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The astral world is often synonymously referred to as the astral plane because it replicates the physical world. The astral world is between the elemental realm and the mental realm. It has seven dimensions or worlds according to occult philosophy. Theosophical teachings claim to possess definite knowledge of this world and its denizens. Specific accounts that have been obtained through Spiritualistic after-death communications, which are inaccessible to experimental research.
According to Theosophy, the Karma World is the second lowest of the seven worlds; it contains emotions, desires, and passions. Immediately after physical death man enters this karmic world where he functions for timeless durations varying on the state of his development; the person possessing more refined thoughts will spend a relative longer duration in the astral world. The person possesses an astral body while residing in this astral world.
Although the astral world, or plane, is primary thought of as an after-death abode, it must be mentioned that even during physical life some clairvoyants and ordinary people are aware of its presence. This awareness may come through sleep, or through the action of anesthetics or drugs, or accidents, and by the interpretation of the astral body that leaves its physical denser counterpart; and taking with it the sense of pleasure and pain, and living for a short duration in its own world. Here again, it may be noted that persons possessing more refined thoughts are more able to travel from their immediate physical surroundings further into the astral world, and by doing so be beneficial to their culture and humanity.
It is believed that disembodied people are not the only inhabitants of the astral world. Other residents of non-human nature include the lower orders of devas, and nature-spirits of elementals, both good and bad, such including fairies, which are just beyond the range of human vision, and the demons present to the vision of delirium tremens. Also, the astral world, following physical death, is said to contain both heaven and hell as popularly conceived.
The astral world's seven dimensions correspond to the seven divisions of matter: the solid, liquid, gaseous, etheric, super-etheric, subatomic, and atomic, and these are thought to play a most important part in the immediate destiny of humans. That is, if through ignorance one has permitted the rearrangement of the matter of the astral body into sheaths, one is cognizant only of part of one's surroundings at a time and it is not till after the experience, much of which may be painful, that one can enjoy the bliss that the higher dimensions of the astral world possess.
The seventh division is the lowest dimension of the astral world, which is called Avichi. This is a world of the grossest, unrestrained passions. The astral material of the astral bodies within this environment is comprised of much of the same dense matter. They are in a hell, the only hell which exists. This is a place in which such desires cannot be satisfied because they are no physical bodies with which to satisfy them. The tortures of these denizens are analogous to those of the hell-fire depicted in the orthodox Christian hell; except Theosophy teaches that the torments of Avichi are not eternal, but eventually pass away when the desires through prolong gnawing without fulfillment gradually die. Therefore, it is more appropriate to describe Avichi as a purgatorial state.
Usually the ordinary individual does not find himself in the seventh dimension, but rather in one of the other three higher divisions. There is very little difference between the sixth division and physical existence. The person finds himself in familiar surroundings with former relatives and friends, who like the person himself, often do not realize that they are dead.
The next three divisions are still further removed from the physical world in which the inhabitants enjoy a state of bliss that is inconceivable to the ordinary person. Earthly worries and cares are nonexistent, the persistence of lower desires have been worn out in lower divisions and it is now possible to live in an environment of loftier thoughts and aspirations.
The third division is described as corresponding to the Spiritualistic "Summerland," where the inhabitants reside in a world of their own creation-the creation of their thoughts. The entire environment, the cities and their contents, the scenery of life, is formed through the influence of thought.
The second division is that which is properly viewed as Heaven, and the inhabitants of all races, creeds, and beliefs find it according to each individual belief. It is discovered not to be a certain place like taught by a particular religion, but rather a region in which each and every religion finds its ideal. Christians, Mohammedans, Hindus, and so on, find heaven to be just as they previously conceived it. Here, and also in the fist and highest division, the inhabitants pursue noble aims freed of the selfishness that was mingled with such aims when on earth. The literary man, artist, scholar, preacher, all without the thought of self-interest, pursue the excellence of their goals, and after long enough durations fine themselves to be fit for change; they then depart the astral world and enter the Mental World, which is one vastly higher.
The progression through the divisions of the astral world is thought to be the result of the rearrangement of the matter of the astral body at physical death that occurs because of ignorance. It is believed those who are sufficiently instructed can prevent this rearrangement from occurring, and, therefore, are not confined to any one division, and do not have to progress from one division to another, but are able to move through any part of the astral world, laboring in their various pursuits to assist the great evolutionary scheme. Many Theosophical teachings were derived from Traditional Hindu mysticism. Some concepts are found in ancient Gnosticism too. A.G.H.
Sources: 9, 101-102; 78, 25.