I have been receiving a lot of emails asking questions about reincarnation and the meaning of death, so I thought I would post some material from one of my previous lectures on this subject.
This material is derived from Vedanta, theosophy and the writings of Swami Ramacharaka. Some of these concepts here may sound too metaphysical or archaic. I am reworking this lecture in the terminology of quantum physics and will post it here soon. The following is a summary of the ideas and experiences of some of the greatest people who have lived on our planet.
The Meaning of Death
When people ask if the soul lives on after death, the answer is yes. When people ask if the personality lives on after death, the answer is that personality doesn’t even live on while we are alive. Our personality is always changing, we are not the same person we were five, ten or fifteen years ago. It would be a sorry state if we were. Our personalities are constantly evolving, transforming, growing. If the question is, does the individual survive death, the answer is, what’s an individual? In reality there’s no such thing as an individual, what we call “me”, the individual is different from day to day, week to week, year to year. The question would be, which individual are you talking about, the old individual who was bordering senility, the young person who was in love and full of romance and desire, or the young child who was full of innocence and wonder. Which one are you talking about? Which one would you survive as?
The individual is constantly undergoing changes so what survives is a soul which is beyond individual personalities in the sense that there is a continued transformation of what we call the individual, during life and after death. The caterpillar dies to become a chrysalis and begins a long slumber with its own energies. Then the chrysalis dies to become a butterfly which is a very different level of existence so, is the caterpillar the same individual as the chrysalis and the butterfly? It is the same creature that has become something else and yet every cell in its body is different, every energy in its body is different, every expression of the energy in its body is different. Everything experiences a change of form and a change of activity. There’s a change of the expression of energy within the form and then there’s a change in the form. Nothing really dies. The water drop becomes vapor, which becomes a cloud or a rainbow, which falls as rain to become water deep in the ground transforming into a spring, which becomes a stream then a river, a waterfall and finally back to the ocean. In each state it’s the same drop of water with a different expression. There’s a constant transformation in nature and a constant transformation in that which we call our being or our soul. Therefore the idea that we are a set personality, fixed in space and time, is an illusion, a mirage. Everything is changing but nothing ever dies.
In Western religions the hereafter has been traditionally thought of as a place existing in space and time. Heaven, hell, purgatory or some other localization are portrayed as being above or below or in some distant region. To Eastern philosophy this concept, whether called heaven, hell or whatever, is not thought of as a place but as a state of awareness, a plane of existence. A plane of existence is a vibratory expression of Spirit or consciousness in which the cosmos lives and moves and has its existence. The cosmos that you are experiencing right now, with trees, plants, people, houses, cars, stars, and galaxies, is a vibratory expression of Spirit or consciousness at one particular frequency. However, in any given location in space, there may be the simultaneous presence of several different planes of existence. For example, if you are listening to a one hundred piece orchestra, there are a hundred instruments playing, each occupying the same place in space and time.
You can listen to the symphony as a whole or, if you wish, put your attention on the music or vibration of each specific instrument or even separate out the individual notes of the different instruments. Several vibratory frequencies are existing independently yet occupying exactly the same place in space and time and the presence of one does not displace any of the others. If you had an ear that could only hear one frequency, you would miss out on the rest of the symphony and only hear one instrument out of the hundred or, if your ear could only hear the frequency for a few notes, you would miss on all the other notes being played. 99% of reality would be unavailable to you because you weren’t tuned into those frequencies. Another example is electro-magnetic energy which includes what is called visible light. Visible light contains all the colors of the spectrum in the same beam of light. That same electro-magnetic radiation however contains invisible light such as x-rays, micro-waves, radio waves, radar, etc. They all exist in the same location simultaneously and yet you only experience that which is called visible light and even there, you don’t normally experience it in its individual components. The visible and invisible light are all part of the same electro-magnetic spectrum which is simultaneously vibrating at different frequencies at the same location in space and time. Every pin-point of space contains all these different vibrating frequencies simultaneously and one does not displace any other from its location either in space or in time. With the correct instrument, tuned into the right frequency, you can pick out any vibration you wish.
Similarly these different planes of existence represent different vibratory frequencies of consciousness, the world of physical matter being just one expression of a particular frequency of consciousness. Space, fire water, earth are in fact different vibratory frequencies of consciousness in the material world, different planes of existence in the material world. Even in the regular material world you can see that anything has a quantum mechanical nature which is energy and information, it has a gaseous or vaporous nature because if you heat it will evaporate, it has a fiery nature because if you heat it to a certain temperature it will be just luminous flames, it has a liquid and a solid nature. Every day, ordinary matter simultaneously exhibits different vibratory frequencies but you experience them only in one frequency because of the nature of your sensory apparatus. Any material item can be experienced in these different forms but, after taking in all these different levels of existence, your senses give you only one perspective. Solid things can be said to have dense vibrations or in spiritual terms, to be vibrations of a lower plane. Vaporous things can be said to have a fine vibration or a vibration of the higher plane. Here however, the reference to higher or lower does not mean being up or down, better or worse but is just an indication of the levels of density.
Just as there are different planes of material things, there are also several planes of existence of the Spirit called spiritual planes. The most obvious vibratory frequency of consciousness is the material plane but there are also finer or what are referred to as higher spiritual planes known as the astral planes. There are almost an infinity of astral planes which are divided into the higher and lower astral planes, the lower astral planes being higher than the material planes. In the lower astral planes are found experiences of psychic phenomenon, clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, psychometry. Other vibratory frequencies of the lower astral planes include ghosts, apparitions of disembodied souls, etc. These are
sometimes sensed by humans in certain states of awareness but are often sensed by animals, which have a sharp sense of awareness to some of these lower astral planes. In the lower astral planes we also find thought forms and thought clouds, astral bodies traveling during sleep or altered states of consciousness, astral colors and auras. All these are vibrations of Spirit in the lower astral plane.
Every physical body has an accompanying astral body. This astral body is a complete mirror of the physical body with a heart, liver, arms, legs, a face, etc. but as it is vibrating at a different frequency, most people are not aware of its presence. During life, the physical body provides a covering for the soul at a lower frequency, it gives it the appearance of being localized in the material world. In death, the physical body disintegrates leaving the astral body to clothe the soul at a higher frequency, giving it a different appearance of localization.
Upon death of the physical body, every soul enters the vibratory frequency of the astral plane that corresponds to the existence it had on the material plane, the frequency that corresponds closest to the reality of
its material life. The disembodied soul then begins to work up its karmic experience and gradually ascends to the higher frequencies of the more spiritual astral planes. It can therefore be said that, the highest vibratory frequencies, the highest planes, correspond to the descriptions of heaven given in the religious traditions. On the astral plane there are vibratory frequencies that correspond to every possible version of heaven, hell or purgatory, not as places but as planes of existence. The disembodied soul moves from one to the other based on how it works out its karma and moves according to its desire, from one imagined plane to another. In reality all these planes have been imagined by the Spirit, just as it imagined the material plane. Just as in the material plane, on the astral planes, the Spirit continues to play roles. Each astral plane is the experience of a concept of the Spirit just as the material plane was also the experience of a concept of the Spirit. The Spirit conceives, constructs, becomes.
The cosmos is, in reality, non local. You say the earth is local, the sun is far or the moon is near, but it is only so from this vantage point. In the universe everything is non-local. You are at the center of the universe because infinity extends in all directions and someone who is on the other side of the world is also at the center of the universe because infinity extends on all sides of him. Both of you are centers of the universe which, of course, means you must both be at the same location. The fact that you appear to be in different locations is a sensory artifact based on this vibratory frequency of consciousness. Similarly with time, each moment is the center of time, eternity stretches forwards and backwards. This is the only moment because all other moments are also the center of eternal time and every moment is therefore the same as every other moment. The cosmos, being non-local, means there is no up or down, north or south, east or west, these are only points of reference for our convenience. There are no pertinent, particular locations in space or time. The transformational process after death is not a movement to some other place or time, it is just a change in the quality of attention. It is a condition or state of vibrational quality of your awareness.
Based on the experiences of people who have had near death experiences, the insights of sages and rishis, or just by changing the quality of your own attention in meditation, or by having the intention or desire to have these experiences, what seemingly happens is, as death approaches, there is a dulling of the senses. The senses are material so, as the transition begins, they start to fade one by one. The last one to leave is sound, which was also the first to come. However, as the material senses become duller, there is an increase in the psychical senses such as clairaudience, clairvoyance, celestial sights and sounds, heavenly beings, and brilliant lights. During this time, people who have a close association to a dying person may feel the presence of that person in the form of an apparition, sound or physical sensation even from a distance and sometimes even before the death of the person. Somehow they have tuned into the dying person’s vibrational frequency or their own astral body may have projected to the dying person so they were able to became aware of the transition of the person.
At death, the astral body, which is the exact counterpart of the physical body, separates from the physical body. The soul then enters a period of sleep in the astral body, a deep slumber. Normally the soul sleeps in deep peace but, if the person departed prematurely or had many unfulfilled desires, this sleep may be restless and disturbed. Disembodied souls that have a very strong attraction to the physical plane of material existence and have not been able to let go, people who have died suddenly or violently or unnaturally (such as those who have been murdered, committed suicide or have died from drugs ), can get stuck in these lower astral planes for an extended period of time (time measured in the material sense). These disembodied souls can vibrate at a lower astral frequency for a fairly prolonged time as we perceive it. When a person dies suddenly or unnaturally, they haven’t had time to work out their earthly karma and until they have fully processed their attachments and karmic obligations on this plane they will remain drawn to this denser plane and continue to vibrate on the frequency of this plane for some time, even though they are on an astral plane. They remain caught between two worlds so to speak. Also, if there is intense attachment from the people left behind and they keep calling to the soul through seances and such, the soul will continue to be disturbed in its sleep. The will of those left behind can cause restlessness of the soul. When a person dies, it is important to let them move on and rest in peace. The soul sleeps in the astral body just as the fetal soul sleeps in the womb. A peaceful death and a letting go will produce a peaceful sleep in the astral body. A restless soul may attempt to revisit the earthly realm as a ghost or apparition but ultimately, even in these cases, fatigue will set in and the soul will eventually settle into its deep sleep in the astral body.
At death, and from people who have had near death experiences, we hear that often the whole panorama of a person’s life flashes before his eyes in a split second. This is a demonstration that every second contains the whole of eternity. During the deep sleep of the soul, all the memories of past events in the physical body, get impressed onto the soul, forming the karmic software which will give rise to its future individuality. In the process of dying, very often, a person will have a review of this software, seeing their entire life re-run in a few moments. A concentrated record of an entire lifetime is then carried into the slumber state of the soul as the karmic software. In Christian and other religious doctrines we hear expressions such as “rest for the weary”, “entering the long rest”, which seemingly are also relating to this slumber of the soul. When a person has a near death experience, they have, for a moment, vibrated at a certain astral plane and then come back to their normal, physical, vibratory frequency.
The period of the soul slumber varies according to the degree of evolution of the soul at the time of death. The main reason for the sleep or slumber of the soul is to shed its attachments and then to awaken to the astral frequency or plane most appropriate to its level of evolution. The degree of attachments will determine how long it takes to shed them. When the soul awakens it can only enter a plane of existence that is familiar to you. If you entered a plane higher than your level of evolution, you would become confused and uncomfortable. Likewise, it is not possible to go backwards in evolution, you can only progress. First, the astral soul sleeps to partially detach and forget the things that are not necessary to remember and then awakens to the astral frequency plane that is most appropriate to its level of evolution. Once it re-awakens, it continues with its evolution, from that point, to higher levels of awareness.
At physical death the physical body disintegrates and the soul begins its first period of sleep in the astral body. During this sleep the astral body and soul are encased in a kind of astral shell or cocoon. Just as sleep is important to the physical body, so this sleep is important to allow the soul to rejuvenate itself. When the soul awakes from this deep slumber it sheds its shell which is then said to float in the astral atmosphere until it eventually fades away. At this point the soul is still in the astral plane and continues its evolution moving to higher astral frequencies of its astral life. During this astral life a whole new world of experiences begin. The soul meets the souls of other beings who are also in the astral world, vibrating at a similar level of evolution at that time. It may meet the souls it encountered in the physical world if they are now on that same vibratory frequency. In the astral planes there is no physical body only thought form. All communication is telepathic. When Spirit vibrates in the world of physical objects its vibration is very slow and dense, it appears to be still, frozen Spirit. Similarly when it is at a very high frequency of vibration, it is also still. At both extremes it is still and in between is the whole range of movement of creation. In the astral world of experience, the disembodied soul can visit planes of vibration lower than itself at will, but can only visit higher planes through evolution. Just as when you pass particles through finer and finer sieves, any particle can always pass back to a grosser level but can only advance when it has reached the correct level of refinement.
The astral plane is a manifested reflection of the imagined ideal. The scenery on the astral plane is just a projection of the thought forms inhabiting it. Like everything else, it is a manifestation of the imagination. The Spirit pervades all of space and the experiences on the other side match the beliefs and expectations of the life here in the physical body. Depending on your level of evolution, you will experience your ideas of heaven or hell in this life when you reach the other side. There are many astral planes and even in these planes your experiences will correspond to everything that you have previously imagined. You have your own heavens, hells, purgatories and everything else to work through on the physical as well as astral planes. In the astral world, everything is created through imagination. In the physical world, if youwant to build ahouse you need to collect the bricks, put them on top of one another and so on. In the astral world, you could just imagine the house the way you wanted it and it would appear. However, to the person in the astral world, the house would seem just as real and solid as the one in the physical world. Evolution on the physical or astral planes is gradual, it takes time. All suffering and all enjoyments occur in the imagination in the astral plane, even though, like on the physical plane, all appears to be real. The skeptics, cynics and unbelievers in the physical plane will be the same skeptics and unbelievers in the astral planes, they just won’t realize that they are in fact in the plane that they don’t believe exists. The body or personallity you inhabit in the astral world is the one you most identified with in the previous physical life. As this is an imaginary body, you can keep it the same or change it during the astral life. You could actually do this with your physical body but, due to social conditioning, most people follow the accepted process of aging. However, in every seed of desire is the promise of future blossoms, fruits and gardens. Evolution is really the process of fulfillment of desire that is being worked out through these on going cycles. In the astral world, you fulfill and refine the desires that are left over from your last physical life. You also refine all your knowledge and experiences from the material world. The astral world is like a graduate school for your previous physical incarnation. In the astral plane, the soul stores up energy for manifesting its higher more evolutionary desires so they can be fulfilled in the physical plane.
Just as when the soul has reached its maximum level of evolution in a physical body it must shed that body and begin its first soul slumber so, when the soul on the astral plane reaches the maximum evolution for that astral lifetime it goes back into slumber and takes with it the karmic software it has been preparing for manifestation again into the physical plane. During this second period of slumber, the soul seeks a set of suitable parents so it may be reborn into the physical plane to continue its evolution. Now, however, because of the evolution that has taken place on the astral plane, you reincarnate onto the physical plane at a higher level than where you left off. You are born into a higher evolutionary circumstance of events. Only a feint memory of what has gone before remains but a whole new level of insight and creativity blossoms. The process continues to repeat itself over and over, each time progressing to a little higher plane. When the karma has been worked out there, you reach the maximum limit for that plane and must go back into a slumber again and so on and so on. This process continues through higher and higher physical and astral planes. The movement is always upward. You can never move downward as your karmic plan is such that your actions will always be better next time. The degree of freedom of choice you have as to how you come back into the physical world is dependent on the degree of witnessing you have. Depending on your ability to witness, to be aware of your situation, you will be able to choose the physical or astral lives and bodies you incarnate into and the speed at which you will work through your karma. Just as in the physical plane you are refining skills and talents, so too in the astral plane, the soul is refining skills and talents that will be expressed in material existence. Whenever you are born physically or astrally, you come with the increased talents from all previous existences.
At birth, because of your previous actions and karma everyone is at a different level of evolution. We can compare the earthly life to that of a caterpillar, the astral sleep to the chrysalis and the rebirth onto the astral life as the butterfly. Each time, still not fully expressed but higher than the previous life. The cycle of evolution must go on, a new caterpillar, a new chrysalis and a new butterfly. There is a constant upward spiral. Soul bonding and soul relations occur on the astral plane just as they occur in the physical world. As Walt Whitman said, “I cannot be awake for nothing looks to me as it did before, or else I’m awake for the first time and all before has been a mean sleep”. Relationships in the astral plane mean that you are vibrating at a similar frequency to someone and therefore feel love, unity and bliss. It is not a relationship in spatial or physical terms as in the astral world there is no physical form only thought form. When the disembodied soul thinks of a loved one back on the physical plane, the person on the material plane may experience a feeling of the presence of the departed one. There can be a communion of soul with soul even though one is vibrating in the material plane and the other in the astral plane.
Death of astral life leads to slumber, which leads to preparation for rebirth in a physical body. To continue its evolution, the soul must renew its attractions, its needs to fulfill desires and the need to incarnate with other souls with whom there is a karmic relationship. The reason to keep coming back to the material plane is to fulfill desires and renew relationships with souls with whom there has been a previous kinship. The soul often awakes slowly from its second period of sleep and the effects of the slumber can continue well into childhood and the early stages of growth. When you are first born, there is still some element of soul slumber present, the baby drifts back and forth not fully aware of its physical surroundings. Sometimes this can last into adulthood and you may notice people who don’t seem fully here, they are still partially in their soul slumber. Usually, however, there is a gradual awakening of awareness through childhood and adolescence. The dreaminess of youth is often due to soul still not being fully awake, the exceptions to this being child prodigies and geniuses who have woken up very quickly. Any soul that has worked through its karma and has awakened will not have that dreamlike appearance or will have more witnessing but, most people on the earth carry some degree of a hangover from the soul slumber of the last life.
When a soul has completely worked out all its karma, it looses all earthly desires. It has transcended all material objects and attachments to become enlightened. There is not need to be reborn onto the physical or astral planes as we know them. This soul continues to spiral upwards to continue it evolution on planes we cannot imagine. We are reborn to express and exhaust the force of desire. In the absence of rebirth, the soul moves to higher and higher realms of existence, to an infinity of them that are beyond the scope of our imagination or understanding. As Rumi says, “When I die I will soar with angels, and when I die to the angels, what I will become you cannot imagine”.
In addition to the astral planes already discussed, there are the celestial realms which belong to higher astral realms of existence vibrating at very high frequencies. They are still in the imaginable realms, just as each religion has its imagined heaven or hell. They are however, very high levels, close to the unimaginable levels. At a certain high level of evolution, some souls may choose to complete their evolution in the celestial rather than returning to the physical world. Once a soul has reached these levels it would not normally want to re-take a human birth except to provide a particular service and would complete its material cycle in this celestial realm. The force of evolution is always to go to the highest possible level but your karmic limitations may not allow you to go beyond a certain level at that time, in which case you must keep returning to the cycle. Most people of course are unaware of all this and it continues to happen spontaneously and simultaneously. Right here, right now, we are surrounded by an infinity of planes. The celestial as well as the realms of suffering, tormented souls exist right next to us. If you could shift your perception right now into one of these higher vibratory frequencies you could be with the angels. In the field of infinite possibilities you are existing on all these levels at the same time but at the level of experience you exist in only one, your own, plane of existence at any one time.
During astral projection or travel at night when a person is asleep, the astral body actually leaves the physical body but remains attached by a filament which brings it back again. If the filament gets severed then of course, the way back could be lost. It is only dangerous to flirt with the lower astral planes if you don’t understand them. They are only scary if you don’t know what they are about. If you realize that the whole thing is imagined by the Spirit, from the lowest level to the highest, from demons to angels, and everything in this universe, there can be nothing dangerous about it. Ghosts, demons etc., are all imaginary forms of the universal Spirit which is doing its Lila or play.
This Vedic perspective is very intellectually satisfying. Different theologies claim a more fixed view point saying that heaven looks this way or that, hell is here, purgatory there. This could be very intellectually disturbing. If a devout Muslim landed in a Christian heaven, or visa versa, he’d be very unhappy, it certainly wouldn’t meet with his expectations. Whenever expectations don’t meet reality you are disappointed. Here however, there’s a scheme for everybody to vibrate at that level which matches their expectations, your image of hell here will be your hell there and the heaven you are hoping for will also be waiting for you. All your desires are fulfilled because within every desire are the mechanics for its fulfillment, your own evolution.