Life After Death
Questions by various friends and Answers by Swami Nirmalananda, abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram
Q. What is life in the astral plane like?
A. There are many levels in the astral world, and they are all much more stable than the earth plane. Spending time in the astral plane is exactly like living within the earth plane, though in some of the higher worlds thought is more evidently a force. We are born into those worlds and work out karma in them just as we do here. Of course, there is much more learning done there and some people spend centuries in the astral equivalent of study. The lower astral worlds are so much like the earth that the people even live in buildings and there are changes in weather. In the higher worlds this is not so, and things remain more unvarying. Also, communication becomes increasingly non-verbal as we ascend to higher levels.
Many of the same things that are done on earth are also done in the astral worlds–negative as well as positive. You may remember that Yogananda in his autobiography speaks of wars going on in the astral planes with mantric power being used instead of bombs. The astral world may seem advantageous to our earthbound minds, but in reality it is a terrible place, being both more intense and more binding than the earth plane.
It is very difficult for people to extricate themselves from astral involvement. This is why many people while incarnated on the earth are addicted to so-called astral travel. I knew one of Yogananda's personal secretaries whom he continually warned against this, but every night she would be "out and about." Many times she was almost destroyed by evil forces, and only the Master's intervention saved her.
Spiritual life can completely come to a standstill if our attention becomes overly focused on psychic and astral phenomena. One very psychic friend of mine told me that the first words she spoke to her guru were: "Can you get me off the astral?" Not all are so wise.
Q. In one of your articles you mention "astral wanderers." A lady I know, who channels, is always talking about wanderers as if they were desirables. That is the only place I ever heard of wanderers, before I saw them mentioned in your book. In your book they seem to be most definitely undesirable. Could you please explain to me exactly what a "wanderer" is?
A. Not only are astral wanderers undesirable, so also is channeling. Naturally, a person who traffics with such spirits will defend them as being good. This is the folly of all spiritualistic or shamanistic practices.
Some astral wanderers are discarnate human beings who, rather than accept their death and continue on their evolution, remain on the earth plane and try to contact human beings and ultimately enter their bodies–even if for only a short period. This is of course both foolish and unethical. Only the lowest, most ignorant, and materialistically-minded beings do this. And, frankly, only those of equally low vibrations (no matter how intelligent or philosophical they may be) wish to invite such beings into their auras or even into their bodies for "channeling." A person who needs to reach into the astral world for contact with such entities are themselves spiritual losers of the most pathetic type.
Other astral wanderers are entities not in the stream of normal earth evolution whatever, but beings who for some reason or other have wandered into our universe and gotten trapped here. Such entities are, as you can imagine, either very stupid or very evil (since only their karma could produce such a state), and also should be avoided. You will always find that those who use the Four Soul Killers and practice "psychic development" will come under the influence and domination of such beings. This is only to be expected, since their psychic energies are also of a low and deadening type.
Q. What is your view concerning the disposal of a body when someone dies?
A. As you know, even though the body dies, we do not. Rather, we just step out of the body as we shed our clothing. Yet there is often a connection with our body according to our state of consciousness and (of course) our karma. This being so, relics of the saints convey the spiritual power of their former inhabitants and are very valuable indeed.
But whereas the departed saints affect their former bodies, those who have not attained the status of the saints may have the opposite experience–they are influenced by the condition of their bodies. In fact, many are still so connected with their bodies they remain earthbound and cannot pass on to the astral regions. This is very unfortunate. If, however, the body is dissolved in some manner any ties with the body are also dissolved and the soul can pass on. This dissolving can take place after a long time of decay (which is why preserving the body is not wise), or by cremation.
Those who believe the body is supposed to pop up like toast on the day of resurrection are horrified at the idea of cremation lest it prevent their resurrection. As the Lord Jesus said, they err because they know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.1 Anyone with a bit of historical knowledge should know that millions of human beings have turned to dust and many are being blown about in the breeze. What to speak of those who were eaten and ended up in the bodies of more than one predator. Do they think that God would not have the ability to deal with this situation? Of course the bottom line is the fact that the idea of the physical resurrection is a misinterpretation. So there is really no problem.
Cremation is a very wise thing, for it ensures that the departed cannot be bound to the body. Thus it releases them to pass on higher.
Though you did not ask about it, I would like to point out the importance of prayers for the departed to also help them in their further growth. The departed are aware of those prayers and the love that is expressed through them. Thus we continue through prayer to send our love to those who have physically left us. Moreover, prayers for the dead are a major help in the elimination of grief over the death of those dear to us.
Q. I would like to know whether the departed soul gets our prayer and the love we express. Also, how does that prayer help the departed soul?
A. There is no exact answer to your question. Sometimes the departed remain very near the earth plane for a while after death and are very much aware of whatever is being done by those dear to them. Others pass into the higher worlds very quickly without a backward glance and remain unaware of what happens here. Actually, this second state is the best as it helps the person to prepare for the next birth rather than holding him back with attachment to the previous life situation.
Again, some are helped by prayers and others are not. It all depends on the state of development of the person and also his karma. Here, too, we should be aware that it is not helpful for any soul to keep reminding him of his previous life and turning his awareness backward rather than forward.
The best rule is this: Show love and care for those dear to you while they live. Help them to keep their mind on higher things, to worship and meditate on God every day. Then they will carry with them the blessing and knowledge of your love and will need no further help, but will ascend to higher worlds as Sri Krishna assures us in the Gita.