What is the experience of the Soul immediately after it leaves the body?
The average person imagines that the soul simply steps out from the body and immediately enters into a new world of activity—a wonderland of strange and mysterious scenes. To many there exists the hope of being met on the other shore by all the loved ones who have gone before—a great reunion. While there is something which corresponds to this, there is also an entirely different condition to be experienced by the soul immediately after it passes out of the body. Let us consider the experience of the soul immediately before, and immediately after, its passage from the body, so that we may get a clearer light on the subject.
The person approaching the stage generally called death, but which is merely a transition stage between two great planes of life, experiences a gradual dulling of the physical senses. Sight, hearing, and feeling grow dimmer and dimmer, and the life of the person seems as a flickering candle flame gradually approaching utter extinction. In many cases, this is the only phenomenon attending the approach of death. But, in many other cases, while the physical senses are growing dimmer, the psychical senses are growing wonderfully acute. It is a common occurrence for dying persons to manifest a consciousness of what is occurring in another room or another place. Clairvoyance frequently accompanies the approach of death, in some cases being attended by clairaudience, the dying person being conscious of sights and sounds in distant places.
There are also many instances recorded in the annals of the societies for psychical research, and far many more related in the privacy of family gatherings, in which the dying person has been able to so strongly project his personality that friends and relatives at a distance have actually seen his form, and in some few cases have been able to converse with him. A careful comparison of time shows that these apparitions, in nearly every case, have appeared before the actual death of the person, rather than after it. There are, of course, cases in which a strong desire of the dying person has caused him to project his Astral body into the presence of someone near to him, immediately after death, but these cases are far more rare than those of which we have spoken above. In the majority of these cases, the phenomenon is caused by a process of thought-transference of such a higher power and degree that the visited person became impressed with the consciousness of the presence of the dying friend or relative even while the soul of the latter still remained in the body.
In many cases, also, the dying person becomes psychically conscious of a nearness to loved ones who have passed on before. This, however, does not necessarily mean that these persons are actually present on the scene. One must remember that the limitations of space are largely wiped out on the Astral Plane and that one may come into close rapport with the soul of another without there existing any near space relationship. In other words, while the two souls may not be in what may be called a nearness in space, they may nevertheless, enjoy the closest relationship in mind and spirit. It is very difficult for one still in the flesh to realise this. On the material plane, the laws of space of course govern. Telepathy gives us the key to the phenomena of the other side. Two persons in the flesh may experience the closest relationship by means of the communion of their mental principles, and yet may be on opposite sides of the world. In the same way, two souls may enjoy the closest soul communion and communication, without the question of space nearness coming into question.
As we have said, the dying person frequently enters into soul communion and communication with those already on the other side and is greatly cheered thereby. And this is a beautiful fact attending that which we call death—this fact that there really do occur those beautiful reunion of loved ones, of which good folk discourse so hopefully. But not in just the way these good folk usually imagine.
The dying person's Astral body gradually disengages itself from its physical counterpart. The Astral body is an exact counterpart of the physical body, and during life the two dwell together in the majority of cases. The Astral body, however, leaves the physical body at the death of the latter and forms the covering of the soul for some time. It is really a form of material substance, of a degree, however, so fine that it escapes the tests which reveal ordinary matter. Toward the last, the Astral body actually slips from the physical body and is connected with it only by a slender thread or cord of Astral substance. Finally, this thread snaps and the Astral body floats away, inhabited by the soul which has left the physical body behind it. But this Astral body is no more the soul that was the physical body which it has just left. Both physical and Astral bodies are merely temporary coverings for the soul itself.
The soul leaving the physical body (in the Astral body) is plunged into a deep sleep or state of coma resembling the condition of the unborn child for several months before birth. It is being prepared for rebirth on the Astral Plane and requires time in order to adjust itself to the new conditions and to gain strength and vigour required for its new phase of existence. Nature is full of these analogies—birth on the physical and on the Astral Plane have many points of resemblance, and both are preceded by this period of coma. During this sleep-like stage, the soul dwells in the Astral body which serves as its covering and protection, just as the womb serves as the protection for the child approaching physical birth.
Before passing on, however, we should stop to consider certain features of the life of the soul in this stage. Ordinarily, the soul sleeps in peace, undisturbed by, and protected from, outward influences. There are two things, however, which tend to create an exception in some cases, namely that which may be called the dreams of the sleeping soul. These dreams arise from two general classes of causes, viz—(1) intense desire filling the mind of the dying person, such as love, hate, or unfulfilled tasks or duties; (2) the strong desires and thoughts of those left behind, providing such persons are in sufficiently close rapport with the departed soul, by reason of love or other strong attachments. Either or both of these causes tend to produce a restlessness in the sleeping soul, and have a tendency to attract the soul back to the scenes of earth, either in a dreamy kind of telepathic communication, or else, in a few rare cases, by something approaching the state of somnambulism or sleepwalking of the physical life. These conditions are regrettable, for they disturb the soul and defer its evolution and development in its new phase of existence.
A person passing from the material into the Astral Plane in a peaceful state of mind is seldom disturbed in the Astral sleep by dream-like states. Instead, he lives naturally through the coma state and then evolves easily into the new phase of existence as naturally as the unfolding of the bud into the flower. It is different with the individual whose mind is filled with strong desires concerning earth-life, or with strong remorse, hate, or great love and anxiety for those left behind. In the latter case, the poor soul is often tormented by these earthly ties, and its Astral sleep is rendered feverish and fretful. In such cases, there is often also an involuntary attempt made to communicate with, or to appear to, persons still on the material plane. In extreme cases, there may even ensue the state resembling earthly somnambulism or sleepwalking, and the poor sleeping soul may even visit its former scenes. In such cases, when the apparition is visible to men, it will be noted that there is a half-awake manner and air about the apparition—a something lacking that was present in earth-life. The history of ghosts bears out this statement and the explanation just given is the only one which really throws light on the subject. In time, however, these poor earth-bound souls become tired and finally sink into the blessed sleep which is their just lot. In the same way, the strong desires of those left behind often serve to establish a rapport condition between such persons and the departed soul, causing it to become restless and uneasy. Many a well-meaning person has acted so as to retard the natural processes of the Astral Plane in relation to some loved one who has passed away and has denied to the tired soul that rest which it has merited.
Life Beyond Death, Yogi Ramacharaka, Yogi Publication Society, Chicago, 1912