Copyright © 1979 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
The devachan ["heaven"] merges from its highest into its lowest degree — by insensible gradations; while from the last step of devachan [downwards], the Ego will often find itself in Avitcha's ["hell's"] faintest state, which, towards the end of the "spiritual selection" of events may become a bona fide "Avitcha." — The Mahatma Letters, p. 188
From Kama Loka then . . . the newly translated "Souls" go all (but the shells) according to their attractions, either to Devachan or Avitchi. — Ibid., p. 199
Ye suffer from yourselves. None else compels, . . . — Sir Edwin Arnold, The Light of Asia, bk. 8
WE OPEN our studies this evening by reading from The Secret Doctrine, volume II, page 273, the following:
For the evolution of Spirit into matter could never have been achieved; nor would it have received its first impulse, had not the bright spirits sacrificed their own respective super-ethereal essences to animate the man of clay, by endowing each of his inner principles with a portion, or rather, a reflection of that essence. The Dhyanis of the Seven Heavens (the seven planes of Being) are the NOUMENOI of the actual and the future Elements, just as the Angels of the Seven Powers of nature — the grosser effects of which are perceived by us in what Science is pleased to call the "modes of motion" — the imponderable forces and what not — are the still higher noumenoi of still higher Hierarchies.
This is an exceedingly interesting paragraph. It contains, in small compass, the entire outline of the studies that we have been pursuing for some weeks past.
In taking up this evening the study of the so-called heavens and hells, it may be well first of all to repeat that there are no heavens and there are no hells, as these are outlined in the exoteric religions. Those conceptions are based, however, upon teachings which actually came from the Mystery-doctrines and they contain in themselves the outline of a truth, indeed, of a great truth, when properly understood. But while we do not accept the Christian heaven and the Christian hell, nor the Mohammedan heavens nor the Mohammedan hells, nor the literal exoteric teachings concerning them as found among the Buddhists and the ancient Greeks and the Romans, nevertheless there actually are in nature certain spheres of being in which those portions of man's constitution which survive the death of the physical body find appropriate dwelling places; they are, in fact, retributive realms or spheres of being, to which are magnetically attracted those parts of his constitution which in him are of similar or identical quality.
Jesus, in the Gospel "according to John," 14th chapter, the second verse, says the following: "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." He said this in the long final address which he gave to his disciples before his arrest and appearance before the authorities, according to the Christian legends.
There is no great religion of the ancient time which does not teach in more or less clear and definite form the existence of certain forces of reward or of retribution, acting after man's death in appropriate spheres in which the so-called soul of man meets with retribution or, as some say, "punishment" or "reward" after physical death. Those spheres in which the soul shall receive appropriate retributive purgation or punishment are called hells in the English tongue; and those in which the soul shall receive appropriate retributive repose and reward are commonly called heavens; and because these words are familiar to Europeans, and represent with fair accuracy the general idea of postmortem retribution prevalent in all great religions, it may be best for us to use them. But we must positively clear out of our minds, wash our minds clean of, all ideas that have been put into them by the miseducation of the dogmatic theologies, if we are to gain a correct idea of what the esoteric philosophy teaches on these lines.
We must remember that we are studying the occultism of the archaic ages. Now this word occultism meant originally only the science of things hid; even in the Middle Ages of Europe, those philosophers who were the forerunners of the modern scientists, those who then studied physical nature, called their science occultism, and their studies occult, meaning the things that were "hid," or not known to the common run of mankind. Such a medieval philosopher was Albertus Magnus, a German; and so also was Roger Bacon, an Englishman; both of the thirteenth century of the Christian era.
Therefore, occultism as we use the term, and as it should be used, means the study of the hid things of being, the science of life or universal nature. In one sense this word can be used to mean the study of unusual "phenomena," which meaning it usually has today among people who do not think, or who will not think, of the vastly larger field of causes which occultism, properly speaking, investigates. Doubtless mere phenomena have their place in study, but they are on the frontier, as it were, on the outskirts — and they are the superficialities — of occultism. In studying true occultism we must penetrate deep into the causal mysteries of being; and, in very truth, we have been doing this in these studies: step by step have we been going deeper into the realm of causes.
Now in order fully to comprehend the destiny of the soul, postmortem, and before its next rebirth in a physical body on this plane, it is incumbent upon us first to say that there is a vast field of teachings with regard to death upon which we do not feel at present privileged to roam. The reason for our necessary reticence and silence is this, that the teachings with regard to the deeper mysteries of death give keys to mysteries of still greater magnitude and scope, and in ancient days were communicated only to a chosen few, at any time. Any one of you who chooses to look into the religious mystical literatures of the world can prove this fact for himself.
In former studies we have traced the peregrination of the monad from the state of latency into manifestation, as viewed from below. Now the monad is a spiritual "atom," so to say; let us call it this evening a spiritual radical (radicle), using this word radical in precisely the double sense in which H. P. Blavatsky used it when she spoke of comets as "those long-haired sidereal radicals" — with a touch of real humor in one sense, but also hinting, by the use of the word, at a great truth of the esoteric philosophy with regard to comets in calling them radicals. You know what radical originally meant. It meant a (little) "root," from the Latin radix, hence its application to a comet as the root or the germ of a future world. So, also, a monad is a radical, a radical in both the senses in which she used the word: an "aggressive" (in the sense of self-acting, self-developing) entity, and also a root, a germ of a future god.
Now this radical, in order to attain self-consciousness, and conscious self-consciousness, must pass down the arc of shadows until it reaches the turning point of the great cycle in that manvantara, and as an integral part of and belonging to the hierarchy evolving in that manvantara. By that time, if its karma is so, it has reached conscious self-consciousness, and is manifesting on our plane as a man. Thereupon it starts upwards along the luminous arc or the arc of ascension, and if it is successful in its cyclic pilgrimage, it finally blossoms forth into a god. We must remember this general outline if we wish to understand clearly what we mean by heavens and hells.
The whole aim of evolution, the entire destiny of the spiritual radical, is the elevating of the consciously personal into the consciously impersonal — so important a thought that we are obliged to say that it lies as the very first conception and as the root of the whole esoteric philosophy. A self-conscious god can be such only because it has a vehicle of self to work through; and this is what the spiritual radical lacks when it starts out on its cyclic pilgrimage. Manhood must be raised to godhood.
We may begin to see here the meaning of what H. P. Blavatsky spoke of as the loss of the soul. At every step downward, as its self-consciousness is slowly and gradually evolved in any manvantara, the monad fabricates into itself, or secretes from itself, and excretes from itself, vehicles proper for its cognizing the forces and matter on the various planes through which it passes, and in which it manifests. Those on the higher planes are egos, and each ego secretes its own appropriate vehicle called a soul. Consequently, there is an ego and a soul for each step downward: a dual vehicle for manifesting the monadic essence on every plane. Through the whole, as a golden cord, runs the self, the innermost consciousness, the spiritual "I am." The ego-soul gives to the monad the consciousness "I am I." The self, however, is the same in all of us. "I am I" is the quality only of the ego. Therefore the important thing is to "save" the ego. The higher egos are saved because of previous salvation gained in former manvantaras. But the lower egos and their souls are built up out of the matter and consciousness of this manvantara, and they must be "saved." The state of human consciousness in which we — mankind — now live in this epoch and in this manvantara is called in the individual the human soul, the human ego; and this human soul and this human ego must be "saved," because our self-consciousness is centered therein. We use the word saved, because none better occurs to us; at least the word is familiar. This saving means that the ego-soul must be rescued from the magnetic attraction of matter.
But what happens if its education is incomplete when at the bottom of the arc, before beginning the ascent along the luminous arc, it becomes unable to run the race and fails? Suppose that the pull of matter is too strong and that its attraction is downward. Slowly, in that case, the links with the higher self are broken, the golden chain is ruptured, and the whole effort of the monad in that manvantara is lost. The entity cycling downward is what is called a lost soul.
Now a lost soul has naught to do with the heavens and the hells. The state of nirvana, again, has nothing to do with the heavens and the hells. The heavens and the hells concern only the truly human entity: that is, the human ego and the human soul; only this grade of consciousness, for to it belong those consciousnesses which can partake of the conception of, and can experience, felicity or misery. Nirvana is beyond felicity; it is, of course, beyond misery. Its opposite pole is nirvana-avichi, which is the utter contrast of nirvana; it is the lowest point, the nether pole of conscious being.
When the body breaks up at physical death the astral elements remain in the "shadow-world" with the same conscious center, as in life, clinging within them, still vitalizing them; and certain processes there go on, but there is no need for us to take time this evening in discussing what kama-loka is or devachan is, particularly. When the "second death," after that of the physical body, takes place — and there are many deaths, that is to say, many changes of the vehicles of the ego — when the second death takes place, what becomes of the human center, the truly human entity? We have been told that the higher part of it withdraws into itself all that aspires towards it, and takes that "all" with it into the devachan; and that the atman, with the buddhi, and with the higher part of the manas — which is the so-called human soul, or the mind — becomes thereupon the spiritual monad of man. Strictly speaking, this is the divine monad within its vehicle — atman and buddhi — combined with the human ego in its higher manasic element; but they are joined into one after death, and are hence spoken of as the spiritual monad.
The human monad "goes" to devachan. Devachan is a Tibetan word and may be translated as "god-land," "god-country, "god-region." There are many degrees in devachan: the highest, the intermediate, and the lowest. What becomes of the entity, on the other hand, the lower human soul, that is so befouled with earth-thought and the lower instincts that it cannot rise? There may be enough in it of the spirit-nature to hold it together as an entity and enable it to become a reincarnating entity, but it is foul, it is heavy; its tendency is consequently downwards. Can it therefore rise into a heavenly felicity? Can it go even into the lower realms of devachan and there enjoy its modicum of the beatitude, bliss, of everything that is noble and beautiful? No. There is an appropriate sphere, a sphere appropriate for every degree of development of the ego-soul, and it gravitates to that sphere and remains there until it is thoroughly purged, until the sin has been washed out, so to say.
These are the so-called hells, beneath even the lowest parts of devachan; and the arupa heavens are the highest parts of the devachan. Nirvana is a very different thing from the heavens. Nirvana is a state of utter bliss and complete, untrammeled consciousness, a state of absorption in pure being, and is the wondrous destiny of those who have reached superhuman knowledge and purity and spiritual illumination. It really is personal absorption into or identification with the self — the highest SELF. It is also the state of the monadic entities in the period that intervenes between minor manvantaras or rounds of a planetary chain; and more fully so between each seven-round period or Day of Brahma and the succeeding Day or new kalpa of a planetary chain. At these last times, starting forth from the seventh sphere in the seventh round, the monadic entities have passed far beyond even the highest state of devachan. Too pure and too far advanced even for such a condition as the devachanic felicity, they go to their appropriate sphere and condition, which latter is the nirvana following the end of the seventh round.
Now what do the ancients say in their exoteric religions about these so-called heavens and hells? Every such ancient religion taught that the so-called heavens are divided into steps or grades of ascending bliss and purity; and the so-called hells into steps or grades of increasing purgation or suffering. The esoteric doctrine, or occultism, teaches that the one is not a punishment; nor is the other, strictly speaking, a reward. The teaching is, simply, that each entity after physical death is drawn to the appropriate sphere to which the karmic destiny of the entity magnetically attracts it. As a man works, as a man sows, in his life, that and that only shall he reap after death. Good seed produces good fruit; bad seed, tares — and perhaps even nothing of value or of spiritual use follows a negative and colorless life. There is no "law" of karma; we repeat, there is no "law" of karma. There are no "laws" of nature; we repeat, there are no "laws" of nature. What is a natural "law"? Is a natural "law" a god? Is it a being? Is it an entity? Is it a force? Is it an energy? If so, what god produces it? The word law, however, is convenient enough provided we understand what we mean by it. Perhaps no better word, in our day, could be found for ordinary usage in writing popularly or in conversation. But do not let us make the mistake of taking abstractions for realities.
In this study of the marvelous doctrines of occultism we shall never move a step forward towards a proper understanding of nature, if we do make this mistake. We must wash our minds clean of Occidental scientific and theological miseducation. The so-called laws of nature and the law of karma are simply the various workings of consciousnesses in nature: truly and actually, they are habits, habits of beings. We replace the abstractions of Occidental science and theology with the action and the ineluctable results thereof of consciousnesses and wills in the spheres of being of the hierarchies of life. We are simply abusing our intelligence, stultifying our intellects, when we go around and around the vicious circles of materialistic theory and think we have satisfied our inquiring minds by replacing the work of endless hosts of beings in and of nature with an abstraction called law or laws. Think of it! Do we realize that not one single great thinker of the ancients, until the Christian era, ever talked about laws of nature, as if these laws were living beings, as if these abstractions were actual entities which did things? Did the laws of navigation ever navigate a ship? Does the law of gravity pull the planets together? Does it unite or pull the atoms together? Nonsense. This word law is simply an abstraction, an expression for the action of entities in nature. The ancients put realities, living beings, in the place of laws which, as we use the term, are only abstractions; they did not cheat themselves so easily with words. They called them gods. Very good; call them, then, gods. They called them spiritual entities. Very good, then; call them so. Call them dhyanis, or by any other name you please. But pin your faith, direct your intellects, to actual, living beings, to realities, not to nothingnesses, not to abstractions, which have no reality except as modes of speech.
Let us take for example the ancient Brahmanical teachings. There we find many divisions of heavens and hells; but the common one is the division into seven lower spheres or lokas, or hells, or infernal halls, and the seven superior lokas, which we may call heavens. The Buddhist teaching usually gives the number as 21 hells, for which the common word is narakas; and the Buddhists also used the word lokas for the higher spheres; but note well that in all ancient systems, these higher and lower spheres or grades were in ascending and descending steps. There was the highest, and all the others which followed, decreasing in felicity and purity by degrees, each one growing more material and less happy with each step downward, until they passed insensibly into the higher hells, and here again still further increasing in materiality downward until the end of the hierarchy of these stages was reached.
Among the very lowest of these hells the Buddhists placed avichi. This is a Sanskrit word, and its general meaning is "waveless," having no waves or movement, suggesting the stagnation of life and being in immobility; it also means "without happiness," or "without repose"; and below that another hierarchy begins, a new world. What endless realms for speculation open to us here!
We can here but sketch — our remaining time this evening is so short — an outline of the doctrines concerning the heavens and the hells. In beginning with a general outline, we are pursuing the general plan of our studies here. First, we try to give the general sketch, the general view, later filling in the necessary details as we pursue our subject, although frequently alluding to another teaching connected with it, purposely doing so; and in this way we are following the ancient system or method of teaching these different subjects. In our modern Occidental institutions of learning, it is customary, perhaps a rigorous requirement, that the lecturer shall pursue to the end all details of a subject embarked upon: opening one line of investigation and not deviating from it until everything in theory and practice, or supposed to be there, is known, or thought to be known; and when that one line of study is fully exhausted, and when the intellect is completely crystallized in that form, and weary, then opening a new line of investigation. This method is positively contrary to nature. Neither child nor adult learns life's lessons in such artificial fashion. The ancients knew better the psychology of teaching and learning. They built up, first, the general view, such as has a man on a mountaintop with the general topographical view before his vision, whence he constructs a topographical survey which he retains in his mind; and when he goes down into the valley, he is enabled easily to fill in all necessary details. This is nature's method, if we may so speak of it; and it is what is called the Platonic method: first the general, then the particular. In logic, this is called the deductive system, as opposed to the Aristotelian or inductive method, on which modern Western teaching is based.
Now the Egyptians, as we know from their papyri, taught the existence of many spheres after death, the many planes of felicity and beatitude and the many planes of suffering or purgation, spheres which the defunct entity had to pass through before it reached one or the other of the goals of postmortem life: heaven or hell. The teachers of ancient times had a way, an allegorical way, of expressing the course of life after death, and in this manner kept the intuition alive and active without touching upon forbidden matters, secrets or mysteries of the sanctuaries. Let us take in this connection, as illustration, the teaching of the Mithraic religion, which came very close at one time to ousting completely the Christian doctrine. The Mithraists taught the existence of seven (and nine) heavens, each one preceded and followed by another one, inferior or superior, respectively; and each one was to be attained by a "ladder," which was only a graphic, a neat, way of speaking. Of course they meant only that the ladder was a representation of the steps, grades, or degrees, which the soul had to climb in order to attain the goal; and the ladder was likewise a figure of the degrees of the hierarchy — the steps, the planes, the spheres, of which it is composed. They had also their seven degrees of initiation, based upon the rising scale existent in nature; and two other degrees which were held as too sacred to speak of openly; and this makes nine degrees in all.
How about the ancient Scandinavians? Take the case of their Niflheim, a word meaning "cloudy (or misty) dwelling place," "home," or "mansion." This nebulous region was the ninth, the lowest, in their system, and itself was composed of nine minor worlds or spheres. Very careful indeed were the writers of the Eddas in the way they taught; but they give us enough to show us the same identical teachings as found elsewhere over the world. I am speaking here more particularly of the Prose Edda, which is more open in its esoteric allusions than is the Poetic Edda, the Edda of verse. Now the Prose Edda tells us that on one side, the northern, of the cosmic space, were cold and gloom, and it gives to this sphere the name Nifl, "nebulous region," which is a generalizing of the meaning of the name. Nifl had nine divisions or degrees, but more particularly Nifl was the name of the lowest of the nine; still, the Edda gave that name to the entire series of nine spheres on the north. A middle region was the Ginnungagap, an Old Norse word which can be translated perhaps as "yawning abyss," or abyss (or gap) of abysses; this was the middle or intermediate sphere. And then came Muspellheim to the south, a place of fire and flame and warmth, not necessarily anything like the Christian hell, for, as a matter of fact, it was nearer like a heaven than a hell; elemental or divine beings lived there, a natural thought to the cold-enduring Scandinavians. Their hell was cold, and the hells of Southrons were hot — these words being merely appropriate ways of expressing things to be easily apprehended by the people.
What did the early Christians or the medieval Christians believe as regards heaven and hell? Let us choose the descriptions of Dante, the great Italian poet, for instance, for he echoes the ancient pagan teaching remarkably in some ways; always in a distorted manner, it is true, but you can see the ancient truth under all that he wrote. How significant it is that he made Vergil, the great Latin poet, his conductor through his Infernos, or Hells, and through his Purgatory; but in due deference to his Christian teachers and the Christian age in which he lived, when he came to the Heavens, which he describes, he has a Christian guide, his Beatrice, and of course he had to follow his Christian doctrines. Dante divides his Hells into nine circles. He divides his Purgatory into seven circles, preceded by the Ante-purgatory, and followed by the Terrestrial Paradise, which make again nine. In each of these Hells, and in each of these divisions of Purgatory — places of purification — he shows the lowest as the most terrible; the second above it is not quite so fearful, and the third less so than the second; and so on up through the eighteen circles or degrees of Hells and Purgatory to the topmost one of the Purgatory, which is scarcely, if at all, unpleasant. Finally, Dante divides his Heavens into nine, and these are topped by the Empyrean, the dwelling place of God and his Angels! Thus, there are nine Hells; seven divisions of Purgatory, with the Ante-purgatory and the Terrestrial Paradise — again nine; nine Heavens; the Empyrean: 9+9+9+1=28, divisions of nonphysical life, each one appropriated to punish certain vices or reward certain virtues after death. A curiously faithful, curiously distorted, and often grotesque, parody of the archaic doctrine.
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