(Interactive session on 07.02.2014)
Keynote address by Asish Kumar Raha
(Other participant speakers: Mr. Asim K. Banerjee, Ms. Madhulika Chatterjee, Mr. Ranjan Chatterjee, Mr. P.C.Jha, Ms. Shikha Majumdar, Mr. R.K.Gupta, Dr.Kalyan K.Chakravarty, Ms. Krishna Lahiri, Dr. Suhas Majumdar, Mr. Sarada Ranjan Das) .
[Devotional song – chorus led by Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta] ]
Man’s curiosity to know, explore and discover self is as old as human civilization. Are we the body, or the mind or brain or consciousness or the soul, or a combination of all these are the questions we have been struggling to resolve from time immemorial. The question that arises is whether we exist beyond life / death. In other words, the question which we are going to address today is whether there is any Spirit World of higher consciousness, distinctive from our three dimensional phenomenal world.
All established and organized religions subscribe to the belief in the existence of soul even though the concept of soul may not be uniform. While the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Greeks and the Romans believe in re-incarnation of souls, religions belonging to the Abrahamic tradition do not generally subscribe to such phenomenon. As for belief in God’s existence, most of the organized religions, barring a few ones like Buddhism, take it as axiomatic and the very basis of the religion. Philosophical treatises like the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita have elaborately dwelt upon the Spirit World as the domain belonging essentially to higher dimensional consciousness. Science, on the other hand is inclined to reject above phenomena in the absence of hard evidence.
The question is why we should delve into a subject that has engaged our mind and intellect from time immemorial with no fruitful resolution.
The reason why we consider this subject as relevant still, is the dimensional leap in our knowledge of outer space and particle worlds and the realization of our very limited understanding of the law of nature that prevails in our own universe, let alone distinctive laws of nature prevailing in 10500 universes that the physicists like Stephen Hawking claim as existing. It is, however, an admitted fact that scientific researches into consciousness have remained more or less neglected. Our approach to this metaphysical subject in 21st century, therefore, needs to be scientific, though primarily empirical.
The questions that we need to address in our interaction are as follows:
- Is there a phenomenon called consciousness which is independent of mind or brain? If the answer is yes, following questions will crop up to be logically addressed.
- Does consciousness survive death?
- Is there any evidence of Spirit World of higher consciousness that lies beyond 3-dimensional phenomenal world?
- How are the Spirit World and the Phenomenal World inter-related?
- Is there any empirical proof of re-incarnation?
- Can the Spirit World be accessed with our 3-dimensional sense-organs?
- Is the Spirit World subject to a different Law of Nature? If so, can it be described? Is there hierarchy in Spirit World?
Consciousness – Views of Sri Krishna and Stephen Hawking – Comparative study
The multi-dimensional Spirit World, as we understand it to be, is the domain of higher consciousness, as compared to our material three-dimensional world of Five Elements. Before we take up the subject in right earnest, let us first dwell upon the theme of consciousness which is the pith and core of our subject.
While on the theme of consciousness, the concept of a scientist is apparently at variance with that of a philosopher. To remain within our focus, let us examine/analyze the views of Stephen Hawking, arguably the greatest physicist of modern time, and that of Sri Krishna, arguably the greatest thinker of olden times.
Stephen Hawking in chapter two, captioned ‘The Rule of Law’, in his ‘The Grand Design’ has raised serious doubt as to whether man possesses consciousness or is a biological robot having no free will, based on recent experiments in neuroscience. In support, he has referred to the finding that by electrically stimulating the brain, one could create a desire in a patient to move his/her hand, arm or foot or to move the lips and talk. In his words: “It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behaviour is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.” He goes on to say in the last chapter of his book under the same caption viz. ‘The Grand Design’: “We cannot solve exactly the equations for three or more particles interacting with each other. Since an alien the size of a human would contain about a thousand trillion trillion particles even if the alien were a robot, it would be impossible to solve the equations and predict what it would do.” Therefore, owing to our inability to do the calculations so as to predict its actions, we concede, according to Hawking, that any complex being has free will (though in reality they do not have). It is thus patently clear that physicists like Stephen Hawking are reluctant to accept the phenomenon like consciousness or free will for the simple reason that all these are governed by brain and not independent of it.
Strikingly similar to the above view of the renowned physicist is the revelation made by Sri Krishna in verse 27, chapter 3 of the Gita a few millenniums before the physicists like Hawking have come to the finding that man has no free will, which is as follows:
“All action is universally engendered by the attributes (Gunas) of primordial nature (Prakriti). A man whose self is deluded by ego thinks, ‘I am the doer’.”
Sri Krishna reiterated the above truth in verse 33, chapter 11, Gita, when he said:
“These (enemies) stand killed by me already. Be you merely an instrument, O Savyascahin (Atjuna).”
Again in verses 4 & 5 of chapter 7 of the Gita, Sri Krishna pronounces to Arjuna as follows:
“My un-manifested nature (Prakriti) has an eightfold differentiation: earth, water, fire, air, ether/space, sensory mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and egoism (ahamkara).”
“The above is my lower nature (apara prakriti). But understand, O mighty armed (Arjuna)! That my different and higher nature (para prakriti) is the soul (jiva), the self-consciousness and life-principle that sustains the cosmos.”
It is noticeable that Sri Krishna while holding that the Jiva (soul) as a doer was just an illusion, made a clear distinction between the mind, intelligence and egoism on one hand (which is clearly governed by the brain that comprises trillions of molecules) and the consciousness on the other hand, the latter being the sole attribute of the soul (Jiva). It is also stated that it is this consciousness that sustains the cosmos. Obviously, the all-sustaining consciousness is independent of the body or the brain. And the whole game in this phenomenal world is to get over this illusion by awakening one’s consciousness to the realization that the Jiva is neither the body, nor the mind, nor the brain, but pure consciousness, independent of all these.
Now the question is whether the mind, intelligence and egoism are also independent of the body or the brain, like consciousness per se. Apparently, going by verse 27, chapter 3 of the Gita cited above, one will be inclined to think that those attributes are body-centric. When the body goes, those attributes also cease to exist. But Sri Krishna had another take on that. He explains in verse 8 of chapter 15 ibid as follows:
“When the Jiva (soul) acquires a body, he brings with him the mind and the senses. When he leaves that body, he takes them and goes, just as the wind wafts away scents from flowers.”
From the above pronouncement of Sri Krishna, it would appear that the above three attributes of the soul viz. mind, intelligence and egoism, though originated from the Nature (Prakriti) and distinct from consciousness, are not body-centric.
The next important question that falls for determination is whether Jiva has free will or choice while living in a mortal body. While Hawking has serious doubt whether a man has free will or choice in the absence of conclusive mathematical proof, Sri Krishna answers in the affirmative in verse 47, chapter 2, Gita when he said:
“Karmenyavadhikaraste ma faleshu kadachana’
(Your right is for action alone, never for the results).
What logically follows from the above dictum of Sri Krishna is that man has the discretion whether to do a thing or not while the result of his action is not in his hands. Holistically viewed, life of a man is programmed by Prakriti (Nature) just as a computer game is programmed. The discretion rests with the player with various options while the result linked to each option is pre-determined and predictable by the one who has designed the game as also the one who has gone through it successfully.
Viewed from a physicist’s standpoint, Hawking, while conceding that human behaviour is indeed determined by the laws of nature, observed that “the outcome is determined in such a complicated way and with so many variables as to make it impossible in practice to predict. For that one would need a knowledge of the initial state of each of the thousand trillion trillion molecules in the human body and to solve something like that number of equations. That would take a few billion years….” (ref. chapter 2 of The Grand Design). Einstein strived, without success, to find the equation of ‘The Theory of Everything’ that would explain and resolve all the mysteries of the Nature. According to Hawking, “M- theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find” that may eventually lead to the discovery and predictability of The Grand Design’ of the nature by human beings who are mere collections of fundamental particles of nature. However, Hawking admits that as of now M-theory has no answer to the puzzle how amidst 10500 varying laws of nature, we humans ended up in this universe, and what about those other possible worlds (ref. conclusive para in chapter 5 of The Grand Design, captioned ‘The Theory of Everything’).
The key to ‘The Theory of Everything’ that has eluded scientists so far lies, according to Sri Krishna, in the inner consciousness of the man and that key can be retrieved by way of self-awakening or God-realization only. Once a man acquires the ultimate wisdom or realization that he is the Brahman or God, all worldly knowledge acquired through study, research or austerity would be as futile as a well when entire area is flooded (refer verse 46, chapter 2, Gita).
The fundamental difference in the approach of the physicists like Stephen Hawking vis-a-vis that of Sri Krishna was that the former totally denied the role or existence of consciousness in fact-finding or in search for the truth while for the latter, consciousness independent of the mind, brain or egoism is the key to the realization of the ultimate Truth whereupon all the mysteries of this phenomenal as also spirit worlds get unfolded. By denying the existence of consciousness, Stephen Hawking has fallen into the trap of self-contradiction, of which he may not be unaware, in that he has denied free will to the man as also to the nature, or in other words to the biological robot as also to its programmer. Such contradiction is not to be found in Sri Krishna’s concept of lower consciousness of his Apara Prakriti that pervades the phenomenal world of mind and matter, and higher consciousness of his Para Prakriti that prevails in the Spirit World.
Sources of information
Our sources of information for the subject are frontline religions, spiritual treatises, scientific researches, direct experiences and experiments.
As for well-known religious texts, we may refer to Abrahamic religions, viz. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, ancient Egyptian religion, ancient Greek and Roman religions, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism and Buddhism. As regards spiritual treatises we may rely upon Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads as also Buddhist writings. Besides, some modern thoughts on the subject as have been penned down by Sri Aurobindo, Swami Abhedananda, Swami Yogananda, Swami Sivananda, Sogyal Rinpoche etc. shall be kept in view. As for scientific studies and researches, reliance may be placed on the findings of past-life regression therapists, notably Dr. Brian Weiss, and the documentation of out of body experiences of several heart surgery patients by Dr. Raymond Moody. So far as direct experiences are concerned, the speaker has had the opportunity to gather considerable and substantial information regarding Spirit World through seance.
The commonality that runs through all established religions is the concept of heaven and hell, i.e. heaven for good deeds and hell for bad deeds, as also the existence of soul. However, religions differ on the point as to whether a man who has committed both good and bad deeds should go to heaven or hell or both, and whether after they have finished their term of reward or punishment, as the case may be, should be re-born.
Abrahamic religions subscribe to the concept of eternal heaven following the Judgment Day for the ones whose good deeds have outweighed bad deeds and eternal hell for the ones whose bad deeds have outweighed good deeds. In course of time, the concepts of limbo for un-baptized and innocent souls and purgatory for purification of souls before the Judgment Day have come in currency. After the Judgment Day, it is said that old heavens and the earth will disappear and new heavens and new earth will be created by God for pious souls to live eternally with God, while evil doers will perish in hell fire. In other words, heaven on earth has been conceptualized, post-Judgment Day.
On the question of re-incarnation, opinions vary in Abrahamic religions. Although there is no mention of re-incarnation in the Talmud, the Zohar written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai around the time of Jesus, mentions re-incarnation repeatedly. Jewish mystics in general including Kabbalistic Judaism, accept re-incarnation as a divine reality. Notwithstanding some references in Bible to re-incarnation, the Christians and the Islam, however, do not subscribe to the concept of re-incarnation on the ground that it cannot be reconciled to the concept of the Judgment Day when God will pronounce final judgment in respect of every individual with reference to their deeds on earth. The souls, according to both the religions, await the Judgment Day in their grave.
Islamic theology, however, speaks of seven levels each for heaven (Jannah) and hell (Jahannam), thus making a gradation of good and bad deeds. Barzakh in Sufi tradition conceives an intermediate region called Isthmus, which is described by the Sufi scholar Ibn Arabi as simple and luminous, and like a dream world between the phenomenal world and the spirit world, from which contact can be established with both the worlds. While Islam does not subscribe to re-incarnation, the Sufi sect in Islam believes in re-incarnation.
The Egyptian concept of heaven and hell as also souls pre-date Abrahamic tradition as is evident from the inscriptions on the walls of the royal tombs and also on papyrus. While the concept of hell in ancient Egyptian religion is quite similar to that of Abrahamic and other religions, the unique feature of heaven in Egypt was that even the pious ones were to pass through the Netherworld (hell) and spells were required to enable them to cross the Netherworld to enter heaven. As for the existence of soul, it was believed that the soul was a double of the physical body and would remain as long as the body would remain. Hence the mummification of the dead. Central to the religious belief in after-life by ancient Egyptians was the concept of Ba, Ka and Akh, Ba implying the unique personality of the dead, Ka meaning the vital essence of the dead (soul) and Akh suggesting a ritual that makes the dead into a living person by uniting Ba and Ka. In Egyptian theology, it is possible for the soul to die a second death, which is permanent, and the rituals and spells are used to prevent such permanent death of the soul in after-life. Egyptians believe in re-incarnation not in the sense of re-birth but by way of revival of the dead.
The Zoroastrians believe that Urvan or the departed soul stays on earth for three days after death sitting either at the head of the body, if pious, or at the feet of the body, if wicked. Thereafter they are taken by the messengers of Yima (Yama for the Hindus), the king of death, to Chinvat bridge for final judgment. For the wicked ones the bridge narrows down to the width of a blade-edge so that they fall into the hell of darkness while the pious ones are taken to heaven. Misvan Gatu is the place for those who are neither pious nor wicked, which lacks both joy and sufferings, somewhat like limbo.
The Greek god Hades and the Roman god Pluto are called the king of the underworld. It is believed that souls after death are ferried across the river to the king of the underworld for judgment as to whether they should be sent to Elysium for the pious, Tartarus for the evil, the Asphodel Fields for those whose sins and good deeds equalled, or the Fields of Punishment for those whose sins were not as serious as to deserve burning in lava in Tartarus. Both the Greek and the Roman religions believed in re-incarnation of souls, according to one’s karma-cum-option.
Hindu and Buddhist belief in hell and heaven are not on the same page as Abrahamic traditions. First, there is no singular Judgment Day for the souls in these two religions which believe that souls are consigned to heaven and hell based on on-going judgments by the Lord of Death, according to their Karma and get re-born after their term of reward or punishment is over. Second, there is no concept of permanent heaven or hell based on the principle of pre-dominance. According to Hindu and Buddhist traditions, for part good and part bad deeds, the soul will have proportionate reward and sufferings in heaven and hell respectively. Both the religions firmly believe in re-incarnation. Pertinently, both the religions have done elaborate research on after-life and re-birth. Garuda Purana for the Hindus and Tibetan Book of the Dead for the Buddhists extensively deal with after-life existence of souls in subtle bodies.
Past life regression and next life progression therapy pioneered by Dr. Brian Weiss and popularized world over, can be reasonably taken as having established inter-relation of souls through numerous incarnations, accountability for the Karma and the significance of love that survives death. To a large extent, his findings stand corroborated by the findings of Dr. Raymond Moody who has recorded the experiences of some of his patients who had out of body experience during heart surgeries. Dr. Eben Alexander, an American neuro-surgeon, has recounted in his book ‘Proof of Heaven’ (2012) his experience in Spirit World during the period of seven days when he was brain-dead and in coma owing to a rare type of meningitis. The well documented case of Shanti Devi, born in 1926, with memory of her previous life which was verifiable and got verified is often cited as a testimony of re-incarnation.
Death – an illusion!
Is death real or an illusion? To find an answer to this apparently simple question, we have to first determine whether it is the body that dies or the life in the body that is terminated with death. To think that the body lives and dies would mean that the body is co-terminus, if not identical with life, i.e. when the life ends the body ends or vice versa. But is life identical with the body? Is the body self-conscious? Science has no categorical answer to these questions as physicists like Stephen Hawking are inclined to hold, in the absence of any conclusive evidence in support or to the contrary, that consciousness and life are accidental products of non-conscious nature. This, as a proposition, is paradoxical and hence unacceptable.
Let us look to the contra view of Bio-scientists as also the pronouncements of Sri Krishna in the Gita on the subject of death. First, the relevant citations from the Gita.
In verse 20 of chapter 2, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna as follows:
“The self is never born nor does it ever perish; nor having come into existence will it again cease to be. It is birth-less, eternal, change-less, ever-same. It is not slain when body is killed.”
In verse 22 ibid, Sri Krishna goes on explaining as follows:
“Just as an individual forsaking old garments dons new clothes, so the soul relinquishing decayed body enters a new body.”
In the very next verse Sri Krishna describes the inherent qualities of the soul as follows:
“No weapon can pierce the soul; no fire can burn it; no water can moisten it; nor can any wind wither it.”
In sum and substance, it is pronounced by Sri Krishna quite categorically that the soul does not die with the body and that it is clearly distinctive from the body. What follows logically from those assertions is that death is an illusion, given the fact that man’s real identity is the soul or consciousness and not the body.
Robert Lanza, Chief Scientific Officer of Advanced Cell Technology, in his scholarly work titled ‘Biocentrism’ has held out an alternative model of ‘The Theory of Everything’ that questions the very basis of the M- theory expounded by physicists like Stephen Hawking. It is contended by Lanza that life or consciousness is not an accidental by-product of the laws of physics, not merely the activity of an admixture of carbon and a few other elements, but it is fundamentally immortal. Life/consciousness creates the universe instead of the other way round. He has thus switched the perspective of our study of universes from physics to biology, by arguing that our consciousness plays a central role in creating the cosmos. ‘By treating space and time as physical things, science picks a completely wrong starting point for understanding the world,’ Lanza points out. Death, according to Lanza, is nothing but an illusion.
It is pertinent to mention here that Lanza’s bio-concept of death is not different from the concept of a physicist in that both consider human body as a collection of thousand trillion trillion molecules that do not die when the body dies. The only difference in Lanza’s approach lies in his emphasis on consciousness as the creator of the universe which physicists do not seem to agree with.
However, when we consider how a man would look like to one-dimensional and two-dimensional creatures, the role of consciousness in our perception of the universes becomes patently clear. To be precise, a man would look no more than a dot to one-dimensional creatures and no more than lines and circles to two-dimensional creatures. As to the question how a four-dimensional creature with additional time-space dimension, would look like to a man of three dimensions, scientists are not too sure. According to some, four-dimensional creatures will be visible only at the curves and not as a whole, and that too not at all time, its image constantly expanding and receding, vanishing and re-manifesting in a number of places almost in no time. Scientists generally agree that fourth dimensional creatures are beyond our perception just as three dimensional creatures cannot be perceived by lower dimensional creatures. In the above scenario, the universes that we perceive with our three dimensional consciousness cannot understandably be the same at a higher dimension. M-theorists have so far conceived as many as eleven dimensions while our perception stumbles at the fourth dimension itself. Thus our three dimensional perception of death may change altogether at a higher dimension that may make us perceive with a higher sense that our real self does not die when it leaves the body made up of trillions of molecules.
We find a corroboration of the said higher perception in verses 10, 16 and 17, chapter15 of the Gita:
“The deluded do not perceive Him staying or departing or experiencing the world of the gunas (qualities). Only those whose eyes of wisdom are open can see Him.” -10
“There are two beings in the cosmos, the destructible and the indestructible. The creatures are the destructible, while subtle existence within (Kutastha) is the indestructible.” – 16
“But there exists another, the Highest Being, designated the ‘Supreme Spirit’ – the Eternal Lord who, permeating the three worlds, upholds them.” – 17
It is this subtle existence within each creature that cannot be perceived with three dimensional consciousnesses and to perceive that one needs to arouse one’s higher consciousness. But that subtle existence is also not the ultimate truth viz. the Highest Being, to perceive Whom one needs the grace of the Supreme Spirit by utmost devotion. This is the sum and substance of the above verses from the Gita which suggest that our limitation of three dimensional perceptions can be transcended in the realm of consciousness only. Hawking’s emphasis on physical laws and Lanza’s emphasis on consciousness highlights our dimensional limitation but not its resolution.
After the soul departs from body
So far we have referred to and cited various authorities, both spiritual as also scientific, while on theoretical plane. From now on, we will shift our focus entirely to the Spirit World, primarily relying upon Hindu, Buddhist and Egyptian texts as also direct experiences and scientific studies.
The question is in which form the soul departs from the body and what does it do immediately thereafter.
It is generally believed in all three traditions mentioned above, that the soul departs in ‘etheric double’, meaning the subtle body of ether resembling the physical body, being of the size of a thumb or even less than that, but invisible to the naked eye. It takes away all five sense organs, all three Gunas, and the mind from the physical body when it departs. Every such etheric double is connected with the physical body with a silver cord which provides the psychic link. At death the said link is snapped. There are occasions when a person being clinically dead for some time is said to revive or return to life, as is mentioned in ‘Life after Life’ by Dr. Moody. There are also instances when a yogi transmigrates his soul leaving his mortal body behind for considerable time and re-enters his body at will, like it is believed to have happened with Shankaracharya. In all these cases, the connection of the silver cord between the subtle body and the gross body remains intact. Once the connection is snapped it is not possible for the subtle body to return to the gross body. The stretch of the silver cord is limitless and it is capable of stretching to any distance depending on the psychic strength of the person concerned.
While in etheric double, the soul remains near its forsaken body and keeps trying to re-enter the body without success, once the silver cord is snapped. In this state the attachment to the body continues together with thirst, hunger, desire, anger, greed, delusion, addiction etc. with no means or medium to satisfy the same except through smell and smoke of the offerings that contain the essence of food. All these earthly attachments prevent the soul from ascending to a higher state, viz. the astral world, by shedding off the etheric double. This is precisely the reason why the Hindus cremate the body upon death and pray for liberation of the soul from earthly bondage during the Shradh ceremony whereupon the soul is believed to shed off its etheric double. Similar rituals in other religions have been prescribed for spiritual elevation of the departed soul.
Now the question is, for how many days the soul remains in etheric double. According to Hindu belief, it remains in such state till Shradh ceremony is performed according to the prescription of Lord Vishnu as provided in Garuda Purana. It is, however, not necessary that every soul upon death gets into etheric double. Spiritually advanced souls pierce through etheric double to reach the astral world with speed of light.
In Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana) etheric double is called mental body which has a form similar to the body just lived, sans defects of any kind. By the force of constant thoughts the mental body is unable to remain still even for a moment and is always on the move. It can pass through solid barriers, wall or mountain and can see through three dimensional objects. It is invisible to living beings except to advanced souls. In that state all five elements are present in the make-up of the mental body with hunger and thirst and it derives nourishment from burnt offerings and the offerings dedicated in its name. This state has an average duration of forty nine days and a minimum length of one week. The Lord of Death after considering the Karma of the departed soul in totality makes his judgment, as a result of which the soul may take immediate re-birth or is given opportunities for liberation in the next higher state called astral world.
The ancient Egyptians like the Hindus and the Buddhists also believed in etheric double. However, according to Egyptian faith, any injury or harm to the dead would cause instant harm to its double. They further claimed to know the spell by which they could unite the dead with its double as also how to elevate the soul from the netherworld to a higher realm/level viz. heaven. It is believed that the art of mummification of the dead was developed to ensure a long life to the etheric double so as to enable it to unite with its earthly body.
The concept of hell is common to all three religions discussed above. The souls suffer punishment for bad deeds while in etheric double or in mental body with all their sense organs alive and alert.
Journey to the astral world
Persons exceedingly attached to material life linger in etheric double with all five elements and the six enemies viz. passion, anger, greed, delusion, addiction and jealousy, with no means of satisfaction. Those who have broken through the etheric double fall into a deep sleep to awaken in the astral world. This, however, does not apply to an advanced soul who pierces through the barrier of etheric double to be taken to the astral world with speed of light immediately upon death. In the astral world attachment to the material world is a taboo, and the process of detachment from material desires or entanglement is undergone slowly by the soul. The astral world has seven levels, the highest being known as the heaven. Each level has sub-levels. Departed soul is sent to the level adjudged apt for it going by its past Karma, by the Lord of Death called Yama. There is no Karma in the astral world, and hence there is hardly any scope for promotion to a higher level except through re-birth, by the grace of a spiritual master or deity from a higher level in answer to prayer of the departed soul or fellow living beings.
The astral world can be depicted as the world of light and wish-fulfilment. In this world the souls meet their acquaintances of several past lives and realize that their immutable souls are deathless, nameless, without beginning or end. Nonetheless, they are not liberated yet, as they continue to be tied by the three Gunas – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas and their derivative qualities. The astral world is infinite in its expanse and creative in the sense that souls can create fancy worlds by their thought. Higher the level greater is their power and vibration.
Vibration, according to M theorists in Physics, is the cause of creation of universes, gravity, time and matters. In spiritual science also it is recognized that every soul has a vibration. Higher the soul at spiritual level, stronger is its vibration. This explains why a soul placed at a lower level cannot ascend to a higher level as it cannot withstand the strong vibration and the dazzling light. However, a higher soul can descend at will to a lower level.
There is no hell in astral world.
It is believed that in astral world souls enjoy the fruit of their good deeds for a fixed term, determined on the basis of their respective Karma, and they are re-born, not necessarily on the earth, or as human, at the end of their term. The soul’s placement in a high dimension is directly relatable to its subtleness, more subtle it becomes higher it rises. The soul becomes more subtle when it sheds off the elements, first the earth, then water, fire and air in that order, together with corresponding qualities which stick to those elements.
According to Buddhist tradition, as has been elaborately dealt with in The Tibetan Book of the Dead and also The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, the whole of our existence can be divided into four Bardos which are as follows: 1) the ‘natural’ Bardo of this life, 2) the ‘painful’ Bardo of dying, 3) the ‘luminous’ Bardo of dharmata (Sanskrit word, meaning essence of soul) and 4) the ‘Karmic’ Bardo of becoming. The natural Bardo is the best time to prepare for death by following the teachings of the Tathagata, while the painful Bardo lasts from the beginning of the process of dying until the end of ‘inner respiration’ which in turn culminates in the dawning of the ‘Ground Luminosity’. The luminous Bardo of Dharmata encompasses after death experience of the nature of mind or luminosity/clear light which manifests sound, colour and light. The karmic Bardo of becoming lasts right up to the new birth. The vast majority of people do not recognize Ground Luminosity owing to their ignorance and plunge into a state of unconsciousness which can last up to three and a half days when they are clinically dead. This is why as per the custom in Tibet, dead bodies are not touched for three days after death. Thereafter only cremation takes place. The Bardo of Dharmata has following four phases, each one offering an opportunity of liberation. The first phase is called luminosity when space dissolves into luminosity and the departed soul takes on a body of light. If this phase of luminosity is not recognised by the ignorant, the rays and colours then coalesce into balls of light of different sizes and within them peaceful and wrathful deities appear and enormous spherical concentration of light seems to occupy the whole space. This is called the second phase of Dharmata when luminosity dissolves into union to manifest in form of Buddhas or deities of various form, colour and size. There are forty two peaceful and fifty eight wrathful deities depicted in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. If the soul fails to gain stability, the next phase unfolds as ‘union dissolving into wisdom’ in form of brilliant display of light to manifest five wisdoms of space, mirror-like reflection, equanimity, discernment and accomplishment. If the soul does not yet attain liberation, wisdom dissolves into spontaneous presence in one tremendous display. The limitlessness of this vision is beyond our imagination. Every possibility is presented from wisdom and liberation to confusion and rebirth.
From the above, it will be seen that in Buddism, light plays an important role in identification of the path of Dharma, Nirvana or re-birth. While on re-birth, the Tibetan Book of the Dead speaks of various options going by the colour of light and guides the initiates how to choose a worthy birth by opting for the right colour of light, if re-birth is unavoidable, even though departed souls are advised to pray to the Buddha to get rid of re-birth.
Ascent to the Spiritual World
Like the astral world, spiritual world has seven levels, starting from 8th to 14th level. This world is pervaded by love and respect as souls at a spiritual level experience Brahman/God as all pervasive light that vibrates in every living being that includes particles as well.
The 14th level happens to be the highest dimension where liberated souls reside as Pure Consciousness, shedding off all four elements, viz. earth (body of particles), water (fluid), fire and air and exist with the last element called Akasha or space. Those who have shed off this last element as well are said to be merged with Brahman/God and lose their identity. All three Gunas, viz. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are also non-existent in 14th level. It is the discretion of a liberated soul to take re-birth for the good of the deluded souls. When they take re-birth, they willingly accept the bondage of Prakriti (nature) and get their souls tied by the three Gunas with all other additives and elements, and go through the process of liberation once again from the three dimensional world as a natural corollary to their mortal existence, with the purpose of guiding the mortals into the right path and also to restore the balance in the phenomenal worlds, when absolutely necessary. They also have the power and discretion to lift their disciples to the highest level by their grace provided they are fit otherwise for such elevation. Though liberated, the souls in 14th level stay with their individual identity. They have clairvoyance but not the power of Brahman for reason of their separate limiting identity and do not interfere with the events or happenings in the phenomenal worlds except at the level of consciousness. The prophets, messiahs and avatars belong to the highest spiritual domain.
In conclusion, we are inclined toward the view, based on empirical as also psychic evidence, that consciousness as a phenomenon is distinctive from mind or brain and not co-relatable to mortal existence as it survives death. Past life Regression Therapy pioneered by Dr. Brian Weiss, documentation of out of body experiences of the patients of Dr. Raymond Moody, communication with the dead through séance, and advanced yogis, instances of transmigration of souls and recorded instances of past life reminiscences are clear pointers to the finding that consciousness is not co-terminus with the body, which acts no more than a medium to contain it for a limited period in our three dimensional world. As a case in support, the anecdote of Shanti Devi is worth mention.
Shanti Devi, born as a little girl in Delhi on 12th October, 1926, carried a vivid memory of her past life at Mathura spanning from 1902 till 1925. Ever since she started speaking, she narrated in great detail the incidents and experiences associated with her husband of previous life at Mathura, naming him as Pundit Kedar Nath Chaubey. Her parents at first were dismissive of her reminiscences as meaningless jabber of a kid. When the situation went out of hand, and her memory showed no sign of effacing, her grand uncle was called for assistance. The address of her husband of previous birth was taken by said grand uncle from the little girl to carry out necessary verification at Mathura. Surprisingly Kedar Nath replied to the letter suggesting that the relations of little Shanti may contact one of his relations in Delhi, named Pundit Kanji Mal, for further inquiry in the matter. As soon as Shanti saw Kanji Mal she identified him as the younger cousin of her husband and responded to all his queries with such intimate details that only a close family member could have known. Kedar Nath was called to Delhi by Kanji Mal and he came with his ten year old son and his present wife. Shanti recognized her husband at the very first sight and was in tears seeing her son who was older than her. After the drill of verification, Pundit Kedar Nath confirmed that Shanti was the soul of his first wife who died at Mathura. Of the things Shanti revealed was that a hundred rupees were hidden underground in the upper storey room of the house at Mathura, which she vowed to donate to the temple of Dwarakadhish. A committee of inquiry was formed to investigate the whole episode. Shanti was taken to Mathura by train by her parents and the investigation team. As the train steamed into the Mathura station, she identified an old man in the crowd as the elder brother of her husband named Babu Ram Chaubey. She led the team to her house of previous birth and passed every test. Going upstairs she dug up the hole in search of the hidden money but did not find it there. Pundit Kedar Nath confessed that he had taken it from there after his wife died. When she was taken to the house of her past life parents she recognized them and wept a lot. The above recorded anecdote, apart from many other instances of similar nature, conclusively establishes two phenomena. First, memory does not die with the body but is carried forward by the soul as receptacle. In other words, consciousness survives death. Second, there is re-incarnation.
Our second finding is that scientific studies of past life regression and documentation of out of body experiences by an eminent surgeon, apart from the anecdote of Shanti Devi provide us with enough empirical evidence to smack of the Spirit World, dealt with elaborately in all well-known religious and spiritual texts.
Third, the Spirit World and the phenomenal world are inter-related at spiritual level, the former being at a higher dimension. These two domains have no direct interface, even though the soul migrates from one to the other alternately. Succinctly put, phenomenal world is the place for Karma or action while the Spirit World is for reaping the fruit of karma or action.
Fourth, as to the question whether Spirit World can be accessed with our three dimensional sense organs, the answer is – NO. Given the fact that Spirit World belongs to a higher dimension, we, the three dimensional creatures, cannot surely comprehend a higher dimensional being with our five sense organs. Swami Vivekananda very aptly explained this phenomenon in the following way. If we had an extra sense organ, the whole universe would have looked differently. With yet another sense organ, the earlier look also would have completely changed into something else. Sri Aurobindo thought it possible to bring down the Supramental to our three dimensional phenomenal world through some yogic process, whereby every human cell could be supramentalized. However, his concept still remains as a hypothesis.
Lastly, we have come to the finding based on recorded experiences and rational explanation that Spirit World is also subject to law of nature, except for the highest level of consciousness which is not subject to the control of Prakriti or nature or, to be more precise, under the yoke of the three Gunas namely Sattva, rajas and Tamas. We have also reasons to believe that there is hierarchy in Spirit World and souls are placed at the level they fit into according to their Karma.