The generally accepted view is that death means the extinction of life, and even in the dictionary it is defined as "the end of life." Theosophically speaking, death is by no means the end of life, but is, on the contrary, as H.P.B. points out in The Secret Doctrine, "merely the door through which he [man] passes to another life on earth after a little rest on its threshold—Devachan."
Death is a universal fact in nature, and, as H.P.B. points out, there would be no life possible without death. There cannot be regeneration or reconstruction without destruction. "Plants would perish in eternal sunlight, and so would man, who would become an automaton without the exercise of his free will and aspirations after that sunlight, which would lose its being and value for him had he nothing but light."
Therefore everything in the universe is subject to constant change, and man's physical body is no exception to this. From birth it is subject to nature's orderly processes, which consist in an incessant borrowing and giving back of the atoms which compose it. Man faces a responsibility, for as he thinks and feels, so he can either help on the evolution of the beings who receive the atoms he has impressed, or retard their progress. There is no standing still. In the course of time, his body as also his thoughts will become more refined or grosser, depending on the direction they take and the impress the lives are given. This constant change is not limited only to man. Nitya Pralaya or constant dissolution, says The Secret Doctrine, is "the change which takes place imperceptibly in everything in this Universe, from the globe down to the atom—without cessation. It is growth and decay (life and death)."
Going deeper into the nature of man, we see that his emotions and desires and thoughts change. The emotions and desires of a child are not those of a grown-up man; daily and hourly there is, or should be, the killing out of the old and undesirable emotions to make way for the new ones. The type of desires and emotions arising in man will depend upon the direction his thoughts take. He becomes either their slave or their controller; this means for him either a new birth in spirit and progress up the ladder of evolution, or a further descent into matter and the death of higher thoughts and desires. If no higher impress is given, man will go from incarnation to incarnation, sinking lower and lower, and become in time one of the "living dead"—one who thinks of nothing but himself. He retards not only his own evolution, but also the evolution of all those impressed by his lives.
Thus for man, whether we consider only his physical body or his inner nature, death is life, but the change from one condition to another will be for either good or ill depending on the type and kind of thoughts he has. He has within himself the power to make his new birth a higher and better one than the old.
There comes a time, however, when the cohesive power of the lives making up man's physical body can no longer be maintained; that is, for one or another reason, whether it be disease or natural old age, the physical body ceases to be a fit instrument for the Real Man within to manifest through. Just as a craftsman cannot do good work using an imperfect tool, so too, the Ego cannot work perfectly through an imperfect instrument. The unnatural prolongation of life in the body through, for instance, the transplantation of various organs, with all that that entails, makes for an unnatural existence. Life and death have today become unnatural. Natural death means the gradual separation of the lives; just as birth is a gradual process, so too is natural death. This comes about when, as explained in the article "The Elixir of Life" (The Theosophical Movement, July and August 1966), "our will ceases to be strong enough to make us live."
It is at this point, when physical death takes place, that an important event occurs. In her Key to Theosophy H.P.B. describes what happens:
This is the event which awaits everyone who dies. Another important point to be borne in mind is the attitude of those who assist at a death-bed, whether of a very near and dear relative or of a friend. It is natural to feel grief when the physical connection is broken. However, who is it who feels the grief, and why? Is it for the one who has gone? He is now released from his personality, is no more limited by it, while those left behind are still so limited and bound down. "Death comes to our spiritual selves ever as a deliverer and friend," says H.P.B. So pity and sorrow should not be felt for the one just gone, or, if felt, such emotions should be controlled in such a way that there is no disturbance. The reason for this is given by one of the Mahatmas, who advises:
Therefore, just as we do not disturb a person who is sleeping, no more should we disturb the one who has just died, because it is a hindrance and upsets the quiet stream of thought within his inner consciousness.
After this event is over, the physical body is left behind, and, life-energy having departed, the remaining five principles enter the first of the after-death states known as Kama Loka. Those who die a natural death enter this state without conscious remembrance. If pure, they pass through it quickly. "The rule is that a person who dies a natural death will remain from 'a few hours to several short years' within the earth's attraction, i.e., in the Kama Loka." It is the habitat of shells and victims of accidental death, including suicides. It is a sphere, we are told, which is "divided into innumerable regions and sub-regions corresponding to the mental states of the comers at their hour of death." Therefore, in death, as in earth life, we reap the exact consequences of our thoughts and actions, and create our own place in the scheme of things in the universe.
When this stay in Kama Loka is over, the real man is reborn into another of the after-death states; he awakens to the joys and bliss of Devachan. Here, too, the thoughts and impressions and feelings generated during life will determine the time spent in this state. We create, while here on earth, our Devachan, and it will last "in proportion with the intensity of feelings that created it," and no longer. There comes, however, a time when the memories of the previous incarnation are "added to the series of other innumerable incarnations of the Ego, like the remembrance in our memory of one of a series of days, at the end of a year."
Then, just as the man at the moment of death has a retrospective review of the whole life just lived, so too
Thus a cycle is completed, and, just as death is implicit in birth, so, too, rebirth is implicit in death, and man is once again reborn. His new incarnation will depend entirely on the quality of thoughts, emotions and desires generated in previous lives. As man moves from incarnation to incarnation, he can make each new birth either a heaven or a hell for the Ego within. He can involve himself deeper into matter, or raise himself higher and higher in Spirit. He need not wait for a new incarnation for this to happen, for at each minute, each hour, and each day, a new birth can take place, either in spirit or in matter.
On a larger scale, we see this constant change, as H.P.B. says, "in everything in this Universe from the globe down to the atom—without cessation." The seed must die to make way for the plant; old twigs and leaves drop off the tree to make way for new ones; universes come and go. When the time comes for a universe to die, it does not suddenly go out of existence, but "sends its energies into space and gives similar life or vibration to cosmic dust—matter" which results in the course of time in the birth of a new universe. Death in every case means life, because a new instrument is formed for the manifestation of life when the old form has ceased to be a fit vehicle, but at no time does life cease or is it extinct.In each case the old but makes way for the new in a continuous chain. "The Present is the child of the Past; the Future, the begotten of the Present"; and all three are "the ever-living trinity in one." So far as man is concerned, his goal is to strive to make his dreams a daily reality, so that he has no cause for Kama Loka and no need for Devachan. "To live is to die, and to die is to live."