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In the Bosom of the Lord:  Death for the 'Unliberated'
"Le Sein de Dieu"

   by Peter Holleran

   "If we die in part every day of our lives, we shall have little to do on the last. What we dread so much in the future will cause us no fear when it comes, if we do not suffer its terrors to be exaggerated by the restless anxieties of self-love...O how utterly will those little daily deaths destroy the power of the final dying. Then your bodily death will be but a falling asleep. Happy are you who sleep this sleep of peace!”

   "Our sleep will be peaceful when we rest in God's heart, abandoning ourselves to his lprovidence and ever maintaining a sweet awareness of his mercy. When we do this, we are no longer seeking anything for ourselves, and our entire being rests in him. What we leave behind are our faltering and troubled rationalizations, our desires for ourselves, our impatience to gain a higher place. Then we find ourselves resting in the heart of God - for God is the one who has put us there with his own hands, and he cradles us there in his arms."
  - Fenelon

   "The best way to prepare yourself for death is trust, simply trust that the One who created your Soul will take care of you. You don't need to be afraid of anything. Were you afraid before being born? Why should you be afraid of going back to the Mystery?"
  - anadi

   “Even those who assert or lament that they have never had a single glimpse during their whole lifetime will get it at the end. For it is a divinely ordained part of the process of dying.”
- Paul Brunton

   "Everybody dies as he lives. I am not afraid of death because I am not afraid of life. I live a happy life and shall die a happy death. Misery is to be born, not to die. All depends how you look at it...As he gets older the sage grows more and more happy and peaceful. After all, he is going home...The reel of destiny is coming to an end. The mist of bodily existence is lifting - the burden of the body is growing less from day to day." - Nisargadatta Maharaj (I AM THAT)

   “ ‘Nothing’ can never be the source of ‘something’ - ‘I’. If ‘I’ am born out of ‘something’, that ‘something’ is still with me. So I was never born, and so there is no death for me or for anybody.” - Shri Atmananda (Notes on Spiritual Discourses, #737)

   "Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come." - Rabindranath Tagore

   “Like the candle of morning, my life will disapppear
   when it’s illumined by the Sun of your compassion.”
- Hafiz

   Introductory comments

   There are those who say that these quotes reflect false hopes, but we are not among those. We are fundamentally of the mind that there is a seamless web of life and death within the great Tao, and there is nothing to fear. We are eternal, and life goes on, for better or worse, and with greater or lesser understanding. Our over-emphasis on self-importance, be it worldly or spiritual, is our chief problem in this matter. That, and the conflicting stories about what happens after physical death that we have inherited from the traditions of man.

   In this article we will try to mention some of these, while portraying a rational distillation of the basic relative stages and processes in the usual after-life, with due regard to an ultimate spiritual point of view that transcends these. Yet even the notion of 'transcendence' and 'transmutation' are only natural processes within the Tao, with even radical ego-death and 'annihilation' - as we may understand them - unnecessary for complete Oneness as well as the fulfillment of our humanity to be the case. Again, there is too much fear over these matters. It is said that the 'true men of old' were not like that, embracing all, and taking life and death as they came without undue concern. This is not to say there are not difficult passages, and various relative deaths; indeed, that would be going too far on the other direction. But the central truth proclaimed by the sages is that there is no death, there is only LIFE, with necessary and natural changes of form.

   There is no particular order to this essay, topics being discussed as they presented themselves. It may be considered a companion piece to Dying in the Master's Company on this website, with this essay tying up some loose ends not covered in that article. A somewhat higher point of view is taken in that article, while this piece may be thought of as 'stories within the appearance of relativity', or, 'what happens between lives when you are not yet fully enlightened'. It is perhaps not so bad after all. Having said this, things should get somewhat easier as one makes his way through this article. I apologize for any unnecessary complexity. On re-reading this after some years, it appears evident that a fair amount of editing and re-writing is in order. Someday perhaps, but again, it should be easier as one progresses.

   Our ‘identity' has been described in several basic forms: a genetic physical person, a human personality, a not-entirely-finite psychic or soul-nature (both individual and universal), and an unindividuated impersonal infinite essence (often referred to as Spirit). The latter is most often spoken of as our only and true eternal identity by many traditional spiritual paths, which more often have based their claims on the transcendance of apparent limitations, rather than their inclusion. This essence, moreover, is usually spoken of as consciousness itself, or 'absolute consciousness' or 'awareness', but some teachings have recognized both consciousness and matter or phenomena to be two halves of a relative polarity, and therefore any true absolute itself being beyond all such splits or divisions. This is not the essay to get into an extended discussion of this important issue. The point to be made here is simply to point out that here we will be addressing after-death states fundamentally as they relate to our soul-nature, not unindividuated Being itself. In fact, we suggest that it is arbitrary to try to find exacting boundaries between all of these proposed identities as some have done, that we in fact are ALL of it. Even if we do realize infinite Being, we do not thereby lose the soul-nature, as Plotinus said 'an eternal wanderer in God's infinitude'. Our position, which is not a position, is that it is all part of the multidimensional nature of reality. And which does not take away from the truth of statements like this from Paul Brunton: "their desire to perpetuate the present state of the person in some eternal post-mortem heaven fades away naturally as the illusion of the person itself fades away." (1) We merely affirm that our understanding is not fully served by positing adamantly that there is just 'one undifferentiated soup'.

   Every spiritual guide we have known, then, however great and complete their teaching may be, at some point or another, if one reads them closely, seems to says something to make us question. There may be lacunas, or statements for teaching purposes meant for certain ears only. There may also be the inherent veiling nature of physical embodiment, imparing more accurate knowledge acquired on higher planes. Absolute precision in language at all times, while important, is not necessary to act as a genuine agent of grace.

   There is also the question of the maturity of the disciple to consider, as to the form of teaching that he is given at any one time. But truly, as far as possible at this late date in man's evolution, there should no longer be any secrets or gaps in a genuine and effective teaching. The sacrifices of many have brought humanity to this point, where we must not hesitate to question fully.

   For instance, both Sri Nisargadatta and anadi have at one point or the other said that 'consciousness' or what has been called 'the state of presence' doesn’t last beyond the portals of death, that one is just immediately de-manifested into the absolute unconsciousness, until such time as the personality - and soul - are re-created or re-constituted into a new birth, with, however, according to Maharaj, 'the I Am and the memory traces or vasanas carried over.' Nisargadatta also says that the realized "I AM is preserved and glorified in the Absolute;" he has said little about intermediate states, however.

   anadi, whose teaching I found fresh, intelligent and stimulating, went so far in his book The Human Buddha (1999) as to deny even the existence of the bardos, writing that they were only put in the literature to motivate people out of fear. By email he softened this a bit by saying that they simply weren't there like most Tibetans believe they are. We can accept that. One can certainly experience the afterlife from an enlightened and an unenlightened perspective, just like this world. And, in his newest work, book of enlightenment (2011), he does speak about higher states of consciousness, wherein cognition doesn't require an object to know itself (1a). This, in fact, is what many traditions including that of the Sants have always said: that the free Soul knows intrinsically by her own light. And it opens the door to permitting the existence of lesser states of consciousness where cognition does require an object, both before and after death. So the comment about bardos, and the lack of any intermediate level of experience between enlightenment and ignorance, does not as yet anyway seem warranted. According to Tibetan Madhyamika teachings, in fact, to deny the intermediate states (bar srid) is a form of 'nihilism' - a heretical view. (2) So perhaps his remark was meant for certain persons only, then, as it was part of a question and answer session with students, and not a philosophical dissertation. His central point, however, a very important point, is "Why worry about consciousness after death?  What matters is to be conscious when you are alive. If you are not alive now, you will not live after death either."

   The sages are certainly not wrong who say that essentially just as one is conscious in life, so will he be after death. Sri Aurobindo taught that one must first crystalize a center of consciousness, the soul, or what he called the Psychic Being, apart from the physical body, and that the practical result of not having alchemized or extracted such consciousness will be the lack of an essential center upon which the disparate 'parts' of ones physical, vital, and mental being can attach themselves. This, he implies, accounts for, once the anchor of the body is dispersed, the inability to control or understand one's experiences during sleep or after death. Thus the traditional two-part process of inner concentration, followed thereafter by an omnipresent realization, is validated. Many contemporary advaita teachers seem to feel or teach that one can bypass this stage - despite what their self-proclaimed lineage masters, such as Ramana Maharshi, Sri Nisargadatta, or Papaji actually taught or went through. Some go so far as to teach that concentrative meditation is a diminishment of consciousness, inasmuch as it narrows attention. This may be so if one limits himself to the beginning stages of dhyana. However, this is short-sighted, as the narrowing of attention is only part of a two-stage process by which countless souls have realized truth, first by breaking identification with body and world and securing a merger with a higher principle (inner essential nature), and then returning to integrate all of what one has left behind in a larger synthesis and realization. All of the great masters, such as Swami Sivananda, Sri Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, Milarepa, Gampopa, Huang Po, Anadamaya Ma, and Kirpal Singh, spoke of this type of process. The result is a true fruit, and not a 'husk without a kernel', as various talking schools of realization can be left with. While some of the efforts made in the past may not be necessary anymore - assuming an ongoing evolution in the very nature of the human spiritual quest - this type of thinking must not be carried too far. Moreover, tradition suggests that without such a first-stage realization, or its equivalent, one will never be in a position to be able, for instance, to recognize the 'clear light' after death, or explore its infinite depths. Even so, in some paths, such as Sant Mat, the grace of a Master is said to accompany the soul and helps wake it up, affording great assistance after death. Those who deny the institution of the living master as 'archaic' and a hindrance, as one writer has done, may not not know what they are talking about. And as we shall see, many beings, not just masters, cooperate in this process in the beyond. So a meditative/devotional stage, while perhaps not the only way, remains a valid way and is not obsolete. Bhakti or loving devotion to one’s ‘chosen ideal’, serves one here and hereafter, as one is said to generally go where one’s thoughts gravitate when the body drops. Even without realization, then, the affinity to a teacher or master will serve one well in the afterlife.

   But in general, on earth in the man-body, say many saints and sages, is where full realization is to be won, and we must not simply place our hopes for realization after death. Euripides once said, "death is a debt we must all pay, so why not pay it now and be forever free of the obligation?" Such so-called death-in-life has been the message of all the sages. "Learn to die, so you shall begin to live," said Christ. Be it ever so, yet we are alive now, in varying degrees of forgetfulness, and death will be no different. We suggest even this is something to notice, not to overly fear, preferring the words of Tagore, who wrote:

   "Death is not the extinguishing of the light; it is only the putting out the lamp because the dawn has come."

   Or Paul Brunton (PB) who wrote:

   "Even those men who assert or lament that they have never had a single glimpse during their whole lifetime will get it at the end. For it is a divinely ordained part of the process of dying."

   The Blessed Prophet Muhammed is similarly attributed to have said:

   “Humans sleep. It is when they die that they awake.”

   It is a common fundamentalist interpretation of the Prophet's words that when the veil of incarnation is lifted man will see the workings of God and his relative place or destiny within it. Yet the greatest Sufi masters within Islam haven't talked quite like that. They recognized many intermediate states, such as various heavens which are available to some, but not to all, depending on one's level of virtue and awareness in life.

   Shakespeare wrote:

   “To sleep, perchance to dream...Ay, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause." - Hamlet

   We think devout Muslims would do well to listen to Shakespeare and Kabir!

   On the nature of the death process - with which we agree only in part - anadi states:

   "The concept that one can choose how and when to incarnate, is one of many spiritual superstitions. No one can choose, for the choice is being made by the higher intelligence. After the dissolution of the physical body, which is the container of human consciousness, and the only vehicle for it, one dissolves into the state of rest. The human soul is unable to exist without the body. There are certain energies and presences, which do not need a physical form in order to exist, but they are certainly not human spirits...After the dissolution of a particular individual human Me, one returns to the deep sleep state, where the information of existence is not present. There is no need to prepare oneself for the next life or after death challenges. Some traditions, out of fear developed specific practices. For example, their adepts make special visualizations to be able to leave the body in such a way that the negative post-death experiences could be avoided, so that the pure land or heaven could be reached directly. However, there is no reality behind these concepts but simply a false belief system. there are certain areas in life where one simply needs to trust. We didn't decide to come into this life - the higher intelligence decided. Why shouldn't we trust the same Intelligence to direct the destiny of our soul, according to the principles of love and harmony, also after the dissolution of our human form?"

   "After this dissolution, if the blueprint of soul is not complete, soon, when the timing is right, one incarnates again in a particular body and in a particular environment to which one is destined...The journey of the soul's evolution is complex and almost impossible to be grasped by the mind...In the dimension of time, knowing and not-knowing are mixed and support each other. Our knowledge is ultimately an expression of our essential clarity and intelligence. While not-knowing, the divine ignorance, represents our humility and child-like innocence. Our knowledge is freedom from the false and the not-knowing, which ultimately is the I AM, is freedom itself; pure rest within the heart of the creator."

   The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the only complete security is abidance in God, and the only proper disposition to take at death is one of complete surrender to the process and to the unknown. Nevertheless, the traditional view that there are intermediate states after death and before rebirth still stands as a reasonable assumption. One may indeed 'return to the deep sleep state' as anadi says, but the consensus is that, other than for a relatively brief swoon of unconsciousness at the time of death, this happens in stages over what may be a very long time in many cases. Furthermore, more and more information is coming into our Western 'data-banks' that there is, in fact, much living and processing and even pre-planning of life events and possibilities for the soul's incarnations as 'personality' that goes on after death, for both the liberated and non-liberated, with many intelligences, guides, persons to be involved, including the eternal soul itself that are involved in guiding and aiding man's journey through God's infinitude. This is a far cry for most people than merely "howling through the Bardos, helplessly blown on the winds of karmas" which the older texts scare us with. The venerable Patrul Rinpoche writes, in Words of My Perfect Teacher:

   "But by that time, unless you have already mastered the path, the fierce wind of your past actions will be chasing after you, while in front a terrifying black darkness rushes toward you as you are driven helplessly down the long and perilous path of the intermediate state. The Lord of Death's [i.e.,Yama's] countless henchmen will be pursuing you, crying, "Kill! Kill! Strike! Strike! How could such a moment - when there is no place to run to and nowhere to hide, no refuge and no hope, when you are desperate and have no idea what to do - how could such a moment be the turning point at which you control whether you go up or down?" (4)

   Scare stories a beginner's teaching

   Countless Scare Tactics abound in the spiritual literature, and not without their inherent logic. Chiefly they have served as negative practice motivators for beginning aspirants. Since that is where most people have been, that has been the base level of teaching for the gurus. The quote above is a nineteenth-century message. Much has happened to the world psyche since that time. Today all of the world's teachings are readily available to everyone, and such one-sided messages are no longer adequate for the inquiring seeker. It is not that progressive levels of point of view about death and realization have not been there before, only that they were usually given in stages, often personally by the teacher, as the person advanced in his understanding and transformation. Dagpo Rinpoche (also known as Gampopa, famous disciple of the great Milarepa and founder of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism) centuries ago wrote:

   "At first you should be driven by a fear of birth and death like a stag escaping from a trap. In the middle, you should have nothing to regret even if you die, like a farmer who has carefully worked his fields. In the end, you should feel relieved and happy, like a person who has just completed a formidable task."

   "At first, you should know that there is no time to waste, like someone dangerously wounded by an arrow. In the middle, you should meditate on death without thinking of anything else, like a mother whose only child has died. In the end, you should know that there is nothing left to do, like a shepherd whose flocks have been driven off by his enemies."

   The reader may recall the quote of Zen master Bankei, in the companion article to this one, wherein he essentially says that "concern with birth and death is really rather self-centered, isn't it?" Yet even now, however, it is a strange thing that an individual may read of the more advanced stages of perspective, but because of the basic reality of the particular position they are in, will not really assimilate it all until they are truly ready. That is, a person may hear that there is no ego, no separate self on which to cling, that he must 'die to be born anew', but yet not really grasp this in his feeling or understanding. it is not as if any one of the three basic positions spoken of above is the right one. Each is appropriate for a person at any given time in his development. Therefore a teacher has a conundrum. He wishes to give out the complete teaching, but also must not prematurely shake up the faith or devotion of a person who is content and diligently applying himself to his present stage of practice. In Buddhism this is actually considered a grave crime of "causing dissension among the Sangha," or "doubt of the path in a practitioner". Similarly, Christian mystic Fenelon wrote:

   "We must never seek to deprive a soul of the food which still contains nutriment for it, and which God suffers to remain as a stay to its weakness...God works in every one as he pleases...The forgetfulness of self in the pure contemplation of God, is a state in which God can do in our souls whatever most pleases Himself. The important point is, that those who are still in a measure supported by self, should not be too anxious about the state of such as are in pure love, nor should these latter endeavor to make the former pass through the trials peculiar to a higher state of grace before God calls them to it." (6)

   We assume that most readers at this point have already acquired many questions, and have found their way here by grace, and therefore we take the above-mentioned risk in offering different points of view, hoping they will reach the ears they are intended for.

   In contrast to some of the more pessimistic teachings, then, the soul, which we as personality are never in essence separate from, but not, practically speaking, identical with either, is, according to some more contemporary teachings, to be seen as a very loving being - God, in fact, from the point of view of the ego - although the soul in turn is said to look up to a higher being, which by greatly simplifying could be called the 'One Individual', Sat Purush, Great Spirit, or Nous. Individuality, in fact, it seems, goes all the way up. It is metamorphosized, but not absolutely snuffed out, rather embraced in a wider and wider whole.

   Help after death: One or many

   According to Daskalos, esoteric Christian mystic and healer of Cyprus, and perhaps one of the greatest modern spiritual 'researchers' of the subtle realms, ones three lower bodies that constitute the personality (physical, psychic and noetic, or physical, astral, and mental (higher and lower)) are made by the 'Archangels of the elements', guided by the Holy Spirit, while in other traditions they speak of the 'lords of karma', etc., that have a hand in managing these things as well as the transition processes between life and death, and death and life. Then there is also the situation of one who has a genuine Master, who is sometimes said to take over responsibility for his chela from these lords of karma. It is apparently a very intricate affair.

   One is free to say that it is all a play of Emptiness/Consciousness, or God, with the intercession of a particular savior or master - however one is inclined - but also, may accept that within relativity there are a vast host of beings involved in making things work smoothly.

   “You are never alone. There are powers and presences where serve you all the time most faithfully. You may or may not perceive them, nevertheless they are real and active.” - Sri Nisargadatta (I AM THAT, p. 457)

   It is not all determined but neither is it random. One's higher or true self/soul is also said to have a say in the matter on what karma is chosen to take on in his next incarnation, if there be such:

   Q: Shall I be compelled to be reborn?
   M: There is no compulsion. You get what you want. You make your own plans and you carry them out.
(Ibid, p. 465)

   For some the burden of proof of what constitutes death with no return would lie on whether that which is spoken of as the silver cord in the Bible - which is said to permit one to leave the body before death and return - is broken or not. It is, some say, part of the etheric double that serves as the mould for the physical body. Looking at it from one perspective, Daskalos (whose teachings will be discussed next) said that it is cut at the time of death by the Archangel Raphael. Then there is no connection remaining with the body. The visionary experiences of Sadhu Sundar Singh of India, famous Sikh turned Christian convert of the early twentieth century, are a fascinating example of the glimpses of the afterlife, with communion of the saints and angels and the presence of Christ, possible while still in this life.

   In the Siddha tradition of India, and possibly even based on what we have purporting to be the words of Jesus, certain great adepts can dematerialize and rematerialize their physical bodies at will, without regard for time or space, and can reappear on earth even without reincarnation. As such they can certainly exist consciously in the after-death realms. The consensus, however, is that for those who do reincarnate, no matter how conscious he be in the after-life, whether ordinary soul or adept, upon rebirth he will 'lose' his enlightenment, at least for a time, when he takes on a new body. The vedana chain is broken and there is no continuity of consciousness as such. That is in fact part of the adept's sacrifice for others. Of course he will regain that enlightenment much sooner than otherwise.

   The teaching of Daskalos: a starting point for deeper exploration

   Daskalos' teachings are explained in great detail in the article The Idea of Man on this website. This is not strict Vedanta, or high Buddhism, but still a teaching with much relative truth within it. Therefore read with intent and some creative imagination, holding it lightly. There are many ways of looking at the matter, and the best one may get is an intuitive feeling. For a very brief summary, Daskalos taught a form of esoteric Christianity that states that there is an Absolute Be-ness that is a self-sufficient Multiplicity-in-Unity, composed of an infinite number of ‘Holy Monads’, each of which radiates myriads of Spirit-Beings. The Absolute (the Father) is part of a Trinity, the other two parts being what he calls the Christ-Logos and the Holy Spirit, roughly equivalent to Shiva-Shakti. Those Spirit-Beings or Pneuma destined to become human beings pass through the archtypal Idea of Man, becoming eternal ‘Self-conscious Souls’. These souls emanate a projection of themselves that becomes involved in an incarnational cycle, the purpose of which is to garner experience in the realms of time and space and separation, eventually returning to the God-State (Theosis) as a Pneuma with the fruits of self-conscious individuality. This, he says, is the Parable of Christ about the Prodigal Son. [This is very similar to the theosophical conception and also that of Paul Brunton (PB) who taught that an 'emanate' of the Overself or Soul, not the higher Soul itself, is projected into the realms of relativity and reincarnates again and again until it gains a form of consciousness it never had before]. Those Spirit-Beings who do not pass through the Idea of Man remain Archangels, who have various responsibilities of creation.

   The question of the 'beginning' of this process, even a relative beginning, are beyond the scope of this article. The human entity, after descending from the realm of Self-conscious Soul, becomes cloaked in three bodies: noetic or mental (the ‘body’ of thoughts), psychic or emotional (the ‘body’ of emotion and sentiment), and the gross physical (the 'garments of skin' in the book of Genesis). All of this occurs in the eternal Now, he points out, so his teaching has an element of nonduality within it, although not as radical as advaita. One must think a bit imaginatively here. This is an ancient model and may not adequately reflect that of an emerging 'quantum' spirituality, although any teaching that has been around for thousands of years, while maybe not perfect, has some kernel of truth in it. It is therefore a good start, reflecting a perpetual as well as cyclic process, not only something that happened in the past.

   [Note: In our view the 'mayaic/samsaric, nothing is gained or lost' vision of many Eastern teachings, i.e., the 'nothing ever happened' view of Papaji, and ajatavada ('no-creation') view of advaita vedanta or Ramana, can be integrated completely harmoniously with the 'purposeful emanation, something is gained' vision of Daskalos and theosophy - but perhaps not without modifying and enhancing both perspectives. That is to say, ajatavada and 'Absolute Beingness emanating Holy Monads through Divine Ideas, Archangelic and Human', can both be true - and further, reality is probably even much more complex than that. But for now, consider the following].

   According to Daskalos, after death the present personality lives on for a time in more or less clarity within the psychonoetic realms, depending on the understanding in which it lived while on earth. Most people, however, have a shell around them, consisting of the 'elementals', or thought-forms they created while in physical form, that prevents their clear seeing of the reality of the subtle realms themselves which are not only personal illusions, but a shared macroeconomic cosmic projection, albeit microcosmically adapted. He says also that, while we have, created by the Holy Spirit, ‘glorious’ psychonoetic bodies on their respective planes that are shaped according to the archtype of man that exist for the support and maintainance of the physical form, we are also given at the beginning of the incarnational cycle an ‘amorphus psycho-noetic body’ that is shaped ‘like a sack’ and is centered around the heart region. I have not heard of this spoken of in any other tradition. Our task, so to speak, through maturation of our character, is to develop and shape that body until eventually it will resemble the form of man, at which time it fuses with the archtypal or supportive psychonoetic form (made possible because both forms share the same etheric body) and we will be able to live and function in those inner realms clearly, as well as and more importantly progress beyond forms and bodies until we consciously reach back to the level of soul and Spirit-Being from which we 'began'; after which we, the conscious emanation or part of the divine Soul that incarnates, through the psycho-noetic form developed during the incarnations, the so-called Hermetic 'robes of glory', will enable us to be of greater service in the lower realms, if we so choose or dedicate ourselves to.

   I’ll admit the concept of two separate psychonoetic bodies is confusing, and Daskalos’ successor Kostas says that very few esoteric schools are aware of their existence. However, the idea of ‘building a soul,’ meaning a subtle body, in order to consciously function in esoteric dimensions, as opposed to simply being conscious of them, was mentioned by George Gurdjieff and others. It should be noted that whether there is one or two of these bodies, their development comes naturally as one advances spiritually, and there is no special means or yoga needed for shaping them to conform to the divine archtype of man. Whether pursuing a direct or gradual path, then, it is already happening as a matter of course as one matures. Again, please set ones Vedanta aside for the time being.

   It must be kept in mind that those advaitists or others who would classify all non-physical realms under the monikor of 'astral planes of illusion' are mistaken. 'Astral', of which there are at least seven but potentially seven time seven, or even myriad, subplanes or 'heavens,' are but the lowest of a seven-storied or septenary system of Creation, with higher buddhic and atmic planes being formless and intuitive, and beings who venture down from those heights beyond time and space as we know it must take on a familiar appearance to communicate with us. And they really don't 'go' anywhere, but change their rate of vibration to better suit ours.

   For those who do have clarity, from earnest living, spiritual investigation, and metaphysical knowledge gained during their incarnation, Daskalos says that continued learning can actually take place after death, through the aid of many beings, archangels, masters, invisible helpers, archtypes, etc., before the essence of the previous incarnation and the new learning is passed up to the 'Permanent Personality', the respository of the condensed experience and wisdom gained through all of one's lifetimes, closely linked with the Soul, and before one then passes into a deep sleep prior to being reborn. Kostas, a master in Daskalos' inner circle, said:

   "In the event that the present personality becomes adapted within a reality of those other dimensions, it will be offered the opportunity to acquire more knowledge for advancement on the spiritual path. The subconscious of every human being will be given the opportunity to be enriched there as well...If you manage to construct solid foundations on this plane of existence..then your progress within the psychonoetic dimensions could gallop in a geometric progression...In this dimension you have many questions that you are unable to answer experientially. The confines of gross matter are an obstacle to the advancement of your awareness. Within the psychonoetic worlds, on the other hand, there are no such obstacles. The very moment you begin within those worlds to raise questions and become a researcher of the Truth you are in a much better position to explore and discover for yourself what is real and what is not."

   He gives the caveat, however, that all of this depends on the steps you have taken during one's physical lifetime:

   "The further you are advanced in this world on the path for the research of Truth the easier and faster will be your advance within the psychonoetic worlds." (7)

   Daskalos himself says this about most experiences after death:

   “Some people hear about a second death and they are horrified. They imagine something analogous to earthly death. The second death is the dissolving of the psychic body in Kamaloka. You don't even recognize it because it is a very gradual process. It is not something that happens suddenly, it is unlike the death of the gross material body which, after it dies - or rather, after you drop it - you can see lying there. The second death is the gradual cleansing of the psychic [or astral] body from its negative vibrations whereby the surrounding environment becomes increasingly numinous. It is something analogous to the illumination over landscape as the sun rises...The second death is a process toward higher levels of awareness and illumination...All human beings have the potential of having this experience. They will have it, assuming they have come to their senses and assimilated the lessons of life just lived. Otherwise the masters of karma will put the ego to sleep. That is, the psychic body will dissolve instantly, will pass momentarily through the noetic dimension and descend down to the gross material level in a new incarnation. In such a case the individual will not experience or have consciousness of the noetic body. It is a very complicated process...It is an individual matter of how long you stay within the psychic dimensions and not a fixed mathematical formula which is the same for everyone." (Kyriakos Markides, Fire in the Heart (London, England: ARKANA, 1991), p. 207-209).

   He goes on to say that for relatively awake but unenlightened souls there is then a “third death” in which one ascends briefly into an even more beautiful dimension before falling into a refreshing sleep prior to re-embodiment. Most perennial teachings are in agreement that one does not consciously or directly merge back into the Source after death until one's relative bodies are purified to a high degree, or until one has realized/recognized his infinite being or true nature during life. The higher mental or lower causal plane is generally the highest one has access to - with even that being rare - short of theosis, or God-consciousness. There are additional considerations, which have much to do with completion of karmas, the soul's 'blueprint' (anadi) of what was to be accomplished in this life, and other matters - all in accord with the inherent laws within the Mystery.

   Sri Nisargadatta said:

   “Once you know that death happens to the body and not to you, you just watch the body falling off like a discarded garment….Once you know that the body alone dies and not the continuity of memory and the sense of ‘I am’ reflected in it, you are afraid no longer.” (I AM THAT, p. 464-465)

   Here one can see an encapsulation of the three deaths described by Daskalos: first death: the dropping off of the body; second death: the dropping of the continuity of memory; third death: abatement of the sense of ‘I am’ - followed in most cases by eventual rebirth.

   It is interesting to note for our soul’s confirmation how closely even relativistic teachings of the native American Lakota Sioux parallel those found in the Hindu Katha Upanishad. This remarkable correspondence hints at the existence first pointed out by H.P. Blavatsky of the existence of a 'trans-Himalayan lineage' of adepts spanning the globe, in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America. For instance, the Katha Upanishad says:

   “Beyond the senses are the objects, beyond the objects is the mind, beyond the mind is the intellect, beyond the intellect is the great Atman...Beyond the great Atman is the Unmanifested; beyond the Unmanifested is the Purusha (the Cosmic Soul); beyond the Purusha there is nothing. That is the end, that is the final goal.”

   “The Purusha (Self), of the size of a thumb, resides in the middle of the body as the lord of the past and the future, [he who knows Him] fears no more. This verily is That. The seat of the Purusha is said to be the heart, hence It “resides in the middle of the body.” Although It is limitless and all-pervading, yet in relation to Its abiding-place It is represented as limited in extension, “the size of a thumb.” This refers really to the heart, which in shape may be likened to a thumb. Its light is everywhere, yet we see it focused in a lamp and believe it to be there only; similarly, although the life-current flows everywhere in the body, the heart is regarded as peculiarly its seat.”

   “That Purusha, of the size of a thumb, is like a light without smoke, lord of the past and the future. He is the same today and tomorrow. This verily is That. In this verse the teacher defines the effulgent nature of the Soul, whose light is pure like a flame without smoke. He also answers the question put by Nachiketas as to what happens after death, by declaring that no real change takes place, because the Soul is ever the same.”

   Compare the Katha with what Black Elk spoke long ago:

   "I am blind and do not see the things of this world, but when the Light comes from Above, it enlightens my heart and I can see. For the Eye of the heart sees everything. The Heart is a sanctuary at the center of which there is a little space, wherein the Great Spirit dwells, and this is the Eye. This is the Eye of the great Spirit by which he sees all things and through which we see Him. If the heart is not pure, the great Spirit cannot be seen, and if you should die in ignorance, your soul cannot return immediately to the great Spirit, but it must be purified by wandering about in the world [Note: we might interpret this to mean wander or experience in the spirit worlds]. In order to know the center of the heart where the great spirit dwells you must be pure and good, and live in a manner that the Great Spirit has taught us. The man who is thus pure contains the Universe in the pocket of his heart."

   "It is good to have a reminder of death before us, for it helps us to understand the impermanence of life on this earth, and this understanding may help us in preparing for our own death
[Indeed, Buddha and Socrates used almost the same language as Black Elk]. He who is well prepared is he who knows that he is nothing compared with Wakan Tanka, who is everything, then he knows that world which is real."

   Mohican Aupumut said:

   "When it comes time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home." (8)

   And, despite doubts raised by the opening arguments, Sri Nisargadatta, like many Hindu mystic teachers, said that "the sage is always getting happier, because he is going home." One might question the depth of his integration of non-dual realization, asking, "but, aren't you 'home' already?" Yet this may be an indication that despite advaitic realization while alive, there is something supreme only attainable after death by man as he currently is constituted. Paul Brunton (PB) suggested likewise in some places, as have many teachers, so this position may not be dismissed outright.

   So, there is no question that the more one can awaken during life the better. But all is not lost if one does not succeed. Life goes on, and there is another chance and always more learning. Nothing is gained through undo worrying. As more and more fear is transcended in the coming age life and death will come closer together in a situation of more natural fluidity. Even without nondual realization having been actualized, much relative change and processing does takes place as the essence of each personality is carried upwards, stored in the Permanent Personality (intermediary between the lower vehicles and the Soul), and enriching the Soul with each lifetime in the realm of experience. Thus, it is not a heartless or dismal 'all or nothing' affair of being either unconscious or conscious, asleep or awake. There is a gradiant of approximation of reality. There is some truth to the often made assertion that if you are asleep to reality during waking life you will likewise be asleep to it after death. Yet even that is not entirely true. One does not necessarily merely 'fall into the astral dream', as PB writes, with no moments or periods of relative enlightenment or awakening surpassing those known on the earth plane. That is an oversimplification. Awakening is neither necessarily 'over in an instant' as the Tibetan Book of the Dead suggests, or complete for all as the Koran implies. It is more complex, rich, and varied than that. Even the Tibetan tradition suggests it is so.

   Some Tibetan Buddhist teachings

   A brief summary of the different possibilities of the actual death process itself may be useful here. One thing that becomes clear from analyzing the various sources is that there are many possibilities, and not one set order of events. The Tibetan teachings say that - barring sudden accidents, etc. - there is a gradual process of dissolution, outer and inner, with life and consciousness withdrawing from the gross world: outer dissolution is dissolution of the bodily elements felt subjectively, with accompanying signs: sinking, immense weight, suffocation, dryness, loss of bodily warmth, cessation of outer and then inner breath; smokey light, red sparks on a dark background, visions, lamp-light. This is described either as the earth element dissolving into water, water into fire, fire into air, air into consciousness, conscious into space, or, alternately, gross earth into subtle earth, gross water into subtle water, and so forth. Then comes 'inner' dissolution: 'consciousness into appearances,' or the white drop or essence of the father descending from the head via the central channel to the heart, with white moon-light; 'appearances into 'increase,' or the red drop or essence of the mother ascending from the navel to the heart, with reddish light; and then 'increase into attainment,' when the two essences meet in the heart and there is blackness like a cloudless sky on a dark autumn night. Then there is dissolving of 'space into luminosity,' with the arisal of the 'luminosity of the basis,' at which point most people swoon into unconsciousness, but the prepared meditator or enlightened adept may meet the clear light of the Mother Luminosity or 'ultimate sphere' with the Child Luminosity of his 'intrinsic essence of mind' and attain liberation. As stated, for most unprepared the glimpse of reality - which is said to come for every being from an insect to man - is 'over in an instant', and after a brief period of swoon one reawakens in the bardos or intermediate subtle realms.

   Now, even within the Tibetan structure it is recognized that this order of events may not always unfold as described. Tsele Natsog Rangtrol writes that these descriptions of dissolution:

   "are merely general indications of how people go through the experiences. But there is no certainty [that all will have the same experiences]. Each person possesses a different kind of physical channel, air,and essence, and they will be facing different kinds of sicknesses, negative forces, or accidents [when they die]. So the dissolutions could happen to people in different sequences, or they could occur simultaneously." (9)

   When the death process begins, and consciousness is withdrawn inside the body, the trained Vajrayana practitioner, traditionally, or we might say, theoretically (!), may engage powa or 'transference of consciousness' to the crown of the head, considered more auspicious for a rebirth into a higher realm or 'pure land'. Powa is helped by the presence of an accomplished guide, who can remind the departing consciousness to remain in his natural state of mind, calm and clear. This process may be done just before the time of swoon or upon re-awakening prior to entry into the bardos. In Tibetan Buddhism there are elaborate rites to perform during a forty-nine day period to give the bardowa the maximum opportunity to recognize his essence of mind before taking rebirth. This is ignored in the Sikh tradition where little time is passed before taking the dead to the funeral pyre.

   Unique among the traditions is this concept of a 'pure land', manifested by a Buddha, which is described as of three types, corresponding to the three kayas or bodies of an enlightened buddha: one is the absolute Pure Land of the Dharmakaya, i.e., reality, or the buddha-nature itself, total openness and emptiness, free of all characteristics and limitations; second is the Sambhogakaya, or the spontaneous luminosity of the Dharmakaya, which Tulku Thondup describes as: "the state of nonduality and oneness, the pure land with form body, pure and inseparable from the buddha-wisdom itself. It is all-pervading, everlasting, unchanging, and ever-joyful." (10). The others are pure lands which are Nirmanakaya manifestations of realized Buddhas that are visible to ordinary beings who are not yet free from dualistic vision (such as the "Copper Mountain" of Padmasambhava, Potala Mountain or "Sukhavati" (Devachan in Tibetan) of Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light); these exist as 'places' where those with faith and accumulated merits may reside without possibility of falling back into samsara, and progress to liberation from there. These are said to be realms of only joy and happiness - but not the lesser happiness or pleasure of the god-realms of samsara, where the good karma that got you there may run out leading to rebirth in a lower realm. These 'pure lands' are not universal subtle realms themselves, but kind of like an 'oasis' within those realms, or within samsara itself. As far as we know this beautiful concept is unique to Tibetan Buddhism. To repeat, these 'pure lands' as described are not higher planes per se, but 'creations' or manifestations by realized buddhas themselves for the benefit of their devotees.

   The Sambhogakaya in essence, whether pure land or eternal dimension, might correspond with the plane of Sach Khand in Sant Mat, which is spoken of as both a realm and realization of nonduality and oneness; as a realm it is regarded as the 'true home of the soul,' or the 'first stage of God-realization.'

   Only liberated beings can reach the first two of the Pure Lands. This was confirmed to Delog Dawa Drolma (1910-1941) by White Tara who guided her through the bardos during her death experience [Note: in Tibet a delog is a person who undergoes the actual dissolution process of death, as described above, retaining just a bit of warmth in the heart to keep the body from decaying, and enters the bardos for days or weeks before returning to life, most often with a mission to tell others of their experiences].

   It must be understood that the notion of plane or realm is really paradoxical; they are both places and states of realization. Hells, for instance, when experienced dualistically can be said to be both realms as well as states or manifestations of one's own mind. This in itself of course is a huge topic.

   The inner regions experienced consciously are more vivid than life on earth and with real presence. Thondup gives an account of a well-known realized master, Do Khyentse (1800-1866), who on a gelug-like journey through the bardos fainted from fear of the cosmic vision of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), even after being ministered to by various deities to purify him of 'worldly taints' on his inward journey before he could proceed further:

   "Crossing many continents, they went toward the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain, the pure land of Guru Rinpoche...At the beginning of an enormous bridge, his party was met by ten wrathful deities. The deities performed a rite of dispelling harmful traces. Travelers were still carrying with them harmful traces from their human habits, even though they were realized masters who had been separated from their bodies."

   "After going through the outer and inner gates, they were met by a great adept holding a vase filled with nectar. The adept purified them by washing their impurities with the stream of nectar from the vase."

   After this Do Khyentse met a dakini who told him that he himself was a manifestation of Guru Rinpoche and inseparable from him, with their respective roles being due only to independent causation, but that they would in future unite again as 'water in water', a metaphor for non-duality. He received various empowerments from him, including the following pith instruction to convey to others:

   "When the falsehood of phenomenal appearances has collapsed, and
   The unmodified innate nature is realized -
   Without discrimination even of subtle dualities, or
   Attachment even to the contaminated virtues -
   Maintain the truly secure state of primordial purity...
   In delusory samsara, there is nothing to accept or reject.
   Remain performing the vast bodhisattva activities."

   Strange? Yes, strange indeed. This notion of 'taints' also has a parallel in Sant Mat teachings, whereby 'taints,' blemishes, or impurities on the soul must be cleansed or 'scrubbed' for the soul's further progress - and whereby even a soul free of the three bodies (physical, astral, mental/causal), karma, and the cycle of birth and death, in 'Par Brahmand' or the 'super-causal' region/dimension, still has some dualistic 'taint' that must be purified, with help, before it can merge with the 'Father' or 'Sat Purush' in (relatively nondualistic) Sach Khand. One point to be concluded from this and the above-mentioned lama's experience is that it appears that any meditation or realization of nonduality as such must go deep to persist through the intermediate realms, and also that there appears to be a multidimensional aspect to the entire process that is to be honored.

   In addition, 'pure lands' in this tradition are also considered not only as the manifestation of spontaneous qualities of a Buddha's realization, but also as "any place whatsoever when it is perceived as a pure manifestation of spontaneous wisdom." That means in or as wherever one happens to find himself, it is essentially an angle of vision.

   Given all of the above, one will note that in some traditions (such as Sant Mat), the aforementioned process of dissolution of the elements is something that the initiate may not have to undergo or in any case be concerned with, for the Master pledges his grace to manifest for the disciple at the time of death or before and lead him on to higher planes or a rebirth suitable for expeditious spiritual growth. Further, in that tradition it is said that everyone, initiate or not, will exit the body through the crown of the head, the "tenth door," as the divine life current or Word of God withdraws the soul from the body. This is quite different than in many buddhist or vedantic teachings. There have been reported many incidences of ordinary people dying and exitting the body without undergoing a conscious inner dissolution process as described in these sutras. Or exitting through other centers, or even without awareness of going through a center at all (the latter point pertains to leaving the body-consciousness through spiritual practice as well; it is quite a complex matter, there appear to be many ways for it to occur).

   Thus, anadi writes in The Human Buddha that the Tibetan practice of powa, or transference of consciousness at the point of death, is futile and useless for the average person; he states that:

   "The best way to prepare yourself for death is trust, simply trust that the One who created your Soul will take care of you. You don't need to be afraid of anything. Were you afraid before being born? Why should you be afraid of going back to the Mystery?"

   It seems possible from reading the historical Buddhist texts, however, that it may have a real use for the trained practitioner with a competent master on that path, if such a situation exists. Here it is not so much an attempt at a spiritual bypass, rather an auspicious moment for spiritual practice based on lifelong training.

   Some occult teachings

   Whatever level of enlightenment one has attained in the body not only will be carried over after death, but will often 'go up' a notch. That is because a veil has been released, and so the incarnate individual will be more able to realize deeper understanding. This is at the heart of why the Tibetans encourage people to utilize the moment of death as an opportunity. One reason to be aware of this is that many people, when they die, bring over with them the beliefs of the physical world (such as believing they need to eat, for instance, or that they must travel by traversing a distance by walking or whatever). But if you know all about the differences in the planes, or at least something, you will be more likely to rapidly awaken to the greater freedom and understanding that is natural to that realm. So if in life a person is one big veil removed from sahaja samadhi, for instance, he needn't bring that over when he leaves the body. When one drops a veil, he should know that a door has opened to immediate access to a whole next level of realization and embrace it. If he does not, it will still come eventually as the effects on the consciousness of having been in a body wear off. But why 'wait'?! So the moment of death (often after a brief swoon) is a door that might be used to open to a satori where one see through all the veils, at least for a moment. Why not use the moment as an initiatory, awakening moment, even if one is not advanced enough to enter right into sahaja after death, he can at least have an awakening moment, and then transition into a higher level of freedom. It is possible even if not likely. Anyway, sooner or later, the after death state becomes a more conscious one on the astral than we were in the physical because we have dropped a veil. But if much physical karma remains, we must go back eventually, it is said, and learn those lessons. So if we had a form of sahaja on the astral as a result of dying, we will probably loose it for a time again when we reincarnate. But if we entered sahaja at the moment of death and then were able to continue our development on the astral and mental/causal planes and 'complete' our karmas there, then when/if we return to a body we could, if it was our dharma, have or easily regain sahaja - like folks such as Ramana Maharshi, for instance.

   In short, it is recognized in Tibetan Buddhism, Sant Mat, and esoteric Christianity that the afterlife is not just a 'night when no man can work', i.e., total 'down-time' such as hell is supposed to be, where there is only an expiation of evil karmas and no possibility for creating new, better ones, but another period where some actual spiritual work is done.

   Those totally sceptic and believing there is nothing after death may, in fact, be quite confused initially, unaware of their surroundings, and possibly for quite some time; although there are myriads of helpers devoted to the service of acquainting one to what is what, so sooner or later even the most doubtful will know they have passed on. Then one may have the purported 'life-review', sluff off the etheric body, and go on to astral 'places' of learning, possibly for many corresponding earth-years. More mature souls are said to have other possibilities of destiny, bypassing the life review entirely and going directly to higher planes and learning there, for instance, before returning to the reincarnation cycle for completion with this earth cycle. Many other possibilities are also said to exist in this multidimensional Universe - or Multiverse - in less frequent instances.

   Somewhat akin to the concept of 'pure lands', albeit on a lower level, is that of beings on the subtle plane manifesting a place or region for the temporary help of beings that have 'lost their way'. Thus, it seems to be a capacity we all have in potential. This has been mentioned and experienced by both David Spangler and Daskalos. Spangler writes, of inner exploration he had with his guide 'John':

   "I learned that for John travel on the inner way was not so much from place to place but from one being to another. For John all places were the manifestation of living intelligences. We moved through life, rather than through space, and relationship was the road we traveled on."

   John showed him a place where certain souls might go after death that was animated by what appeared to them as the image of a feminine presence. He said:

   "She is the presence who creates and sustains this realm...She is one of many such beings who use their own living energies to create a place dedicated to the welfare and succor of others. In your world, a wealthy woman might pay to have a hospital built. Here, this being, who is rich in life and compassion and spirit, is the hospital. This realm exists because it is needed as a place of healing, but she is its architect and its life. This is not just a place, you see, but a living presence...She takes into herself the conditions of the people who are here...Left to themselves, their pity and depression could implode into a hard nugget of selfishness and despair, making it very difficult for them to find liberation and move to higher levels of consciousness. But within her love and spirit, their energy is kept lively and moving in ways they cannot do for themselves. It is as if they have forgotten to breathe, and she is breathing for them. This will make possible their eventual liberation from their self-enclosed state." (12)

   Furthermore, Daskalos assures us, that, contrary to some traditions, even the so-called 'second-death' is nothing to fear, that it is not like the first death at all, but more like a beautiful meditation as one gradually expands into a world more and more light, the noetic world, shedding the psychic or astral body, before either passing into even higher spheres and then eventually passing into sleep (the 'third' death) and being reborn:

   "Some people hear about a second death and they are horrified. They imagine something analogous to earthly death. The second death is the dissolving of the psychic body in Kamaloka. You don't even recognize it because it is a very gradual process. It is not something that happens suddenly, it is unlike the death of the gross material body which, after it dies - or rather, after you drop it - you can see lying there. The second death is the gradual cleansing of the psychic [or astral] body from its negative vibrations whereby the surrounding environment becomes increasingly numinous. It is something analogous to the illumination over landscape as the sun rises...The second death is a process toward higher levels of awareness and illumination..All human beings have the potential of having this experience. They will have it, assuming they have come to their senses and assimilated the lessons of life just lived. Otherwise the masters of karma will put the ego to sleep. That is, the psychic body will dissolve instantly, will pass momentarily through the noetic dimension and descend down to the gross material level in a new incarnation. In such a case the individual will not experience or have consciousness of the noetic body. It is a very complicated process...It is an individual matter of how long you stay within the psychic dimensions and not a fixed mathematical formula which is the same for everyone." (13)

   And further:

   "I have reached the realization that all human beings are free to choose how their next life will unfold prior to the second death. They can choose before the second death how they are going to come down and deal with their karma." (14)

   Sri Nisargadatta said:

   “What you see is nothing but yourself. Call it what you like, it does not change the fact. Through the film of destiny your own light depicts pictures on the screen. You are the viewer, the light, the picture and the screen. Even the film of destiny (prarabdha) is self-selected and self-imposed. The spirit is a sport and enjoys to overcome obstacles. The harder the task the deeper and wider his self-realization.” (I AM THAT, p. 480

   The actual decision into which physical body to be born, Daskalos says, is made by both the self-conscious-soul and the archangels of the elements, who craft the three bodies of each incarnation. Everything is very carefully arranged, as teacher Anthony Damiani once said. This is one way of looking at it.

   So the after-death experience is thus often felt as a truly liberating one. It may be viewed as partly karmically determined by the thought-forms or elementals created by oneself, partly molded by the evolutionary impulse of the World-Idea - the manifest intelligence of the One Great Mind or Source of all - and also subject to the actions of Grace in the form of one's own Overself, Guru or spiritual Master, as well as forms of group learning. Relatively few people actually spend hundreds of earth-years in the lower forms of the subtle or psycho-noetic worlds, since this would only be the result of profound unconsciousness and attachment that blocks waking up to the life of higher psychonoetic worlds, such as the true mental or in rare cases even buddhic planes.

   Even for the average person, however, for a time life is more vibrant, with understanding less obstructed, than on earth. As each person assimilates into that world consciously, their life is enhanced, often considerably, by being freed of the constraints of the physical body, any illnesses they have, physical karma in general, etc.. So it is often rather liberating and naturally results in a gradual or sudden expansion of consciousness. Eventually passing through the second death and entering the mental world is even more so a liberation and expansion, and so life there is certainly not boring at all. More advanced souls are even more likely to enter into a fuller experience of the types of experience and consciousness now available resulting from freedom from the physical, and eventually the mental, bodies. This would include a greater sense of peace and contentment, more aliveness and vitality, gaining energy more ‘pranically’, directly rather than through sunlight, food and sleep; less psychological need for dreams, and other positive changes. For some it can take only moments to make this transition, usually days and months, for others it can take decades. Even knowing about all this, having some idea of how it works, what to expect, makes a real difference. And, of course, having spiritual ‘connections’ makes a very big difference.

   In what respect is the after life like dreaming? Many schools like Advaita Vedanta assert that there is no spiritual value in anything but waking earth life, or, as the New Testament states, "work while it is day, and not at night, when no man can work." In the avastatreya, or analysis of the three states of waking, dreaming,and sleep, Advaita says that the afterlife is nothing but a dream. But this is perhaps too simplistic. It is dreaming in the sense that there are aspects of the way that we interact with the environment there that are more like our dreams. There is a stronger experience of an interaction of our psychological state with the way we perceive things, and even what we perceive. The environment can be both experienced as relatively solid and stable as in the physical plane, or also as rather subject to our minds and creatively modified or even whole environments can be created with thought. The difference being that a person who has been consciously assimilated into these psychonoetic dimensions knows that that is where they are, they are consciously functioning there, so that they adapt to the reality that they do not need to eat, that they can change form at will, that they can communicate by telepathy, and so on. So it is unlike common dreams in that the individual who knows they have died knows they are 'dreaming', is not only lucid but, no longer having a body, tends to be even more awake than they were while incarnate, and can interact more creatively with their world and its inhabitants. The liability is that the mind is not only clearer, but also more fluid and therefor unstable unless one has achieved some degree of understanding and awareness during physical life.

   We have to remember that time, or the sense of time, is said to be very different there. Also, it is somewhat like going to a new exotic country with an unexplored culture where you magically are given more powers, can now meet old friends and make new ones, can find meaningful fields of service, can more easily than ever before study anything you want, and can have contact with more of the most enlightened people. You may be gradually able to remember more of your past lives, see into the deeper patterns of meaning behind the life just past lived, realize many of the people you knew during that life were old friends from past lives or inner worlds, gain access to environments more beautiful and luminous than anything you had ever seen on Earth. All of this on just the astral. And then magnify that considerably when moving onto the mental plane. The problem is not boredom - the problem is getting distracted in the largest, most mesmerizing amusement park imaginable, not only to the senses, but to the heart and mind as well. The challenge is to keep one’s equanimity, focus on the path, the Dharma, and prioritize service and the other tasks at hand, and move on efficiently. This is why it is so useful to have a master and dharma friends. For the ego is still alive here.

   If there is a need to come back, it will only be after a good amount of spiritual rest and rejuvenation that will leave the Permanent Personality refreshed and ready. And the part of you that assumes it is here now, and especially the part that 'does not want to come back', is not really the part that does come back. For it dies. It is, in essence, the Permanent Personality that can be said to reincarnate, not the temporary Joe Doe personality. The latter is a temporary identity formed anew in each life out of the inner essence of the Permanent Personality, combined with elementals of desires, emotions and thoughts from past lives, and molded by the body, family, culture and experiences of the next birth. So by the time a new personality forms, it will have many core traits that are similar that carried over, but also a new combination of karma/elementals than the last life, plus the positive fruits of experiences after the last death on the higher planes, all coordinated around a new body/incarnate identity. So in a certain sense it is the same you coming back, but in another important sense it is not, because it is like a multi-facted reconfiguration with new elements mixed with old, and all constellated around a new body and pattern of life experience. So, for instance, if one leaves incarnation with a strong desire not to be here anymore, and had a rough life, some of these feelings may carry over in the subconscious, but they will mix with new karmas and also with the inherent love of life and vitality that comes with every new body. Human bodies created by the Holy Spirit have a natural vitality, love of life, self-preservation and other drives and instincts that get us going and engaged. These are brand new, fresh and dynamic with each new life, and so even though the old elementals will mix with this body to form a new identity, it will not be the same as when we left incarnation with a tired, battle-scarred and maybe burned out body/personality. It's a fresh start with a rejuvenated inner self, a new balance of karmas/elementals, and a new, dynamic body. And, of course, we usually don't remember how the last life went. So, even though we are not talking about ultimate realization....is it so bad?

   According to Robert Swartz, in his book, Your Soul's Plan, souls have individual identities in Spirit but do not perceive any form of separation at all; they know they are infinite and boundless and one with all there is. The souls nevertheless do get further enriched by the experience garnered by each personality, and have their own distinct evolution or 'melding with the Absolute'. "There are many experiences for which a human would have no words of comprehension."

   A interesting concept, which has been confirmed not just by the more sober among psychic channelers of higher quality, but also by liberated spiritual masters, as well as Tibetan teachers such as Namkhai Norbu, is that not only advanced masters with divine siddhi but more ordinary souls may actually have more than one incarnation, or emanated personality at the same or different time! That is, these may be actual 'persons' who in some case can even talk to each other if necessary! This really expands the notion of personal identity. It seems an impossibility, but one must remember that the concept of time varies greatly among dimensions and is not linear. To have an incarnation in the past, present, and future, and heal them all by the action of one's current personality, is truly mind-boggling, yet the increasing confession of many souls. For enlightened masters it has to do with an increasing role of planetary service, but for the average person it has to do with parallel lines of development and the balancing and release of personal and inter-personal karmas. We are healing both ourselves and others, despite apparent circumstances that argue for the contrary. Utter non-judgement of appearances is required in order to embrace this. Further, this is said to be the case whether or not the personality is conscious of these other dimensions or not. However, the soul always knows and is in contact with each personality. This sounds more and more like a case of 'split personality,' but our sanity may be kept intact if we keep the mind and heart open and view this as approaching the quantum level of consideration of these matters previously mentioned.

   This is way beyond the scope of this essay, and to be the topic of a future one (called, fittingly, "It's All Too Much For Me To Take!"), but the gist is that all planes and dimensions interpenetrate (but don't comingle) and occupy the same 'space'; 'higher' is not always to be considered necessarily 'better' than 'lower', each in fact feeds and enriches the other; and, bottom-line, the soul can project not just one emanant but two, three, or, in higher dimensions, an infinite number, just as the Spirit, Pneuma, or Monad may project an infinite number of souls, and finally and essentially, all is One in a seamless web of reality. Who or what then is God as the Creator is a question that one may well ask sooner or later.

   Levels and stages

   Many, many traditions starting with the ancient Puranas use a septenary system of planes making up the relative universe. Roughly speaking, the lower four generally correspond to the Buddhist samsara. These planes relate to the various bodies and koshas of man, varying from system to system: physical, astral or psychic, lower and higher mental or noetic, causal or buddhic, super-causal or anandic, and atmic (with some systems positting even higher octaves of these). The psychic planes are composed of seven main planes with seven sub-planes in each, and, according to some, even more subplanes within those; to a degree, there are subdivisions in the noetic worlds and even the true formless heavens of light above. There are, however, in this ancient septenary reckoning, basically four planes of form and three 'formless' planes that the soul, depending on its level of awareness during life, may experience after death. The noetic plane and above are beyond time and space as we know it, that only sages, saints, and their initiates may reach. "At the higher noetic spheres you do not learn about things outside yourself. You become those things...You can consciously acquire any form you like and still be you...Thought at these levels is yourself..Thought there is love itself...When you reach such a stage do you undervalue things that are not at that level? No, because in reality there is no higher and lower." (15) All of these mentioned planes are within relativity, and simultaneously within the nondual absolute. Most people fall into a sleep upon experience of the formless planes, being then reborn, but those spiritually awakened souls have some discernment there.

   The astral regions are alluring and the lower sub-planes among them contain 'hellish' realms, although most so-called hells are private psychic dimensions unique to a person, who arrives in the afterlife more or less covered with a psychic shell created by his own thought-forms or elementals formed during life. That is why certain people do not even realize that they are dead for some time. More will be said about this later, but an interesting experience can be had even before death by the initiate of a true master-saint. Kirpal Singh explains:

   "At times, the Master takes the initiate 'under cover' far beyond certain planes which are bewitchingly beautiful so that he may not get entangled therein and be lost in the wonders of the way." (16)

   This can extend to being taken in such a 'protective bubble' to get a 'preview' of different realms including hells; I have known several people who claim to have had such an experience. And this is the essence of most delog experiences

   For the average good person, generally, the experience of death is relatively liberating and benevolent:

   PB writes:

   "Philosophy teaches that every sincere seeker finds a certain compensation - in a beautiful and ethereal world after death - for the failures, disappointments, and miseries which make up so much of the stuff of the human story."

   "Unless the human ego were itself an emanation of the Overself it would be quite unable to identify itself with the sensation of severance from the body during the process we call dying."

   "For as the Bhagavad-Gita truly says, "A little of this knowledge saves from much danger." Even a few years' study of philosophy will bring definite benefit into the life of the student. It will help him in all sorts of ways, unconsciously, here on earth and it will help him very definitely after death during his life in the next world of being." (18)

   In general, of course, this is not permanent and one will sooner or later (be it months or decades) pass into incarnation again, but it does affirm that there is conscious life after death for the as yet unliberated souls.

   PB nevertheless reminds us of an opportunity for the prepared, and also keeps our mind fixed upon the ultimate goal and the proper attitude towards it:

   "Concealed behind the passing dream of life there is a world of lasting reality. All men awaken at the moment of death but only a few men are able to resist falling into the astral dream. There are a few who sought to die to their lower nature whilst they were still alive. These are the mystics who enter reality."

   “The aspirant whose efforts to attain inner freedom and union with the Overself while living seem to have been thwarted by fate or circumstances, may yet find them rewarded with success while dying. Then, at the very moment when consciousness is passing from the body, it will pass into the Overself.”

   The Tibetans make much of the potential of liberation in the dawning of reality, the 'dharmata bardo, that occurs for every creature at the actual moment it separates from the gross body, where one, if he can recognize it, may merge into the clear light of reality. However, they also warn that for most people - those not accustomed to meditating on rigpa or primordial, pure consciousness - it is essentially 'over in an instant'. Thus, the emphasis on great fear is perhaps overdone. Death is a natural process and one is unlikely to be overcome with terror any more than the usual person will successfully be plunged into the Great Void when he first sits down to meditate. Such a dramatic passage as the latter is a 'healing' crisis, so to speak, a test of faith for ripe souls, and a fruit of maturity that must be earned. Yet dramatic excess may not be necessary if one's development in understanding and intuition is a gradual and balanced one.

   There are actually said to be two main immediate bardo chances, and then numerous minor ones over forty-nine days, with decreasing hope for of success at being liberated. (20) Therefore the great need for practice if this brief interlude is to be fruitful. Kirpal Singh also mentioned this instant with reference to the non-practitioner:

   "On the death bed one may get a glimpse of reality but then it is too late to comprehend it." (21)

   However, the initiate of a saint has a concession, that he will meet his guide at the time of death, or before, and be taken directly to a plane suitable for his spiritual advancement, whether or not he needs another birth. [Kirpal goes even further with his promise; see 21a]

   Yet even those not initiated by such a master are assured of the benevolent protection and guidance of many helping presences in the unseen realms. We are not alone.

   St. Ambrose, when dying, was asked if he feared the judgements of God. He simply replied, "We have a good Master."

   PB continues speaking, however, of the highest viewpoint:

   "The wise man lives secretly in the even, sorrow-soothing knowledge of the Oneness, and remains undisturbed by the inevitable and incessant changes in life. From this lofty standpoint, the tenet of rebirth sinks to secondary place in the scale of importance. What does it matter whether one descends or not into the flesh if one always keeps resolute hold of the timeless Now? It can matter only to the little "I," to the ignorant victim of ephemeral hopes and ephemeral fears, not to the larger "I AM" which smiles down upon it."


   "[The] desire to perpetuate the present state of the person in some eternal; post-mortem heaven fades away naturally as the illusion of the person itself fades away." (22)

   This last paragraph is what it is all about, but it could make some advaitists happy who teach that at death everyone, saint or sinner, goes directly back into the non-dual Supreme, consciousness itself, which is already the case even before death, only without realization. So nothing really changes and no one goes anywhere. Yet this is only one view - that there is the One Self behind all perishable individual selves, and no immortal and infinite Souls, distinct but not-separate eternal verities within the totality of Reality.

   In any case the most ancient doctrine holds that all levels or planes interpenetrate, with conceivably many planes which are states of vibration of the universal energy, occupying the same point of space, without comingling, as stated previously. and are one with the non-dual truth of the Absolute, Mind, or Brahman. There is nothing to be negated. There is mystery. There is a hierarchy within relativity with many planes of existence. We do not just go directly into the 'soup' of undifferentiated consciousness after death; if he we do it is in graduated stages - nor is it forever, even if liberated. Unless we so choose. Moreover, it is all Love. So say many sages.

   Some thoughts of Ramana Maharishi

   Ramana had this to say about the concept of no survival of consciousness without a body after death:

   Question: Then when we leave this body, that is when the ego leaves it, will it (the ego) immediately grasp another body?
   Bhagavan: Oh, yes, it must. It cannot exist without a body.
   Question: What sort of a body will it grasp then?
   Bhagavan: Either a physical body or a subtle-mental body. (23)

   So right there he makes his position clear that it is the ego that needs a body to survive, not consciousness or the soul, and that, in fact, the ego will continue for a time in its subtle body before the 'second death,' when that dissolves into its subtle elements when it is time for reincarnation. However, it should be noted that Ramana, while frequently critiquing the 'astral' worlds as being secondary, irrelevant, or only existing in the mind or the 'Self', does not speak much about higher noetic worlds and formless dimensions beyond these, in which ego and mind as we know it does not function, where, while not yet nondual Brahman according to the vedanta, are still 'realms' where separation and subject-object distinctions no longer persist as we know them. Thus, his treatment of life after death seems rather cursory in comparison, say, to that of Daskalos, or the esoteric Christian and Sant Mat traditions. However, we shall have some concluding remarks later from Ramana to clarify his perspective on Absolute versus relative reality. This article is mainly about the relative dimension, which includes every level up to that of the free soul and God, which as a realization, and not just as a concept, is pretty high from where most of us are standing right now].

   He succinctly sums up the possibilities after death:

   “Some are born immediately after; others only after the lapse of some time; a few are not reborn on this earth but get salvation from the higher regions, and a very few get absorbed here and now.” (24)

   This statement is, imo, rather unique in Ramana’s teachings; he usually did not seem to hold that liberation was possible from higher regions. Here, however, he concurs with a number of other teachings and teachers (i.e., the Sufism of Irena Tweedie’s guru, Bhai Sahib (”There are other lokas where one is not subject to rebirth”); Sant Mat, and various Buddhist schools). This should be of some comfort to those intimidated by the uncompromising character of the advaita approach. Sant Mat guru Baba Sawan Singh states:

   “If, due to some adverse conditions, much time has not been given to the Current – but there has been a strong love for the Master and a wish to go within – even then rebirth is not given. The soul is taken to Trikuti or Daswan Dwar and made to make up the deficiency there and, in time, taken further up, to the end of the journey…[But even] if you are not able to put in much labor, try to develop love for a mahatma or for a realized soul. If you really love a saint or mahatma, then - asleep or awake - you always think of him. Where would you go after death? You go to the place of the person on whom your thoughts have been dwelling all along.” (Spiritual Gems, letter 13)

   Other thoughts on all this

   Schools are divided whether there is actually complete dispersal of all elements or whether the same ego and subtle body (antahkarana) continues from life to life, with only the gross personality dispersing.

   For the Tibetan Buddhists, there are three types of persons who will reincarnate immediately upon physical death. The first is a realized adept who chooses to do so for the purpose of uninterruptedly serving others as a boddhisattva. The second would be a very highly advanced person who wishes to progress in the most rapid fashion to full enlightenment. The third is the more unfortunate soul who is sent back without experiencing the bardo at all (myshams med pa lnga - "without an interval") as a punishment for committing one of the five so-called grave deeds: killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing a realized being, malevolently causing a buddha's body to bleed, and sowing discord among the sangha, all of which require an immediate karmic retribution. The reader can judge for himself how much of this is traditional superstition, scare tactics, or may actually be real. Such a person doesn't even go to one of the hells, which it is hard to see as a better option than immediate rebirth! However, it is considered better in the sense that it is a place of learning and karmic expiation, perhaps in a shorter time than in subsequent incarnations. By the way, Daskalos wrote that he got the sense that some 'hells' were 'below' the earth. I got that impression, too, through several nighttime experiences many years ago. [Up, down, higher and lower, truly have little meaning from the point of view of the mind, only the body; the planes are not actually stacked one upon the other in a spatial way, they may occupy the same 'space' (cidakasa), the only separation among them being the rate of vibration of each. But it is interesting that one will feel as if he is ascending, and along similar lines it is also curious when people have a classic operating room out-of-body experience, they always seem to be on the ceiling looking down on the scene in the room, and never from below; why/how is that?]

   Daskalos has a refeshing view of hells, that they serve a purpose of education and evolution (whereas in Catholicism only purgatory has that role):

   "You should never assume that the so-called hells are some kind of psychic torture chambers. The hells - and purgatories are schools and workshops for the acquisition of experiences so that human entities may ascend towards their perfection. In reality there is no punishment. There is only experience. If there is suffering it is not because the Absolute wishes to punish us for our transgressions but so that we can find out who we really are." (25)

   Interestingly, while there are many accounts of NDE's by Christians and others of transports to or previews of such realms, Jesus, in all his recorded canonical sayings at least did not ever mention the word Hell per se (26) St. Paul and other priest-scribes, it may be assumed, must be accountable for such ancient Zoroastrian fire and brimstone teachings in the Bible. Much explaining needs to be done!

   To see any of the inner realms clearly, as in this present one, requires some degree of maturity. As PB wrote:

   "It is all like a gigantic dream, with every human inserting his own private dream inside the public one. A double spell has to be broken before reality can be glimpsed - the spell which the world(s) lays upon us and that which self lays upon us. The man who has completely awakened from this spell is the man who has gained complete insight. This faculty is nothing other than such full wakefulness. It is immensely difficult to attain, which is why so few of the dreamers ever wake up at all and why so many will not even listen to the revelations of the awakened ones." (27)

   What he is saying, with Daskalos, is that on the inside the elementals that make up the personal self created during life plays a more intrusive role than when one is anchored to the physical body in the gross world; let loose in the inner regions, they can exist as an overlay on the actual, relatively objective (although ultimately Subjective) worlds that exist there. On the other hand, he gives the hopeful words that those who are subject to mental illness while alive will not be so afflicted once they are out of the physical body, for though such illness is caused by elementals disrupting their psychonoetic bodies, once freed from the gross material form, the tormented brain will bother them no more, and the problems with their other bodies will be dispersed in various ways with the help of the always present 'invisible helpers'..

   The question remaining is, as Shakespeare wrote, "in that sleep what dreams may come?" That is to say, what is the nature of the consciousness that prevails in those intermediate states between death and rebirth: Is it hazy and dreamlike? Is it vivid and self-conscious? Are there beings 'trapped' for long periods of time in some of these 'regions', such that one of the ministrations of these great souls is necessary to help and guide the misfortunate (and fortunate) ones a step further along in their spiritual destiny? In some cases, it seems that perhaps all of these are true.

   In both Sant Mat, and some Buddhist teachings, as mentioned, it is also said that for souls with a great Master, spiritual progress towards liberation from the inner realms may even, to some degree, be possible after death, depending upon ones prior development and the grace of the guide. Paramhansa Yogananda in fact said that most prepared souls achieve their freedom from the inner realms. Jesus assured his disciples of this also when he said “in my Father’s house there are many mansions, I go to prepare a place for you,” etc..

   Sant Kirpal Singh makes this clear:

   "The initiates have a great concession: at the time of death, your Master will come to receive you, and not the angel of death. He usually appears several days or weeks before death to advise you of your coming departure from this world. I'm talking about those who keep the precepts! For those who do nothing with the gift of Naam, he may or may not appear before they leave the body...In your final moments, and much beforehand if you have gained proficiency in meditation, Master's radiant form will take you to a higher stage where you can make further progress. At the time of death the initiate will be as happy as a bride on her day of marriage! He may then place you in the first, second or third stage, or he may take you direct to Sach Khand. In some cases, where worldly desires and attachments are predominant, he will allow rebirth, but in circumstances more congenial for spiritual growth." (28)

   There is mention in Buddhism of the possibility of progression and liberation from the 'pure abodes' (higher subtle realms of form) after death. They also speak of liberated realms beyond these for the advanced disciple or sravaka, pratyekabuddha, bodhisattva, and Buddha. For the first two of these beings there might be correspondence in Sant Mat with the inner planes Daswan Dwar and Bhanwar Gupta, i.e., which are beyond the three worlds and bodies, beyond ego, and as such a relative liberation but not yet nondual realization. For the last two there would be Sach Khand and beyond, where pure non-duality begins - as far as planes go on paths of inversion. We say 'as far as planes go', because nonduality is the essence of all planes, and can be realized anywhere, although it is traditionally actualized first on the spiritual level and then filtering down into the manifold vehicles.


   Sundar Singh describes one particular case that may of interest to those who are inclined to analytically read too many articles of this type (!)


   "The soul of a German philosopher entered into the world of spirits and saw from afar the incomparable glory of the spiritual world, and the boundless happiness of its people. He was delighted with what he saw, but his stubborn intellectualism stood in the way of his entering into it, and enjoying its happiness. Instead of admitting that it was real, he argued thus with himself, "There is no doubt at all that I see all this, but what proof is there that it has objective existence, and is not some illusion conjured up by my mind? From end to end of all this scene I will apply the tests of logic, philosophy and science, and then only will I be convinced that it has a reality of its own, and is no illusion." Then the angels answered him, "It is evident from your speech that your intellectualism has warped your whole nature, for as spiritual, and not bodily, eyes are needed to see the spiritual world, so spiritual understanding is necessary to comprehend its reality, and not mental exercises in the fundamentals of logic and philosophy. Your science that deals with material facts has been left behind with your physical skull and brain in the World. Here, only that spiritual wisdom is of use which arises out of the fear and love of God." Then said one of the angels to another, "What a pity it is that people forget that precious word of our Lord, 'Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven' (Matt. 18:3). I asked one of the angels what the end of this man would be, and he replied "If this man's life had been altogether bad, then he would at once have joined the spirits of darkness, but he is not without a moral sense, so for a very long time he will wander blindly round in the dim light of the lower parts of the intermediate state, and keep on bumping his philosophical head, until tired of his foolishness, he repents. Then he will be ready to receive the necessary instruction from the angels appointed for that purpose, and, when instructed, will he be fit to enter into the fuller light of God in the higher sphere."

   "In one sense the whole of infinite space, filled as it is with the presence of God, who is Spirit, is a spiritual world. In another sense, the World also is a spiritual world, for its inhabitants are spirits clothed with human bodies. But there is yet another world of spirits after they leave the body at death. This is an intermediate state -- a state between the glory and light of the highest heavens, and the dimness and darkness of the lowest hells. In it are innumerable planes of existence, and the soul is conducted to that plane for which its progress in the World has fitted it. There, angels especially appointed to this work, instruct it for a time, that may be long or short, before it goes on to join the society of those spirits -- good spirits in the greater light, or evil spirits in the greater darkness -- that are like in nature and in mind to itself."

   The message of this passage is, humility, first and last, and that human intellect can only take one so far.

   In Tibetan Buddhism, the first possibility mentioned previously, 'hazy and dreamlike,' pertains to the state of the average person and which they sometimes simply call 'the bardo', as opposed to the six manifested realms (three higher and three lower) where one can take rebirth. On the other hand, NDE's of people who have reported to having been in the presence of Jesus, or other masters, have said their experiences were much more vivid than anything experienced here on earth (which doesn't necessarily mean they were ultimately more real).

   According to PB, the highest the unenlightened person can reach is the third heaven, which might be something like the Devachan of Theosophy, Sukhavati of the Buddhists, the Paradise of the traditions, or higher astral and lower mental realms, and it is generally said, as previously mentioned, that full enlightenment or nondual realization can only be attained while in the waking state on earth; that Nature would eventually bring back even advance mystics here to complete their development.

   This may or may not be so. We humbly submit that there is not sufficient data in the inheritance of our spiritual heritage to definitively say this is true in all situations.

   In any case, some souls may drift in and out of consciousness in the afterlife, just as in life, and for them part of their experiences of these worlds may be 'hazy and dreamlike.' For those more advanced, the higher mental realms are definitely more vivid, and in the realms beyond these, on the borderland of the form and the formless, the experiences are extremely clear and communication between souls might be said to be by merger with meanings directly intuited without any mental decoding necessary. The higher formless Sambhogaya 'realms,' penultimate realms within relativity, while not the non-dual Dharmakaya itself, are unattainable except for the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, that is, by those who are awakened in life to a significant or ultimate degree.

   While there might be said to be some truth to the argument that it is absurd to talk of realizing the 'deathless' after death (the 'deathless' itself being beyond birth and death'), nevertheless saints and some of the sages say that that very thing is possible, although perhaps rare, inasmuch as the non-dual reality being the case at all times and places. Truth is stranger than our philosophy sometimes. In general, however, philosophy says that the present waking-state man-body is the best place for us to realize the truth -some say the only place, for a number of reasons.

   Not that it is ultimately consoling for one with the right attitude and view, the possibility that there is some intermediate relative experience after physical death is hard to argue with, given even the overwhelming accumulated evidence of NDE research, including some of the more spectacular cases, such as that of Mellon-Thomas Benedict, and those in persons in whom all vital signs and brain activity have been completely absent, including this recent one by a nonbelieving neurosugeon, as well as accounts by those accomplished in mysticism, or initiated by a great Master and being given a preview, have reported being transported - not in dream or mere psychic vision - but in actuality, to such planes and bardos, and, the silver cord (whatever that may actually be - supposedly an etheric link with the physical body) not yet being broken, returning to tell of what they have seen, seems to mitigate in favor of afterlife experience. In Tibet such a person who dies for a period of time (meaning all physical signs of life being absent), whether hours or days, and travels to the bardos and back, is known as a delog. The actual death process is complete, although a slight warmth is still felt in the heart region, indicating final severance has not occured - even though heart-beat and life processes have istopped. There are many such accounts of having a spirit guide, including Green Tara or Avalokitesvara, escort one through the after death realms, heavens and hells and even beyond, in full consciousness. A number of disciples of Kirpal Singh told me they were carried in mediation as if in a 'protective bubble' by the master see various hell realms. In Tibet, moreover, they have a phrase for the grace and help such an enlightened lama or guru gives to those stagnating in the lower realms and even hell, taking them under his wing, so to speak, with boundless light illuminating the darkness, to either a higher plane or into a propitious rebirth, known as “Dredging the Depths of Cyclic Existence.” Indeed, the so-called ‘harrowing of hell’ does not seem to be restricted to Christianity. This phrase has been interpreted variously by theologians from the Gospel accounts as the release of trapped souls between the time of Christ’s descent into hell and his resurrection. However, Delog Dawa Dropla writes, in the book Delog, of her visionary journeys in the bardos where she saw similar intercession of great saints and lamas for otherwise helplessly waylaid souls:

   “…as he [lama Gyurmed Dorje] sang, a light from his heart shone like a moon-beam. The very instant it flooded all the hell realms, the sounds of misery and crying abruptly stopped. The denizens of the hells stood staring wide-eyed, filled with apprehension. Even Dharmaraja [the Lord of Death] disappeared for a brief moment. The lama passed on, leading some twelve thousand beings to the realm of Potala, whether they had a connection to him or not….As well, there appeared a lama of the district of Nywgrong, one Yeshe Dorje,his body shining with a radiance that was difficult to withstand, surrounded by a retinue of many dakas and dakinis…Light shone forth and flooded the eighteen realms of the hells. Then the lama led some twenty thousand people, lamas, monks, and laypeople, even beggars and blind people, to the realm of the Copper-Colored Mountain of Glory… [the Pure Land of Padmasambhava]. (29a)

   Dawa Drolma further writes:

   “The compassion of Avalokiteshvara brings beings in the hell realms to complete spiritual maturity. Having taken the form of a universal monarch dwelling entirely at ease in a pleasure grove in a city of pretas, he grants a soothing coolness to those tormented by fire and transforms all the pits of fire into lotus ponds.” (29b)

   Sant Kirpal Singh writes in Life and Death:

   “Though Saints are living models of humility and do not speak of the great authority that is theirs, yet at times they indirectly refer to the saving power of the Saints gone before them. The scriptures reveal that Sant Satguru Nanak rescued one of His disciples who somehow wandered astray hell-ward. The Holy One had to visit hell for a lost sheep, and dip His thumb in the molten fired of hell, cooling down the entire hell-furnace, giving relief not only to one but many sinner souls howling piteously in great distress. Similar instances occurred in the time of Raja Janak and others as well. Once Hazur, my Master, too, had to pull out one of His disciples who was staying downwards.” (29c)

   While it is possible that there is some exaggeration and/or allegory in these accounts - i.e., in Tibetan Buddhism there are not only hot hells but also ‘cold’ hells! - it is unlikely that all of these great saints and sages were deluded or misleading us. Therefore it is humorous to see the continuing barrage of sceptical, 'authoritative' declarations by scientists speaking of the impossibility of such experiences, or that they are only products of the brain. A recent more or less almost 'positive' such study concluded that while we do not know what causes NDE's, etc., we know know that human consciousness "continues for a few hours after death, albeit in a hibernated state we cannot see from the outside.” A few hours?! The Tibetans, Sikhs and others have been exiting their 'dead' bodies, even for days at a time, yet researcher themselves living a 'blind life in the brain', on the outside looking in, are bold enough to offer speculations on life after death?


   To recap, the usual description of what happens to the average person after death is that, after an initial swoon into unconsciousness, a rejuvenating post death slumber in which the incarnating portion of the soul sleeps in the 'cocoon' of the etheric body in total security and rest (a Hindu maxim says, "Not even the Gods on their high thrones have any power or dominion over the sleeping souls"), although in its initial stages only it can be interrupted or disturbed either by loved ones pleading for its return to life or its own troublesome thoughts (just as research shows that a baby in the womb may become traumatized), after which one 'awakens' either in a pre-astral region, or, having passed through a 'tunnel', enters such a place, where a 'life review' may occur - it actually being ones own higher or true self, the divine I Am or Overself, that witnesses the salient features of the past lifetime, which, after one acclimates to and is welcomed into his new surrounding (much as a newborn baby does not become fully aware or conscious all at once, but in fact takes two years or more; the same is so in all transitions in Nature, they are gradual processes), one then advances to the appropriate plane of existence according to one's karma or level of conscious development in life, for a period of time, perhaps many years or decades, where a purposeful after-life processing and learning goes on, presided over by the "permanent personality," the term of Daskalos' referring to a combination of the vijnanomaya-anandamaya koshas and similar to Aurobindo's 'psychic being', but in planes where one may commune with kindred spirits of a similar vibration level, before one eventually outgrows the usefulness of the astral or psycho-noetic life and begins to enter a second slumber or period of deep, restful sleep, the initial stages of which are ones of spiritual digestion and assimilation, of retrospection, manifestation of latent powers, reconstruction, and unfoldment, eliminating a little each life through remorse and recompense of what is worst in oneself, and adding many desirable characteristics, as Yogi Ramacharaka states, "unfolded in the rich spiritual soil of the higher planes, aided by the Sun of Spirit which envelops the soul there," before one passes deeper into the necessary rejuvenating sleep where the elements of ones subtle bodies disperse, and one is finally reborn in a newly formed triple-body, shaped by the Archangels of the elements, with a seed-atom of the permanent-personality planted in the heart, devoid of previous memory except fading reminisces of celestial glory, but in which the previous character, intelligence, and evolutionary stage gradually manifesting themselves. Sensitive souls may retrieve memories from the Universal Mind where all is stored, but it is Divine mercy that we are generally confined to forget past lives in order to make the current life tolerable. It is not necessary to know such things.

   [Please do not hold us to too rigid a definition of 'soul' here. Suffice it to say that for the unliberated being (for lack of a better word, realizing that 'for the 'great souled one', as the nondual classic the Ashtavakra Gita says, such terms as liberation and bondage have ceased to have any ultimate meaning), the unborn Self or Soul puts forth an incarnating emanent of itself that experiences varying degrees of limitation in order to arrive at self-consciousness, or develop a self-conscious entity, which did not exist before, and such limitations must be respected even while they are lifted one by one. Whether a person in any one life 'prepares himself' in the traditional sense first, and then gets awakened, or has a glimpse of awakening first, and then 'prepares or matures himself' so to speak naturally through time, is a question no one can answer, nor is there likely a choice in the matter. The work will get done, one way or another. This (despite any appearances to the contrary) being a practical essay, and not a treatise on ultimate reality or an ultimate point of view - we are merely attempting to gather some insights on the topic of birth and death not often found in one place for the reader's own investigation, and in order to take the edge off what may be unnecessary fear underlying the issue - even for the unenlightened. Our preferred view is that it is all a natural process].

   Thus, as in nature, so in life and death there are built-in pauses between each transition and no abrupt changes. As a baby spends necessary time in the womb, so the dying person first sleeps in the womb of the etheric body, and the person in the second death or slumber is in a similar chrysalis state revitalizing for a future birth. The only exception to the former may be the disciple of a competent master who will pull his initiate directly up at the time of death via the Shabda Brahman or sound current, or by concentration on his Form, to a higher state without the agency of the usual forces of Nature. Such a master is said to also 'transfer the life records' from Dharma Raja, Yama the god of death, or 'the Lords of Karma' into his own caretaking, dispensing the appropriate justice and grace as the soul requires. So it is said, and is within the experience of many who have the eyes to see. This, by the way, does not invalidate the teaching that it is ultimately ones own soul that oversees the life review, etc.. A broader view of things is required here.

   In the Buddhist canon, the teachings of Sant Mat, and the words of saints such as Paramahansa Yogananda and others, then, it has been said that in some cases one can actually attain liberation from an after death plane, with Yogananda seemingly alone in saying that this is the actually most common occurrence. Yogi Ramacharaka also maintains that some souls will shed all that remains of the sheaths of earth desire and rise to higher planes where they will work out their liberation, in worlds more glorious than the mortal mind can conceive. The beauty of even the higher astral worlds is such that the the Masters of Sant Mat, whose abode is far above, say that the radiant subtle or one might say 'Sambhogakaya' form of the Master is so enrapturing "that even the saints take delight in it." As Ramacharaka puts it:

   "Blessed indeed is the soul which awakens from the second soul-slumber and finds itself in even the most humble of these exhalted states. Even the wisest sage bows his head in reverence at the mention of such spheres of existence, which transcend even the human imagination." (30)

   This conception is in obvious contradiction to teachings that say that only in the full waking state is liberation possible, for reasons to be considered in a future essay. And we must also ponder the words of Christ, i.e., "work while it is day, and not in the night, when no man can work." This may reflect the influence of the early mystery centers, such as in the Lesser Mysteries of the Eleusinian school, which essentially held that man was no better or worse after death than he is in life, and that if he does not rise above his ignorance during his sojourn here, at death he goes to wander about for eternity making the same mistakes which he made here. Though the doctrine of reincarnation was present, even within the early Christians, this all or nothing message continued to be promulgated for centuries. It appears, however, that the 'custodians of wisdom' have released a bit more of the esoteric teachings since then, with the afterlife not such a cut and dried experience. Some 'work' does go on after death, due to the impulse of the evolutionary World Idea and countless spiritual 'helpers', not the least of which is the help of a realized master whom which one has established an intimate link, and who will not only help with the immediate passage of death but also arrange, it is said, one's placement in the subtle realms, as well as transferring control of ones karmas, especially thesanchit or storehouse karmas, from the angel or Lord of Death to the Master.

   In any case, the caveat is usually given that, even if liberation after death were possible, as suggested, it is much quicker to attain such release in the physical world than the inner realms, for the reason being that here life lessons are etched in stone and experienced more unavoidably and directly, and, for the Vedantin, the full experience of the three states of waking, dream, and deep sleep are available for our comprehension and realization of turiya, whereas in the higher inner worlds, while the experiences for those who are conscious are indeed more luminous and vivid, they are also more consoling than those experienced here, and therefore without or even with the help of an enlightened Master there is less incentive to engage spiritual practice. It is also harder, although difficult to explain, for one to actually awaken to the essential subjectivity characteristic of realisation, the objective pull of visionary phenomena being comparatively so great. In other words, whatever 'consciousness' one does have, for whatever period of time, is not free of objectivity. It may be conscious, but it is not awake in the ultimate sense. In this light, Kirpal Singh said that the progress one can make during one's earthly sojourn in a matter of weeks could take hundreds of years on the inner planes. One must take this warning somewhat imaginatively, as the sense of time is also different there. But this is why most serious practitioners, and their masters, would prefer they take rebirth, in order to regain union with their Beloved much faster. Even the gods - and countless souls - are said by those with such capacity of vision to be literally 'lined up' awaiting a human birth.

   That being said, might it not be rather presumptuous, is it not, to assume that out of all the billions of planets and solar systems in (our) universe alone, that this is the only place, planet, or plane where one can live, evolve, and awaken in?

   Of course, as said many times, the whole affair is mysterious and paradoxical.

   In many traditions, such as high Buddhism, Western esotericism (theosophy), Sant Mat, and Sufism, it is said that there are stages after reaching that of jivanmukti or human liberation in life. These are beyond human conception, and are said to have to do with a number of things: further unification of the non-dual state with the relative levels of the various bodies, for the sake of enhancement of the bodhisattva role or ability to serve others; advanced levels of development within the Divine Plan ("the journey in God, versus the "journey to God"), serving the greater Purpose in various ways. For instance, the system of the Buddha had seven initiations, of which that of the liberated Arhat, was only the fourth. There is liberation conceived as an inner freedom, and liberation conceived as freedom from karmas. Some stages, according to the Buddha, were only traversable after karma was eradicated. Further, it is said that this globe is not the highest sphere in creation, and there are worlds upon worlds in creation to which the life-wave may pass, i.e., "There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio." If all this be true, then there are surely possibilities of spiritual awakening that do not require the need for a physical body.

   It might also be mentioned that the 'inner' realms or 'higher' regions are not, strictly speaking, merely in ones 'mind,' that is, they are not entirely subjective, although they may be said to be within 'Mind', as is also the present existence. Each of them are, as was ecstatically told me years ago by an advanced Sant Mat initiate, "both a state of consciousness and a region," on entry to which "you die and are born again - it's so perfect!" This is why even enlightened saints and sages can visit or take their abode there, and not be in mere illusion: these realms or states are real, in the sense that they are supported by the World-Mind (PB), or the Divine Logos, or 'apara-Brahman'. They may, as suggested, be experienced from both an enlightened and unenlightened point of view, as our earth plane might be. That is, one may see them in ultimate subjectivity, that is, non-dually, as manifestations of Mind, the Supreme Self, one's ultimate Overself, or they can be experienced as apparently real 'personal' experiences. Ramana said that they exist, but that they were 'as real as you are.' That, however, goes for the sublime formless realms as well - where the sense of unity, universality and infinity may well be a greater challenge for one's discriminative powers between this highest level of relativity and the truly non-dual than it is here on earth. The realization at the level of buddhi, for instance, was spoken of by H.P. Blavatsky as "duality without separation." Anthony Damiani described the 'archtypal realm of formless reason principles' as being a plane with "no subject-object distinctions, where being and knowing are one". Yet even this is not yet full nondual consciousness. How many are capable of distinguishing among these lofty states? It obviously requires great maturity.

   More from Ramana

   Now the further words from Ramana that we promised. In many schools there is recognized an intermediary, an enlightened presence within relativity 'between' the gross empirical worlds and ultimate reality or Brahman, which has been called Cosmic Christ, Adi Buddha, Isvara, the 'Current', and many other names. It is said that one way or another one must go through this intermediary, which relates to the reality of the soul, that one can not simply jump into attributeless Brahman. Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father but through Me." He meant through this enlightened presence within relativity. Now, Ramana clearly distinguished between ultimate reality or Brahman, and Isvara, otherwise known as God. He doesn't casually dismiss it, as it is surely as real or more real than what we usually experience, and worthy of veneration and respect and has been so since the dawn of man. The liberated sage is said to go 'beyond' even this, but it is certainly not to be imagined that one will miss out on any of the grandeur, peace, love, beauty, and joy of divinity. This is a very high spiritual stage. Some would argue a necessary penultimate stage. All right, what does Ramana say? He says:

   Question: Is there a separate being Iswara [personal God] who is the rewarder of virtue and punisher of sins? Is there a God?
   Bhagavan: Yes.
   Question: What is he like?
   Bhagavan: Iswara has individuality in mind and body, which are perishable, but at the same time he has also the transcendental consciousness and liberation inwardly. Iswara, the personal God, the supreme creator of the universe really does exist. But this is true only from the relative standpoint of those who have not realized the truth, those people who believe in the reality of individual souls [we prefer to say, ‘who have only realized as far as the soul’, to avoid the implication that this is only a matter of thoughts, concepts, or beliefs] . From the absolute standpoint the sage cannot accept any other existence than the impersonal Self, one and formless. Iswara has a body, a form and a name, but it is not so gross as this material body. It can be seen in visions in the form created by the devotee. [and also manifests itself to the devotee as well] The forms and names of God are many and various and differ with each religion. His essence is the same as ours, the real Self being only one and without form. Hence forms he assumes are only creations or appearances. Iswara is immanent in every person and every object throughout the universe. The totality of all things and beings constitutes God. There is a power out of which a small fraction has become all this universe, and the remainder is in reserve. Both this reserve power plus the manifested power as [all the worlds] together constitute Iswara. (31)

   This is the World-Mind of PB and the ultimate Deity of religion and mysticism. It itself knows Brahman. To get this far may be considered the next to last stage on the gnana path or Vedanta, but a lofty realization (i.e., 'making real') it is. It requires realization of the soul or Overself, for PB our impersonal yet individual, infinite subjectivity, which is said to be eternally rooted in or united with an 'Absolute I Am or Universal Subjectivity beyond any relative sense of duality. For Meister Eckhart this would be the Ground of the Soul and the Ground of Godhead. In itself the Overself transcends birth and death, time and space. However, it also has , says PB, a 'demi-divine' aspect that is in historical relation with the human ego. Therefore it never radically abandons its progeny. So there is much to look forward to. We say this both compassionately and a bit tongue-in-cheek, for the price of admission remains: your mind, your ego.

   The Absolute' may not be such a good word, after all, because it implies its opposite, the Relative, while nondual Brahman is said to be beyond all categorizations, including being 'One'. In true nondual realization, moreover, it is suggested that nothing is excluded, including the soul and God! The link to essays on the teaching of anadi in the Appendix directs one to a discussion of this possibility. The point being made is that it is not 'all or nothing.' The non-dual reality, emptiness/consciousness/intelligence, makes room for stages, growth, bodies, planes, and evolution, as well as even a holarchy of beings and helpers. We are not speaking of whether or not any of this is necessary; perhaps the best we can say is just that, "things are as they are." So, no worries today about Nirvana, or nondual Brahman. A little faith, love, and kindness, and we are "on the road to find out", as Cat Stevens sang.


   Returning to our previous discussion of experiencing realms or seeing phenomena from a personal, dreamlike perspective, and not as they are in truth, when this writer first began to practice meditation in 1970, at the age of twenty-one, he had a few interesting nighttime experiences. A couple of times he was drawn up towards the crown of the head by the ecstatic sound of the Big Bell. At other times, on several occasions, he felt myself concentrated in the head, somewhat separated from the gross body, but then strongly pulled within and down - wherever that was - like the bad guy in the movie Ghost. He heard terrifying ghoulish sounds along with classic ball and chain noises, groans, etc...Having just read the Bardo Thodol, or the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and remembering the admonition contained therein to see everything as a manifestation of ones own mind, he tried as best he could to remain calm and contemplate what he was experiencing in that manner. Unfortunately, it didn't work! What was later realised was that the identity of 'I' at the time was on the same level as that which it was experiencing, and was therefore very much part of what was a much more vivid-than-dream experience. Finally, out of stark fear he began yelling and begging the guru for his mercy and help. Eventually he came back from wherever he was, sweating and stunned. This is just two cents on how real unreality can appear, and the need for genuine spiritual practice and organic growth of understanding.

   There are also said to be what have been termed by Sri Aurobindo, 'annexes of the subtle regions,' which are personal subjective hells within the more 'objective' realms that are themselves within the ultimate Subjectivity or Mind. This was partly addressed by the quote from PB given above. These are places in which, as C.S. Lewis once phrased it, where people are 'so afraid of being taken in that they can't be taken out.' Fortunately, such private 'annexes' have a limited lifespan, eventually disperse and the soul moves on.

   Whereas 'hells' are generally in the literature considered to be sub-planes of the lower astral realms, it should be mentioned that Daskalos, for one, and others have said that there are such realms 'below' the earth, whatever that means. According to Daskalos and PB, there is also an etheric or psychic band around this very earth that is composed of the tormented thought-forms of beings trapped therein by their own negative and violent vibrations. Daskalos termed this place "the Scream". It is under the care of angelic beings, but we (humanity in general) have a major responsibility for its ongoing existence. It is something to take notice of, but not for anyone especially to worry about.

   Several researchers, such as at The Newton Institute are independently publishing their findings about LBL's ('Life Between Life') where they use unusually deep hypnotic trances, regress subjects back to the womb, stabilize them there, and then ask them to move back to the moment of death in the most recent life. From there they move them forward through the death experience and track the whole sequence of events and process between birth until the are born again in this life. Apparently they have done this with hundreds of people with fascinating results that tend to have strong similarities both between subjects and also independently working researchers. They are trying to develop a more objectively derived understanding of all this, free from religious and culture bias. Incidentally, the sequence of events during death only vaguely reflects the types of things that are discussed in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It may reflect a more 'normal' sequence of events, certainly for westerners, on the nature of the in-between life of the soul. Certainly to say that there is just a forty-nine day period between births is a cultural bias of the Tibetans, as this claim is contradicted by almost every other tradition. It may be an instant, a day, a year, or a thousand years, who can tell? [The same goes for the idea that it takes forty days for the etheric double to dissolve. In some traditions they advise cremation after three days, to prevent the soul from remaining attached to the physical body].

   Subjects at the Newton Institute commonly describe: the passage to the other side (with variations on how this happens), the expanded state of consciousness one has when out of the body and first reactions to passing over, standard moving towards the light episodes, encounter with family/friends/guides, entering into a healing phase if there were emotional and/or physical challenges or disease that was hard, going before a non-judgmental 'Council of Elders' to begin evaluation of the life just lived, and beginning to assimilate learning from those experiences, eventually moving on to higher planes and re-absorption back into one's soul group or spiritual family, life in the realms inhabited between births, meetings with others to plan the next incarnation, and the process of rebirth. Other topic subjects explored were whether there a hell, what happens with people who have lived very unwholesome lives, and so on. This all matches up well with mystic Daskalos' take on all this, a master who was unusually aware and active, even for an adept, in these lower to intermediate inner planes where all these kinds of things transpires for most people.

   For PB, while these things are accountable, it is largely ones own divine soul which passes judgement on its own emanation, engages the life review, and one even has some say in the circumstances of the future life, depending on how conscious an individual is. Otherwise, the many forces of nature have the larger hand in these affairs. This also the report of many sensitives. So the old view that after death cold, impersonal, and inexorable karma takes over upon which 'one is blown helplessly' with no personal input whatsoever may need broadening based on the much larger data base of experience that we have today.

   There are reasons for taking rebirth other than the force of karma, or the desire for making faster progress towards liberation, such as that of compassionate service for others. To some extent these are not matters of personal choice per se. It is really the soul that decides in each case. So say some sages.

   It has also been suggested, and as is discussed in Dying in the Master's Company, that some souls that remain unenlightened or not in nondual consciousness before death may in fact have no more earthly rebirths, while those who have realized nondual consciousness may in fact need future rebirths. Much apparently depending on karma. We are just reporting. In Buddhism they talk about the six realms of samsaric or deluded, suffering existence. However, as mentioned, they also speak of four eternal realms, much like in Sant Mat, that are beyond the cycles of birth and death. Even those who simply through virtue reach the 'Pure Abodes' (equivalent of higher psychonoetic or subtle realms of form, what to speak of 'pure Buddhafields' said to be manifested solely by virtue of a Realized being's enlightenment), may work thus out their liberation. Whereas it is said that some practitioners who enter formless states simply through technique and not wisdom and die in those states, although technically 'higher' than the pure realms of form, may not avoid rebirth because they have 'buried themselves in emptiness', without gaining compassion, and can not hear or practice the Dharma further. They may live as a kind of God in deep sleep but will eventually be forced to incarnate again in the human realm. This is an area where, it is said, the help of an adept Satguru again may come to one's aid so one can awaken further in the intermediate state or bardos.

   In conclusion, while it is true that in most cases one may not experience reality as-it-is while in the after-deaths realms, just as he hasn't in life [that is to say, completely from the perspective of the I AM or the soul, and not of the mind], to say that there is no awareness there, even periodically, seems unmerited. Ramana Maharshi, tending the death of his disciple Ganapati Muni, while he bemoaned that he had failed to attain mukti, testified that the latter had been reborn into a higher realm. Kirpal Singh, on the other hand, when aiding his wife's departure, at which time, riddled with cancer, she became radiant, sending forth peals of laughter and testifying to the sound of bells and the visions of masters within and without, said, when she had gone, that "She is more alive now than ever."


   One additional topic that has not been addressed and which we will only briefly touch upon is that of conscious death for the adept. In the yoga traditions there are several unique methods in which an accomplished master may choose to leave his body. One undergone by a particular sect of Himalyan yogis called hima-samadhi. In this form of exit the yogi slowly lets his body freeze in the icy cold of the snows until all life processes become numb and insensitive. Then he may employ another method that is also a stand-alone technique called Sthal-samadhi in which the yogi sits in posture and consciously opens up the fontanelle, exiting the body through the Bhrahmarhendra at the top of the skull. There may be a characteristic 'clicking sound' indicating what is known as the 'cracking of the skull'. Exit through the top of the head is considered by both Hindu and Buddhist yogis as auspicious in that it may avoid complications that may arise if the soul has to pass through the vast reservoir of the unconscious in the lower centers of the body. In Tibetan Buddhism they use powa transference to accomplish such an feat. For the Shabd yogin such an exit is natural due to the grace of the master and the sound current. He is automatically pulled through the crown of the head. Then there is the strange possibility that an aging yogi may choose, if the opportunity presents itself, to leave his body and take on that of another, such as that of a younger person who is dying or who has just died, and then reviving it. In such a case the new body will appear to have the same mannerisms of the original yogi, not the recently departed. This rare occasion is called para kaya pravesha. Finally, there is the also rare exit achieved by yogic concentration on the solar plexus whereby the inner fire is generated which reduces the body to ashes. This is mentioned in the Kathopanishad and the Mahakala Nidhipanishad. Then there are the spectacular cases mentioned in Tibetan Buddhism where the adept transforms or dematerializes the elements of his physical body into either a 'body of light' or the 'rainbow body' through the culmination of his complete actualization of his nondual practice and not strictly through yogic siddhi. These are things written about, none of which most of us have to worry much about!

   All of these examples were taken from Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama, who also adds these wise words of advice, "Birth and death are two events in life which are considered to be very minor according to the yogis and sages of the Himalayans." Have faith in God and just let go should be sufficient for most of us to accomplish. (32)


   Soul Death?

   A disturbing and relatively frightening concept put forth by anadi, however, pertains to a time-limit on the evolution of a 'dormant soul'; that one can, in fact, undergo actual 'soul-death' if he has not chosen the path of positive evolution by a certain number of lifetimes. I hesitate to include this because much of his teaching seems reasonable and I don't want to cast doubt on all of it with this one example. But he said it, not I. Yet, as PB said, those on the path are no doubt saved from such a destiny, as they have already chosen to evolve into the light. To quote anadi:    "It is a common misconception that to remember our original self is to bring into the present who we have always been. A seeker who unimaginatively follows the idea of self-remembrance may in fact falsely believe that he has already existed prior to this cycle of time as his perfect soul, which only by some inexplicable misfortune became lost in forgetfulness. In reality, however, prior to becoming lost in the dimension of ignorance, we did not exist at all [this at first glance appears to be somewhat similar to what PB - and many ancient mystery schools - postulated, that it is not the entirety of an eternal soul itself, but an emanant of that soul that incarnates and develops through a long process of evolution to know itself and its 'creator' consciously - something that it has never known before]. Indeed, forgetfulness is our very beginning. The task of the great remembrance is our destiny, the exalted realization of our divine potential. The soul is not our forgotten past, but our ultimate future."

   In other words, he appears to be siding with those who would suggest that there has been no 'fall', but an evolutionary process to grow into conscious union with the divine. This is also a critique of advaita. But is the advaita explanation really that foreign to what anadi says, or just a different model to explain our state of ignorance? Vedantist James Swartz says that the ever-conscious Self paradoxically can veil itself, and then manifest a lila in which either we or it 're-awakens' to itself. He qualifies this as being a 'relative' and not non-dual explanation. But Dzogchen and most advaita schools hold that the primordial unborn consciousness (both our true nature and that of the universe) is ever-awake, it doesn't need to re-awaken to itself. However, they also say 'we' (but who are 'we'?) made some mistakes of knowledge and became lost in samsara. They don't explain how that happened, or how our true nature can be ever-awake if we don't know it. These are traditionally considered to be among the 'imponderables'. But they do accept that that is in fact the case, and one had better recognize it, rather than go about repeating that everyone is already realized. This is considered a great error or even 'crime' in Tibetan Buddhism. Neither of these models delve into the why of the fall into ignorance, or even if there was a fall, only the way out. The why or how are considered to be questions 'not fit for edification.' Yet we ask it, because it has bearing on how we view or conceive of realization or enlightenment itself. Is the true immediate displacing element for the ego the divine soul, or ultimate reality? PB and anadi say the former, advaita usually the latter.

   Now here comes the difficult part to swallow. We are not saying it is false, only that we don't know and have no way of knowing - and venture that anadi has no way of knowing either - if it is true or not:

   "The dormant soul can remain inactive for many lifetimes before finally she becomes ready to awaken. Only in rare cases of evolutionary deformity does the soul never awaken. When she becomes permanently stagnated in her evolution, or serves the lower intelligence of darkness over the course of many lifetimes, an irreversible corruption of intelligence can occur that results in her total annihilation. She becomes extinct - lost forever. Like a seed failing to germinate after many seasons, she finally disintegrates."

   "Each soul has only a limited number of lifetimes in which to become activated before she withers away and dies. If the soul is lost like this, one's individuality is erased and its essence of I am dissolves back into the source of creation. It is not a punishment; it is as if one had never existed. Unless our sense of me solidifies through the birth of I am, continuity within the whole is not guaranteed."

   The ever-reliable PB also said something like this once:

   "He recognizes that the mysterious alchemy of life, working with the reincarnations, will take the most abandoned wretches and turn them into admirable creatures, although a few monsters of iniquity may be hurled into the outermost region of hell, and be annihilated." (34)

   Whether PB actually meant this literally I don't know; it is certainly only an extreme example, not the norm - especially for questors! PB also wrote that as far as he could see, as previously mentioned, the man Jesus - in the Gospels - never once mentioned hell, although he warned, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own (life) or (soul)? ” (Matt 16:26) Yet might not the latter statement generally mean the loss of an opportunity of awakening, and not obliteration?

   Yogi Ramacharaka, however, also spoke of this form of annihilation. He said there is a certain class of souls dwelling on the lowest astral planes that are:

   "degenerated and fallen souls - descended from a once higher state - who, if they fail to profit by the pains of the material life, are apt to tend still farther downward until kind Nature wipes them out as independent entities, and resolves them back to their original spiritual elements." (35)

   In this day of nondual teachings, an interesting question arises, "what is the difference from this form of annihilation and actual enlightenment?!" The suggestion from the traditions is that they are poles apart, enlightenment being the fruit of a conscious, individual evolution or unfolding in consciousness.

   We personally cannot accept the idea of 'annihilation' - which doesn't mean it isn't true, for where there is smoke there is usually some fire, or spark of truth. Yet, again, how could one ever know if such a thing were true or not? Supposedly only the advanced 'spiritual scientist' can know such things. Yet Paramhansa Yogananda protested:

   "Impossible!" he declared with absolute certainty. "The soul is part of God. How could any part of Him be destroyed?" (36)

   Daskalos says:

   "No one gets lost, no one has ever got lost, and no one will ever get lost as an ego-soul" [meaning Spirit-Being or Pneuma]. (37)

   However, regarding souls like that of a Hitler or Stalin:

   "There ego [soul] will not be dissolved. They will simply be put to sleep for a very long time and when their time comes to awaken they will move one step upward, but only one. Their ascent, or if you wish to call it their maturation, will be gradual and tiring." (38)

   Therefore, where there is smoke there may be fire. Daskalos, tells us that there is a form of oblivion, a sub-plane of those realms where certain souls may be sent, temporarily, for a specific purpose:

   "Erevos..is a form of psychonoetic abyss, which is not punishment but a necessary condition similar, I would say, to oblivion where their memories will be erased so that when they return to consciousness they will not remember anything. You will see that what separates the various worlds, the etheric of the gross material, the psychic and the noetic, is the veil of Erevos or abyss. When one enters there one ceases to remember, reflects no impressions, yet one knows one exists. Quite often human beings enter there during deep sleep. The ancient Greeks called it "The Dregs of the Water." It is a necessary condition to force human spirits that vibrate satanically, so to speak, to forget." (39)

   According to Daskalos, our Moon is also such a place. We know, sounds crazy, doesn't it? But "more things on heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio”...

   As mentioned earlier in this article in the article, there are teachings that maintain there are souls or helpers - besides the great Masters - dedicated to nurturing and aiding ‘lost’ souls that are, so to say, stranded through their own design in desolate places on the after-death planes. This was also confirmed by Bhai Sahib, Sufi Guru of Irena Tweedie, who once said, as an example,

   “Drunkards and gamblers go to a Loka where they drink and gamble. This world is not the worst one. Here you can make Karma. There you are helpless.”
   “But how can one get out of those places?”
   He shook his head. “Very difficult to get out of them. People do not get out; they are taken out.
   “Do you mean to say that there are souls appointed to do this work, to take out and help those who are in such places?”
   “Yes,” he said.”
(Daughter of Fire, p. 232)

   As you, dear reader, are likely not among such unfortunate souls, there is certainly ample hope for you, too.

   Perhaps the most egregious form of 'scare story', to continue, and from reputedly the oldest religion in the world - Jainism - pertains to that of the seven hells. It is said that one may go to any of the first six hells and come back, but if he goes to the seventh hell he will not come back. However, a question arises: how would one ever know if there was a seventh hell? If one says there is, he has been there, but if he has been there, he can't come back and tell about it!

   What anadi wrote may have been chiefly to serve as a goad to practice, as a form of 'scare-tactic' way, yet we have it on the words of Jesus that there is hope for the worst of sinners, and, as PB added, "if that is the case there is certainly hope for us all, who are probably not that bad." (40) He also wrote:

   "There are no lost souls, no individuals doomed to everlasting perdition. Nor are there saved souls, a favored group of God's elect. There are only ignorant or well-informed individuals, immature or mature beings, involved or evolved persons...Salvation is for all, the atheist and the devotee, the wicked and the good, the ignorant or the learned, the indifferent and earnest. It is only the time of its realization that is far off or near at hand but realization itself is certain....The New Testament parallels the Bhagavad Gita's promise of ultimate salvation for all, sinners and good alike. It says: "God willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:4) (41)

   And further:

   "We may take comfort in the fact that the Overself never at any moment abandons or obliterates the human personality, however debased it becomes. Nor could it do so, whatever foolish cults say to the contrary, for through this medium it finds an expression in time-space." (41a)

   Finally, St. John of the Cross writes in conformation regarding divine union:

   “…one should first know that God sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially, even though it may be the greatest sinner in the world. This union between God and creatures always exists. By it he conserves their being so that if the union should end they would immediately be annihilated and cease to exist. Consequently, in discussing union with God we are not discussing the substantial union that always exists, but the soul’s union with and transformation in God that does not always exist, except when there is likeness of love. We will call it the union of likeness; and the former, the essential worker r substantial union. The union of likeness is supernatural; the other, natural. The supernatural union exists when God’s will and the soul’s are in conformity, so that nothing in the one is repugnant to the other.” (42)

   So the consensus is that there will a little to worry about on this score. Some of this confusion may hinge on the interpretation one gives to the concept of the soul. For the ancient seers, the soul is an intangible, invisible presence, the unperceived perceiver, awareness or consciousness itself; you can't burn it or cut it, and it can't be destroyed or lost. It is not an object of experience, but the subject and source of experience. It is divine, and in itself never incarnates or limits itself. But it does, according to PB, apparently send forth an emanation of itself, a 'demi-divine' aspect that oversees a string of evolving incarnations. As such, says PB, it is our guardian angel, the hidden witness of all thoughts and deeds and aspirations, an eternal companion which never leaves us.

   Nisargadatta Maharaj likewise said:

   "In the course of time everything happens. All will come through, not a single soul (jiva) will be lost."

   In contrast to this universal message, the idiosyncratic statements by anadi (purported to be received through 'revelation'), conceivably could cast doubt on his entire enlightenment schema. The reader will make his own due diligence and draw his own conclusions about this matter. For our money, anyone in whom the thought of self-knowledge, or finding God, or Truth, is present, is already surely well on the path, going forwards, and need have no fear. Nor are such traditional questions as 'fitness' as applicable any longer. "The day in which the question of solving the mystery of life arises is the greatest day in a man's life. He in whom this question has arisen is fit, I tell you," said Kirpal Singh.

   And the Bhagavad Gita further tells us:

   “Whatever a person has meditated upon his whole life, that is what he remembers at the time of his death, and that is what he obtains in his next birth.” (8.6)

   Perhaps even this famous verse itself may raise questions, as some have read it and then fear that at the last minute they will 'forget.' Or wonder, what if one dies in an accident, or coma? Is it not more reasonable to assume that it is not only the 'last thought,' but rather the general trend of the mind, the state of evolution, and the presence of grace that affect one's next birth? The 'last thought' concept is an ancient Hindu teaching, some might say superstition, which only has merit if such a last thought is the only factor considered, and also in fact the habituated trend of the mind. But this is not so, at that time a number of factors are taken into account:

   "When the end of life comes and a man goes out of it like a candle in the wind, what then happens depends upon his character, his prevailing consciousness, his preparedness, and his last thoughts." (42a)

   Even in accident or coma one will reawaken once the link with the body is severed, and one's character as manifest in his deeper 'bodies' will go with him and in effect be his destiny (i.e., "character is fate"). If one has thought of and loved the Truth, or a Master, and/or lived a religious and philosophic life, one will naturally go where It, He, or the Soul places you. As all thoughts or ideas/things exist only in mind, and return to mind when they seem to disappear, just so as they are already in mind as such they do not really disappear. Similarly, scripture tells us that "The soul departed in the Lord does not die, it returns to God, who is the Giver of Life."

   In this light the following commentary on a stanza from Yoga Spandakarika, one of the most important texts of Kashmir Shivaism, by Daniel Odier is very hopeful:

   STANZA 38: "Even in a state of extreme weakness, such a tantrik succeeds in this accomplishment. Even starving, he finds his food." This is a stanza directed against those who claim that if one does not die harmoniously, one will experience terrifying reincarnations. This obsession was very strong at the time this text was written - and it remains so to this day! Many people are terrified at the idea of dying senile or of having a violent or sudden death. They have the impression that if their death is stolen from them, gone will be the possibility of moving on to something else that exists beyond. This creates a kind of terror in everyone, and even more so in people following a spiritual path, who are often irreparably affected by theist and eternalist concepts. Their greatest desire is to have a peaceful and progressive death. But it does not happen like that. Most people die in the hospital or in unforeseeable and tragic circumstances. Tantric masters have said that all of this is unimportant, and that from the moment we are in opening, even if we take complete leave of our senses, we preserve our innate spatiality. This is a very beautiful stanza because it rids us of the guilt feelings associated with worrying about dying badly and permits us, should the circumstances be difficult, to be unafraid of what will happen to us. This is meaningful when we stay with people who are dying. Often their state is not wonderful and their awareness is limited. We worry for ourselves and sometimes for them. But if understand in a deep way that this is not at all important, we will be present to their death in a much gentler way...Even if we cannot talk with them or they cannot hear us, we can help, because we are carrying them within us; they are resting in our tranquility." (43)

   This higher point of view is found in other traditions. G.V. Subbaramayya, a devotee of Ramana Maharishi, once told him of another devotee, Venkateswara Sastri, who had passed away in a seemingly auspicious manner:

   "I informed Sri Bhagavad how he had taken sannyasa shortly before his end. Then, sitting straight with crossed legs in the lotus posture, chanting 'Om' incessantly, he passed away in peace. Sri Bhagavan observed that such was the usual manner of a yogi's demise, and it indicated the ripeness of the departing soul.

   'But,' added Sri Bhagavad, 'a jnani is as indifferent to death as to life. Even if his physical condition should be the most wretched, even if he should be stricken with the most painful disease and die rolling on the ground, shrieking with pain, he remains unaffected. He is the jnani."

   A Buddhist sutra, Samyutta Nikaya, affirms that for one who has attained the first enlightened stage known as "Stream-Entry" (where one has a conscious glimpse of the truth of 'no-self-identity', even though not yet purified of the lower fetters such as lust and anger), the very power of Stream-Entry will assures him of liberation within seven lives, with no birth in the lower realms, regardless of whether or not his mind is cloudy at the time of death.

   Either way is supremely Good. There is thus no need to fear a 'first' - and far less, a 'second' or 'third' - death, for the matter is by then surely taken out of our hands. And, if the process of creation itself is a 'product' of love, as various traditions describe (see the "Christian metaphysics" of Jacob Boehme in the biography section of this website), where could one go? Only into the essence of himself, which is 'made' of love - the ground in which one 'lives, moves, and has his being', and which is also the reason one can never truly be separated from anything or anyone he has ever loved, despite the intellect's objections over appearances:

   "Love IS, of course, and remains the triumph over death, but that is not because it abolishes death but because it is itself death. Only in death is the total surrender that is love's possible, for only in death can we be exposed completely and without reserve. That is why lovers go so simply and unconcernedly to their death, for they are not entering a strange country; they are going into the inner chamber of love." (45)

   As the Psalmist says:

   "Where can I go from Your spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I descend to Hades, you are present; if I take the wing of the morning and dwell in the nethermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall hold me, and Your right hand shall hold me fast." - Psalm 138: 7-10


   “I am as sure as I live that nothing is so near to me as God. God is nearer to me than I am to myself; my existence depends on the nearness and the presence of God.” - Meister Eckhart

   "I have never told you that you will never be reborn. I have only said that you will be rid of the illusion that you were ever born or will die." - Atmananda Krishnamenon

   "The way to solve the mystery of life is to dissolve yourself into it." - Sant Kirpal SIngh

    For some relief over the anxious thought of death, please view this sweet, condensed 1962 Twilight Zone episode, featuring a very young Robert Redford (the entire original is highly recommended, but no longer available on YouTube):     
Nothing in the Dark


   [For additional information on enlightened and unenlightened death, please see The Enigmatic Kabir and, as noted, Dying in the Master's Company on this website].


(1) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, Vol. 15 (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Part 1, 1.89
(1a) anadi, book of enlightenment (www.anaditeaching.com, 2011), p. 208
(2) Jose Ignacio Cabezon, trans. A Dose of Emptiness: An Annotated Translation of the sTong thun chen mo of mKhas grub dge legs dpal bzang (Shakti Nagar, India: Sri Satguru Publications, 1993), p. 107

mKhas grub dge legs dpal bzang (1385-1419) was one of two chief disciples of the famous Tsong kha pa, founder of the dGe lugs pa school of Tibetan Buddhism, the yellow hat sect of the Dalai Lamas. In his book he critiques many schools of thought and practice of his time. It is a very interesting book as many of the views he criticizes are actually quite popular today.

(3) Aziz Kristof (anadi), Transmission of Awakening (Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999), p. 72-73
(4) Patrul Rinpoche, Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, 2008), p. 17
(5) Ibid, p. 56
(6) The Inner Life, XXIX
(7) Kyriacos Markides, Fire in the Heart (London, England: ARKANA, 1991), p. 59-60
(8) Michael and Judith Fitzgerald, ed., Indian Spirit (Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom, Inc., 2006), p. 5, 122
(9) Tulku Thondup, Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth (Boston: Shambhala, 2005), p. 51
(10) Ibid, p. 185-186
(11) Ibid, p. 164-166
(12) David Spangler, Apprenticed To Spirit (New York: Riverhead Books, 2011), p. 122-124
(13) Markides, op. cit., p. 207-209
(14) Ibid, p. 202
(15) Ibid, p. 212-217
(16) Kirpal Singh, Mystery of Death (Sanbornton, New Hampshire: The Sant Bani Press, 1980), p. 16
(17) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6,1.1.36
(18) Ibid, Vol. 2, 5.416
(19) Ibid, Vol. 6, Part 2, 1.66, 1.86
(20) Dzogchen Ponlop, Mind Beyond Death (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2006), p. 195
(21) Kirpal Singh, op. cit., p. 75
(21a) "If you have got love for worldly things, naturally you will come again and again to the world. If you have got love for God or the God-in-man, then where will you go? Where He will go." (Morning Talks); and, "Rebirth is only for those who lost their faith, go in actual opposition to the instructions of the Master or who do foul deeds and have very low desires and gross worldly tendencies." (Spiritual Elixer)
(22) Brunton, op. cit., Vol ?; Vol. 15, Part One, 1.89

(23) My Meeting with Ramana Maharshi by Mercedes deCosta
(24) Talks, p. 172
(25) Kyriacos Markides, The Magus of Strovolos (London, England: ARKANA, 1985), p. 95
(26) However, in the extra-canonical 2 Clement 5:2-4 we read, "Do not fear those who kill you and then can do nothing more to you, but fear the one who, after you die, has the power to cast you body and soul into the hell of fire." While not chosen as part of the official canon of the New Testament, this text of the mid-second century was one in use by the group whose voice finally won out as to what the final doctrine of the church would be.
(27) Paul Brunton, reference misplaced
(28) Arran Stephens, Journey to the Luminous (Seattle, Washington: Elton-Wolf Publications, 1999), p. 41
(29) The Visions of Sadhu Sundar Singh
(29a) Delog Dawa Drolma, Delog (Varanasi, India: Pilgrims Publishing, 2001), p. 86-87
(29b), Ibid, p.111
(29c) Kirpal Singh, Life and Death (Sanbornton, New Hampshire: Sant Bani Ashram, 1980), and. 44
(30) Yogi Ramacharaka, Life Beyond Death (Chicago: Yoga Publication Society), 1909/1937), p. 170
(31) David Godwin, ed., Be As You Are (Penguin Arkana, 1985), p. 204
(32) Swami Rama, Living with the Himalayan Masters (Honesdale, PA: The Himalayan Institute Press, (1978), 2001), p. 421-422
(33) anadi, op. cit., p. 165-166
(34) Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 8, 6.102
(35) Yogi Ramacharaka, op. cit., p. 150; the Yogi is speaking loosely here with the terminology of 'spiritual elements'; he is actually a proponent of Gnana Yoga as the highest path, although with a Sam'khaya/theosphical aspect. Ramacharaka was in fact a western occultist in the early twentieth century who took a monastic name. He clearly had some theosophical influences, but wrote remarkably lucid books which I have enjoyed thoroughly, especially his work, Gnana Yoga.
(36) Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters), Conversations with Yogananda (Nevada City, California: Crystal Clarity Publications, 2004), p. 293
(37) Markides, Fire in the Heart, op. cit., p. 187
(38) Ibid, p. 188
(39) Markides, The Magus of Strovolos, op. cit., p. 22
(40) anadi, in fact, appears to 'hedge' his actual position:

   "The essence of the soul never becomes a part of ignorance, but timelessly abides in the place of her origin. Endowed with the intrinsic knowledge of her blueprint, our essence bridges the unawakened soul with her future realization...If a seeker is sincere, the soul's wisdom will steer him in the right direction sooner or later by creating the circumstances that trigger awakening, such as encounters with important books, teachings or masters. Seeing life from the perspective of many cycles of reincarnation, the wisdom of the soul always directs us towards the invisible fulfillment of our evolutionary blueprint. The soul is like a river that sooner or later must reach the ocean. Such is the divine law." (o[. cit., p. 167)

   So it seems we are off the hook.

(41) Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 12, Part 1, 1.191-192
(41a) Ibid, Vol. 14, 3.392
(42) Kavanough/Rodriguez, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, (The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 5.3), p. 163
(42a) Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, Part 2, 1.83
(43) Odier, Daniel, Yoga Spandakarika (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2004), p. 116-118
(44) Godman, David, The Power of the Presence, Part Three (Boulder, Colorado: Avadhuta Foundation, 2002), p. 125
(45) Ladislous Boros, The Mystery of Death (New York: Seabury Press, 1963), p. 47