Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
This manuscript was self-published in 1982 as Occult Wereldbeeld ("The Occult Worldview") and republished in 1995 as Zeven Sferen ("Seven Spheres") by the Dutch Theosophical Publishing House. It contains my summary of the perennialist tradition, as it can be found in the writings of Theosophical authors such as Annie Besant, C.W. Leadbeater, I.K. Taimni and others. It provides the background of the articles on perennialism I have written for IW.
Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld.net in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Author of “Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of many essays on this website.
Immortality of the Soul
Resurrection of the Body
The Astral Body
Right after death
In the future
Right after death
|Fig. 4.1 - Three Models of Immortality (after Anthony Flew)|
The second option Flew calls the reconstitution doctrine. This doctrine implies that human beings will, by a divine intervention, on a certain day in the distant (or not so distant) future, be 'awakened' or 'resurrected' by which the human personality (which in this view is thought to be inseparable from the body) is reconstituted again. In this view, there is no hint of an immortal soul, which could by its very nature survive the death of the body.
The third option, which is much less well known, he calls the shadow-man doctrine, because the idea here is that the human being leaves its body at death as a rather shadowy creature, often called the 'astral body'. According to Flew, this view can be found among some early Church Fa- thers (Tertullian for example) and in contemporary spiritualism. In his judgement it has not received the attention it deserves. It can be seen as an interesting attempt to combine the strong points of the other two views. But as promising as this 'third way' might look at first sight, Flew is of the opinion we should dismiss it as a dead end:
At first sight this third doctrine seems the most promising one... It is outspoken, right on the point where the other two are silent.
By stating that the soul is essentially incorporeal, the immortality-doctrine destroys the usual weapons of emperical research; while the reconstitution doctrine postpones the moment we could use these indefinitely by moving the bodily resurrection to the future. But astral bodies, that leave the dying physical body, should in principle be perceptible by empirical means here and now. The crucial, and probably unsolvable dilemma for the shadow man doctrine is to give a detailed description of such an astral body, in which this astral body looks sufficiently like the body of flesh and blood to avoid problems with its recognition, and at the same time to make sure that the statement that such things exist can be verified, or at least will not be dismissed at once, by the appropriate forms of research.
However, on closer inspection the other two views on life after death turn out to be very problematic (see again fig. 4.1). An immortal soul, for example, is by definition invisible. A resurrected body could in principle be visible, but the fact that this resurrection will take place sometime in the future is unacceptable for science. But astral bodies are in principle perceptible, although this perception will of course be of a rather special nature. So this third way seems, at least at first sight, to be a promising option.
In the times of Tertullian and even in the first days of modern psychical research there was perhaps some reason to believe that this would be feasible. Tertullian based himself not only on theological considerations, but on cases like that of a woman who said she had seen an apparition, 'transparent and luminous, and in the shape of a man'. Systematic research into these apparitions has brought to light however that, although they undoubtabley do occur, they belong to the category of purely subjective experience. The third way has to be rejected as a dead end.
As said before, according to Flew the other two doctrines also have their problems, The reconstitution doctrine stands for the task to prove that the resurrected person is the same as the one that once died a problem that is unsolvable for the pure version of this theory. For this version lacks any continuity between the deceased and the resurrected individual. It is the total person that is supposed to have died, and it is the total person that is supposed to be resurrected. But who guarantees that this resurrected person is not just a carbon copy of the previous one, instead of the very same person? Even Thomas Aquinas understood this dilemma of the pure resurrection doctrine; he made an alteration. Between death and resurrection the human being would live on as a soul. Only then a unbroken identity between the deceased and the resurrected person could be guaranteed.
But here we have come dangerously close to the alternative theory, that has this soul as point of departure. However, this theory also has grave, and in the eyes of Flew unsolvable, problems. It turns out te be very difficult to give meaning to the concept of a bodiless soul, for everything we know of other people their body, their voice, their behavior is mediated by their corporeality. In fact, the body is the only part of other people we can see at all! A completely bodiless soul is simply inconceivable. Here also, the pure version of the theory gives rise to unsurmountable problems, and so we can understand that proponents of this theory, among them even Plato himself, pictured the soul in the form of a shadowy and transparent figure. Which brings us to the third option, that of the astral body.
Personally, Flew was not willing to subscribe to any of the three doctrines of immortality. He prefers to be an agnostic, who for the moment is ignorant in respect to our fate after death and the subject of immortality. In 1984 Flew published God, Freedom and Immortality, that in part covers the same field. Has he changed his mind in the past twenty years? His objections to the views of immortality and resurrection have remained the same, but the third way of the astral body elicits a more positive comment, compared to his Encyclopedia of Philosophy article of 1967:
This third way nowadays does not get the attention it deserves. In part this is so because people who are familiar with the material of psychical research have given another interpretation to the cases of apparitions of the living, of the dying and of the dead, which for others seemed to provide support for the theory of the astral body.
But for the most part I presume this way of the astral body is simply not taken seriously because it is unacceptably primitive and hopelessly materialistic; and this hasty rejection is facilitated by the assumption which I will argue against that there are no serious theoretical objections to the immortality doctrine... The great, and in my view unsurmountable difficulties with the Platonic way should let us look with renewed attention and respect at the way of the astral body.
Flew closes his considerations with the remark that, for himself personally, there is insufficient ground to follow the way of the astral body, but that he, if he had to choose, would postulate some sort of astral body: 'My conclusion would be that, if we wish to defend some form of individual and personal survival, that which lives on would have to be some sort of astral body. But with the present state of the evidence, we do not need such a hypothesis.'
So it is definitely wrong what Colin Wilson has written in his book Afterlife about Flew, that Flew has ridiculed the whole idea of the astral body. On the contrary, he has again and again urged us to give serious attention to this possibility to visualize life after death. It is true, however, that in respect to this hypothesis he has had his reservations.
Later on in this chapter we will come back to Flew, and see if we can take away his objections to the astral body somewhat. But first we will continue our discussion of the two most well known views on life after death, immortality and resurrection. These have received all the attention in the contemporary debate.
Resurrection of the body
The doctrine of the resurrection of the body can be traced to the simple view of the human being, described in chapter 2, which assumes that a human being is identical to his physical body, so he will have to die with that body as he is supposed to have originated with that body too. Neither pre-existence nor post-existence are conceivable here. What does this mean for a view on 'life after death' that wants to compensate for the situation of mortality we finds ourselves in? As nothing has remained of the deceased body, the resurrection body is a wholly new creation, that has to have a very special quality after all, it has to last for eternity. St. Paul spoke of the spiritual body that was raised. In later times, the conception of a physical resurrection became popular. In our days, this belief has fewer and fewer adherents. It is assumed that, if this resurrection takes place on our earth, the physical universe will be transfigured before this event.
Characteristic for this view is, in my opinion, that the resurrection is a collective happening, that therefore has to take place in a future moment (see again fig. 4.1). For the moment of death is not the same for everybody. There is every reason to believe that the end of times has not yet begun although fundamentalist believers will always manage to find signs of it. As long as this moment has not yet arrived, all the people who have died in the past millennia should be thought of as no longer existing. This of course is difficult to accept, so this has given rise to speculations on an 'intermediary state' between the (individual) moment of death and the (collective) moment of resurrection.
Several variations have been thought out, from a sleeping existence, and a conscious but 'waiting' existence, to a fully conscious existence in heaven (or hell, in which one gets what one deserves even before the Day of Judgement. This last scenario comes very close to the one that speaks of a continued existence of the soul in heaven or hell, and is rejected by most theologians of the resurrection-camp which is at least logical. Most of them say they just don't know what to think of this intermediate state. Some suppose that in this state we exist 'out of time' or 'in eternity', so the whole problem vanishes. (The problem of the intermediate state can also be completely by-passed. Some influential modern theologians state that the resurrection will take place right after death but in another world. We will come back to this in a moment.)
What will happen according to this scenario at the Last Day is that Christ will return to earth, the dead will rise from their graves and join the living. All are transfigured in a mysterious way. Even the earth (and the cosmos) are transformed. Then, every individual will be faced with a final Judgement, in which it is decided who will take part of Eternal Life on this renewed earth and who does not.
Here too, many variations are possible and have, in history, been thought out. Normally, we receive our rewards (or punishments) after we have risen from the dead. But resurrection itself can also be seen as a kind of reward, so that only the 'righteous' wil rise one of the oldest forms of belief in resurrection. A combination of these views is also conceivable: these elect rise first (the so called 'first resurrection') and will not meet the Judgement, while the others rise with the 'second resurrection'. The notion of the Millennium belongs here: between the first and the second resurrection thousand years will pass. Not all theologians have accepted this notion, that appears in the Apocalypse, as orthodox, and maintain that Judgement will take place on the first day of the resurrection the so called Day of Judgement.
What will happen to those that are not granted Eternal Life has always been a delicate point under theologians. The most logical thing would be for them to simply dissappear the so called 'second death'. A more well-known version speaks of eternal punishment, in some sense a concession to the second scenario, that speaks of an eternal principle in human nature.
Strange as a view like this may seem to us at first sight most orthodox Christian schools teach something like it it is certainly not incoherent. It can be derived fully from the simple view of human nature, in which human beings are bodies. The point I want to stress is: nowhere has it been necessary to make use of notions of heaven and hell and purgatory. These belong to the scenario we will examine next.
Survival of the soul
What about the view of life after death that can be derived from the twofold view of human nature? Here, we enter a completely different climate of thought. Now inside human nature something immortal is assumed, that can survive the death of the body. Though in this view also, the body is definitely mortal, this no longer implies the end of the individual, because the soul the true human being wil spend the rest of his existence in a higher realm: the hereafter. How does the soul fare in this hereafter? Here all conceptions of heaven and hell are appropriate.
Characteristic for this view is that every human being will be judged individually, and directly after death (see again fig. 4.1). In theological literature this is called the 'special judgement', in contrast to the 'general judgement' of the resurrection. Figure 4.2 shows the salient differences between the doctrine of the resurrection and the doctrine of survival.
In orthodox protestant circles this situation has been painted in very grim colours: some are sent to an everlasting heaven of happiness; others to an equally everlasting hell of misery and this on the basis of the conduct of one lifetime only. To make this dogma acceptable to the believers, the doctrine of original sin was pointed at. In this view, human beings are sinful to the core, and deserve to be punished eternally for this reason alone. Some were of the opinion that God had decided beforehand who deserved to be saved and who did not this is the infamous doctrine of predestination. This meant that nothing could be done to change one's fate, at the most we could try to find signs of this in the measure of our worldly succes.
New Heaven and Earth
|Fig. 4.2 - Two Competing Views on the Last Things|
In catholic circles the situation was thought not te be so grimm. First, it was believed we can more or less influence our fate in the hereafter. What is more, the doctrine of purgatory offered the possibility to improve one's fate even after death. And even other people could help us with this, through their 'prayers for the dead', as we can help others. Whether everyone, even the most abject murderer, would eventually enter heaven is a question that few theologians have dared to answer in the affermative, although the opposite idea, that some would remain outside of eternal life for ever and ever, was equally problematic and not in accordance with the loving nature of God.
This second view of life after death can be derived totally from the twofold view of human nature. This time, it is not necessary to resort to a doctrine of the renewal of heaven and earth or a Day of Judgement. And here also it is evident that on the basis of one specific view of human nature a coherent view of the hereafter can be formulated. (Incidentally, this in itself proves nothing as to the truth of these views; what it does prove is that it is of the utmost importance to become aware of the view of human nature that underlies any view of life after death.)
In the course of the history of Christianity a confusion of views of human nature has occurred, which exists even in our days. This has contributed to a wide spread confusion as to the subject of the hereafter. In the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era there was a strong belief in the first scenario: numerous sects preached the end of the world, at which judgement would be passed on humanity. This conviction was mixed with nationalist feelings: one's own people would be spared, the neighbouring nations would get punished. Later on, this view was broadened: one's own people also would have to pass judgement. Everyone would be judged according to his deeds or beliefs. The first Christians derived this thought from Judaism, and combined it with the expectation of the return of Christ. In such a pressing situation, the question of the fate of the individual after death is hardly relevant.
This changed greatly as the centuries went by and the Second Coming of Christ did not occur. Richard Cavendish says about this historic shift:
Initially it was expected that Christ could return to earth any moment in all His glory. He would abolish the existing world order and establish the Kingdom of God, in which his followers would get their reward... But as time went by and the Second Coming did not occur, the question arose what would happen to the believers that had died before the Second Coming of Christ. The first Christians had thought they would not taste death, but when it became clear that many Christians and possibly whole generations would have to spend their lives on earth and die, life in this world was considered to be a preparation for life in the hereafter...
In fact this meant that everybody would be judged immediately after death on the basis of his or her merits and be sent to that region of the hereafter that was appropriate. At the same time it was believed there would be a Last Judgement at the end of times. The trumpet would sound, Christ would return on the clouds in all His glory, the earth and the sea would give back its dead, and all would be judged according to their deeds in life and be sent to heaven or hell. For these contradictions a solution has never been found.
I would suggest that these contradictions are the result of a confusion of views of human nature, that has occurred in the history of Christianity, between the Jewish simple view and the Greek twofold view. Many theologians in this century therefore have pleaded a purification of Christian doctrine on the last things from elements that are alien to it.
Immortality or resurrection?
A few decades ago, the question 'immortality or resurrection?' was hotly debated among theologians. The Dutch phenomenologist and historian of religion Gerardus van der Leeuw, who wrote a widely read standard work on the phenomenology of religion, contributed to this debate with his Immortality or Resurrection? In this booklet he investigated the question whether the doctrine of the immortality of the soul was compatible with Christian faith at all. He too stressed the intimate connection between views of human nature and views of the end of times held in different religions: 'It is not only the case that we can learn from the conception of eternity of a human being, a nation, a century which conception they had of human nature. Rather, this conception of eternity is only an elaboration of the view it has of itself.' Van der Leeuw is also conscious of the fact that the two most well-known alternatives resurrection or immortality were only the two in our times prevalent ones, and that we, for the sake of completeness, had to mention a third conception. This Van der Leeuw called the 'primitive' conception of life after death, in which there is some sort of 'body-soul' (here we encounter Flew's shadow man doctrine again). Characteristic for this view is that several different 'soul-parts' are recognized. So Van der Leeuw uses the same threefold classification as Flew did (see fig. 4.3).
Van der Leeuw discusses the doctrine of the 'mortal body and the immortal soul' (Flew's immortal soul doctrine), in which, contrary to the primitive conception, only one soul is recognized. This soul is often thought to have a divine origin. This view has become part of traditional Christianity, but according to Van der Leeuw 'these conceptions are not Christian at all, but purely Greek, and in incompatible with Christian faith.' In his eyes, Christian doctrine could only teach 'the resurrection of man' (Flews reconstitution doctrine).
|VAN DER LEEUW||ANTHONY FLEW|
|Fig. 4.3 - Three Models of the Hereafter|
This overview would not be complete without mentioning the views of two contemporary internationally known theologians, who have dealt with the problem of life after death. The fact that they do this is in itself rather remarkable, as very few authors consider this a legitimate subject for moderns. They also exhibit the confusion of views I have described earlier. These authors have in common, that they have not bothered with the issue of the incompatibility of the Greek and Jewish conceptions of human nature and the afterlife. However, they do talk of life after death in terms of a 'resurrection'. But when we examine more closely what they mean by this, we arrive at completely different conclusions. They pay lip service to the doctrine of resurrection, but teach a version of survival, in which we survive directly after death and in 'another world'.
The British philosopher and theologian John Hick has set himself in his Death and Eternal Life the task to find an answer to the question what happens after death, which is based on a broad spectrum of sources. Thus he not only discusses several Christian views, but also those of the Eastern religions, psychical research and spiritualism. He uses a twofold view of human nature (body and soul), but uses as a Christian theologian the terminology of resurrection. But contrary to the usual interpretation, he lets this resurrection take place directly after death, in 'another world'.
The immense problem of the renewal of heaven and earth, that forms an integral part of the view of resurrection is by-passed in this way, and he comes very close to the view that teaches survival after death (for here too we hear of entering another world directly after death). Then he arrives at a very artificial and speculative theory on life after death, in which we spend 'many lives in many worlds' and are reborn repeatedly, in a rather miraculous fashion. It would have been much simpler if Hick had used his twofold view of human nature to arrive at a theory of survival after death, without taking refuge in the concept of resurrection. Hick has no inkling whatsoever of the nature of possible higher spheres: 'We have no idea how many of those worlds or series of worlds there are', he confesses.
The same holds for the German catholic theologian Kans Küng, who in his book Eternal Life? talks about a 'resurrection' and a 'resuscitation'. He consistently departs from a simple view of human nature, in which human nature is reduced to the physical body. The twofold view of human nature he calls 'unscientific', and the view of life after death based thereon therefore 'untenable' as if science could ever handle a resurrection of the physical body at the end of times! Küng lets this resurrection take place, like Hick did, right after death wholly contrary to the spirit of the resurrection doctrine whereby the deceased enters 'the incomprehensible sphere of God'. He even pleads for a rehabilitation of the doctrine of purgatory, and visualizes this as a process of purification we go through before entering the divine reality.
Here too we see motives from the scenario of survival clothed in terms of resurrection. But where Hick showed at least some interest in psychical research and spiritualism, Küng is very condenscending about these empirical data. Experiences of persons who have died clinically and have had near-death-experiences prove nothing, so he says, for these people still belong to the land of the living. As if these experiences could therefore not serve as an indication of what could happen after death! What is more, he is of the opinion that 'we can safely put aside as quickly as possible the data of psychical research and spiritualism.' As if the facts produced by these methods did not count at all in our search for a defensible theory of life after death! Such a contempt for the data of human experience one would not expect this with a liberal theologian like Küng will not help as any further.
As a conclusion we might say that two theologians of international name and fame that have dealt with the problem of life after death have given an interpretation of the concept of resurrection that is very close to the doctrine of simple survival after death in higher spheres by which they have gone against the spirit of this conception while none of them has the foggiest idea of these higher spheres. Where Hick strands in a science fiction theory of 'many lives in many worlds', Küng resorts to vague expressions like 'entering the incomprehensible sphere of God'.
Now, this is not quite a discussion I want to pursue here. It is one thing to ask oneself what Christianity has to tell us on the last things, and what has therefore to be rejected as unchristian, it is something else to ask the question of the truth or at least the probability of all these conceptions. (Only in a dogmatic view of truth these two questions will coincide.) And to answer that question, we have to consider the empirical data concerning human nature and its possible survival after death that are available.
A dead end?
Let us now, with these disappointing results in mind, turn to the third panel of the tryptich of immortality visions, painted by Flew (see fig. 4.1). The third way of the astral body can offer us moderns perhaps more than the previous two, for there are points of contact with spiritualism, psychical research and clairvoyant observation. If the task is to find a view of life after death that is based on human experience, no philosopher in his right mind can afford to call this option 'a dead end' prematurely!
Flew's conclusions as regards the third way of the astral body seem to me to be hasty and unwise. The shadow man doctrine is unique in the sense that it is supposed to be based on experiences, an advantage not to be underestimated compared to the other two options. These bear the signs of dogmatic ('resurrection of the body') or speculative ('immortality of the soul') lines of reasoning.
And what are those 'appropriate forms of research' that Flew was urging us to use? If we have to deal with metaphysical entities like astral bodies, is normal human perception, that by definition has to limit itself to the physically perceptible universe and of which science and therefore psychical research avails itself, really the most appropriate form of research? What one demands is to prove metaphysical phenomena with physical means this is asking for the impossible. Is it not more reasonable to take a look at more unorthodox forms of research, like clairvoyant observations, that speak of such an astral body (and even more subtle bodies) in detail? This type of research has amassed a great body of knowledge that is relevant for the problem of life after death.
'Vehicles of consiousness'
The concept of the subtle body can be found in a lot more sources than the ones Flew mentioned spiritualism and some Church Fathers. In a monography on this subject, translated into English as Vehicles of Consciousness, the Dutch philosopher J.J. Poortman has made a careful study of the cultural and geographical incidence of this almost forgotten view of human nature. What is at issue here is the idea that the human soul has a 'body' of its own or rather several subtle bodies or vehicles of consciousness, which it uses after the death of the physical body. This vehicle of the soul is known under various names.
To begin with, such thoughts are very characteristic of so-called 'primitive' cultures. Similar thoughts can also be found in the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia and, to a lesser extent, the Teuton and Celtic peoples. Turning to the civilisation of India, this type of thought is very prominent (as exemplified by expressions like kosha, sharira, and upadhi). But the Western world also has had proponents of this view, culminating in the neo-platonism of Plotinus, Proklos and Porphyrius in the second century. In this philosophy the soul is pictured in its descent through the spheres, in the process of which it takes on ever coarser 'garments'. Life after death is pictured as a reversal of this process, an ascent through the spheres, in which the bodies are left behind one after the other. The Judeo-Christian tradition has only very few references to this line of reasoning, according to Poortman: indeed Tertullian is one example, together with the apostle Paul, who spoke of a psychic body (soma psychikon) and a spiritual body (soma pneumatikon).
In his book Poortman discusses the theme of the hereafter on several occasions. He seems to be interested especially in the views of some Lutheran theologians, who speculated about the precise nature of the intermediate state between death and resurrection. They suggested everyone in this condition has a resurrection body already, what other theologians would like to see happening at the resurrection itself. Some even went so far as to suggest that we can contact this 'heavenly corporeality' before death, during our life.
Personally I would be in favour of dropping the whole idea of a resurrection of the body althogether. It has come up in a culture that is thoroughly materialistic, in which human nature is identified with the body. The problem of life after death can be analysed exhaustively on the basis of the third option of the astral body. As the simple view of human nature results in the doctrine of resurrection, and the twofold view leads to the doctrine of survival, so a threefold view will give us a view of the hereafter, in which the soul can make use of one or more subtle bodies. Where in the twofold view the soul was the complete opposite of the body invisible, immortal, immaterial in the context of a threefold view of human nature (body/soul/spirit) the soul has more affinity with the body and can be described in bodily terms. The 'soul body' has dimensions, form, colour and is visible to clairvoyant sight.
Examining the results of clairvoyant research into the nature of life after death leaves the impression that every nook and corner of the hereafter has been investigated. Compared to this, the views of theologians are anachronisms, howsoever they try to modernize the fragments of the scriptures. In my opinion, there really is a third way to go.
Whatever Christian theologians may say about the 'unchristian' character of the doctrine of survival, in this century we can not use this as the sole criterion for truth any more. We have to listen to the voice of experience. There is an impressive body of evidence that makes the prospect of life after death in the form of an astral body or not maybe not certain, but at least probable.
For example, John White points in his A Practical Guide to Death and Dying to such diverse phenomena as mediumship, apparitions of the dead, out-of-body-experiences, recollections of past lives, apparitions of ghosts on photo or tape, cases of possession, deathbed visions and near-death-experiences. In all these categories there may be dubious cases, where 'normal' explanations are appro-priate (deceit, imagination, pathology), but every category has its stronger cases, that defy any normal explanation up till now. What is remarkable is that these cases reinforce eachother: spiritualism explains possession, out-of-body-experiences explain near-death-experiences, etcetera. What is more, these phenomena fit very well into the scheme of the seven spheres, that spiritual tradition has to offer. Several researchers, like Robert Crookall, have therefore made use of the sphere-model as context for their data.
Some misconceptions about death
In this century, clairvoyant investigator C.W. Leadbeater has studied the subject of life after death as no other contemporary has done. In his The Other Side of Death, published in 1904, he lists three stubborn misconceptions that in his view frustrate a better understanding.
- The first misconception is best characterized by the saying: 'dead is dead'. The idea that death ends all has turned out to be untenable, for it is an established fact for clairvoyants that something survives the death of the body.
- The second misconception among those who believe in life after death is that at the moment of dying our fate for the rest of eternity is decided. Leadbeater considers death to be a relatively insignificant transition, from the physical to the astral plane, which in no way changes our psychological consititution in any drastical way.
- The third misconception is that no one will ever know what happens when we die. The use of clairvoyance as a method of investigation has produced a great mass of information as to the workings of the afterlife.
A theosophical view
How does life after death look like if we rely on the descriptions of clairvoyants like Leadbeater? He sees the death process as a gradual withdrawing of the life forces from the physical body, that because of this desintegrates and becomes a corpse. The etheric counterpart of the body also falls apart. In the period of several hours, the dying person withdraws into himself and sinks into unconsciousness. From this slumber he awakens shortly, or is awakened by others, and little by little he becomes aware of a new environment: the astral world.
In this astral world he has a subtle organism at his disposal: the astral body. Far from being the result of speculations of philosophers or theologians, this body has been observed and described in detail by many clairvoyants. Leadbeater not only describes this astral body in detail, but also more rarified bodies like the mental and causal bodies. The way of the astral body mentioned by Flew turns out to be part of a complex and comprehensive theory of human nature and life after death, that unfortunately is still very much unknown in our culture.
The much asked question 'do we recognize our loved ones after death?' this was one of Flew's main objections against the idea of the astral body: that it has to look like the physical one can, according to Leadbeater, definitely be aswered in the affirmative:
We must not make the mistake to suppose that this astral counterpart of the physcial form is vague and unrecognizable. We have found that, when someone leaves his earthly form, this counterpart will preserve the same features. And because every characteristic of his appearance is represented, recognition is instantly possible.
The journey of the soul through the spheres has not come to its end, however, because when the feelings and emotions of the deceased person have been purified sufficiently and attention has been shifted from earthly interests, the moment arrives when again we can speak of a kind of death process the mysterious 'second death'. The astral body is left behind, like the physical body earlier. Then follows a predominantly mental period, in which the experiences of the former earthly life are absorbed and processed into mental powers for future use. When this mental body also has been dropped this could technically be called a 'third death' the temporary end of our journey through the spheres has been reached. For the time being the person concerned rests in his spirituel Ego on the causal plane, its true home.
It would not be wrong to compare the astral period to the purgatory of roman catholic theology a concept Küng has tried to rehabilitate and the next period on the mental plane with the heaven world (see fig. 4.4).
What really matters
Clairvoyant research seems to have discovered the real determining factors behind the afterlife. In former times, the right dogmatic beliefs were thought to be of decisive importance for our future fate, but now the conduct in our former life and the resulting psychological state is seen as the sole determinant of the experiences in the hereafter. In this view, a virtuous life leads to a happy and cheerful state of mind, whereas a life full of hate and disharmony leads to an unhappy state of mind. The fact that one is a Christian, a Buddhist, an atheist or a holist does not matter at all. Theologians had to invent all kinds of artificial explanations to get followers of other religions that had led a decent life into the Christian heaven for example, they were thought of as 'anonymous Christians' but now heaven has room for every human being, regardless of his religion.
What is more, life in the hereafter turns out to be not a reward or a punishment, but a direct result of ones own consciousness, in the same way that a nightmare is not a punishment for a bad life, but an attempt of the unconscious to process negative experiences. Likewise, a beautifull dream is not a reward, but the result of a harmonious life. The question who goes to heaven and who does not is therefore wrongly stated. Everyone will go to heaven eventually, although not everyone will be conscious of this in the same manner. (And every-one will pass the 'hell-like' spheres, but only those whose inner life responds to them will experience them consciously.)
As a fundamental rule of life in the hereafter it can be said that everyone will follow the same trail after death, untill he finds rest in spirit, although this process can be experienced in many different ways.
A very negative person, with an earthly life full of hate or greed, will awaken quickly after death and find himself on the lower regions of the astral plane. Because of his own attitude, he will stay there for a very long time not 'for ever', as theologians would have us believe, but possibly for a few hundred years. Only when the insight dawns that the destination of the soul is to be found in a spiritual direction, he will steer a course to higher spheres. In this process he probably will lose consciousness, because during his life he has not trained himself to live on these altitudes. After a long period of unconsciousness, in which his inner being will complete the afterlife journey, a new incarnation will follow.
A predominantly intellectual person, who has learned to distance himself somewhat from his the life of his body and his emotions, will have a wholly different post mortem experience. Here the lower astral regions will be passed through quickly and unconsciously. On the middle or higher regions of the astral plane he will start his conscious afterlife. His mental period will be longer, for he has more to experience and appreciate than a more primitive human being. For him also, however, the moment will come when it is time to return to the spiritual Ego. Only when he has learnt to function on this lofty level will he stay conscious, otherwise he will enter a slumber, and will wait for his next incarnation.
According to this extremely rational conception of life after death in the sense of: intelligible, understandable, reasonable we live after death in higher spheres that resonate with our inner being, and return periodically to earth, untill we have gained consciousness of the spirit, and are able to stay indefinitely in the true spiritual worlds.
We have discussed three possible views on life after death:
- the Judeo-Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body,
- the Greek-Christian doctrine of the immortal soul that lives on in heaven and hell; and
- the Eastern-esoteric doctrine of the astral body.
The first two lead to unsurmountable philosophical problems, and a view of life after death that is hardly credible in modern times. The third view turned out to offer a way out of this mess of speculations, images and expectations, and a rational theory of the hereafter. The view of life after death based on clairvoyant observations is detailed, scientific and modern. It deserves a wider hearing.
© Frank Visser, 1995, 2006