Lessons in Theosophy
Lesson 6, Heaven, Hell,
Note: The Mental Plane is the fifth plane, the Astral Plane is the sixth plane, and the Physical Plane is the seventh plane. All seven of the Planes of Existence are covered in detail in Lesson 7.
Do not confuse Hell with Avichi.
We will now take a look at these “invisible worlds.”
-- Hell --
Hell is said to exist, although it is seen as different than the Hell of the orthodox religions. Here are the Theosophical views on five key issues regarding Hell.
1. Orthodox religions teach that Hell is eternal.
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41)
“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)Theosophy, however, teaches that Hell is not eternal. First, there is no word for “eternal” in Hebrew.
“The word ‘eternity,’ by which Christian theologians interpret the term ‘for ever and ever,’ does not exist in the Hebrew tongue — either as a word or meaning. Oulam, says Le Clerc, only imports a time when beginning or end is not known. It does not mean ‘infinite duration,’ and the word for ever in the Old Testament, only signifies a ‘long time.’” (H.P. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine, Vol. I, page 336 note online orhardcopy)“Eternal” would have been more accurately translated in the Bible as “aeon.” In Theosophy, Hell is seen as something that lasts for a while, but the person then leaves Hell, and moves on, to a better place.
Another Theosophical teaching contributes to the idea that Hell is not eternal. As a person spends time on a particular sub-plane of the astral plane, they eventually burn off the vibrations of that particular sub-plane. That allows the person to rise up to the next higher sub-plane and spend time there.
“The length of time depends upon the amount of matter belonging to that sub-plane which he has built into his astral body during physical life. He will necessarily remain upon that sub-plane until the matter corresponding to it has dropped out of his astral body.” (A.E. Powell, The Astral Body, page 120online or hardcopy)
“The general principle is that when the astral body has exhausted its attractions to one level, the greater part of its grosser particles fall away, and it finds itself in affinity with a somewhat higher state of existence. Its specific gravity, as it were, is constantly decreasing, and so it steadily rises from the dense to the lighter strata, pausing only when it is exactly balanced for a time. (A.E. Powell, The Astral Body, page 120 online or hardcopy)Living in Hell, then, is this process: The newly-dead “floats” to his or her appropriate level in the after-life. Those who have lead a wretched life float down to the lowest astral level (Hell), waiting for the heaviest astral atoms to eventually burn off. This then frees them to float up to the next level. This burning-off of astral atoms continues, until the highest level (“Astral Heaven”) is achieved.
Hell, therefore, is not a place of eternal damnation. It is a place of temporary residence.
2. The idea that people who do not worship God will go to Hell.
Some orthodox religions teach that we will go to Hell if we do not believe in a particular diety, a particular religion, or a particular religious ceremony. Theosophy teaches against these ideas. These ideas are seen as superstition, and Theosophy teaches that all superstition must be removed before Nirvana can be achieved.
“...in order to gain ... tolerance, you must yourself first be free from bigotry and superstition. You must learn that no ceremonies are necessary; else you will think yourself somehow better than those who do not perform them. Yet you must not condemn others who still cling to ceremonies. Let them do as they will; only they must not interfere with you who know the truth- they must not try to force upon you that which you have outgrown. Make allowance for everything; be kindly towards everything.As a side-note, it has been said that we are not even asked which religion we belong to, when we take the initiations that lead to Nirvana. We must only show a minimun level of spirituality, and a record of service to others. Read the transcript of a Second Initiation.
“You have transcended all superstition; you know that a man may find the light in any religion; you know that rites and ceremonies have no intrinsic value, and that all which is done by them can be done without them by knowledge and by will.... Will you seek to lift the darkness by spreading this gospel?”The superstition of eternal damnation causes trouble for the newly-dead.
“...as men’s eyes are opened superstition becomes impossible. You do not know the mischief that superstition works on the other side of death. You do not know the misery and the terror that too many souls undergo when they pass from the body into the world which to them is unknown, and is crowded for them with all the imaginary terrors with which superstition dominated by pretended knowledge has peopled it; especially is this the case in the West where men talk about eternal hell, and tell people that after death there is no growth and no progress, that a sinful man is plunged into the lake of fire and brimstone, there to spend the countless ages of eternity without hope of salvation, without hope of escape. You cannot imagine what the effect of that is on souls passing into the other world through the gateway of death, and imagining that all this is, or even may be true, imagining that they may be victims of this horror that they have heard of from their ignorant teachers; great are the difficulties they have who help the souls on the other side, to gradually do away with the terror and to make them understand that law is everywhere, and that malice and malignity are not found amongst the ruling powers of the Kosmos.” (Annie Besant, The Path of Discipleship, paragraph 103 online or pp. 134-135 hardcopy)Orthodox religion teaches that God sends us to Hell as punishment. Theosophy teaches against this idea. God does not “punish” us. (We do it to ourselves.)
3. Theosophy teaches that Hell is mainly a place of unfulfillable desires.
“The purely physical cravings of hunger and thirst no longer exist [in the astral world]; but the desire of the glutton to gratify the sensation of taste, and the desire of the drunkard for the exhilaration which follows, for him, the absorption of alcohol — these are both astral, and therefore they still persist, and cause great suffering because of the absence of the physical body through which alone they could be satisfied.” (Charles Leadbeater, The Inner Life, page 175online or hardcopy)The stories of Tantalus, Tityus, and Sisyphus from Greek mythology describe exactly what Hell is, for those people who let desire run wild in their physical life.
“You probably know the myth of Tantalus. He was a man condemned to suffer in hell eternal thirst, while water surrounded him on all sides, but receded from his lips as soon as he tried to drink. The meaning of this is not difficult to see, when once we know what the astral life is. Every one who leaves this world of ours full of sensual desires of any kind — as, for example, a drunkard, or some one who has given himself up to sensual living in the ordinary meaning of the word — such a man finds himself on the astral plane in the position of Tantalus. “He has built up for himself this terrible desire which governs his whole being. You know how powerful the desire can be in the case of a drunkard; it conquers his feelings of honor, his love of his family, and all the better inclinations of his character. He will take money from his wife and children, will even take their clothes to sell them and obtain money to drink.Hell, therefore, is not a place of eternal existence, it is a place of temporary residence. A person at this level burns off the coarse astral particles in their body, eventually allowing them to leave (rise to a higher sub-plane).
4. Hell as a place of heat and burning.
It is a commonly-held teaching of orthodox religions that Hell is a place of heat and burning. Hell is not seen as a place of residence in the physical world, so this seems to be in error. However, consider the above idea, that Hell is a place of “burning desire”. It is this sensation of burning desire that causes all orthodox religions to descibe it as a place of physical burning. (The following idea, number five, also supports the idea of Hell as a place where subterranean scenes, i.e. “burning,” possibly volcanic activity, are visualized by the residents.)
5. Theosophy teaches that Hell is a place geographically below the surface of the Earth.
In A. E. Powell’s earlier quote, the “specific gravity” of Hell, if you will, is mentioned. C. W. Leadbeater also mentions the “specific gravity” of Hell.
“People find their own level on the astral plane, much in the same way as objects floating in the ocean do. This does not mean that they cannot rise and fall at will, but that if no special effort is made they come to their level and remain there. Astral matter gravitates towards the center of the earth just as physical matter does; both obey the same general laws.” (Charles Leadbeater, The Inner Life, page 156 onlineor hardcopy)People of the lower astral sub-planes (Hell), then, generally reside below the surface of the Earth. This explains the orthodox religious teaching of Hell being below us (and Heaven being above). (As parts of the Earth are of great heat and pressure, this is also another connection to the idea of Hell as a hot place.)
-- Purgatory --
Theosophy teaches the concept of Purgatory. Actually, Theosophy teaches that there are various levels of the after-life available to the newly-dead, from the lowest (Hell) to the highest (“Astral Heaven”). “Purgatory” is actually an area between the two extremes.
Theosophy agrees with orthodox religion in that residency in Purgatory is temporary. As the corresponding astral atoms of that level are burned off, and, as the desires corresponding to that level are finally eliminated from the resident's psyche, the person rises up to "Astral Heaven."
-- Heaven --
Theosophy teaches that Heaven exists, although it is different than the Heaven of orthodox religions. Theosophy teaches that there are two different levels that are referred to (actually, sub-levels of the seven main levels). One level (the so-called “Astral Heaven”) has been called Elysian, the Elysian Fields, and Summerland. Another group of sub-levels is called Devachan. Devachan is described in detail below.
Theosophy teaches that, after death from the Earthly realm, the person spends time in “Astral Heaven.” The astral body then discintegrates (“the second death”), and the person moves on, to spend time in Devachan. Both “Astral Heaven” and Devachan have been referred to as Heaven, but Theosophy considers only Devachan to be the true Heaven.
Heaven (both “Astral Heaven” and Devachan) have been described as places of rest, while Nirvana has been described as a place of great activity.
-- A. P. Sinnet's Astral Sub-Planes --
A. P. Sinnet, in his book In the Next World, has listed specific characteristics for each of the seven astral sub-planes.
These are not “planes” but concentric spheres
“ ... it is desirable to remind the reader of the very definite way in which it is divided into sub planes. (Sub-concentric spheres would be a more appropriate phrase, but the usual term ‘plane’ is more convenient, though we should never forget that the whole astral region with all its subdivisions is a huge concentric sphere surrounding the physical globe, as much a definite appendage to it as the atmosphere, and carried with it in its movement round the Sun.)” (page 10)~~ Level 1 ~~ (the highest level)
Level one is populated with people who were true and good leaders while on Earth.
“ ... because life on the higher levels of the astral plane involves the principle that people are drawn together by their real sympathies, — not as in physical life by karma, that often, down here, puts people into close relations with antipathetic entities, — the seventh sub-plane is a region to which those gravitate who have been in life rulers of men in one way or another, not merely by high social rank, but by virtue of characteristics that have given them sway over others either in industrial or political life. ” (page 11)~~ Level 2 ~~
Level two is populated with people who had heartfelt thoughts of devotion while on Earth.
[The second astral plane] “ ... affords scope for genuine devotional feeling if that is the predominant element in any given character.” (page 11)~~ Level 3 ~~
Level three is populated with people who engaged in intellectual activity while on Earth.
“ ... people in whom intellectual activity is the predominant characteristic are naturally drawn to the [third] sub-plane” (page 11)The ability to study on the third astral sub-plane seems unlimited.
“ ... on the [third] sub-plane — the intellectual region — it seems possible for the literary student to help himself to copies of any book in existence down here, whether of ancient or of recent origin. And I believe that men of science on the [third] level can somehow make use of laboratories, though their new methods of research no doubt involve the use of faculties that generally supersede the necessity for using such instruments of research as they have been used to in the lower life. I know that they acquire knowledge concerning the constitution of matter, the mysteries of force, gravitation, and electricity that no instruments of ordinary research would help them to. And the vast spaces of the solar system and beyond become accessible, in some way we cannot here understand, to the investigations of the occult astronomer. That does not mean that superlative wisdom is poured into their consciousness in a flood. The new knowledge is gradually acquired as here by study and continuous effort, but it is acquirable in new ways for the full comprehension of which we who are interested in such work will mostly have to wait..” (pages 99-100)~~ Level 4 ~~
Level four is a place of happiness. People sometimes build themselves houses out of thought-forms, because they feel a need to have a house to “live in.”
“The fourth sub-plane is the [lowest astral sub-plane] on which existence is altogether based upon the sensation of happiness, though its experiences are themselves subject to very great variety. The higher regions again are all conditions in which happiness is the background of consciousness, but in which different mental and moral attributes find their appropriate expression. ” (pages 10-11)Here is another description of building houses out of thought-forms in a place called Summerland, another name for Astral Heaven.
“In the summer-land men surround themselves with landscapes of their own construction, though some avoid that trouble by accepting ready-made the landscapes which have already been constructed by others. Men living on the sixth sub-plane, upon the surface of the earth, find themselves surrounded by the astral counterparts of physically existing mountains, trees and lakes, and consequently are not under the necessity of manufacturing scenery for themselves; but men upon the higher subplanes, who float at some distance above the surface of the earth, usually provide themselves with whatever scenery they desire, by the method that I have described. “The commonest example of this is that they construct for themselves the weird scenes described in their various scriptures, and therefore in those regions we constantly find ourselves in presence of clumsy and unimaginative attempts to reproduce such ideas as jewels growing upon trees, and seas of glass mingled with fire, and creatures which are full of eyes within, and deities with a hundred heads and arms to correspond. In this way, as a consequence of ignorance and prejudice during their physical life, many men do a great deal of valueless work when they might be employing their time in the helping of their fellows.People join religious congregations on the fourth sub-plane, as they did on Earth — with advantages and disadvantages.
“It must always be borne in mind that the matter of the astral world is plastic in a high degree to thought. Thought there is an actually creative power, and thus there are regions of the fourth where the sustained thought power of all dwelling there, has created churches and chapels in which they continue to carry on such services as they have been used to on the physical plane. As the Roman Catholic community on the other side is of course a very numerous body, the Roman Catholic cathedral in which they renew their worship is, I am assured, an enormous building far exceeding in magnitude any similar structure on the earth's surface. Going to the opposite end of the scale, the little community calling themselves Plymouth Brothers, entertaining the belief, as I understand their state of mind, that they alone are destined to be saved, find their impressions duly realised, — as they think. They find themselves congregated together in something resembling a town beyond which they see nothing but an infinite waste. They continue, as in life, to hold meetings and preach each other dismal sermons, until, one by one, they get sufficiently bored, and so drift away and gradually acquire enlarged experience. Many of them may have been in ordinary life, no doubt, good and affectionate people, and then they would be exactly of the type suited to the devachanic condition, and would float off to that state of existence, when tired of their “Plymouth Brother” attitude of mind. The tardiness of their progress to loftier happiness would once more illustrate the fundamental principle that knowledge gained down here in advance, concerning the opportunities of the astral world, is enormously helpful in enabling people passing on to attain at once desirable conditions for which, in the absence of such knowledge, they would have to wait..” (pages 93-94)
The top four levels (levels one through four) are places of comfort. We now come to the lower three astral sub-planes ( levels five through seven), which are places of discomfort. These are often described as “Purgatory” and “Hell” in the world's religions.
~~ Level 5 ~~
Level 5 is a place of varied discomfort. It is a place where the newly-dead must come to terms with being entangled with undesirable thought-forms. They had surrounded themselves with these undesirable thought-forms while on Earth, and now they must go through the unpleasant task of separating themselves from the very thought-forms they created. Level 5 is just above the surface of the Earth.
“ The [fifth astral sub-plane] lies just above the surface of the earth, and is still a region of varied discomfort, in which those whose personal characteristics are such as to require purification before they are qualified for existence on any of the superior regions, spend a time greatly varying in duration.” (page 10)Here is the case of G. R., from Sinnet's book. G. R. gave into excessive sexual gratification while alive, and is now plunged into such a world, against his will, causing him to feel continued (and inescapeable) disgust.
[G. R.] “... describes himself as having been in life a man with a very ardent feeling for the other sex, though with refined tastes and habits. But he was now [in the after-life] plunged in the midst of the coarsest manifestations of that feeling. Without seeking the experience, he was drawn, sucked as it were, into the consciousness of a man of very gross nature and habits, and shared, though with loathing and disgust, his emotions as he gratified his desires. My friend was irresistibly tied to this man for a long time, till at last, with a horrified cry for help, he was enabled to break away, with a sense of extraordinary relief.” (page 19)G. R. relates another fifth-level story.
“... I seemed to be surrounded by a peculiar cloud which seemed to obscure my sense of sight, a cloud of a reddish tinge; and it seemed to be drifting upon me, as far as I could judge. I did not appear to be the origin of it myself, and became conscious of an extraordinary sense of damp heat and that I was slowly drifting I knew not whither. How long I drifted I know not, but at last I found myself in a dense kind of fog. I became conscious of voices, at first dim and far off. Also aware of an acute, uncomfortable sensation of choking. All of a sudden the mist cleared away and I found myself in a room with a number of men and women. [The graphic sexual descriptions are ommitted, but the scene was one of very degraded debauchery.] I saw foul shapes of an extraordinary order floating round the room, one exactly like a large jellyfish. As it passed me it gave me an indescribable sensation of disgust and horror. I prayed to be delivered from this wretched condition ....” (pages 22-23)G. R. is then taken away from that horrible place, and a Guide gives him some good advice.
“ ‘My friend, I have been permitted by my Master to help you. You must rest in this place for some little time. Remain patient. Do not long for those scenes that I have relieved you from.’ I thought at the time that was a strange remark, as I felt a powerful loathing for the scenes I had just left. He read my thought, for he went on to say: ‘You do not realise for the moment what this means, but those conditions will again recur, and unless you put them from you your sufferings will continue.’ ” (page 24)G. R. had not yet realized that it was his own desires that were transporting him to such a place. Only by removing those desires from himself could he escape.
Sinnet gives a final analysis as to why this was happening to G. R.
[G. R.] “ ... had great volumes of spiritual karma behind the unsatisfied passions of his last life. Moreover, I am inclined to believe that the disagreeable period described must have been to some extent traceable to unfulfilled tendencies of earlier lives. When he was finally free of all this, he ascended into lofty realms ....” (page 25)~~ Level 6 ~~
Level six is below the actual surface of the Earth. It is a place of suffering. This is a place of people who were cruel in life.
[One man had to endure] “ ... a period of suffering on the [sixth] submerged plane of the astral world. He gave me an awful account of the torments he was undergoing. He was in the dim lurid light of the underworld, surrounded by horrible elemental shapes or creatures of the most loathsome aspect who were attacking him fiercely. He had lost all sense of time, but this seemed to have been going on for what seemed an eternity.” (page 36)~~ Level 7 ~~
Level seven is below the actual surface of the Earth. It is a terrible subterranean region of only the very worst specimens of humanity
“ A part of the great sphere is actually immersed or submerged beneath the solid crust of the earth. That is a terrible region with which only the very worst specimens of humanity have any concern, after passing on from the physical life. Two sub-planes of the astral are thus underground — the [sixth] and [seventh]....”
-- Suicide --
Suicide is not a sub-plane of the Astral Plane, but suicide needs to be mentioned here. Suicide is seen as against the Great Law, and causes trouble in the after-life.
“The man who commits suicide runs away from school before the appointed lesson is learned; he is guilty of the great presumption involved in taking into his own hands a decision which should be left to the working of the Great Law. The consequences of so great a rebellion against nature are always of a momentous character. They are certain to affect the next life, and quite probably more lives than one. The circumstances surrounding a suicide immediately after death are the same as they would be for the victim of an accident, since both of them arrive upon the astral plane with equal suddenness. But there is the enormous difference that the man who dies by accident, not expecting death, is thrown into a condition of unconsciousness and usually passes through the lowest sub-plane without knowing anything of its varied unpleasantness. The suicide, on the contrary, has acted deliberately, and is generally painfully aware of much that is horrible and repugnant to him. He cannot be saved from the sights and feelings which he has brought upon himself; but he may often be helped to understand them, and may be inspired with patience, perseverance and hope by the good offices of some kind friend.
-- Does All Pleasure Cause Us to Spend Time in Hell? --
The question is sometimes asked, “Does all selfish desire, does allenjoyment on Earth cause us to spend time in Hell or Purgatory?”
No. A small amount of normal desire is OK but an unhealthy, excessive pursuit of it is bad.
“During incarnate life certain desires are in harmony with Nature's design. They leave no indelible traces on the astral vehicle unless they are allowed to dominate life and thought to an excessive degree. As in so many other ways, moderation is the keynote of health. It is almost as definitely possible to overdo asceticism as to overdo self-indulgence. But the astral vehicle of H. S. [one person given as an example in the book] was no doubt over-saturated with sexual desire, and it was by a very slow course of suffering that this unhealthy state of things was counteracted.” (page 46)
-- Do we burn off bad karma while in Hell? --
No. Hell is a place to disentangle ourselves from negative thought-forms, not a place to burn off bad karma. The bad karma will be burned off in subsequent incarnations. These planes are only for the removing of entanglements with undesirable thought-forms.
“ ... selfish pleasure, sought at the expense of incidental suffering to another, engenders bad karma of an unequivocal character, the effects of which will color the next physical life, while, independently of that, desires innocent in themselves, may be exaggerated in their intensity and allowed to dominate a whole life to such an extent that they are shed with very great difficulty on the astral plane after the death of the physical body. The process of shedding them may be so painful and protracted, as the story I have just been dealing with shows, that an account of it in any particular case reads like the description of a punishment; but that would not be a correct reading of it. The consequences of evil-doing on the physical plane, which have to be regarded, from one point of view, as its penalty, are worked out on the physical plane again in the next life. The intervening period is one the conditions of which ought to reflect the better side of the life just spent, rather than its worst. But for that better side to express itself the entity must not be weighed down by characteristics incompatible with existence on the higher levels of the astral world. It cannot get up to those higher levels till free of the characteristics which belong exclusively to the earth-life.” (pages 49-50)It is good to note that the conditions of Hell can stop at any time, whenever the person stops living with those self-generated thought-forms. (Time in Hell can be shortened.)
“ ... the astral life is not the period appropriate, to the working out of karma. That is reserved for the next physical life, and when disagreeable or painful experiences are incurred on the astral they are to be thought of almost always as purifying processes qualifying the personality to reach restful and happy conditions. If anyone passes over steeped in desires of a kind incompatible with life on any of the higher astral levels, he must wear out those desires, subdue them or realise their worthlessness, before he can ascend to the higher levels. The attainment of such an attitude of mind may, as we have seen, be sometimes retarded to a painful degree, but in that case the protraction of the painful state should not be regarded as a karmic penalty. It automatically comes to an end as soon as the person concerned is emancipated from the characteristics that hold him back..” (pages 95-96)
-- Heaven Above vs. Hell Below --
The section on Hell explains how Hell actually is a place geographically below the Earth. The explanation (with the idea of Heaven as an actual place geographically above the Earth) continues.
“Some ... people tend to hover round their earthly homes [after death], in order to keep in touch with their friends of the physical life and the places which they know; others, on the other hand, have a tendency to float away and to find for themselves, as if by specific gravity, a level much further removed from the surface of the earth. The great majority of the denizens of the astral world spend most of their lives comparatively near to the surface of the physical earth; but as they withdraw into themselves, and their consciousness touches the higher types of matter, they find it easier and more natural than before to soar away from that surface into regions where there are fewer disturbing currents.” (Charles Leadbeater, The Inner Life, page 155 online or hardcopy)Astral atoms are described as having specific gravity, just as physical atoms do. The denser astral atoms are said to “sink” more towards the Earth, and the higher-level, finer astral atoms are said to “rise” to the top of the astral globe that interpenetrates our physical globe. Astral entities (dead people) gravitate to the level equal to the preponderance of their astral atoms, causing the “bad” people to “float” at a lower level, and vice versa.
-- Length of Time in the After-Life --
The amount of time we spend in the astral and mental sub-planes differs from person to person
“The length of a man’s astral life after he has put off his physical body depends mainly upon two factors — the nature of his past physical life, and his attitude of mind after what we call death. During his earth-life he is constantly influencing the building of matter into his astral body. He affects it directly by the passions, emotions and desires which he allows to hold sway over him; he affects it indirectly by the action upon it of his thoughts from above, and of all the details of his physical life (his continence or his debauchery, his cleanliness or his uncleanliness, his food and his drink) from below. If, by persistence in perversity along any of these lines, he is so stupid as to build for himself a coarse and gross astral vehicle, habituated to responding only to the lower vibrations of the plane, he will find himself after death bound to that plane during the long and slow process of that body’ s disintegration. On the other hand if, by decent and careful living, he gives himself a vehicle mainly composed of finer material, he will have very much less post-mortem trouble and discomfort, and his evolution will proceed much more rapidly and easily. “This much is generally understood, but the second great factor — is attitude of mind after death — seems often to be forgotten. The desirable thing is for him to realise his position on this little arc of his evolution — to learn that he is at this stage withdrawing steadily inward towards the plane of the true ego, and that consequently it is his business to disengage his thought as far as may be from things physical, and fix his attention more and more upon those spiritual matters which will occupy him during his life in the heaven-world. By doing this he will greatly facilitate the natural astral disintegration, and will avoid the sadly common mistake of unnecessarily delaying himself upon the lower levels of what should be so temporary a residence.
-- Moving Through the Different Levels --
The after-life is seen as a journey through different astral and mental sub-planes. A person gravitates to the astral level which corresponds to the type of astral atoms most numerous in their astral body. These astral atoms “burn off”, and the person then becomes conscious on the nest higher sub-plane.
“The astral counterparts of the floor, walls and furniture of a room are all of the lowest type of astral matter, and consequently the man newly dead usually sees these counterparts vividly, and is almost entirely unconscious of the vast sea of thought-forms which encompasses him, because nearly all those forms are built out of combinations of the finer types of astral matter.Whithering away in old age is better than sudden death.
“... there is reason behind the familiar old prayer of the Church: “From sudden death, good Lord, deliver us;” for though a sudden death does not necessarily affect the man’s position upon the astral plane in any way for the worse, at least it does nothing to improve it, whereas the slow wasting away of the aged or the ravages of any kind of long-continued disease are almost invariably accompanied by a considerable loosening and breaking up of the astral particles, so that when the man recovers consciousness upon the astral plane, he finds some at any rate of his chief work there already done for him.” (Charles Leadbeater, The Inner Life, page 229 onlineor hardcopy)The after-life of children is shorter than an adult’s, in proportion to their physical life.
“In the case of young children it is exceedingly unlikely that in their short and comparatively blameless young lives they will have developed much affinity for the lowest subdivisions of astral life; indeed, as a matter of practical experience they are hardly ever to be found in connection with that sub-plane at all. In any case, whether they die by accident or disease, their life on the astral plane is a comparatively short one; the heaven-life, though much longer, is still in reasonable proportion to it, and their early reincarnation follows as soon as the forces which they have been able to set in motion during their short earth-lives work themselves out, precisely as we might expect from our observation of the action of the same great law in the case of adults.” (Charles Leadbeater, The Inner Life, page 229 online or hardcopy)
-- Devachan --
Devachan, also called the Lower Heaven, is the lower four sub-levels of the Mental Plane. (It is not a sub-plane of the Astral Plane.) This is where Theosophy says we spend most our time of rest between incarnations.
(It is important to note that some Theosophical writers have also included the first three sub-levels of the Mental Plane in Devachan, but the three authors quoted here do not.)
When a person dies, they become fully conscious in the astral body. After a certain time, the astral body disintegrates (the “second death”), and the person then becomes conscious on the mental plane.
“... the ‘dead’ live in astral bodies in the astral world; ‘temporarily’, ... since after a period of time they finally pass on to life in the heaven world [Devachan].” (C. Jinarajadasa,The First Principles of Theosophy, pages 138-139 online orhardcopy)The different types of people gravitate to the four different levels of Devachan. Being affectionate and religious gets us into Devachan, but being philosophical and philanthropic gets us into even higher levels of Devachan. The higher the spirituality of the person (caused by these activities), the higher level of Devachan they spend time on.
“The seven sub-planes of the heaven world form two great divisions; the three higher sub-planes make the higher heaven, and the four lower sub-planes make the lower heaven. The lower heaven world is also known as ‘Devachan’, the abode of Bliss, or the place of intense joy because in its four lower sub-divisions are found souls after death in conditions of happiness described in the various religions as ‘heaven’. Here too are found those animals who, before death, became ‘individualized’, and attained to the stature of a human soul. On the lowest sub-plane live those men and women and children in whom affection predominated in the character when on earth (however limited may have been its manifestation, owing to adverse circumstances), and they dwell in bliss for centuries in happy communion with those to love whom was the highest possible heaven of earthly dreams. On the next higher sub-plane are those who added to affection a devotion to some definite religious ideal; on the sub-plane above, the men and women who delighted to express their dreams of love and devotion in philanthropic action; on the fourth sub-plane are those who, with all these beautiful attributes, added philosophic, artistic or scientific interests to their soul's manifestations when on earth.” (C. Jinarajadasa, The First Principles of Theosophy, pages 141-142 online or hardcopy)See also the chart on The First Principles of Theosophy, p. 136.
For further reading on Devachan:
-- Upper Mental or “Higher Heaven” --
There is one more level, the Upper Mental or “Higher Heaven.”
“At the end of Devachan, the mental body, the last remnant of the Personality, is cast aside, and the Ego is once more fully himself, with all his energies, in the higher heaven.” (C. Jinarajadasa, The First Principles of Theosophy, page 164 online or hardcopy)This Ego is called the “Reincarnating Ego” in Theosophical literature.
“After a period, brief or long, dimly conscious or fully aware of the process of rebirth, the Ego once more puts down a part of himself into incarnation to become the new Personality.” (C. Jinarajadasa, The First Principles of Theosophy, page 164 online or hardcopy)It is the “Reincarnating Ego” that exists from incarnation to incarnation. It is the Ego which reinarnates.
“Let us consider the case of an ego ... [who is resting in the higher part of the mental plane, between incarnations]. Since the death of his last physical body he has been drawing steadily inwards, first into his astral and then into his mental vehicle, and at the end of the heaven-life he has cast off even the latter.... He then rests for a certain period on his own plane.... Then he begins once more to turn his attention downwards and outwards....” (Charles Leadbeater, The Inner Life, page 340 online or hardcopy)
-- Heaven vs. Nirvana --
Some people are surprised to hear that Theosophy teaches both Heaven and Nirvana. To some, the two concepts may be contradictory, but Theosophy says they are not, that they are completely complimentary. Devachan (Heaven) is seen as a place of rest between incarnations. Nirvana is seen as a place to go to after incarnations have stopped. Also, Nirvana is not seen as a place of rest, but a place of great activity.
-- Avichi --
Theosophy teaches both Hell and Avichi. Some religions teach they are the same, but Theosophy distinguishes the two. In Theosophy, Hell is seen as an unhappy place where people spend time between incarnations.
Avichi is different (and much worse). Our goal as humans is to achieve Nirvana by reaching a minimum level of spirituality. The day will come when some people are so far behind in their progress that further study on Earth is futile. These people are also seen as interferring with the rest of humanity still having a chance at Nirvana in the remaining time:
[There are those] “... who will drop out of this evolution in the middle of the fifth [root race]. This dropping out is precisely the aeonian (not eternal) condemnation of which the Christ spoke as a very real danger for some of His unawakened hearers — the condemnation meaning merely the decision that they are incapable as yet of the higher progress, but not implying blame except in cases where opportunities have been neglected. Theosophy teaches us that men are all brothers, but not that they are all equal. There are immense differences between them; they have entered the human evolution at various periods, so that some are much older souls than others, and they stand at very different levels on the ladder of development. The older souls naturally learn much more rapidly than the younger, and so the distance between them steadily increases, and eventually a point is reached where the conditions necessary for the one type are entirely unsuitable for the other.When the time alloted for our use of Earth ends, the whole system will move to another planet. The animals will move up to being humans, the plants to being animals, etc. We humans will move on to Nirvana.
The humans who did not make it to Nirvana will be held back, and join the new humans (our present-day animals) in the next world. It is as if they “failed” a grade in school, and were held back to repeat that grade.
There is good news and bad news.
First, the good news: In the Theosophical system, there is hope for everyone who fails the “Judgement Day” that causes humans to repeat another world-period as humans. This is exactly the Judgement Day of the world's religions, but Theosophy teaches that such people have another chance, while the world's religions do not.
“It is of these [people in Avichi] that Madame Blavatsky speaks in such vigorous terms as ‘useless drones who refuse to become co-workers with Nature, and who perish by millions during the manvantaric life-cycle.’ (Secret Doctrine,iii, 526.) But note that this ‘perishing” is merely from this “manvantaric life-cycle,’ and that it means for them delay only, and not total extinction..” (Charles Leadbeater, The Inner Life, page 184 online or hardcopy)Now for the bad news: It has been said that the remorse these people will feel at being held back will be just as horrible as anything described in the world's religions. Theosophy teaches it behooves us to endeavor to achieve Nirvana in the required time, to avoid this horrible fate.
“... after the completion of the great cycle: either a long Nirvana of Bliss (unconscious though it be in the, and according to, your crude conceptions); after which — life as a Dhyan Chohan for a whole Manvantara, or else 'Avitchi Nirvana' and a Manvantara of misery and Horror as a ---- you must not hear the word nor I — pronounce or write it. But 'those' have nought to do with the mortals who pass through the seven spheres. The collective Karma of a future Planetary is as lovely as the collective Karma of a ---- is terrible. Enough. I have said too much already.” (H.P. Blavatsky, The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett,paragraph 18 online or page 171 hardcopy)The following is from a passage that states every Initiate must enter Avichi as part of one of the Initiations, a horrible experience that causes some Initiates to collapse, and fail the the Initiation.
“Avichi ... means 'the waveless,' that which is without vibration. The state of Avichi is not, as has been popularly supposed, some kind of hell, but it is a condition in which the man stands absolutely alone in space, and feels cut off from all life, even from that of the Logos; and it is without doubt the most ghastly experience that it is possible for any human being to have....” (Charles Leadbeater, The Inner Life, page 195online or hardcopy)For further reading on Avichi: