Although New Thought is the spiritual and intellectual movement with which I most closely identify, one aspect of it has always bugged me – the widespread belief in the possibility of physical immortality. Even certain great thinkers within the movement for whom I have a great respect fell victim to this folly. Yet to my knowledge, all of them died.
The belief seems to stem from a misunderstanding of Christ’s repeated promises of eternal life, and the specious assumption that death can have no legitimate place in a universe that is entirely life-affirmative by its nature.
Physical death is purely a construct of our belief systems, they tell us. And yet plants and animals die, and they have no conscious belief systems. They die because it is a fact of nature that physical forms in our current plane of existence are temporary. If they were permanent, a dog would be stuck as a dog forever and have no opportunity to evolve beyond it.
Tragically, getting too deep into the physical immortality thing can be a great way of going off the deep end. Late in his career Charles Fillmore, founder of the New Thought movement Unity Church, was clearly undeterred by the palpable signs of ageing that were overtaking his body, and became convinced that he was immortal. He also betrayed certain other signs of his own mental instability, including believing that he was the reincarnation of St. Paul.
Fillmore and others fell victim to one of the errors I’ve previously written about. In order to successfully manifest anything, we need to possess a level of consciousness equal to the thing being manifested. Modern Law of Attraction teachers suggest that all we have to do is believe hard enough, and the thing will come to us. This is true for small favours within the reach of our consciousness - if you believe it will come to you, then it probably will. Driving all contrary thoughts out of your mind to the point where you become deeply intellectually and emotionally convinced that a certain thing is true is typically enough to manifest ordinary physical events – like a monetary gain, a house, a job, a relationship and so on. It is not sufficient to enable you to walk on water or stick your hand through the wall. It is certainly not enough to halt the ageing process and make you physically immortal. To manifest such things requires a level of consciousness far beyond the intellectual and emotional levels. It requires the type of deep spiritual KNOWING that Sydney Banks always wrote in capital letters.
Fillmore clearly did not understand this, and he remained convinced that discarding death from his belief system was enough to remove it from his reality. It was not, and he died in 1948. The level of consciousness required to escape physical death is, I believe, beyond attainment on our current plane of being. Or at least, it is so extraordinarily difficult to attain that it does not even bear thinking about.
That does not mean a soul that descends to the earth plane from some higher realm is strictly bound by the physical laws of this plane. Christ, I assume, could have easily returned from whence he came without subjecting himself to physical death – yet he subjected himself to it anyway. And we, being souls naturally born into this plane, and presently belonging to it – have no business supposing it should be any different for us. Like Christ we must die a physical death – and once we are ready, having gained all that we can from this plane and having attained the required consciousness – we shall discard our decaying physical bodies and slip seamlessly from this physical plane into the purely spiritual, maintaining our consciousness all the way. Eternal life indeed, since the only real death is the slipping into semi-consciousness that occurs when our objective (conscious) mind is severed from the subjective (subconscious) mind at death.
When we die, it is not the physical termination of the body that constitutes the real death. But our conscious personality really does die, unless we have sufficient understanding to take it with us when we cross over. If we do not, then all that remains is the subjective (subconscious) mind, containing our core beliefs and patterns. Whatever beliefs and patterns are contained within will shape our afterlife for a period of time. We shall live in a dream of our own subconscious creation, being incapable of initiating new trains of thought and thus caught in a loop of our own creation, until such time as the Universal Spirit deems that this state has served its purpose; then rebirth occurs. The loop may be positive or negative depending on the dominant nature of our beliefs – hence the many accounts of near-death experiences and encounters with ghosts caught in heaven or hell states. Good or bad, it is nevertheless a dreamlike limbo where we lack conscious volition, and therefore cannot initiate new trains of causation. For Troward, the intervention of some enlightened being who crossed over with its consciousness intact is required to bring such a soul out of this state. Or theoretically, anyone on earth could also assist in the matter by praying scientifically for the departed – from whence comes the concept of praying for the dead, or praying through some celestial intercessor for the dead.
Personally, I do not accept that the intervention of any third party is required to bring a soul out of this state, even though it may be of assistance. The forward evolutionary momentum inherent in the life-giving tendency of the Universal Spirit is enough to force us into a new incarnation, once the time is right. To suppose that we could ever get stuck seems to be a denial of this eternal momentum. The Spirit does everything to ensure that we don't get stuck, including erasing our memory from our previous life, lest our past modes of thinking should reassert themselves too readily.
Refer to The Creative Process in the Individual Chapter 8 and Bible Mystery and Bible Meaning Chapter 12 for Troward’s full teaching on this. In the former, Troward writes:
“...Substance is a necessity for the expression of Spirit, but it does not follow that Spirit is tied down to any particular mode of expression. If you fold a piece of paper into the form of a dart it will fly through the air by the law of the form which you have given it. Again, if you take the same bit of paper and fold it into the shape of a boat it will float on water by the law of the new form that you have given it. The thing formed will act in accordance with the form given it, and the same paper can be folded into different forms; but if there were no paper you could put it into any shape at all.
The dart and the boat are both real so long as you retain the paper in either of those shapes; but this does not alter the fact that you can change the shapes, though your power to do so depends on the existence of the paper. This is a rough analogy of the relation between ultimate substance and particular forms, and shows us that neither substance nor shape is an illusion; both are essential to the manifestation of Spirit, only by the nature of the Creative Process the Spirit has power to determine what shape substance shall take at any particular time.
Accordingly we find the great Law that, as Spirit is the Alpha of the Creative Process, so solid material Form is its Omega; in other words the Creative Series is incomplete until solid material form is reached. Anything short of this is a condition of incompleteness, and therefore the enlightened souls who have passed over in possession of both sides of their mentality will realize that their condition, however beatific, is still one of incompleteness; and that what is wanted for completion is expression through a material body. This, then, is the direction in which such souls would use their powers of initiative and selection as being the true line of evolution--in a word they would realize that the principle of Creative Progression, when it reaches the level of fully developed mental man, necessarily implies the Resurrection of the Body, and that anything short of this would be retrogression and not progress.
At the same time persons who had passed over with this knowledge would never suppose that Resurrection meant merely the resuscitation of the old body under the old conditions; for they would see that the same inherent law which makes expression in concrete substance the ultimate of the creative series also makes this ultimate form depend on the originating movement of the spirit which produces it, and therefore that, although some concrete form is essential for complete manifestation, and is a substantial reality so long as it is maintained, yet the maintaining of the particular form is entirely dependent on the action of the spirit of which the form is the external clothing. This resurrection body would therefore be no mere illusory spirit-shape, yet it would not be subject to the limitations of matter as we now know it: it would be physical matter still, but entirely subject to the will of the indwelling spirit, which would not regard the denser atomic relations of the body but only its absolute and essential nature as Primary Substance.”
Individualised spirit is incomplete without a physical form. And thus, our bodies shall be resurrected after death – whether by reincarnation on the earth plane, or if we cross over with our consciousness intact, we will choose to reconstitute our bodies through an act of will. Christ told us as much when he resurrected his body after three days – the supreme demonstration of Christ as the model of perfected humanity. And thus, like Christ, even perfected humanity will still pass through physical death – but the dissolution of the body shall not be permanent. It shall be reconstituted, though not in the same dense, mortal form that we now find it.
I close with the alleged dying words of the Buddha. I’ve previously shared my reservations about certain teachings of Buddhism, and some of them are even evident in this quote. Nevertheless it’s hard to deny that he had a high level of spiritual understanding. The following quote is reproduced in the book The Emerald Tablet – Alchemy of Personal Transformation by Dennis William Hauck, and it attributes the information on Buddha to the Encyclopedia Britannica, The Teaching of Buddha by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and The Elements of Buddhism by John Snelling. It does not reference the original Buddhist text from which the quote originates. So like a lot of Buddhist quotes, the attribution is somewhat nebuluous – take it or leave it.
“Do not weep, dear friend. Have I not told you that Separation is inevitable from all near and dear to us? Whatever is born, produced, conditioned, contains within itself the nature of its own Dissolution. It cannot be otherwise.” To the others gathered around him, he said: “Do not forget that death is only the end of the physical body. The body was born from parents and was nourished by food; just as inevitable are sickness and death. But the true Buddha is not a human body—it is enlightenment. A human body must die, but the wisdom of enlightenment will exist forever in the truth of the Dharma and in the practice of the Dharma. He who sees merely my body does not truly see me. Only he who accepts my teaching truly sees me. After my death, the Dharma shall be your teacher. Follow the Dharma and you will be true to me. I have withheld nothing from my teachings. There is no secret teaching, no hidden meaning; everything has been taught openly and clearly. My dear disciples, this is the end. In a moment, I shall be passing into Nirvana.”