Death is an intriguing subject, for not only will we have to face it ourselves one day, but we may also have to face the deaths of our friends and relations. It is difficult to understand fully all the states of consciousness in which the diversified kinds of life find themselves after death, and we tend to pick up a few isolated references, thus missing the sequence of ideas that our Philosophy presents.
We learn that in all cases of death man's "consciousness leaves the body as suddenly as the flame leaves the wick, when blown out....His perceptive faculties become extinct for ever, his spiritual powers of cogitation and volition...for the time being....He is in a post-mortem torpor." This is a very important statement and is the foundation on which we can build our knowledge of the post-mortem states of consciousness.
The interval between the death of the body and entrance into new life, we learn, can be divided into three states.
The first is when the Ego, enclosed by the late personality minus the physical body, that portion of the astral body which was the model of the physical (the linga sharira aspect), and vitality or prana, enters into the plane we call kama-loka. We have to remember that a plane is one thing and consciousness on the plane is another.
The entity may stay on that plane for a few hours, days, weeks, years, months, depending on its nature, its mental condition at the moment of death, the character of its death, etc. During that time it is dazed or unconscious, having lost all remembrance of things internal and external. "It is mentally—annihilated; it sleeps its akasic sleep in Kama-loka."
The expressions "dazed," "unconscious," "asleep," etc., all convey to us the idea of a state of consciousness with which we are not fully familiar.
Here we have an explanation of a statement in The Ocean of Theosophy (pp. 106-7) which is so often misunderstood. Mr. Judge wrote, speaking of kama-loka:
It is an astral sphere intermediate between earthly and heavenly life. Beyond any doubt it is the origin of the Christian theory of purgatory, where the soul undergoes penance for evil done and from which it can be released by prayer and other ceremonies or offerings.
This Christian belief Mr. Judge calls a "superstition," and tells us that it is based on the fact that "the soul may be detained in kama-loka by the enormous force of some unsatisfied desire."
In one place a Master of Wisdom has described the after-death state of the good and pure, of those who are neither good nor bad, and of the wicked. The former have "a quiet, blissful sleep, full of happy visions of earth-life." The indifferent "sleep a dreamless, still a quiet sleep." It is the last, the "wicked," who "will in proportion to their grossness suffer the pangs of a nightmare lasting years: their thoughts become living things, their wicked passions—real substance, and they receive back on their heads all the misery they have heaped upon others."
As Mr. Judge has said:
...after death the person, compelled thereto by the thoughts of life, becomes fixed in this, that or the other object or state. That is why the intermediate condition of kama-loka is a necessity. In that state they become what they thought. They were bigots and tortured others: those thoughts give them torture. Internal fires consume them until they are purified. (Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita, pp. 142-43)
This should be linked to another statement of his in the same book (p. 136): "There is, however, a large number of persons who are in the class which has been deprived of spiritual discernment 'through diversity of desires.'"
In The Ocean of Theosophy we read: "After a certain time in kama-loka the being falls into a state of unconsciousness which precedes the change into the next state [viz., Devachan]." This intermediate state Mr. Judge likens to a "term of darkness and heavy sleep" which preludes birth into a new life. The "certain time" spoken of here may be, as we have already seen, moments, hours, days, weeks, years, during which period the being is in a dazed or unconscious condition.
The second of the three after-death stages referred to earlier begins when the condition described above ends and the being enters into pre-devachanic gestation. This is also short, its duration being proportionate to the spiritual stamina of the entity. It is a condition of heavy sleep.
Towards the end of this gestation period, we are told, remembrance slowly and gradually returns and all the memories of the past life divide into those which, being of a low kind, must stay in kama-loka with the shell, and those which can go with the entity or Ego into Devachan.
The third condition is reached when the Ego, with the past life's memories and aspirations which can be assimilated by it, finds itself in the subjective dream condition called Devachan. Here the consciousness is entirely subjective, and it lives over again the past life; but, unlike the events of real life, only those of them remain that are chosen by the Ego, while the others fade away. Thus, out of the resurrected past all that remains with the Ego ideating in Devachan is what it has felt spiritually—that is, what was evolved by and through, and was lived over by his spiritual faculties. The Ego has no objective consciousness, and therefore cannot have communication with other entities in Devachan or on earth. Its life is one of bliss.
The time spent here in mortal years may be short, or the average of 1,000 to 1,500 years, or very long, all depending on the past life. When this period is over, the past life has become part of the permanent memory of the Ego. For a moment there is full consciousness, and then oblivion—and the Ego prepares for a new birth.