A 360-Degree View of the
Whole Cycle of Reincarnation
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
“(…) He who holds the keys to the secrets
of Death is possessed of the keys of Life (…).”
(“The Mahatma Letters”, TUP, Letter LXV, p. 365)
The following text describes the cyclic wheel of life,
afterlife and rebirth, in an analogical comparison with the
daily succession of sleep, dreams and wakefulness.
Based on the Mahatma Letters and the writings of
Helena P. Blavatsky, the article presents a 360-degree
view of the process between two lives of the same human
monad or spiritual soul, which are normally separated by
a time period varying from 1,000  to 3,000 or 4,000 years.
1. Defining Original Theosophy
Before examining the events that take place between two lives of the same immortal soul, a few points should be clarified.
One essential premise draws a line between classical theosophy and the many forms of popular spirituality.
According to the original teachings of esoteric philosophy, the spiritual path consists of the natural and nonviolent expansion of the contact between one’s mortal soul (lower self, kama-manas) and one’s immortal soul (also known as higher self, monad, and atma-buddhi).
Attachment to beliefs or ceremonies prevents one’s free search for truth. And the use of lower self “occult powers” on the astral plane is an ill-informed manipulation of energies, which in most cases has most serious negative consequences in one’s afterlife and in the next life.[1] The exceptions to this rule are rare and take place with persons who have the natural gift (unsought for) to heal, and who use such a gift in altruistic ways, not as a means to personally obtain money.
In the group of mistakes related to manipulation of lower “occult” energies one must include projectiology, mediumship, induced clairvoyance and every personal, intentional manipulation of subtle energies whose goal is not the good of mankind as a whole. 
These are the “lower siddhis” mentioned in esoteric philosophy and whose search is a serious obstacle to true spirituality. As to the so-called practice of “channeling”, there are two possibilities:
1) When it is not mere fancy, it belongs to the group of mediumistic actions taking place on the illusory plane of lower siddhis.
2) When it consists of pure fancies, it shares the bad karma of lack of discernment and of adopting a childish attitude towards the divine realm.
Authentic theosophy does not see the spiritual path as a public show of fireworks. It does not look for “extraordinary events”, and when they occur, it does not divulge them.
Theosophy works in slow and gradual ways. It silently and almost imperceptibly transfers the focus of consciousness from the lower self to the higher self.  This is the path of Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga, which includes the best of Karma Yoga. It is a long term project and involves several incarnations. It is trodden through reflection, self-discipline, self-purification and the contemplation of universal truths.
The theosophical path includes:
* Altruistic actions;
* An interdisciplinary view of things;
* An impersonal attitude towards life, and
* The practice of universal compassion.
These factors expand Buddhi-Manas, the unlimited aspect of intelligence.
In the present phase of human development, the sixth sub-race of the fifth root-race is being prepared. This is the next step. However, this is not a sub-race in the physical sense of the word. Theosophy is the philosophy of universal brotherhood, and no root-race or sub-race is intrinsically superior or inferior to another. All of them are equally tools which serve the evolution of the immortal soul or monad, and each monad must be born in the different root-races and sub-races.
Any form of racism is a mechanism of spiritual ignorance. The new variety of human beings has a world view that is naturally universal, and the pioneers of such a humanity have been awakening in growing numbers since the end of 19th century. The goal of the authentic theosophical movement is to help an expansion of that higher intelligence which is intrinsically solidary.
The citizens of the future need a “reasoning intuition” and “an intuitive way of thinking”. The two factors are inseparable from the feeling of planetary brotherhood. The higher and broader consciousness activates new “brain circuits” or areas of human mind. Both attention and discernment play decisive roles in such awakening.
One must develop the ability to see the difference between the pseudo-spiritual things of the lower self and those things that are truly universal and essential. It is correct to lead a simple and altruistic life, avoiding “spiritual” ideas that are apparently spectacular, but which have no enduring contents and cannot resist an examination from the point of view of common sense.
The esoteric philosophy agrees with the teachings of the New Testament in that the truth-seeker must store up a treasure for him in the heaven of higher levels of consciousness: all the necessary things will be given to him.
Once we have firmly adopted this fundamental idea as a premise, let us see how the Masters of the Wisdom describe, in “The Mahatma Letters”, the process which takes place between two lives. We will first examine the lower self world; then, the higher realm.
2. Kama-Loka, the Place of Desire
The first phase after physical death is kama-loka (literally, “the place of desires and personal feelings”).
There is some correspondence between kama-loka and the Christian “purgatory”. The great difference is, of course, that the Christian purgatory is a collective place subject to the authoritarian management of the God fabricated by priests, while the kama-loka is a state of individual consciousness. It is called a “place” only in a symbolic way. Kama-loka is a subjective reality created by each one’s thoughts, feelings and actions. It is the individual product of the specific karma produced by one’s mortal soul. It is the harvest of whatever was planted in physical life by the lower self.
The fragment from “The Mahatma Letters” which we will see now starts by revealing the normal duration of the kama-loka. It varies from “a few hours to several short years”, according to each case; and there are exceptions.
The passage clarifies that suicide is one of the most serious mistakes a human being can commit, and that other types of violent death also cause extremely difficult situations in the afterlife process.
The seriousness of these circumstances results from the fact that the soul is not ready yet to innerly detach itself from physical life. This in many cases is due, in part, to young age, and to the fact that death occurred during the experience of extremely strong personal feelings.
On a sociological level, the practical lesson to learn is that we should avoid as much as possible the occurrence of violent deaths around the world. It is of great importance that people have the chance of living long lives, of thinking about life, and reviewing their personal existence in their final years.
The constant remembering of the past, usually experienced by the elders, is both healthy and useful. It slowly paves the way to those decisive “30 to 90 seconds of life” when the closing review of the entire incarnation will take place like a flash and determine the “resulting vector”, the karmic keynote, the route and direction of all the subtle, long term process from one physical life until the next birth.
When the elderly people constantly review facts which occurred a long time ago, they are not just “getting senile”. They are organizing their memories: they are putting their personal records in order, taking lessons and preparing the first degrees of detachment before they leave their materiality behind them. Reviewing the past does not mean they are nearing death. The task may begin decades before the end of one’s life. Human beings can and should have the essence of their past experiences consciously by their side, while they are fully live in the present.
An artificial and one-sided denial of the past is not helpful. There is no separation between past, present and future. It is the understanding of the past, not its suppression, that enlightens the soul and liberates it to better live in the present.
The following passage of the Letters clarifies the disastrous effects of spiritualistic mediumship. We can hope that in the future Spiritualism will abandon such a mistake, adopt a wider view of things and understand that the way of evolution depends on the higher self, or immortal soul, and not on the mortal soul or its astral remains. In these paragraphs, the Master uses the term “Ego” as a synonym to “higher self”. Other technical terms are explained between square brackets and after the word “Note”.
The Mahatma says:
“The rule is, that a person who dies a natural death, will remain from ‘a few hours to several short years’, within the earth’s attraction, i.e., in the Kama-Loka. But exceptions are, in the case of suicides and those who die a violent death in general.”
“Hence, one of such Egos, for instance, who was destined to live – say 80 or 90 years, but who either killed himself or was killed by some accident, let us suppose at the age of 20 – would have to pass in the Kama Loka not ‘a few years’, but in his case 60 or 70 years, as an Elementary [Note: an astral shell dominated by intense selfishness], or rather an ‘earth-walker’; since he is not, unfortunately for him, even a ‘shell’. Happy, thrice happy, in comparison, are those disembodied entities, who sleep their long slumber and live in dream in the bosom of Space! And woe to those whose Trishna [Note: the thirst for living] will attract them to mediums, and woe to the latter, who tempt them with such an easy Upadana [Note: the acquisition of sensorial organs]. For in grasping them, and satisfying their thirst for life, the medium helps to develop in them – is in fact the cause of – a new set of Skandhas [Note: karmic records which endure from one life to the next], a new body, with far worse tendencies and passions than was the one they lost. All the future of this new body will be determined thus, not only by the Karma of demerit of the previous set or group but also by that of the new set of the future being. Were the mediums and Spiritualists but to know, as I said, that with every new ‘angel guide’ they welcome with rapture, they entice the latter into an Upadana which will be productive of a series of untold evils for the new Ego that will be born under its nefarious shadow, and that with every seance – especially for materialization – they multiply the causes for misery, causes that will make the unfortunate Ego fail in his spiritual birth, or be reborn into a worse existence than ever – they would, perhaps, be less lavishing their hospitality.”
“And now, you may understand why we oppose so strongly Spiritualism and mediumship.”
[“The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett”, TUP, Letter XVI, pp. 112-113.]
Let us see at this point how human perception works during the kama-loka phases of the afterlife. 
3. What Consciousness Is There in the Afterlife?
The next two fragments belong to Letter XX-C of the Mahatma Letters. While looking at them, one must take into consideration that they are short quotations. They clarify some issues and raise other questions.
It is also important to remember that these teachings cannot be suddenly understood. The subconscious of the student has its own rhythm, which is different from the rhythm of the voluntary mind, and the subconscious awareness needs to be part of the investigation. Therefore patience is needed.
The first of the two fragments includes the concept of “sorcerers”, used in the sense of “selfish sorcerers”. It is not our goal here to examine this unfortunate condition. It is enough to say that these individuals possess no spiritual intelligence, whatsoever. They have developed a good deal of guile or cunning in the search for selfish goals. They can delay part of the karmic harvest of their mistakes for a certain number of lives. The topic is of course of no interest to us: our way is the way of spiritual intelligence and of a conscious unity with the One Life, and with the law of universal Justice, Ethics, Truth and Love. 
The term “adept” can be broadly defined as “one who knows enough about the path to spiritual and cosmic enlightenment”. This is the path of altruism and of self-sacrifice for the liberation of all beings.
In the first quotation, the master says that only in exceptional cases an individual can perceive, in the afterlife, that his physical body is dead.  And someone might ask:
“How is that possible?”
The answer is simple.
Let’s use the Law of Analogy and remember that in the dreaming state, too, one can hardly perceive that one possesses a physical body, or that such our physical vehicle is asleep and quietly taking rest. There is a direct correspondence between dream and afterlife.
The first fragment selected from Letter XX-C says:
“Those who know they are dead in their physical body – can only be either adepts or – sorcerers; and these two are the exceptions to the general rule. Both having been ‘co-workers with nature’, the former for good, the latter – for bad, in her work of creation and in that of destruction, they are the only ones who may be called immortal – in the Kabalistic and the esoteric sense of course.”
The second fragment is equally surprising, as it approaches the fact that in the afterlife there is nothing similar to the thoughts which we produce in the waking state. Thoughts as we know them need the active work of physical brain. How can we understand that consciousness that is situated beyond the brain? Here, too, analogy is useful.  We all know that whenever we are too tired and sleepy we have the feeling of “not being able to think any longer”. If the thoughts as we know them could take place outside the brain, we would not have such a feeling of impossibility.
Although we may say that the mind is not the brain, it is a fact that many of the mind functions and roles disappear together with the activity of the physical brain. Some of the mental activities that cease in the afterlife are later recovered in a subjective plane of consciousness.
The second fragment from Letter XX-C (at p. 128, TUP edition), says:
“Thus, when man dies, his ‘Soul’ (fifth prin.) becomes unconscious and loses all remembrance of things internal as well as external. Whether his stay in Kama Loka has to last but a few moments, hours, days, weeks, months or years; whether he died a natural or a violent death; whether it occurred in his young or old age, and, whether the Ego was good, bad, or indifferent, – his consciousness leaves him as suddenly as the flame leaves the wick, when blown out. When life has retired from the last particle in the brain matter, his perceptive faculties become extinct forever, his spiritual powers of cogitation and volition – (all those faculties in short, which are neither inherent in, nor acquirable by organic matter) – for the time being.”
Such is the second fragment, and there is no need to say how important it is. Just like the first one, it destroys a vast number of illusions about the process between two lives of the same spiritual soul.
Once the kama-loka is complete, the central focus of consciousness is “reborn” purified in the Devachan.  There the soul will experience a long time of rest and bliss, immersed in the good karma of the spiritual aspect of his earthly life. This, however, is not always easy to understand.
4. Is the Devachan a Selfish Dream?
A student of esoteric philosophy asked if the Devachan can be described as a sort of selfish dream:
“Since there are so many beings in need of help in our planet, why would someone stay for a time period of 1,000 to 3,000 years in a state of constant happiness?”
The question is especially meaningful since a Master uses the very word “selfishness” with regard to Devachan.  He writes in answer 3 of Letter XVI:
“Of course it is a state, one, so to say, of intense selfishness, during which an Ego reaps the reward of his unselfishness on earth.”
One must clarify that in Buddhism, as in Theosophy, the world “selfishness” as referred to the higher levels of consciousness has a limited similarity with any form of “selfishness” as seen in the lower levels of consciousness.  Adding to the sentence an element of flexibility, the Master writes “so to say”, before underlining the words “intense selfishness”, which the editors of the Letters duly reproduced in italics.
The term “selfishness” as applied to spiritual levels of consciousness means a kind of spiritual enlightenment which is not directly linked to universal compassion. However, it is a pure and spiritual state. It is harmless, and has therefore scarcely anything in common with selfishness in the sense of causing harm to any being, either in intention, in thought, or in any form.
Since the individuality which is in the Devachan is neither a Mahatma, nor a Buddha or a High Initiate, it will experience that spiritual pleasure which corresponds to its past life during “an eternity” of 10, 20 or even 40 centuries.
As we saw, such individuality does not have the vivid sense of solidarity for all beings which takes place in the advanced phases of the spiritual path.  This is one of the differences between Devachan, which is the involuntary result of Karma, and Nirvana. One could say that Nirvana corresponds to a sort of “Devachan” which is attained during the life of the physical body.
Nirvana does not occur as a natural necessity, or due to the unavoidable timing of the afterlife process, as Devachan does.  Nirvana is achieved due to the conscious individual merit, after being sought with effectiveness. It does not contain psychological illusion. It liberates the individuality from the need of reincarnating in the present phase of human evolution.
Nirvana is a bliss or ecstasy which occurs in almost every case in connection with the process of universal compassion. It is highly compatible with a sense of intimate unity regarding all beings that have ever existed, or will exist in the future. The advanced disciple experiences a significant part of Nirvana’s substance during his physical life. Thus he “ceases to need” the long-standing blessing of Devachan as a means to purify himself between two lives and “deactivates” many of the obligatory mechanisms of the average afterlife.  He can reincarnate in quicker ways, in order to help mankind.
The path followed by the Masters of the Himalayas and their disciples is the same road symbolically described in the legends of the Christian Gospels, in the legendary life of Gautama Buddha, and in many other scriptures. It is the way of total sacrifice for the happiness of all, a sacrifice which constitutes itself a profound source of happiness to the pilgrim, and the way to Nirvana. Selfish seekers, on the other hand, cannot find the path of the immortal soul.
Every effect results from a corresponding cause, or causes. If the goal (the effect to be attained) is altruistic, the intention (the cause which will provoke it) must be equally altruistic. This is the road to victory.  
5. Questions and Answers
For many a student, perplexity is unavoidable as they start to examine the reincarnation process in general, and especially Devachan, “the place of the gods”. These are a few questions raised during debate, and the commentaries to them:
Question 1:
I’m sorry to say that the Spiritualistic view of the afterlife, with its well-organized cities, its social life, restaurants and many possibilities to interact with people seems to be far more attractive than a subjective bliss which corresponds to a dreaming state, in Devachan .
No doubt.  It is easy to understand why a religion or sect trying to obtain followers makes promises about a “better life” in the “beyond”, during which the individual can keep all the apparent possessions and attachments of physical life, with the additional advantage of “spiritual bliss”. It is also understandable that one can go to a restaurant in a Spiritualistic city and eat in an unceasing way, having no worry about cholesterol and other health issues. This means lower-self pleasure with no limits; harvest with no sowing; and causes with not consequences. Nature does not work this way.  
The path to truth is narrow precisely because it is surrounded by illusions on both sides. Esoteric philosophy tells us how to tread the steep way of renunciation to illusions, and places truth above the personal desire of saying pleasant things to friends.
The tree is known by its fruit and, if we consider the results, the bitter truth is much better than pleasant illusions.
The fact of the matter is that when an individual dies he immediately loses his three lower principles, which are:
1) the physical body (sthula sharira);
2) the vitality (prana); and
3) the genetic and karmic structures that guide the flow of his vitality (linga-sharira). 
Without these three principles, the individual has no possibility to create new karma. Once the physical body is dead, there is no free will any longer. It is a fact that the individual is not aware of such a loss, and we can also ask ourselves how many persons – even as they live on the physical plane – have a real free will regarding their lives and make important decisions, and how many blindly follow the circumstances. However, in the second scenario, thoughtless “irresponsibility” is also their choice, for which they must pay a heavy price.
Once death takes place, there is no new karma. In the final moments of the physical brain’s life, the contents and trajectory of the entire afterlife period are determined.
In these instants, which may take something between 30 to 90 seconds, there is a complete and most accurate recapitulation of the human existence now ending. It is during this minute or minute and a half that the “script” and the road map emerge like a resulting vector to determine the entire process of 1,000 to 3,000 years (on the average) which will take him up to a new existence.[2]
Thus the fancy that someone can “do whatever he wants” during afterlife results from the idealizing imagination of persons who ignore what is the human consciousness after the destruction of the physical body, and how it works.
Such an absence of knowledge can be overcome by the study of the classical teachings on metempsychosis or reincarnation. There are “Immortal” beings (to use the Taoist term) who have an intimacy with Nirvana, which they have renounced with the sole aim of helping our mankind. They know the workings of Devachan and of every phase in afterlife. Some of these beings transmitted the divine knowledge available to us. We can use our free will about studying such teachings, and this is a privilege to every truth-seeker. 
Question 2:
The idea of Devachan makes me feel sadness. There is sense of losing something, yet I can’t define such a feeling. Perhaps my notion of bliss in the afterlife is too material. The fact is that the Devachan suggests to me the idea of isolation.
Probably some 70 to 80 per cent of the spiritual path consist in renouncing the mental and emotional illusions which prevent us from seeing truth.
The study and debate about Devachan and other aspects of reincarnation show to the subconscious mind of the student that he is not immortal. In daily life, most individuals relate to physical life as if it were unlimited. It is a fact that, from an inner point of view, we are immortals. This inner sensation is right, but our outer vehicles have a limited time of validity, and one ought to remember that.
As we study the teachings of classical theosophy about the afterlife, we attain a “360-degree view” of the cycle including both life and death, not on the basis of fancy or idealizations, but on the basis of facts. And we learn to use in more effective ways the limited time available to live.
Well-intentioned idealizations have scarce usefulness. It does not make sense to have afterlife cities, for the same reason that there are no cities or restaurants during our dreams. If such cities existed in the astral world, we would have access to them during sleep, since we go to the astral world as we sleep. The central fact is that just as the dreams of a physically alive person are – save exceptions – entirely subjective and correspond to his personal world, so also his afterlife states are results from his subjective world, which belongs to his own karma. This fact does not eliminate all possibilities of contact between an afterlife inhabitant and individuals who are physically alive. However, such a contact takes place only as an exception to the rule. It is certainly partial, limited, and essentially non-verbal, because it is far deeper than verbal contact.[3]
Question 3:
It is disappointing to know that the constant and stable contact between the inhabitant of the Devachan and the people and things he loved most is but subjective and not objective; that it belongs to the world of dreams and not to the real world.
Yes, but such disappointment has a healing effect.
If the inhabitant of the Devachan had literal contact with physically living people, he would have much to worry about and a lot of anxiety regarding persons and situations that are important to him. Practically speaking, Devachan could not exist any longer.
Devachan is not an isolation: it is detachment, to which happiness is added. If the inhabitant of the Devachan could have a physical and “real” cell phone to talk to those he loves most, and see how his children and grandchildren are and help them obtain a job, for instance, what kind of Devachan would he have? It is easy to infer the way the situation would unfold. There could be no bliss and no rest. Afterlife would be but a painful exile dominated by fears and hopes. This sort of feelings takes place much earlier, in fact, during the stay in kama-loka. However, even in kama-loka such feelings are only memories and take place in a subjective closed circuit – save exceptions. 
We should also question our notion of reality. It is OK for someone to say: “I am disappointed to know that the Devachan is only a dream.” It is also valid to ask: “And what is ‘reality’ to us, as opposed to ‘dream’?”
In the three-dimensional world, as we use our five senses, we think we are living “reality” for one simple reason. It is the only reality we know, as long as we are awake. When we sleep and dream, it is the dreaming that comes to be “real”, and the “other reality” of the waking state is not even imaginable or conceivable: it is not remembered.
We must be humble enough to recognize that our notion of reality is narrow and fragile, both when we are awake and when we are asleep.
To the average citizen, the three-dimensional world is the real one: the other states of consciousness, one of them being contemplative bliss, are considered a matter of speculation. To the inhabitant of the Devachan, it is the Devachan that constitutes true reality. The theosophical view of life allows us to integrate these “parallel realities”.
There is an aspect of illusion in the idea that people are “really awake” in the waking state. Life shows they are dreaming, in a way. The waking state is rather similar to sleepwalking. People are following their dreams: the dream of having money, the dream of material prosperity, the dream of romantic love, the dream of visiting some special place, the dream of victory in professional life, the dream of a spiritual path, the dream of helping others and so on. Theosophy has a name and a healing for this. The name is maya. The healing is the path of ethics and wisdom, which purifies the mind and expands its lucidity.
People who dream while “awake” in the three-dimensional world naturally have  the right to call such dreams of them “reality”. Yet the inhabitants of the Devachan also have the right to live their own deep and true, “unlimited” happiness; which, by the way, happens to be more real than the dreams of the terrestrial citizen who thinks he is awake. 
Question 4:
Why is it, then, that I have a feeling that there is an isolation in the Devachan?
There is nothing similar to an experience of isolation in Devachan. There is a “heavenly” sense of unlimited communion and happiness. The experience of isolation is limited to the narrow psychological scenarios of the three-dimensional world. A feeling of isolation might also occur at kama-loka, because this intermediary state gravitates around personal desire.
In the Devachan, the immortal soul has freed itself from spiritual ignorance and deserves a long period of rest from suffering. The best dreams one had during his past life get fulfilled in the “place of the gods”. It is only when the experience of rest and bliss exhausts itself and “gets boring” that an impulse occurs which will take the monad to a new situation, from which it will have to be born again on the physical plane. And the birth will be a renewed bliss, for spiritual learning takes place during physical life, and learning is a blissful process.
[1] See in our associated websites the article “How to Develop Occult Powers”.
[2] On the fact that the average interval between two lives varies from one thousand to three thousand years or more, see “The Mahatma Letters”,  TUP edition, Letter XXIV-B, p. 183.  Helena Blavatsky writes in one of her articles that the average interval is around 3,000 years. See “Transmigration of Life Atoms”, in “Theosophical Articles”, H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophy Co., Los Angeles, 1981, volume II, p. 249. The same article is published in volume V of the  “Collected Writings”, Helena P. Blavatsky (TPH).
[3] On authentic contact between afterlife inhabitants and physically living people, see “The Key to Theosophy”, H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophy Co., p. 30, and p. 153. See also “The Mahatma Letters”, TUP edition, letter XVI, answer to question 3, p. 101 (Letter 68 in the Chronological edition).
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.