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South of Heaven
William Quan Judge
A LETTER to
the editor from
The complaint in this letter is that when one goes to Devachan much time is lost away from earth life, where otherwise unselfish work for others might be continued by instantly returning to it after death.
The reason given is that Devachan is an illusion, while the so-called illusions of earthly existence are in such a sense real that they are preferable to those of Devachan. In illustration of this, the supposed case is given of a parent in Devachan imagining that the beloved child is also there, when, in fact, the child not yet physically dead remains on earth perhaps in misery or leading a life of vice. This is the root of the objection - the supposed illusionary character of Devachan as compared to earth-life.
Now these feelings are always due to the thirst for life in the form which presently is most known to us, - that is, in a physical body. We cannot argue Devachan away any more than we can the necessity of incarnation upon this earth; the one is as philosophically necessary as is the other.
A very easy way out of the difficulty - which arises almost wholly from our feelings - would be to calmly accept the law as it stands, being willing to take whatever may be our fate, whether that be in Devachan or in this earth-life. Our likes and dislikes can have no effect on the course of nature, but they may have an effect on ourselves which will be far from beneficial. For the dwelling upon pleasure or the constant desire to fly from "pain not yet come" will inevitably create Karmic causes which we would wish to avoid.
But perhaps there are some considerations on the subject of Devachan which may be of use. In the first place, I have never believed that the period given by Mr. Sinnett in Esoteric Buddhism of fifteen hundred years for the stay in that state was a fixed fact in nature. It might be fifteen minutes as well as fifteen hundred years. But it is quite likely that for the majority of those who so constantly wish for a release and for an enjoyment of heaven, the period would be more than fifteen hundred years.
Indeed, the Hindu Scriptures give many special ceremonies for the attainment of heaven, or the regions of Indra, which is Devachan; and those ceremonies or practices are said to cause a stay in Indraloka "for years of infinite number."
The first question, however, must be "What is the cause for passing into Devachan?" Some have said that it is good Karma or good acts that take us and keep us there, but this is a very incomplete reply. Of course, in the sense that it is happiness to go into that state, it may be called good Karma.
But it does not follow that the man whose life is good, passed in constant unselfish work for others without repining, and free from desire to have somewhere his reward, will go to Devachan. Yet his Karma must be good; it must act on him, however, in other lives, for the earth-life is the place where such Karma has its operation.
But if at the same time that he is thus working for others he wishes for release or for some place or time when and where he may have rest, then, of course, he must go to Devachan for a period which will be in proportion to the intensity of those desires.
Again, it should not be forgotten that the soul must have some rest. Were it, before becoming bright as the diamond, hard as adamant, and strong as steel, to go on working, working through earth-life after earth-life without a break between, it must at last succumb to the strain and come to nothing. Nature therefore has provided for it a place of rest - in Devachan; and that we should thankfully accept if it falls to our lot.
But does Devachan suffer in the comparison made between it and this life on earth? To me it seems not. Human life is as great an illusion as any.
To the sage Ribhu, Vishnu said it was the longest-lived reign of fancy. To say that it is a terrible thing to think of a mother in Devachan enjoying its bliss while the child is suffering on earth, is to prefer one illusion over another, to hug a philosophical error to the breast. Both states are out of the true, while the Ego, who is the real witness, sees the lower personality struggling with these phantoms while it, whether the body be living or its other parts be in Devachan, enjoys eternal felicity. It sits on high unmoved, immovable. The great verse in the Isa-Upanishad settles this matter for me in these words: "What room is there for sorrow and what for doubt in him who knows that all spiritual beings are the same in kind, though differing in degree." Therefore if I believe this, I must also know that, no matter whether I and my best beloved are in Devachan or on earth, they and I must forever partake of the highest development attained by the greatest of sages, for, as they and I are spiritual beings, we must have communion forever on the higher planes of our being.
Then, again, the fact seems to be lost sight of that each night we go into a sort of Devachan - the dream state or sleep without dream. The loving mother, no matter how unfortunate or evil her child, must sleep, and in that state she may have dreams of her loved ones around her in just the very condition of mind and body she would have them enjoy. If Devachan be objectionable, why not also rebel against our necessary sleep which acts on our physical frame to give it rest, as Devachan does upon our more ethereal parts?
Lying unnoticed at the foot of this matter is the question of time. It goes to the very root of the objection, for the aversion to the stay in Devachan is based upon the conception of a period of time. This period - given or supposed as 1,500 years - is another great illusion which can be easily proved to be so. What we call time, measured by our seconds and minutes and hours, is not necessarily actual time itself. It is not the ultimate precedence and succession of moments in the abstract. For us it depends on and flows from the revolutions of our solar orb, and even with that standard it can be shown that we do not apprehend it correctly. We speak of seconds, but those are such as our watchmakers give us in the watch. They might be made longer or shorter.
They are arrived at through a division of a diurnal solar revolution, the observation of which not necessarily mathematically accurate. If we lived on Mercury - where we must believe intelligent beings live - our conception of time would be different. From our childhood's experience we know that even in this life our appreciation of the passage of time rises and falls, for in early youth the 12 months from one Christmas to another seemed very, very long, while now they pass all too quickly. And from watching the mental processes in dreams we know that, in the space of time taken for a bell to drop from the table to the floor, one may dream through a whole lifetime, with all the incidents of each day and hour packed into such a limited period. Who can tell but that in a Devachanic state of three months the person may go through experiences that seem to cover thousands of years?
If so, why not say for him - since time as we know it is an illusion - that he was in Devachan for those thousands?
Devachan, however, is not a meaningless or useless state. In it we are rested; that part of us which could not bloom under the chilling skies of earth-life bursts forth into flower and goes back with us to another life stronger and more a part of our nature than before; our strength is revived for another journey between deaths.
Why shall we repine that nature kindly aids us in the interminable struggle; why thus ever keep the mind revolving about this petty personality and its good or evil fortune?
Willian Quan Judge
Path, September, 1890
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