7 June 1906, Paris
Devachan is the Sanscrit term for the long period of time lying between the death and rebirth of man. After death, in the astral world, the soul first learns to cast off the instincts that are connected with the body. After this, the soul passes into Devachan for the long period that lies between two incarnations.
The devachanic world is a state or condition of existence. It surrounds us even in earthly life, but we do not perceive it. In order, by way of analogy, to understand devachanic existence and its functions in earthly and cosmic life, it will be best to take our start from a consideration of the state of sleep.
For the vast majority of human beings, sleep is a condition full of enigmas. During sleep, man's etheric body remains with his physical body and continues its vegetative, restorative functions, but the astral body and individual Ego leave the sleeping body and live an independent existence.
The physical body is used up, consumed, as it were, by our conscious life. From morning till night man spends his forces; the astral body transmits sensations to the physical body which gradually exhaust it. At night, the astral body functions in quite a different way. It no longer transmits sensations which come from outside; it works upon them and brings order and harmony into what the waking life, with its chaotic perceptions, has thrown into disorder. By day, the function of the astral body is to receive and transmit; by night, during sleep, its function is to bring order, to build up and refresh the spent forces.
In man's present stage of evolution, it is not possible for the astral body to do this work of restoration by night and at the same time to observe what is happening in the surrounding astral world. How, then, can man arrive at the point of being able to relieve his astral body of its work, in order to set it free for conscious existence in the astral world?
The procedure adopted by the adept in order to release his astral body is, on the one hand, to train and develop such feelings and thoughts as possess, in themselves, a certain rhythm which can then be communicated to the physical body and, on the other, to avoid those which give rise to physical disorder. Joy or suffering that runs to extremes is avoided. The adept teaches the necessity for equanimity of soul.
Nature is governed by one sovereign law which is that rhythm must enter into all manifestation. When the twelve-petalled lotus-flower which constitutes man's organ of astral-spiritual perception has developed, he can begin to work upon his body and imbue it with a new rhythm whereby its fatigue is healed. Thanks to this rhythm and the restoration of harmony it is no longer necessary for the astral body to perform the restorative work on the sleeping physical body which alone prevents it from falling into ruin.
The whole of waking life is a process destructive of the physical body. Illnesses are caused by excessive activity of the astral body. Eating to excess affords a stimulus to the astral body which re-acts in a disturbing way on the physical body. That is why fasting is laid down in certain religions. The effect of fasting is that the astral body, having greater quiet and less to do, partially detaches itself from the physical body. Its vibrations are modulated and communicate a regular rhythm to the etheric body. Rhythm is thus set going in the etheric body by means of fasting. Harmony is brought into life (etheric body) and form (physical body). In other words, harmony reigns between the universe and man.
This gives us some idea of the function performed by the astral body during sleep. Where is the Self, the Ego of man? In the world of Devachan, but he has no consciousness of it. We must distinguish between sleep that is filled with dreams and the state of deep sleep. Sleep that is filled with dreams is an expression of astral consciousness. Deep, dreamless sleep — the sleep that follows the first dreams — corresponds to the devachanic state. Nothing of it is remembered because it is a condition of unconsciousness for the physical being of ordinary man. Only after the attainment of higher initiation is man aware of his experiences in deep sleep. In the Initiate there is continuity of consciousness through waking life, dream life and dreamless sleep.
Let us now consider the condition of man in Devachan, after death. At the end of a certain time, the etheric body disperses into the forces of the living ether.
What is the next task of the astral body and Ego? A new etheric body has to be built for the incarnation that is to follow. Devachanic existence is devoted, in part, to this work. The substance of the etheric body, like that of the physical body, is not conserved. The substance of which the physical body is composed, is constantly changing — to the point of being wholly renewed in the course of seven years. Similarly, etheric substance is renewed, although its principles of form and inner structure remain the same under the influence of the higher Self. At death, this substance is given completely over to the ether-world and nothing remains from one incarnation to another, any more than the substance of the physical body remains. In each successive incarnation, therefore, the etheric body of man is entirely renewed. That is why there is such a change in the physiognomy and bodily form of man from one incarnation to another. The physiognomy and bodily form do not depend upon the will of the individual but upon his karma, his desires, passions and his involuntary actions.
It is quite different in the case of an initiated disciple. He develops his etheric body in earthly existence in such a way that it is conserved and is fit to pass into Devachan after death. Here on Earth he is able to awaken, within his etheric forces, a ‘Life-Spirit’ which constitutes one of the imperishable principles of his being. The Sanscrit term for the etheric body which has developed into Life-Spirit is Budhi. When this principle of Life-Spirit has developed in the disciple, it is no longer necessary for him entirely to re-mould his etheric body between two incarnations. His period of devachanic existence is then much shorter and for this reason the same character, temperament and outstanding traits are carried forward from one incarnation to another. When the master in occultism has reached the point of conscious control not only of his etheric but of his physical body, another, higher spiritual principle comes into being — Spirit-Man (in Sanscrit, Atma). At this stage the Initiate preserves the characteristics of his physical body every time he incarnates on Earth. With unbroken consciousness, he passes from earthly to heavenly life, from one incarnation to another. Here we have the origin of the legend referring to Initiates who lived for a thousand or two thousand years. For them there is neither Kamaloca or Devachan but unbroken consciousness through deaths and births.
The following objection to the idea of re-incarnation is sometimes made: When a man has accomplished his task in the physical world, he knows the Earth. Why, then, should he return? This objection would be justifiable if man were to return under similar conditions. But as a general rule, he returns to find a new Earth, a new humanity, even a new Nature. For all have evolved and he can enter a new apprenticeship, fulfil a new mission.
These changing conditions of the Earth which determine the times of rebirth, are themselves determined by the passage of the Sun through the Zodiac. Eight centuries before Jesus the Christ, the vernal equinox fell with the Sun in the sign of the Ram. Reference is made to this in the legend of the Golden Fleece and in the name of the Lamb of God — the Christ. 2,160 years before that, the vernal equinox fell with the Sun in the sign of the Bull, a fact expressed in the cults of the Egyptian Apis or the Mithras Bull in Persia. 2,160 years before that again, the vernal equinox fell with the Sun in the sign of the Twins and we find this expressed in the cosmogony of the very ancient Persians, in the two opposing figures of Ormuzd and Ahriman. When the civilisation of Atlantis was destroyed and the age of the Vedas was beginning, the Sun at the vernal equinox was in the sign of Cancer, (inscribed as the sign of cancer) indicating the end of one period and the beginning of another.
There has always been some consciousness among the peoples of the Earth of their relation to the heavenly constellations. The great periods of human civilisation are subject to the heavenly cycles and the movement of the Earth in its relation to Sun and stars. This fact explains the different characteristics of the various epochs and gives new meaning to the incarnations occurring in them. 2,160 years is approximately the time needed for the accomplishment of a male and a female incarnation — that is to say, for the two aspects under which the human being gathers all the experiences of one epoch.
A new flora and a new fauna on Earth are brought forth on Earth by the Devas; they are an expression of the forms of Devachan.
Darwin tries to explain the process of earthly evolution by the struggle for existence — but that is no explanation. The occultist knows that the flora and fauna of Earth are shaped by forces issuing from Devachan. The more man has advanced in his evolution, the more he can participate in this process. His influence upon the moulding of Nature is measured by the extent to which his consciousness has developed.
The Initiate can work in the sphere where the germs of new plants come into being, for Devachan is the region where vegetation receives its form. In Kamaloca, man works at building up the animal kingdom. Kamaloca belongs to the Moon-sphere; Devachan to the Sun-sphere.
Thus man is bound up with all the kingdoms of Nature. Plato speaks of the symbol of the Cross, saying that the soul of the world is bound to the body of the world as it were upon a Cross. What is the meaning of this symbol? It is an image of the soul passing through the kingdoms of Nature. In contrast to the human being, the plant has its root beneath and its organs of generation above, turned towards the Sun. The animal is at the intermediary stage, its organism lying, generally speaking, in the horizontal direction. Man and the plants stand vertically upright and with the animal form a Cross — the Cross of the world.
In future ages there will be conscious participation on the part of man in the higher worlds after death in the work of building up the lower kingdoms of Nature. The consciousness of man will govern the circumstances whereby a new civilisation comes into being, concurrently with the appearance of a new flora. The divine mission of the Spirit is to forge the future. A time will come when there will be no question of ‘miracle’ or chance. Flora and fauna will be a conscious expression of the transfigured soul of man. Creative works on Earth are wrought by the Devas and by man. If we build a cathedral, we are working on the mineral kingdom. The mountains, the banks of the holy Nile are the work of the Devas the temples on the banks of the Nile are the work of man. And the aim is one and the same — the transfiguration of the Earth.
In future ages man will learn to mould all the kingdoms of Nature with the same consciousness with which today he can give shape to mineral substances. He will give form to living beings and take upon himself the labours of the Gods. Thus will he transform the Earth into Devachan.