Each man is his own absolute law-giver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to himself, the decreer of his life, his reward, his punishment. And this is true not only in earth-life but also doubly true of the life of the Soul on the Astral Plane. For each disembodied soul carries with it its own heaven or hell, of its own creation, and of its favourite belief, and partakes of the blessings or sorrows of each, according to its merits. But the Judge who sentences it to reward or punishment is not a Power outside of itself, but a Power Within—in short, its own conscience. On the Astral Plane the conscience of the soul asserts itself very forcibly, and the still, quiet voice, that was perhaps smothered during earth-life, now speaks in trumpet-like tones, and the soul hears and obeys.
A man's own conscience, when allowed to speak clearly and forcibly, is the most severe Judge that exists. Stripping aside all self-deception, and hypocrisy, conscious or unconscious, it causes the soul to stand forth naked and bare to its own spiritual gaze. And the soul, speaking as its own conscience, sentences itself in accordance with its own conceptions of right and wrong and accepts its fate as merited and just. Man can fly from the judgment of others—but he can never escape from his own conscience on the Astral Plane. He finds himself unable to escape from the judgment seat of conscience, and he leads himself away to his reward or punishment. Such is the poetic justice of Nature, which far exceeds any conception of mortal man in his religious speculations.
And, note the absolute equity and justice of it all. Man is judged according to the highest standards of his own soul, which, of course, represent the standards of his time and environment. The best in himself—the highest of which he is capable—judges and passes upon all in him below that standard. The result of this is that what the highest reason conceives as absolute justice is meted out by the soul to itself.
In short, it may truthfully be said that the nature of the appropriate discipline in each individual case is well expressed by the ideal of heaven and hell entertained by the individual in earth-life, and which ideal, of course, remains with the soul after it has passed from the body to the Astral Plane. The mind of certain individuals is fully satisfied with the ideals of a lake of brimstone for sinners, and the pleasant abode in a golden-streeted heaven, with accompaniments of harp and crown, for the blessed. Others, far advanced beyond this stage, having left behind them the old ideas of a heaven in space and a hell of torment, think that the greatest happiness possible to themselves would be a state or condition in which they could see their ideals made real, their highest aims realised, their dreams come true, and their greatest punishment a condition in which they could follow up to its logical result the evil they have done. And, both of these classes of souls find on the Astral Plane the heavens and hells of which they have thought—for both have created their heaven or hell from the material of their own inner consciousness. And such mental conceptions lack nothing of reality to those who are conscious of them—the joy and suffering lose nothing of effect by reason of the absence of the physical body.
On the Astral Plane, the sinner who believes in a hell of brimstone and flames, which awaits him by reason of the foul crimes done in his days of nature, is not disappointed. His beliefs supply the necessary environment, and his conscience condemns him to the punishment in which he believes. Even if he has sought to disbelieve these things by the use of his reason, and still retains the subconscious memories of his childhood teachings or the traditions of his race, he will find himself in the same condition. He will undergo the traditional tortures and suffering (all in his imagination, of course) until he receives a valuable disciplinary lesson, the dim memories of which will haunt him in the next incarnation. This, of course, is an extreme case. There are many other degrees and grades of hells carried over to the Astral Plane by souls of various shades of religious belief. Each has the punishment which is best adapted to exert a deterring influence and effect over him in his next life.
The same is true of the ideal of heaven; the soul finds itself enjoying the bliss of the blessed, according to its own ideals, for the good deeds and acts it has to its credit in the infallible books of its memory. Inasmuch as no soul has been altogether bad,' nor none absolutely good, it follows that each soul has a taste both of reward and punishment, according to its merits as determined by its awakened conscience. Or, stating it in another way, the conscience strikes an average for it, which average, likewise, agrees in detail with the prevailing belief of the soul.
Those who in earth-life have deliberately brought themselves to the conviction that there is no hereafter for the soul have a peculiar experience. They meet with their kind on a plane in which they imagine that they have been transplanted to another planet and are still in the flesh. And there they are made participants in a great drama of Karma, being made to suffer for the miseries which they have wrought upon others and to enjoy blessings which they have bestowed upon others. They are not punished for the unbelief—that would be unthinkable injustice—but they learn the lesson of right and wrong in their own way. This experience, likewise, is purely mental, and arises merely from the expression in Astral manifestation of the memories of their earth-life, urged on by the awakened conscience which gives them an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, with a vengeance.
Belief or disbelief in a future state does not alter the cosmic law of compensation and Astral purgation. The laws of Karma cannot be defeated by a refusal to believe in a hereafter, nor a refusal to admit the distinction between right and wrong. Every human being has, deep down under the surface though it may be, an intuitive realisation of a survival of the soul and every individual has a deep-seated consciousness of some sort of a moral code. And these subconscious beliefs and opinions come to the surface on the Astral Plane.
Those advanced souls who have given us the best and highest reports of the life of the soul on the other side agree in informing us that the highest bliss and the deepest sorrow of the disembodied soul of intelligence and culture comes in the one case from perceiving the effect of the good actions and thoughts of its earth-life, and, in the other case, from a similar perception of the results of the evil thoughts and actions of its earth-life. When the eyes of the soul are cleared so that they may discern the tangled fabric of cause and effect, and follow up each particular thread of its own insertion therein, it has in itself a heaven and a hell of greater intensity than anything of which Dante ever dreamed. There is no joy of the disembodied soul comparable to that experienced from perceiving the logical results of a right action and no sorrow equal to that of perceiving the result of evil action, with its sickening thought of it might have been otherwise.
But, even these things pass away from the soul. In fact, they often occupy but a moment of time, which seems to the soul as an eternity. There is no such thing as eternal bliss or eternal pain on the Astral Plane. These things pass away, and the soul emerges once more on earth-life, to once more enrol itself in the School of Life, the Kindergarten of God, there to learn and relearn its lessons. And remember, always, that both the heaven and the hell of each and every soul, abides in that soul itself. Each soul creates its own heaven and hell—for neither have any objective existence. The heaven and hell of each soul is the result of its Karma and is purely a mental creation of its own being. But the phenomena is none the less real to the soul, for this reason. There is nothing in its earth-life which ever seemed more real to it. And again, remember, that heaven and hell on the Astral Plane are not given as bribe or punishment, respectively—but merely as a natural means of developing and unfolding the higher qualities and restraining the lower to the end that the soul may advance on the Path.
But life on the Astral Plane does not consist entirely of heaven and hell. There are joys experienced which have nought to do with the good or evil deeds of earth-life, but which arise from the urge to express one's own creative faculties and to exercise the intellect with increased power—the joys of expression and knowledge, beyond which mortal cannot hope to experience.
Life Beyond Death, Yogi Ramacharaka, Yogi Publication Society, Chicago, 1912