The Astral World (2)
by Paramahansa Yogananda
Excerpts from SRF Magazine Spring/Summer 2010
Nature of God
Is God a hoary man sitting on a throne at some point in space, surrounded by winged harp-playing angels? That is a limited concept held by some dogmatists whose understanding cannot conceive the real nature of God as Spirit, the Infinite Absolute. "Men without wisdom consider Me, the Unmanifest, as assuming embodiment (like a mortal being taking a form)—not understanding My unsurpassable state, My unchangeable unutterable nature....I, the Unchanging and Everlasting, sustain and permeate the entire cosmos with but one fragment of My Being!" [The Bhagavad Gita VII:24 and X:42]
The invisible God, however, can also become visible. Saints who by samadhi meditation have gone into the astral heaven (higher than the ordinary astral world where most souls go after death) tell us that God is not only formless but that He takes form also.
In fact, it is that One Spirit who has become everything in this universe. He is not only the impersonal Absolute. He can also be very personal, manifesting as the Heavenly Father or the Divine Mother or in any deity-form that His devotees want to see. But He cannot be limited to a form.
In Spirit, God and all His angels are absolutely one. Likewise, no delusion of separation or finitude is imposed on those souls who have found their final liberation. But because souls retain their individuality they can reappear from the light of Spirit as separate forms. At the time when a soul is liberated and returns to God, the Lord and His ascended saints take individualized forms, and there is great rejoicing and festivity—a wondrous celebration in the supernal astral heaven of celestial beauty and bliss. In that Paradise, if there were only the One Light of undifferentiated Spirit, there would be no guests, no food, and therefore no festivity. Just as the one beam of light from a movie projector, passing through a film of individualized images, can show a grand festivity of interacting characters on the screen, so in the heavenly celebrations everything is made of light. God (in a deity-form), the angels, the devotees—all are made of the inconceivably subtle light of pure consciousness, differentiated by their own will into individualized forms. When the celebration concludes, they dissolve themselves again into the ecstatic bliss of undifferentiated Oneness—merging into the One Light, One Spirit.
There are no limitations, no forced routine, in heaven. Advanced astral beings can order their environment and actions just as they please. It is freedom eternal. If you want to go to the farthest star, traveling through the ether faster than light, you are allowed to do so. You can be a star, a human being, an angel—anything you want to be—all at will.
These are some of the advantages of the ultimate realms of the astral world. Of course, most souls after death do not ascend straightway to the kingdom of God. They go to one of the higher or lower regions of the ordinary astral universe, as determined by their good or bad karma, and after a time reincarnate on earth. Souls who have been evil, or who have strong material desires and attachments, must come back soon to work out their materialistic karmic burden. Souls who were fairly virtuous on earth have the chance to stay longer in the better astral regions; and when they reincarnate on earth again they have an inborn impetus toward self-improvement and spiritual progress.
The astral world consists of graduated levels of greater or lesser spiritual refinement. "In my Father's house there are many mansions" (John 14:2). Higher than the ordinary astral world are the various levels of the astral heaven reached by very advanced souls. These are discussed in detail in Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, Chapter 43, and The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You, Discourse 10.]
Live in Astral Freedom Now
We go to the astral world automatically after death, but why wait for death when you can have that greater freedom now, even while living in the physical body? Unless you are somewhat advanced, your astral sojourn in the after-death state may be more like a rejuvenating sleep with astral dreams interspersed with short periods of conscious astral wakefulness until you wake up in your next earthly reincarnation. But if you can consciously get into the astral world now, you will be able to go there consciously after death; and you will be able to come back again to earth consciously when the time is right for you to continue your lessons in the school of earth life. And when your earthly karma is burned up, you will enter the astral heaven and never have to take another forced earthly incarnation.
Everything is Made out of One Light
What is the use of giving so much of your attention to this world? I am not wasting my time here. Because I made the necessary effort in meditation to find God, even when I am working in the fields or mixing with people I behold that great Light. Such joy! Every minute, every second—no matter what I am doing. Once in a while I feel I am in this world, and once in a while the Lord withdraws my spirit in ecstasy, and my body is lifeless. There is no wind, there is no body, there is no sunlight, there is no ocean, there is no breath, there is no temple. There is just One Light—that Light eternal. And then as my consciousness comes down I see that Light change itself into the temple, into the wind, the ocean, and into my body. It is like the movies. The one beam of light is throwing all those different scenes on the screen. How pure is this Light, how powerful—and how terrible is the movie which it throws on the screen. That is how life is. When we keep our minds on the Light, it is wonderful. But when we concentrate on the world, we are caught up in the terrible drama of delusion.
Until you realize this through meditation, the world is a prison—all trouble and disease and disappointment. Most of the people are poor. Most of the people are sick. Most of the people are unhappy. You may think you are all right now; but you don't know what might happen to you the next minute. Why don't you seek to know your real Self, cloaked in light in the astral world, instead of being subject to a thousand sufferings in this gross world? Body is not well; eyesight is going; stomach is weak—why should we tolerate these things? We have subjected our souls to such delusion. Everyone looks for the latest diet or vitamin to be a little stronger, a little healthier. But all these things you make such a fuss about will sooner or later fail you. That is why Jesus said, "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on." Now do you understand why he said that? He wanted us to concentrate on the unlimited Divine Source of life, not on matter.
Think of those in Europe whose lives and homes are being destroyed by the bombs of war. [World War II ] This earth is perpetually a place of war—the battle of good and evil inherent in physical creation. Bombs of suffering are falling everywhere. The animals fight and eat one another—and supposedly superior man behaves no better. If you were animals, you would say: "This is my cave, and if any other animal comes near me I will kill it." That is how territorial nations are fighting today. But where will the instigators be one hundred years hence? They will be gone from this earth, and it will have no more importance to them than a forgotten dream. Man should rather use his brief span here to achieve something lasting: to find freedom in God.
The only purpose of life is to get away from the delusion of this material world. Wait no longer. How dare you forget God! I testify to you of the existence of God's astral kingdom; now why don't you seek it? You are always trying to create that picture of perfection here on earth, but it is fruitless. You will never succeed, for this world is a place of too many limitations. That Utopian dream is but the lost forgotten memory of your experience of the astral world. "Methinks that sometime, somewhere beyond the sky, in a little kingdom all my own, I built a castle of my dreams—a beautiful garden-paradise all my own. Methinks I lived there long in perfect happiness." These kinds of dream-imaginings are subconsciously present in the minds of everyone. And there is a way to realize those dreams. Imagination is not unreal; it is the borderland of what is yet to be real. Everything you imagine can be created by a will that is guided by wisdom.
Jules Verne wrote wonderful books of "science fiction," but today those imaginings are real. Think of all the wonders that once were considered fantasy but have now come true. Somebody imagined the automobile and someone else imagined electric lights and another imagined the airplane and so on—and now these marvelous inventions are commonplace.