LIFE AND DEATH
A CONVERSATION BETWEEN
A GREAT EASTERN TEACHER,
H. P. B., COLONEL OLCOTT
AND AN INDIAN REPORTED
BY H. P. BLAVATSKY
MASTER," said Narayan to Thakur,
in the midst of a very hot dispute with the poor Babu,
"what is it he is saying, and can one listen to him
without being disgusted? He says that nothing remains of the man
after he is dead, but that the body of the man simply resolves
itself into its component elements, and that what we call
the soul, and he calls the temporary consciousness,
separates itself, disappearing like the steam of hot water
as it cools."
"Do you find this so very astonishing?" said the Master.
"The Babu is a Chârvâka1 and he
tells you only that which every other Chârvâka would have
"But the Chârvâkas are mistaken. There
are many people who believe that the real man is not his physical
covering, but dwells in the mind, in the seat of
consciousness. Do you mean to say that in any case the
consciousness may leave the soul after death?"
"In his case it may," answered Thakur
quietly: "because he firmly believes in what he says."
Narayan cast an astonished and even frightened look at Thakur,
and the Babu--who always felt some restraint in the presence of
the latter--looked at us with a victorious smile.
"But how is this?" went on Narayan. "The
Vedânta teaches us that the spirit of the spirit is immortal,
and that the human soul does not die in Parabrahman. Are
there any exceptions?"
"In the fundamental laws of the spiritual world there can
be no exceptions; but there are laws for the blind and
laws for those who see."
"I understand this, but in this case, as I
have told him already, his full and final disappearance
of consciousness is nothing but the aberration of a blind man,
who, not seeing the sun, denies its existence,
but all the same he will see the sun with his spiritual sight
after he is dead."
"He will not see anything," said the Master.
"Denying the existence of the sun now, he could not
see it on the other side of the grave."
Seeing that Narayan looked rather upset, and that even
we, the Colonel and myself, stared at him in the
expectation of a more definite answer, Thakur went on reluctantly:
"You speak about the spirit of the spirit, that is
to say about the Atmâ, confusing this spirit with
the soul of the mortal, with Manas. No doubt the
spirit is immortal, because being without beginning it
is without end; but it is not the spirit that is concerned
in the present conversation. It is the human, self-conscious
soul. You confuse it with the former, and the Babu
denies the one and the other, soul and spirit, and
so you do not understand each other."
"I understand him," said Narayan.
"But you do not understand me," interrupted the
Master. "I will try to speak more clearly.
What you want to know is this. Whether the full loss of
consciousness and self-feeling is possible after death,
even in the case of a confirmed Materialist. Is that it?"
Narayan answered: "Yes; because he fully denies
everything that is an undoubted truth for us, that in which
we firmly believe."
"All right," said the Master. "To
this I will answer positively as follows, which,
mind you, does not prevent me from believing as firmly
as you do in our teaching, which designates the period
between two lives as only temporary. Whether it is one
year or a million that this entr'acte lasts between the
two acts of the illusion life, the posthumous state may
be perfectly similar to the state of a man in a very deep fainting-fit,
without any breaking of the fundamental rules. Therefore
the Babu in his personal case is perfectly right."
"But how is this?" said Colonel Olcott; "since
the rule of immortality does not admit of any exceptions,
as you said."
"Of course it does not admit of any exceptions, but
only in the case of things that really exist. One who like
yourself has studied Mândukya Upanishad and Vedânta-sara
ought not to ask such questions," said the Master
with a reproachful smile.
"But it is precisely Mândukya Upanishad,"
timidly observed Narayan, "which teaches us that
between the Buddhi and the Manas, as between the Îshvara
and Prajnâ, there is no more difference in reality
than between a forest and its trees, between a lake and
"Perfectly right," said the Master, "because
one or even a hundred trees which have lost their vital sap,
or are even uprooted, cannot prevent the forest from remaining
"Yes," said Narayan, "but in this
comparison, Buddhi is the forest, and Manas Taijasi
the trees, and if the former be immortal, then how
is it possible for the Manas Taijasi, which is the same
as Buddhi, to lose its consciousness before a new incarnation?
That is where my difficulty lies."
"You have no business to have any difficulties,"
said the Master, "if you take the trouble not to confuse
the abstract idea of the whole with its casual change of form.
Remember that if in talking about Buddhi we may say that it is
unconditionally immortal, we cannot say the same either
about Manas, or about Taijasi. Neither the former
nor the latter have any existence separated from the Divine Soul,
because the one is an attribute of the terrestrial personality,
and the second is identically the same as the first, only
with the additional reflection in it of the Buddhi. In
its turn, Buddhi would be an impersonal spirit without
this element, which it borrows from the human soul,
and which conditions it and makes out of it something which has
the appearance of being separate from the Universal Soul,
during all the cycle of the man's incarnations. If you
say therefore that Buddhi-Manas cannot die, and cannot
lose consciousness either in eternity or during the temporary
periods of suspension, you would be perfectly right;
but to apply this axiom to the qualities of Buddhi-Manas is the
same as if you were arguing that as the soul of Colonel Olcott
is immortal the red on his cheeks is also immortal. And
so it is evident you have mixed up the reality, Sat,
with its manifestation. You have forgotten that united
to the Manas only, the luminosity of Taijasi becomes a
question of time, as the immortality and the posthumous
consciousness of the terrestrial personality of the man become
conditional qualities, depending on the conditions and
beliefs created by itself during its lifetime. Karma acts
unceasingly, and we reap in the next world the fruit of
that which we ourselves have sown in this life."
"But if my Ego may find itself after the destruction of my
body in a state of complete unconsciousness, then where
is the punishment for the sins committed by me in my lifetime?"
asked the Colonel, pensively stroking his beard.
"Our Philosophy teaches us," answered Thakur,
"that the punishment reaches the Ego only in its next incarnation,
and that immediately after our death we meet only the rewards
for the sufferings of the terrestrial life, sufferings
that were not deserved by us. So, as you may see,
the whole of the punishment consists in the absence of reward,
in the complete loss of the consciousness of happiness and rest.
Karma is the child of the terrestrial Ego, the fruit
of the acts of his visible personality, even of the thoughts
and intentions of the spiritual I. But at the same time
it is a tender mother, who heals the wounds given in the
preceding life before striking this Ego and giving him new ones.
In the life of a mortal there is no mishap or sorrow which is
not a fruit and direct consequence of a sin committed in his preceding
incarnation; but not having preserved the slightest recollection
of it in his present life, and not feeling himself guilty,
and therefore suffering unjustly, the man deserves consolation
and full rest on the other side of the grave. For our spiritual
Ego Death is always a redeemer and a friend. It is either
the peaceful sleep of a baby, or a sleep full of blissful
dreams and reveries."
"As far as I remember, the periodical incarnations
of Sûtrâtmâ2 are compared in the
Upanishads to the terrestrial life which is spent, term
by term, in sleeping and waking. Is that so?"
I asked, wishing to renew the first question of Narayan.
"Yes, it is so; that is a very good comparison."
"I do not doubt it is good," I said, "but
I hardly understand it. After the awakening, the
man merely begins a new day, but his soul, as well
as his body, are the same as they were yesterday;
whereas in every new incarnation not only his exterior,
sex, and even personality, but, as it seems
to me, all his moral qualities, are changed completely.
And then, again, how can this comparison be called
true, when people, after their awakening,
remember very well not only what they were doing yesterday,
but many days, months, and even years ago,
whereas, in their present incarnations, they do
not preserve the slightest recollection about any past life,
whatever it was. Of course a man, after he is awakened,
may forget what he has seen in his dreams, but still he
knows that he was sleeping and that during his sleep he lived.
But about our previous life we cannot say even that we lived.
What do you say to this?"
"There are some people who do remember some things,"
enigmatically answered Thakur, without giving a straight
answer to my question.
"I have some suspicions on this point," I answered,
laughingly, "but it cannot be said about ordinary
mortals. Then how are we, who have not reached as
yet the Samma Sambuddha,3 to understand this
"You can understand it when you better understand the characteristics
of the three kinds of what we call sleep."
"This is not an easy task you propose to us,"
said the Colonel, laughingly. "The greatest
of our physiologists got so entangled in this question that it
became only more confused."
"It is because they have undertaken what they had no business
to undertake, the answering of this question being the
duty of the psychologist, of whom there are hardly any
among your European scientists. A Western psychologist
is only another name for a physiologist, with the difference
that they work on principles still more material. I have
recently read a book by Maudsley which showed me clearly that
they try to cure mental diseases without believing in the existence
of the soul."
"All this is very interesting," I said,
"but it leads us away from the original object of our questions,
which you seem reluctant to clear for us, Thakur Sahib.
It looks as if you were confirming and even encouraging the theories
of the Babu. Remember that he says he disbelieves the posthumous
life, the life after death, and denies the possibility
of any kind of consciousness exactly on the grounds of our not
remembering anything of our past terrestrial life."
"I repeat again that the Babu is a Chârvâka,
who only repeats what he was taught. It is not the system
of the Materialists that I confirm and encourage, but the
truth of the Babu's opinions in what concerns his personal state
"Then do you mean to say that such people as the Babu are
to be excepted from the general rule?"
"Not at all. Sleep is a general and unchangeable law
for man as well as for every other terrestrial creature,
but there are various sleeps and still more various dreams."
"But it is not only the life after death and its dreams that
he denies. He denies the immortal life altogether,
as well as the immortality of his own spirit."
"In the first instance he acts according to the canons of
modern European Science, founded on the experience of our
five senses. In this he is guilty only with respect to
those people who do not hold his opinions. In the second
instance again he is perfectly right. Without the previous
interior consciousness and the belief in the immortality of the
soul, the soul cannot become Buddhi Taijasi. It
will remain Manas.4 But for the Manas alone
there is no immortality. In order to live a conscious
life in the world on the other side of the grave, the man
must have acquired belief in that world, in this terrestrial
life. These are the two aphorisms of the Occult Science,
on which is constructed all our Philosophy in respect to the posthumous
consciousness and immortality of the Soul. Sûtrâtmâ
gets only what it deserves. After the destruction of the
body there begins for the Sûtrâtmâ either a
period of full awakening, or a chaotic sleep, or
a sleep without reveries or dreams. Following your physiologists
who found the causality of dreams in the unconscious preparation
for them. in the waking state, why should not we
acknowledge the same with respect to the posthumous dreams? I
repeat what Vedânta Sara teaches us: Death is
sleep. After death, there begins before our
spiritual eyes a representation of a programme that was learned
by heart by us in our lifetime, and was sometimes invented
by us, the practical realization of our true beliefs,
or of illusions created by ourselves. These are the posthumous
fruit of the tree of life. Of course the belief or disbelief
in the fact of conscious immortality cannot influence the unconditioned
actuality of the fact itself once it exists. But the belief
or disbelief of separate personalities cannot but condition the
influence of this fact in its effect on such personalities.
Now I hope you understand."
"I begin to understand. The Materialists, disbelieving
everything that cannot be controlled by their five senses and
their so-called scientific reason and denying every spiritual
phenomenon, point to the terrestrial as the only conscious
existence. Accordingly they will get only what they have
deserved. They will lose their personal I; they
will sleep the unconscious sleep until a new awakening.
Have I understood rightly?"
"Nearly. You may add to that that the Vedântins,
acknowledging two kinds of conscious existence, the terrestrial
and the spiritual, point only to the latter as an undoubted
actuality. As to the terrestrial life, owing to
its changeability and shortness, it is nothing but an illusion
of our senses. Our life in the spiritual spheres must be
thought an actuality because it is there that lives our endless,
never-changing immortal I, the Sûtrâtmâ.
Whereas in every new incarnation it clothes itself in a perfectly
different personality, a temporary and short-lived one,
in which everything except its spiritual prototype is doomed to
"But excuse me, Thakur. Is it possible that
my personality, my terrestrial conscious I, is to
"According to our teachings, not only is it to perish,
but it must perish in all its fullness, except this principle
in it which, united to Buddhi, has become purely
spiritual and now forms an inseparable whole. But in the
case of a hardened Materialist it may happen that neither consciously
nor unconsciously has anything of its personal I ever penetrated
into Buddhi. The latter will not take away into eternity
any atom of such a terrestrial personality. Your spiritual
I is immortal, but from your present personality it will
carry away only that which has deserved immortality, that
is to say only the aroma of the flowers mowed down by death."
"But the flower itself, the terrestrial I?"
"The flower itself, as all the past and future flowers
which have blossomed and will blossom after them on the same maternal
branch, Sûtrâtmâ, children of
the same root, Buddhi, will become dust.
Your real I is not, as you ought to know yourself,
your body that now sits before me, nor your Manas Sûtrâtmâ,
but your Sûtrâtmâ -Buddhi."
"But this does not explain to me why you call our posthumous
life immortal, endless, and real, and the
terrestrial one a mere shadow. As far as I understand,
according to your teaching, even our posthumous life has
its limits, and being longer than the terrestrial life,
still has its end."
"Most decidedly. The spiritual Ego of the man moves
in eternity like a pendulum between the hours of life and death,
but if these hours, the periods of life terrestrial and
life posthumous, are limited in their continuation,
and even the very number of such breaks in eternity between sleep
and waking, between illusion and reality,
have their beginning as well as their end, the spiritual
Pilgrim himself is eternal. Therefore the hours of his
posthumous life, when unveiled he stands face to face with
truth and the short-lived mirages of his terrestrial existences
are far from him, compose or make up, in our ideas,
the only reality. Such breaks, in spite of the fact
that they are finite, do double service to the Sûtrâtmâ,
which, perfecting itself constantly, follows without
vacillation, though very slowly, the road leading
to its last transformation, when, reaching its aim
at last, it becomes a Divine Being. They not only
contribute to the reaching of this goal, but without these
finite breaks Sûtrâtmâ-Buddhi could never reach
it. Sûtrâtmâ is the actor, and
its numerous and different incarnations are the actor's parts.
I suppose you would not apply to these parts, and so much
the less to their costumes, the term of personality.
Like an actor the soul is bound to play, during the cycle
of births up to the very threshold of Paranirvâna,
many such parts, which often are disagreeable to it,
but like a bee, collecting its honey from every flower,
and leaving the rest to feed the worms of the earth, our
spiritual individuality, the Sûtrâtmâ,
collecting only the nectar of moral qualities and consciousness
from every terrestrial personality in which it has to clothe itself,
forced by Karma, unites at last all these qualities in
one, having then become a perfect being, a Dhyân
Chohan. So much the worse for such terrestrial personalities
from whom it could not gather anything. Of course,
such personalities cannot outlive consciously their terrestrial
"Then the immortality of the terrestrial personality still
remains an open question, and even the very immortality
is not unconditioned?"
"Oh no, you misunderstand me," said the
Master. "What I mean is that immortality does not
cover the non-existing; for everything that exists
in Sat, or has its origin in Sat, immortality as
well as infinity, are unconditioned. Mulaprakriti
is the reverse of Parabrahman, but they are both one and
the same. The very essence of all this, that is
to say, spirit, force and matter, have neither
end nor beginning, but the shape acquired by this triple
unity during its incarnations, their exterior so to speak,
is nothing but a mere illusion of personal conceptions.
This is why we call the posthumous life the only reality,
and the terrestrial one, including the personality itself,
"Why in this case should we call the reality sleep,
and the phantasm waking?"
"This comparison was made by me to facilitate your comprehension.
From the standpoint of your terrestrial notions it is perfectly
"You say that the posthumous life is founded on a basis of
perfect justice, on the merited recompense for all the
terrestrial sorrows. You say that Sûtrâtmâ
is sure to seize the smallest opportunity of using the spiritual
qualities in each of its incarnations. Then how can you
admit that the spiritual personality of our Babu, the personality
of this boy, who is so ideally honest and noble,
so perfectly kind, in spite of all his disbeliefs,
will not reach immortality, and will perish like the dust
of a dried flower?"
"Who, except himself," answered the Master,
"ever doomed him to such a fate? I have known the Babu from
the time he was a small boy, and I am perfectly sure that
the harvest of the Sûtrâtmâ in his case will
be very abundant. Though his Atheism and Materialism are
far from being feigned, still he cannot die for
ever in the whole fullness of his individuality."
"But, Thakur Sahib, did not you yourself confirm
the rectitude of his notions as to his personal state on the other
side of the grave, and do not these notions consist in
his firm belief that after his death every trace of consciousness
"I confirmed them, and I confirm them again.
When travelling in a railway train you may fall asleep and sleep
all the time, while the train stops at many stations;
but surely there will be a station where you will awake,
and the aim of your journey will be reached in full consciousness.
You say you are dissatisfied with my comparison of death to sleep,
but remember, the most ordinary of mortals knows three
different kinds of sleep--dreamless sleep, a sleep with
vague chaotic dreams, and at last a sleep with dreams so
very vivid and clear that for the time being they become a perfect
reality for the sleeper. Why should not you admit that
exactly the analogous case happens to the soul freed from its
body? After their parting there begins for the soul, according
to its deserts, and chiefly to its faith, either
a perfectly conscious life, a life of semi-consciousness,
or a dreamless sleep which is equal to the state of non-being.
This is the realization of the programme of which I spoke,
a programme previously invented and prepared by the Materialist.
But there are Materialists and Materialists. A bad man,
or simply a great egotist, who adds to his full disbelief
a perfect indifference to his fellow beings, must unquestionably
leave his personality for ever at the threshold of death.
He has no means of linking himself to the Sûtrâtmâ,
and the connection between them is broken for ever with his last
sigh; but such Materialists as our Babu will sleep only
one station. There will be a time when he will recognize
himself in eternity, and will be sorry he has lost a single
day of the life eternal. I see your objections--I see you
are going to say that hundreds and thousands of human lives,
lived through by the Sûtrâtmâ, correspond
in our Vedântin notions to a perfect disappearance of every
personality. This is my answer. Take a comparison
of eternity with a single life of a man, which is composed
of so many days, weeks, months, and years.
If a man has preserved a good memory in his old age he may easily
recall every important day or year of his past life, but
even in case he has forgotten some of them, is not his
personality one and the same through all his life? For the Ego
every separate life is what every separate day is in the life
of a man."
"Then, would it not be better to say that death is
nothing but a birth for a new life, or, still better,
a going back to eternity?"
"This is how it really is, and I have nothing to say
against such a way of putting it. Only with our accepted
views of material life the words 'live' and 'exist' are not applicable
to the purely subjective condition after death; and were
they employed in our Philosophy without a rigid definition of
their meanings, the Vedântins would soon arrive at
the ideas which are common in our times among the American Spiritualists,
who preach about spirits marrying among themselves and with mortals.
As amongst the true, not nominal Christians, so
amongst the Vedântins--the life on the other side of the
grave is the land where there are no tears, no sighs,
where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage,
and where the just realize their full perfection."
Lucifer, October, 1892
1 A sect of Bengali Materialists.
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2 In the Vedânta, Buddhi, in its
combinations with the moral qualities, consciousness,
and the notions of the personalities in which it was incarnated,
is called Sûtrâtmâ, which literally means
the "thread soul," because a whole long row of
human lives is strung on this thread like the pearls of a necklace.
The Manas must become Taijasi in order to reach and to see itself
in eternity, when united to Sûtrâtmâ.
But often, owing to sin and associations with the purely
terrestrial reason, this very luminosity disappears completely.
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3 The knowledge of one's past incarnations.
Only Yogis and Adepts of the Occult Sciences possess this knowledge,
by the aid of the most ascetic life.
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4 Without the full assimilation with the Divine Soul,
the terrestrial soul, or Manas, cannot live in eternity
a conscious life. It will become Buddhi-Taijasi,
or Buddhi-Manas, only in case its general tendencies during
its lifetime lead it towards the spiritual world. Then
full of the essence and penetrated by the light of its Divine
Soul, the Manas will disappear in Buddhi, will assimilate
itself with Buddhi, still preserving a spiritual consciousness
of its terrestrial personality; otherwise Manas,
that is to say, the human mind, founded on the five
physical senses, our terrestrial or our personal soul,
will be plunged into a deep sleep without awakening, without
dreams, without consciousness, till a new reincarnation.
[In this article Sûtrâtmâ is used for the principle
later called the Higher Manas, and Manas for that later
called the Lower Manas, or Kama-Manas.--EDS.]
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