There is a great difference in the time required for the development in Soul-slumber by different souls. Some dwell in this state for a very short time, while souls of a higher degree of attainment require a much longer time in the soul-slumber state. Here, too, we find a remarkable correspondence with the phenomenon of gestation and birth on the material plane. For instance, in the case of these animals whose natural life period is short, we find, as a rule, that their period of gestation in the womb is correspondingly short; on the other hand, animals of a natural long life spend a much longer period in the womb before birth. Thus, the elephant has twenty or twenty-one months in the womb; man, nine months; rabbits, one month; guinea-pigs, three weeks; the natural life of each bearing a relation to the period of gestation. In the same way, the gestation period on the Astral Plane—the period of the soul-slumber is found to vary in proportion to the time the awakened soul is to pass on the Astral Plane. An apparent exception to this rule is found in the case of persons of highly advanced spiritual power and knowledge, in which the soul is able, by its knowledge and power, to largely control the natural processes instead of being under their general control.
The difference in the period of soul-slumber in varying cases arises from the fact that the soul during its slumber period discards the lower portions of its mental nature (as well as its Astral body) and awakens only when it has reached the highest state of development possible for it, when it is able to pass on to the particular plane or sub-plane for which its degree of development calls. A soul of low development has very little to shed in this way and soon awakens on a low plane. A soul of higher development, on the contrary, must shed and discard sheath after sheath of the lower mental and animal nature before it can awaken on the plane of its highest attainment. When we say shed or discard, we mean rather prepare to shed or discard, for the actual process of discarding or shedding these lower fragments of personality occurs immediately after the first stage of the awakening.
The soul feeling the impulses of reawakened life stirs itself slowly and languidly, as one does in awakening from a sound slumber in earth-life. Then, like the butterfly throwing aside the chrysalis shell, it slips away from the Astral body, and in rapid succession unconsciously discards the lower principles of its nature. This occupies but a short time and occurs while the soul is slowly regaining consciousness. At the moment of the actual awakening, the soul is free from all these worn out shells and encumbrances and opens its eyes upon the scenes of its new activities and existence in the Astral World.
Each soul is destined to dwell on the plane of the highest and best in itself after the dross of the lower elements has been discarded. It awakens on the plane in which the highest and best in itself is given a chance to develop and expand. The soul may, and often does, make great progress on the Astral Plane, and during its stay there, may discard more of its lower nature as it passes to higher and still higher planes or sub-planes.
It is a beautiful fact this of the soul dwelling on the plane of its highest and best. This answers the longing of the soul and the aspiration of the heart. There is often something within individuals which is much higher and better than their everyday life and actions would seem to indicate. Material environment and circumstances tend to retard and prevent the expression of the best in us, in many cases. Therefore, it is pleasant to know that on the other side the soul is relieved of all that tends to hold it back and drag it down, and is rendered free to express and develop those qualities and characteristics which represent the best and truest that is in it. This fact accords not only with the sense of justice and equity; not only with the longings and cravings of the imprisoned soul but also with the facts and principles of evolution, which ever attracts upward and onward, toward some far off goal of attainment and perfection.
If passing on the plane of its future activities, the soul has discarded its Astral body, that strange counterpart of the physical body is discarded still further back. Henceforth the soul does not wear the form and shape of the human being, but is something of a far higher order of being to which the terms shape and form do not apply. Our physical bodies (and their Astral counterparts) are the result of physical evolution, and are but the bodies of developed animals. The soul on the higher planes has no need of arms and legs, hands and feet—it dwells where these instruments of a lower form of expression are not needed. It is a being transcending the limitations of physical life.
The discarded mental principles are soon resolved into their original elements (but the discarded Astral body becomes what is known as an Astral shell and, forsaken by its former occupant, it sinks by what may be called astral gravitation to the lowest planes of the Astral, there to slowly disintegrate. The lower planes of the Astral are filled with these discarded Astral shells, floating about in the Astral atmosphere. They are not pleasant things to see, and happily, the soul on the other side does not witness them, for it dwells on a plane far above their region.
The plane upon which the soul awakens is not a place, but a state or condition of existence—a degree in the scale of the vibratory energy of the spiritual world. As we have said, each soul awakens on the plane representing its highest and best, upon which plane it dwells during its stay on the Astral Plane, excepting where it develops itself and moves on to a still higher plane, or, when, as alas! sometimes happens, it longs for the fleshpots of Egypt and is attracted by memories of lower principles and descends to a lower plane where it finds more congenial company and surroundings. There is naturally a great difference between the various planes and sub-planes of the Astral Plane. Some are very little removed from the low scenes of earth-life, while others express the highest conceptions of the human soul. And each attracts to itself those who are fitted to dwell in its region—those whose best and highest correspond with the new environment.
But the highest and best of the soul of low development is but very little above the everyday thoughts and actions of the same soul in the body. Persons of low spiritual development must needs go through many periods of purification and development before they can escape the lure and attraction of the material world. There are souls so earth-bound—so hypnotised by the low pleasures of earth-life—that on the other side they even refuse to forsake their Astral shells, and actually strive to abide in the worn-out and disintegrating shells while they last, and maintain a rapport condition with the scenes and associates of the former life. Others find themselves on planes in which there is a conflict between the upward attraction of the higher things of spiritual life and the lower things of the material world, and they live a more or less unbalanced life in the Astral, at least for a time, until one attraction proves the stronger and they rise and fall in the spiritual scale, in accordance therewith. Others still find themselves on a plane in which there is but little or no attraction from the material world, and to them the Astral Life is lived out in advancement, development, and a fuller expression of the highest and best within them.
The awakening of the soul is akin to a new birth—an entrance into a new world of experience. The soul manifests no fear of its new surroundings, but is full of activity in the direction of expression and manifestation of its new powers. There is much to occupy the soul. It is not lonely or lonesome, for it has the companionship of those in harmony and sympathy with itself, and is free from the inharmony and friction of association with those of different natures. It finds opportunity for the fullest expression of its activities and desires and, particularly on the higher planes, finds life much happier than on the material plane. Only the souls of the lowest development—those poor earth-bound creatures—are unhappy, for they are removed from the only thing which gives them pleasure, the things of earth. And even in their cases, there is at least something like happiness at times.
After the soul-slumber, the soul awakens into LIFE, not into a region of Death. Like the butterfly, it spreads its wings and enjoys its new state of existence, and does not mourn the loss of the chrysalis form and life.
Life Beyond Death, Yogi Ramacharaka, Yogi Publication Society, Chicago, 1912