It is one of the most persistent beliefs of humanity that consciousness continues to exist after the death of the physical body. The Christian theologian Hans Küng maintains that ‘belief in immortality has always existed’. The vehicle of consciousness which survives death is most commonly referred to as SOUL.
According to many religious systems the human being consists of at least three component parts: #body, #soul and #spirit. (This trinity was accepted by the Christian Church until the year 869 when it was reduced to body and soul.) Many spiritual teachings speak of four bodies:
1. The physical, built of atoms like those found in inorganic substances;
2. The life-body, etheric or sensation body, built of ‘higher vibrations of matter’;
3. The astral or emotional body, which survives the death of the physical body (also known as the mortal soul); and
4. The ego-body, spirit-body or (immortal) soul, which confers full self-awareness.
All living creatures have physical and life-bodies, and higher mammals may be developing astral bodies, but the EGO or soul is unique to human beings.
In most esoteric schools the human being has not just four but seven bodies. Just as there are intermediate states between ordinary physical consciousness and pure spiritual consciousness, so there are also intermediate vehicles of consciousness. This is common to most religious systems including Christianity, Judaism, Sufism, Buddhism, Yoga, Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Zoroastrianism, as well as the teachings of ancient Egypt and Greece.
The Upanishads speak of seven bodies: the physical, the etheric, the astral, the mental, the ego, the Atman and Brahman. Above the etheric level(which is the most subtle level of the physical world) these bodies coincide with equivalent levels of consciousness. The four bodies above the astral level sometimes go under different names: the mental body is sometimes called the ego, and the higher three levels are then the causal body, also known as MIND (MANAS), the intuitional body of intuitive or spiritual awareness (BUDDHI), and the spirit being or ‘atmic” body (ATMAN);these three comprise the MONAD.
These seven bodies are similar but not identical to the seven PLANES of consciousness or levels of existence. There is not an exact coincidence because in the physical sphere we have two bodies, the dense physical and the etheric. The astral body is therefore our third body (counting from the lowest level), but the ASTRAL PLANE is the second level. The highest monadic plane is consequently not the highest plane of consciousness, this being the domain of God as pure spirit.
The physical and etheric bodies coincide spatially and are considered to be inseparable. Etheric forces underlie and shape all animate matter. Rudolf Steiner described the etheric body as ‘the principle which calls inorganic matter into life’. For this reason it is also called the ‘life-body’ or ‘formative-force-body’. There are obvious parallels with various scientific theories of a LIFE-FIELD and a MORPHOGENETIC FIELD.
The etheric body ensures the well-being of the physical body by channeling vital energy from the cosmos. Illnesses which arise from within the organism rather than from without first arise in the etheric body, although if their root cause is emotional or psychological this will be found at a more basic level still in the astral. It is primarily the etheric body which is directly affected by certain therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture. When the etheric body receives such treatment to restore the energy balance, it effects a cure in the physical body.
The etheric body is also sometimes called the sensation body. When there is no sensation in the physical body, the etheric is no longer in perfect synchronization with it. Some say that under anaesthetic, the etheric is temporarily dislodged. When blind people have learned to detect or ‘feel’ colour and form through their fingertips or cheeks (PAROPTIC VISION or ‘bio-introscopy’), occultists have claimed that it is the etheric, sensation body which is actually perceiving the light. The most famous case of this was Rosa Kuleschova in Russia. It is interesting to note that she was also an epileptic, a condition associated with a lack of synchronization between the etheric and the physical.
The etheric body, or that part of it which extends beyond the physical body, is visible to sensitives as the AURA. It is permanently attached to the physical body until death. After death the etheric body also dissolves away, a process which some say takes three days (Steiner) and others upto 40 days (Daskalos), and then the spirit and the astral body enter the ASTRAL PLANE.
Although the etheric body is not made of solid matter, its energy is basically physical. The astral body on the other hand is more ‘ethereal’, and not physical at all. The astral body is also known as the desire body or the feeling body (in the sense of ‘emotional’, not ‘sensation’) but it is also mental in that it houses the memory. It is sometimes called the dream body since it experiences dreams. As the agent of psychic phenomena it is also called the psychical body. Early spiritualists called it the perispirit since it houses the spirit (Greek peri= around), but as it also dies, it has been called the mortal soul.
Some believe that the astral body (including ego-consciousness) may temporarily detach itself in ASTRAL TRAVEL. This is also said to happen in sleep. Then, and in other xenophrenic states such as OUT-OF-THE-BODY EXPERIENCES, the astral body seems to move out of alignment with the physical body, and the two bodies – physical and astral – are said to be linked by the ASTRAL CORD. Whether or not anything actually leave the physical body is a moot point. It is doubtful whether the astral body is three-dimensional in space in the way that the physical and etheric are, or that it actually seperates (except at death). The astral body is a mental construct rather than the physical matter. Because our present consciousness tends to see everything in spatial terms, it may during what is known as astral travel create its own astral body, a THOUGHT-FORM which apparently occupies space, a ssort of psychic DOUBLE. In some cases of ASTRAL PROJECTION consciousness clearly stays with the physical body and the individual may not even know whether the projection has occurred. In such cases it is probably easier to accept that a thought-form has been projected rather than that part of the individual has actually split off.
In a few cases apparent separation of one body from another is achieved with the impression that consciousness flits between the two. Something of this kind happened once to Rosalind Heywood. She describes an incident when she ‘split in two’. The two parts looked at each other with decidedly different reactions. ‘Pink Me’ (she was wearing a pink nightdress at the time) regarded ‘White Me’ (the figure at the foot of the bed) as impersonal, pious, priggish, but also the stronger of the two; ‘White Me’ regarded ‘Pink Me’ as silly, selfish, and composed entirely of appetites. They coincide exactly with what we are told of the mental and astral (emotional) bodies. The emotional body has no appreciation of true meaning, and the mental body being purely occupied with meaning does not experience emotion.
While recovering from a near fatal snakebite which paralysed him, Jack Seale remarked that normal consciousness returned in layers – layer by layer. He had in fact died; monitoring equipment had registered brain death, but not his return to consciousness while still paralysed. Jack Seale was aware of what was going on around him for eight days while his body was in coma. This is a NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE with a difference: Jack Seale’s awareness was focused constantly on this world, not the bridge from this world to the next, and while part of his consciousness was with his physical body almost constantly, full consciousness returned as he described layer by layer.
This gradual return to full consciousness has much to do with the various bodies we possess. They did not actually leave the physical body in the sense that they left one space to inhabit another. Rather they were dislocated, so they were no longer working in synchronization with each other, just as in sleep the astral and mental bodies are free to have independent experiences when not so strictly controlled by the physical body.
Only when the finer bodies are around the physical body and joined to it (or ‘in gear’) is the physical body conscious. We usually remember little if anything from the exploits of our astral body, although with training we can recall more.
The astral body and ego-body (mental and above) have to be ‘timed down’ when linked together with the physical body. For this reason, we are told, the astral body is seldom made visible in the ASTRAL WORLD while an individual is in the body. But while the physical body is asleep, the astral and ego get out of gear with the earth’s vibrations and slip into gear with those of their own spheres. They can then contact other beings on the astral plane. Some SENSITIVES and MEDIUMS somehow induce this ‘gear change’ at will while remaining conscious in order to contact and communicate with souls on the astral plane.
The form of the astral body is considered by all the individual’s emotions and desires; they are imprinted on it and become the visible, external body on the astral plane after the death of the physical body. These emotions determine the nature of the astral body. Just as the physical body can be afflicted by disease, so too the astral body can be afflicted by emotions such as hatred and guilt. After physical death the astral body gravitates to the level appropriate to its makeup on the astral plane. It is for this reason that so many religions insist that right emotions are much more important than right actions. Consider the supreme importance St Paul attaches to ‘charity’.’Whoso hateth his brother is a murderer’, is another instance which shows the crucial nature of emotions.
Just as the astral body is developed by exercising the emotions, the mental body is developed by exercising the mind. The length of time that these bodies will persist after their death is determined by their development during physical life. They do not decay, but they eventually dissipate when all their vital energy has been used up. The first to fall away is the astral body. In the case of great thinkers the mental body may persist for very long time indeed. When the mental body has used up all its energy the soul is drawn back to the physical plane by the pull of unresolved desires and ambitions.
There is a gap between the mental sphere of the mental body or ego and the higher mental sphere of the causal body, between the lower levels of the concrete mind and the higher levels of the abstract mind (manas) which is part of the monad. In other words, there is a gap between the soul and the monad. So the soul and the personality together try to bridge to the monad, represented in the Bible by Jacob’s Ladder, and known in Hindu Mysticism as the ANTAHKARANA or rainbow bridge. Others refer to it as linking with the HIGHER SELF. This is also the level of Christ-consciousness, which reminds us of Christ’s saying that ‘None cometh unto the Father but through me’. A common interpretation of the Second Coming is this achievement of Christ-consciousness within the individual.
———from “A Dictionary of Mind and Spirit” by DONALD WATSON