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LIFE AND DEATH
From H. P. Blavatsky Theosophical Articles, Vol. II.
Articles by HPB
A CONVERSATION BETWEEN A GREAT EASTERN TEACHER, H. P. B., COLONEL OLCOTT AND AN INDIAN REPORTED BY H. P. BLAVATSKY
MASTER," said Narayan to Thakur, in the midst of a very hot dispute with the poor Babu, "what is it he is saying, and can one listen to him without being disgusted? He says that nothing remains of the man after he is dead, but that the body of the man simply resolves itself into its component elements, and that what we call the soul, and he calls the temporary consciousness, separates itself, disappearing like the steam of hot water as it cools."
"Do you find this so very astonishing?" said the Master. "The Babu is a Chârvâka1. [Footnote: 1. A sect of Bengali Materialists. ] and he tells you only that which every other Chârvâka would have told you."
"But the Chârvâkas are mistaken. There are many people who believe that the real man is not his physical covering, but dwells in the mind, in the seat of consciousness. Do you mean to say that in any case the consciousness may leave the soul after death?"
"In his case it may," answered Thakur quietly: "because he firmly believes in what he says."
Narayan cast an astonished and even frightened look at Thakur, and the Babu--who always felt some restraint in the presence of the latter--looked at us with a victorious smile.
"But how is this?" went on Narayan. "The Vedânta teaches us that the spirit of the spirit is immortal, and that the human soul does not die in Parabrahman. Are there any exceptions?"
"In the fundamental laws of the spiritual world there can be no exceptions; but there are laws for the blind and laws for those who see."
"I understand this, but in this case, as I have told him already, his full and final disappearance of consciousness is nothing but the aberration of a blind man, who, not seeing the sun, denies its existence, but all the same he will see the sun with his spiritual sight after he is dead."
"He will not see anything," said the Master. "Denying the existence of the sun now, he could not see it on the other side of the grave."
Seeing that Narayan looked rather upset, and that even we, the Colonel and myself, stared at him in the expectation of a more definite answer, Thakur went on reluctantly:
"You speak about the spirit of the spirit, that is to say about the Atmâ, confusing this spirit with the soul of the mortal, with Manas. No doubt the spirit is immortal, because being without beginning it is without end; but it is not the spirit that is concerned in the present conversation. It is the human, self-conscious soul. You confuse it with the former, and the Babu denies the one and the other, soul and spirit, and so you do not understand each other."
"I understand him," said Narayan.
"But you do not understand me," interrupted the Master. "I will try to speak more clearly. What you want to know is this. Whether the full loss of consciousness and self-feeling is possible after death, even in the case of a confirmed Materialist. Is that it?"
Narayan answered: "Yes; because he fully denies everything that is an undoubted truth for us, that in which we firmly believe."
"All right," said the Master. "To this I will answer positively as follows, which, mind you, does not prevent me from believing as firmly as you do in our teaching, which designates the period between two lives as only temporary. Whether it is one year or a million that this entr'acte lasts between the two acts of the illusion life, the posthumous state may be perfectly similar to the state of a man in a very deep fainting-fit, without any breaking of the fundamental rules. Therefore the Babu in his personal case is perfectly right."
"But how is this?" said Colonel Olcott; "since the rule of immortality does not admit of any exceptions, as you said."
"Of course it does not admit of any exceptions, but only in the case of things that really exist. One who like yourself has studied Mândukya Upanishad and Vedânta-sara ought not to ask such questions," said the Master with a reproachful smile.
"But it is precisely Mândukya Upanishad," timidly observed Narayan, "which teaches us that between the Buddhi and the Manas, as between the Îshvara and Prajnâ, there is no more difference in reality than between a forest and its trees, between a lake and its waters."
"Perfectly right," said the Master, "because one or even a hundred trees which have lost their vital sap, or are even uprooted, cannot prevent the forest from remaining a forest."
"Yes," said Narayan, "but in this comparison, Buddhi is the forest, and Manas Taijasi the trees, and if the former be immortal, then how is it possible for the Manas Taijasi, which is the same as Buddhi, to lose its consciousness before a new incarnation? That is where my difficulty lies."
"You have no business to have any difficulties," said the Master, "if you take the trouble not to confuse the abstract idea of the whole with its casual change of form. Remember that if in talking about Buddhi we may say that it is unconditionally immortal, we cannot say the same either about Manas, or about Taijasi. Neither the former nor the latter have any existence separated from the Divine Soul, because the one is an attribute of the terrestrial personality, and the second is identically the same as the first, only with the additional reflection in it of the Buddhi. In its turn, Buddhi would be an impersonal spirit without this element, which it borrows from the human soul, and which conditions it and makes out of it something which has the appearance of being separate from the Universal Soul, during all the cycle of the man's incarnations. If you say therefore that Buddhi-Manas cannot die, and cannot lose consciousness either in eternity or during the temporary periods of suspension, you would be perfectly right; but to apply this axiom to the qualities of Buddhi-Manas is the same as if you were arguing that as the soul of Colonel Olcott is immortal the red on his cheeks is also immortal. And so it is evident you have mixed up the reality, Sat, with its manifestation. You have forgotten that united to the Manas only, the luminosity of Taijasi becomes a question of time, as the immortality and the posthumous consciousness of the terrestrial personality of the man become conditional qualities, depending on the conditions and beliefs created by itself during its lifetime. Karma acts unceasingly, and we reap in the next world the fruit of that which we ourselves have sown in this life."
"But if my Ego may find itself after the destruction of my body in a state of complete unconsciousness, then where is the punishment for the sins committed by me in my lifetime?" asked the Colonel, pensively stroking his beard.
"Our Philosophy teaches us," answered Thakur, "that the punishment reaches the Ego only in its next incarnation, and that immediately after our death we meet only the rewards for the sufferings of the terrestrial life, sufferings that were not deserved by us. So, as you may see, the whole of the punishment consists in the absence of reward, in the complete loss of the consciousness of happiness and rest. Karma is the child of the terrestrial Ego, the fruit of the acts of his visible personality, even of the thoughts and intentions of the spiritual I. But at the same time it is a tender mother, who heals the wounds given in the preceding life before striking this Ego and giving him new ones. In the life of a mortal there is no mishap or sorrow which is not a fruit and direct consequence of a sin committed in his preceding incarnation; but not having preserved the slightest recollection of it in his present life, and not feeling himself guilty, and therefore suffering unjustly, the man deserves consolation and full rest on the other side of the grave. For our spiritual Ego Death is always a redeemer and a friend. It is either the peaceful sleep of a baby, or a sleep full of blissful dreams and reveries."
"As far as I remember, the periodical incarnations of Sûtrâtmâ2 [Fotnote: 2. In the Vedânta, Buddhi, in its combinations with the moral qualities, consciousness, and the notions of the personalities in which it was incarnated, is called Sûtrâtmâ, which literally means the "thread soul," because a whole long row of human lives is strung on this thread like the pearls of a necklace. The Manas must become Taijasi in order to reach and to see itself in eternity, when united to Sûtrâtmâ. But often, owing to sin and associations with the purely terrestrial reason, this very luminosity disappears completely. ] are compared in the Upanishads to the terrestrial life which is spent, term by term, in sleeping and waking. Is that so?" I asked, wishing to renew the first question of Narayan.
"Yes, it is so; that is a very good comparison."
"I do not doubt it is good," I said, "but I hardly understand it. After the awakening, the man merely begins a new day, but his soul, as well as his body, are the same as they were yesterday; whereas in every new incarnation not only his exterior, sex, and even personality, but, as it seems to me, all his moral qualities, are changed completely. And then, again, how can this comparison be called true, when people, after their awakening, remember very well not only what they were doing yesterday, but many days, months, and even years ago, whereas, in their present incarnations, they do not preserve the slightest recollection about any past life, whatever it was. Of course a man, after he is awakened, may forget what he has seen in his dreams, but still he knows that he was sleeping and that during his sleep he lived. But about our previous life we cannot say even that we lived. What do you say to this?"
"There are some people who do remember some things," enigmatically answered Thakur, without giving a straight answer to my question.
"I have some suspicions on this point," I answered, laughingly, "but it cannot be said about ordinary mortals. Then how are we, who have not reached as yet the Samma Sambuddha,3 [Footnote: 3. The knowledge of one's past incarnations. Only Yogis and Adepts of the Occult Sciences possess this knowledge, by the aid of the most ascetic life. ] to understand this comparison?"
"You can understand it when you better understand the characteristics of the three kinds of what we call sleep."
"This is not an easy task you propose to us," said the Colonel, laughingly. "The greatest of our physiologists got so entangled in this question that it became only more confused."
"It is because they have undertaken what they had no business to undertake, the answering of this question being the duty of the psychologist, of whom there are hardly any among your European scientists. A Western psychologist is only another name for a physiologist, with the difference that they work on principles still more material. I have recently read a book by Maudsley which showed me clearly that they try to cure mental diseases without believing in the existence of the soul."
"All this is very interesting," I said, "but it leads us away from the original object of our questions, which you seem reluctant to clear for us, Thakur Sahib. It looks as if you were confirming and even encouraging the theories of the Babu. Remember that he says he disbelieves the posthumous life, the life after death, and denies the possibility of any kind of consciousness exactly on the grounds of our not remembering anything of our past terrestrial life."
"I repeat again that the Babu is a Chârvâka, who only repeats what he was taught. It is not the system of the Materialists that I confirm and encourage, but the truth of the Babu's opinions in what concerns his personal state after death."
"Then do you mean to say that such people as the Babu are to be excepted from the general rule?"
"Not at all. Sleep is a general and unchangeable law for man as well as for every other terrestrial creature, but there are various sleeps and still more various dreams."
"But it is not only the life after death and its dreams that he denies. He denies the immortal life altogether, as well as the immortality of his own spirit."
"In the first instance he acts according to the canons of modern European Science, founded on the experience of our five senses. In this he is guilty only with respect to those people who do not hold his opinions. In the second instance again he is perfectly right. Without the previous interior consciousness and the belief in the immortality of the soul, the soul cannot become Buddhi Taijasi. It will remain Manas.4 [Footnote: 4. Without the full assimilation with the Divine Soul, the terrestrial soul, or Manas, cannot live in eternity a conscious life. It will become Buddhi-Taijasi, or Buddhi-Manas, only in case its general tendencies during its lifetime lead it towards the spiritual world. Then full of the essence and penetrated by the light of its Divine Soul, the Manas will disappear in Buddhi, will assimilate itself with Buddhi, still preserving a spiritual consciousness of its terrestrial personality; otherwise Manas, that is to say, the human mind, founded on the five physical senses, our terrestrial or our personal soul, will be plunged into a deep sleep without awakening, without dreams, without consciousness, till a new reincarnation. [In this article Sûtrâtmâ is used for the principle later called the Higher Manas, and Manas for that later called the Lower Manas, or Kama-Manas.--EDS. ] But for the Manas alone there is no immortality. In order to live a conscious life in the world on the other side of the grave, the man must have acquired belief in that world, in this terrestrial life. These are the two aphorisms of the Occult Science, on which is constructed all our Philosophy in respect to the posthumous consciousness and immortality of the Soul. Sûtrâtmâ gets only what it deserves. After the destruction of the body there begins for the Sûtrâtmâ either a period of full awakening, or a chaotic sleep, or a sleep without reveries or dreams. Following your physiologists who found the causality of dreams in the unconscious preparation for them. in the waking state, why should not we acknowledge the same with respect to the posthumous dreams? I repeat what Vedânta Sara teaches us: Death is sleep. After death, there begins before our spiritual eyes a representation of a programme that was learned by heart by us in our lifetime, and was sometimes invented by us, the practical realization of our true beliefs, or of illusions created by ourselves. These are the posthumous fruit of the tree of life. Of course the belief or disbelief in the fact of conscious immortality cannot influence the unconditioned actuality of the fact itself once it exists. But the belief or disbelief of separate personalities cannot but condition the influence of this fact in its effect on such personalities. Now I hope you understand."
"I begin to understand. The Materialists, disbelieving everything that cannot be controlled by their five senses and their so-called scientific reason and denying every spiritual phenomenon, point to the terrestrial as the only conscious existence. Accordingly they will get only what they have deserved. They will lose their personal I; they will sleep the unconscious sleep until a new awakening. Have I understood rightly?"
"Nearly. You may add to that that the Vedântins, acknowledging two kinds of conscious existence, the terrestrial and the spiritual, point only to the latter as an undoubted actuality. As to the terrestrial life, owing to its changeability and shortness, it is nothing but an illusion of our senses. Our life in the spiritual spheres must be thought an actuality because it is there that lives our endless, never-changing immortal I, the Sûtrâtmâ. Whereas in every new incarnation it clothes itself in a perfectly different personality, a temporary and short-lived one, in which everything except its spiritual prototype is doomed to traceless destruction."
"But excuse me, Thakur. Is it possible that my personality, my terrestrial conscious I, is to perish tracelessly?"
"According to our teachings, not only is it to perish, but it must perish in all its fullness, except this principle in it which, united to Buddhi, has become purely spiritual and now forms an inseparable whole. But in the case of a hardened Materialist it may happen that neither consciously nor unconsciously has anything of its personal I ever penetrated into Buddhi. The latter will not take away into eternity any atom of such a terrestrial personality. Your spiritual I is immortal, but from your present personality it will carry away only that which has deserved immortality, that is to say only the aroma of the flowers mowed down by death."
"But the flower itself, the terrestrial I?"
"The flower itself, as all the past and future flowers which have blossomed and will blossom after them on the same maternal branch, Sûtrâtmâ, children of the same root, Buddhi, will become dust. Your real I is not, as you ought to know yourself, your body that now sits before me, nor your Manas Sûtrâtmâ, but your Sûtrâtmâ -Buddhi."
"But this does not explain to me why you call our posthumous life immortal, endless, and real, and the terrestrial one a mere shadow. As far as I understand, according to your teaching, even our posthumous life has its limits, and being longer than the terrestrial life, still has its end."
"Most decidedly. The spiritual Ego of the man moves in eternity like a pendulum between the hours of life and death, but if these hours, the periods of life terrestrial and life posthumous, are limited in their continuation, and even the very number of such breaks in eternity between sleep and waking, between illusion and reality, have their beginning as well as their end, the spiritual Pilgrim himself is eternal. Therefore the hours of his posthumous life, when unveiled he stands face to face with truth and the short-lived mirages of his terrestrial existences are far from him, compose or make up, in our ideas, the only reality. Such breaks, in spite of the fact that they are finite, do double service to the Sûtrâtmâ, which, perfecting itself constantly, follows without vacillation, though very slowly, the road leading to its last transformation, when, reaching its aim at last, it becomes a Divine Being. They not only contribute to the reaching of this goal, but without these finite breaks Sûtrâtmâ-Buddhi could never reach it. Sûtrâtmâ is the actor, and its numerous and different incarnations are the actor's parts. I suppose you would not apply to these parts, and so much the less to their costumes, the term of personality. Like an actor the soul is bound to play, during the cycle of births up to the very threshold of Paranirvâna, many such parts, which often are disagreeable to it, but like a bee, collecting its honey from every flower, and leaving the rest to feed the worms of the earth, our spiritual individuality, the Sûtrâtmâ, collecting only the nectar of moral qualities and consciousness from every terrestrial personality in which it has to clothe itself, forced by Karma, unites at last all these qualities in one, having then become a perfect being, a Dhyân Chohan. So much the worse for such terrestrial personalities from whom it could not gather anything. Of course, such personalities cannot outlive consciously their terrestrial existence."
"Then the immortality of the terrestrial personality still remains an open question, and even the very immortality is not unconditioned?"
"Oh no, you misunderstand me," said the Master. "What I mean is that immortality does not cover the non-existing; for everything that exists in Sat, or has its origin in Sat, immortality as well as infinity, are unconditioned. Mulaprakriti is the reverse of Parabrahman, but they are both one and the same. The very essence of all this, that is to say, spirit, force and matter, have neither end nor beginning, but the shape acquired by this triple unity during its incarnations, their exterior so to speak, is nothing but a mere illusion of personal conceptions. This is why we call the posthumous life the only reality, and the terrestrial one, including the personality itself, only imaginary."
"Why in this case should we call the reality sleep, and the phantasm waking?"
"This comparison was made by me to facilitate your comprehension. From the standpoint of your terrestrial notions it is perfectly accurate."
"You say that the posthumous life is founded on a basis of perfect justice, on the merited recompense for all the terrestrial sorrows. You say that Sûtrâtmâ is sure to seize the smallest opportunity of using the spiritual qualities in each of its incarnations. Then how can you admit that the spiritual personality of our Babu, the personality of this boy, who is so ideally honest and noble, so perfectly kind, in spite of all his disbeliefs, will not reach immortality, and will perish like the dust of a dried flower?"
"Who, except himself," answered the Master, "ever doomed him to such a fate? I have known the Babu from the time he was a small boy, and I am perfectly sure that the harvest of the Sûtrâtmâ in his case will be very abundant. Though his Atheism and Materialism are far from being feigned, still he cannot die for ever in the whole fullness of his individuality."
"But, Thakur Sahib, did not you yourself confirm the rectitude of his notions as to his personal state on the other side of the grave, and do not these notions consist in his firm belief that after his death every trace of consciousness will disappear?"
"I confirmed them, and I confirm them again. When travelling in a railway train you may fall asleep and sleep all the time, while the train stops at many stations; but surely there will be a station where you will awake, and the aim of your journey will be reached in full consciousness. You say you are dissatisfied with my comparison of death to sleep, but remember, the most ordinary of mortals knows three different kinds of sleep--dreamless sleep, a sleep with vague chaotic dreams, and at last a sleep with dreams so very vivid and clear that for the time being they become a perfect reality for the sleeper. Why should not you admit that exactly the analogous case happens to the soul freed from its body? After their parting there begins for the soul, according to its deserts, and chiefly to its faith, either a perfectly conscious life, a life of semi-consciousness, or a dreamless sleep which is equal to the state of non-being. This is the realization of the programme of which I spoke, a programme previously invented and prepared by the Materialist. But there are Materialists and Materialists. A bad man, or simply a great egotist, who adds to his full disbelief a perfect indifference to his fellow beings, must unquestionably leave his personality for ever at the threshold of death. He has no means of linking himself to the Sûtrâtmâ, and the connection between them is broken for ever with his last sigh; but such Materialists as our Babu will sleep only one station. There will be a time when he will recognize himself in eternity, and will be sorry he has lost a single day of the life eternal. I see your objections--I see you are going to say that hundreds and thousands of human lives, lived through by the Sûtrâtmâ, correspond in our Vedântin notions to a perfect disappearance of every personality. This is my answer. Take a comparison of eternity with a single life of a man, which is composed of so many days, weeks, months, and years. If a man has preserved a good memory in his old age he may easily recall every important day or year of his past life, but even in case he has forgotten some of them, is not his personality one and the same through all his life? For the Ego every separate life is what every separate day is in the life of a man."
"Then, would it not be better to say that death is nothing but a birth for a new life, or, still better, a going back to eternity?"
"This is how it really is, and I have nothing to say against such a way of putting it. Only with our accepted views of material life the words 'live' and 'exist' are not applicable to the purely subjective condition after death; and were they employed in our Philosophy without a rigid definition of their meanings, the Vedântins would soon arrive at the ideas which are common in our times among the American Spiritualists, who preach about spirits marrying among themselves and with mortals. As amongst the true, not nominal Christians, so amongst the Vedântins--the life on the other side of the grave is the land where there are no tears, no sighs, where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, and where the just realize their full perfection."
H. P. Blavatsky