October 2013 Newsletter

The following articles are reproduced from the October 2013 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.  

Difficulties in Clairvoyance — Part I

By C. W. Leadbeater


Reprinted from The Theosophist, Volume 35, November 1913.


In the early days of the Theosophical Society there was an impression current among us that psychic powers could not be developed except by one who from birth had possessed a physical vehicle of suitable type — that some people were psychic by nature, in consequence of efforts made in previous lives, and that others, who were not so favoured, had no resource but to devote themselves earnestly to whatever physical-plane work they could do, in the hope that they might thereby earn the privilege of being born with a psychic vehicle next time. The fuller knowledge of later years has to some extent modified this idea; we see now that under certain stimuli any ordinarily refined vehicle will unfold some portion of psychic capacity, and we have come to be by no means so sure as we used to be, that the possession of psychic faculties from birth is really an advantage. It is quite clear that it is an advantage in some ways, and that it ought to be an advantage in all; but as a matter of experience it often brings with it serious practical difficulties.


 The boy who has it, knows a world from which his less fortunate fellows are excluded — a world of gnomes and fairies, of actual comradeship with animals and birds, with trees and flowers, of living sympathy with all the moods of nature — a world freer, less sordid and far more real than the dull round of everyday life. If he has the good fortune — the very rare good fortune — to have sensible parents, they sympathise with him in all this, and explain to him that this fairy world of his is not a separate one, but only the higher and more romantic part of the life of the gracious and marvellous old earth to which we belong, and that therefore everyday life, when properly understood, is not dull and grey, but instinct with vivid wonder and joy and beauty.


 There can be no question of the advantage here; but, unfortunately, as I have just said, the sensible parent is rare, and the budding poet, artist or mystic is quite likely to find himself in the hands of an unsympathetic bourgeoisie, wholly incapable of comprehending him, and thoroughly permeated with fear and hatred of anything which is sufficiently unusual to rise a little above the level of the deadly dullness of their smug respectability. Then is his lot indeed unhappy; he soon learns that he must live a double life, carefully hiding the romantic realities from the rude jeers of the ignorant Philistine, and but too often the crass brutality of this most reprehensible repression stifles altogether the dawning perception of the spirit and drives him back into his shell for this incarnation. Hundreds of valuable clairvoyants are thus lost to the world, merely through the unconscious cruelty of well-meaning stupidity.


 Some boys, however, and perhaps still more often some girls, do not entirely lose their powers, but bring through some fragments of them into adult life; and not improbably the very fact that they have thus direct knowledge of the existence of the unseen world, draws them to the study of Theosophy. When that happens, is their psychism an advantage to them?


 There is no doubt that it ought to be. Not only do they know as a fact of experience many things which other students accept merely as a necessary hypothesis, but they can also understand far better than others all descriptions of higher conditions of consciousness — descriptions which, because they are couched in physical language, must necessarily be woefully imperfect. The clairvoyant cannot doubt the life after death, because the dead are often present to him; he cannot question the existence of good and evil influences, for he daily sees and feels them.


 Thus there are many ways in which clairvoyance is an incalculable benefit. On the whole, I think that it makes happier the life of its possessor; it enables him to be more useful to his fellows than he could otherwise be. If balanced always by common sense and humility, it is indeed a most excellent gift; if not so balanced, it may lead to a good deal of harm, for it may deceive both the clairvoyant himself and those who trust in him. Not if proper care is exercised; but many people do not exercise proper care, and so inaccuracy arises.


 Especially is this the case when the operator endeavours to use the powers of the higher vehicles, because in the first place, long and careful training is needed before these can be rightly used, and secondly the results must be brought down through several intermediate vehicles, which offer many opportunities for distortion. A good example of the kind of work in question is the investigation of past history or of the previous lives of an individual — what is commonly called examining the records. In order to obtain reliable results, this must be done through the causal body; and to chronicle the observations correctly on this lower plane we must have four vehicles thoroughly under control — which is a good deal to expect.


 The physical body must be in perfect health, for if it is not, it may produce the most extraordinary illusion and distortions. A trifling indigestion, the slightest alteration in the normal circulation of the blood through the brain, either as to quantity, quality or speed, may so alter the functioning of that brain as to make it an entirely unreliable transmitter of the impressions conveyed to it. A similar effect may be produced by any change in the normal volume or velocity of the currents of vitality which are set flowing through the human body by the spleen. The brain mechanism is a complicated one, and unless both the etheric part of it through which the vitality flows and the denser matter which receives the circulation of the blood, are working quite normally, there can be no certainty of a correct report; any irregularity in either part may readily so dull or disturb its receptivity as to produce blurred or distorted images of whatever is presented to it.


 The astral body, too, must be perfectly under control, and that means much more than one would at first suppose, for that vehicle is the natural home of desires and emotions, and in most people it is habitually in a condition of wild excitement. What is wanted is not at all what we ordinarily call calmness; it is a far higher degree of tranquillity which is only to be obtained by long training. When a man describes himself as calm, he means only that he has not at the moment any strong feeling in his astral body; but he has always a quantity of smaller feelings which are still keeping up a motion in the vehicle — the swell which still remains, perhaps, after some gale of emotion which swept over him yesterday. But if he wishes to read records or to perform magical ceremonies, be must learn to still even that.


The old simile of the reflection of a tree in a lake can hardly be bettered. When the surface of the water is really still, we have a perfect image of the tree; we can see every leaf of it; we can observe correctly its species and its condition; but the slightest puff of wind shatters that image at once, and creates ripples which so seriously interfere with the image that not only can we no longer count the visible leaves but we can hardly tell even what kind of tree it is, an oak or an elm, an ash or a hornbeam, whether its foliage is thick or thin, whether it is or is not in flower. In fact, our interpretation of the image would, under such conditions, be largely guesswork. And that, be it remembered, is the effect of a mere zephyr; a stronger wind would make everything utterly unintelligible.


 The normal condition of our astral bodies might be represented by the effects of a brisk breeze, and our ordinary calmness by the ripplings of a light but persistent air; the mirror-like surface can be attained only after long practice and much strenuous effort. When we realise that for a reliable reading of the records we must reach that condition of perfect placidity not in one vehicle only, but in four, no one of which is ever normally quiet even for a moment, we begin to see that we have a difficult task before us, even if this were all.


 Not only must the astral body be tranquil before the investigation is begun, but it must remain unruffled all through the work — which means that, if he wants to get more than a general impression, the seer must not allow himself to be excited by anything which may appear in the picture. Be it observed that the nature of the excitement makes no difference; if a spasm of anger, of fear, is fatal to accuracy, so also is a rush of affection or devotion. If he is to be rigorously truthful, the watcher must record what he sees and hears as impartially as does a camera or a phonograph; he may allow himself the luxury of emotions afterwards when recalling what he has seen, but at the time he must be absolutely impassive, if he is to be reliable. This makes it practically impossible for the emotional or hysterical person to be a trustworthy observer on these higher planes; he surrounds himself with a world of forms built by his own thoughts and feelings, and then proceeds to see and to describe those as though they were external realities.


 Often such forms are beautiful, and their contemplation is uplifting, so that, even though they are inaccurate they may be of great help to the seer. Indeed, his experiences may be useful to others also, if he has the discrimination to relate them without labelling his actors as deities, archangels or adepts. But it is usually precisely such figures as those that his imagination evokes, and it is merely human nature to feel that the person who comes to him must surely be some Great One. The only way to secure oneself against self-deception is the old and irksome way of a long, hard course of careful training; except by some vague intuition a man cannot know a thought-form from a reality until he has been taught their respective characteristics, and can rise sufficiently above them to be able to apply his tests.


Calmness is necessary in the mental body as well as the astral. A man who worries can never see accurately, because his mental body is in a condition of chronic disease, a perpetual inflammation of agitated fluttering. One who suffers from pride or ambition has a similar difficulty. Some have supposed that it matters little what they think habitually, so long as during the actual investigation they try to hold their minds still; but that idea is fallacious. In this vehicle, also, the storm of yesterday leaves a swell behind it; an attitude of mind which is constantly or frequently held, makes an indelible mark upon the body, and keeps up a steady pulsation of which the owner is as unconscious as he is of the beating of his heart. But its presence becomes obvious when clairvoyance is attempted, and makes anything like clear vision impossible — all the more since the man, being ignorant of its existence, makes no effort to counteract its effects.


Prejudice, again, is an absolute bar to accuracy; and we know how few people are entirely without prejudices. In many cases these mental attitudes are matters of birth and long custom — the attitude, for example, of the average Brahmana to a pariah, or the average American to a negro. Neither of those could report accurately a scene in which appeared any members of the classes they instinctively despise. I may give an example which came under my notice some time ago. I knew a good clairvoyant with strong Christian proclivities. So long as we were dealing with indifferent subjects, her vision was clear; but the moment that anything arose which touched, however remotely, upon her religious beliefs she was instantly up in arms, and became absolutely unreliable. Being a highly intelligent person in many directions, she would have checked this prejudice if she had been conscious of it; but she was not, and so its evil influence was unrestrained. If, for example, a scene rose before us in which a Christian and a man of some other religion came in any way into conflict or even appeared side by side, her description of it was a mere travesty of the reality, for she could see only the good points in the Christian and only the evil in the other man. If any fact appeared which did not fit in with the alleged history contained in the Christian Scriptures, that fact was ignored or distorted to suit her preconceptions; and all this with entire unconsciousness, and with the best possible intentions. That is only one small sample of the unreliability of spontaneous, untrained clairvoyance.


No wonder that it takes many years of patient and careful training before the pupil of the Master can be accepted as really reliable. He must discover all these unrecognised prejudices, and must eliminate them; he must evict from the recesses of his own consciousness other tenants even more firmly attached to the soil — pride, self-consciousness, self-centredness.


This last is a condition from which many people suffer. I do not mean that they are selfish in the ordinary gross meaning of the word; they are often far from that, and they may be kind-hearted, self-sacrificing, anxious to help. Nor do I mean that they are offensively proud or conceited; but just that they like to be under the limelight, to be always well on view in the centre of the stage. Suppose such a person to be psychic from birth; in every case where there is a personal experience to be related, that psychic will necessarily and inevitably magnify his or her personal part in the affair, and that without the slightest intention of doing so. (…to be continued)


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