The Meaning of Death
An extract from Elementary Theosophy.
What then is death according to theosophy? It is not at all the horror that the world has made it. It is the passing of the soul into its own nature, for rest. In life it has permitted itself to become, as it were, of the nature of the body. If it has had joys, it has had pains that far outweigh, pains of body and pains of mind. It needs rest from all these and from struggle. Though it came from the Divine and is divine, in the case of the great majority it has never yet recognized that. It goes to the temporary rest and sleep of death with all its purer earth memories clustering around it. And of these it fashions its unclouded and beautiful dream. The divine law shows itself at its tenderest to the dead.
But the sleep does not come at once. After the eyes have closed for the last time, after pulse and breath have stopped, life lingers long. And in those first hours, while the brain is yielding up its stores, and the soul is watching every detail of the now closed life pass again before it, there should be silence and peace in the death chamber. Loving thought -- yes, that helps. But passionately expressed and selfish grief is felt by the soul as a disturbance, hindering its work. For as memory is unpicked to its last fiber, the soul is learning, noting in the clear light where it failed, where it sinned, where it achieved victory in the hard life-battle with the thronging lower impulses. Not till this is done, till the wheat has been garnered, is that life really over. But at last there is the change. A sleep begins whose dreams are unclouded by anything evil, anything painful. The soul is no longer conjoined with the source of evil; it rests in the pure divine light.
That is why death is in nature's program that the soul may rest and progress. And whilst it rests it is out of touch, mercifully, with life on earth. It can neither be reached by word or thought. Nor can it break its rest to communicate with those on earth.
Nevertheless there is one line of communication both ways. The pure current of love from those on earth does reach it, touches and enters the dream and makes it more living. And in return its love for those it left behind touches them, strengthens them in the battle of life, helps them in their highest efforts for right, purifies them. Except for this current, which is deeper than thought, deeper than word, there is no communication possible. How otherwise could the soul rest?
But the rest is over at last; the divine light has given new energy for another life. The dream fades; the soul is drawn again to earth to take up its work. It comes once more among those with whom in other lives it has been associated. We pass from birth to birth, resuming old ties, making new ones, suffering, rejoicing, and through all growing. This great human family is ever getting closer and closer. As a man will find some old acquaintance unexpectedly in passing through some foreign city, so, it may be, there is already hardly a spot on earth where any one of us could incarnate and not find some he had known in other lives. There are many hates still to wear out between man and man; every one of us has much to overcome in our own nature. But we move. We can see that life will not always be as now. Sometime there will be comradeship universal and all men will have awakened to their divinity. They will feel in their hearts the constant presence of that Light to which they have given so many names, to which they have ascribed such diverse qualities, which sometimes they have figured as but a man, a personality drawn large; sometimes as a blind force, sometimes, alas! as an avenging fiend. It will be the more really a presence to them, the more really an ever active inspiration, the more they understand that in its fullness it is beyond human imagining and description. They will be content to worship at the point where thought ceases, from that worship gaining perception of the reason and goal of human life. From it came man's soul; to it returns that soul, yet never more to lose in it the individuality that is the thread of each man's series of existences. Once a living soul, always a living soul. Once we were omniscient because we were parts of its omniscience. It called us forth, to win each for himself omniscience. Yet the very word omniscience, for us, is forever relative. When we have learned one nature, which is its robe, and tasted to the full the beauty of that kn owledge
, another and higher and richer will be ready before our eyes.
Unhappiness and pain were no part of the program. We made them; unbrotherhood of each to each made them. It is only we that can end them. When man has learned to turn to his fellow man with friendliness and compassion, with the will to give instead of to take, unhappiness is ended. And when he has learned himself, unwisdom and darkness are ended.
An extract from Elementary Theosophy 1912.