March 2020 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the March 2020 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
A Rough Outline of Theosophy — Part II
By Annie Besant
Now the consciousness of man can thus pass from plane to plane because he is himself the universe in miniature, and is built up himself of these seven principles, as they are sometimes called, or better, is himself a differentiation of consciousness on seven planes. It may be well, at this stage, to give to these states of consciousness the names by which they are known in Theosophical literature, for although some people shrink from names that are unfamiliar, there are, after all, only seven of them, and the use of them enables one to avoid the continual repetition of clumsy and inexact descriptive sentences. To Macrocosm and Microcosm alike the names apply, although they are most often found in relation to man. The Spirit in man is named Âtmă, cognizable only in its vehicle Buddhi, the Spiritual Soul; these are the reflections in man of the highest planes in the universe. The Spiritual Intelligence is Manas, the Ego in man, the immortal entity, the link between Âtmă-Buddhi and the temporary personality. Below these come in order Kama, the emotional and passional nature; Prâna, the animating life-principle of the personality; Lińga Sharîra, the astral body the double of the physical, but formed of the somewhat more ethereal astral matter; lastly, Stűla Sharîra, the physical body. These seven states are grouped under two heads: Âtma-Buddhi-Manas make up the trinity in man, imperishable, immortal, the pilgrim that passes through countless lives; the Individual, the True Man. Kâma, Prâna, Lińga Sharîra, and Sthűla Sharîra form the quaternary, the transitory part of the human being, the person, which perishes gradually, onwards from the death of the physical body. This disintegrates, the molecules of physical, astral, kămic matter finding all new forms into which they are built, and the more quickly they are all resolved into their elements the better for all concerned. The consciousness of the normal man resides chiefly on the physical, astral and kamic planes, with the lower portion of the Mănasic. In flashes of genius, in loftiest aspirations, he is touched for a moment by the light from the higher Mănasic regions, but this comes — only comes — to the few, and to these but in rare moments of sublime abstraction. Happy they who even thus catch a glimpse of the Divine Augoeides, the immortal Ego within them. To none born of women, save the Masters, is it at the present time given by the law of evolution to rise to the Âtmic-Buddhic planes in man; thither the race will climb millenniums hence, but at present it boots not to speak thereof.
Each of these planes has its own organisms, its own phenomena, the laws of its own manifestation; and each can be investigated as exactly, as scientifically, as experimentally, as the objective plane with which we are most familiar. All that is necessary is that we should use our appropriate organs of sensation, and appropriate methods of investigation. On the objective plane we are already able to obey this rule; we do not use our eyes to listen to sounds, and then deny that sounds exist because our eyes cannot hear them nor do we take in hand the microscope to examine a distant nebula, and then say that the nebula is not there because the field of the microscope is dark. A very slight knowledge of our own objective universe will place us in the right mental attitude towards the unknown. Why do we see, hear, taste, feel ? Merely because our physical body is capable of receiving certain impressions from without by way of the avenues of senses. But there are myriads of phenomena, as real as those we familiarly cognize, which are to us non-existent, for the very simple reason that our organs of sensation are not adapted to receive them. Take the air-vibrations which, translated into terms of consciousness, we call sound. If an instrument that emits successive notes be sounded in a room with a dozen people, as the notes become shriller and shriller one person after another drops out of the circle of auditors and is wrapped in silence while still a note is sounding, audible to others there; at last a pipe speaks that no one hears, and though all the air be throbbing with its vibrations, silence complete reigns in the room. The vibration-waves have become so short and rapid that the mechanism of the human ear cannot vibrate in unison with them; the objective phenomenon is there, but the subjective does not respond to it, so that for man it does not exist. Similar illustrations might be drawn in connection with every sense, and it is surely not too much to claim that if, on the plane to which our bodies are correlated, phenomena constantly escape our dull perceptions, men shall not found on their ignorance of other planes the absolute denial of their existence. Only informed opinion is of any weight in discussion, and in Occult Science, as in every other, the mere chatter and vituperation of uninformed criticism do not count. The Occultist can be no more moved thereby than Professor Huxley by the assertions of a fourth-standard schoolboy. Those who have time, ability, and courage, can develop in themselves the senses and the capacities which enable the consciousness to come into touch with the higher planes, senses and capacities already evolved and fully at work in some, and to be in the course of ages the common inheritance of every child of man. I know that the exercise of these powers often arouses in the minds of people convinced of their reality an eager desire to possess them, but only those who will pay the price can attain possession. And the first installment of that price is the absolute renunciation of all that men prize and long for here on earth; complete self-abnegation; perfect devotion to the service of others; destruction of all personal desires; detachment from all earthly things. Such is the first step on the Right-Hand Path, and until that step is taken it is idle to talk of further progress along that thorny road. Occultism wears no crown save that of thorns, and its scepter of command is the seven-knotted wand, in which each knot marks the payment of a price from which the normal man or woman would turn shuddering away. It is because of this that it is not worth while to deal with this aspect of Theosophy at any length. What does concern us is the general plan of evolution, the pilgrimage of the Ego, of the individual, encased in the outer shell of the personality.
The evolution of man consists in the acquirement by the Ego of experience, and the gradual moulding of the physical nature into a form which can readily respond to every prompting of the Spirit within. This evolution is carried on by the repeated incarnation of the Ego, overshadowed by the Spirit, in successive personalities, through which it lives and acts on the objective plane. The task before it when it starts on the wheel of life on this earth; during the present cycle, is to acquire and assimilate all experience, and so to energize and sublimate the objective form of man that it may become a fit instrument and dwelling for the Spirit; the complete assimilation of the Ego with the Spirit, of Manas with Âtma-Buddhi, being the final goal of the long and painful pilgrimage. It is obvious that such work cannot be accomplished in one lifetime, or in a few. For such a gigantic task countless lives must be required, each life but one step in the long climbing upward. Each life should garner some fresh experience, should add some new capacity or strengthen some budding force; thus is built up through numberless generations the Perfect Man. Hence the doctrine of Reincarnation is the very core and essence of Theosophy, and according to the hold this belief has on life, so will be the grasp of the learner on all Theosophic truth.
There is no doctrine in the range of philosophy which throws so much light on the tangled web of human life as does this doctrine of Reincarnation. Take, for instance, the immense difference in capacity and in character found within the limits of the human race. In all plants and in all animals the characteristic qualities of species may vary, but within comparatively narrow limits; so also with man, so far as his outer form, his instincts and his animal passions are concerned. They vary of course, as those of the brute vary, but their broad outline remains the same. But when we come to study the difference of mental capacity and moral character, we are struck with the vast distances that separate man from man. Between the savage, counting five upon his fingers, and the Newton who calculates the movements of a planet and predicts its course, how wide and deep a gulf as to intellect! Between a barbarian dancing gleefully round the bleeding body of his foe, as he mangles and torments the living tissues, and the Howard who gives his life to save and aid the lowest fallen of his people, how vast the difference as to character ! And this leaves out of account those living men, who are as far ahead of Newton and of Howard as these are above the least evolved of our race. Whence the great divergences, unparalleled among the rest of the organisms on our globe ? Why is man alone so diverse ! Theosophy points in answer to the reincarnation of the Ego, and sees in the differing stages of experience reached by that Ego the explanation of the differing intellectual and moral capacities of the personality. Baby Egos — as I have heard H. P. Blavatsky call them with reference to their lack of human experience — inform the little-evolved humanity, while those who dwell in the more highly developed races are those who have already garnered much rich harvest of past experience and have thereby become capable of more rapid growth.
The Ego that has completed a span of earth-life, and has shaken off the worn-out personality that it informed, passes into a subjective state of rest, ere reassuming “the burden of the flesh”. Thus it remains for a period varying in length according to the stage of evolution it has reached. When that period is exhausted, it is drawn back to earth-life, to such environment as is suitable for the growing of the seed it has sown in its past. As surely as hydrogen and oxygen rush into union under certain conditions of temperature and of pressure, is the Ego drawn by irresistible affinity to the circumstances that yield opening for its further evolution. Suitable environment, suitable parents to provide a suitable physical body, such are some of the conditions that guide the place and time of reincarnation. The desire for sentient life, the desire for objective expression, that desire which set the universe a-building, impels the Ego to seek renewed manifestation; it is drawn to the surroundings which its own past has made necessary for its further progress. Nor is this all. I have spoken of the fact that each plane has its own organisms, its own laws; the Mănasic plane is the plane on which thoughts take forms, objective to all who are able to perceive on that plane. All the experiences of a life, gathered up after death, and the essence, as it were, extracted, have their appropriate thought-forms on the Mănasic plane; as the time for the reincarnation of the Ego approaches, these, with previous unexhausted similar thought-forms, pass to the astral plane, clothe themselves in astral matter, and mould the astral body into the form suitable for the working out of their own natural results. Into this astral body the physical is built, molecule by molecule, the astral mould thus, in its turn, moulding the physical. Through the physical body, including its brain, the reincarnated Ego has to work for the term of that incarnation, and thus it dwells in a tabernacle of its own construction, the inevitable resultant of its own past earth lives.
To how many of the problems that vex thinkers today by the apparent hopelessness of their solution, is an explanation suggested if, for the moment, Reincarnation be accepted even as a possible hypothesis. Within the limits of a family, hereditary physical likeness, often joined by startling mental and moral divergences; twins, alike as far as regards heredity and pre-natal environment, yet showing in some cases strong resemblance, in others no less dissimilarity. Cases of precocity, where the infant brain manifests the rarest capacities precedent to all instruction. Cases of rapid gain of knowledge, where the knowledge seems to be remembered rather than acquired, recognized rather than learned. Cases of intuition, startling in their swiftness and lucidity, insight clear and rapid into complicated problems without guide or teacher to show the way. All these and many other similar puzzles receive light from the idea of the persistent individual that informs each personality, and it is a well-known principle in seeking for some general law underlying a mass of apparently unrelated phenomena that the hypothesis which explains most, brings most into accord with an intelligible sequence, is the one most likely to repay further investigation.
To those, again, who shrink from the idea that the Universe is one vast embodiment of injustice, the doctrine of Reincarnation comes as a mental relief from a well nigh unbearable strain. When we see the eager mind imprisoned in an inefficient body; when we note the differences of mental and moral capacity that make all achievement easy to one, impossible to others; when we come across what seem to be undeserved suffering, disadvantageous circumstances; when we feel longings after heights unattainable for lack of strength; then the knowledge that we create our own character, that we have made our own strength or our own weakness, that we are not the sport of an arbitrary God or of a soulless Destiny, but are verily and indeed the creators of ourselves and of our lot in life — this knowledge comes to us as a support and an inspiration, giving energy to improve and courage to endure.
This immutable law of cause and effect is spoken of as Karma (action) in Theosophy. Each action — using the word to include all forms of activity, mental, moral, physical — is a cause and must work out its full effect. Effect as regards the past, it is cause as regards the future, and under this sway of karmic law moves the whole life of man as of all worlds. Every debt incurred must be duly paid in this or in some other life, and as the wheel of life turns round, it brings with it the fruit of every seed that we have sown. Reincarnation under karmic law, such is the message of Theosophy to a Christendom which relies on a vicarious atonement and a swift escape to Paradise when the grave closes on the dead. Reincarnation under karmic law, until the fruit of every experience has been gathered, every blunder rectified, every fault eradicated, until compassion has been made perfect, strength unbreakable, tenderness complete, self-abnegation the law of life, renunciation for others the natural and joyous impulse of the whole nature.
But how, it may be asked, can you urge to effort, or press responsibility, if you regard every action as one link in an infrangible chain of cause and effect ? The answer lies in the sevenfold nature of man, in the action of the higher on the lower. The freewill of man on this plane is lodged in the Mănasic entity, which acts on his lower nature. Absolute freewill is there none, save in the Unconditioned. When manifestation begins, the Universal Will becomes bound and limited by the laws of Its own manifestation, by the fashion of the expression It has chosen as Its temporary vehicle. Conditioned, it is limited by the conditions It has imposed on Itself, manifesting under the garb of the universe in which it wills to body Itself forth. On each plane Its expression is limited by the capacities of Its embodiments. Now the Manasic entity in its own sphere is the reflection, the image, of the Universal Will in Kosmos. So far as the personality is concerned, the promptings, the impulses, from the Mănasic plane are spontaneous, have every mark of freedom, and if we start from the lowest plane of objective nature, we shall see how relative freedom is possible. If a man be loaded with chains, his muscles will be limited in their power of movement. They are constrained in their expression by the dead weight of iron pressing upon them; yet the muscular force is there, though denied outward expression, and the iron cannot prevent the straining of the fibers against the force used in their subdual. Again, some strong emotion, some powerful impulse from the kăma-mănasic plane, may hold rigid the muscles under lesion that would make every fibre contract and pull the limb away from the knife. The muscles are compelled from the plane above them, the personal will being free to hold them rigid or leave them to their natural reaction against injury. From the standpoint of the muscles the personal will is free, and it cannot be controlled save as to its material expression on the material plane. When the Mănasic entity sends an impulse downwards to the lower nature with which it is linked, conflict arises between the animal desire and the human will. Its interferences appear to the personality as spontaneous, free, uncaused by any actions on the lower plane; and so they are, for the causes that work on it are of the higher not the lower planes. The animal passions and desires may limit its effective expression on their own plane, but they cannot either prompt or prevent its impulses: man's true freedom is found when his lower nature puts itself into line with the higher, and gives free course to the will of the higher Ego. And so with that Ego itself: able to act freely on the planes below it, it finds its own best freedom as channel of the Universal Will from which it springs, the conscious willing harmony with the All of which it is part. An effect cannot be altered when the cause has appeared; but that effect is itself to be a cause, and here the will can act. Suppose a great sorrow falls on some shrinking human heart; the effect is there, it cannot be avoided, but its future result as cause may be one of two things; Kâma may rebel, the whole personal nature may rise in passionate revolt, and so, warring against the Higher Will, the new cause generated will be of disharmony, bearing in its womb new evil to be born in days to come. But Kâma may range itself obediently with karmic action; it may patiently accept the pain, joyfully unite itself to the Higher Will, and so make the effect as cause to be pregnant with future good.
Remains but space for one last word on that which is Theosophy in action — the Universal Brotherhood of Man. This teaching is the inevitable outcome of the doctrines of the One Universal Spirit common to all humanity, Reincarnation and Karma. Every distinction of race and sex, of class and creed, fades away before the essential unity of the indwelling Spirit, before the countless incarnations under all forms of outward garmenture, making the experience of prince and beggar part of the training of all in turn. Here is to be found the motive spring of action — love for all mankind. In each child of man the true Theosophist recognises a brother to be loved and served, and in the Theosophical Society, Theosophists, under the direction of the Masters, have formed a nucleus for such Brotherhood of Humanity and have made its recognition the only obligation binding on all who enter. Amid class hatreds and warring sects it raises this sublime banner of human love, a continual reminder that essentially all humanity is one, and that the goal to which we travel is the same for all. Without this recognition of Brotherhood all science is useless and all religion is hypocrisy. Deeper than all diversity, mightier than all animosity, is that Holy Spirit of Love. The Self of each is the Higher Self of all, and that bond is one which nothing in all worlds can avail to break. That which raises one raises all; that which degrades one degrades all. The sin and crime of our races are our sin and crime, and only as we save our brethren can we save ourselves. One in our inception, one in our goal, we must needs be one in our progress; the “curse of separateness” that is on us, it is ours to remove, and Theosophy, alike as religion and philosophy, will be a failure save as it is the embodiment of the life of Love.