Intriguing questions with fascinating answers, each intertwined with the other, seem invariably to be an intrinsic part of anything and everything connected with the word “astral”. For instance, what is an astral body, what are astral worlds or astral planes and why is it that who can travel to which astral plane is determined by the thoughts and actions of a particular living being—and that includes humans as well as other living creatures—while on earth? Why is it that the magnetism or soul force they possess or exude or its lack play a major role? Is it possible to reach or travel to the astral worlds while still alive or is it possible only after death? Above all, why are astral connections so important?
Paramahansa Yogananda , whose teachings, talks, revelations and acclaimed book The Autobiography of a Yogi have over the years been an inspiration to millions of people worldwide, including celebrities like Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, and Steve Jobs explained where your soul will go when you die and “pass over to life after death:… To the astral world—the ‘heavenly’ realm of light and indestructible life, the realm of vibratory life energy hidden behind the veil of the gross material universe… From the astral world we come at birth, and there we shall return at death. Someone asked me why we should try to connect with the astral world now. To this I reply, ‘Because that is where you will realise the freedom of your true nature. You were there as a soul cloaked in an astral form to start with; and because you are not there now and have lost that memory is why all your misery persists.’ By entering that other world we discover the secret of our existence — what happens after death, and where we were before birth, and how to live in the material world without losing our divine connection.”
The Himalayan Academy, when dealing with the subject of “Life After Death—Hindu Metaphysics Answers to Universal Questions about the End of Life” has written about the “astral body”. According to the Himalayan Academy when the physical body dies, this automatically severs the subtle silver cord that connects the astral and physical bodies. This cord is an astral-pranic thread that connects the astral body through the navel to the physical body. It is a little like an umbilical cord. During out-of-the-body experiences, this silver cord is often seen as a cord of light connecting the physical, astral and spiritual bodies. When the cord is cut at the death of the physical body, the process of reincarnation and rebirth begins. The Vedas say, “When a person comes to weakness, be it through old age or disease, he frees himself from these limbs just as a mango, a fig or a berry releases itself from its stalk.”
It is painful to the astral body, continues the Himalayan Academy, to have the physical body cut or disturbed seriously within seventy-two hours after death. The soul can see and feel this, and it detains him from going on. As soon as you tamper with his physical body, he gets attached, becomes aware that he has two bodies, and this becomes a problem. Ideally when you die, your physical body goes up in flames, and immediately you know it’s gone. “You now know that the astral body is your body, and you can effortlessly release the physical body. But if you keep the old body around, then you keep the person around, and he is aware that he has two bodies. He becomes earthbound, tied into the Pretaloka, and confused.”
It has been written that “astral projection or astral travel is a term used in esotericism to describe a willful out-of-body experience or OBE that assumes the existence of a soul or consciousness called an “astral body” that is separate from the physical body and capable of travelling outside it throughout the universe. The idea of astral travel is ancient and occurs in multiple cultures…” Incidentally, astral projection is believed to be one of the Siddhis achievable by yoga practitioners through self-discipline and dedicte practice. It has been pointed out that in the celebrated Indian epic The Mahabharata, Drona leaves his physical body to see if his son is alive.
Meher Baba, the well known Indian spiritual teacher has described one’s use of astral projection: “Conscious separation of the astral body from the outer vehicle of the gross body has its own value in making the soul feel its distinction from the gross body and in arriving at fuller control of the gross body. One can, at will, put on and take off the external gross body as if it were a cloak, and use the astral body for experiencing the inner world of the astral and for undertaking journeys through it, if and when necessary….The ability to undertake astral journeys therefore involves considerable expansion of one’s scope for experience. It brings opportunities for promoting one’s own spiritual advancement, which begins with the involution of consciousness.”
In fact, it is a reputed band of people world wide who have recorded various aspects of astral experiences. For example, Cecelia, a clairvoyant with over thirty eight years experience has stated that the benefits of practicing conscious astral traveling and out of body investigation are immeasurable as it spreads beyond the boundaries of the physical and rational. “A great many people experience a profound shift and an inner blooming of their spiritual being, their perspective of themselves as spiritual and physical beings undergoes a transformation. They experience life with greater consciousness and vitality, certain in the knowledge that they are more than just a physical being destined to lead a short, physical only, finite life”.
The scope of the word “astral” thus seems to be not only infinite but of immeasurable value for all categories of living beings. Perhaps its most precious gift is the depth of inner freedom and transformation that it imparts, the connectivity that it provides to the unknown, to mysterious paths you have not yet charted. Above all, it offers you the keys to a more fulfilling existence—in this world on earth and other astral worlds, the key to who will travel to which astral world. More in a future column.