The Inner Life, v. II/First Section/III
CONDITIONS AFTER DEATH
Students often ask whether for the ordinary man a subconscious or an active existence is more desirable on the astral plane. This depends upon the nature of the active existence, and upon the stage of development of the ego concerned. The ordinary man dies with a certain amount of unexhausted desire still in his composition, and this force must work itself out before it is possible for him to sink into a subconscious condition. If the only activity possible for him is that of the lower desires, it is obviously better for him that nothing should be allowed to interfere with his sinking into comparative unconsciousness as soon as possible, since any new karma that he makes is little likely to be of an advantageous kind.
If, on the other hand, he is sufficiently developed to be able to be of use to others on the astral plane, and especially if he has already been in the habit of working there during sleep, there is no reason why he should not usefully employ the time of his enforced sojourn there, though it would be inadvisable to set in motion new forces which would lengthen that sojourn. Those who are working under the direction of the pupils of the Masters of Wisdom will naturally avail themselves of their counsel, since they have had much experience along these lines, and can in turn consult others of still wider knowledge.
The astral life may be directed by the will, just as the physical life may be, always within the limits prescribed in each case by karma — that is to say, by our own previous action. The ordinary man has little will-power or initiative, and is very much the creature of the surroundings which he has made for himself, on the astral plane as on the physical; but a determined man can always make the best of his conditions and live his own life in spite of them. What has, after all, been caused by his will can gradually be changed by his will, if time permits.
A man does not rid himself of evil tendencies in the astral world any more than he would in this life, unless he definitely works to that end. Many of the desires which are so strong and persistent in him are such as need a physical body for their satisfaction, and since he has that no longer, they often cause him acute and prolonged suffering; but in process of time they wear themselves out, they become as it were atrophied, and die down because of this impossibility of fulfilment. In the same way the matter of the astral body slowly wears away and disintegrates as the consciousness is gradually withdrawn from it by the half-unconscious effort of the ego, and thus the man by degrees gets rid of what ever holds him back from the heaven-world.
But the worst of his trouble is that the man is generally not alive to the necessity of getting rid of the evil which detains him. It is obvious that if he realises the facts of the case and gives his mind to the work, he can greatly expedite both the processes referred to the above. If he knows that it is his business to kill out earthly desires, and to withdraw into himself as quickly as may be, he will earnestly set himself to do these things; instead of which he usually in his ignorance broods over the desires and so lengthens their life, and clings desperately to the grossest particles of astral matter as long as he possibly can, because the sensation connected with them seems nearest to that physical life for which he is so passionately longing. Thus we see why one of the most important parts of the work of the invisible helpers is to explain facts to the dead, and also why even a merely intellectual knowledge of Theosophical truths is of such inestimable value to a man.
The dead man when he first arrives upon the astral plane by no means always realises that he is dead, and even when that fact comes home to him it does not follow that he at once understands how the astral world differs from the physical. In the physical world man is the slave of a number of imperious necessities; he must have food and clothing and shelter; in order to procure these he must have money; and in most cases in order to obtain money he must do some kind of work. All this is so much a matter of course to us down here that the man who is set free from this slavery finds it difficult for a long time to believe that he is really free, and in many cases he continues unnecessarily to impose upon himself fetters which he has in reality cast aside.
So we sometimes see the newly dead trying to eat — sitting down to or preparing for themselves wholly imaginary meals, or building for themselves houses. I have actually seen a man in the summer-land building a house for himself stone by stone, and even though he made each of these stones for himself by an effort of his thought, he did not yet grasp the fact that he might just as well have made the whole house for himself, with the same amount of trouble, by a single effort of the same kind. He was gradually led to see that, by the discovery that the stones had no weight, which showed him that his present conditions differed from those to which he had been used on earth, and so led him to investigate further.
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.
To the man who has studied Theosophy and therefore understands these higher planes, one of their pleasantest characteristics is the utter restfulness and freedom which comes from the absence of all these imperious necessities which make a misery out of physical life. The dead man is the only absolutely free man, free to do whatever he wills and to spend his time as he chooses, free therefore to devote the whole of his energies to helping his fellows.