Theosophy maintains that it is far more beneficial, in various ways, for dead bodies to be cremated rather than buried.
The first ever cremation in the USA was that of Baron de Palm, an early member of the Theosophical Society, in December 1876.
Here in the United Kingdom, the first official cremation did not take place until March 1885, the practice having been illegal under British law up until the previous year. To begin with it was not very popular and only a very small number of cremations occurred each year. In fact, H.P. Blavatsky – founder of the Theosophical Movement – was one of the first people to be cremated in the UK, following her death in London in May 1891.
In time, the practice and procedure gained greater acceptance and the latest statistics suggest that nowadays over 70% of the deceased in the UK are cremated.
Some people, however, have peculiar concerns about cremation. There are those who fear or believe that the process of cremation will prevent the soul from being able to move on to Heaven. Others worry that cremation will somehow damage or destroy the soul.
The teachings of Theosophy dispel these misconceptions with two main points: (1) The soul leaves the body when physical death occurs and in fact it is this departure of the soul which causes the death of the body and (2) The soul is quite obviously not a physical or material thing and thus cannot be affected in any way by physical material fire.
As William Quan Judge once explained in answer to a question in “The Theosophical Forum,” material fire can only have an effect on matter and substance belonging to the material (i.e. physical) plane…and so the process of cremation cannot and does not disturb, damage, or negatively affect any part of our being other than the physical body, which is already dead prior to cremation anyway.
Cremation does not cause physical or metaphysical harm of any kind whatsoever.
But what are some of the actual benefits of cremation?
1. According to Theosophy, the astral body disintegrates after death at the same rate as the physical corpse. It separates itself from the physical body at the moment of death but then continues to linger nearby, decaying and dissipating along with the physical body which it had formerly vitalised. If the physical body is merely buried, the remains of the astral body will be hanging around for much longer and this may potentially have undesirable consequences. But if the physical body (Sthula Sharira) is cremated after death, the astral body (Linga Sharira) is very swiftly dissolved.
2. Cremation results in the departed soul being freed to a large extent from any remaining attraction it may have towards the Earth and the things of the physical plane, which could otherwise hinder it in the first part of the after-death process.
3. In the words of William Judge, “From a sanitary point of view cremation is of high importance, as it does away with injurious matter or matter in such a state as to be injurious to the living.” It quickly and cleanly gets rid of the deceased physical body, eliminating a lot of unpleasant and harmful things in the process.
Here in the West we have become experts in not thinking. It is surely only the refusal to actually think about things and the refusal to face facts which has caused us to continue the illogical and rather grotesque practice of burying dead bodies under the ground for so long.
If one of our loved ones passes away, why on earth would we want to prolong the horrible putrefaction and decomposition of their mortal remains by sealing those remains in a wooden box and then burying it a few feet under the ground? And how can we be at peace, knowing that the body which once housed the soul of our dear family member or friend is now being subjected unnecessarily to such a messy, grisly, and lengthy fate?
There is really nothing that can be said in favour of burial but much that can be said in favour of cremation.
Many people find that they experience a certain degree of “emotional closure” after their loved one has been cremated, which they would not have been able to gain otherwise with the constant thought that “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave.”
In 1881, HPB published an article titled “Stray Thoughts on Death and Satan” which consisted of previously unpublished notes by the Kabbalistic writer Eliphas Levi, accompanied in footnotes by HPB’s comments on them. Levi wrote regarding burial:
“The preservation of corpses is a violation of the laws of nature; it is an outrage on the modesty of death, which hides the works of destruction, as we should hide those of reproduction. Preserving corpses is to create phantoms in the imagination of the earth [“To intensify these images in the astral or sidereal light,” explains HPB]; the spectres of the night-mare, of hallucinations, and fear, are but the wandering photographs of preserved corpses. It is these preserved or imperfectly destroyed corpses, which spread, amid the living, plague, cholera, contagious diseases, sadness, scepticism and disgust of life. Death is exhaled by death. The cemeteries poison the atmosphere of towns, and the miasma of corpses blight the children even in the bosoms of their mothers.”
Whether or not HPB herself agreed with all this is not clear but she did add approvingly in a footnote that “People begin intuitionally to realize the great truth, and societies for burning bodies and crematories are now started in many places in Europe.”
One of the main aims of the Theosophical Movement is to clearly present the right understanding of the true nature of the human being, so that we may properly comprehend who and what we really are and what the nature and function is of our Seven Principles both during and after life.
More is explained about these things in various articles here on this site, including the following, which we hope might be of interest: The Sevenfold Nature of Man, Death and the Afterlife, When We Die, What happens to people who commit Suicide?, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, Mysteries of the Astral Body, A Right Understanding of Karma, A Right Understanding of Reincarnation and There is No Injustice.