A nineteenth century explanatory scheme
for the interpretation of near-death experience:
The transpersonal model of death as
in Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy
An article by Dr Jean-Louis Siémons
See Also: Introduction to this
page by Blavatsky
Links to references cited herein:
Dying" article by Blavatsky
article by Blavatsky
Theosophy by Blavatsky
of Theosophy by Judge
||1. A few words on Theosophy
||2. A generalized holistic and transpersonal approach
||3. Problems of terminology
||4. From the personal to the transpersonal
||5. Further information on the transpersonal Ego
||6. Of the usefulness of an "astral" body
|II. What was known of
NDE's a century ago?
|III. The process of dying as
viewed by Theosophy
||1. The apparent end of life is but the first step towards
||2. It is the starting point of a process undergone by the
dying one, beyond
||3. The journey to death is a mapped out itinerary
||4. The last moment is lived in a communion
between the personal and the transpersonal
||5. "Entering the Light", or "encountering
the being of light"
- an imaged interpretation by the personal self of its re-union with its
deep-rooted source of self-consciousness
||6. The Ego's quasi
omniscience is a key to interpret
the dying man's conscious experience in its higher phase
|| a. The objective, panoramic review of life
|| b. The review of previous lifetimes
|| c. The experience of "total knowledge"
|| d. Flashforwards disclosing the earthly man's future
|| e. "Supernatural rescues"
|| f. The apparent choice to come back
||7. Death only comes after the reintegration of the
personal to the transpersonal
consciousness: it strikes the last chord of the ending life
I - PRELIMINARY
1. A few words on Theosophy.
This explanatory model of death - to be presented here in its main lines
- is part and parcel of a very elaborate world-view formulated in the nineteenth
century under the name of Theosophy, by Mme H.P. Blavatsky
and her co-worker W.Q. Judge (1851-1896). In their writings, which remain
little known in our days, these authors proposed to draw out the esoteric,
fundamental aspects of the world's great religions and philosophies and
to point to their practical applications in the fields of individual and
collective life. Essentially, all the original teachings of Theosophy -among
which rank the interesting materials to be discussed in the following -
were attributed to Oriental masters, whose disciple and mouthpiece Mme
claimed to be.
Up against the increasing materialistic influence of science, and the
all-invading current of spiritualism (with its rudimentary theories concerning
the soul's survival of death), Theosophy did a lot to throw light on the
experience of dying and the post mortem states of human
on the firm basis of a description of man which stood (and remains, even
to-day) as a model of transpersonal psychology, long before this
term was used in the West.
Here, it must be emphasized that the model to be examined in no way
the personal speculations of the authors, or any aspect of last century
psychology [fn 1: Needless to recall that during the decade 1880-90
(of great development of the theosophical literature) Freud, who became
a physician in 1886, was still discovering the use of hypnosis in therapy.
As to his future disciple, C. G. Jung, he was born in 1875, precisely when
H.P. Blavatsky founded her "Theosophical Society".]: it
is given as the result of direct, experimental observations, within the
reach of certain trained yogis Although the identity of the latter was known
at the time, it is now of secondary importance, as names quoted would not
add a feather's weight to the credibility of the observations reported:
obviously, the only thing that matters here is the model's internal logic,
and capacity to interpret near-death experience (NDE).
2. A generalized holistic and transpersonal approach.
Faithful to the spirit of Oriental philosophy, Theosophy takes
up (and widely develops) the dynamic concept of the universe conceived as
a living whole - the theatre of an immense ascending evolution of
through all kingdoms of Nature, towards a progressive awakening in human
individuals, destined to take in hand their own evolutionary progress. In
the infinity of time, worlds follow each other in a regular sequence of
periods of activity and rest. And for man, the alternate phases of life,
death and rebirth (in the process of reincarnation) afford him all the
to develop - collectively - the unlimited potentialities of humanity, and
to return - individually, and with full consciousness - to the unique
central source of Life, Energy and Consciousness whence the whole cosmos
eternally proceeds (the Atman-Brahman of the Hindus, the
of the Buddhists, the ineffable Godhead of Meister Eckhart, etc).
In this immense living organism of the universe, the causal law of
maintains a dynamic harmony; at the individual level, the same law of causality
has an ethical aspect: through its agency, man is continually confronted
with the consequences of his former attitudes and behaviour, together with
the opportunities to improve himself and correct his own path.
The little that precedes suffices to show that what we commonly call
"death" is but one episode in a human being's very long history.
Its processes - like everything else in the universe - must answer a definite
logic, in the form of natural laws co-ordinating on both lines - physical
and psychical - the sequence of events culminating in the breakdown of all
biological functions and the psychological upheaval resulting from the dramatic
shift of consciousness from one plane to another quite different. Here
puts the stress on the subjective experiences of the dying rather
than on occult phenomena, such as the separation of the astral body, the
rupture of the silver cord, etc. in which many authors took delight, a century
ago. In fact, the task was far greater for Mme Blavatsky than for spiritualists
who satisfied themselves with realistic descriptions of the spirits in their
Summerland. In christianized countries, fully imbued with the notion of
personality - from the strictly personal man to the no less personal
God - the difficulty was to bring home the necessity to postulate a
level of self-identity overshadowing the human being during his whole life,
and finally manifesting itself to him, at the solemn moment of death.
3. Problems of terminology.
In order to make themselves understood by their public, the theosophical
authors used (and sometimes created) quite a vocabulary whose terms should
be specified to the modern reader, since their accepted meaning may differ
in our days.
The word personality (from the Latin persona = the actor's
mask) is meant to denote the worldly, ephemeral character with which man
identifies himself during a lifetime. To denounce its (relatively) illusory
nature, it is sometimes called the "false personality."
In the various bibliographical references quoted in the following, various
synonyms are also used, such as lower self, or lower ego, personal ego,
Except in very rare cases (e.g. of children dying young), this
personality, with its complex structure, is bound to disintegrate after
death, the quintessence only of its human experience being retained and
assimilated by the transpersonal aspect of man, which Theosophy calls -
The term individuality (from the Latin individuus =
refers to the permanent root of the personality - a kind of total self
the partial, earthly self. As it is the real source of our deep feeling
of identity (= "I am I") it is generally called, in the theosophical
literature, the higher Ego. Equivalent words: the spiritual Ego,
the Ego-Self - or simply: the Ego, which means, in the context of
Oriental metaphysics, an individualized and self-conscious focus of the
great Universal Consciousness, active in an immortal entity, beyond space-time
limitations. [fn 2: Modern readers must take care not to confound
this transpersonal Ego (with a capital E) with the terrestrial self, which
is generally referred to as the "ego", in our days.]
Being too vague, the term soul may lead to confusion: in the West,
the "soul" but too often refers to a kind of permanent
in man. The word Self, or higher Self, in this philosophical system, should
be reserved to the original Atman of the Hindus, which transcends
by far the transpersonal Ego (or jivatman).
Theosophy insists on the fact that the Ego "is ever conscious"
(even in deep sleep), "never dies", etc. Obviously, the word Ego
does not necessarily imply ego-ism, separateness, self-identification with
a passing human form, etc. It suggests a living focus of perception of a
deep-seated identity. [fn 3: For a further clarification of the
between "personality" and "individuality" see the
given by Mme Blavatsky, in the Appendix (p. 25).]
4. From the personal to the transpersonal.
A dream, narrated by C.G. Jung, throws light on the relationship between
the personal self and the Ego-Self. In his experience, the dreamer discovered
in a sumptuously flowered (symbolic) chapel a yogi in meditation whose very
face was that of Dr Jung. This vision he interpreted as a parable:
"[...] my Self goes into meditation, like a yogi as it were, and
meditates on my earthly form. One could also say: he takes the human form
to enter this three-dimensional existence, like someone dressed in a diving
suit to plunge into the sea [...] he can have worldly experiences and thus,
with an enhanced consciousness, progress towards its own realization".
[fn 4: Re-translated from the French: Ma Vie, Gallimard,
According to Theosophy, the higher Ego has, integrated to itself, the
rich quintessence of all the conscious experiences of the numerous
terrestrial personalities it inspired or "meditated", all through
its reincarnations. And while it "appears", somewhat like an actor,
in one of his successive roles on the stage, it has a clear consciousness
of the situation.
The inner, or real man, who personates those characters,
the whole time that he is Hamlet for the brief space of a few acts, which
represent, however, on the plane of human illusion the whole life of Hamlet.
And he knows that he was, the night before, King Lear, the transformation
in his turn of the Othello of a still earlier preceding night; but the
outer, visible character is supposed to be ignorant of the fact. In actual
life that ignorance is, unfortunately, but too real Nevertheless, the permanent
individuality is fully aware of the fact, though, through the atrophy of
the "spiritual" eye in the physical body, that knowledge is unable
to impress itself on the consciousness of the false personality. [fn
5: The Secret Doctrine, ii, 306]
Thus, this Ego which holds a focal position in what is called the
today, is only unconscious with regard to the "atrophied"
of our physical brain. However, it manifests itself to its personality in
various ways (e.g. through the inner "still small voice",
or intuitive flashes, dreams, premonitions, etc.) - generally whenever the
buzzing noise of sensory or mental activity comes to a (relative) standstill,
and the despotism of the separate self, sustained by the vital energies
of the body, momentarily looses its sway.
This is the reason why the approach of death brings about the ideal
for the presence of this powerful focus of consciousness to become clearly
perceptible to earthly man - unfortunately somewhat late for the
majority of the dying.
Equally, (spiritual) meditation - which is a way to analogically follow
the inner processes of death - is a classical means offered in the Orient
to die to the transitory and attain the transpersonal sphere, eventually
to reach up to the One Higher Self.
5. Further information on the transpersonal Ego.
At this level, to paraphrase St Paul, there is "neither Jew nor
Greek", "neither male nor female [fn 6: Galatians
III, 28. Indeed, in this Ego lies the potentiality of the future
no thinking akin to brain-mind speculation. The Ego is said to be
omniscient in its immortal nature". [fn 7: H.P. Blavatsky,
article: "Memory in the Dying".]
It is completely beyond space-time limitations:
[...] besides the attribute of divine omniscience in its own nature
and sphere of action, there exists in Eternity for the individual immortal
Ego neither Past nor Future, but only one everlasting PRESENT. [fn
8: H.P. B., article: "An Astral Prophet".]
Now, once this doctrine is admitted, or simply postulated, it becomes
only natural that the whole life, from birth to death, of the Personality
which that Ego informs, should be as plainly visible to the Higher Ego
as it is invisible to, and concealed from, the limited vision of its temporary
and mortal Form. [fn 9: Ibid.]
That quasi omniscience, and unlimited power of vision, is the origin
of all prophecies.
What we would call the "memory of the soul" is in fact the
manifestation of the Ego's permanent awareness:
Thus while the records of even important events are often obliterated
from our memory, not the most trifling action of our lives can disappear
from the "soul's" memory, because it is no MEMORY for it, but
an ever present reality on the plane which lies outside our conceptions
of space and time. [fn 10: H.P. B., article: Memory in the
It must be pointed out that this clear perception covers as well
in which the earthly personality retained no memory of what was happening,
e.g. in a somnambulic state. Thus, in the case of a sleep-walker
who, in a NDE, remembered
a theft committed years before, without her being aware of it,
gave the following comment:
Taking the facts as stated, would they not induce one to believe
that the somnambulic personage possesses an intelligence and memory of
its own apart from the physical memory of the waking lower self [?].
[fn 11: ibid.]
Now, although the "language" of the Ego bears no relation to
that of the physical man [fn 12: Cf. W.Q. Judge's article
"Remembering the experiences of the Ego" : When sleep comes
on, the engine and instrument of the lower personality is stopped and can
do nothing but what may be called automatic acts. The brain is not in use,
and hence no consciousness exists for it until the waking moment returns.
The Ego, when thus released from the physical chains, free from its hard
daily task of living with and working through the bodily organs, proceeds
to enjoy the experiences of the plane of existence which is peculiarly its
own. On that plane it uses a method and process, and perceives the ideas
appropriate to it through organs different from those of the body [...]
The language, so to say, is a foreign one even to the inner language used
when awake. So, upon reassuming life in the body, all that is has to tell
its lower companion must be spoken in a strange tongue, and for the body
that is an obstruction to comprehension..."], certain dreams
may be clearly interpreted as messages from this deep Self to the personality.
In this case, the Ego's ideas have to be translated to the brain-consciousness
through the instrumentality of the psychic machinery, with the risk of many
distortions. In fact, an "instantaneous" perception on the plane
of the Ego will be deciphered as a "dream", including a complex
sequence of events memorized at the moment of awakening.
To the question:
We may dream a lifetime in half a second, being conscious of a
of states of consciousness, events taking place one after the other
Mme Blavatsky answered that "no such consciousness exists"
during sleep, but only in the transitional stage between sleep and waking.
Then to the question:
May we not compare the recollection of a dream to a person giving
the description of a picture, and having to mention all the parts and details
because he cannot present the whole before the mind's eye of the
[fn: 13 H.P. B., Transactions of the Blavatsky
she concluded: "That is a very good analogy".
These remarks should be kept in mind for the discussion of the panoramic
vision of existence variously recounted by NDE'ers, either as an
instant, all-comprehensive vision, or as a full sequence of events
displayed from the first years of infancy to the last day of life - or the
converse way. Most probably, the impression of a succession of events
is an effect of the psychic interface between the Egoic and the personal
levels of consciousness.
6. Of the usefulness of an "astral" body.
Very few systems advocating the existence of a timeless, transpersonal
Self, fail to postulate the necessity of intermediary instruments. "subtle
bodies", etc., as coherent links with the physical basis of the personality
(Cf the five Vedantic koshas).
Thus, in Theosophy, we find two such bodies, each having its specific
a - A semi-physical, astral body, as a focus for vital energies
and a model to guide the building of the earthly frame. In embryo genesis,
it plays the very role attributed nowadays to the hypothetical
fields" of advanced science. In one of its aspects, this semi-physical
model is able to "decorporate", nevertheless without the possibility
of travelling very far away, as it remains anchored in the body
to a word of Plutarch [fn 14: Cf. the myth of Thespesios,
Moralia (De sera, 564 C).] The rupture of this
from the physical body would mean death for the latter. Now, from this
stage of decorporation, another process must be brought about (of which
the "traveller" is not aware) to allow the extension of the
voyage" without limit: the projection of a kind of mental antenna,
capable of collecting information at any distance and even (very rarely,
in the case of untrained psychics) of performing physical actions.
b. An astral organism, closely linked to the psychical life of
the personality, serving as a functional intermediary between the Ego and
the brain. During earthly life, this "astral man" is nearly completely
involved in the activity of the senses and the desire-mind, and submitted
to the intense play of vital energies.
According to Theosophy, the approach of death progressively modifies
the dynamics of these inner bodies.
At the birth of the man, his physical body is normally assigned (by
a programme of biological life, which is managed (in a sense) by the astral
model. With time, this potential of vitality runs down little by little,
which brings about a progressive decay of the astral counterpart of the
physical frame, ultimately ending in death. In the same time, this gradual
dissolution of the invisible double tends to release the very strong constraint
exerted on the psychical astral machinery during life: this allows
certain psychical powers, hitherto latent, to manifest themselves. Thus,
as the end becomes imminent, even without the person himself knowing it,
the direct influence of the Ego on its personality can become tangible,
as the "astral man" gets freer, and better attuned to the inner
[...] the darkness of our human ignorance beginning to be dispelled,
there are many things we can see. Among these, things hidden in futurity,
the nearest events of which, overshadowing the purified "soul"
[fn 15: The purified "soul" = the former
self now making room for a new kind of self (in which the psyche is in
closer communion with the Ego) with the possibility for it to "pass
its knowledge to the physical brain".] have become
to her as the present.
[...] thus also we may see and hear the precise hour of our death
striking on the clock of eternity [fn 16: For an example of
this sort of prediction, see K. Osis & E. Haraldsson, At the Hour
of Death, p.131.]
Through our "soul" it is then that we see, clearer and
still clearer, as we approach the end; and it is through the throbs of
dissolution that horizons of vaster, profounder knowledge are drawn on,
bursting upon our mental vision, and becoming with every hour plainer to
our inner eye. Otherwise, how account for those bright flashes of memory,
or the prophetic insight that comes as often to the enfeebled grandsire,
as to the youth who is passing away? The nearer some approach death, the
brighter becomes their long lost memory and the more correct the
The unfoldment of the inner faculties increases as life-blood becomes more
stagnant. [fn: 17 H.P. B., article: "Facts and
If moreover we add, according to Theosophy, that the Egos of those who
love each other are never separated, even by physical death, but remain
in communion on their own level, certain so-called "hallucinations"
of the dying who believe they are seeing departed relatives at their death-bed
become quite plausible.
A sick person, especially just before death, is very likely to see
in dream or vision, those whom he loves and is continually thinking
[fn 18: H.P.B., Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge (section:
II- WHAT WAS KNOWN OF NDE'S A CENTURY AGO?
Very few facts indeed, apart from accounts of people rescued from
(and her accidents), which Mme Blavatsky duly mentioned in her earliest
book in 1877 [fn 19: Isis Unveiled (i, 179): "That
flash of memory which is traditionally supposed to show a drowning man every
long-forgotten scene of his mortal life - as the landscape is revealed to
the traveler by intermittent flashes of lightning - is simply the sudden
glimpse which the struggling soul gets into the silent galleries where his
history is depicted in imperishable colors."] Also, the
panoramic vision of life was known to occur in certain pathological conditions
(epileptic aura). [fn 20: Cf. Huglilings Jackson, "On a particular
variety of epilepsy" (Brain, part XLII, p.179) quoted by Dr Ch.
in an article (dated feb.16,1889): "Note pour servir à l'histoire
de l'état mental des mourants" (Mémoires de la
de Biologie de Paris, tome 1er, 9e série, 1889). In his article
Dr Féré reported two (short) NDE accounts: this gave Mme
the opportunity to present her own explanatory views on the subject (in
"Memory in the Dying", published the same year - Oct.
Obviously, Mme Blavatsky could avail herself of all eschatological myths
in order to frame her own model of death. Actually, she did not fail to
quote Plato and Plutarch, [fn 21: E.g. the myth of Thespesios,
in Isis (1877)] but only incidentally. Beyond question, her
views on the process of dying were quite original for her epoch.
III - THE PROCESS OF DYING AS VIEWED BY THEOSOPHY
- the experience reported by drowning-rescued people is, Theosophy
undergone, in one form or the other, in all cases by the dying;
- this, however, precedes the real moment of irreversible death:
what happens thereafter belongs to a quite different domain of conscious
- dying comprises a whole set of natural processes, in which vital and
psychical energies are strained to a point that determines the reflux
of the personal consciousness, through various levels of experience,
from the terrestrial up to the Egoic plane;
- this reflux corresponds, in a converse way, to the influx that
originally brought about the "incarnation" of consciousness in
the baby (even before birth) and during the building of the personality;
- whatever may be the episodes lived in the purely psychical zones
decorporation, visions of parents in a welcoming role, etc.), the core
of the experience is reached at the uppermost level of the scale, when
the two modes of consciousness (the personal and the transpersonal) join
- then, a non-temporal panoramic vision gives the dying one both a
view of his own journey through terrestrial life (including sometimes several
past incarnations) and a kind of prospective image of the future
being that will emerge from all his past (in the next incarnation).
Actually, this exit from life can in no way be interpreted as a sort
of hallucination. It is truly a transcendental experience. In the Key
to Theosophy (p.11 fn), published in 1889, we have this conclusive
Death is the ultimate ecstasis of life.
Now to proceed with the main lines of the theosophical model of
1. The apparent end of life is but the first step towards death. In
W.Q. Judge's words:
[...] we must find out what death is, and whether it is solely what
we see going on at the decease of a human being, or more than can be
with the eye. A little reflection shows that what is seen and noted by
physicians and spectators is but the withdrawal of the soul and energy
from the outer envelope called "body". While that is going on,
the person may accept rites of the church or profess adherence to any sort
of doctrine whatever, even with his last outward sigh speak of heaven with
its bliss awaiting him. But that is only the first step. It leaves his
visible features calm and happy, perhaps, in expression; his relatives
close his eyes, - they call it death. He, however, has only begun to die.
[fn 22: W.Q. Judge, Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita, pp.
Death is never immediate. As noted in Isis Unveiled
Nothing can be abrupt in nature [...] there is nothing sudden
- not even violent death.
2. It is the starting point of a process undergone by the dying one,
beyond his control.
The breath leaves the body and we say the man is dead, but that is
only the beginning of death; it proceeds on other planes [fn: 23:
W.Q. Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy, p. 99.]
The soul has yet to pass through other envelopes beyond the ken of
friends, beyond even the dying man's present control. [fn 24:
W.Q. Judge, Notes on the B.G. p.80.]
Here the "soul" refers to the personal consciousness which,
according to Judge,
[...] has to pass along the road by which it came [to earthly
incarnation]. [fn 25: Ibid.]
In this reflux, the "soul"'s consciousness passes from one
plane, "envelope" or body to the other, from the purely physical,
to the astro-psychical, up to the non-temporal spiritual. Thus,
[...] in articulo mortis, the body and physical senses [...]
ceasing to function, [...] the intelligence gradually [makes]
its final escape through the avenue of psychic and last of all of spiritual
consciousness [...]. [fn 26: H.P.B., "Memory in the
3. The journey to death is a mapped out itinerary.
Clearly, dying is not a haphazard adventure. This subjective journey,
"through the avenue of psychic and last of all of spiritual
follows a definite programme, an itinerary ascending through a complete
scale of levels of experience, that have been known and classified for a
long time by certain Oriental schools to which Mme Blavatsky referred.
For instance, when the dying man feels "up there in space",
out of his body, he is just setting foot, so to say, on the lower rung of
"astral" consciousness. This level, Mme Blavatsky explained,
in everything to the terrestrial objective" (consciousness) - a fact
duly acknowledged by NDE'ers who often reported seeing at this moment all
the details of the surroundings, only from a different vantage point.
In most cases, it is from this (lower astral) level that NDE'ers leave
all conscious connection with the physical environment, to enter the darkness
of a kind of "tunnel" (or black space), through which they feel
they are moving, more or less rapidly, to reach a world of Light.
In fact, in this model of death, that part of the journey would correspond
to a high speed crossing through a number of intermediary levels in which
the (generally untrained) consciousness of the dying man has better not
to "loiter on the way", lest he should have dangerous encounters
with the tremendous powers lurking in this astral zone, in the form of
energies and alluring, horrific pictures defying all imagination.
From Mme Blavatsky's suggestions concerning the intermediary divisions
in this scale of "astral consciousness, [fn 27: These were
by her disciples in 1890, a short time before her death, and published
See, for instance, The Theosophist, March 1931]one can
conclude that the most common experience would result in delirium,
The third [division] is of an intensely vivid nature. Extreme
delirium carries the patient to this plane. In delirium tremens the sufferer
passes to this and to the one above it. Lunatics are often conscious on
this plane, where they see terrible visions [...].
The fourth division, the worst of the astral plane [...].
Hence come the images that tempt; images of drunkards [...]
others to drink; images of all vices inoculating men with the desire to
commit crimes. Extreme delirium tremens is on this plane.
Obviously, these "forbidden" levels would be planes of
experience which, fortunately, both the dying and moderm NDE'ers [fn
28: Indeed, a minority of NDE'ers have reported hellish experiences
(see for instance Dr Rawling's Beyond Death's Door). In some cases
too, experiencers have recounted a sequence of experiences, from
hellish to paradisaical, (always in the same order, from bad to good):
this strongly suggests that they consciously tasted something of the
levels before reaching the glorious summit of the scale.] normally
skip over when they ascend to the inner Light.
With Theosophy, there is good reason to believe that the personality
enjoys a natural protection from its higher Alter Ego, at the moment
Curiously, a similar explanation has been arrived at by various modern
authors. Thus, in an interpretation of unpleasant NDE's, Kenneth Ring
Why is this domain so rarely reported compared to the paradisaical
realm? One proposal has it that the tunnel phenomenon serves as a shield
to protect the individual from an awareness of this domain. It will be
recalled that the tunnel effect itself was interpreted as representing
a shift in consciousness from one level to another. Functionally, this
state of affairs can be compared to a traveller riding a subway underneath
the slums of a city: the subway tunnel prevents him ever being directly
aware of his surroundings although the slums are there. Instead, like the
typical near-death survivor, he begins his trip in darkness and emerges
into the light. [fn 29: K. Ring, Life at Death,
p.249. With theosophical teachings in hand, I suggested the same kind of
explanation in Mourir pour Renaître, p.128.]
This passage gives an excellent image of the situation, from the
Now, according to Mme Blavatsky, the sixth division of the astral
[...] is the plane from which come all beautiful inspirations of
art, poetry and music; high types of dreams, flashes of genius. Here we
have glimpses of past incarnations [...].
Finally, at the very top,
WE ARE ON THE SEVENTH PLANE AT THE MOMENT OF
IN EXCEPTIONAL VISIONS. THE DROWNING MAN
IS HERE WHEN
HE REMEMBERS HIS PAST LIFE.
In this perspective, the core experience at death cannot be attributed
to an altered state of consciousness - of the delirium or hallucination-type.
Unambiguously, it is a state of super-consciousness [fn 30: Needless
to state that this exceptional experience, granted by a natural process
to any ordinary man, at the exceptional moment of his death, is not
to be compared with the highest level of samadi within the reach
of a trained spiritual yogi. Here, with a "normal" person, there
remains a feeling of personality, however refined and freed from
all terrestrial involvement.] of perfect lucidity.
According to one of H.P. Blavatsky's masters:
No man dies insane or unconscious, [fn 31: This is also
the conclusion of some modern authors, like Dr E. Kübler-Ross. See
E. Kemf: E. Kübler-Ross: "There is No
as some physiologist assert. Even a madman or one in a fit of
delirium tremens will have his instant of perfect lucidity at the
moment of death, though unable to say so to those present. [fn
Extract from a master's letter to A.P. Sinnett, dated Oct. 1882, Mahatma
Thus, even if a man, in his last agony, is caught up in the horrible
nightmares of the intermediary levels, his personal consciousness ultimately
finds access to the complete bliss of the upper stage - "the last
4. The last moment is lived in a communion between the personal and
In the XIXth century, Theosophy emphasized the importance of the
review of life, as a central feature in the process of dying. The following
passages insist on the fully detailed, all-comprehensive and extremely rapid
character of the vision (in accordance, with many modern NDE accounts):
When the frame is cold and eyes closed all the forces of the body
and mind rush through the brain, and by a series of pictures the whole
life just ended is imprinted indelibly on the inner man not only in a general
outline but down to the smallest detail of even the most minute and fleeting
impression. [fn 33: W.Q. Judge, The Ocean of
At the last moment, the whole life is reflected in our memory and
emerges from all the forgotten nooks and corners, picture after picture,
one event after the other [fn 34: See note 32.]
At the solemn moment of death every man, even when death is
sees the whole of his past life marshalled before him, in its minutest
details [fn 35: H.P.B., The Key to Theosophy,
A long life, perhaps, lived over again in the space of one short
second! [fn 36: H.P.B., "Memory in the
This review, in perfect lucidity, takes place (as seen before) when the
personal consciousness has reached the highest level open to it on the
scale. Then, at that level,
For one short instant the personal becomes one with the individual
and all-knowing Ego [fn 37: H.P.B., The Key,
In a commentary on two NDE accounts reported by Dr Féré
[fn 38: See note 20 p 7.], in 1889, H.P. Blavatsky observed
that such cases, along with others, strongly corroborated her masters'
teachings tracing all such remembrances to the thought-power of the
[Ego], instead of to that of the personal (lower) ego. [fn 39: H.P.B.,
"Memory in the Dying".] She suggested:
[..] while physical memory in a healthy living man is often obscured,
one fact crowding out another weaker one, at the moment of the great
that man calls death, that which we call "memory seems to return to
us in all its vigour and freshness.
May this not be due, as just said, simply to the fact that, for a
few seconds at least, our two memories (or rather the two states, the highest
and the lowest state, of consciousness) blend together, thus forming one,
and that the dying being finds himself on a plane wherein there is neither
past nor future, but all is one present. [fn: 40
Here we find again the Ego-Self; in fact, what we would call its
[...] is no MEMORY FOR it, but an ever present reality on the plane
which lies outside our conceptions of space and time [fn: 41
Therefore, it is obvious, with Theosophy, that this central phase of
the dying process is the result of the conjunction - or close coexistence
- between the personal and transpersonal aspects in man - at a
moment when the person's consciousness reaches the status of a perfectly
lucid and objective witness, in the contemplation of an inner spectacle,
which is imposed on him, beyond his will-power.
Under this respect, Mme Blavatsky's master noted:
The experience of dying men - by drowning and other accidents -
back to life, has corroborated our doctrine in almost every case. Such
thoughts are involuntary and we have no more control over them than we
would over the eye's retina to prevent it perceiving that colour which
affects it most. [fn: 42 Mahatma Letters, p.
5. "Entering the Light", or "encountering the being
of light" - an imaged interpretation by the personal self of its re-union
with its deep-rooted source of self-consciousness.
No wonder that NDE'ers should feel unable to describe their experience
in usual terms of daily life language. Like to the prisoners in the famous
cave imagined by Plato in his Republic (Book VII), they had been
accustomed from birth to the casual spectacle of the world's moving shadows
(maya for the Hindus), fettered in their dualistic views (myself, and the
others, etc.), and their linear perception of time, flowing between past
and future. Then, all of a sudden, the prisoners were set free and drawn
out of the cave, to a place enlightened by the sunshine, beyond all familiar
limitations. In their ignorance that, at this point, they had returned to
their Parent-Self, their psychic machinery interpreted the latter as different
from themselves - a welcoming light, or a "being of light" - a
personal being. In Moody's words,
It has a very definite personality. The love and the warmth which
emanate from this being to the dying person are utterly beyond words, and
he feels completely surrounded by it and taken up in it, completely at
ease and accepted in the presence of this being.
He senses an irresistible magnetic attraction to this light. He is
ineluctably drawn to it [fn 43: R. Moody, Life after
Quite often, in their efforts of description, experiencers use different
labels to identify this "presence - God, Christ, Angel, Guide, or what
not. Obviously, in their complete ignorance of deep (spiritual) psychology,
they could hardly find better terms to translate, in an intelligible mode,
this unexpected encounter with their own individual Ego-Self, which seems
to "know all about them", to bear them "a total love and
acceptance" and to have with them a kind of intimate,
exchange. For very good reasons indeed - in the light of Theosophy
- if we remember that this Ego is not a stranger to its terrestrial personality,
but remains closely "interested" in its destiny: from birth to
death, the transpersonal individuality broods over (or "meditates")
its earthly representative (or emanation), registering the latter's behaviour
and inspiring it with its own knowledge and energy, through the unspoken
language of intuition, dreams, etc.
Interestingly, this theosophical interpretation finds definite echoes
in near-death literature. Thus, with Kenneth Ring, we have these pertinent
Moody spoke of a "being of light" and though none of our
respondents used this phrase some seemed to be aware of a
(or "voice") in association with the light[...]. Here
we must, I think, make a speculative leap. I submit that this presence
voice is actually - oneself! It is not merely a projection of one's personality,
however, but one's total self; or what in some traditions is called the
higher self. In this view, the individual personality is but a split-off
fragment of the total self with which it is reunited at the point of death.
During ordinary life, the individual personality functions in a seemingly
autonomous way, as though it were a separate entity. In fact, however,
it is invisibly tied to the larger self structure of which it is apart".
[fn 44: K. Ring. Life at Death,
In the Key to Theosophy (p.186) a comparison is made between the
Spiritual Ego and its personality with the Vine and the branch,
in St John's Gospel (chap.XV). The branch is clearly an offshoot of the
vine and it remains tied to it, for the time of its existence. Also, in
An analogy would be that the individual personality is like a child
who, when grown up, completely forgets his mother and then fails to
her when they later meet [fn: 45 Ibid. p
This analogy is also found in the Key (p.184). The Ego being
to a parent, answerable for the transgressions of the child, the question
- Is the child the personality?
- It is.
Equally relevant is the following speculation preferred by Kenneth
What has this to do with the light? The answer is - or so I would
say - that this higher self is so awesome, so overwhelming, so loving,
and unconditionally accepting (like an all-forgiving mother) and so foreign
to one's individualized consciousness that one perceives it as separate
from oneself as unmistakably other. It manifests itself as a brilliant
golden light, but it is actually oneself, in a higher form, that one is
seeing". [fn 46: Ibid. p 240]
To conclude, again in Ring's words - perfectly in line with Theosophy:
The golden light is actually a reflection of one's own inherent divine
nature and symbolizes the higher self. [fn: 47 Ibid.
pp.240-241. In this passage, the term reflection is quite correct.
At this stage, this golden light perceived by the dying man is only a very
limited effect, on the psychic sphere, of the glorious radiance of the
divine universal SELF hidden in the hearts of all
creatures, according to the Upanishads.]
The fact that some persons believe that they had "a conversation
with God" makes no difference in this context:
Since most people are used to thinking dualistically of God as
"up there" while they remain "down here" they can be
expected to interpret their experience with their higher self as a direct
encounter with God. The idea of "God" is after all; more familiar
to most people than is the notion of a higher self. [fn: 48
Ibid. p. 241.]
6. The Ego's quasi omniscience is a key to interpret the dying man's
conscious experience in its higher phase.
In contrast with our brain-knowledge, the Ego's vision may well appear
as pure omniscience. The latter manifests itself only in very rare
[...] when certain abnormal conditions and physiological changes
in the body make the Ego free from the trammels of matter. [fn:
49 H.P.B., The Key to Theosophy, p.133.]
[...] as every genuine psychologist of the old, not your modern,
school; will tell you, the Spiritual Ego can act only when the personal
ego is paralysed. The Spiritual "I" in man is omniscient and
has every knowledge innate in it; while the personal self is the creature
of its environment and the slave of the physical memory. Could the former
manifest itself uninterruptedly, and without impediment, there would be
no longer men on earth, but we should all be gods. [fn: 50
Ibid. p. 131]
Precisely, in the process of dying, all the necessary conditions are
met for this amazing power of omniscience to be displayed in various
Essentially, it is manifest in the following items:
a. The objective, panoramic review of life.
In the Key to Theosophy, Mme Blavatsky gave a short, but
description of this review, which is so striking in modern NDE accounts.
At the solemn moment of death every man, even when death is sudden,
sees the whole of his past life marshalled before him, in its minutest
details. [...] But this instant is enough to show him the whole
chain of causes which have been at work during his life. He sees and now
understands himself as he is, unadorned by flattery of self-deception He
reads his life, remaining as a spectator looking down into the arena he
is quitting; he feels and knows the justice of all the suffering that has
overtaken him. [fn 51: Ibid. p
To the question: "Does this happen to everyone? the answer given
was: "Without exception".
This statement concerns all those persons who really die. It is
not necessarily invalidated by the fact that only a limited percentage of
NDE'ers report such review in their accounts. The reasons - if any - of
this apparent limitation should be further investigated. Also this can indicate
a difference between a true encounter with death and an unfinished
Now, even though this sudden reminiscence of life at the "last"
moment was known in H.P. Blavatsky's time, her brief analysis of it reveals
an unquestionable experimental knowledge of this strange experience.
Comparisons with modern NDE accounts may be made, as follows:
"He reads his life [...] as a spectator... .
There was a certain detachment as I watched all this. I had the
that I was on the outside looking in and it seemed that this reoccurence
[sic] of my life was taking place in front of me and I was viewing it.
[fn: 52 R. Noyes & R. Kletti, "Panoramic Memory
a Response to the Threat of Death".]
[...] I saw my whole past life take place in many images, as though
on a stage as some distance from me. [fn: 53 A. Heim,
über den Tod durch Absturz".]
"[...] as a spectator looking down into the arena he is
I acted out my life, as though I were an actor on a stage upon which
I looked down from practically the highest gallery in the theatre. Both
hero and onlooker, I was as though doubled". [fn 54:
from a letter of Albert Heim to Oskar Pfister (quoted by Carol Zaleski,
Otherworld Journeys, p 130]
This "doubling" is not pathological at this moment, it recalls
the enigmatic statement quoted above (note 39, p.12):
[...] a few seconds at least, our two memories [...] blend
Would it not be that, owing to the exceptional unison between
two states, the highest and the lowest state of consciousness",
the memory of the personality's history is re-activated and fully interpreted
in the light of the permanent Ego's integral memory, thus giving to the
former an unsuspected depth, with the objective outlook of the transpersonal
self, which kept surveying all the time the play of its outer manifestation
on the earthly stage?
Obviously, this historical reminiscence must be particularly rich with
respect to the years of childhood since
Memory, as we all know, is strongest with regard to its early
then when the future man is only a child, and more of a soul than of a
body. [fn: 55 H.P.B., "Memory in the
Actually, those pictures of early life are often quite detailed and vivid
in NDE accounts:
[...] the underside of a table seen from all fours, the smell of
a pudding, the pinch of elastic on a Halloween mask; the distance from
foot to bicycle training pedal the contents of a school gym locker - all
spill forth with every sensory detail and accompanying emotion reawakened.
[fn: 56 C. Zaleski, Otherworld Journeys,
To come back to our comparison:
"He sees and now understands himself as he is, unadorned by
flattery or self-deception."
It was like I got to see some good things I had done and some
I had made, you know, and try to understand them. [fn: 57
K. Ring. Life at Death, p.73.]
Some people characterize this as an educational effort on the part
of the being of light. [fn: 58 R. Moody, Life after Life,
The being would ask something like, [...] "What have
you done with your life to show me?" What was expected in return was
[...] a general self-scrutiny, putting one's whole life in question.
[fn 59: C. Zaleski, Otherworld Journeys,
"But this instant is enough to show him the whole chain of
which have been at work during his life".
It was like: "Okay, here's why you had the accident. Here s
why this happened. Because so and so and so." ... it all had meaning.
Definitely. [fn 60: K. Ring, Life at Death,
The revelation of the human being's responsibility in the minutest details
of his existence, recognized at his last moment, is strikingly brought to
light in the following account of an experiencer, reliving her life as Phyllis:
The reliving included not only the deeds committed by Phyllis since
her birth [...] but also a reliving of every thought ever thought
and every word ever spoken PLUS the effect of every thought, word and deed
upon everyone [fn 61: It happens that in a dream a man
is warned of a friend's death, at the very moment it occurs. Among various
possible interpretations in the theosophical perspective, a suggestion
was uttered that, in a precise case reported, "the dream was
caused by the events of the man's life passing rapidly through his dying
mind, and when he came to his relations with X.[= the dreamer], the
vibrated in connection with him and caused his dream, reaching him all
the more rapidly because his physical nature was at the moment quiescent
in sleep. (The Path., II. p.378).] and anyone
who had ever come within her sphere of influence, whether she actually
knew them or not PLUS the effect of her every thought, word and deed upon
the weather, the air, the soil, plants and animals, the water, everything
else within the creation we call Earth and the space Phyllis once occupied.
[...] I never before realized that we were responsible and accountable
for EVERY SINGLE THING WE DID. That
[fn 62: P.M.H. Atwater, I died Three Times in 1977.
Quoted by C. Zaleski (Otherworld Journeys, p.
b. The review of previous lifetimes.
In her comments, H.P. Blavatsky added:
Very good and holy men see, we are taught, not only the life they
are leaving, but even several preceding lives in which were produced the
causes that made them what they were in the life just closing. They Recognise
the law of Karma in all its majesty and justice [fn 63:
The Key to Theosophy, p.162.]
This particular point had not emerged in the early NDE literature but
more recently the confirmation came of past incarnations being reviewed
in certain instances.
This strongly recalls the panoramic vision of "the chain of
recounted by certain experiencers in another context, far from the stress
of death. One of the accounts reads:
Pearls on a string, that's what they were like [...]. As I
looked at it, I got a distinct feeling from each one of them. It was like
looking at photographs from each year of your life. You could see how you
had grown in each one [fn 64: Cf. F. Lenz,
c. The experience of "total knowledge".
The theosophical model of death perfectly accounts for this extraordinary
flash of enlightenment "in which the subject seemed to have complete
In Moody's words:
Several people have told me that during their encounters with
they got brief glimpses of an entire separate realm of existence in which
all knowledge - whether of past, present, or future - seemed to co-exist
in a sort of timeless state. [...] The experience has been compared,
in various accounts to a flash of universal insight. [fn 65: R.
Moody, Reflections on Life after Life, pp.10-11.]
One woman reported:
This seems to have taken place after I had seen my life pass before
me. It seemed that all of a sudden, all knowledge - of all that had started
from the very beginning, that would go on without end - that for a second
I knew all the secrets of all ages, all the meaning of the universe, the
stars, the moon - of everything. [fn 66: Ibid. p
Another informant confirmed:
[...] there followed a panoramic vision, impossible to describe,
showing everything "from the beginning of time to the end of
[fn 67: K. Ring, Heading toward Omega,
An interesting point made by one of Ring's respondents concerning this
state of total knowledge was that he did not acquire it at the moment:
remembered it [..] he was, in effect, all knowledge". [fn
6: Ibid p. 199] This really denotes a rare peak experience in
which all sense of dualism seems to vanish, the personal consciousness being,
for a flashing moment, in complete union with the Egoic consciousness,
in the light of the
HIGHER SELF (the One root of all conscious
"which alone is [permanently] and completely omniscient." [fn
69: H.P.B., The Key to Theosophy, p.132. The individual Ego is
said to be potentially omniscient, and to manifest a quasi
omniscience when the conditions permit; it becomes de facto
exclusively in nirvana, when merged in the Universal Soul (Key,
p.133). During one lifetime, when it "meditates" its personality,
from its own level (beyond space and time), it is practically omniscient
as regards its own earth-related evolution.]
Now considering that our personal consciousness is ordinarily blind to
this "total knowledge", on account of the atrophy of the
eye in the physical body (cf. fn 5, p.3) a logical inference
would be that, at the crowning instant of his life, man has the last privilege
to see through this spiritual eye, triggered to function in response to
the powerful reflux of vital and psychic energies rushing through the dying
one's brain. [fn 70: Cf. W.Q. Judge, The Ocean of
p.99. Also, this opening of the third eye would be possible at that moment
because of the complete isolation from all terrestrial influence. In the
deepest spiritual samadhi, the yogi's body is said to be practically in
a state of catalepsy (Isis Unveiled).]
In the case of NDE's, however,
[...] all agree that this feeling of complete knowledge did not persist
after their return; that they did not bring back any sort of omniscience.
[fn 71: R. Moody, Reflections on Life after Life,
This is not surprising, because, according to Theosophy, the memory of
such exceptional visions cannot be impressed upon the physical brain - except
through a special training in the line of spiritual yoga.
d. Flashforwards disclosing the earthly man's future.
It often happens that people rescued from death enjoy a kind of
of what is in store for them in the months, or years, to come. This point
already appeared in Plutarch's eschatological myths.
As stated before, the Ego has a clear vision of both past and future.
Also, in the particular case of rebirth (after the interlude between
death and reincarnation) it has a general view of what awaits it, in its
fresh earthly role:
As the man at the moment of death has a retrospective insight into
the life he has led, so, at the moment it is reborn on to earth, the Ego
[...] has a prospective vision of the life which awaits it, [it]
realizes all the causes that have led to it [...] and sees futurity.
[fn 72: H.P.B., The Key to Theosophy, p.
Clearly, at this moment, there is not yet anything like a structured
personality, that could interpret the details of the vision. On the contrary,
it is precisely the case in an NDE.
In all probability, an experiencer may obtain (from his Ego) a
detailed perception of the incidents awaiting him after his return (if his
NDE goes deep enough), but as a rule his cerebral memory will retain but
In an article [fn 73: H.P.B. articles, "An Astral
(written in 1890) H.P. Blavatsky analyzed a curious case of detailed prevision
of all the important events (with their accurate dates) to be lived by a
man during the rest of his existence. Her explanations may be duly adapted
to interpret "flashforwards" in NDE's.
This man was none other than General Yermoloff (a famous Russian hero)
who, after a hard day of work at his desk, had fallen into a kind of reverie,
to ...write with his own hand all that was to happen to him during his whole
life, concluding with the date and hour of his death. Back to his normal
consciousness, he was persuaded that he had written under the dictation
of a stranger - a pauper-looking man - who had mysteriously entered the
room, and suddenly vanished after the completion of his odd mission.
The theosophical interpretation of this phenomenon involves the
of both the inner Ego - "almost omniscient in its immortal nature -
and the personality's psycho-physical machinery, passing for a moment, like
an automaton, under the power of the Ego. In Blavatsky's words:
Now that reverie was most likely a sudden doze, brought on by
and overwork; during which a mechanical action of purely somnambulic
took place. The personality becoming suddenly alive to the presence
of its higher [Ego-] Self the human sleeping automaton fell under
the sway of the individuality, and forthwith the hand that had been
occupied with writing for several hours before resumed mechanically its
task. Upon awakening the personality thought that the document before him
had been written at the dictation of a visitor whose voice he had heard,
whereas, in truth, he had been simply recording the innermost thoughts
- or shall we say knowledge - of his own divine "Ego"; a prophetic,
because all-knowing Spirit. The "Voice" of the latter was simply
the translation by the physical memory, at the instant of awakening, of
the mental knowledge concerning the life of the mortal man reflected on
the lower by the higher consciousness.
All the other details of the phenomenon were amenable to the same kind
Thus, the stranger clothed in the raiments of a poor little tradesman
or laborer, who was speaking to him outside of himself, belongs,
as well as the "voice" to that class of well-known phenomena
familiar to us as the association of ideas and reminiscences
in our dreams. The pictures and scenes we see in sleep, the events we live
through for hours, days, sometimes for years in our dreams, all this takes
less time, in reality, than is occupied by a flash of lightning during
the instant of awakening and the return to full consciousness.
This again points to the difference between the timeless vision at the
Ego's level and its translation into a sequence of events, as perceived
by the brain-mind. As to the particular form of the visitor:
General Yermoloff had passed several days previously holding an
in a small town, in which official business he had probably examined dozens
of men of the poorer classes; and this explains his fancy - vivid as reality
itself - suggesting to his imagination the vision of a small tradesman.
These passages account, at least in part, for the complex
mechanisms from the level where an all-embracing vision may be perceived,
down to the brain-consciousness that will record in its memory a more or
less distorted picture - which, later on, experiencers will attempt to
e. "Supernatural rescues
The preceding explanations are still valid in cases when people are rescued
from a fatal danger by a providential help, in the form of an inner light
guiding them to the only safe exit from a dark place, or of a voice
calling out their name to stop them in the fog on the edge of a cliff, or
commanding to move in the only possible direction of escape. [fn 74:
Cf. R. Moody, Reflections on Life after Life,
In the theosophical view, these are in no way cases of supernatural
of God, or Christ, but (rare) examples of situations in which the Ego has
the opportunity to take command over its personality in a moment of great
emergency, when the latter loses all control (or even is unaware of its
Then, it happens that the human automaton executes, with an
precision, the only movements or gestures that could draw the man safe and
sound out of the jaws of death.
f. The apparent choice to come back.
Many informants have declared that they unwillingly reintegrated their
bodies, so complete was the bliss they were merged in. Other ones insisted
that a kind of choice was left to them, either to trespass the border of
life, or to return in order to fulfill an earthly mission. They were
they felt, not to die, as a result of their will to come back.
It is easy to argue that their hour had not yet come: resuscitated beyond
their control, they could later on invent moral reasons, attributing their
return to a generous decision on their part. This argument, however, may
not dovetail with all facts. [fn 75: There is an interesting example
in R. Moody's Life after Life (pp. 101-107): during a kind of OBE,
a patient was first warned of his impending death by the being of light.
Accepting his fate at first, with serenity, the man became worried, the
day before his appointed end in a surgical operation, because great troubles
were in store for his wife, on account of an adopted nephew. He wrote some
instructions to his wife and ... broke out in tears. At that moment again,
the "presence" made itself felt, imprinting these thoughts in
the patient's mind: "Jack, why are you crying? [...] since you are
asking for someone else and thinking of others - not Jack - I will grant
you, what you want. You will live until you see your nephew become a
With Theosophy, one cannot overlook the possibility of a surge of
at the last moment, with the effect of displacing an equilibrium of opposite
forces in the sense of restoring life, as long as there remains a chance
for such a return.
After all, the panoramic vision of existence, bringing to a vivid light
all the links with other people - and particularly the loved ones - may
well generate in the dying person an all-powerful desire to come back to
those loved ones, for a real service of them. This essentially altruistic
motive, which is in perfect harmony with the higher Ego's deep nature, could
be strong enough, at the critical instant, to force a resuscitation process,
with the help of the Ego, at unison with its terrestrial personality's
Postulating as it does free-will in every man, Theosophy would
not refuse it a last opportunity to change the line of a destiny.
7. Death only comes after the reintegration of the personal to the
transpersonal consciousness: it strikes the last chord of the ending
As seen before, during the whole process of dying
[...] though every indication leads the physician to pronounce for
death and though to all intents and purposes the person is dead to this
life, the real man is busy in the brain, and not until his work there is
ended is the person gone. [fn 76: W.Q. Judge, The Ocean of
This gathering of all the psychic energies of existence, lived in the
communion between the two poles of man's consciousness, culminates
to Theosophy in the perception of the quintessence of the ending life -
something like the last chord of a symphony.
It is more perfectly illustrated by considering life as a grand musical
movement that is brought to a close by using at once all the tones sounded
throughout the whole preceding portion. The result will be a combined sound,
expressing neither the highest nor lowest notes, or the sweetest or less
sweet, but the resultant of all. And this last sound is the fixed vibration
that governs the entity, sounding all through him, and throwing him into
the state to which it corresponds or of which it is the key . [fn
77: W.Q. Judge, Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita,
Here, it must be noted, we are beyond the range of reported
Then only, life quits the body, with no possible return.
When this solemn work is over, the astral body detaches itself from
the physical and, life energy having departed, the remaining [principles
of man enter post mortem life.] [fn 78: W.Q.
Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy, p.100.]
What happens thereafter is not within ordinary men's knowledge. However,
all that precedes seems to amply justify this optimistic conclusion:
Death comes to our spiritual selves ever as a deliverer and friend
. [fn 79: H.P.B., The Key to Theosophy,
This is another way to translate the following statement (in Isis
Unveiled [fn 80: Vol, I.p. 303]) which, admittedly, could
sound very mysterious in 1877:
After the separation between the life-principle (astral spirit) and
the body takes place, the liberated soul- Monad, exultingly rejoins the
mother- and father-spirit, the radiant Augoeides. [fn 81: The
Greek term augoeides (= brightly shining) is taken from Proclus
who used it (together with astroeides = star like) to qualify the
luminous body of the spiritual soul, once rid of its (physical and psychical)
vestures, or bodies.]
In an attempt to interpret human experiences on the border of life,
thinkers come up with a variety of models which, however radically different,
never completely exclude each other. According to one's discipline,
are found in
- Freudian psychoanalysis
- depth, Jungian (or transpersonal) psychology
- quantum physics
- philosophy, metaphysics
- theology, etc.
The theosophical model of death is not reducible to one rigid frame,
as it takes into account elements that are acknowledged as essential in
the main disciplines, although, taken alone, they prove unable to explain
As an example: even through pathology can trace the genesis of certain
nervous phenomena (e.g. temporal auras), it is at a loss to explain
why certain images appear (as a life-review) in the patient's
and how a physiological event is accompanied by such ecstatic
as described by a Dostoievsky, in an epileptic crisis:
There are moments, not exceeding five or six seconds, when the
of eternal harmony is felt [...]: terrific is the glaring brightness
with which it manifests itself and the ecstasy it fills you with. Should
such a state last more than five seconds, the soul could never bear it
- it would disappear. During these five seconds, I live a whole human
and for such moments as these, I would gladly give my life, without thinking
it would be too high a price to pay. [fn 82: This passage
from the French) is quoted by Oliver Sacks in The Man who Mistook His
Wife for a Hat.]
Modern researchers have come to understand that an interpretation of
NDE's requires much more than a clinical investigation of the physical
involved in the phenomena, or an analysis of the psychological changes
by the patients - or the claimed intervention of God's power and mercy.
However incomplete in the present state of our knowledge, this
model should receive better recognition in our modern world, as it points
to very important facets which have to be included in a comprehensive picture
aiming at a thorough interpretation of NDE's.
Moreover, apart from its intrinsic explanatory value,
- existing as it does in printed form since a century, it is not a latter-day
invention to meet the needs of our epoch's growing interest for death and
- it belongs to a comprehensive world-view which takes into account
both life and death, in an evolutionary perspective replacing man in a
- its range of interpretation encompasses abnormal experiences of
far from the stress of death; [fn 83: Taking for granted, with
that the dying man retains some connection with his physical brain, and
that the full scale of abnormal states on the various levels of psychical
(= astral) consciousness are accessible to him through an ad hoc
coordination between the cerebral machinery and the psychical (= astral)
interface (both being in a cooperative relationship during earthly life),
it stands to reason that such a particular coordination may be equally
obtained through the use of psychedelic drugs (or other ones), as well
as through voluntary stimulations effected by spiritual techniques
etc.) - and finally, even by involuntary, spontaneous inductions, in rather
rare cases (cf. Lenz's Lifetimes).]
- it preserves man's dignity, still enhancing the respect and consideration
for his hidden greatness - and undreamt of potentialities;
- finally, it may bring a fresh inspiration to those desiring to help
the dying and the berieved.
TO SUM UP, BEING ESSENTIALLY TRANSPERSONAL IN
H.P. BLAVATSKY'S THEOSOPHY POSTULATES
THE FOLLOWING POINTS, GENERALLY APPLICABLE TO NDE's:
a. In the very wide scale of modified states of consciousness
(remaining very little known in the West), a definite range of
opens up for man's earthly personality when the stress of death disconnects
it from its usual space-time relationships.
b. At the uppermost level that can be reached by the dying one
(in proportion to the spiritual realization he has gained in this
life [fn 84: Obviously, the dying experience of an enlightened sage
must be very different from what we learn through the accounts of ordinary
death - rescued persons. At least, such is the teaching of
a close communion is brought about between the personal man and his
Alter Ego, whose sphere of being knows no space-time limitations.
c. In the peculiar conditions of this unison is revealed the
quasi omniscience of the deep Ego-Self.
d. This omniscience accounts for the amazing cognitive aspects
of the dying one's experience (life-review - extending to past incarnations
- flashforwards, prophetic visions, universal insight, etc.).
e. The process of dying follows a definite programme and
serves an essential purpose; at the ultimate moment the personality's
is unveiled to it in full light, with all its interactions with the collectivity;
also all its memories are gathered, with the psychical
associated to each: this considerable wealth of dynamic images will
become the basis of the post mortem conscious experiences to
in general conformity with the overall resultant of this congeries
of vibratory forces - the "last chord of life".
f. While living these ante mortem subjective states, the
link with the body, and the brain, is never severed (even though electrical
brain-waves are no longer to be detected). When death finally supervenes,
this link being ruptured, the activity of the personal consciousness
comes to an end - "as suddenly as the flame leaves the wick"
[fn 85: Mahâtma Letters, p. 128] - at
least for a time, under the shock of death. Obviously this temporary mental
coma is never reached by modern NDE'ers who remain in life all the
g. It must be again remarked that this model has in view the
actual, normal process of dying, which may not be entirely, and
accurately, reflected in the accounts of present-day experiencers. It must
be borne in mind that some distortion is inevitable between their ineffable
approach to death and its awkward verbal translation, through the more
or less biased instrumentality of their psyche.
To conclude, it must be again emphasized that this model does not rest
on intellectual speculations - least of all on common-place accounts of
seers and mediums. It has been offered to the reflection of Western people
as the result of trained yogis' direct experience.
One of them wrote to an English correspondent:
We tell you what we know, for we are made to learn it through
experience. You know what I mean and I CAN SAY NO
[fn 86: Ibid, p. 131.]
This may be taken as a veiled reference to some secrets of initiation,
recalling at this point to our memory these significant words of Apuleius,
stating that "the very act of initiation represents a voluntary
I approached the limits of death; I trod on Proserpine's threshold
and I returned, borne through all the elements; in full night, I saw the
sun shining with a blazing light... [fn 87: Apuleius,
Paris, May 8, 1989
On the difference between personality
(and their respective place in man's evolution)
In order to clarify this essential distinction to the unprepared Western
mind. H.P. Blavatsky devoted many pages of her writings. The following
are taken from The Key to Theosophy, a book in form of a dialogue
between "Theosophist" and "Enquirer".
1. Evanescent personality versus
individuality, or Ego.
THEO. - [...] like so many others,
confuse personality with individuality. Your Western psychologists do not
seem to have established any clear distinction between the two. Yet it
is precisely that difference which gives the key-note to the understanding
of Eastern philosophy.
ENQ.- But what is the distinction between
individuality" and the "I" or "Ego" of which we
are all conscious?
THEO. - Before I can answer you. we must
upon what you mean by "I" or "Ego". We distinguish
between the simple fact of self-consciousness, the simple feeling that
"I am I" and the complex thought that "I am Mr. Smith"
or "Mrs. Brown". Believing as we do in a series of births for
the same Ego, or re-incarnation, this distinction is the fundamental pivot
of the whole idea. You see "Mr. Smith" really means a long series
of daily experiences strung together by the thread of memory, and forming
what Mr. Smith calls "himself . But none of these
are really the "I" or the Ego, nor do they give "Mr.
feeling that he is himself for he forgets the greater part of his daily
experiences, and they produce the feeling of Egoity in him only
while they last. We Theosophists, therefore, distinguish between this bundle
of "experiences "; which we call the false (because so finite
and evanescent) personality, and that element in man to which the feeling
of "I am I" is due. It is this "I am I" which we call
the true individuality; and we say that this "Ego" or
individuality plays, like an actor, many parts on the stage of life.
2. The actor and his roles.
Let us call every new life on earth of the same Ego a night
on the stage of a theatre. One night the actor, or "Ego"; appears
as "Macbeth", the next as "Shylock" the third as
the fourth as "Hamlet" or "King Lear"; and so on, until
he has run through the whole cycle of incarnations. The Ego begins his
life-pilgrimage as a sprite, an "Ariel", or a "Puck";
he plays the part of a super, is a soldier, a servant, one of the
chorus; rises then to "speaking parts", plays leading roles
with insignificant parts, till he finally retires from the stage as
[In the meanwhile] will you call these parts or their costumes the
individuality of the actor himself?
3. His permanent memory.
The personality [...] is ever changing with every new birth.
It is, as said before, only the part played by the actor (the true ego)
for one night. This is why we preserve no memory on the physical plane
of our past lives, though the real "Ego" has lived them
over and knows them all.
4. The individual Ego is the real man, responsible for his
It is this Ego which [...] made of that human-like form a
real man. It is that Ego, [...] which overshadows every personality
Karma forces it to incarnate into; and this Ego which is held responsible
for all the sins committed through, and in, every new body or personality
- the evanescent masks which hide the true Individual through the long
series of rebirths.
5. Its evolutionary pilgrimage, through life and death.
The spiritual Ego of man moves in eternity like a pendulum between
the hours of birth and death. But if these hours, marking the periods of
life terrestrial and life spiritual, are limited in their duration, [...]
the spiritual pilgrim is eternal [...] Such intervals, their limitation
notwithstanding, do not prevent the Ego, while ever perfecting itself from
following undeviatingly, though gradually and slowly, the path to its last
transformation, when that Ego, having reached its goal; becomes a divine
being. These intervals and stages help towards this final result instead
of hindering it; and without such limited intervals the divine Ego could
never reach its ultimate goal.
6. The Ego retains the spiritual "aroma" of each
Something of each personality unless the latter was an absolute
with not even a chink in his nature for a spiritual ray to pass through,
must survive, as it leaves its eternal impress on the incarnating permanent
Self or Spiritual Ego. [fn 88: Or the Spiritual, in
contradistinction to the personal Self. The student must not confuse
this Spiritual Ego with the "HIGHER
which is Atma, the God within Us, and insuperable from the Universal
Your spiritual "I" is immortal; but from your present self
it can carry away into eternity that only which has become worthy of
namely, the aroma alone of the flower that has been mown by death.
7. Individual evolution culminates in man's alchemical metamorphosis
into a god.
As tire bee collects its honey from every flower, leaving the rest
as food for the earthly worms, so does our spiritual individuality [...].
Collecting from every terrestrial personality, into which Karma forces
it to incarnate, the nectar alone of the spiritual qualities and
it unites all these into one whole and emerges from its chrysalis as the
glorified Dhyan Chohan [= a god-like being]. So much the worse for
those terrestrial personalities from winch it could collect nothing. Such
personalities cannot assuredly outlive consciously their terrestrial
BLAVATSKY HELENA PETROVNA
- Isis Unveiled, original edition New York, 1877. Facsimile
reprint, The Theosophy Company, Los Angeles (Ca), 1975.
- The Secret Doctrine, The Synthesis of Science, Religion and
London, New York, Madras, 1888. Facsimile reprint, The Theosophy Company,
Los Angeles (Ca), 1947.
- The Key to Theosophy, London 1889. Facsimile reprint,
The Theosophy Company, Los Angeles (Ca), 1973.
- Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, London, New York,
Verbatim reprint from the original, The Theosophy Company, Los Angeles
- H.P. Blavatsky Articles. The Theosophy Company, Los Angeles
- "An Astral Prophet" , in Lucifer, vol.VI (June 1890)
- "Facts and Ideations", in The Theosophist vol.VI
- "Memory in the Dying", in Lucifer, vol.V (October
FÉRÉ DR CHARLES,
"Note pour servir à l'état mental des
in Mémoires de la Société de biologie de Paris,
tome 1et, 9e série, année 1889, séance du 16
"Notizeis über den Tod durch Absturz , in Jahrbuch des
schweizerischen Alpclub, 27 (1892), 327- 337. English translation by
R. Noyes and R. Kletti: "The Experience of Dying from Falls"
[Omega 2 (1972)].
JUDGE WILLIAM Q.,
- The Ocean of Theosophy, New York, 1893. The Theosophy
Los Angeles (Ca).
- Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita, The Theosophy Company, Los
(Ca) 2nd ed. 1942
- Theosophical Articles by William Q. Judge (2 vol.), The Theosophy
Company, Los Angeles (Ca) 1980.
- Remembering the Experiences of the Ego , in The Path (June
JUNG DR CARL
Ma vie, souvenirs, rêves et pensées (German
Erinnerungen, Traüme, Gedanken; English: Memories,
Reflections), NRF Gallimard, new ed. Paris (1973).
"E. Kübler-Ross: There is No Death", in East
West Journal (March 1978): 50-53.
Lifetimes, Bobbs Merrill Co, Indianapolis N.Y. (1979).
MAHÂTMA LETTERS (THE) TO
transcribed, compiled and with an Introduction by A.T. Barker (First
published Dec. 1923), Rider & Co, London
MOODY DR RAYMOND
Life After Life, Atlanta 1975; Bantam /Mockingbird edition
Reflections on Life After Life, Atlanta and Harrisburg, Pa, 1977.
Bantam/Mockingbird edition, 1977.
OSIS KARLIS & HARALDSON ERLENDUR,
At the Hour of Death, New York, 1977.
RAWLINGS DR MAURICE,
Beyond Death's Door, Nashville, 1978.
- Life At Death, New York, 1980. Quill ed. New York, 1982.
- Heading Toward Omega, New York, 1984.
L'Homme qui prenait sa femme pour un chapeau, Seuji, Paris,
- "Théosophie et survivance", in PSI-International,
le Sumaturel face à Ia science, n°7, Paris, 1978.
- La Réincarnation, des preuves aux certitudes, Retz,
Paris, 1982. Pocket book ed. Retsz 1989.
- Revivre nos vies antérieures, témoignages et preuves
de la réincarnation, Albin Michel, Paris, 1984; n.ed. "J'ai
lu", Paris, 1987. Italian edition, 1989.
- Mourir pour Renaître, l'Alchimie de Ia mort et les promesses
de l après-vie, Albin Michel, Paris, 1987; n.ed. "J'ai
lu", Paris, 1988.
Dr Jean-Louis Siémons
Ingénieur E N S C P,
docteur ès-sciences physiques)
is an active lecturer in the fields of death and dying,
oriental philosophy and Theosophy.
He is the author of several books on these
Professionally, he teaches biophysics at the
INSTITUT NATIONAL AGRONOMIQUE
16 rue Claude Bernard, 75005 Paris (France)
(All correspondence may be sent to this
Otherworld Journeys, New York, Oxford, 1987.
"No Religion Higher Than Truth"
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