Coming Home – As Seen by Incarnate Observers

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Last revised: 6 August 2008

Death and Its Immediate Aftermath

The Experience of Death

The first surprise in the reports is the insistence upon the painlessness of the actual process of dying. Indeed, a large majority of those communicators who trouble to describe it (and many do not) declare that the actual incident of death, whatever pain may have preceded it, was in itself almost completely painless. The report is often that the death was not recognized until it was over and sometimes not even then. Those unprepared for death of those who encounter sudden death frequently fail to understand what has happened. Even when expected, there is often surprise that so little seems to have happened. There is sometimes, for instance, little sense of any 'journey.'

No one will deny the severity and reality of pain in many terminal illnesses, but the death agony and the transition itself frequently appear to be accompanied and preceded by a dissociation of consciousness which includes freedom from most, or sometimes all, of the physical pain. (Paul Beard, LO, 56.)

The two ideas inevitably linked with death are extinction and judgement, and these convey mutually conflicting concepts of finality. However, when travellers' tales claiming to describe life after death are examined, nothing of finality emerges at all. (Paul Beard, LO, 55.)

At what is called death, the etheric double is drawn away from its dense counterpart by the escaping consciousness; the magnetic tie existing between them during life earth life is snapped asunder, and for some hours the consciousness remains enveloped in this etheric garb. In this it sometimes appears to those with whom it is closely bound up, as a cloudy figure, very dully conscious and speechless - the wraith. It may also be seen, after the conscious entity has deserted it, floating over the grave where its dense counterpart is buried, slowly disintegrating as time goes on. (Annie Besant, AW, 61.)

When the physical body is struck down by death, the etheric body, carrying Prâna with it and accompanied by the remaining principles - that is, the whole man, except the dense body - withdraws from the "tabernacle of flesh," as the outer body is appropriately called. All the outgoing life-energies draw themselves inwards, and are "gathered up by Prâna," their departure being manifested by the dullness that creeps over the physical organs of the senses.

They are there, uninjured, physically complete, ready to act as they have always been; but the "inner Ruler," is going, he who through them saw, heard, felt, smelt, tasted, and by themselves they are mere aggregations of matter, living indeed but without power of perceptive action. Slowly the lord of the body draws himself away, enwrapped in the violet-grey etheric body, and absorbed in the contemplation of the panorama of his past life, which in the death hour rolls before him, complete in every detail.

In that life-picture are all the events of his life, small and great; he sees his ambitions with their success or frustration, his efforts, his triumphs, his failures, his loves, his hatreds; the predominant tendency of the whole comes clearly out, the ruling thought of the life asserts itself, and stamps itself deeply into the soul, marking the region in which the chief part of his post-mortem existence will be spent.

Solemn the moment when the man stands face to face with his life, and from the lips of his past hears the presage of his future. For a brief space he sees himself as he is, recognises the purpose of life, knows that the Law is strong and just and good. Then the magnetic tie breaks between the dense and etheric bodies, the comrades of a lifetime are disjoined, and - save in exceptional cases - the man sinks into peaceful unconsciousness.

Quietness and devotion should mark the conduct of all who are gathered round a dying body, in order that a solemn silence may leave uninterrupted this review of the past by the departing man. Clamorous weeping, loud lamentations, can but jar and disturb the concentrated attention of the soul, and to break with the grief of a personal loss into the stillness which aids and soothes him, is at once selfish and impertinent. Religion has wisely commanded prayers for the dying, for these preserve calm and stimulate unselfish aspirations directed to his helping, and these, like all loving thoughts, protect and shield. (Annie Besant, Ancient Wisdom, 93-5.) Death is only a change that gives the soul a partial liberation, releasing him from the heaviest of his chains. It is but a birth into a wider life, a return after a brief exile on earth to the soul's true home, a passing from a prison into the freedom of the upper air. Death is the greatest of earth's illusions; there is no death, but only changes in life's conditions. Life is continuous, unbroken, unbreakable; "unborn, eternal, constant," it perishes not with the perishing of the bodies that clothe it. We might as well think that the sky is falling when a pot is broken, as imagine that the soul perishes when the body falls to pieces. (Annie Besant, AW, 174.)

Death Comes When the Silver Cord Breaks

Those who have read _The Seven Principles of Man_,[9] know that the etheric double is the vehicle of Prana, the life-principle, or vitality. Through the etheric double Prana exercises the controlling and co-ordinating force spoken of above, and "Death" takes triumphant possession of the body when the etheric double is finally withdrawn and the delicate cord which unites it with the body is snapped. The process of withdrawal has been watched by clairvoyants, and definitely described.

Thus Andrew Jackson Davis, "the Poughkeepsie Seer", describes how he himself watched this escape of the ethereal body, and he states that the magnetic cord did not break for some thirty-six hours after apparent death. Others have described, in similar terms, how they saw a faint violet mist rise from the dying body, gradually condensing into a figure which was the counterpart of the expiring person, and attached to that person by a glistening thread. The snapping of the thread means the breaking of the last magnetic link between the dense body and the remaining principles of the human constitution; the body has dropped away from the man; he is excarnated, disembodied; six principles still remain as his constitution immediately after death, the seventh, or the dense body, being left as a cast-off garment. (Annie Besant, DA, n.p.)

Shedding of the Bodies While Alive

Death consists, indeed, in a repeated process of unrobing, or unsheathing. The immortal part of man shakes off from itself, one after the other, its outer casings, and--as the snake from its skin, the butterfly from its chrysalis--emerges from one after another, passing into a higher state of consciousness.

Now it is the fact that this escape from the body, and this dwelling of the conscious entity either in the vehicle called the body of desire, the kamic or astral body, or in a yet more ethereal Thought Body, can be effected during earth-life; so that man may become familiar with the excarnated condition, and it may lose for him all the terrors that encircle the unknown. He can know himself as a conscious entity in either of these vehicles, and so prove to his own satisfaction that "life" does not depend on his functioning through the physical body.

Why should a man who has thus repeatedly "shed" his lower bodies, and has found the process result, not in unconsciousness, but in a vastly extended freedom and vividness of life--why should he fear the final casting away of his fetters, and the freeing of his Immortal Self from what he realises as the prison of the flesh? (Annie Besant, DA, n.p.)

After-Death Experiences Vary

After-death experiences are not always the same, nor encountered in the same order. There appear to be considerable differences, dependent upon the make-up of the individual. We shall see that some people adapt themselves swiftly; some resist their environment and shut themselves into a mental prison, alone or with others; others withdraw and wait and rest. Many are chiefly concerned with finding those persons with whom their earth life was intermeshed. (Paul Beard, LO, 55-6.)

Immediate Feeling is One of Freedom

For most people the state after death is much happier than life upon earth. The first feeling of which the dead man is usually conscious is one of the most wonderful and delightful freedom. He has absolutely nothing to worry about, and no duties rest upon him, except those which he chooses to impose upon himself. For all but a very small minority, physical life is spent in doing what the man would much rather not do; but he has to do it in order to support himself or his wife and family. In the astral world no support is necessary; food is no longer needed, shelter is not required, since he is entirely unaffected by heat or cold; and each man by the mere exercise of his thought clothes himself as he wishes. For the first time since early childhood the man is entirely free to spend the whole of his time in doing exactly just what he likes.

His capacity for every kind of enjoyment is greatly enhanced, if only that enjoyment does not need a physical body for expression. If he loves the beauties of Nature, it is now within his power to travel with great rapidity and without fatigue over the whole world, to contemplate all its loveliest spots, and to explore its most secret recesses. If he delights in art, / all the world's masterpieces are at his disposal. If he loves music, he can go where he will to hear it, and it will now mean much more to him than it has ever meant before; for though he can no longer hear the physical sounds, he can receive the whole effect of the music into himself in far fuller measure than in this lower world. If he is a student of science, he not only can visit the great scientific men of the world, and catch from them such thoughts and ideas as may be within his comprehension, but also he can undertake the researches of his own into the science of this higher world, seeing much more of what he is doing than has ever before been possible to him. Best of all, he whose great delight in this world has been to help his fellow men will still find ample scope for his philanthropic efforts.

Men are no longer hungry, cold, or suffering from disease in this astral world; but there are vast numbers who, being ignorant, desire knowledge - who, being still in the grip of desire for earthly things, need the explanation which will turn their thought to higher levels - who have entangled themselves in a web of their own imaginings, and can be set free only by one who understands these new surroundings and can help them distinguish the facts of the world from their own ignorant misrepresentation of them. All these can be helped by the man of intelligence and of kindly heart. Many men arrive in the astral world in utter ignorance of its conditions, not realizing at first that they are dead, and when they do realize it fearing the fate that may be in store for them, because of false / and wicked theological teaching. All of these need the cheer and comfort which can only be given to them by a man of common sense who possesses some knowledge of the facts of nature.

There is thus no lack of the most profitable occupation for any man whose interests during his physical life have been rational; nor is there any lack of companionship. Men whose tastes and pursuits are similar drift naturally together there just as they do here; and many realms of Nature, which during our physical life are concealed by the dense veil of matter, now lie open for the detailed study of those who care to examine them. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 77-9.)

We Can No Longer See Physical Bodies

Functioning as they are in the astral body, the dead can no longer see the physical bodies of those whom they have left behind; but they do see their astral bodies, and as those are exactly the same in outline as the physical, they are perfectly aware of the presence of their friends. They see each one surrounded by a faint ovoid of luminous mist, and if they happen to be observant, they may notice various other small changes in the surroundings; but it is at least quite clear to them that they have not gone away to some distant heaven or hell, but still remain in touch with the world which they know, although they see it at a somewhat different angle. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 74.)

Personality Remains the Same

A person's temperament, if only for the time being, remains much the same as on earth. (Paul Beard, LO, 56.)

Character is not in the slightest degree changed by death; the man's thoughts, emotions and desires are exactly the same as before. He is in every way the same man, minus his physical body, and his happiness or misery depends upon the extent to which this loss of the physical body affects him. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 75.)