by the Rt. Rev. C.W. Leadbeater


One of the most important practical results of a thorough comprehension of Theosophical truth is the entire change which is necessary brings about in our attitude towards death. It is impossible for us to calculate the vast amount of utterly unnecessary sorrow and terror and misery which mankind in the aggregate has suffered simply from its ignorance and superstition with regard to this one matter of death. There is among us a mass of false and foolish belief along this line which has worked untold evil in the past and is causing indescribable suffering in the present, and its eradication would be one of the greatest benefits that could be conferred upon the human race.

This benefit the Theosophical teaching at once confers on those who, from their study of philosophy in past lives, now find themselves able to accept it. It robs death forthwith of all its terror and much of its sorrow, and enables us to see it in its true proportions and to understand its place in the scheme of our evolution.

While death is considered as the end of life, as the gateway into a dim but fearful unknown country, it is not unnaturally regarded with much misgiving, if not with positive terror. Since, in spite of all religious teaching to the contrary this has been the view universally taken in the western world, many grisly horrors have sprung up around it, and have become matters of custom, thoughtlessly obeyed by many who should know better.

All the ghastly paraphernalia of woe, the mutes, the plumes, the black velvet, the crape, the mourning garments, the black-edged note paper, all these are nothing more than advertisements of ignorance on the part of those who employ them. The man who begins to understand what death is at once puts aside all this masquerade as childish folly, seeing that to mourn over the good fortune of his friend merely because it involves for himself the pain of apparent separation from that friend, becomes, as soon as it is recognised, a display of selfishness.

He cannot avoid feeling the wrench of the temporary separation, but he can avoid allowing his own pain to become a hindrance to the friend who has passed on. He knows that there can be no need to fear or to mourn over death, whether it comes to himself or to those whom he loves. It has come to them all often before, so that there is nothing unfamiliar about it. Instead of representing it as a ghastly king of terrors, it would be more accurate and more sensible to symbolise it as an angel bearing a golden key to admit us to the glorious realms of the higher life.

He realises very definitely that life is continuous, and that the loss of the physical body is nothing more than the casting aside of a garment which in no way changes the real man who is the wearer of the garment. He sees that death is simply a promotion from a life which is more than half-physical to one which is wholly astral, and therefore very much superior. So, for himself he unfeignedly welcomes it, and when it comes to those whom he loves, he recognises at once the great advantage for them, even though he cannot feel a certain amount of selfish regret that he should be temporarily separated from them.

But he knows also that this separation is in fact only apparent, and not real. He knows that the so-called dead are near him still, and that he has only to cast off temporarily his physical body in sleep, in order to stand side by side with them and commune with them as before. He sees clearly that the world is one and that the same Divine laws rule the whole of it, whether it be visible or invisible to the physical sight. Consequently he has no feeling of nervousness or strangeness in passing from one part of it to the other, and no sort of uncertainty as to what he will find on the other side of the veil.

The whole of the unseen world is so clearly and fully mapped out for him through the work of the Theosophical investigators that it is well known to him as the physical life, and thus he is prepared to enter upon it without hesitation whenever it may be best for his evolution. For full details of the various stages of this higher life we must refer the reader to the books specially devoted to this subject. It is sufficient here to say that the conditions into which the man passes are precisely those which the man passes are precisely those which he has made for himself. The thoughts and desires which he has encouraged within himself during earth-life take form as definite living entities hovering round him and reacting upon him until the energy which he poured into them is exhausted.

When such thoughts and desires have been powerful and persistently evil, the companions so created may indeed be terrible; but happily such cases form a very small minority among the dwellers in the astral world. The worst that the ordinary man of the world usually provides for himself after death is a useless and unutterably wearisome existence, void of all rational interests, the natural sequence of a life wasted in self-indulgence, triviality, and gossip here on earth.

To this weariness active suffering may under certain conditions be added. If a man during earth-life has allowed strong physical desire to obtain a mastery over him, if, for example, he has become a slave to such a vice as avarice, sensuality, or drunkenness, he has laid up for himself much purgatorial suffering after death. For in losing the physical body he in no way loses these desires and passions; they remain as vivid as ever, nay, they are even more active when they have no longer the heavy particles of dense matter to set in motion. What he does lose is the power to gratify these passions; so that they remain as torturing, gnawing desires, unsatisfied and unsatisfiable. It will be seen that this makes a very real hell for the unfortunate man, though of course only a temporary one, since in process of time such desires must burn themselves out, expending their energy in the very suffering which they produce.

A terrible fate, truly; yet there are two points which we should bear in mind with regard to it. First, that the man has not only brought it on himself, but has determined its intensity and it duration for himself. He has allowed this desire to reach a certain strength during earth-life, and now he has to meet it and control it. If during physical life he has made efforts to repress or check it, he will have just so much the less difficulty in conquering it now. He has created for himself the monster with which now he has to struggle; whatever strength his antagonist possesses is just what he has given it. Therefore, his fate is not imposed upon him from without, but is simply of his own making.

Secondly, the suffering which he thus brings upon himself is the only way of escape for him. If it were possible for him to avoid it, and to pass through the astral life without this gradual wearing away of the lower desires, what would be the result? Obviously that he would enter upon his next physical life entirely under the domination of these passions. He would be a born drunkard, a sensualist, a miser; and long before it would be possible to teach him that he ought to try to control such passions they would have grown far too strong for control , they would have enslaved him, body and soul, and so another life would be thrown away, another opportunity would be lost. He would enter thus upon a vicious circle from which there appears no escape, and his evolution would be indefinitely delayed.

The Divine scheme is not thus defective. The passion exhausts itself during the astral life, and the man returns to physical existence without it. True, the weakness of mind which allowed passion to dominate him is still there; true also, he has made for himself for this new life an astral body capable of expressing exactly the same passions as before, so that it would not be difficult for him to resume his old evil life. But the ego, the real man, has had a terrible lesson, and assuredly he will make every effort to prevent his lower manifestation from repeating that mistake, from falling again under the sway of that passion.

He has still the germs of it within him, but if he has deserved good and wise parents they will help to develop the good in him and check the evil, the germs will remain unfructified and will atrophy, and so in the next life after that they will not appear at all. So by slow degrees man conquers his evil qualities, and evolves virtues to replace them.

On the other hand, the man who is intelligent and helpful, who understands the conditions of this non-physical existence and takes the rouble to adapt himself to them and make the most of them, opening before him a splendid vista of opportunities both for acquiring fresh knowledge and for doing useful work. He discovers that life away from this dense body has a vividness and brilliancy to which all earthly enjoyment is as moonlight unto sunlight, and that through his clear knowledge and calm confidence the power of the endless life shines out upon all those around him.

He may become a centre of peace and joy unspeakable to hundreds of his fellow men, and may do more good in a few years of that astral existence than ever he could have done in the longest physical life. He is well aware too, that there lies before him another and still grander stage of this wonderful post-mortem life. Just as by his desires and his lower thoughts he has made for himself the surroundings of his astral life, so has he by his higher thought and his nobler aspirations made for himself a life in the heaven-world.

For heaven is not a dream, but a living and glorious reality. Not a city far away beyond the stars, with gates of pearl and streets of gold, reserved for the habitation of a favoured few, but a state of consciousness into which every man will pass during the interval between lives on earth. Not an eternal abiding-place truly, but a condition of bliss indescribable lasting through many centuries. Not even that alone. For although it contains the reality which underlies all the best and most spiritual ideas of heaven which have been propounded in various religions, yet it must by no means be considered from that view only.

It is a realm of nature which is of exceeding importance to us, a vast and splendid world of vivid life in which we are living now, as well as in the periods intervening between physical incarnations. It is only our lack of development , only the limitation imposed upon us by this robe of flesh, that prevents us from fully realising that all glory of the brightest heaven is about us here and now, and that influences flowing from that world are ever playing upon us, if we will only understand and receive them.

Impossible as this may seem to the man of the world, it is the plainest of realities to the occultist; and to those who have not yet grasped this fundamental truth we can but repeat the advice given by the Buddhist teacher: -

" Do not complain and cry and pray, but open your eyes and see. The light is all about you, if you would only cast the bandage from your eyes and look. It is so wonderful, so beautiful, so far beyond what any man has dreamt of or prayed for, and it is for ever and ever."

( The Soul of the People VOL.1, p. 163).

When the astral body, which is the vehicle of the lower thought and desire, has gradually been worn away and left behind, the man finds himself inhabiting that higher vehicle of finer matter which we have called the mental body. In this vehicle he is able to respond to the vibrations which reach him from the corresponding matter in the external world, the matter of the mental plane. His time of purgatory is over, the lower part of his nature has burnt itself away, and now there remain only the higher thoughts and aspirations which he has poured forth during earth-life.

These cluster round him, through the medium of which he is able to respond to certain types of vibration in this refined matter. These thoughts which surround him are the powers by which he draws upon the wealth of the heaven world. This mental plane is a reflection of the Divine Mind, a storehouse of infinite extent from which the person enjoying heaven is able to draw just according to the power of his own thoughts and aspirations generated during the physical and astral life.

All religions have spoken of the bliss of Heaven, yet few of them have put before us with sufficient clearness this leading idea which alone explains rationally how for all alike such bliss is possible, which is, the keynote of the conception , the fact that each man makes his own heaven by selection from the ineffable splendours of the Thought of God Himself. A man decides for himself both the length and the character of his heaven-life by the causes which he himself generates during his earth-life; therefore, he cannot but have exactly the amount which he has deserved and exactly the quality of joy which is best suited to his idiosyncrasies.

This is a world in which every being must, from the very fact of his consciousness there, be enjoying the highest spiritual bliss of which he is capable, a world whose power of response to his aspirations is limited only by his capacity to aspire. Further details as to the astral life will be found in the Astral Plane; the heaven life is described in The Devachanic Plane, and information about both is also given in Death and After, and in The Other Side of Death.