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Death—and After?

Death—and After?
Author: Besant Annie
Title: Death—and After?
Release Date: 2006-04-27
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 25 March 2019
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Theosophical Manuals. No. 3.

 

 

DEATH—AND AFTER?

 

 

BY

ANNIE BESANT.

 

 

(20TH THOUSAND)

 

 

 

Theosophical Publishing Society

London and Benares

City Agents, Percy Lund Humphries & Co.

Amen Corner, London, E.C.

 

1906

 

 

PRICE ONE SHILLING


[4]

PREFACE.

Few words are needed in sending this little book out into the world.It is the third of a series of Manuals designed to meet the publicdemand for a simple exposition of Theosophical teachings. Some havecomplained that our literature is at once too abstruse, too technical,and too expensive for the ordinary reader, and it is our hope that thepresent series may succeed in supplying what is a very real want.Theosophy is not only for the learned; it is for all. Perhaps amongthose who in these little books catch their first glimpse of itsteachings, there may be a few who will be led by them to penetratemore deeply into its philosophy, its science, and its religion, facingits abstruser problems with the student's zeal and the neophyte'sardour. But these Manuals are not written for the eager student, whomno initial difficulties can daunt; they are written for the busy menand women of the work-a-day world, and seek to make plain some of thegreat truths that render life easier to bear and death easier to face.Written by servants of the Masters who are the Elder Brothers of ourrace, they can have no other object than to serve our fellow-men.

[5]


DEATH—AND AFTER?

Who does not remember the story of the Christian missionary inBritain, sitting one evening in the vast hall of a Saxon king,surrounded by his thanes, having come thither to preach the gospel ofhis Master; and as he spoke of life and death and immortality, a birdflew in through an unglazed window, circled the hall in its flight,and flew out once more into the darkness of the night. The Christianpriest bade the king see in the flight of the bird within the hall thetransitory life of man, and claimed for his faith that it showed thesoul, in passing from the hall of life, winging its way not into thedarkness of night, but into the sunlit radiance of a more gloriousworld. Out of the darkness, through the open window of Birth, the lifeof a man comes to the earth; it dwells for a while before our eyes;into the darkness, through the open window of Death, it vanishes outof our sight. And man has questioned ever of Religion, Whence comesit? Whither goes it? and the answers have varied with the faiths.To-day, many a hundred year since Paulinus talked with Edwin, thereare more people in Christendom who question whether[6] man has a spiritto come anywhence or to go anywhither than, perhaps, in the world'shistory could ever before have been found at one time. And the veryChristians who claim that Death's terrors have been abolished, havesurrounded the bier and the tomb with more gloom and more dismalfuneral pomp than have the votaries of any other creed. What can bemore depressing than the darkness in which a house is kept shrouded,while the dead body is awaiting sepulture? What more repellent thanthe sweeping robes of lustreless crape, and the purposed hideousnessof the heavy cap in which the widow laments the "deliverance" of herhusband "from the burden of the flesh"? What more revolting than theartificially long faces of the undertaker's men, the drooping"weepers", the carefully-arranged white handkerchiefs, and, untillately, the pall-like funeral cloaks? During the last few years, agreat and marked improvement has been made. The plumes, cloaks, andweepers have well-nigh disappeared. The grotesquely ghastly hearse isalmost a thing of the past, and the coffin goes forth heaped over withflowers instead of shrouded in the heavy black velvet pall. Men andwomen, though still wearing black, do not roll themselves up inshapeless garments like sable winding-sheets, as if trying to see howmiserable they could make themselves by the imposition of artificialdiscomforts. Welcome common-sense has driven custom from its throne,and has refused any longer to add these gratuitous annoyances tonatural human grief.

In literature and in art, alike, this gloomy fashion of regardingDeath has been characteristic of Christianity.[7] Death has been paintedas a skeleton grasping a scythe, a grinning skull, a threateningfigure with terrible face and uplifted dart, a bony scarecrow shakingan hour-glass—all that could alarm and repel has been gathered roundthis rightly-named King of Terrors. Milton, who has done so much withhis stately rhythm to mould the popular conceptions of modernChristianity, has used all the sinewy strength of his magnificentdiction to surround with horror the figure of Death.

The other shape,
If shape it might be called, that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed,
For each seemed either; black it stood as night,
Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell,
And shook a dreadful dart; what seemed his head
The likeness of a kingly crown had on.
Satan was now at hand, and from his seat
The monster moving onward came as fast,
With horrid strides; hell trembled as he strode....
... So spoke the grisly terror: and in shape
So speaking, and so threatening, grew tenfold
More dreadful and deform....
... but he, my inbred enemy,
Forth issued, brandishing his fatal dart,
Made to destroy: I fled, and cried out Death!
Hell trembled at the hideous name, and sighed
From all her caves, and back resounded Death.[1]

That such a view of Death should be taken by the professed followersof a Teacher said to have "brought life and immortality to light" ispassing strange. The claim, that as late in the history of the worldas a mere [8]eighteen centuries ago the immortality of the Spirit in manwas brought to light, is of course transparently absurd, in the faceof the overwhelming evidence to the contrary available on all hands.The stately Egyptian Ritual with its Book of the Dead, in which aretraced the post-mortem journeys of the Soul, should be enough, if itstood alone, to put out of court for ever so preposterous a claim.Hear the cry of the Soul of the righteous:

O ye, who make the escort of the God, stretch out to me yourarms, for I become one of you. (xvii. 22.)

Hail to thee, Osiris, Lord of Light, dwelling in the mightyabode, in the bosom of the absolute darkness. I come to thee,a purified Soul; my two hands are around thee. (xxi. 1.)

I open heaven; I do what was commanded in Memphis. I haveknowledge of my heart; I am in possession of my heart, I amin possession of my arms, I am in possession of my legs, atthe will of myself. My Soul is not imprisoned in my body atthe gates of Amenti. (xxvi. 5, 6.)

Not to multiply to weariness quotations from a book that is whollycomposed of the doings and sayings of the disembodied man, let itsuffice to give the final judgment on the victorious Soul:

The defunct shall be deified among the Gods in the lowerdivine region, he shall never be rejected.... He shall drinkfrom the current of the celestial river.... His Soul shallnot be imprisoned, since it is a Soul that brings salvationto those near it. The worms shall not devour it. (clxiv.14-16.)

The general belief in Re-incarnation is enough to prove that thereligions of which it formed a central doctrine believed in thesurvival of the Soul after Death; but one may quote as an example apassage from the [9]Ordinances of Manu, following on a disquisition onmetempsychosis, and answering the question of deliverance fromrebirths.

Amid all these holy acts, the knowledge of self [should betranslated, knowledge of the Self, Atmâ] is said (to be)the highest; this indeed is the foremost of all sciences,since from it immortality is obtained.[2]

The testimony of the great Zarathustrean Religion is clear, as isshown by the following, translated from the Avesta, in which, thejourney of the Soul after death having been described, the ancientScripture proceeds:

The soul of the pure man goes the first step and arrives at(the Paradise) Humata; the soul of the pure man takes thesecond step and arrives at (the Paradise) Hukhta; it goes thethird step and arrives at (the Paradise) Hvarst; the soul ofthe pure man takes the fourth step and arrives at the EternalLights.

To it speaks a pure one deceased before, asking it: How artthou, O pure deceased, come away from the fleshy dwellings,from the earthly possessions, from the corporeal world hitherto the invisible, from the perishable world hither to theimperishable, as it happened to thee—to whom hail!

Then speaks Ahura-Mazda: Ask not him whom thou asketh, (for)he is come on the fearful, terrible, trembling way, theseparation of body and soul.[3]

The Persian Desatir speaks with equal definiteness. This workconsists of fifteen books, written by Persian prophets, and waswritten originally in the Avestaic language; "God" is Ahura-Mazda, orYazdan:

God selected man from animals to confer on him the soul,which is a substance free, simple, immaterial, non-compoundedand non-appetitive. And that becomes an angel by improvement.

[10]

By his profound wisdom and most sublime intelligence, heconnected the soul with the material body.

If he (man) does good in the material body, and has a goodknowledge and religion he is Hartasp....

As soon as he leaves this material body, I (God) take him upto the world of angels, that he may have an interview withthe angels, and behold me.

And if he is not Hartasp, but has wisdom and abstains fromvice, I will promote him to the rank of angels.

Every person in proportion to his wisdom and piety will finda place in the rank of wise men, among the heavens and stars.And in that region of happiness he will remain for ever.[4]

In China, the immemorial custom of worshipping the Souls of ancestorsshows how completely the life of man was regarded as extending beyondthe tomb. The Shû King—placed by Mr. James Legge as the mostancient of Chinese classics, containing historical documents rangingfrom B.C. 2357-627—is full of allusions to these Souls, who withother spiritual beings, watch over the affairs of their descendantsand the welfare of the kingdom. Thus Pan-kang, ruling from B.C.1401-1374, exhorts his subjects:

My object is to support and nourish you all. I think of myancestors (who are now) the spiritual sovereigns.... Were Ito err in my government, and remain long here, my highsovereign (the founder of our dynasty) would send down on megreat punishment for my crime, and say, "Why do you oppressmy people?" If you, the myriads of the people, do not attendto the perpetuation of your lives, and cherish one mind withme, the One man, in my plans, the former kings will send downon you great punishment for your crime, and say, "Why do younot agree with our young grandson, but go on to forfeit yourvirtue?" When they punish you from above, you will have noway of escape.... Your ancestors and fathers will (now) cutyou off and abandon you, and not save you from death.[5]

[11]

Indeed, so practical is this Chinese belief, held to-day as in thoselong-past ages, that "the change that men call Death" seems to play avery small part in the thoughts and lives of the people of the FloweryLand.

These quotations, which might be multiplied a hundred-fold, maysuffice to prove the folly of the idea that immortality came to "lightthrough the gospel". The whole ancient world basked in the fullsunshine of belief in the immortality of man, lived in it daily,voiced it in its literature, went with it in calm serenity through thegate of Death.

It remains a problem why Christianity, which vigorously and joyouslyre-affirmed it, should have growing in its midst the unique terror ofDeath that has played so large a part in its social life, itsliterature, and its art. It is not simply the belief in hell that hassurrounded the grave with horror, for other Religions have had theirhells, and yet their followers have not been

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