The Heaven World
Charles Webster Leadbeater
All religions agree in declaring the existence of heaven and in stating that the enjoyment of its bliss follows upon a well-spent earthly life. Christianity and Mohammedanism speak of it as a reward assigned by God to those who have pleased
Him, but most other faiths describe it rather as the necessary result of the good life, exactly as we should from the Theosophical point of view. Yet though all religions agree in painting this happy life in glowing terms, none of them have succeeded in producing an impression of reality in their descriptions. All that is written about heaven is so absolutely unlike anything that we have known, that many of the descriptions seem almost grotesque to us. We should hesitate to admit this with regard to the legends familiar to us from our infancy, but if the stories of one of the other great religions were read to us, we should see it readily enough.
In Buddhist or Hindu books you will find magniloquent accounts of interminable gardens, in which the trees are all of gold and silver, and their fruits of various kinds of jewels, and you might be tempted to smile, unless the thought occurred to you that after all, to the Buddhist or Hindu, our tales of streets of gold and gates of pearl might in truth seem quite as improbable. The fact is that the ridiculous element is imported into these accounts only when we take them literally, and fail to realize that each scribe is trying the same task from his point of view, and that all alike are failing because the great truth behind it all is utterly indescribable. The Hindu writer had no doubt seen some of the gorgeous gardens of the Indian kings, where just such decorations as he describes are commonly employed. The Jewish scribe had no familiarity with such things, but he dwelt in a great and magnificent city probably Alexandria; and so his conception of splendour was a city, but made unlike anything on earth by the costliness of its material and its decorations. So each is trying to paint a truth which is too grand for words by employing such similes as are familiar to his mind.
There have been those since that day who have seen the glory of heaven, and have tried in their feeble way to describe it. Some of our
own students have been among these, and in the Theosophical Manual No. 6 ["The Devachanic Plane, or the Heaven-World."] you may find an effort of my own in that direction.
We do not speak now of gold and silver, of rubies and diamonds, when we wish to convey the idea of the greatest possible refinement and beauty of colour and form; we draw our similes rather from the colours of the sunset, and from all the glories of sea and sky, because to us these are the more heavenly. Yet those of us who have seen the truth know well that in all our attempts at description we
have failed as utterly as the Oriental scribes to convey any idea of a reality which no words can ever picture, though every man one day shall see it and know it for himself.
For this heaven is not a dream; it is a radiant reality; but to comprehend anything of it we must first change one of our initial ideas on the subject. Heaven is not a place, but a state of consciousness. If you ask me "Where is heaven?" I must answer you that it is here round you at this very moment, near to you as the air you breathe. The light is all about you, as the Buddha said so long ago; you have only to cast the bandage from your eyes and look.
But what is this casting away of a bandage? Of what is it symbolical? It is simply a question of raising the consciousness to a higher level, of learning to focus it in the vehicle of finer matter. I have already spoken of the possibility of doing this with regard to the astral body, thereby seeing the astral world; this needs simply a further stage of the same process, the raising of the consciousness to the mental plane, for man has a body for that level also, through which he may receive its vibrations, and so live in the glowing splendour of heaven while still possessing a physical body though indeed after such an experience he will have little relish for the return to the latter.
The ordinary man reaches this state of bliss only after death, and not immediately after it except in very rare cases. I have explained how after death the Ego steadily withdraws into himself. The whole astral life is in fact a constant process of withdrawal, and when in course of time the soul reaches the limit of that plane, he dies to it in just the same way as he did to the physical plane.
That is to
say, he casts off the body of that plane, and leaves
it behind him while he passes on to higher and still fuller life. No pain or
suffering of any kind precedes this second death, but just as with the first, there
is usually a period of unconsciousness, from which the man awakes gradually.
Some years ago I wrote a book called "The Devachanic Plane", in which
I endeavoured to some extent to describe what he
would see, and to tabulate as far as I could the various subdivisions of this
Perhaps the most comprehensive opening statement is that this is the plane of the Divine Mind, that here we are in the very realm of thought itself, and that everything that man possibly could think is here in vivid living reality.
We labour under a great disadvantage from our habit of regarding material things as real, and those which are not material as dream-like and therefore unreal; whereas the fact is that everything which is material is buried and hidden in this matter, and so whatever of reality it may possess is far less obvious and recognizable than it would be when regarded from a higher standpoint. So that when we hear of a world of thought, we immediately think of an unreal world, built out of "such stuff as dreams are made of", as the poet says.
Try to realize that when a man leaves his physical body and opens his consciousness to astral life, his first sensation is of the intense vividness and reality of that life, so that he thinks "Now for the first time I know what it is to live." But when in turn he leaves that life for the higher one, he exactly repeats the same experience, for this life is in turn so much fuller and wider and more intense than the astral that once more no comparison is possible.
And yet there is another life beyond all this, unto which even this is but as moonlight unto sunlight; but it is useless at present to think of that.
There may be many to whom it sounds absurd that a realm of thought should be more real than the physical world; well, it must remain so for them until they have some experience of a life higher than this, and then in one moment they will know far more than any words can ever tell them.
On this plane, then, we find existing the infinite fullness of the Divine Mind, open in all its limitless affluence to every soul, just in proportion as that soul has qualified himself to receive. If man had already completed his destined evolution, if he had fully realized and unfolded the divinity whose germ is within him, the whole of this glory would be within his reach; but since none of us has yet done that, since we are only gradually rising towards that splendid consummation, it comes that none as yet can grasp that entirely, but each draws from it and cognises only so much as he has by previous effort prepared himself to take. Different individuals bring very different capabilities; as the Eastern simile has it, each man brings his own cup, and some of the cups are large and some are small, but, small or large, every cup is filled to its utmost capacity; the sea of bliss holds far more than enough for all.
All religions have spoken of this bliss of heaven, yet few of them have put before us with sufficient clearness and precision this leading idea which alone explains rationally how for all alike such bliss is possible which is, indeed, the keynote of the conception the fact that each man makes his own heaven by selection from the ineffable splendours of the Thought of God Himself.
A man decides for himself both the length and character of his heaven-life by the causes which he himself generates during his earth-life; therefore he cannot but have exactly the amount which he has deserved, and exactly the quality of joy which is best suited to his idiosyncrasies, for this is a world in which every being must, from the very fact of his consciousness there, be enjoying the highest spiritual bliss of which he is capable a world whose power of response to his aspirations is limited only by his capacity to aspire.
He had made himself an astral body by his desires and passions during earth-life, and he had to live in it during his astral existence, and that time was happy or miserable for him according to its character. Now this time of purgatory is over, for that lower part of his nature has burnt itself away now there remain only the higher and more refined thoughts, the noble and unselfish aspirations that he poured out during earth-life. These cluster round him, and make a sort of shell about him, through the medium of which he is able to respond to certain types of vibration in this refined matter.
These thoughts which surround him are the powers by which he draws upon the wealth of the heaven-world, and he finds it to be a storehouse of infinite extent upon which he is able to draw just according to the power of those thoughts and aspirations which he generated in the physical and astral life.
All the highest of his affection and his devotion is now producing its results, for there is nothing else left; all that was selfish or grasping has been left behind in the plane of desire.
For there are two kinds of affection. There is one, hardly worthy of so sublime a name, which thinks always of how much love it is receiving in return for its investment of attachment, which is ever worrying as to the exact amount of affection which the other person is showing for it, and so is constantly entangled in the evil meshes of jealousy and suspicion. Such feeling, grasping and full of greed, will work out its results of doubt and misery upon the plane of desire, to which it so clearly belongs.
But there is another kind of love, which never stays to think how much it is loved, but has only the one object of pouring itself out unreservedly at the feet of the object of its affection, and considers only how best it can express in action the feeling which fills its heart so utterly.
Here there is no limitation, because there is
no grasping, no drawing towards the self, no thought of return, and just because of that there is a tremendous outpouring of force, which no astral matter could express, nor could the dimensions of the astral plane contain it. It needs the finer matter and the wider space of the higher level, and so the energy generated belongs to the mental world. Just so, there is a religious devotion which thinks mainly of what it will get for its prayers, and lowers its worship into a species of bargaining; while there is also a genuine devotion, which forgets itself absolutely in the contemplation of its deity. We all know well that in our highest devotion there is something which has never yet been satisfied, that our grandest aspirations have never yet been realized, that when we really love unselfishly, our feeling is far beyond all power of expression on this physical plane, that the profound emotion stirred within our hearts by the noblest music or the most perfect art reaches to heights and depths unknown to this dull earth.
Yet all of this is a wondrous force of power beyond our calculation, and it must produce its result somewhere; somehow, for the law of the conservation of energy holds good upon the higher planes of thought and aspiration just as surely as in ordinary mechanics.
But since it must react upon him who set it in motion, and yet it cannot work upon the physical plane because of its narrowness and comparative grossness of matter, how and when can it produce its inevitable result? It simply waits for the man until it reaches its level; it remains as so much stored-up energy until its opportunity arrives.
While his consciousness is focussed upon the physical and astral planes it cannot react upon him, but as soon as he transfers himself entirely to the mental it is ready for him, its floodgates are opened, and its action commences.
So perfect justice is done, and nothing is ever lost, even though to us in this lower world it seems to have missed its aim and come to nothing.
The keynote of the conception is the
comprehension of how man makes his own
heaven. Here upon this plane of the Divine Mind exists, as we have said, all beauty and glory conceivable; but the man can look out upon it all only through the windows he himself has made. Every one of his thought-forms is such a window, through which response may come to him from the forces without. If he has chiefly regarded physical things during his earth-life, then he has made for himself but few windows through which this higher glory can shine in upon him.
Yet every man will have had some touch of pure, unselfish feeling, even if it were but once in all his life, and that will be a window for him now. Every man, except the utter savage at a very early stage, will surely have something of this wonderful time of bliss. Instead of saying, as orthodoxy does, that some men will go to heaven and some to hell, it would be far more correct to say that all men will have their share of both states (if we are to call even the lowest astral life by so horrible a name as hell), and it is only their relative proportions which differ. It must be borne in mind that the soul of the ordinary man is as yet but at an early stage of his development.
He has learnt to use his physical vehicle with comparative ease, and he can also function tolerably freely in his astral body, though he is rarely able to carry through the memory of its activities to his physical brain; but his mental body is not yet in any true sense a vehicle at all, since he cannot utilize it as he does those lower bodies, cannot travel about in it, nor employ its senses for the reception of information in the normal way.
We must not think of him, therefore, as in a condition of any great activity, or as able to move about freely, as he did upon the astral levels. His condition here is chiefly receptive, and his communication with the world outside him is only through his own windows, and therefore exceedingly limited. The man who can put forth full activity there is already almost more than man, for he must be a glorified spirit, a great and highly evolved entity.
He would have full consciousness there, and would use his mental vehicle as freely as the ordinary man employs his physical body, and through it vast fields of higher knowledge would lie open to him.
But we are thinking of one as yet less developed than this one who has his windows, and sees only through them. In order to understand his heaven we must consider, two points: his relation to the plane itself, and his relation to his friends. The question of his relation to his surroundings upon the plane divides itself into two parts, for we have to think first of the matter of the plane as moulded by his thought, and secondly of the forces of the plane as evoked in answer to his aspirations.
I have mentioned how man surrounds himself with thought-forms; here on this plane we are in the very home of thought, so naturally those forms are all important in connection with both these considerations. There are living forces about him, mighty angelic inhabitants of the plane, and many of their orders are very sensitive to certain aspirations of man, and readily respond to them.
But naturally both his thoughts and his aspirations are only along the lines which he has already prepared during earth-life. It might seem that when he was transferred to a plane of such transcendent force and vitality he might well be stirred up to entirely new activities along hitherto unwonted lines; but this is not possible.
His mind-body is not in by any means the same order as his lower vehicles, and is by no means so fully under his control. All through a past of many lives it has been accustomed to receive its impressions and incitements to action from below, through the lower vehicles, chiefly from the physical body, and sometimes from the astral; it has done very little in the way of receiving direct mental vibrations at its own level, and it cannot suddenly begin to accept and respond to them. Practically, then, the man does not initiate any new thoughts, but those which he has already formed, the windows through which he
looks out on his new world.
With regard to these windows there are two possibilities of variation the direction in which they look, and the kind of glass of which they are composed. There are very many directions which the higher thought may take.
Some of these, such as affection and devotion, are so generally of a personal character that it is perhaps better to consider them in connection with the man's relation to other people; let us rather take first an example where that element does not come in where we have to deal only with the influence of his surroundings. Suppose that one of his windows into heaven is that of music.
Here we have a very mighty force; you know how wonderfully music can uplift a man, can make him for the time a new being in a new world; if you have ever experienced its effect you will realize that here we are in the presence of a stupendous power. The man that has no music in his soul has no window open in that direction; but a man who has a musical window will receive through it three
entirely distinct sets of impressions, all of which, however, will be modified by the kind of glass he has in his window. It is obvious that his glass may be a great limitation to his view; it may be coloured, and so admit only certain rays of light, or it may be of poor material, and so distort and darken all the rays as they enter. For example, one man may have been able while on earth to appreciate only one class of music, and so on. But suppose his musical window to be a good one, what will he receive through it?
First, he will sense that music which is the expression of the ordered movement of the forces of the plane. There was a definite fact behind the poetic idea of the music of the spheres, for on these higher planes all movement and action of any kind produce glorious harmonies both of sound and colour. All thought expresses itself in this way his own as well as that of others in a lovely yet indescribable series of ever changing chords, as of a thousand Aeolian harps. This musical manifestation of the vivid and glowing life of heaven would be for him a kind of ever present and ever delightful background to all his other experiences.
Secondly, there is among the inhabitants of the plane one class of entities one great order of angels, as our Christian friends would call them, who are specially devoted to music, and habitually express themselves by its means to a far fuller extent than the rest. They are spoken of in old Hindu books under the name of Gandharvas.
The man whose soul is in tune with music will certainly attract their attention, and will draw himself into connection with some of them, and so will learn with ever-increasing enjoyment all the marvelous new combinations which they employ. Thirdly, he will be a keenly appreciative listener to the music made by his fellow-men in the heaven-world.
Think how many great composers have preceded him: Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Handel, Mozart, Rossini all are there, not dead but full of vigorous life, and ever pouring forth far grander strains, far more glorious harmonies, than any which they knew on earth. Each of these is indeed a fountain of wondrous melody, and many an inspiration of our earthly musicians is in reality but a faint and far-off echo of the sweetness of their song. Very far more than we realize of the genius of this lower world is naught but a reflection of the untrammeled powers of those who have gone before us; oftener than we think the man who is receptive here can catch some thought from them, and reproduce it, so far as may be possible, in this lower sphere. Great masters of music have told us how they sometimes hear the whole of some grand oratorio, some stately march, some noble
chorus in one resounding chord; how it is in this way that the inspiration comes to them, though when they try to write it down in notes, many pages of music may be necessary to express it. That exactly expresses the manner in which the heavenly music differs from that which we know here; one mighty chord there will convey what here would take hours to render far less effectively.
Very similar would be the experiences of the man whose window was art. He also would have the same three possibilities of delight, for the order of the plane expresses itself in colour as well as in sound, and all Theosophical students are familiar with the fact that there is a colour language of the Devas an order of spirits whose very communication one with another is by flashings of splendid colour. Again, all the great artists of mediaeval times are working still not with brush and canvas, but with the far easier, yet infinitely more satisfactory, moulding of mental matter by the power of thought.
Every artist knows how far below the conception in his mind is the most successful expression of it upon paper or canvas; but here to think is to realize, and disappointment is impossible. The same thing is true of all directions of thought, so that there is in truth an infinity to enjoy and to learn, far beyond all that our limited minds can grasp down here.]
Our Friends in Heaven
But let us turn to the second part of our subject, the question of the man's relations with persons whom he loves, or with those for whom he feels devotion or adoration. Again and again people ask us whether they will meet and know their loved ones in this grander life, whether amid all this unimaginable splendour they will look in vain for the familiar faces without which all would for them seem vanity. Happily to this question the answer is clear and unqualified; the friends will be there without the least shadow of doubt, and far more fully, far more really, than ever they have been with us yet.
Yet again, men often ask "what of our friends already in the enjoyment of the heaven-life; can they see us here below? Are they watching us and waiting for us?" Hardly; for there would be difficulties in the way of either of these theories. How could the dead be happy if he looked back and saw those whom he loved in sorrow or suffering, or, far worse still, in the commission of sin?
And if we adopt the other alternative, that he does not see, but is waiting, the case is scarcely better. For then the man will have a long and wearisome period of waiting, a painful time of suspense, often extending over many years, while the friend would in many cases arrive so much changed as to be no longer sympathetic. On the system so wisely provided for us by Nature all these difficulties are avoided; those whom the man loves most he has ever with him, and always at their noblest and best, while no shadow of discord or change can ever come between them, since he receives from them all the time exactly what he wishes.
The arrangement is infinitely superior to any thing which the imagination of man has been able to offer us in its place as indeed we might have expected for all those speculations were man's idea of what is best, but the truth is God's idea. Let me try to explain it.
Whenever we love a person very deeply we form a strong mental image of him, and he is often present in our mind. Inevitably we take his mental image into the heaven-world with us, because it is to that level of matter that it naturally belongs. But the love which forms and retains such an image is a very powerful force a force which is strong enough to reach and act upon the soul of that friend, the real man whom we love. That soul at once and eagerly responds, and pours himself into the thought-form which we have made for him, and in that way we find our friend truly present with us, more vividly than ever before.
Remember, it is the soul we love, not the body; and it is the soul that we have with us here. It may be said, "Yes, that would be so if the friend were also dead; but suppose he is still alive; he cannot be in two places at once".
The fact is that, as far as this is concerned, he can be in two places at once, and often many more than two; and whether he is what we commonly call living, or what we commonly call dead, makes not the slightest difference. Let us try to understand what a soul really is, and we shall see better how this may be.
The soul belongs to a higher plane, and is a much greater and grander thing than any manifestation of it can be. Its relation to its manifestations is that of one dimension to another that of a line to a square, or a square to a cube. No number of squares could ever make a cube, because the square has only two dimensions, while the cube has three. So no number of expressions on any lower plane can ever exhaust the fullness of the soul, since he stands upon an altogether higher level.
He puts down a small portion of himself into a physical body in order to acquire experience which can only be had on this plane; he can take only one such body at a time, for that is the law; but if he could take a thousand, they would not be sufficient to express what he really is. He may have only one physical body, but if he has evoked such love from a friend, that that friend has a strong mental image of him always present in his thought, then he is able to respond to that love by pouring into that thought form his own life, and so vivifying it into a real expression of him on this level, which is two whole planes higher than the physical, and therefore so much the better able to express his qualities.
If it still seems difficult to realize how his consciousness can be active in that manifestation as well as in this, compare with this an ordinary physical experience. Each of us, as he sits in his chair, is conscious at the same instant of several physical contacts. He touches the seat of the chair, his feet rest on the ground, his hands feel the arms of the chair, or perhaps hold a book; and yet his brain has no difficulty in realizing all these contacts at once; why, then, should it be harder for the soul, which is so much greater than the mere physical consciousness, to be conscious simultaneously in more than one of these manifestations on planes so entirely below him?
It is really the one man who feels all those different contacts; it is really the one man who feels all these different thought-images, and is real, living and loving in all of them. You have him there always at his best, for this is a far fuller expression than the physical plane could ever give, even under the best of circumstances.
Will this affect the evolution of the friend in any way, it may be asked? Certainly it will, for it allows him an additional opportunity of manifestation.
If he has a physical body he is already learning physical lessons through it, but this enables him at the very same time to develop the quality of affection much more rapidly through the form on the mental plane which you have given him.
So your love for him is doing great things for him. As we have said, the soul may manifest in many images if he is fortunate enough to have them made for him.
One who is much loved by many people may have part in many heavens simultaneously, and so may evolve with far greater rapidity; but this vast additional opportunity is the direct result and reward of those lovable qualities which drew towards him the affectionate regard of so many of his fellow-men. So not only does he receive love from all these, but through that receiving he himself grows in love, whether these friends be living or dead.
We should observe, however, that there are two possible limitations to the perfection of this intercourse. First, your image of your friend may be partial and imperfect, so that many of his higher qualities may not be represented, and may therefore be unable to show themselves forth through it. Then, secondly, there may be some difficulty from your friend's side. You may have formed a conception somewhat inaccurately; if your friend be as yet not a highly evolved soul, it is possible that you may even have overrated him in some direction, and in that case there might be some aspect of your thought image which he could not completely fill. This, however, is unlikely, and could only take place when a quite unworthy object had been unwisely idolized. Even then the man who made the image would not find any change or lack in his friend, for the latter is at least better able to fulfil his ideal than he has ever been during physical life. Being undeveloped, he may not be perfect, but at least he is better than ever before, so nothing is wanting to the joy of the dweller in heaven.
Your friend can fill hundreds of images with those qualities which he possesses, but when a quality is as yet undeveloped in him, he does not suddenly evolve it because you have supposed him already to have attained it. Here is the enormous advantage which those have who form images only of those who cannot disappoint them or, since there could be no disappointment, we should rather say, of those capable of rising above even the highest conception that the lower mind can form of them.
The Theosophist who forms in his mind the image of the Master knows that all the inadequacy will be on his own side, for he is drawing there upon a depth of love and power which his mental plummet can never sound.
But, it may be asked, since the soul spends so large a proportion of his time in the enjoyment of the bliss of this heaven-world, what are his opportunities of development during his stay there? They may be divided into three classes, though of each there may be many varieties. First, through certain qualities in himself he has opened certain windows into this heaven-world; by the continued exercise of those qualities through so long a time he will greatly strengthen them, and will return to earth for his next incarnation very richly dowered in that respect. All thoughts are intensified by reiteration, and the man who spends a thousand years principally in pouring forth unselfish affection will assuredly at the end of that period know how to love strongly and well.
Secondly, if through his window he pours forth an aspiration which brings him into contact with one of the great orders of spirits, he will certainly acquire much from his intercourse with them. In music they will use all kinds of overtones and variants which were previously unknown to him; in art they are familiar with a thousand types of which he has had no conception. But all of these will gradually impress themselves upon him, and in this way also he will come out of that glorious heaven-life far richer than he entered it.
Thirdly, he will gain additional information through the mental images which he has made, if these people themselves are sufficiently developed to be able to teach him. Once more, the Theosophist who has made the image of a Master will obtain very definite teaching and help through it, and in a lesser degree this is possible with lesser people.
Above and beyond all this comes the life of the soul or ego in his own causal body the vehicle which he carries on with him from life to life, unchanging except for its gradual evolution. There comes an end even to that glorious heaven-life, and then the mental body in its turn drops away as the others have done, and the life in the causal begins. Here the soul needs no windows, for this is his true home, and here all his walls have fallen away.
The majority of men have as yet but very little consciousness at such a height as this; they rest, dreamily unobservant and scarcely awake, but such vision as they have is true, however limited by their lack of development. Still, every time they return these limitations will be smaller, and they themselves will be greater, so that this truest life will be wider and fuller for them.
As the improvement continues, this causal life grows longer and longer, assuming an ever larger proportion, as compared to the existence at lower levels. And as he grows the man becomes capable not only of receiving but of giving. Then, indeed, is his triumph approaching, for he is learning the lesson of the Christ, learning the crowning glory of sacrifice, the supreme delight of pouring out all his life for the helping of his fellow-men, the devotion of the self to the all, of celestial strength to human service, of all those splendid heavenly forces to the aid of struggling sons of earth. That is part of the life that lies before us; these are some of the steps which even we, who are as yet at the very bottom of the golden ladder, may see rising above us, so that we may report them to you who have not seen them yet, in order that you, too, may open your eyes to the unimaginable splendour which surrounds you here and now in this dull daily life.
This is part of the gospel which Theosophy brings to you the certainty of this sublime future for all. It is certain because it is here already, because to inherit it we have only to fit ourselves for it.
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