The five vehicles of the soul are:
|English||Sanskrit Kosha (Sheath)||Sanskrit Sharira (Body)|
|1||Physical Body||Annamaya Kosha||Sthula Sharira|
|2||Etheric Body||Pranamaya Kosha||Linga Sharira|
|3||Astral/Emotional Body||Manomaya Kosha||Lower Sukshma Sharira|
|4||Mental Body||Vigyanamaya Kosha||Higher Sukshma Sharira|
|5||Causal Body||Anandamaya Kosha||Karan Sharira|
After death when the physical body dies, his other bodies are still 'alive'. Each one of them (with the exception of the causal body) will go through their own process of passing away (or 'dying') before the soul returns back home and then is later reborn again with a new mental/astral/etheric and of course physical body in a new incarnation. The only exception is the causal body, this specific vehicle of the soul does not die and the same one is used through out the many (could be thousands) of lifetimes of the soul on earth. The causal body does 'die' at the fourth Initiation and is no longer needed after that (usually only one more life is required after the fourth initiation).
After death most of us will find ourselves either on the 6th or 5th astral plane. Only the most evil, depraved, cruel people find themselves on the seventh (lowest) plane. At a time of intense anger, hate, malice or other strong, unhealthy emotions, or while planning/commiting evil deeds, this plane is where you reside even while alive. Highly spiritual people may actually go directly to a higher plane than the 5th (a few who are near the end of their cycle on earth, may skip the astral life altogether). The seventh plane is the 'hell' that most religions warn you about. Besides the evil people who find themselves there after death, there are other discarnate unpleasant beings (like vampires) present there also. Luckily almost all of us will not be visiting this place.
The next two planes are where most of us arrive after death - this is probably what the Christians call purgatory. We spend time here being purged of many of our human emotions, desires, cravings until we are ready to move to a higher plane. At the lower regions of the 6th plane, you are at the same level as on earth. Some of us who arrive there after death, may not even realize immediately that they have died. They will be confused, because they can see all their friends or relatives who are still alive, but the friends don't seem to be aware of their presence or hear anything they say.
The nature of the astral world is very subjective. All objects, beings, scenery etc are very fluid and appear to each according to his own state of being. So anything can be pleasant or unpleasant, depending on how you 'feel' about it.
While you are on the 6th or 5th plane, you will also be able to meet your friends and relatives who are still alive (while they are sleeping). As mentioned before, during deep sleep, the astral body separates from the physical body. You can then meet and communicate with these 'sleeping' friends (so separation from departed ones, far from being permanent, is often quite short. However, once the departed ones move on to higher planes, it is no longer easy for the living to meet them during sleep). The sleeping humans will not remember having met you the next day, but some impression of what was said will remain in their subconsious. (Of course, if you have 'evil' or 'mean' friends, who are living, you will have to meet them on the 7th plane.) A minor problem, some non-human entities on the lower planes may resent your presence and try to frighten you (they have learnt that recent human arrivals are easily scared). As long as you remember that they can not harm you (the astral body after all can not be hurt), you will survive this initial problem - if you ignore them, these entities will leave you alone.
The higher astral planes are probably a bit like the Islamic idea of heaven. There are many objects and creatures of beauty. If you like music or art - you can spend time creating as well as experiencing these things at a much higher level than is possible on earth. You can create vast buildings ('castles in the air') or exquisite works of art, merely by imagining their form. If you like learning, there is much knowledge/material available - all of the world's literature, science, mathematics is open to you (there is no limitation imposed by a physical brain, so by physical earth's standards, everyone can be a genius). If you have no interests, of course, you may even be bored.
On the average, we spend about 25 years in the astral world, some will spend longer, others hardly any time. Though life on the astral planes is not necessarily bad, when we pray for the soul of the departed we are really asking that his time here, especially on the lower planes, be minimized and he be sped along on the journey 'upwards'. The Hindu practice of performing regular 'sraddha' for the dead is helpful in this regard. Eventually the astral body 'dies' (unlike physical death, this a smooth, painless process) and the person moves onwards to the mental world (or 'heaven'). Those who are spiritually undeveloped, will at this stage be ready to be reborn on earth, without any time spent at all in the mental world. Children who die young spend a very short time in the astral world as well as in the mental world and are ready to be reborn much sooner than the average person. Some really evil people may not rise at all above the 7th plane and reincarnate back on earth directly from there. For instance, many of the Nazis from the Hitler era are still languishing on the 7th plane. In fact, if level of consiousness on earth is raised higher in the next few decades, these Nazis may never be able to reincarnate on earth - they may be forced to incarnate on some other less developed planet.
Jannah (A special note on the Islamic idea of Paradise) : The holy Koran describes paradise as a place where you can drink as much wine as you want and eat as much delicious food as you want (and no farting or belching to boot) and have multiple women to satisfy all your needs (particularly if you were a martyr). Some of my Muslim friends have gone to great length to explain to me that this is all metaphorical, the Prophet did not mean to imply that all of this was actually available to you in heaven. And that when he said sex partners would be available to men, he definitely also implied that they will be available to women as well. My personal guess is that the Prophet (pbuh) meant exactly what he said literally. He must have actually visited the astral world (consciously as opposed to while sleeping) and noticed the inhabitants eating and drinking and having sex with abandon and concluded that this was really heaven and what heaven was like. The fact is that the astral world is a place of imagination through which one passes in order to rid oneself of all physical/emotional desires, addictions and cravings before entering real heaven (or the mental world - where there are no recognizable bodily needs or functions nor male/female genders). The food and wine is actually created by the inhabitants using their imagination and then indulged in until the desire for such stuff is eventually purged out of the person. Also inhabitants tend to indulge in sexual activity (to the extent it is possible in an astral body) with each other until this desire too is purged. With no social/cultural/legal restrictions, women as well as men have no inhibitions about having astral sex with anyone and everyone who they feel sexually attracted to at the moment (remember that everyone is around 35 years of age). There are also in these realms, some female non-humans (called Apsaras in Sanskrit) who could be compared to the beautiful houris or hoors described in the Koran (they are obviously virgins because they are not human, but I would not call them untouched). I don't know much about them, but it is probably safer to stick to your own kind than risk an association with one of these creatures. The male counterparts of Apsaras/Houris are called Gandharvas - these are beautiful male beings who are also superb musicians and literally out-of-the-world singers. I would suggest women (or gay men) do not get involved with these beings either. None of these bodily attractions that are available in the astral world are really that satisfying – but they help rid the person of desires/cravings and require no effort and no pain – they are all free.
The mental world is actually 'lower heaven'. After the passing of the mental body, a few of us move on to the 'higher heaven' for a short while before being reborn. This 'higher heaven' is the plane where all the souls reside. Most average humans do not get to enter this 'higher heaven' and are directly reborn after Devachan.
After the passing of the mental body, the soul with the help of the Masters prepares for and plans the next life and what it should be like - together choosing the best way for further development along the path as well as fulfilling its past karma. Accordingly, a choice of parents and a time of birth is made (for karmic reasons many relatives and friends will be those already encountered in previous lives), a suitable gender is chosen (each human is born as a male slight more than 50% of the time, as a female slightly less often), a guardian angel for the new life journey is assigned, a new physical, a new astral and a new mental body are seeded at exactly the same level of development as in the previous cycle (using the three permanent atoms that are preserved) and the great adventure of life begins all over again. The same causal body is used through out the time on earth, until the fourth initiation, at which point the causal body is destroyed - the soul and personality are fused together as one, the Soul then directly resides and operates in the person. Usually only one more life is required after this, before the person is liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
|Planes of Existence|
|7||Divine||Adi||Satyaloka||Plane of the Father - Shiva|
|6||Monadic||Anupadaka||Tapoloka||Plane of the Son - Vishnu|
|5||Spiritual||Atmic||Janaloka||Higher Heaven - Soul plane||Planes of the Holy Spirit - Brahma|
|3||Mental||Manas||Swarloka||Lower Heaven (between lives)|
Note that these planes are not separated or 'above' each other in space. They are superimposed on each other, so you can move from one to the other without moving in space. In other words you could reside in heaven while walking on earth. Also there are various cosmic level planes above the Divine plane, but these seven planes are as far as those of us within our solar system can hope to enter.
Among Christians, especially the Catholic Church, there exists the belief that there is no concept of 'time' outside the physical plane (Catholics only believe in heaven, hell and purgatory in any case). This belief is quite untrue. Time exists in all planes, but it is experienced differently in each. Time passes faster and faster as one moves up the planes, until we get to the Divine planes where speed of Time is infinite - Past, Present and Future are fused into One and everything on Earth appears to be happening simultaneously.
Corresponding to these seven upper planes, there are also seven lower planes. These are, in order, - Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala, Patala. These are not 'hells' as some would have us believe, but lower worlds where different classes of beings or creatures live. These are not places humans should wish to visit.
The Astral Body and other astral phenomena. By A.E.Powell
A Soul's Journey. By Peter Richelieu
The First Principles of Theosophy. By C. Jinarajadasa
This Page Created: February, 2007