In the first volume of her first book “Isis Unveiled,” H.P. Blavatsky touches upon a subject which is of great interest to many. It was never gone into in much depth, no doubt because this was not permitted by the Masters, but nevertheless it certainly makes us sit up and think when we read that –
“Our present cycle is preeminently one of such soul-deaths. We elbow soulless men and women at every step in life.” (“Isis Unveiled” Vol. 1, p. 369)
The subject in question is that of the loss of the soul while still physically alive.
On page 234 of Volume 1 of “The Secret Doctrine” it is said that “The soul, whose body vehicle is the Astral, ethero-substantial envelope, could die and man be still living on earth – i.e., the soul could free itself from and quit the tabernacle for various reasons – such as insanity, spiritual and physical depravity, etc. … The possibility of the “Soul” (i.e., the eternal Spiritual Ego) dwelling in the unseen worlds, while its body goes on living on Earth, is a pre-eminently occult doctrine, especially in Chinese and Buddhist philosophy. … Many are the Soulless men among us, for the occurrence is found to take place in wicked materialists as well as in persons “who advance in holiness and never turn back”.”
In the second volume of “Isis Unveiled,” p. 318, HPB tells us that the Swedenborgians (followers of the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg) hold to somewhat similar views on this matter and that they maintain that “When one falls into a love of self and love of the world, with its pleasures, losing the divine love of God and of the neighbor, he falls from life to death. The higher principles which constitute the essential elements of his humanity perish, and he lives only on the natural plane of his faculties. Physically he exists, spiritually he is dead. To all that pertain to the higher and the only enduring phase of existence he is as much dead as his body becomes dead to all the activities, delights, and sensations of the world when the spirit has left it. This spiritual death results from disobedience of the laws of spiritual life, which is followed by the same penalty as the disobedience of the laws of natural life. But the spiritually dead still have their delights; they have their intellectual endowments and power, and intense activities. All the animal delights are theirs, and to multitudes of men and women these constitute the highest ideal of human happiness. The tireless pursuit of riches, of the amusements and entertainments of social life; the cultivation of graces of manner, of taste in dress, of social preferment, of scientific distinction, intoxicate and enrapture these dead-alive.”
She goes on to say that “A high development of the intellectual faculties does not imply spiritual and true life. Many of our greatest scientists are but animate corpses – they have no spiritual sight because their spirits have left them. So we might go through all ages, examine all occupations, weigh all human attainments, and investigate all forms of society, and we would find these spiritually dead everywhere.”
What we can deduce from the above is that this is not referring to the death of the soul but to the separation of the soul from the personality into which it has incarnated. In such cases the soul continues to “dwell in the unseen worlds,” i.e. the higher planes, but its connection with the lower self is severed. Whether it is ever possible for the connection to be restored after separation is not revealed. This separation, which results in the spiritual and often moral death of the now unensouled personality, is the inevitable Karmic effect that comes to the personality if it consistently follows certain lines of thought and action, which include “spiritual and physical depravity.”
“Swedenborgians believe and arcane science teaches that the abandonment of the living body by the soul frequently occurs, and that we encounter every day, in every condition of life, such living corpses. Various causes, among them overpowering fright, grief, despair, a violent attack of sickness, or excessive sensuality may bring this about. The vacant carcass may be entered and inhabited by the astral form of an adept sorcerer, or an elementary (an earth-bound disembodied human soul), or, very rarely, an elemental. Of course, an adept of white magic has the same power, but unless some very exceptional and great object is to be accomplished, he will never consent to pollute himself by occupying the body of an impure person. In insanity, the patient’s astral being is either semi-paralyzed, bewildered, and subject to the influence of every passing spirit of any sort, or it has departed forever, and the body is taken possession of by some vampirish entity near its own disintegration, and clinging desperately to earth, whose sensual pleasures it may enjoy for a brief season longer by this expedient.”
– H.P. Blavatsky, “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 2, p. 589
A vivid description in this regard can be found in HPB’s short story titled “A Bewitched Life.” Attentive readers may find numerous esoteric hints and clues within the spiritual stories written by both HPB and her colleague William Quan Judge. The protagonist of the tale describes what happened when he saw – with clairvoyant vision – his sister being shown the grisly remains of her husband:
“As the corpse is brought into the house for identification I hear the long agonizing cry, my own name pronounced, and the dull thud of the living body falling upon the remains of the dead one. I follow with curiosity the sudden thrill and the instantaneous perturbation in her brain that follow it, and watch with attention the worm-like, precipitate, and immensely intensified motion of the tubular fibres, the instantaneous change of colour in the cephalic extremity of the nervous system, the fibrous nervous matter passing from white to bright red and then to a dark red, bluish hue. I notice the sudden flash of a phosphorous-like, brilliant Radiance, its tremor and its sudden extinction followed by darkness – complete darkness in the region of memory – as the Radiance, comparable in its form only to a human shape, oozes out suddenly from the top of the head, expands, loses its form and scatters. And I say to myself: “This is insanity; life-long, incurable insanity, for the principle of intelligence is not paralyzed or extinguished temporarily, but has just deserted the tabernacle for ever, ejected from it by the terrible force of the sudden blow. The link between the animal and the divine essence is broken”.”
Also, sometimes we might describe some individuals who are profoundly materialistic and soul-denying in thought and perception as being “spiritually dead,” just as an expression or figure of speech, whereas in many such cases it might be actual fact.
In the biographical “Blavatsky and Her Teachers,” Jean Overton Fuller writes that one day in the summer of 1890, “Countess Wachtmeister, thinking to give Madame Blavatsky a little pleasure, took her for a drive in Hyde Park, ‘in the fashionable hour’. Mrs Alice Leighton Cleather and Mrs Cooper-Oakley were in the drawing-room when they returned, and Mrs Leighton Cleather says that Madame Blavatsky was in a passion, crying, ‘Not a Soul among them – not one!’ It is to be hoped this is not to be taken literally.”
Indeed, this is to be sincerely hoped, but in light of what HPB has clearly stated in her written teachings it would seem that it is truly the case more often than we might even imagine, seeing as “we elbow soulless men and women at every step in life,” “many are the Soulless men among us,” “we encounter every day, in every condition of life, such living corpses,” and we may “find these spiritually dead everywhere.”
This is not something to “preach” to others, since that would reduce Theosophists almost to the level of hellfire and damnation evangelists, but it is certainly something for us to keep in the back of our minds and to view as a warning, since none of us are so perfected and progressed as to be entirely beyond the possibility of such a fate. If we do as the Lord Buddha famously instructed – “Cease to do evil, begin to do good, cleanse and purify your mind and heart” – then we will never have anything to worry about in this regard. Like everything else, it’s all ultimately down to us. We are our own devil, we are our own god, it is we who have fashioned the paths we have trod.
The annihilation of the soul is something different than what we have been discussing so far. It is something about which even less is mentioned than the loss of the soul during life on Earth. It would seem that it applies only to the most extremely evil and depraved and is thus not too common an occurrence, we hope.
In her article “Elementals” HPB says, “After the death of the depraved and the wicked, arrives the critical moment. If during life the ultimate and desperate effort of the inner self to reunite itself with the faintly-glimmering ray of its divine monad is neglected; if this ray is allowed to be more and more shut out by the thickening crust of matter, the soul, once freed from the body, follows its earthly attractions, and is magnetically drawn into and held within the dense fogs of the material atmosphere of the Kama Loka. Then it begins to sink lower and lower, until it finds itself, when returned to consciousness [Note: this is referring to the fact that the soul is initially rendered unconscious by the shock of the separation from its lower “principles” at physical death, as shown in When We Die], in what the ancients termed Hades, and we – Avichi. The annihilation of such a soul is never instantaneous; it may last centuries, perhaps; for nature never proceeds by jumps and starts, and the astral soul of the personality being formed of elements, the law of evolution must bide its time. Then begins the fearful law of compensation, the Yin-youan of the Buddhist initiates.”
For over 200 articles relating to other and related aspects of the teachings of Theosophy, please visit the Articles page. The poetic line above about being our own devil and our own god is from the poem “My Law” which can be read in full in the article “My Law” – Theosophy in a Poem.