Allan Kardec

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257. The body is the instrument of pain, and if it is not the frst cause, it is at least the immediate cause. The soul perceives pain: it is an effect of the pain from the body. The memory the spirit preserves may be very painful, but it does not have any physical outcome. In effect, the soul cannot be affected by cold or heat, and can neither freeze nor burn. Do we not often see that the memory or worry about physical pain can produce the effect of pain in reality, and it may even result in death? For example, recently-amputated patients often complain of feeling pain in the missing limb, yet it is obvious that the amputated limb cannot really be the source or starting point of the pain. The brain has retained the impression of the pain experienced previously.

One can therefore conclude that the suffering felt by spirits after death is of a similar nature. A careful study of the perispirit, which plays an important role in spiritual phenomena, provides valuable insights into the nature and origin of vaporous or tangible apparitions as well as the state of the spirit at time of death. Inclusive of striking accounts presented by the victims of suicide and capital punishment, the sentiments communicated by the spirits of those who have been absorbed in material pleasures, as well as many other sources of information, have shed new light on this question, as is summarized below.

The perispirit is the link between the spirit and the material body. It is drawn from the atmosphere, from the universal fluid; it holds both electricity and magnetic fluid and to an extent inert matter. One can say that it is the essence of matter. It is the principle of organic life but not of intellectual life, since the spirit is the source of intellectual life. It is also the agent of all the sensations of the external life. Those sensations are located in the organs of the physical body which serve as their channels. When the body is destroyed, those sensations become generalized. This explains why a spirit never says that it suffers more in its head than in its feet. We must be careful not to confuse the sensations of the perispirit, which has become independent, with the sensations experienced by the body. The latter can only be understood as a means of comparison with the former, and not as an equivalent. A spirit may suffer when freed from the body, but its suffering is not physical. Yet, it is not purely moral suffering either, such as remorse, because the spirit complains of feeling cold or hot, despite suffering no more in the summer than in the winter. We have even seen spirits go through flames without feeling pain, as temperature has no impression on them. The pain that a spirit feels is not physical in the proper sense of that term, but is rather, a vague feeling perceived by the spirit, and for which it is not always able to account because it is not localized and not produced by any external agents. It is a memory rather than a reality, albeit a memory that is as painful as though it were a reality. Nevertheless, spirit suffering is sometimes more than a memory, as we shall see.

Observation has shown us that the perispirit is released gradually from the body at the time of death. In the frst few moments following death, a spirit does not clearly understand the situation. It feels alive and therefore does not realize that it died. It sees its body, know it for its own, and does not understand why it is separated from it. This confusion continues as long as there is any connection at all between the body and the perispirit, no matter how slight. For example, a person who had recently committed suicide said to us, “No, I am not dead,” and added, “yet I can feel the worms that are devouring my body.” The worms obviously were not devouring the perispirit, much less the spirit itself, but only the body. Still, a moral repercussion transmitted the sensation of what was taking place in the body because the separation between the body and the perispirit was not complete. Repercussion is perhaps not the right word to use in this case, as it may seem to imply an effect too closely linked to the material world. The sight of what was happening to the decaying body, still attached to the perispirit, produced an illusion that it mistook for reality. In this case, it was not a memory because worms had never devoured it during its lifetime. It was the perception of something that was actually taking place.

When we analyze the aforementioned case, we can draw conclusions based on an attentive observation of facts. During life, the body receives external impressions and transmits them to the spirit through the perispirit, which is probably what is called the neural fluid. The body, when dead, no longer feels anything because it no longer has a spirit or perispirit. The perispirit, when detached from the body, still experiences sensation but it no longer reaches it through a specific channel. Consequently, it is generalized rather than localized. Since the perispirit is only an agent of transmission – because only the spirit possesses consciousness – it may be deduced that if the perispirit could exist without the spirit, the perispirit would feel no more than a dead body. Likewise, if the spirit does not have a perispirit, it feels no pain, as is the case with completely purifed spirits. As the spirit progresses, the essence of its perispirit becomes more and more ethereal, demonstrating that the influence of matter diminishes in proportion to the advancement of the spirit, that is to say, as its perispirit becomes less and less coarse.

One may contend, however, that if it is through the perispirit that both good and bad sensations are transmitted to the spirit, then the assertion that an unpleasant sensation is inaccessible to a purified spirit must also imply that pleasant sensations are equally inaccessible. This is true with regard to the sensations that proceed solely from the influence of matter that we know and recognize. The sound of our instruments and perfume of flowers make no impression on higher spirits, and yet these same spirits experience vivid sensations of an indescribable charm. It is impossible for us to begin to fathom these sensations because when it comes to spirit sensations, we are like people blind from birth trying to understand the concept of light. We know that spirit sensations exist, but our knowledge is inadequate to explain their nature or how they are produced. What we do know is that spirits possess perception, sensation, hearing and sight, and that these faculties are attributes of their whole being, and are not limited to the five senses through which human beings experience them. But once again, in what way? However, in terms of trying to understand how these faculties act, we know nothing. The spirits themselves cannot explain it to us because our language cannot express ideas that transcend our comprehension, just as a savage is unable to express our arts, sciences, or philosophical theories.

When we say that spirits are immune to any form of impression from physical matter, it must be understood that we are speaking of spirits of a very high order whose etherealized envelope finds no analogy in this world. It is different with spirits whose perispirit is denser, because they perceive our sounds and smells, even though the perception no longer happens through specifc sensory organs, as they did during life. We may say that they feel molecular vibrations throughout their entire being, reaching their sensorium commune, although this is in a different manner and can cause a different impression that may change the resulting perception. They hear the sound of our voice, yet they can understand us by thought transmissions without speech. This penetration is easier for them as they are more dematerialized. Sight is independent of our light. The ability to see is an essential attribute of the soul and there is no darkness for spirits of a high order. It is more penetrating and extensive in those whose purifcation is more advanced. The soul or spirit possesses the faculty of all perceptions but the physical organs dull this perception down during corporeal life. However, in the spirit world, these perceptions become more and more vivid as the semi-material envelope is purifed.

This envelope is drawn from the atmosphere surrounding the spirit for the time being, and varies according to the nature of the different worlds. When spirits travel from one world to another, they change their envelope the same way we change our clothing when we transition from summer to winter, or travel from the North or South Pole to the equator. When they come to visit us, the most elevated spirits assume a terrestrial perispirit. They maintain this perispirit during their stay and their perceptions are therefore, produced in the same way as lower spirits. All spirits, whether of high or low ranking, only hear and feel what they choose to hear and feel.

Without possessing sensory organs, spirits can make their perceptions active or prevent their action. There is only one thing that they are compelled to hear, and that is the guidance of good spirits. Their sight is always active and they can make themselves invisible to one another, depending on their rank. Spirits of higher ranks have the power to hide from those who are below them. However, a lower-ranking spirit cannot hide from those who are above it. In the initial moments after death, a spirit’s vision is obscure and confused; it becomes clearer as it is free from the body. Not only does it acquire the same clarity it had during life, but also it has now the power of penetrating images that were opaque to it in physical life. As for the extension of a spirit’s vision through space, into the future and the past, that depends entirely on its degree of purity and subsequent elevation.

Some say that this theory is anything but encouraging. We had thought that, once freed from our rudimentary bodily envelope, the instrument for all our pain and suffering, we would no longer suffer. Now you tell us that we continue to suffer in the other life, but the fact that it can be in a different way does not make it any less painful. We may still have to suffer greatly, and for a long period of time, but there is also the possibility that we will no longer suffer, even from the very moment when our physical life ends.

The pain that we endure in our present life is sometimes independent of our actions, but it is often the consequence of our own volition. If we trace the root of our suffering, we see that in most cases it is due to causes that we could have avoided. How many problems and illnesses can a person trace back to overindulgence, ambition and the impulses of numerous passions! If a person could live a completely sober life without ever overindulging and remaining simple and modest in tastes and desires, such an individual would escape a large majority of the pain and suffering of human life.

The same theory applies to the spirit life, in which suffering is always the consequence of how a spirit lived on Earth. While it no longer suffers from gout or arthritis in the spirit life, its wrongdoing causes him or her to experience other woes that are no less painful. This pain is the result of the bonds that exist between a spirit and matter. The freer it is from the influence of matter, or the more dematerialized it is, the less pain it feels. Therefore we are each responsible for freeing ourselves from the infuence of matter by our actions in this present life. Human beings have free will, which gives them the power to choose, to do something or not. They must conquer their animal passions by freeing themselves of hatred, envy, jealousy and pride, and by breaking the shackles of selfshness, and purifying their souls by fostering honorable thoughts and ideas. They must do good and only attribute to physical things the importance that they deserve. Thereby, even in its corporeal envelope, it will have purifed itself by detaching from matter, and when it leaves the body behind, it will not suffer any longer from its infuence. For these individuals, the memory of the physical anguish suffered in the life they have just left is not painful, and does not produce unpleasant reactions because they only affected their bodies and left no trace on their souls. They are happy to be free and the tranquility of a clear conscience exempts them from moral suffering.

We have spoken with thousands of spirits who once belonged to every class of society and studied them at every period in their spirit life, starting from the moment when they left their bodies. We have followed them step-by-step in life beyond the grave to learn about the changes that took place in their ideas and sensations. In this respect, the most ordinary individuals were not the ones who furnished us with the least precious elements of study. This evaluation has invariably shown us that spirit suffering is the direct result of their own misconduct, and that their new existence is a source of overwhelming happiness for those who have followed the right road. Those who suffer do so as the result of their own choices, and have only themselves to blame for their suffering, in both this world and the next.

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