Students of the information lately obtained from Eastern sources for the elucidation of what is known as the Esoteric doctrine, are well aware that the teaching as yet conveyed to us is very incomplete. Certainly our views of Nature have been greatly enlarged with its help. We have been enabled to realize the general plan upon which the evolution of the human race proceeds, and to obtain a far more scientific conception of the moral law governing this progression than was obtainable previously by relatively blindfold speculation. But many of the processes of Nature concerned with the higher spiritual evolution of Man have but, as yet, been vaguely portrayed in the Theosophical writings which have so far been produced, and the work which now lies before those of us who are anxious to help on the inquiry which the Theosophical Society is engaged with, has to do chiefly, for the present, with the detailed examination of these processes. The walls of our intellectual palace have been built and the floors laid down, but we still have to decorate and furnish them before they constitute an entirely habitable abode for thought. Or to illustrate our position by means of a more natural analogy, we are now in the position—in regard to our study of the world, or world-system to which we belong—that early physiologists may have reached when the anatomy of Man was fairly well made out, when the general idea of the digestive chemistry which builds up flesh and bone was broadly appreciated, when the nature and purpose of muscular machinery was understood, but when the minutiæ of the subject were still quite unexplored, and the working of a great many important organs but very dimly perceived. It will be our business now to take up one by one successive branches of our stupendous investigation, and attempt the examination of these with ever-increasing care and patience. Happily we shall be guarded now by our general familiarity with the framework of the whole natural design from the danger of misconceptions which, without that safeguard, would have been very likely to arise from a concentration of the mind on details.

The danger just referred to would be especially serious if we were to deal with the phenomena of human evolution immediately following the death of the physical body by the light of observation and experiment relating to that department of Nature alone. Perhaps there is no passage in the Esoteric teaching which has, up till a recent period, been left in deeper shade than that which has to do with such phenomena. But from the point of view now reached the propriety of the course which has been pursued in dealing, first, with the general design of Nature before paying special attention to this almost unhealthily attractive department of her operations, grows very apparent. Already we can to a certain extent discern the phenomena of that state of existence into which a human creature passes at the death of the body. The experience of Spiritualism has supplied us with facts concerning it in very great abundance. These facts are but too highly suggestive of theories and inferences which seem to reach the ultimate limits of speculation, and nothing but the bracing mental discipline of Esoteric study in its broadest aspect will protect any mind addressed to the consideration of these facts, from conclusions which that study shows to be necessarily erroneous. For this reason we, as Theosophical inquirers, have nothing to regret as far as our own progress in spiritual science is at stake, in the circumstances which have hitherto induced us to be rather neglectful of the problems that have to do with the state of existence next following our own. The only point of view from which we may be inclined to regret such neglect is that from which we contemplate the parallel studies of our colleagues in spiritual research, who are mainly occupied with the branch of our subject we have thus turned away from in the first instance. I think it is impossible to exaggerate the intellectual advantage we derive from having taken up other branches of the subject in preference to that in the beginning, for we are thus like students of a language who have mastered its grammar before we attempt to employ it in writing essays. But it is to be deplored that some of us have perhaps been led, by the course our own study has taken, to underestimate in more ways than one the value and significance of the experiments to which Spiritualists have all the while been devoted. There has been much less sympathy, hitherto, than perhaps might have been set up between the Spiritualists at large and ourselves. There is no point at which the Esoteric teaching, as it has been conveyed to us, has been discovered erroneous. Looking back even on those portions of my own book which refer to the matter we have now in hand, I do not find that I have been betrayed into making any statement that will not bear the light of subsequent elucidation. But the Spiritualists all the while have been applying a higher magnifying power to the region of Nature with which they have been specially concerned, and though this has led them to ignore and disbelieve in the existence of other regions which it is quite as important, or more important, to comprehend, it certainly has invested them with knowledge concerning a great quantity of detail within the field of their observation, which we are not called upon in any way to finally set aside or disregard. With this conviction borne in on my own mind very strongly for some little time past, I gladly embrace the present opportunity of setting forth in some detail the expanded conception which some of us have recently been enabled to form, of that state of existence described in the Esoteric doctrine as Kama-loka, which is, obviously, the state with which spiritual mediumship brings us most readily into relation.

It will be remembered that the passages in the Esoteric teaching as first systematized for the service of Theosophical study, which deal with the passage from earth-life to the true spiritual condition of Devachan, are broadly to the following effect:—When a man dies the three lower principles are discarded and consigned to the graveyard. The real entity may then be regarded as consisting of four principles, themselves divisible in imagination into two duads, the lower having to do with the earth-life just spent, the higher with the spiritual life then re-awakening. A struggle, it has been represented, takes place in the sphere or state of existence immediately adjacent to our physical state—in Kama-loka—between the affinities which these two duads are imbued with. That struggle has been described as ending in the rupture of the fifth principle or human Ego; all its higher attributes passing with the sixth principle or immortal, spiritual soul, into Devachan, while the lower portions of the fifth principle, limiting with the fourth or animal soul, relapse into a temporary existence of a relatively degraded kind, in Kama-loka, there gradually to disintegrate as the physical body disintegrates, or ought to be allowed to disintegrate, in the grave. The Kama-loka entities of this description have been called “shells,” in accordance with same old-established precedents of occult literature, and Spiritualists generally think that Theosophy is disposed to regard these shells as playing a larger part in the phenomena of Spiritualism than their own experience leaves them willing to recognize as having to do with any such agencies.

Now the enlargement of our more recent conceptions on this subject, as I venture to interpret them, has to do with fuller light at last let in on the nature of the struggle above described. That struggle appears to be a very protracted and variegated process, and to constitute,—not as some of us may have conjectured at first, an automatic or unconscious assertion of affinities or forces quite ready to determine the future of the spiritual monad at the period of death,—but a phase of existence which may be, and in the vast majority of cases is more than likely to be, continued over a considerable series of years. And during this phase of existence it is quite possible for departed human entities to manifest themselves to still living persons through the agency of spiritual mediumship, in a way which may go far towards vindicating the impressions which Spiritualists derive from such communications.

It will be seen at once how, by thus applying a high magnifying power to this one transaction in the vast process of evolution on which each human soul is launched, the door is opened for a realm of new ideas connected with the communications addressed to us through spiritualistic channels.

But we must not conclude too hastily that the human soul going through the struggle or evolution of Kama-loka is in all respects what the first glance at the position, as thus defined, may seem to suggest. First of all, we must beware of too grossly materializing our conception of the struggle, by thinking of it as a mechanical separation of principles. There is a mechanical separation involved in the discard of lower principles when the consciousness of the Ego is firmly seated in the higher. Thus at death the body is mechanically discarded by the soul, which (in union, perhaps, with intermediate principles), may actually be seen by some clairvoyants of a high order to quit the tenement it needs no longer. And a very similar process may ultimately take place in Kama-loka itself, in regard to the matter of the astral principles. But postponing this consideration for a few moments, it is important to avoid supposing that the struggle of Kama-loka does itself constitute this ultimate division of principles, or second death upon the astral plane.

The struggle of Kama-loka is, in fact, the life of the entity in that phase of existence. As quite correctly stated in former explanations, the evolution taking place during that phase of existence is not concerned with the responsible choice between good and evil which goes on during physical life. Kama-loka is a portion of the great World of Effects,—not a sphere in which causes are generated (except under peculiar circumstances). The Kama-loka entity, therefore, is not truly master of his own acts; he is rather the sport of his own already established affinities. But these are all the while asserting themselves, or exhausting themselves, by degrees, and the Kama-loka entity has an existence of vivid consciousness, of one sort or another, the whole time. Now a moment’s reflection will show that those affinities, which are gathering strength and asserting themselves, have to do with the spiritual aspirations of the life last experienced, while those which are exhausting themselves have to do with its material tastes, emotions and proclivities. The Kama-loka entity, be it remembered, is on his way to Devachan, or, in other words, is growing into that state which is the Devachanic state, and the process of growth is accomplished by action and reaction, by ebb and flow, like almost every other in Nature,—by a species of oscillation between the conflicting attractions of matter and spirit. Thus the Ego advances towards Heaven, so to speak, or recedes towards earth, during this Kama-loka existence, and it is just this tendency to oscillate between the two poles of thought or condition that brings him back occasionally within the sphere of the life he has just quitted.

It is not by any means at once that his ardent sympathies with that life are dissipated. His sympathies with the higher aspects of that life, be it remembered, are not even on their way to dissipation. For instance, in what is herd referred to as earthly affinity, we need not include the exercise of affection, which is a function of Devachanic existence In a pre-eminent degree. But perhaps even in regard to his affections there may be earthly and spiritual aspects of these, and the contemplation of them, with the circumstances, and surroundings of the earth-life, may often have to do with the recession towards earth-life of the Kama-loka entity referred to above.

Of course it will be apparent at once that the intercourse which the practice of spiritualism sets up between such Kama-loka entities as are here in view, and the friends they have left on earth, must go on during those periods of the soul’s existence in which earth memories engage its attention; and there are two considerations of a very important nature which arise out of this reflection.

1st. While its attention is thus directed, it is turned away from the spiritual progress on which it is engaged during its oscillations in the other direction. It may fairly well remember, and in conversation refer to, the spiritual aspirations of the life on earth, but its new spiritual experiences appear to be of an order that cannot be translated back into terms of the ordinary physical intellect, and, besides that, to be not within the command of the faculties which are in operation in the soul during its occupation with old earth memories. The position might be roughly symbolised, but only to a very imperfect extent, by the case of a poor emigrant, whom we may imagine prospering in his now country, getting educated there, concerning himself with its public affairs and discoveries, philanthropy and so on. He may keep up an interchange of letters with his old relations at home, but he will find it difficult to keep them au courant [up-to-date] with all that has come to be occupying his thoughts. The illustration will only fully apply to our present purpose, however, if we think of the emigrant as subject to a psychological law which draws a veil over his understanding when he sits down to write to his former friends, and restores him during that time to his former mental condition. He would then be less and less able to write about the old topics as time went on, for they would not only be below the level of those to the consideration of which his real mental activities had risen, but would to a great extent have faded from his memory. His letters would be a source of surprise to their recipients, who would say to themselves that it was certainly so-and-so who was writing, but that he had grown very dull and stupid compared to what he used to be before he went abroad.

2ndly. It must be borne in mind that a very well known law of physiology, according to which faculties are invigorated by use and atrophied by neglect, applies on the astral as well as on the physical plane. The soul in Kama-loka, which acquires the habit of fixing its attention on the memories of the life it has quitted, will strengthen and harden those tendencies which are at war with its higher impulses. The more frequently it is appealed to by the affection of friends still in the body to avail itself of the opportunities furnished by mediumship for manifesting its existence on the physical plane, the more vehement will be the impulses which draw it back to physical life, and the more serious the retardation of its spiritual progress. This consideration appears to involve the most influential motive which leads the representatives of Theosophical teaching to discountenance and disapprove of all attempts to hold communication with departed souls by means of the spiritual seance. The more such communications are genuine the more detrimental they are to the inhabitants of Kama-loka concerned with them. In the present state of our knowledge it is difficult to determine with confidence the extent to which the Kama-loka entities are thus injured. And we may be tempted to believe that in some cases the great satisfaction derived by the living persons who communicate, may outweigh the injury so inflicted on the departed soul. This satisfaction, however, will only be keen in proportion to the failure of the still living friend to realise the circumstances under which the communication takes place. At first, it is true, very shortly after death, the still vivid and complete memories of earth-life may enable the Kama-loka entity to manifest himself as a personage very fairly like his deceased self, but from the moment of death the change in the direction of his evolution sets in. He will, as manifesting on the physical plane, betray no fresh fermentation of thought in his mind. He will never, in that manifestation, be any wiser or higher in the scale of Nature than he was when he died; on the contrary, he must become less and less intelligent and apparently less instructed than formerly, as time goes on. He will never do himself justice in communication with the friends left behind, and his failure in this respect will grow more and more painful by degrees.

Yet another consideration operates to throw a very doubtful light on the wisdom or propriety of gratifying a desire for intercourse with deceased friends. We may say, never mind the gradually fading interest of the friend who has gone before, in the earth left behind; while there is anything of his or her old self left to manifest itself to us, it will be a delight to communicate even with that. And we may argue that if the beloved person is delayed a little on his way to Heaven by talking with us, he or she would be willing to make that sacrifice for our sake. The point overlooked here is, that on the astral, just as on the physical plane, it is a very easy thing to set up a bad habit. The soul in Kama-loka once slaking a thirst for earthly intercourse at the wells of mediumship will have a strong impulse to fall back again and again on that indulgence. We may be doing a great deal more than diverting the soul’s attention from its own proper business by holding spiritualistic relations with it. We may be doing it serious and almost permanent injury. I am not affirming that this would invariably or generally be the case, but a severe view of the ethics of the subject must recognise the dangerous possibilities involved in the course of action under review. On the other hand, however, it is plain that cases may arise in which the desire for communication chiefly asserts itself from the other side: that is to say, in which the departed soul is laden with some unsatisfied desire—pointing possibly towards the fulfilment of some neglected duty on earth the attention to which on the part of still-living friends may have au effect quite the reverse of that attending the mere encouragement of the Kama-loka entity in the resumption of its old earthly interests. In each cases the living friends may, by falling in with its desire to communicate, be the means, indirectly, of smoothing the path of its spiritual progress. Here again, however, we must be on our guard against the delusive aspect of appearances. A wish manifested by an inhabitant of Kama-loka may not always be the expression of an idea then operative in his mind. It may be the echo of an old, perhaps of a very old, desire, then for the first time finding a channel for its outward expression. In this way, although it would be reasonable to treat as important, an intelligible wish conveyed to us from Kama-loka by a person only lately deceased, it would be prudent to regard with great suspicion such a wish emanating from the shade of a person who had been dead a long time, and whose general demeanour as a shade did not seem to convey the notion that he retained any vivid consciousness of his old personality.

The recognition of all these facts and possibilities of Kama-loka will, I think, afford Theosophists a gratifying explanation of a good many experiences connected with spiritualism which the first brief sketches of the Esoteric doctrine, as bearing on this matter, left in much obscurity. I call the explanation gratifying, because whether Spiritualists, for the most part, reject the teaching on which we rely, or whether, as I hope may be the case, in progress of time they accept it as embracing their own experience, and sweeping on beyond this, they are a body of inquirers with whom we cannot but feel ourselves attached by many bonds of sympathy. Indeed, as contrasted with the outer world of materialists and slaves of religious dogma, Theosophists and Spiritualists ought to be regarded as forming one body. Their disagreements are as between themselves, and could hardly be understood by outsiders quite unconnected with any investigation of truth on the spiritual plane. I think, therefore, it should be a subject for us of great satisfaction, to begin to see an important group of problems connected with the work of the Spiritualists—problems which hitherto we have had to put aside as insoluble by the light of our teaching—coming now within the range of that teaching as its limits expand—or, to be more accurate, as its detail becomes fuller. The difference, I take it, between the attitude of mind of a Theosophist and that of any other person engaged in spiritual inquiry is, that the Theosophist perceives the inevitable trustworthiness of the Esoteric doctrine as a whole, and when some minor observation of Nature appears to conflict with it, he is inclined to believe that the contradiction will give way eventually to a new view of the observation rather than to a reconstruction of the great generalization of the doctrine. In this way, while our information about Kama-loka remained incomplete, independent inquirers finding it in apparent conflict with their own experience, treated it as altogether unacceptable; but I think our policy of leaning to its acceptance provisionally, while we waited for more light to explain its applicability to facts it did not seem at once to meet, is ultimately finding an adequate justification.

For it will be seen that there is nothing in the explanation now given in reference to the normal evolution of souls in Kama-loka which conflicts with any statement on that subject previously made. The comprehension, on the contrary, that may now be formed of the way the Kama-loka entity develops towards his Devachanic state, shows us how inevitable it must be that an enormous number of such entities must always be existing in Devachan in a state of great intellectual decrepitude in regard to the aspect they present to the earthly observer. These will have sunk, as regards the activity of their lower astral principles, into the condition of the altogether vague, and unintelligible entities, which occult writers have denominated “shells.” The designation is not a happy one. It would have been better perhaps to have followed another precedent, and to have called them “shades,” but either way their condition would be the same. All the vivid consciousness inhering as as they left the earth in the principles appropriately related to the activities of physical life, has been transferred to the higher principles which do not manifest at seances. Their memory of earth-life has almost become extinct. Their lower principles are in such cases only reawakened by the influences of the mediumistic current into which they may be drawn, and they become then little more than astral looking glasses, in which the thoughts of the medium or sitters at the seance are reflected. If we can imagine the colours on a painted canvas sinking by degrees into the substance of the material, and at last re-emerging in their pristine brilliancy on the other side, we shall be conceiving a process which might not have destroyed the picture, but which would leave a gallery in which it took place, a dreary scene of brown and meaningless blacks and that is very much what the Kama-loka entities become before they ultimately shed the very material on which their first astral consciousness operated, and pass into the wholly purified Devachanic condition, in which for the moment it is not our business to attempt in imagination to follow them.

But this is not the whole of the story which teaches us to regard manifestations coming from Kama-loka with distrust. Our present comprehension of the subject enables us to realize that when the time arrives for that second death on the astral plane, which releases the purified Ego from Kama-loka altogether and sends it onward to the Devachanic state—something is left behind in Kama-loka which corresponds to the dead body bequeathed to the earth when the soul takes its first flight from physical existence. A dead astral body is in fact left behind in Kama-loka, and there is certainly no impropriety in applying the epithet “shell” to that residuum. The true shell in that state disintegrates in Kama-loka before very long, just as the true body left to the legitimate processes of Nature on earth would soon decay and blend its elements with the general reservoirs of matter of the order to which they belong. But until that disintegration is accomplished, the shell which the real Ego has altogether abandoned, may even in that state be mistaken sometimes at spiritual seances for a living entity. It remains for a time an astral looking-glass, in which mediums may see their own thoughts reflected, and take these back, fully believing them to come from an external source. These phenomena in the truest sense of the term are galvanized astral corpses, none the less so, because until they are actually disintegrated a certain subtle connection will subsist between them and the true Devachanic spirit; just such a subtle communication as subsists in the first instance between the Kama-loka entity and the dead body left on earth. That last-mentioned communication is kept up by the finely-diffused material of the original third principle, or linga sharira, and a study of this branch of the subject will, I believe, lead us up to a better comprehension than we possess at present of the circumstances under which materializations are sometimes accomplished at spiritual seances. But without going into that digression now, it is enough to recognize that the analogy may help to show how, between the Devachanic entity and the discarded shell in Kama-loka a similar connection may continue for a while; acting, while it lasts,—as a drag on the higher spirit, but perhaps—as an after-glow of sunset on the shell. It would surely be distressing, however, in the highest degree to any living friend of the person concerned, to get, through clairvoyance, or in any other way, sight or cognition of such a shell and to be led into mistaking it for the true entity.

The comparatively clear view of Kama-loka which we are now enabled to take, may help us to employ terms relating to its phenomena with more precision than we have hitherto been able to attain. I think if we adopt one new expression, “astral soul,” as applying to the entities in Kama-loka who have recently quitted earth-life, or who for other reasons still retain, in the aspect they turn back towards earth, a large share of the intellectual attributes that distinguished them on earth, we shall then find the other terms in use already adequate to meet our remaining emergencies. Indeed, we may then get rid entirely of the inconvenient term “elementary,” liable to be confused with elemental, and singularly inappropriate to the beings it describes. I would suggest that the astral soul as it sinks (regarded from our point of view) into intellectual decrepitude, should be spoken of in its faded condition as a shade, and that the term shell should be reserved for the true shells or astral dead bodies which the Devachanic spirit has finally quitted.

We are naturally led in studying the law of spiritual growth in Kama-loka to inquire how long a time may probably elapse before the transfer of consciousness from the lower to the higher principles of the astral soul may be regarded as complete; and as usual, when we come to figures relating to the higher processes of Nature, the answer is very elastic. But I believe the higher Esoteric teachers of the East declare that as regards the average run of humanity—for what may be called, in a spiritual sense, the great middle classes of humanity—it is unusual that a Kama-loka entity will be in a position to manifest as such for more than twenty-five to thirty years. But on each side of this average the figures may run up very considerably. That is to say, a very ignoble and besotted human creature may hang about in Kama-loka for a much longer time, for want of any higher principles sufficiently developed to take up his consciousness at all, and at the other end of the scale the very intellectual and mentally-active soul may remain for very long periods in Kama-loka (in the absence of spiritual affinities of corresponding force), by reason of the great persistence of forces and causes generated on the higher plane of effects.

It ensues from this that there is no impossibility in the nature of things why in some cases men of great intellectual eminence, who may have passed away perhaps even centuries ago, may not sometimes communicate with living persons through mediumship appropriate to their affinities; but this consideration does not relieve us from the propriety of regarding with the greatest possible distrust the claims of too obliging “shades,” or “shells,” who reflect the thoughts of mediums or sitters at seances, and announce themselves to the company by imposing names.

Kama-loka is a region of almost infinite variety, and a good deal has been said from time to time in Theosophical writings on the subject of its non-human inhabitants. On this head I have no fresh information to offer at present, and though we know that elemental influence is an exceedingly important factor in the phenomena of spritualism, a more detailed comprehension of that branch of the subject must await our later studies. There is, however, one other important possibility connected with manifestations reaching us by the usual channels of communication with Kama-loka, which it is desirable to notice here, although from its nature the realisation of such a possibility cannot be frequent.

No recent students of Theosophy, like ourselves, can expect to know as yet very much about the conditions of existence which await Adepts who relinquish the use of physical bodies on earth. The higher possibilities open to them appear to me quite beyond the reach of intellectual appreciation. No man is clever enough, by virtue of the mere cleverness seated in a living brain, to understand Nirvana; but it would appear that Adepts in some cases elect to pursue a course lying midway between re-incarnation and the passage into Nirvana, and in the higher regions of Devachan; that is to say, in the arupa state of Devachan may await the slow advance of human evolution towards the exalted condition they have thus attained. Now an Adept who had thus become a Devachanic spirit of the most elevated type would not be cut off by the conditions of his Devachanic state—as would be the case with a natural Devachanic spirit passing through that state on his way to re-incarnation—from manifesting his influence on earth. His would certainly not be an influence which would make itself felt by the instrumentality of any physical signs to mixed audiences, but it is not impossible that a medium of the highest type—who would more properly be called a seer—might be thus influenced. By such an Adept spirit some great men in the world’s history may from time to time have been overshadowed and inspired, consciously or unconsciously as the case may have been. But the possibility has no proper connection with the subject of this paper, and is only mentioned here, because it seemed possible that otherwise some inquirers would have sought among the various aspects of Kama-loka for the explanation of that rare seership which by virtue of the assistance given from the other side, may sometimes leap beyond Kama-loka altogether.

The disintegration of shells in Kama-loka will inevitably suggest to anyone who endeavours to comprehend the process at all, that there must be in Nature some general reservoirs of the matter appropriate to that sphere of existence corresponding to the physical earth and its surrounding elements, into which our own bodies are resigned at death. The grand mysteries on which this consideration impinges will claim a far more exhaustive investigation than we have yet been enabled to undertake; but one broad idea connected with them may usefully be put forward without further delay. The state of Kama-loka is one which has its corresponding orders of matter in manifestation round it. I will not here attempt to go into the metaphysics of the problem, which might even lead us to discard the notion that astral matter need be any less real and tangible than that which appeals to our physical senses. It is enough for the present to explain that the propinquity of Kama-loka to the earth which is so readily made apparent by spiritualistic experience, is explained by Oriental teaching to arise from this fact, that Kama-loka is just as much in and of the earth as during our lives our astral soul is in and of the living man. The stage of Kama-loka, in fact, the great realm of matter in the appropriate state which constitutes Kama-loka and is perceptible to the senses of astral entities, as also to those of many clairvoyants, is the fourth principle of the earth, just as the Kama-rupa is the fourth principle of man. For the earth has its seven principles like the human creatures who inhabit it. Thus, the Devachanic state corresponds to the fifth principle of the earth, and Nirvana to the sixth principle. Consideration of this idea will, perhaps, assist us in a very remarkable way to comprehend some processes of planetary evolution. But that speculation would carry us into another region of our inquiry, and for the present I think we have quite enough to do in enlarging and filling up our conceptions of Kama-loka.

[See the “Editor’s Note” by H. P. Blavatsky, which appeared following this article.]