The Force of Liberation
Good afternoon everyone. As we continue with our theme, "Death as Transition", it’s worth taking a little time to consider how the secular west has increasingly insulated itself from the natural cyclic process of death. Ever in search of new sensations, our uncontrolled rampage down the path of materialism has resulted in too strong an identification with our coat of skin; we’ve become enmeshed in its senses and consequently out of touch with our inner nature. The senses are meant to inform, not to possess, and only by disentangling ourselves from them and internalising our line of enquiry, can we hope to gain any real understanding of the nature of death. We have to awaken the inner, esoteric senses and follow their lead in order to touch the eternal core of our being that stands unmoved and serene throughout the long cycles of life, death and rebirth. Then we can know first-hand the beautiful secret that the death process veils, which is entrance into greater life.
The western mind-set seems to be that one life’s all you get so lets hang onto it as long as possible by any means. We have the ultimate symbol of this in cryogenic preservation and the ghastly image of frozen corpses springing back to life if and when the science has advanced sufficiently. What a sad testimony this is to how desensitized we have become to the inner truths that we once knew instinctively as our birthright. Through spiritual myopia, our lives have become fast, furious, self-destructive and empty, but fortunately, the world crisis is rapidly, if painfully, awakening us from this dangerous ego-centric slumber.
We are being turned around to face ourselves and not a moment too soon. Death through war, famine, disease, terrorism and natural disasters is relayed into our homes on a daily basis via the media – and people are responding to the terrible suffering they see. Through these horrific scenes we are constantly reminded of our own mortality and may ask if there can really be a God or spiritual afterlife for a world that is so full of pain and loss, hate and separativeness. Mass disillusionment with orthodox religions has resulted through their inability to answer such questions satisfactorily, and intelligent, enquiring minds are searching for a philosophy more suited to these present world challenges. Alongside the rapid growth of psychology and the social sciences, the new age has thus burgeoned, full of purported contacts with those on the other side of the veil of death, communications with angels, alien abductions, astral travel and the like, while scientific research is opening up the field of exploration and debate through its research into near death and out of the body experiences.
With all of this comes the steady decline of taboos surrounding the subject of death and a growth of interest as to its nature. The scientific establishment as yet accepts no hard evidence for the afterlife and its generally atheistic stance is partially a karmic payback to the church, previously its dominator and subjugator. And it is striking that now the religious zealot’s portrayal of heaven is one that most scientists would regard as an absolute hell, while even orthodox religious ideas on the subject seem to bear little relationship or relevance to the realities of our modern world, and therefore are fast losing their appeal. It is only by understanding the afterlife as an extension of this life that the death process can be understood as simply a transition – a re-location of consciousness from one area of the divine mind to another. And this shedding of form and the adoption of a new, more suitable one, is just part of an unending spiral of progress in line with the divine Plan.
In order to understand the relationship between this world and the next, we need to adopt a more detached, impersonal perspective. We have to let go of our ego-centric view of life for in the grand scheme of things, individual personalities do truly die after their higher qualities have been re-absorbed back into the soul. It is the soul that persists and which, through successive incarnations, is steadily taking control of its vehicles so that it can manifest itself fully on the physical plane. As this occurs en masse, the collective consciousness of humanity will form a vibrant centre of force – an outpost of divinity with responsibility for the stewardship of the planet and the spiritual nurturing of the lower kingdoms of nature – each of which has its role to play in the Divine plan.
When we take this view on board, we begin to view death in a positive rather than a negative manner, and realize that the only real death is limitation, which is what incarnation into dense physical substance is from the perspective of the illumined mind – liberation from it being entrance into greater life. This inverted attitude to what we term life and death is the view of the enlightened and is beautifully summarized in the following passage from Alice Bailey’s book, Esoteric Healing:
"Bear in mind, O Chela, that within the known spheres naught is but light responsive to the WORD. Know that that light descends and concentrates itself; know that from its point of chosen focus, it lightens its own sphere; know too that light ascends and leaves in darkness that which it—in time and space—illumined. This descending and ascension men call life, existence and decease; this We Who tread the Lighted Way call death, experience and life."
This turning of the perspective of life and death on its head is beautiful and inspiring to contemplate. As the worlds were created through the enunciation of the WORD so, on a lesser turn of the spiral, each of us is a word enunciated by the soul and made manifest on the physical plane. The WORD attracts lighted substance to itself, which then solidifies into flesh providing our temporary shell or home. And when this form grows old or outgrows its use, as all forms do – why keep it?
This taking and releasing of form is the spiritual side of the evolutionary process, the consciousness that resides in each form is never lost, but spirals in and out of different forms, experiencing, adjusting, learning and evolving in line with what we can only call a plan of some kind in the mind of divinity. Pondering on this we gain a better sense of proportion as we take our eyes off our own personal fate in favour of a more macrocosmic perspective. It is through this impersonal approach that we become filled with awe as we sense the unconditional love that lies behind universal processes and which is driving all onwards to some unknown goal.
Alice Bailey tells us that the work of the Great Life ensouling our planet applies energies and forces-under cosmic law…and creates continuously the new forms needed to express the "life more abundantly" and the "increasing purpose of His will" which the progress of the ages makes cyclically possible. We live at this time in a cycle wherein His intense activity is utilising the technique of divine destruction for the release of the spiritual life. Simultaneously, this great Life is creating the new structure of civilisation that will express more fully the evolutionary attainment of the planet and the kingdoms in nature, leading eventually to the perfect expression of His divine life and purpose. Fortunately we are told that this period of destruction is nearing its end and that if we initiate the necessary changes in consciousness, an era of loving understanding will emerge.
In this way we see that death is not just something that affects individuals – it’s all part of a larger process whereby the soul conforms to spiritual laws. This involves the periodic breaking down of all that is crystallized and in need of liberation into new forms. It takes place everywhere at all levels and we see huge cataclysms like earthquakes in the mineral kingdom and the extinction of species. On the human level we see the death process working on an emotional and mental level too; thus we have the constant death and rebirth of institutions, religions, political movements, and cultural trends. We see construction, deconstruction and reconstruction all around us, and all of it made more painful by the fact that we are trying to hold onto the known and familiar forms of the past.
It is hard for us who are so identified with the form aspect to understand this greater purpose of death, especially in the case of natural disasters of which we’ve seen quite a few recently. According to the Ageless Wisdom Teachings, all so-called Acts of God proceed under Law and Plan, and this understandably causes a troubling paradox, for who can reconcile such terrible suffering with a benign and all loving God? Perhaps part of the contradiction is due to the tendency to unconsciously project onto Him a personality intimately concerned with the affairs of every individual on the planet. However, the great Lives who reside in the Centre where the Will of God is known, including the planetary Logos Himself, are focused more on interplanetary relationships and the direction of cosmic forces for the good of all kingdoms of nature. We can surmise from this that, in natural disasters and times of war, individual destiny and karma are generally superseded by group and racial karma, and even planetary karma in the case of natural disasters. And of course, esoterically death is simply liberation into greater life via the relocation of consciousness into another area of the Divine scheme. So while natural disasters such as earthquakes are under the guidance of planetary intelligences, the great law of Love that rules the solar system is never contravened. It is just that form has to yield to "the pressure of the divine idea", or to put it another way "The garment of God is driven aside by the energy of His movements…"
In the case of human conflict which appears to have nothing to do with the divine, but more with human folly, the great sin of separateness is the ultimate cause of all wars and at all levels – racial, national and individual. It seems that we bring intense suffering upon ourselves to the point of forced relinquishment. When the selfish will has been broken down, new spiritual laws can then take over. The selfish personality then becomes the selfless soul, willing to co-operate with the energy of synthesis that ultimately brings about planetary unification.
Living synthesis is, then, the goal of evolution as far as we can understand it, and it’s the sense of separativeness that has to be overcome. This separateness comes from incarnating into dense substance in a coarse physical body. But it is through our evolution through planetary substance, that substance is slowly redeemed and the whole illusion of space and time that springs from it is dissipated. This is our mission and was the impulse that brought the human family into incarnation on a tide of energy from the constellation Cancer. In this connection we are told in Alice Bailey’s book Esoteric Astrology:
"It is in order eventually to negate the space-time concept and to prove it an illusion that the door in Cancer opens to the sacrificing, serving soul. Bear this always in mind as you study the subject of rebirth. In themselves, rebirth and reincarnation are misleading terms and ‘cyclic impulsion,’ ‘intelligent purposeful repetition’ and ‘conscious in-breathing and out-breathing’ would describe more accurately this cosmic process. Esoterically speaking, the point of greatest interest is that it is group rebirth which is taking place all the time and that the incarnation of the individual is only incidental to this greater happening. This has been largely ignored or forgotten because of the intense and selfish interest in personal experience and living." (p325)
Could we take a pause now to reflect on the life-death pattern as one of cyclic outbreathing and inbreathing and then I’ll say the ancient Indian mantram, the Gayatri, which so powerfully symbolizes this. Those of you who would like to are welcome to join in and at the end we can sound the sacred word, the OM:
O Thou who givest sustenance to the universe
From whom all things proceed
To Whom all things return
Unveil to us the face of the true spiritual sun
Hidden by a disk of golden light
That we may know the truth and do our whole duty
As we journey to Thy sacred feet.
And so what exactly does happen at death? At the close of a life cycle, the soul exerts its attractive power in a way that it offsets the attractive power inherent in matter itself. In this sense death is a touch of the soul which is too strong for the body. It is an act of Love by the soul and involves three main processes to free the incarnated fragment of the soul from the lower worlds:
The first of these is The Work of Restitution. This signifies the returning of the substance that made up the physical body to the basic reservoir of substance, leaving the person standing in the etheric or vital body; from the soul’s angle, this marks the beginning of the return of the divine spiritual energy to its source on soul levels. This restitution is predominantly the work of the human soul within the physical body working through the heart and the head centres.
The second process is The Art of Elimination, which takes place once the restitution of physical substance is over. The person is now freed from all reaction to the attractive pull of physical matter; and stands in the subtle bodies responsive to only three predisposing factors:
The quality of his astral-emotional equipment.
The mental condition in which he habitually lives, and.
The voice of the soul
often unfamiliar but sometimes well known and loved. We’re told that it is the overshadowing soul, not the human soul, which works at the elimination of all control by the astral and mental bodies until the ascending soul refocuses itself upon the concrete levels of the mental plane as a point of radiant light. Later in the evolutionary process, this will change and the soul-in-incarnation will effect the needed changes and process of abstraction.
Finally, after the Art of Elimination is concluded we have The Processes of Integration. These concern the liberated spiritual person’s efforts to blend with the soul (the oversoul) upon the higher levels of the mental plane. The part returns to the whole, and the person comprehends the true meaning of the words of Krishna:
"Having pervaded this whole universe with a fragment of myself, I remain."
Likewise, the conscious experiencing fragment, which has pervaded the little universe of the form in the three worlds, still remains and knows itself to be a part of the whole.
These three processes of Restitution, Elimination and Integration are what we call death and with them in mind we can now look at the art of death in a little more detail. Although we normally think of death as the immediate discarding of the physical body, from the soul’s perspective, a person on the astral plane or the lower mental plane is still in incarnation and the length of time needed to complete this process varies according to the age and experience of the incarnating soul. The majority will remain on the astral and lower mental planes for a long period as the art of elimination proceeds gradually until there is nothing left to magnetically attract them to these levels.
Dissolution and the Art of Death
At the appointed time, the soul sounds forth a "word of withdrawal". The etheric body, which interpenetrates the physical body during incarnation reacts to the note of the soul and organizes itself for abstraction. In response to this, the glands inject a substance into the bloodstream that affects the heart, this being one of the causes of coma and loss of consciousness. Finally, a psychic tremor occurs loosening the connection between the etheric body and the nervous system – often resulting in the relaxation and lack of fear which dying persons so often show. The etheric double now prepares to leave the body through the door of one of the major chakras. This gateway is usually the solar plexus, but the good citizens and aspirants of the world leave through the heart centre while the more advanced exit through the head centre. This point of exit will, of course, determine the person’s new location on the inner planes.
During this time the dying person is withdrawing his consciousness steadily into the astral and mental vehicles, preparatory to the complete abstraction of his vital or etheric body. For this reason it is essential that the death room is quiet. He becomes more withdrawn into himself and in the case of the advanced person this process is consciously undertaken. Many people too remain aware of relationship to others even whilst losing their grip on physical existence. Another pause follows and it is at this point where the physical body can regain its hold upon the etheric body if the soul sees this as part of its inner plan and death had not been intended. So it is presumably at this point that many return to relay their Near Death Experiences. Sometimes, the collective, attractive power of the physical body is so strong that it prolongs the process of dying for weeks. Eventually however, it will lose the battle if death is the plan of the soul.
After physical death
After physical death, the same person is still present on the planet, though now intangible. The dying person’s consciousness is focused either in the emotional or the mental body (more accurately the desire-mind body) and there is full awareness of what is taking place. The average person becomes consciously aware of himself with a clarity of perception unknown whilst incarnated. As the brain is no longer filtering consciousness, time as we understand it on the physical plane, is non-existent. Invariably there follows a moment of direct soul contact, even in the most ignorant of people, and this is experienced as a long strong pull at a bell rope. The soul responds and the person sees the experiences of the past incarnation roll out before him. From these experiences, 3 seed or conditioning factors are isolated that hold the keys to the forms that will be built in a future incarnation and can be described as follows:
Seed one – determines the nature of the physical environment in which the person will reincarnate – its quality and needed field of contact.
Seed two – determines the quality of the etheric body through which forces from the environment will make their impact on the physical body and along which the incoming energies will circulate. It also specifies which of the seven major chakras will be most active during the next incarnation.
Seed three – determines the key to the astral vehicle. This seed brings us into relation with those previously loved or contacted. Here again the group idea governs all incarnation not only through individual desire but also through group impulse, in line with group as well as individual karma.
These seeds of "determining recognition" as they are called apply to the group but only in the lower three levels of consciousness. For those who are responsive to the soul, an old esoteric Commentary on the subject says: "When soul knows soul and in the meeting place within the Master’s call, these seeds shall disappear." This means that while most people are drawn back into incarnation through karma, and the desire for experience including the reunification with those they have forged links with in the past, those who are treading the path and are to some degree "soul infused" are drawn into incarnation more by the work the soul wishes to carry out in line with the divine Plan.
Following this experience of the soul Review and the isolating of the three seeds, the person seeks out those to whom he or she is emotionally attached and re-establishes relations with them. In the case of those who have strong emotional attachments of either love or hate to those who are still in physical incarnation, he or she will be magnetically attracted towards them and will seek them out and remain in their neighbourhood aware of their activities. In both cases however, the lure of desire slowly wears off as the mind becomes more dominating. The second death now approaches – the Art of Elimination – to release the hold of the desire-mind body.
From the perspective of the soul, the astral plane is a place of strong desire and therefore is an even greater world of illusion in many senses than is the physical one. For this reason one of the most powerful things we can do in this lifetime, is to purify our emotions and free ourselves from their controlling forces - then the astral plane won’t hold us for long when we depart from physical incarnation and we would have played a part in destroying the glamour of this plane.
Three types of Heaven
We can spend a long time on the astral plane according to the condition of our emotions and desires, especially as the state of consciousness that traditional religions might call "Heaven" is to be found here. It is a condition of sensuous enjoyment, the result of the longing and desire for rest, peace and happiness, and as each individual builds it for himself, much as he or she tries to build an ideal life on the physical plane, there are as many variations of it as there are participants. The time will come however, as the art of elimination proceeds, when the astral body will die allowing the consciousness to withdraw on to the mental plane.
And here, on the mental plane there is also a heaven, often referred to as devachan. It is of a higher vibratory order than the astral heaven and the bliss enjoyed is described as more thoughtful and intense, the sense of reality being overwhelming compared to any experiences on the astral plane. But it is still within the lower world of form and those who are treading the spiritual path and learning to serve need to transcend this state too. This can only occur through the constant practice of dispassion and non-attachment on whatever plane of consciousness we find ourselves. Incidentally, there can be no devachan for the unevolved, for where there has been little intelligent, active thought life, there is little imental experience to take to Devachan and therefore the consciousness cannot work in that environment. In these cases, there is an impulse from the Soul to reincarnate almost immediately.
The third type of heaven is the Nirvana of which we hear so much about. Entry is only possible when the three lower worlds no longer hold a person through inclination or karma. While Devachan gives the sense of unity with others, it is still a reflection of this higher state and is tinged with selfishness and separative pleasure. Nirvana, however is true group consciousness and in this high state of consciousness each separate identity, though self-realising, shares in the group realisation. Therein lies bliss for the individual - separation is no longer felt, only unity and essential oneness are known. It is a state of consciousness that can be known on the physical plane by those who achieve enlightenment.
Factors guiding the conscious decision to reincarnate in those active on the spiritual path
We know that the soul’s natural impulse is to give and serve and it is able to impress this desire upon the partially illumined disciple during incarnation. The whole objective, therefore, of the disciple after death is to get rid of the subtler bodies, and acquire new ones. While those who are just starting off on the spiritual path long to be free from the wheel of rebirth, advanced souls are free even while in incarnation, this is because their consciousness is aligned and fused with the soul, and it is this desire to serve humanity and the Plan that determines whether they incarnate or not.
Once the body is discarded, most people will face two great experiences, namely a moment of soul contact and then a relatively violent reorientation to earth life. Briefly, this is a process of "descent and calling" where the needed substance to form the future bodies are gathered and coloured with the qualities and characteristics already attained, amongst other activities. A deliberate choice of parents is made at this stage before awaiting the moment of incarnation. Alice Bailey makes the point that parents therefore only donate the dense physical body except when soul experience is long and a true group relation has been established.
Overcoming the death process and turning it into something we consciously participate in is the next step ahead of intelligent people of goodwill everywhere, and meditation is the key to understanding the death process. If we can refer back to the Gayatri for a moment, this mantram veils many levels of awareness in accordance with our spiritual understanding. For most of us, this will be the light of the soul – a light that many of us are seeking to invoke on a daily basis. For the major part of the cycle of incarnations, however,the soul on its own plane takes little notice of our daily affairs and activities, but when we start to tread the path and deliberately invoke its light, the first law of White Magic tells us that: The Solar Angel collects himself, scatters not his force, but in meditation deep communicates with his reflection.
When this occurs, the personality experiences the impulse to introspection and meditation and, for all that obstructs the soul’s light, the positive process of death and destruction starts to take place. St Paul spoke of this process in his speech to the Corinthians when he said "I die daily". "This leads all the way to the Crucifixion of the Christians and the Great Renunciation, in the Orient, with its lesson of sacrifice and its call to the death of the lower nature. This was the lesson, which St. Paul knew, and the goal towards which he strove. ‘I die daily’, he said, for only in the practice of death daily undergone can the final Death be met and endured." Through the redemption and resurrection of our thought-life, we begin to understand that death itself is part of the Great Illusion and only exists because of the density of the veils of substance we have accumulated in our auras through ego-centric living.
The role of meditation is central to the whole process of death and liberation as it builds a pathway between the lower concrete mind and higher abstract mind and beyond. One day this will ensure continuity of consciousness between this world and the subtler planes that, at present, only reveal themselves to us when we relinquish the physical body at death. The very act of a trained and conscious daily abstraction away from identification with our body, emotions and thoughts prepares us for the "Art of Elimination" which proceeds at death under the jurisdiction of the soul. This detachment process purifies and heightens the vibration of the substance of our vehicles and this will help to bring about a quick and planned release when the soul calls us again, as it has so many times before.
Alice Bailey wrote that death is an act of the Intuition – intuition transmitted by the soul to the personality and then acted upon. If we examine the meaning of the Intuition, we find that it is a direct perception of the will of the soul or inner man, without interpretation by the mind or coloured by the emotions. For many people, death may be the only time in life that they experience true intuition for it is not concerned with the details of the personality life but with the wider group purposes in which the soul is engaged. Here we can relate back to what was said earlier that the whole process of rebirth or "cyclic impulsion" is basically a group activity in which the individual is only incidentally significant.
It is worth bearing in mind that death in one sense is something we experience every night in the hours of sleep. Many don’t realize that in sleep we die to the physical plane and are alive and functioning elsewhere. And that it is only the relative coarseness of the brain that fails to accurately record this when we come back into waking consciousness each morning. The processes of daily sleep and dying are very similar in fact, except that in sleep the magnetic thread or current of energy along which the life force streams is preserved intact and is the path of return to the body. In death this life thread is broken or snapped. When this happens, the consciousness cannot return to the dense physical body, and that body, lacking the principle of coherence, then disintegrates.
Disintegration is the way of all things when the cohering principle of the soul is not holding and relating substance in form of some kind. In summing up the nature of death, Alice Bailey gives us a very deep and powerful thought: Death is really deterioration in time and space and is due to the tendency of spirit-matter to isolate itself, whilst in manifestation. Although we don’t have time to explore this in detail, perhaps its better left as a point for reflection. This statement sums up the whole process of involution and evolution, of involving into form and an ever more separated, individualistic state of consciousness, and then the return to unity on the ascending arc of evolution, back to spirit carrying the fruits of our experience with us as quality. As we learn to work consciously at this process we are aligning ourselves with the soul’s force of liberation and know only greater spiritual Life.
Finally, its reassuring to know that the fear and horror of death will disappear for it is founded upon the love of form—our own form, the forms of those we love and the form of our familiar surroundings and environment. Yet this type of love runs counter to all our teaching about the spiritual realities. The hope of the future, and the hope of our release from this ill-founded fear, lies in the shifting of our emphasis to the fact of the eternal soul and to the necessity for that soul to live spiritually, constructively and divinely within the material vehicles. Sorrow, loneliness, unhappiness, decay, loss—all these are ideas which will disappear as people learn to live consciously as souls, and to regard the form or forms as simply modes of expression. Then a new and more joyful approach to that great experience will take their place.