a much deeper impression on their friends here than can be produced by ethical sermons however earnest, however inspired by new knowledge and genuine conviction. 

I have been for some years past in the enjoyment of opportunities favourable for getting free speech with friends who have passed over into the astral life. For many reasons it is impossible for me to go into minute detail concerning the circumstances under which these opportunities have arisen. For those who do not know me, the narratives I am about to record may seem tainted by a fictitious colouring. I can only say, for the benefit of those who do know me, and may trust my word, that the stories in all cases are here passed on just as I have received them, and are published in perfect good faith to meet what I hold to be a very widespread desire for definite information concerning the actualities of astral life.

Of course, we must always remember that such astral life is not to be regarded as a fulfillment of the karma in each case engendered on the physical plane. In all earlier theosophical teaching it was so supremely important to establish, on a firm foundation, the great principle of reincarnation, with its attendant doctrine of karma, that the intervening phases of life on the astral and manasic planes were comparatively neglected — with the result, indeed, of giving rise to some misapprehensions in regard both to the astral and devachanic conditions. Those of us who are the most earnest students of theosophical teaching and best situated for carrying on such study, are most fully appreciative of the insuperable difficulty of setting forth the whole volume of complex law governing human evolution all at once.

We need not regret the omissions that were inevitable in the beginning. We need not hesitate to welcome fresh information which fills up some of the gaps, even though in some cases this may dissipate impressions too hastily formed when information was incomplete.

As an introduction to the fragments of astral biography I propose now to give out, I must set before the reader in fairly intelligible shape the constitution of that vast region enveloping the earth that is referred to when we speak of the astral plane. Many of its characteristics have been vividly described in early theosophical writings, but for the purpose I now have in view it is desirable to remind the reader of the very definite way in which it is divided into sub-planes. (Sub-concentric spheres would be a more appropriate phrase, but the usual term “plane” is more convenient, though we should never forget that the whole astral region with all its sub-divisions is a huge concentric sphere surrounding the physical globe, as much a definite appendage to it as the atmosphere, and carried with it in its movement round the Sun). A part of the great sphere is actually immersed or submerged beneath the solid crust of the earth. That is a terrible region with which only the very worst specimens of humanity have any concern, after passing on from the physical life. Two sub-planes of the astral are thus underground — the first and second, numbering the series from below upward. The third lies just above the surface of the earth, and is still a region of varied discomfort, in which those whose personal characteristics are such as to require purification before they are qualified for existence on any of the superior regions, spend a time greatly varying in duration.

The fourth sub-plane is the first on which existence is altogether based upon the sensation of happiness, though its experiences are themselves subject to very great variety. The higher regions again are all conditions in which happiness is the background of consciousness, but in which different mental and moral attributes find their appropriate expression. Thus people in whom intellectual activity is the predominant characteristic are naturally drawn to the fifth sub-plane, while the sixth affords scope for genuine devotional feeling if that is the predominant element in any given character. And just because life on the higher levels of the astral plane involves the principle that people are drawn together by their real sympathies — not as in physical life by karma, that often, down here, puts people into close relations with antipathetic entities — the seventh sub-plane is a region to which those gravitate who have been in life rulers of men in one way or another, not merely by high social rank, but by virtue of characteristics that have given them sway over others either in industrial or political life. 

Of course we must always remember that from the higher levels of the astral plane it is possible for those belonging there to descend, at will, to any of the lower. They do this constantly when desirous of observing what goes on here on the physical plane. There is thus much freedom of intercourse among people on the higher levels of the astral world.

I must pause here to emphasise the idea that life on the higher levels of the astral world is very much more than a transitory condition of preparation for something higher on the manasic plane. That was the first notion we had about astral existence, and it was defective in more ways than one — not so much an incorrect statement as an incomplete one. For large numbers of very good people the astral life is little more than a transitory condition, not because they are pre-eminently good, but because they may not combine with their goodness enough intellectual capacity to be able to make use of the higher regions of the astral world. Granting such intellectual capacity, people so endowed find it desirable to stay for very protracted periods on the higher levels in question. The devachanic state, in short, which at first was represented as the goal towards which all people should aspire on passing over from the physical life, is really a thoroughly happy state of dreamy inactivity, with intensely vivid sensations of blissful emotion, but not one of either usefulness to others or individual progress. There are large numbers, perhaps multitudes, of people at this stage of human evolution who are good enough for the devachanic state and not advanced enough in other ways, for a useful or progressive career on the higher levels of the astral. And to these large numbers the earlier teaching applied quite accurately.

Does this statement conflict with a long familiar teaching to the effect that all progress is accomplished in the earthly life; that the period intervening between two earth lives is a period of rest; that it is not an opportunity for further progress? That early teaching was not wrong, but was easily misunderstood, It included, the reader may remember, the idea that karma could still be made on the astral plane, though at first this idea was treated rather as a warning than as an encouragement. But, properly understood, it operates both ways. In truth, the complete view of the subject is that the life of causes includes the astral as well as the physical life. If the astral life for people of the (intellectually) humbler classes is just a period of waiting for idle devachanic bliss, then it is best that no fresh causes should be engendered on the astral plane. They might be detrimental. But consider for a moment the condition of a truly great man of science, for instance. With the new opportunities afforded him in the astral world he has boundless scope for the prosecution of study far beyond the opportunities of physical life. Of course, he avails himself of these, and for more reasons than one. To begin with, the interest of his enlarged opportunities is intense. He could not endure the idea of turning away from them merely to steep himself in slumber's holy balm.” And again — for such a man could not fail to come into touch with the higher wisdom we call down here occult — he would know that the increasing knowledge he would be gaining, even though it might not be specifically passed on to his next life, would engender enhanced capacity for acquiring knowledge in the next life, and would not be in any sense of the word thrown away.

This is how it comes to pass that, as a matter of fact, the higher levels of the astral world are still the home of all the great scientific men whose names have decorated our intellectual history. They scorn the unprofitable enjoyments of the devachanic state. At some period in the future they will have to pass on to the manasic plane for the sake of effecting the complete union of all the spiritual elements in their permanent egos which must precede reincarnation. But there is no sort of hurry, and again, their touch with higher wisdom will enable them to know the right time at which to "pass on" a second time, just as they unconsciously obeyed the impulse of an unseen law when they passed on from mere physical existence.

That very rough sketch will suffice for the moment to render intelligible the narratives of personal experience on the astral plane that I am in a position to deal with.

I will begin with one that has to do with the after-‘death’ experiences of a man with whom I had some touch in this life who had some tiresome characteristics to work off in the beginning, but, as the reader will see, a magnificent volume of spiritual karma in the background which ultimately found complete expression. In this case I shall be able to give the story in his own words, or nearly so. The conventions by which we are troubled in this life are such that for public print one must exercise a certain reserve in describing conditions that are the outcome, on the astral plane, of strong sexual feeling. And here a word or two of preliminary explanation is perhaps desirable. Bad karma of the kind that is distinctly related to the relationships of this plane, can only, as a rule, be worked off or find expression on the physical plane in a later life following that in which it is engendered; but where strong sexual feeling has been very imperfectly gratified, and has remained a powerful force in imagination up to the period of a comparatively early departure from this life, it is an impediment to upward progress towards higher astral levels. This will be better understood as my present work proceeds, and the subject may conveniently be reserved for later treatment, with some of the stories I have to tell as its text.

I will call the subject of my first narrative G. R.

G. R.'s Story

I died in Hong Kong a good many years ago, at about the age of thirty. I had contracted the fever common in that region, and had only been ill a short time. One evening in the dry hot weather, lying in bed heated and feverish, suddenly something seemed to snap like the snapping of a piece of thread. All feeling of malaise and general pain disappeared. I felt quite light. I tried to think what had happened. I couldn't. Something like sinking asleep came, and I knew no more. How long I remained so I do not know. Since then I have been told it was about three weeks.

I remember slowly waking up. I appeared to be in a house very beautifully furnished, situated near the sea. The climate was glorious. I came to myself lying on what appeared to be a couch. I remember asking myself, Can I be dead? Various ideas flitted into my mind. I turned my eyes round to look at the room, and found someone seated by me, a man dressed in white, rather tall, with long hair, and eyes that seemed to shine like living centres of light. He said: My brother, you have left the physical world; you are for the moment under my charge in my habitation. (The place, I afterwards learned, was on the fifth sub-level of the astral plane). He said, You have now to leave me and descend into lower forms of matter. There you will remain for a time, after which you will be again restored to my charge until I pass you on to those above me. 

I could not grasp what was meant; all seemed so extraordinary. More than once I thought I was dreaming. As he spoke, in a peculiar way the whole of the room, he himself, and the view appeared to undergo an extraordinary change. They appeared to become less and less clear in outline till at last they faded away. I was conscious of a wonderful effect of coloured streams of light, then as these faded away a strange feeling of dreariness came over me, of cold and drab surroundings. I was lying on the ground, around me nothing but desert and huge rocks. I was very miserable and lonely, and did not know what to do. The cold feeling seemed to focus my thoughts. I moved; found I could move with great freedom. I had no sense of weight. I stood up and gazed around. The sense of dreariness became more marked, and I asked myself, Where am I? I saw no form, but I heard a voice reply, You are under my charge on the third level of the region beyond the physical. I saw no form. The voice seemed to strike a chill through me.

Then of a sudden I seemed to be back in England, in London, drifting, floating through the streets. At last I found myself in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square, in the midst of a crowd all jostling one another.

[It is necessary here to condense, rather than to set down in his own words, my friend's narrative. He describes himself as having been in life a man with a very ardent feeling for the other sex, though with refined tastes and habits. But he was now plunged in the midst of the coarsest manifestations of that feeling. Without seeking the experience, he was drawn, sucked as it were, into the consciousness of a man of very gross nature and habits, and shared, though with loathing and disgust, his emotions as he gratified his desires. My friend was irresistibly tied to this man for a long time, till at last, with a horrified cry for help, he was enabled to break away, with a sense of extraordinary relief. But he was still floating over London. I resume his narrative in his own words].

What a wonderful sense of relief seemed to thrill through me when free from that horrible embrace. I remember at that time floating over the Cafe Monico, attracted by a swirling movement that seemed like a whirlwind to draw me into it. I tried to resist the suction, but was drawn on down through what seemed a funnel of smoke. I had no idea where I should land, but all of a sudden I found myself in a clear atmosphere listening to the conversation of two men, one a young fellow of about twenty, the other a man of forty-five or fifty, talking in low tones. I could not hear exactly, but could feel an intense sensation of anguish that seemed to emanate from the younger man. This was very intense, and made me uncomfortable. Suddenly I heard the voice of the young man saying, I cannot face it, I can't. It is impossible. I had no idea as to what this referred to, but could see that it was the cause of his miserable condition. The young man rose hastily, put on his hat, took his coat over his arm, and quitted the long low room. I was compelled to follow, and floated on behind him. For some time he stood on the step hesitating; then made up his mind. I saw his aura, till then a mass of grey, become dense, so that when I attempted to touch it, it was quite hard. I was compelled to follow.

He called a cab and drove to some rooms near the Marble Arch. He entered the house with a key, went upstairs, entered a back room, went straight to a drawer, which he opened, and took out a revolver. I knew what he was about to do, and horror ran through me. I could do nothing, but was rooted to the place. I saw him take the revolver and look at it. Then he sat down at a table where there were writing materials and began to write to his mother. When he had finished, he folded and addressed the letter, and then put his hand on the revolver. At this moment I was in a state difficult to describe. At all costs I must prevent him, and I did not know what to do. My agony caused me to cry, For God's sake, stop! At this moment he gave a start, crying out, Who spoke? He had heard me. I tried to speak, but could not. Again he asked, Who spoke? I was suffering in an extraordinary way, and said, For God's sake, spare his life! Then I was aware of a form standing by him that I have since known to have been that of the Blessed Lord, the Holy Master. I shall never forget the calmness and peace that came over me in presence of the glorious divine man. I thought it was an angel. I felt happy. All would be well. The Holy One turned His eyes on me, and I felt a thrill through my whole being.

The young man in the meantime looked very startled, and put down the revolver on the table again, and sat down, looking round. I felt rather than heard him say, Why can't I do it? I must. I can't face it. Then he took up the revolver again, and a strange thing happened. The Master merely waved His hand in the direction of the young man and a stream of light seemed to flow from His fingers into the aura. Then I saw the astral form of the young man standing by the Master. I did not then understand it, but have since learned that the Master had drawn him out of the body.

The young man sobbed as if his heart would break, and then the Master put him back into his body, which had fallen on the floor. He got up in a dazed sort of way, and said, Preserved by God Himself! Then he put away the revolver, and the whole scene faded away. I was again alone.

For a little time after that experience I seemed to be surrounded by a peculiar cloud which seemed to obscure my sense of sight, a cloud of a reddish tinge; and it seemed to be drifting upon me, as far as I could judge. I did not appear to be its originator, and became conscious of an extraordinary sense of damp heat and that I was slowly drifting I knew not whither. How long I drifted I do not know, but at last I found myself in a dense kind of fog. I became conscious of voices, at first dim and far off. Also aware of an acute, uncomfortable sensation of choking. All of a sudden the mist cleared away and I found myself in a room with a number of men and women.

[Now again I am constrained to condense the story. The scene was one of very degraded debauchery].

I saw foul shapes of an extraordinary order floating round the room, one exactly like a large jellyfish. As it passed me it gave me an indescribable sensation of disgust and horror. I prayed to be delivered from this wretched condition, and then, to my astonishment, saw a figure approaching surrounded by an atmosphere of beautiful blue. It seemed to glide rather than walk. As it came near, my horror vanished. Then I was taken by the hand, and the voice said, Come with me! I could not see the face of the figure, but willingly followed. We appeared to go an immense way, and at last arrived at what appeared to be a very rocky and desolate land. I was led upward along a small valley or ravine, and at last reached a small log house. My guide was behind, impelling me forward. The door of the hut opened, and I entered. I turned round to look at him who had saved me, and it was ... (one whom he recognised as having known formerly in life). It was he who had brought me from that loathsome scene. Shall I ever forget the deep gratitude in my heart for what he had done for me! He smiled gently, and said: My friend, I have been permitted by my Master to help you. You must rest in this place for some little time. Remain patient. Do not long for those scenes that I have relieved you from. I thought at the time that was a strange remark, as I felt a powerful loathing for the scenes I had just left. He read my thought, for he went on to say: You do not realise for the moment what this means, but those conditions will again recur, and unless you put them from you your sufferings will continue. I must leave you now, but remember that you are being guarded. You will not be left alone. Farewell.

He then vanished, and I was alone. So strange, so dreary were my surroundings that I almost wept, and finally began to long for the warmth of those horrible conditions in which I should not be so utterly alone. As my thought dwelt upon them I heard a voice saying Remember! This changed the current of my thoughts, and I realised very acutely that I must not think of those things. I was so overcome, however, that I sank to the ground, weeping violently. I do not know how long this continued, but at last I felt someone touch my shoulder. I looked up. It was my friend again, smiling sweetly and sympathetically. All he said was Come. I rose up, feeling strengthened, and followed him.

And thus the painful part of G. R.'s astral experiences came to an end. He, as I said before, had great volumes of spiritual karma behind the unsatisfied passions of his last life. Moreover, I am inclined to believe that the disagreeable period described must have been to some extent traceable to unfulfilled tendencies of earlier lives. When he was finally free of all this, he ascended into lofty realms and came by degrees to play an important part in the mighty work of the Great White Lodge. It is this development that has enabled him to survey the past experiences with a clear vision and to give me the deeply interesting story I have just reproduced.

The writer has prepared an abridged and edited copy of the original – In the Next World — Actual Narratives of Personal Experiences by Some Who Have Passed On (published before 1923 and now in the public domain), compiled and elucidated by A. P. Sinnett, Theosophical Publishing House, London, 1918