The question of “What Happens After We Die?” is one which has come to the mind of many people… especially as their own life begins to draw to an end or when a family member or loved one dies. In spite of being the only true certainty, the process of dying and the idea of a life after death and the afterlife is often believed to be veiled in much uncertainty. There are of course many different and contradictory ideas, theories, opinions, beliefs, and teachings about what happens to a person after the death of their physical body. These beliefs also vary by culture and tradition. For long ages, one generation of Adepts after another has studied the mysteries of being, of life, death, the afterlife, and re-birth, and all have taught in their turn some of the facts so learned. In this article we examine what Theosophy (specifically the writings of Madam Blavatsky – which she received through her teachers) have to say about death and dying and the afterlife.
Do we really die?
A famous poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye says in part – “Do not stand at my grave and weep; I am not there, I do not sleep…do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there, I did not die.” The true “I” of your being will never die. The true “I” is the soul. The soul is immortal. During the process of physical re-birth the soul takes a number of bodies. The technical term used in Theosophy is the Sanskrit word upadhi which means “vehicle” or “veil of spirit”. The soul, while incarnating, takes on a physical and other bodies. Upon deal these bodies (without exception) eventually disintegrate. But still you – the soul – will never die.
The Process of Dying
Various esoteric books have mention of “breaking of the silver cord” which is actually a reference to death. Master Choa Kok Sui clarified that the process actually involves not one but three silver cords which are not broken but simply disconnected or unplugged at their respective terminals in the body during which, the three permanent seeds are withdrawn. These are reabsorbed by the higher soul. The first cord to be disconnected is the silver life cord followed by the silver emotional cord and finally the silver cord of consciousness. You can learn more about this in the MCKS workshop titled Achieving Oneness with the Higher Soul or read more about it in the book with the same name.
This brings us to the question of consciousness after death. In the very last moments of life, when the body appears dead for all intents and purposes, everything you did, said, thought, and experienced in the life just ended will pass in perfect clarity before your inner vision. You will see the absolute justice and fairness of everything that happened to you in life and how everything proceeded exactly as it should have done, according to the unfailing law of cause and effect, action and reaction, known as the Law of Karma. Unconsciously you will enter into what is called in Theosophy Kama Loka.
The Kama Loka
The Kama Loka is the psychic atmosphere or the “astral plane” surrounding and to some extent interpenetrating the physical plane. Kama Loka is a semi-material plane which remains to us invisible. The Kama Loka has been described in other traditions – it is the Hades of the ancient Greeks and the Amenti of the Egyptians. The Kama Loka has neither a definite area nor boundary but still exists beyond our perceptions.
How long you will remain there can be determined by various factors but primarily by the degree of material attraction that characterised the life just lived. What takes place there is the separation between your lower, sensual, material nature and your higher and more spiritual nature. This can be understood as a process of purification. This phase is also what is referred to in the Christian tradition as Purgatory. The more spiritually inclined and oriented you are, the swifter this will happen. This phase could take hundreds of years for ordinary people. Also it is important to understand that the more time you spend in doing spiritual practice and purification in this lifetime, the faster would the transition be in the afterlife. You will not be conscious while all this is going on. When the break between the lower and the higher nature eventually occurs, this is known figuratively speaking as the “second death” and occurs when the soul sheds off its emotional body or the astral body. Following this, you the soul, enters what is termed in Theosophy as the “gestation state”. This is a period and state of profound rest and recuperation. This is similar to the deepest sleep we can presently imagine. The real you will after that eventually emerge from the gestation state and enter into the heaven state which Theosophy calls Devachan.
Consciousness returns at the door of Devachan. Devachan is not a location or a plane… but a state. It is actually quite different from the popular religious conceptions of Heaven. In this state the soul in unable to feel any emotions such as worry, sorrow and sadness. The reasons this happens is because the Soul uses the emotional body or the astral body to experience emotions. The term Devachan itself be translated as “blissful realm” or “pure land”. It corrosponds to the concept of Sukhavati in Mahayana Buddhism or the Hindu concept of devaloka or swarga.
According to Theosophy, everyone has their own personal Devachanic state and each of us creates it for ourselves unwittingly out of our own consciousness. It is the exact representation and experience of what you had believed, hoped, and expected Heaven to be like while you were still alive on earth. The Devanchan is supposed to be a perfect state of the utmost bliss, peace, and joy. There is not even the faintest shadow, hint, or trace of sorrow, disappointment, suffering, or pain there. Everyone and everything you had hoped to be there will be there because it is your own mental creation. Even your loved ones who you left behind on earth when you died and who are still physically alive will be there in your state of Devachan. They will not really be there but they will seem to be there, so vivid and realistic that you will never be inclined to question the matter or to doubt the reality of your experience for even one moment. This is necessary in order for it to be a state of the highest possible bliss for you. Those of your loved ones who had passed on before you will also be there in your Devachanic state, regardless of how long ago and even regardless of whether they have already reincarnated again. Again, they will not really be there but they will seem to be there, as perfectly vivid and realistic as when you were with them on the physical plane. Some of them will be having their own Devachan at the same time as you are having yours but the law of perfect justice and bliss requires that we each have our own personal Devachan, entirely of our own making. So there is no actual interaction or communication between departed souls but you will be represented there, as real as life, in your loved one’s Devachanic state just as they will be in yours.
In Devachan there is no memory or awareness of having died or even of there being such a thing as death. Bliss, peace, and joy prevails unfailingly throughout. Being a temporary, subjective, and self-created experience, it is really a type of dream but a dream as vivid, tangible, and well defined as life on earth. The duration of your stay in Devachan will be in exact accordance with the amount and force of the good or positive Karma that you accrued during the preceding lifetime. This is what sustains and prolongs your Devachanic experience. This will naturally vary greatly from person to person. For some Devachan may last over a thousand years or even longer. Alternatively it may perhaps last several hundred years or just several decades. Some people return to earth life after just a few years, primarily if the attraction for physical and material existence is a strong force within their soul. Either way, your Devachanic state will eventually begin to fade out and draw to a close, coinciding with the process of the reincarnation of your soul, from conception, through pregnancy, and finally culminating in your reincarnation on the physical plane. You will then have dropped and discarded forever the personality and persona of the previous lifetime and will be embarking upon a new lifetime incarnated as a brand new persona that is shaped and determined by your own past Karma. And so the journey of ongoing inner evolution and unfoldment continues.
This is why the Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita: “The end of birth is death; the end of death is birth.”
The Cycle of Birth and Death and Mahasamadhi
The cycle of birth and death continue till the point where a soul has achieved a relatively high state of development. This is described as the state of Arhatship. An Arhat does not need to reincarnate. But Arhats come back. According to MCKS, the Great Teachers do not go on permanent vacation after leaving their body. Instead they choose to come back at a future point to help humanity to evolve. This is also known in the Buddhist Tradition as the Bodhisattva Vow, and remains an expression of compassion of the Great Ones towards the rest of humanity which is still in the process of evolving. The process defined above does not apply to souls who are quite evolved.
According to Madam Blavatsky, “He who has placed himself beyond the veil of maya – and such are the highest Adepts and Initiates – can have no Devachan.” This is also the reason that in the Indian tradition the word Mahasamadhi (or the great and final samadhi) is used to describe the decision made by a highly evolved Yogi to leave their body. This is not the same as the physical death that occurs for an unenlightened person given that the highly evolved soul retains unbroken continuity of consciousness. Thus when Their physical body dies they simply continue working and functioning, on other planes, until such time as the Divine Plan and Karma necessitates Their rebirth on the physical plane. This also means that the Great Ones (such as the Lord Krishna, the Lord Christ, the Lord Gautam Buddha and other Teachers) have never totally left the Earth and are still present to aid and guide humanity.