Last revised:14 July 2008
- 1 The Borderland
- 1.1 General Characteristics of the Borderland
- 1.2 Following Death Comes the Full-Life Review
- 1.3 Impact of Grief on Newly-Arrived
- 1.4 The Illusory Nature of the Borderland
- 1.5 Cases of Sudden or Violent Death, Including Suicide
- 1.6 Destination Depends on Life Lived
- 1.7 Early Adjustment
- 1.8 Earthly Reputation Means Little
Ed. Also sometimes called the Near-Earth Plane, Sphere Two, the Intermediate State, Kamaloka, Hades, Purgatory, the Grey World, and the "Blue Island."
General Characteristics of the Borderland
Kâmaloka, the place of desire, is the name given [by Theosophists] to the conditions of intermediate life on the astral plane. (Annie Besant, AW, 64n.)
Kâmaloka, literally the place or habitat of desire, is, as has already been intimated, a part of the astral plane, not divided from it as a distinct locality, but separated off by the conditions of consciousness of the entities belonging to it. (The Hindus call this state Pretaloka, the habitat of Pretas. A Preta is a human being who has lost his physical body, but is still encumbered with the vesture of his animal nature. He cannot carry this on with him, and until it is disintegrated he is kept imprisoned by it.)
These are human beings who have lost their physical bodies by the stroke of death, and have to undergo certain purifying changes before they can pass on to the happy and peaceful life which belongs to the man proper, to the human soul. (The soul is the human intellect, the link between the Divine Spirit in man and his lower personality. It is the Ego, the individual, the "I", which develops by evolution. In Theosophical parlance, it is Manas, the Thinker. The mind is the energy of this, working within the limitations of the physical brain, or the astral and mental bodies).
This region represents and includes the conditions described as existing in the various hells, purgatories, and intermediate states, one or other of which is alleged by all the great religions to be the temporary dwelling-place of man after he leaves the body and before he reaches "heaven." It does not include any place of eternal torture, the endless hell still believed in by some narrow religionists being only a nightmare dream of ignorance, hate and fear. But it does include conditions of suffering, temporary and purificatory in their nature, the working out of causes set going in his earth-life by the man who experiences them. These are as natural and inevitable as any effects caused in this world by wrongdoing, for we live in a world of law and every seed must grow up after its own kind. Death makes no sort of difference in a man's moral and mental nature, and the change of state caused by passing from one world to another takes away his physical body, but leaves the man as he was.
The Kâmalokic condition is found on each subdivision of the astral plane, so that we may speak of it as having seven regions, calling them the first, second, third, up to the seventh, beginning from the lowest and counting upwards. (Often these regions are reckoned the other way, taking the first as the highest and the seventh as the lowest. It does not matter from which end we count ; and I am reckoning upwards to keep them in accord with the planes and principles). (Annie Besant, AW, 91-2.) We have already seen that materials from each subdivision of the astral plane enter into the composition of the astral body, and it is a peculiar rearrangement of these materials, to be explained in a moment, which separates the people dwelling in one region from those dwelling in another, although those in the same region are able to intercommunicate. The regions, being each a subdivision of the astral plane, differ in density, and the density of the external form of the Kâmalokic entity determines the region to which he is limited ; these differences of matter are the barriers that prevent passage from one region to another ; the people dwelling in one can no more come into touch with people dwelling in another than a deep-sea fish can hold a conversation with an eagle - the medium necessary to the life of the one would be destructive to the life of the other. (Annie Besant, AW, 92-3.) Some hours after death - generally not more than thirty-six, it is said - the man draws himself out of the etheric body, leaving it in turn as a senseless corpse, and the latter, remaining near its dense counterpart, shares its fate. If the dense body be buried, the etheric double floats over the grave, slowly disintegrating, and the unpleasant feelings many experience in a churchyard are largely due to the presence of these decaying etheric corpses. If the body is burned, the etheric double breaks up quickly, having lost its nidus [sic], its physical centre of attraction, and this is one among many reasons why cremation is preferable to burial, as a way of disposing of corpses.
The withdrawal of the man from the etheric double is accompanied by the withdrawal from it of Prâna, which thereupon returns to the great reservoir of life universal, while the man, ready now to pass into Kâmaloka, undergoes a rearrangement of his astral body, fitting it for submission to the purificatory changes which are necessary for the freeing of the man himself. (These changes result in the formation of what is called by Hindus the Yâtanâ, or the suffering body, or in the case of very wicked men, in whose astral bodies there is a preponderance of the coarser matter, the Dhruvam, or strong body).
During earth life the various kinds of astral matter intermingle in the formation of the body, as do the solids, liquids, gases, and ethers in the physical. The change in the arrangement of the astral body after death consists in the separation of these materials, according to their respective densities, into a series of concentric shells - the finest within, the densest without - each shell being made of the materials drawn from one subdivision only of the astral plane. The astral body thus becomes a set of seven superimposed layers, or a seven-shelled encasement of astral matter, in which the man may not inaptly be said to be imprisoned, as only the breaking of these can set him free. Now will be seen the immense importance of the purification of the astral body during earth-life; the man is retained in each subdivision of Kâmaloka so long as the shell of matter pertaining to that subdivision is not sufficiently disintegrated to allow of his escape into the next.
Moreover, the extent to which his consciousness has worked in each kind of matter determines whether he will be awake and conscious in any given region, or will pass through it in unconsciousness, "wrapped" in rosy dreams," and merely detained during the time necessary for the process of mechanical disintegration.
A spiritually advanced man, who has so purified his astral body that its constituents are drawn only from the finest grade of each division of astral matter, merely passes through Kâmaloka without delay, the astral body disintegrating with extreme swiftness, and he goes on to whatever may be his bourne, according to the point he has reached in evolution. A less developed man, but one whose life has been pure and temperate and who has sat loosely on the things of the earth, will wing a less rapid flight through Kâmaloka, but will dream peacefully, unconscious of his surroundings, as his mental body disentangles itself from the astral shells, one after the other, to awaken only when he reaches the heavenly places.
Others, less developed still, will awaken after passing out of the lower regions, becoming conscious in the division which is connected with the active working of the consciousness during the earth-life, for this will be aroused on receiving familiar impacts, although these be received now directly through the astral body, without the help of the physical. Those who have lived in the animal passions will awake in their appropriate region, each man literally going "to his own place." (Annie Besant, AW, 95-7.)
The Man in the Grey World. ... We may say that the actual definition of death is the full and final separation of the etheric double from the dense body - or, to put it in other words, the breaking up of the physical body by withdrawing its etheric part from its lower part. So long as a link is maintained we may have conditions of catalepsy, trance or anaesthesia; when the link is finally broken, death has taken place.
When a man withdraws from his dense body at death, then, he takes with him the etheric part of that vehicle. But that etheric matter is not in itself a complete vehicle - only part of one. Therefore while that etheric matter still clings round him, he is neither on one plane nor the other. He has lost the organs of his physical senses, and he cannot use those of the astral body because he is still enveloped in this cloud of etheric matter. He lives for awhile - fortunately only for awhile - in a dim grey world of restlessness and discomfort, in which he can see clearly neither physical nor astral happenings, but catches occasional glimpses of both as  through a world of heavy fog, in which he wanders, lost and helpless.
There is no reason whatever why any human being should suffer such unpleasantness at all; but he fears that in letting go that shred of consciousness he may lose all consciousness for ever - may in fact be annihilated; so he grasps desperately at this which is left to him. In time, however, he must let go, for the etheric double begins to disintegrate, and then he slips quite happily into the fuller and wider life.
Such people may sometimes be found drifting miserably and even wailingly about the astral plane, and it is one of the hardest tasks of the helper to persuade them that they have nothing to do but to forget their fear, to relax their tenseness, and to let themselves sink gently into the peace and oblivion which they need so sorely. They seem to regard such a suggestion as a ship-wrecked man far away from land might receive an order to abandon his supporting spar, and trust himself to the stormy sea. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 84-6.)
We [can] ... gain some idea of the conditions which the man has made for himself in the intermediate state by the desires which he has cultivated during physical life; it being kept in mind that the amount of vitality in any given "shell" - and therefore his imprisonment in that shell - depends on the amount of energy thrown during earth-life into the kind of matter of which that shell consists.
If the lowest passions have been active, the coarsest matter will be strongly vitalised and its amount will also be relatively large. This principle rules through all Kâmalokic regions, so that a man during earth-life can judge very fairly as to the future for himself that he is preparing immediately on the other side of death. (Annie Besant, AW, 100.)
So far as I can understand Sphere Two is the place to which newly-arrived souls are first taken. "There is in the second Sphere from earth a house where the newly come over await their sorting-out, to be forwarded, each with his guide, to the place where he may best be trained in the beginnings of the heavenly life." (G. Vale Owen, LBV, Vol. III, 113.) This is possibly similar to that "Rest Hall" to which Private Dowding was taken; and Raymond. (Lord Dowding, MM, 54-5.)
Following Death Comes the Full-Life Review
And here it may be well to say that during the slow process of dying, while the etheric double is withdrawing from the body, taking with it the higher principles, as after it has withdrawn, extreme quiet and self-control should be observed in the chamber of Death. For during this time the whole life passes swiftly in review before the Ego, the individual, as those have related who have passed in drowning into this unconscious and pulseless state. A Master has written:
At the last moment the whole life is reflected in our memory, and emerges from all the forgotten nooks and corners, picture after picture, one event after another.... The man may often appear dead, yet from the last pulsation, from and between the last throbbing of his heart and the moment when the last spark of animal heat leaves the body, the brain thinks, and the Ego lives over in those few brief seconds his whole life. Speak in whispers, ye who assist at a deathbed, and find yourselves in the solemn presence of death. Especially have ye to keep quiet just after death has laid her clammy hand upon the body. Speak in whispers, I say, lest ye disturb the quiet ripple of thought, and hinder the busy work of the past, casting its reflection upon the veil of the future. (Unidentified Master in Man: Fragments of Forgotten History, pp. 119, 120.)
There are descriptions of another panorama (1) which appears almost immediately after death, or during clinical death, from which the person later recovers.... It takes place at great speed, is in forward time sequence, and is viewed with emotional detachment. This however appears to be a different and lesser event. Some pass into death in a deep slumber or after a coma, and in returning to consciousness after death there is often a further period akin to drowsiness and sleep and it is hard to be sure if all experience this vision. Rudolf Steiner says that all men do so.
The peculiarity of this tableau is that as long as it remains in the form in which it appears immediately after death, all the subjective experiences of the man during his life are expunged. .... The joys and sorrows connected with the pictures of the past life are not present. The human being confronts this memory-tableau as objectively as he confronts a painting; ... in an astonishingly brief span of time man sees all the detailed events of his life.
This is an obscure area of description. It is clear, however, that full judgement involves a total participation in its consequences. There is nothing detached about it. (Paul Beard, LO, 99-100.)
- (1) I.e., not the Judgement which happens at the end of the Astral Plane.
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.)
Impact of Grief on Newly-Arrived
Apart altogether from any question of development through a medium, there is another and much more frequently exercised influence which may seriously retard a disembodied entity on his way to the heaven-world, and that is the intense and uncontrolled grief of his surviving friends or relatives. It is one among many melancholy results of the terribly inaccurate and even irreligious view that we in the West have for centuries been taking of death, that we not only cause ourselves an immense amount of wholly unnecessary pain over this temporary parting from our loved ones, but we often also do serious injury to those for whom we bear so deep an affection by means of this very regret which we feel so acutely.
When our departed brother is sinking peacefully and naturally into the unconsciousness which precedes his awakening amid the glories of the heaven-world, he is too frequently aroused from his dreamy happiness into vivid remembrance of the earth-life which he has lately left, solely by the action of the passionate sorrows and desires of his friends on earth, which awaken corresponding vibrations in his own desire-body, and so cause him acute discomfort.
It would be well if those whose comrades have passed on before them would learn from these undoubted facts the duty of restraining for the sake of those friends a grief which, however natural it may be, is yet in its essence selfish. Not that occult teaching counsels forgetfulness of the dead - far from it; but it does suggest that a man's affectionate remembrance of his departed friend is a force which, if properly directed into the channel of earnest good wishes for his progress towards the heaven-world and his quiet passage through the intermediate state, might be of real value to him, whereas when wasted in mourning for him and longing to have him back again it is not only useless but harmful. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 63-4.)
The Illusory Nature of the Borderland
[Helen Salter's] perception of the situation [in the Near-Earth Plane] had much more insight than is usual in newcomers, no doubt due to her long participation in psychical research. She shows that it is clearly understood by all present to be a temporary construct, which after a while she would no longer need. This picture of a world seemingly much like earth is like a protective coat. It reflects the old familiarities. It is a kindergarten and the reassurance of its seeming in some way so like what was left behind is precisely what makes it a kindergarten. In essence it is something that we outgrow. (Paul Beard, 68.)
This apparent physicality has been the basis of much scorn and misunderstanding by hostile critics. Nevertheless, true experience can be wrapped in illusory appearances. In some respects it is rather like a dream world. The dreams we take to a psychiatrist are not regarded literally, but they point to very important psychological factors in the dreamer. Early discarnate life is not wholly dreamlike but partly resembles it; like dreams it contains rapidly changing imagery; unlike dreams this imagery sometimes becomes stable and anchored for considerable periods like Helen Salter's home; again, unlike dreams, the imagery is not created wholly by the dreamer, but also by others to help him. In common with important dreams, early discarnate experiences point to and express the mental and emotional situation within the newcomer; other persons, essentially free of the dream themselves, may yet choose to step in and share it for a while, in order to help the newcomer, although their true life lies elsewhere. This is clearly true of Helen Salter's parents. Most important, those who are confined within their after-death dream usually take what is around them to be completely objective. Once they begin to see that it is not so, then they are beginning to be ready to step out of it into a larger world. Helen Salter was exceptional in being aware of it from the first. (Paul Beard, LO, 71.)
Early accounts [of what the person encounters after death] will not and cannot be wholly realistic. ... The idea of gaining any final knowledge about life by the simple act of dying is absurd and found nowhere in these travellers' tales. To expect that death will reveal all, like a card player throwing his hand down on the table, is about as true as that marriage brings happiness ever afterwards. We learn, the travelers say, a little by dying, but much more by continuing to live on. Immediately after death, F.W.H. Myers has declared, the new arrival knows little more of the true nature of his environment than a bade does of earth life. The difference, of course, is that he is able to bring to it an adult consciousness. (Paul Beard, LO, 55.)
The ordinary man, on awaking from the moment of unconsciousness which always seems to occur at death, finds himself in certain conditions which the desire-elemental has created for him by his rearrangement of the matter of the astral body. He can receive vibrations from without only through that type of matter which the elemental has left on the outside, and consequently his vision is limited to that particular sub-plane. The man accepts this limitation as part of the conditions of his new life; indeed he is quite unconscious that there is any limitation, and he supposes that what he sees is all that there is to see, since he knows nothing of the elemental or of its action.
The Theosophical student, however, understands all this, and therefore he knows that the limitation is not necessary. Knowing this he will at once set himself to resist the action of the desire-elemental, and will insist upon retaining his astral body in the same condition as during his earth-life - that is to say, with all its particles intermingled and in free motion. The consequence of this will be that he will be able to receive the vibrations from the matter of every astral sub-plane simultaneously, and so the whole astral world will be fully open to his sight. He will be able to move about in it just as freely as he could during physical sleep, and he can therefore find and communicate with any person in the astral plane, no matter to what subdivision that person may for the moment be confined.
The effort to resist the rearrangement, and restore the astral body to its former condition, is precisely similar to that which has to be made in resisting a strong desire during physical life. The elemental is afraid in his curious semi-conscious way, and he endeavours to transfer his fear to the man; so that the latter constantly finds a strong instinct creeping over him of some indescribable danger which can only be avoided by permitting the rearrangement. If, however, he steadily resists this unreasoning sense of dread by the calm assertion of his own knowledge that there is no cause for fear, he wears out in time the resistance of the elemental, just as he has resisted the prompting of desire many a time during his earthly life. Thus he becomes a living power during his astral life, able to carry on the work of helping others as he used to do during his hours of sleep. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 57-9.)
Cases of Sudden or Violent Death, Including Suicide
The case of men struck suddenly out of physical life by accident, suicide, murder, or sudden death in any form, differs from those of persons who pass away by failure of the life-energies through disease or old age. If they are pure and spiritually minded they are specially guarded, and sleep out happily the term of their natural life. But in other cases they remain conscious - often entangled in the final scene of earth-life for a time, and unaware that they have lost the physical body - held in whatever region they are related to by the outermost layer of the astral body : their normal Kâmalokic life does not begin until the natural web of earth-life is out-spun, and they are vividly conscious of both their astral and physical surroundings.
One man who had committed an assassination and had been executed for his crime was said, by one of H.P.Blavatsky's Teachers, to be living through the scenes of the murder and the subsequent events over and over again in Kâmaloka, ever repeating his diabolical act and going through the terrors of his arrest and execution.
A suicide will repeat automatically the feelings of despair and fear which preceded his self-murder, and go through the act and the death-struggle time after time with ghastly persistence. A woman who perished in the flames in a wild condition of terror and with frantic efforts to escape, created such a whirls of passions that, five days afterwards, she was still struggling desperately, fancying herself still in the fire and wildly repulsing all efforts to soothe her: while another woman who, with her baby on her breast, went down beneath the whirl of waters in a raging storm, with her heart calm and full of love, slept peacefully on the other side of death, dreaming of husband and children in happy lifelike visions.
In more ordinary cases, death by accident is still a disadvantage, brought on a person by some serious fault, (Not necessarily a fault committed in the present life. The law of cause and effect will be explained in Chapter IX, "Karma"), for the possession of full consciousness in the lower Kâmalokic regions, which are closely related to the earth, is attended by many inconveniences and perils. The man is full of all the plans and interests that made up his life, and is conscious of the presence of people and things connected with them.
He is almost irresistibly impelled by his longings to try and influence the affairs to which his passions and feelings still cling, and is bound to the earth while he has lost all his accustomed organs of activity; his only hope of peace lies in resolutely turning away from earth and fixing his mind on higher things, but comparatively few are strong enough to make this effort, even with the help always offered them by workers on the astral plane, whose sphere of duty lies in helping and guiding those who have left his world. (These workers are disciples of some of the great Teachers who guide and help humanity, and they are employed in this special duty of succouring souls in need of such assistance.) (Annie Besant, AW, 97-9.) If all this be so, you may think, then surely the sooner we die the better; such knowledge seems almost to place a premium on suicide! If you are thinking solely of yourself and of your pleasure, then emphatically that would be so. But if you think of your duty towards God and towards your fellows, then you will at once see that this consideration negates that view. You are here for a purpose - a purpose which can only be attained upon this physical plane. The soul has to take much trouble, to go through much limitation, in order to gain this earthly incarnation, and therefore its efforts must not be thrown away unnecessarily. The instinct of self-preservation as divinely implanted in our breasts, and it is our duty to make the most of this earthly life which is ours, and to retain it as long as circumstances permit. There are lessons to be learnt on this plane which cannot be learnt anywhere else, and the sooner we learn them the sooner we shall be free for ever from the need of return to this lower and more limited life. So none must dare to die until his time comes, though when it does come he may well rejoice, for indeed he is about to pass from labour to refreshment. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 19-20.)
The Suicide and the victim of sudden death. It will be readily understood that a man who is torn from physical life hurriedly while in full health and strength, whether by accident or suicide, finds himself upon the astral plane under conditions differing considerably from those which surround one who dies either from old age or from disease. In the latter case the hold of earthly desires upon the entity is sure to be more or less weakened, and probably the very grossest particles are already eliminated, so that the man is likely to find himself on the sixth or fifth subdivision of the astral world, or perhaps even higher; the principles have been gradually prepared for separation, and the shock is therefore not so great.
In the case of the accidental death or suicide none of these preparations have taken place, and the withdrawal of the principles from their physical encasement has been aptly compared to the tearing of the stone out of an unripe fruit; much of the grossest kind of astral matter may still cling round the personality, which will consequently be held in the seventh or lowest subdivision of the plane. This has already been described as anything but a pleasant abiding-place, yet it is by no means the same for all those who are compelled for a time to inhabit it. Those victims of sudden death whose earth-lives have been pure and noble have no affinity for this plane, and so the time of their sojourn upon it is passed, to quote from an early letter on this subject, either in "happy ignorance and full oblivion, or in a state of quiet slumber, a sleep full of rosy dreams." (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 74-5.)
The position of the suicide is further complicated by the fact that his rash act has diminished the power of the ego to withdraw its lower portion into itself, and therefore has exposed him to various additional dangers; but it must be remembered that the guilt of suicide differs considerably according to its circumstances, from the morally blameless act of Seneca or Socrates through all degrees down to the heinous crime of the wretch who takes his own life in order to escape from the entanglements into which his villainy has brought him; and the position after death varies accordingly. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 77-8.)
Destination Depends on Life Lived
The astral life is the result of all feelings which have in them the element of self. If they have been directly selfish, they bring him into conditions of great unpleasantness in the astral world; if, though tinged with thoughts of self, they have been good and kindly they bring him a comparatively pleasant though still limited astral life. ... The astral life, which the man has made for himself either miserable or comparatively joyous, corresponds to what Christians call purgatory. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 65.)
With adjustment to this new life, the mental and emotional powers gradually become keener and deeper, but the resulting growth and change in values calls for a good deal of strenuous effort. Ethical and spiritual laws are found to govern life after death, but these do not fully coincide with those given in conventional religious teaching on earth. (Paul Beard, LO, 13.)
There are many stories of immediate arrival into the post-mortem situation. A good number tell of new surroundings; these are discovered later on to be partly conditioned by the survivor's own mental and emotional states. Such surroundings are not necessarily what they first appear to be. They have illusory elements. There is a wide variety of difficulties and of adjustments. (Paul Beard, LO, 13.)
Earthly Reputation Means Little
Post-mortem values have very little to do with earth reputation or achievement, nor are they always speedily discovered. Persons well known on earth, T.E. Lawrence for example, do not always get on well.
These travelers gradually extricate themselves from their difficulties, with help, but fundamentally by their own efforts. (Paul Beard, LO, 13.)