L. W. ROGERS
LOS ANGELES THEOSOPHICAL BOOK CONCERN 1917
Copyright By L. W. Rogers 1917
To comprehend the significance of great world changes, before Time has fully done his work, is difficult. While mighty events are still in their formative period the future is obscure. But our inability to outline the future cannot blind us to the unmistakable trend of the evolutionary forces at work. One thing that is clear is that our boasted Christian civilization is the theater in which has been staged the most un-Christian war of recorded history and in which human atrocity has reached a point that leaves us vaguely groping for a rational explanation of it. Another obvious fact is that the more than twenty nations involved have been forced into measures and methods before unknown and which wholly transform the recognized function and powers of governments. With these startling facts of religious and political significance before us thoughtful people are beginning to ask if we are not upon the threshold of a complete breaking down of modern civilization and the birth of a new order of things, in which direct government by the people throughout the entire world will be coincident with the rise of a universal religion based on the brotherhood of man.
In such a time any contribution to current literature that will help to clear the ground of misconceptions and to bring to the attention of those interested in such things, that set of fundamental natural truths known as theosophy, may perhaps be helpful. Whether or not the world is about to recast its ethical code there can at least be no doubt that it is eagerly seeking reliable evidence that we live after bodily death and that it will welcome a hypothesis of immortality that is inherently reasonable and therefore satisfies the intellect as well as the heart. Those who are dissatisfied with the old answers to the riddle of existence and demand that Faith and Reason shall walk hand in hand, may find in the following pages some explanation of the puzzling things in life—an explanation that disregards neither the intuitions of religion nor the facts of science.
Of course no pretension is made of fully covering the ground. The book is a student's presentation of some of the phases of theosophy as he understands them. They are presented with no authority whatever, and are merely an attempt to discuss in simple language some of the fundamental truths about the human being. No claim is made to originality but it is hoped that by putting the old truths in a somewhat different way, with new illustrations and arguments, they may perhaps be seen from a new viewpoint. The intention has been to present elementary theosophy simply and clearly and in the language familiar to the ordinary newspaper reader. All technical terms and expressions have been avoided and the reader will not find a single foreign word in the book.
L. W. R.
I. THEOSOPHY 9
II. THE IMMANENCE OF GOD 15
III. THE EVOLUTION OF THE SOUL 23
IV. LIFE AFTER BODILY DEATH 29
V. THE EVOLUTIONARY FIELD 43
VI. THE MECHANISM OF CONSCIOUSNESS 49
VII. DEATH 59
VIII. THE ASTRAL WORLD 69
IX. REBIRTH: ITS REASONABLENESS 103
X. REBIRTH: ITS JUSTICE 135
XI. REBIRTH: ITS NECESSITY 153
XII. WHY WE DO NOT REMEMBER 167
XIII. VICARIOUS ATONEMENT 181
XIV. THE FORCES WE GENERATE 187
XV. SUPERPHYSICAL EVOLUTION 205
Rediscovery is one of the methods of progress. Very much that we believe to be original with us at the time of its discovery or invention proves in time to have been known to earlier civilizations. The elevator, or lift, is a very modern invention and we supposed it to be a natural development of our civilization, with its intensive characteristics, until an antiquarian startled us with the announcement that it was used in Rome over two thousand years ago; not, of course, as we use it, but for the same purpose, and involving the same principles. A half century ago our scientific men were enthusiastic over the truths of evolution that were being discovered and placed before western civilization. But as we learn more and more of the thought and intellectual life of the Orient it becomes clear that the idea of evolution permeated that part of the world centuries ago. Even the most recent and startling scientific discoveries occasionally serve to prove that what we supposed to be the fantastic beliefs of the ancients were really truths of nature that we were not yet able to comprehend! The transmutation of metals is an example. We have already gone far enough in that direction to show that the alchemists of old were not the foolish and superstitious people we supposed them to be. We have given far too little credit to past civilizations and we are coming to understand now that we have rated them too low. Our modesty must necessarily increase as it becomes clearer that much of our supposed contribution to the world's progress is not invention but rediscovery. We are beginning to see that it is not safe to put aside without careful examination an idea or a belief that was current in the world thousands of years ago. Like the supposed folly of the alchemists it may contain profound truths of nature that have thus far been foreign to our modes of thinking.
Theosophy is both very old and very new—very old because the principles it contains were known and taught in the oldest civilizations, and very new because it includes the latest investigations of the present day. It is sometimes said by those who desire to speak lightly of it that it is a philosophy borrowed from the Buddhists, or at least from the Orient. That is, of course, an erroneous view. It is true that the Buddhists hold some beliefs in common with theosophists. It is also true that Methodists hold some beliefs in common with Unitarians, but that does not show that Unitarianism was borrowed from Wesley! When different people study the same facts of nature they are likely to arrive at substantially the same conclusions. Theosophy is based upon certain truths of nature. Those who study those truths and formulate a belief from them must reasonably be expected to resemble theosophists in their views. Buddhism is not unique in resembling theosophy. In the same list may be placed the Vedanta philosophy, the Cabala of the Jews, the teachings of the Christian Gnostics, and the philosophy of the Stoics. The more general charge must also be denied; theosophy is not something transplanted from the Orient. It belongs to the race, as the earth does, and cannot be localized, even to a continent. As it is taught today in Europe and America it is probably unknown to the masses of the Orient, for the great general truths it embodies have here the special application and peculiar emphasis required by a totally different civilization. But that theosophical principles were earlier known and more widely accepted in the Orient is quite true. That fact can in no possible way lessen their value to us. Precisely the same thing is true of the principles of mathematics. The science of mathematics reached European civilization directly from the Arabs, but we do not foolishly decline to make use of the knowledge on that account.
The literal meaning of the word theosophy is self-evident—knowledge of God. It has three aspects, determined by the different ways in which the human being acquires knowledge—through the study of concrete facts, by the study of the relationship of the individual consciousness to its source, and through the use of reasoning faculties in constructing a logical explanation of life and its purpose. In one aspect it is, therefore, a science. It deals with the tangible, with the facts and phenomena of the material scientist and makes its appeal to the evidence of the physical senses. In another aspect it is a religion. It deals with the relationship between the source of all consciousness and its multiplicity of individual expressions; with the complex relationships that arise between these personalities; with the duties and obligations which thus come into existence; with the evolution of the individual consciousness and its ultimate translation to higher spheres. In its other aspect it is a philosophy of life. It deals with man, his origin, his evolution, his destiny. It seeks to explain the universe and to throw a flood of light upon the problem of existence that will enable those who study its wisdom to go forward in their evolution rapidly, safely and comfortably, instead of blundering onward in the darkness of ignorance, reaping as they go the painful harvests of misdirected energy.
While theosophy is distinctly a science and a philosophy it is not, in the same full sense, a religion. It has its distinctive religious aspect, it is true, but when we speak of a religion we usually have in mind a certain set of religious dogmas and a church that propagates them. Theosophy is a universal thing like mathematics—a body of natural truths applicable to all phases of life. It sees all religions as equally important, as peculiarly adapted to the varying civilizations in which they are found, and it presents a synthesis of the fundamental principles upon which all of them rest.
From all of this it will be seen that there is a vast difference between theosophy and theology. Theosophy declares the immortality of man but not as a religious belief. It appeals to the scientific facts in relation to the nature of consciousness. It knows no such word as "faith," as it is ordinarily used. Its faith arises from the constancy of natural law, the balance and sanity of nature, and the harmonious adjustment of the universe. Theosophy is very ancient in that it is the great fund of ancient wisdom about man and his earth, that has come down through countless centuries, reaching far back into prehistoric times. But added to that hoary wisdom are the up-to-date facts that have been acquired by its most successful students, who have evolved their consciousness to levels transcending the physical senses—facts which, however, do not derive their authority from the method of their discovery but from their inherent reasonableness. A detailed discussion of such methods of consciousness and the proper value to be placed upon such investigations rightly belongs to another chapter. It is enough now to warn the reader against the error of confusing the pronouncements of pseudo psychism with the work of the psychic scientists who have already done much toward placing a scientific foundation beneath the universal hope of immortality.
THE IMMANENCE OF GOD
The antagonism between scientific and religious thought was the cause of the greatest controversy in the intellectual world in the nineteenth century. If the early teaching of the Christian Church had not been lost the conflict could not have arisen. The Gnostic philosophers, who were the intellect and heart of the church, had a knowledge of nature so true that it could not possibly come into collision with any fact of science. But unfortunately they were enormously outnumbered by the ignorant and the authority passed wholly into their hands. It was inevitable that misunderstanding should follow. The gross materialization of the early teaching, the superstition, the bigotry and the persecution of the Middle Ages was a perfectly natural result. That perverted, materialistic view has come down to us, and even now gives trend to the religious thought of Western civilization. Of that degradation of the early teaching the Encyclopedia Britannica says:
The conception of God as wholly external to man, a purely mechanical theory of creation, is throughout Christendom regarded as false to the teaching of the New Testament as also to Christian experience.
It is, indeed, false to the teaching of the Christ but if it is so regarded "throughout Christendom" it is only on the part of its scholars; most certainly not by the masses of the people. The popular conception is undeniably that the relationship between God and man is identical with that between an inventor and an animated machine. It is an absolutely anthropomorphic view of the Supreme Being and thinks of God as being apart from man in precisely the same sense that a father is apart from his son. It may be an exalted, idealized conception of the relationship of father and son but it is nevertheless just that relationship, and along that line runs practically all the teaching and preaching of those who speak officially in modern religious interpretation. Emerson sought to counteract that popular misconception but he was regarded as a heretic by all but an infinitesimal portion of the church.
The idea of the immanence of God is as different from the popular conception as noontide is different from midnight. It is so radically different that one who accepts that ancient belief must put aside his old ideas of what man is and raise him in dignity and potential power to a level that will, at first, seem actually startling; for it means, in its uttermost significance that God and man are but two phases of the one eternal life and consciousness that constitute our universe! The idea of the immanence of God is that He is the universe; that the solar system is an emanation of the Supreme Being as clouds are an emanation of the sea, and that the relationship between God and man is not merely that of father and son but also that of ocean and raindrop. This conception makes man a part of God, having potentially within him all the attributes and powers of the Supreme Being. It is the idea that nothing exists except God and that humanity is one portion of Him, and one phase of His being, as clouds are one expression of the waters that constitute the sea. The immanence of God is a conception of the universe that puts science and religion into perfect harmony with each other because miraculous creation disappears and evolutionary creation takes its place.
Although the anthropomorphic idea of God has such widespread dominion in Occidental thought the immanence of God is plainly taught and repeatedly emphasized in the Christian scriptures. "For in Him we live, and move, and have our being," is certainly very explicit and admits of no anthropomorphic interpretation. It could not be said that a son lives and moves in his father. The declaration presents the relationship of a lesser consciousness within a greater, and constituting a part of it. The essentially divine nature of man is made clear in the declaration in Genesis that he is an image of God. To say that the likeness is on the material side would, of course, be absurd. In divine essence, in latent power, in potential spirituality, man is an image of God, because he is a part of Him. The same idea is more directly put in the Psalms with the assertion, "ye are gods."[A] If the idea of the immanence of God is sound man, as a literal fragment of the consciousness of the Supreme Being, is an embryo god, destined to ultimately evolve his latent powers into perfect expression.
The oneness of life was explicitly asserted by Jesus in his teaching. Emerson's teaching of the immanence of God is unmistakable in both his prose and poetry. "There is no bar or wall," he says, "in the soul where man, the effect, ceases and God, the Cause, begins." Still more explicitly he puts it:
The realms of being to no other bow; Not only all are Thine, but all are Thou.
The statement is as complete as it is emphatic. "Not only all are Thine, but all are thou." It's an unqualified assertion that humanity is a part of God, as leaves are part of a tree—not something a tree has created in the sense that a man creates a machine but something that is an emanation of the tree, and is a living part of it. Thus only has God made man. Humanity is a growth, a development, an emanation, an evolutionary expression of the Supreme Being.
It is upon the unity of all life that theosophy bases its declaration of universal brotherhood, regarding it as a fact in nature. The immanence of God gives a scientific basis of morality. The theosophical conception is that men are separated in form but are united in the one consciousness which is the life base of the universe. Their relationship to each other is somewhat like that of the fingers to each other—they are separate individuals on the form side but they are united in the one consciousness that animates the hand. If we imagine each finger to possess a consciousness of its own, which is limited to itself and cannot pass beyond to the hand, we shall have a fair analogy of the unity and identity of interests of all living things. Under such circumstances an injury to one finger would not appear to the others as an injury to them, but if the finger consciousness could be extended to the hand the reality of the injury to all would be apparent. Likewise an injury to any human being is literally an injury to the race. The race does not recognize the truth of it just because, and only because, of the limitation of consciousness. Lowell put the fact clearly when he said:
He's true to God who's true to man; Wherever wrong is done To the humblest and weakest 'Neath the all-beholding sun, That wrong is also done to us; And they are slaves most base Whose love of right is for themselves, And not for all the race.
He's true to God who's true to man because they are one life; because they are but different expressions of the one eternal consciousness; because they are as inseparable as the light and warmth of the sun. It follows that being true to man is fidelity to God.
The popular idea is that people should be moral because that sort of conduct is pleasing to the Supreme Being and that He will, in the life beyond physical existence, in some way punish those who have broken the moral laws. It is belief in an external authority that threatens punishment as a deterrent to law breaking, as a state devises penalties commensurate with offenses. But the immanence of God represents a condition in which not punishments, but consequences, automatically follow all violations of natural law. Under such a state of affairs it would require no penalties, but only knowledge, to insure right conduct, for it would be perceived that there is no possible escape from the consequences of an evil act.
It is not difficult to see the relative value of the two systems of thought when put to a practical test in human affairs. Imagine an unscrupulous man of great mental capacity who is amassing an enormous fortune through sharp practices that enable him to acquire the earnings of others while he safely keeps just within the limits of the law. We can point out to him that while he is not violating the law, and cannot therefore be prosecuted, he is nevertheless inflicting injury upon others and consequently public opinion will condemn him. But such a man usually cares nothing at all for public opinion and he sees no good reason why he should not continue in his injurious work. But if he can be made to understand that all life is one and that we are so knit together in consciousness that an injury to another must ultimately react upon the person who inflicts it; if he once clearly understands that to enslave another is to put chains upon himself, that to maim another is to strike himself, he will require neither the fear of an exterior hell nor the threat of legal penalties to induce him to follow a moral course. He would see that his own larger and true self-interest could be served only when his conduct was in harmony with the welfare of all. It is but a simple statement of the truth to say that the immanence of God furnishes a scientific basis of morality.
[A] Psalms LXXXII—6.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE SOUL
If we accept the idea of the immanence of God we shall be forced to abandon belief in a miraculous instantaneous creation of man and the earth on which he exists. The old, absurd, unscientific, impossible idea that the race came from an original human pair must be replaced by the hypothesis of the evolution of the soul.
It was about the fact of evolution that the great storm of controversy raged between scientists and theologians in the middle of the nineteenth century, and later. The evolutionary truths were not at first well understood. They seemed to question or deny the existence of God. Deep within humanity is intuitive religious belief. It is a natural faith that transcends all facts, like the faith of a child in its mother. Because evolution was contrary to all preconceived ideas of the earth's inception it seemed at first to shatter faith and destroy hope, and against fact and reason itself rose the protest of intuition with spiritual intensity. People felt more than they reasoned and cried out that science was about to destroy the belief in God. But time has proved that they had merely misinterpreted the meaning of evolution. Further understanding has shown that, instead of destroying the belief in God, evolution has given us a new and better understanding of the whole matter and has placed the hope of immortality on firmer ground than it previously occupied.
Evolution is an established and generally accepted fact. No educated person now thinks of questioning it. It is settled beyond dispute that all things in the physical world have become what they are through a long, slow, gradual evolution and that organisms the most perfect in form and most complex in function have evolved from simpler ones. The age of miracle has passed and belief in miracle has passed so far as its relation to the material world is concerned. It is no longer necessary to have a belief in an anthropomorphic God, performing feats in defiance of natural law, in order to account for that which exists. Science has reduced the cosmos to comprehension and shown that, given nebulous physical matter, we can understand how the earth came into existence.
But why should we stop with the application of the laws of evolution to material things? Only the outright materialist, who asserts that life is a product of matter, can logically do so, and so great an authority in the scientific world as Sir Oliver Lodge has asserted that there is no longer any such thing as scientific materialism.[B] Those who accept the idea of the existence of the soul at all must necessarily accept the idea of the evolution of the soul. How can consciousness possibly escape the laws that evolve the media for the expression of consciousness? There must be the evolution of mind as certainly as there is evolution of matter. The material and the spiritual, form and life, are inseparable. Indeed, scientific progress has now brought us to the point where matter, as such, practically disappears and we are face to face with the fact that matter is really but a manifestation of force. How, then, is it longer possible to speak of the soul and not accept the evolution of the soul? Psychology is no less a science than physiology. The phenomena of consciousness are as definitely studied as physical phenomena, and it is no more difficult to account for a myriad souls than to account for a million suns and their planets. The scientists who have taken the position that the universe has a spiritual side as well as a material side are among the most eminent and distinguished of the modern world. If evolution has produced the starry heavens from the material side it has likewise evolved the human souls of our world and others from the spiritual side. It is no more difficult to understand the one than the other.
From the scientific viewpoint the old popular belief in the creation of the earth and the race by an act suddenly accomplished is, of course, preposterous. If we could know nothing back of the present moment and were called upon to account for the world as we see it—with its cities, its ships and railways, its cultivated fields and parks—many people who still believe in instantaneous creation of the soul would save themselves much mental exertion by declaring that God had made it all as it stands for the use and entertainment of man. But we know that it is utterly absurd to think of the world leaping into existence instantaneously—nothing existing one day and all trains running on time between ready-made cities the next, carrying ready-made people about. It sounds ridiculous only because we are putting it in material terms, but in very truth it is less ludicrous than thinking of the instantaneous creation of the creators of cities and railways.
The idea that we are a sudden creation is only possible because of the very vague ideas of what human souls are. The chief difficulty with the popular notion that a human soul is as new as the body it inhabits is that it is a vague and indefinite conception of life, and the moment we begin to think seriously about it the weakness of the idea becomes apparent. Such a notion has no relationship to the processes of reasoning. How can one reason with a man who believes it possible for a soul to spring into existence from the void? What is the use in reasoning about the "whys and wherefores" when it settles the whole matter to say: "God did it"?
One thing that prevents us from believing not only that millions of souls were created in the twinkling of an eye, but also that the world as it now is was likewise suddenly created, is that we happen to know quite definitely the history of the world a little way into the past, and that history affirms that the earth and all life on it is the product of slow evolutionary growth.
The evolution of the soul places the realm of religion on a scientific basis. Not only the origin of the soul but its development and its destiny at once appear in a new light. The mind is instinctively impressed with the dignity of the idea of the evolution of the soul, which, with its corollary, the immanence of God, makes the divinity of man a fact in nature.
[B] Raymond: or Life and Death.
LIFE AFTER BODILY DEATH
One of the really remarkable facts of modern life is the disinclination to accept at apparent value the scientific and other evidence there is to prove that consciousness persists after the death of the physical body. There is in existence a large amount of such evidence and much of it is offered by scientists of the highest standing; and yet the average man continues to speak of the subject as though nothing about it had yet been definitely learned. It is the tendency of the human mind to adjust itself very slowly to the truth, as it is discovered. Sometimes a generation passes away between the discovery and the general acceptance of a great truth. When we recall the intense opposition to the introduction of steam-driven boats and vehicles, and the slowness with which the world settles down to any radical change in its methods of thinking, it will perhaps seem less remarkable that the truth about the life after bodily death has waited so long for general recognition.
The evidence upon which a belief in the continuity of consciousness is based is of two kinds—that furnished by physical science and that furnished by psychic science. Together they make a very complete case.
The printed evidence of the first division—physical science—is voluminous. In addition to that gathered by the Society for Psychical Research there are the researches and experiments by the scientists of England, France and Italy, among whom are Crookes, Lodge, Flammarion and Lombroso. Crookes was a pioneer in the work of studying the human consciousness and tracing its activities beyond the change called death. All of that keenness of intellect and great scientific knowledge, which has enabled him to make so many valuable discoveries and inventions, and has won for him world-wide fame, were brought to bear upon the subject, and for a period of four years he patiently investigated and experimented. Many illustrated articles prepared by him, fully describing his work, were published at the time in The Journal of Science of which he was then the editor.
Three vital points in psychic research were established by Sir William Crookes. One was that there is psychic force. He demonstrated its existence by levitation. He showed next, that the force is directed by intelligence. By various clever experiments he obtained most conclusive evidence of that fact. He then demonstrated that the intelligence directing the force is not that of living people. Crookes also went exhaustively into the subject of materialization and here, again, he was remarkably successful. He was the first scientist to photograph the materialized human form and engage in direct conversation with the person who thus returned from the mysterious life beyond. This evidence from the camera must be regarded as particularly interesting. It was received with much amazement at the time, but that was before we had revised our erroneous ideas about the nature of matter and before the day of liquid air. Materialization is no longer a startling idea, for that is precisely what liquid air is—a condensation of invisible matter to the point where it becomes tangible and can be weighed, measured, seen and otherwise known to the physical senses.
All these things Sir William Crookes did upon his own premises and under the most rigid scientific conditions. All the methods and mechanism known to modern science were employed and he finally announced his complete satisfaction and acceptance of the genuineness of the phenomena observed.
As Sir William Crookes was the earliest, Sir Oliver Lodge is the latest of the famous scientists who have taken up the investigation of the continuity of consciousness. In a lecture upon the subject, before the Society for the Advancement of Science, he declared not only that the subject of life after physical death was one which science might legitimately and profitably investigate but that the existence of an invisible realm had been established. He declared the continent of an invisible world had been discovered, and added, "already a band of daring investigators have landed on its treacherous but promising shores."
Different scientists make a specialty of certain kinds of psychic investigation and while Crookes made a detailed and careful study of materialization Lodge has given equally painstaking efforts to investigations by the use of that class of sensitives known as "mediums." A medium is not necessarily a clairvoyant, and usually is not clairvoyant. A person in whose body the etheric matter easily separates from the physical matter is a medium and can readily be utilized as a sort of telephone between the visible and the invisible planes. A medium is an abnormal person and is a good medium in proportion to the degree of abnormality. If the etheric matter of the body is easily extruded the physical body readily falls into the trance condition and the mechanism of conversation can be operated by the so-called "dead" person who has temporarily taken possession of it. In such cases it is not the medium who speaks for the living-dead communicator. He is speaking directly himself, but he may often do it with great difficulty and not always succeed in accurately expressing the thought he has in mind. He may have to contend with other thoughts, moods and emotions than his own and to those who understand something of his difficulties it is not strange that such communications are frequently unsatisfactory. It is not often that an analogy can be found that will give a physical plane comprehension of a superphysical condition, but perhaps a faint understanding may be had by thinking of a "party line" telephone that any one of a dozen people may use at any moment he can succeed in getting possession of it. A listener attempting to communicate with one of them may find that several others are constantly "switching in," much to his confusion. If distinction of voices due to sound were eliminated and then a stenographic record were to be made of all words reaching the listener he would find that it would often be fragmentary and trivial. That would not, however, prove that the conversation did not come from living beings nor that there was not at least one intelligent person among them. That scientists engaged in psychic research have similar experiences proves nothing more.
It seems to be a common opinion that the evidential value of such psychic communications, even under the direction of a skilful scientist, cannot be very great. But there are ways of knowing. It is not at all difficult for the investigator to confine his work, not only to incidents unknown to the medium, but to scientific facts which the medium can not possibly comprehend. It is a matter of common knowledge that mediums are usually people without technical scientific knowledge. Some of them have some degree of education and some of them are illiterate. Some of the most celebrated belong to the peasant class of Europe.
Let us suppose that Sir Oliver Lodge is about to attempt to communicate with a scientist who has passed on to join the living dead. He will ask technical scientific questions that nobody but a scientist can answer and that the medium can by no possibility even understand when they are answered. Or suppose he gets a communication from the medium's hand signed by a great author. The living dead man writes a criticism, let us say, of some new book and does it in his characteristic style, full of the power of keen analysis and sound literary judgment. Surely nobody can believe that the medium is producing such things on her own account. If she could do so she would not be earning her living as a medium. But the scientists do not stop there. We often hear the expression "cross-correspondence." Just what do they mean by that and in what way does it prove the personal identity of a dead man who is communicating? The principle may be illustrated by the hotel clerk's method. Sometimes a guest leaves a sum of money with the clerk, and he wishes to be perfectly sure of his identity when he returns to claim it. He requests the guest to put his signature on a card. Then he tears the card in two, gives him one piece and keeps the other. That gives him a double proof of identity. When he comes for his money he must first give his name and then produce the piece of card that fits into the ragged edge of the piece the clerk has retained, the two together making the whole and restoring the signature. It's one of the simplest but most satisfactory proofs possible. Neither piece of that card alone is intelligible. If one piece should be lost and others should find it nobody could read it or make anything of it. Nobody could guess the name unless he had the other piece. He knows only about the part he holds. He may be a thief and may earnestly desire to use what he has found to defraud, but he is helpless because he has only one of the two parts it requires to make an intelligible whole. That is the principle involved in identity by cross-correspondence. Part of a message is written through one medium and part through another medium at another time in another place and neither part presents a complete statement or has coherence until it is fitted into the other part; and that prevents a medium who is dishonest from manufacturing a story that may be more or less plausible.
We are by no means wholly dependent upon scientific investigation for evidence that the dead still live. Hundreds of people are sufficiently sensitive to have some personal knowledge of the matter. The number is far beyond what it appears to be for two reasons. One is that the average person fears ridicule and keeps his own counsel about his occult experience. The other is the feeling that communications from departed relatives are too sacred and personal for public discussion. Tens of thousands of people have seen demonstrations at spiritualistic seances which, while possessing little evidential value from the scientific viewpoint, nevertheless have a legitimate place in the great mass of psychic phenomena. But more convincing is the evidence furnished in hundreds of homes where some member of the family acts as automatic writer or medium.
The most convincing evidence is not always scientific evidence. What can be more convincing than the evidence furnished in one's home by members of the family? There is much such evidence, obtained both through mediums and by automatic writing.
Automatic writing—that is, the control of the hand of a living person to record the thoughts of another who has lost the physical body—is perhaps one of the least objectionable ways in which communications have come from the astral world, and to it we are indebted for some useful books with interesting accounts of the life in the unseen regions. Here, of course, as elsewhere, discrimination must be used, for the wise and foolish, the useful and useless are to be found side by side. In accepting or rejecting, one must use his common sense just as he does on this plane in separating the valuable from the worthless. In such matters we should not lose sight of the fact that the living dead are unchanged in intellect and morality. The genius here is the genius there and the living fool is not different from the dead one. It is often those who know the least who are the most anxious to tell it and the medium or automatic writer sometimes gives them the opportunity. Consequently we get many foolish communications and an enormous amount of commonplace platitude is delivered at seances. But it is equally true that unquestionable proof of personal identity is sometimes secured.
There is much valuable non-scientific evidence that the consciousness survives the loss of the physical body and it frequently comes from sources that insure respectful attention. The two following stories of that kind are cited as corroboration of the scientific evidence.
Little touches of the personality often constitute the most convincing of all evidence. It is one thing to show that people in general live after physical death. It is quite a different matter to establish the personal identity of one of them who is communicating, and that is one of the vital points involved. W. J. Stillman, the eminent journalist, gives us some valuable evidence on personal identity. In his earlier years he had studied art in London. Shortly before the death of Turner, the great artist had volunteered to give Stillman some advice on painting, but had not redeemed the promise at the time of passing away. Stillman had a friend whose daughter was mediumistic and he decided to experiment. Immediately on beginning the seance the young girl was taken possession of by an entity claiming to be Turner. Stillman asked his question silently, speaking no words, but mentally requesting Turner to write his name. The only reply was an emphatic shake of the head. He then asked if he would give some advice on painting. The response was another decided negative. Stillman felt that he was foolishly wasting his time and declared the seance at an end. But the girl sat silent. Then after a moment she slowly arose with the air of decrepitude, took a lithograph from the wall and went through the pantomime of stretching a sheet of paper on a drawing board, sharpening a pencil, tracing the outline, the washing-in of a drawing, etc., and then proceeded to show a simple but surprising method of taking out the lights. "Do you mean to say that Turner got his effects in that way?" asked the incredulous young artist. The answer was an emphatic affirmative. Stillman then asked if the central passage of sunlight and shadow through rain in the well known drawing "Llanthony Abbey" by Turner, had been done in that way and was answered by another emphatic affirmative. So sure was the young artist that this could not be true that he gave it up in disgust and abruptly left. A few weeks later Stillman was calling upon Ruskin and related the experience. Ruskin, who had known the celebrated dead artist intimately, declared that the contrariness of the medium at the beginning of the seance was remarkably characteristic of Turner. But what was much more to the point, in the way of evidence, was that the drawing in question was in Ruskin's possession and eagerly it was brought down from the wall for examination. After close scrutiny the great art critic and the young artist agreed that, beyond dispute, the drawing had been done in the way described.
Such evidence has an added value when it comes from those who are neither spiritualists nor professional investigators, but who have the things they doubt thrust upon them in such convincing manner that they feel impelled to record their experience for the enlightenment of others. In the last literary work[C] done by Carl Schurz, we are given, quite incidentally, his testimony that at a seance soon after the Civil War he was told the future in such detail as to leave no possible room for the explanation of coincidence. It was in July, 1865, when Schurz was on his way to Washington, whither he had been summoned by President Johnson, that he stopped in Philadelphia at the home of his friend, Dr. Tiedemann. The doctor's daughter, about fifteen years old, could do automatic writing. As a matter of interest and amusement in the family circle the girl gave an exhibition of her psychic abilities. When Schurz was invited to ask for a communication he not unnaturally requested one from the recently deceased President Lincoln, for he had been personally acquainted with him. The girl wrote a message purporting to come from Lincoln. It related to politics and proved, in time, to have been an accurate prophecy of most unexpected facts which would not transpire for more than three years! Schurz lived in Wisconsin at the time and had no intention of changing his residence, nor did he do so until two years later. The message which the girl wrote asserted that Schurz would be elected to the United States senate from Missouri. He did not regard the message as authentic and naturally enough considered the prophecy absurd. In 1867 he took up his residence in St. Louis and in January, 1869, he was elected United States senator by the Missouri legislature.
So far as the scientific evidence is concerned, it will be understood, of course, that no attempt is here made to present that. The intention is merely to call attention to some of the eminent scientists who have done notable work and to mention a few of the more interesting discoveries made. Those who desire to come into possession of the evidence in full will find upon examination that it is voluminous.
From the viewpoint of physical science alone the evidence of the continuity of consciousness is not only convincing but conclusive. Yet occult science has much more to offer. To those who have no personal knowledge of the existence of occult faculties, such evidence can be offered only upon the inherent reasonableness of the statements made.
The truth of clairvoyance, like all other truths, must slowly win its way to general acceptance. While large numbers of people still scoff at it, even as the world not so very long ago scoffed at hypnotism as a fantastic theory with no foundation in fact, there is nevertheless a large and rapidly growing number who personally know the truth about clairvoyance. There is every conceivable grade of clairvoyant power and some degree of superphysical sensitiveness is becoming rather common.
There are two distinct kinds of clairvoyance and that which is most in evidence with the public is not calculated to inspire confidence. It is employed almost exclusively in what is known as "fortune telling" and is often practiced by those who are interested only in the money they can earn by it. As a matter of course, trickery and fraud are found associated with it among such people, and those amongst them who are both capable and honest suffer on account of it.
The fortune telling clairvoyant is usually one who was born with "second sight," as the Scotch have named it, and almost without an exception they do not in the least understand its rationale. They find certain facts in their consciousness that could not be known to them by the physical senses, but why or how they get the information they do not know. That form of clairvoyance is a sensitiveness related to the sympathetic nervous system, the center of which is the solar plexus. It has no relationship whatever to the mind, no association with intelligence, and will often—indeed, commonly—be possessed by the most ignorant and uncouth. It is much more common among Indians and negroes than among more highly evolved people. It is vestigial and will slowly disappear from the race. It belongs to the realm of emotion, not thought.
The higher clairvoyance, the only true "clear seeing," is associated with the cerebro-spinal nervous system and its seat is in the brain. It is not a "natural gift"[D] like the other, although it is latent in all human beings. It has been highly developed in some who have had the unusual opportunity of long training under the direct supervision of great psychic scientists. Such clairvoyants are never to be found among the fortune tellers. Only people with serious views of life and intense devotion to human service would have the patience and endurance to undergo such training and only those of singular purity of life would have any possibility of success. Such clairvoyants are people of keen intelligence. By special training and tremendous effort, not possible to most of us, they have pressed forward in evolution and attained a development that the race will be many a century in reaching.
It is by the use of this exalted order of clairvoyance that invisible realms are explored, and additional knowledge is accumulated to the ancient wisdom. Such a clairvoyant is not a medium. The medium surrenders his physical mechanism for the use of another, who speaks through it, and at the close of the seance the medium knows nothing of what has occurred. The clairvoyant is always in possession of his senses and is fully aware of what is occurring. He is the explorer and discoverer. He deals with the facts of the life after bodily death in a different way than the physical scientist does but it is soon found by the student that the physical scientist and the psychic scientist corroborate each other. Together they bring overwhelming evidence to support the hypothesis that life is eternal; that the consciousness we have at this moment will never cease to be; that our individuality, with all its present memories, will eternally persist; that what we call death is in reality but a forward step in an orderly evolutionary journey and an entrance upon a more joyous phase of life, which is not remarkably different from that we live today. The sum total of the knowledge that we have gained through the combined work of the physical scientists and the occult scientists leads us to the conclusion that the death of the physical body means neither the annihilation of consciousness nor a radical change in consciousness. It is, in fact, but the release of consciousness from its confinement to the physical form, as a song-bird is released from a cage to the joyous freedom of a wider world, where woods and stream and field and sky give new impulse to its innate characteristics.
[C] Reminiscences of Carl Schurz, Vol. III, p. 154.
[D] There are, of course, really no natural gifts. Nature does not favor some and ignore others. When a few possess what others do not have, they earned it by giving special attention to its development or as in the case of the psychic sensitiveness of the sympathetic nervous system, it is vestigial, and has been possessed by the race in earlier ages.
THE EVOLUTIONARY FIELD
In a treatise on elementary theosophy the solar system may be reckoned as our universe and we shall have no need of considering more than a small fragment of even that. It is septenary in constitution, as may be seen in its vibrations expressed in color and sound. Beyond the seven colors of the prism we have only tints and outside the seven notes we can get only overtones or undertones. There are likewise seven planes in the system but less than half of them require our attention, for the evolutionary field of the human soul is the three lower planes, known as the physical, astral and mental. When the human being has outgrown them in evolution he passes on to superhuman evolution.
The word "plane," so often encountered in theosophical literature, should perhaps have some definition. It has a wide application and is used as a synonym for region, place, sphere or world. In referring to the physical plane the term embraces all we know of earth and sky and life through the physical senses.
There are seven planes in our solar system because of the seven different combinations of its ultimate atoms. Each plane consists of a totally different grade of matter than the next plane, but all have for their base the ultimate atom of the solar system. When modern science discovered, to its astonishment, that the physical atom was a composite body it confirmed the theosophical teaching that the ultimate physical atom was not the final point of division. Theosophy teaches that when the ultimate physical atom is disintegrated its particles become the coarsest matter of the next plane or region above it—the astral plane. The process repeated with astral matter results in driving its ultimate atom from the highest level of the astral plane or world to the lowest of the mental plane. That scientist who said that the atom is the brick of the universe stated a great truth, for of its combinations all forms are built; and if the idea be applied to the ultimate atom of the solar system it will then be true that of such "bricks" all the planes are built.
The relationship of the planes to each other is that of interpenetrating spheres of matter. The physical plane, consisting of the earth and its atmosphere, is surrounded and interpenetrated by the astral plane, or world, which is an enormously larger globe of exceedingly tenuous matter. This vast sphere of invisible matter is within the earth as well as beyond it, interpenetrating every atom of physical matter to the earth's center. Its grossest grade of matter is so rare, and its vibrations so intense, that they cannot affect the physical senses and therefore we remain unconscious of it while that matter moves freely through all physical objects. We are unconscious of its life and activities for precisely the same reason that we know nothing of the messages of intelligence carried on the vibrations of the wireless telegraph, although they pass through the room where we sit. We have no sense organs with which it is possible to register such vibrations. Messages conveying intelligence of tremendous import, involving the movements of vast armies, the fall of empires and the destinies of great nations, flow through the very space we occupy but we are wholly unconscious of them. Even so we remain blind and deaf to the stupendous activities of life and consciousness in the astral world, notwithstanding the fact that it surrounds and permeates us while its forms, unseen and unfelt, move through the physical world as freely as water flows through a sieve.
The mental world constitutes a region of our earth still more vast than the astral portion of it. As the astral sphere encloses the physical globe, the mental encompasses both, enclosing them and also interpenetrating them to the earth's center. The term "mental world" may seem confusing to some because we are accustomed to think of the mental and the material as being opposites. The mental world, or sphere, or plane, of theosophy, is a world of matter, not merely thought. It is matter, however, of such remarkable tenuosity that it may properly be called mind-stuff, and in its rarest levels it is said to be "formless" so far as the existence of what the physical senses know as form is concerned.
All three of these worlds, or planes—the physical, astral and mental—are, then, worlds of matter, of form, of activity, of thought and of enterprise. They are concentric globes, the physical enclosed by the astral, and both physical and astral enclosed by the mental. Within and without all physical matter are both astral and mental matter. Every physical atom is surrounded and permeated by astral and mental matter. The relationship is precisely that which exists between the ether and the lower grades of physical matter.
If the relationship of the three worlds—physical, astral and mental—is fully understood later confusion of thought will be avoided. Physical language is not capable of fully expressing much with which students of the occult must deal. Because there is nothing better for the purpose, words must be used that express but a part of the truth and may sometimes prove misleading unless the constitution and relationship of the three spheres is kept in mind. Thus, it is necessary to speak of higher and lower worlds, or planes, inner or outer, and of the soul coming "down" into the material world when, as a matter of fact, no movement in space is under consideration. The astral is commonly spoken of as an inner plane and while it truly is so because it can be known only to astral senses by a withdrawal of the consciousness from its exterior, material body, it is also true that the astral world is outside the physical because it envelops it as the sea does a sponge. We usually speak of coming down from higher planes to lower and that may be true not only in the sense of changing the state of consciousness from higher vibrations to lower ones but it could mean a journey in space from a point in the astral plane above the physical globe to a point at its surface. "Up" and "down" are relative, not absolute. "Down" for us is toward the earth's center and "up" is the opposite direction. A spire in the Occident and a spire in the Orient are both said to be pointing upward but they are pointing in opposite directions. On most parts of the earth's surface we have four directions, while at the poles there is, of course, but one direction—south or north, as the case may be. East, west and north disappear at the north pole. Reflection upon such facts leads one to at least faintly comprehend the possibility of space itself disappearing from the inner planes—space as we know it.
The matter of each of the planes consists of seven classes. We are familiar with the solids, liquids and gases of the physical plane, and to them must be added four grades of the ether. The seven grades of matter of the astral and mental worlds constitute an important part of the mechanism for the soul's evolution, for they determine the state of consciousness in the life beyond the physical plane. But a study of those states of consciousness belongs to a later chapter.
A difficulty which the student of theosophy should make an early effort to eliminate, is the tendency to think of invisible realms as unreal. It should not be forgotten that it is only the limitation of the physical senses that gives rise to the feeling of unreality beyond the visible. We should keep in mind the fact that the invisible realms are composed of matter as certainly as the air is matter, or a stone is matter. The water in a pan may evaporate, but it does not cease to be matter because it has passed beyond the ken of the physical senses. It will some time condense once more and play its part as the liquid, water, or as the solid, ice. Only when matter is in certain forms can we know of its existence through the physical senses.
We frequently hear people who are students of the occult speak of a deceased person as having left the earth. But passing into the astral plane, or world, is not, of course, leaving the earth. Both the astral world and the mental world are divisions of the earth. As the atmosphere is invisible and yet is a part of the earth's physical matter, so the invisible astral and mental regions are other parts of the earth. They are properly called worlds because the activities in consciousness that make up existence there are as remote from ours as though they were upon another planet. We have erroneously supposed that with the physical senses we really see and know the earth, whereas we have known only that small fragment of the earth that consists of physical matter. Beyond the limitation of our poor senses stretch in unsuspected grandeur vaster regions of our earth, swept by the vibrations of an intenser life.
THE MECHANISM OF CONSCIOUSNESS
The soul is a center of consciousness within the all-consciousness, or the life of the solar Logos; an individualized portion of the universal mind. That fragment of the divine life, with its latent God-like attributes, is expressed through a mechanism of consciousness that is formed of the matter of the various planes. Naturally enough it is expressed more fully upon the higher planes than upon the lower. At a very high level it is known as the monad. When it reaches down into the higher subdivisions of the mental world it is the ego, a lesser expression of the same divine life that pours from the Logos through the monad—lesser because it is then functioning through the denser matter of a lower level.
The knowledge that has been gained about the nature of matter in recent years is helpful in understanding the activities of consciousness. The atom is found to be a center of force, and we are at the point where matter, as we have known it, disappears. All the force and consciousness of the solar system is, of course, but the life of the Logos, and on higher planes the distinctions we observe here fade out. Matter becomes a very different thing from the matter we know. The ether of the physical world is almost inconceivably tenuous matter. Yet it is gross when compared to the lowest grade of astral matter. The matter of the mental world is enormously rarer than the most tenuous matter of the astral world. In view of these facts it requires no stress of the imagination to understand that the matter of the higher planes is responsive to the vibrations of consciousness.
The outraying energies of the individualized center of consciousness act upon the matter of the plane and draw about it a film that slowly grows into a vehicle through which consciousness can be more fully expressed, and which serves as a point of vantage from which its expression can be extended to lower planes.
The seven subdivisions of the mental world fall naturally into two groups, composed of the three higher and the four lower grades of matter. The ego, anchored in the matter of the two planes above the mental world, descends to the upper levels of the mental and the vesture of matter with which it clothes itself is known as the causal body. Sending its energies downward, or outward, to the lower levels of the mental world, it establishes itself there in what slowly becomes a mental body. Again in the astral world the process is repeated and a vehicle of consciousness is formed of astral matter. The physical body is the lowest and last of the vehicles to be formed and as it is slowly built, in the months preceding birth, the matter it contains falls into place under the operation of occult laws which permit no element of chance to enter into its construction.
Each of these bodies serves as a vehicle of consciousness on the plane to which it belongs. The soul is evolving simultaneously in each of the worlds, physical, astral and mental, and these various bodies enable it to receive the vibrations of the plane they belong to and thus to be conscious there. The mental body is the seat of intellectual activity. Thought arises as a vibration in it and passes through the astral body into the physical brain. Whenever we think we are using the mental body. The astral body is the seat of emotion. With it we feel. All emotion passes from it to the physical body to be expressed in the material world. The astral world is also called the emotional world, as the mental plane is called the mental world. The physical body is the soul's instrument of action. It attaches it to the physical world, enables the consciousness to contact material objects and to move and express on the material plane the thoughts and emotions generated in the mental and astral bodies.
Another part of the mechanism of consciousness is known as the etheric double. But it is only a link in the chain and not a body through which the soul can function. It is composed of the etheric matter of the physical world and connects the astral body with the physical body. As every atom of physical matter is surrounded and permeated by etheric matter, it follows that the physical body has its duplicate in etheric matter. "Etheric double" is a very appropriate name since it is a perfect duplicate of the physical body in etheric matter. It serves the purpose of supplying the life force to the nervous system and is the medium through which sensation is conveyed. The action of an anaesthetic drives out so much of the matter of the etheric double that the connection is broken and sensation in the physical body ceases.
One of the difficulties in the way of getting a clear conception of the constitution of man, and realizing that he is a soul functioning through various vehicles of consciousness, is the materialistic modes of thought common to Occidental civilization. We are accustomed to thinking of the physical body itself as being the man, and if there is any thought at all of the consciousness surviving the death of the body it is very vague and indefinite as to where it exists and how it is expressed. Very little thinking should be necessary to show the absurdity of the belief that the body is the man. Two bodies may be alike, as in the case of twins, but the souls, the real men, may be absolutely unlike. The real man is superphysical. His intelligence or his stupidity, his genial disposition or his moroseness, his generosity or his selfishness, are but the manifestations of himself through the body by which they are expressed. The body itself is a mere aggregation of physical atoms, as a planet is, so organized that they constitute an instrument for a purpose. The mass of matter constituting the body is a variable mass. It may increase or diminish greatly, but the man remains unchanged. There is no permanent relationship between the man and the physical matter which he uses for his vehicle of consciousness. According to the physiologists every atom of the body changes within a period of a few years. The cells wear out, break down and pass away to be replaced by new matter. Not a particle of the physical matter that was in our bodies seven years ago is there now, and none that is there now will remain. Within seven years, or less, we shall have bodies composed of new matter as certainly as an infant's is.
Of course such reconstruction of the body does not change its appearance. It is built on the same lines. It is as it would be with some very old cathedral. As the centuries pass it must be slowly rebuilt. The floors wear out and are relaid. The roof serves its time and is replaced. The walls crumble first in one place and then another until they have been completely reconstructed. After a thousand years has passed there may be none of the original material in the building, yet its appearance is unchanged. The bodies we have today shall have passed away and will be growing in the trees and blooming in the flowers in a few years. The bodies we shall then have are now scattered through the world. They will be brought together during that time and will come from many parts of the earth.
The physical senses continually deceive us and nowhere more than in our ideas about the physical body. It is an unstable mass of matter, in constant motion, with great gulfs of space between its atoms. Emerson was very far ahead of his time and it took science a half century to catch up with him and learn that he had recorded a fact in nature when he wrote:
Atom from atom yawns as far As earth from moon, or star from star.
In 1908 the Scientific American Supplement, commenting on our reconstructed ideas about matter, remarked that the actual mass of the physical body to the apparent mass was about one to one million!
If the physical body is merely an organized mass of matter, continually varying, constantly coming and going, and having no permanent relationship to the consciousness that functions through it, what reason is there for believing that it is the man? Does it seem strange that the center of consciousness should be able to draw about itself on the higher planes aggregations of matter and finally to express itself on the material plane through the mass of matter we call the body? If that is mysterious quite as miraculous things are going on constantly about us unnoticed. Thoreau calls attention to the fact that we become so accustomed to the marvelous expressions of life all about us that we are oblivious of the phenomena that are taking place. Commenting on the magic possible to nature he says:
"Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed—a, to me, equally mysterious origin for it. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.... In the spring of 1857 I planted six seeds sent to me from the Patent Office, and labeled, I think, 'Poitrine jaune grosse,' large yellow squash. Two came up, and one bore a squash which weighed 123-1/2 pounds, the other bore four, weighing together 186-1/4 pounds. Who would have believed that there was 310 pounds of poitrine jaune grosse in that corner of my garden? These seeds were the bait I used to catch it, my ferrets which I sent into its burrow, my brace of terriers which unearthed it.... Other seeds I have which will find other things in that corner of my garden. Perfect alchemists I keep who can transmute substances without end, and thus the corner of my garden is an inexhaustible treasure-chest. Here you can dig, not gold, but the value which gold merely represents; and there is no Signor Blitz about it. Yet farmer's sons will stare by the hour to see a juggler draw ribbons from his throat, though he tells them it is all deception. Surely, men love darkness rather than light."[E]
A seed is a center of force through which life, at a much lower level than the human, flows and gathers about that center the material mass that serves the purpose of its lowly evolution. At the human level consciousness has become self-consciousness and a marvelously complex mechanism is required to express it and serve the purpose of its farther evolution.
This complex mechanism of consciousness, composed of the various bodies through which the ego expresses itself at different levels, is used as a whole for functioning on the physical plane. But when the ego is functioning no farther down than the astral plane, the physical body is, of course, temporarily discarded. It is then in the condition known as sleep, or trance. Sleep is the natural withdrawing of the consciousness from the physical body. When the separation occurs in the case of the medium it is called a trance. The cause of the inert condition of the physical body is the same in both cases—the withdrawal of the consciousness of the ego. The physical body is then unoccupied, but the consciousness maintains magnetic connection with it. In death that tie is severed and the consciousness can return to the body no more. Instances in which the apparently dead are brought back to life are cases where the magnetic tie is not broken, notwithstanding there is every appearance of death.
In form and feature the physical body has its exact duplicate in the astral body, and in it we function in the astral world whenever the separation between the two occurs, whether from sleep or death. In sleep the consciousness, expressing itself in the astral body in the astral world, may be turned dreamily inward or it may be turned outward and be vividly aware of the life and activities of that world. But there is small chance that any memory of it will come through into the physical consciousness upon awakening. Occasionally, however, it does occur and then it is usually remembered as a very vivid dream. In illness, and other abnormal conditions, the connection between the physical and astral consciousness is much closer. At a comparatively high point in evolution the two states of consciousness merge. The man is then continuously conscious, and has a full memory in the physical brain of all his activities in the astral world during the hours when the physical body was asleep.
Consciousness is, of course, at its worst when expressed through the limitation of its lower vehicles. Any person, whether brilliant or stupid, will be much abler and keener on the astral plane than on the physical, because in sleep, and after death, he has lost the limitations imposed by physical matter. But the degree of restriction is variable and depends much upon the kind of matter of which the brain and body are composed; for the physical atoms vary greatly, and as they come and go in the passing years the body may either become purified and refined or it may grow grosser and coarser. By careful attention to food and drink, and by control of the emotions, the limitations of physical matter may be lessened and a much higher and more efficient state of consciousness in the physical body can be attained.
[E] The Succession of Forest Trees.—Thoreau.
Perhaps one of the reasons why death is so commonly associated with a feeling of fear is because we give so little thought to it. Most people seem never to think of the subject at all until death invades the home and threatens some member of the family. Then terror fills the mind and all but paralyzes the reasoning faculties.
Such fear of death, so widespread in Occidental civilization, is eloquent testimony to the materialism of our times. It is doubt about the future that causes fear of death. Only when we have a scientific basis for the hope of immortality will the awful fear of death disappear. It is feared because it seems like annihilation. If people really believed in a heavenly existence beyond the physical life they could not possibly be filled with terror at the prospect of entering it. If a man's religion has not given him a genuine confidence in a future life, and made it as much of a reality to him as this life is, it has failed to do what we have a right to demand of religion. If it does not enable him to look upon the face of his dead without a doubt, or a fear, there is something wrong, either with his religion or with his comprehension of it. What possible reason is there for fearing death? A thing that is universal, that comes to all, can not be pernicious. To regard death as a disastrous thing would be an indictment of the sanity of nature.
Death is merely the close of a particular cycle of experience. It is the annihilation of nothing but the physical body, in its aspect of an instrument of activity and a vehicle of the consciousness upon the physical plane. The atoms of the body, drawn together in the human form for temporary use, are, in death, released from the cohesive force of a living organism and will return whence they came.
In reality there is no such thing as death, unless it be strictly applied to the form, regarded as a temporary vehicle of consciousness. As for the consciousness, there is no death. There is life in a physical form and life out of it, but no such thing as the death, or cessation, of the individual intelligence. What we name "death" is but a change in the orderly evolution of life, and it is only because the phenomenon is viewed from the physical plane that such a term can be applied to it. From this plane it is death, or departure. But looked at from the astral world it is birth, or arrival. What we call birth is the beginning of the expression of the soul through a material body on the physical plane. It is an arrival. But from the astral viewpoint it is a departure and therefore is as logically a "death" there as departure from a physical body is here. So death and departure from one plane is simply birth, or arrival, upon another, although it is not, of course, birth as we know it.
Every process in nature has a part to play in evolution and therefore death is as necessary as life and as beneficial as birth. Death is the destroyer of the useless. There is a time when each human being should die—that is to say, a time when the physical body has fulfilled its mission and completely accomplished the purpose for which it exists. To continue life in a physical body beyond that point is to waste energy and lose time in the evolutionary journey. Under the action of what we call "diseases" the body becomes inefficient, or through the gradual breaking down of old age the senses grow dim and uncertain. The consciousness can no longer be keenly expressed through its impaired machine and it is decidedly to the advantage of the ego to withdraw from it. The soul is in the position of an artisan obliged to work with broken and rusted tools. Good results are no longer possible. It is then that death comes, beneficently destroying the worn out instrument and releasing the consciousness from its too-often painful situation and permitting its escape into a field of unobstructed activity.
Death is painless. The breaking down of the body under the ravages of disease may cause pain, but that belongs to physical life, not death. Distress may also be caused by groundless fear of death. But the dying person who does not know that death is upon him has no terror, and no pain, and sinks quietly to sleep. Very little observation will convince one that the distress about a death-bed is invariably on the part of surviving friends, not on the part of the dying. Those who are left behind remain within the limitations of the physical senses, and they are therefore separated from the so-called dead man, but he is not separated from them. It is because of that separation that the terror of death exists for them.
But in that very fact is to be seen the great evolutionary value of death. The separation it causes intensifies love as nothing else could do. It is only when our friend is gone that we begin to appreciate his real value and comprehend how large a part he really played in our existence. As sudden silence gives the consciousness a keener realization of the sound that has just ceased, so death, by its contrast, gives a vivid, realistic touch to life. We all know how enormously the heart qualities are quickened by the death of a close friend. The whole nature is in some degree purified and spiritualized. Selfishness is decreased and compassion expands. Sympathy for others in distress is born, and thus a decided evolutionary advance is made. We have only to reflect upon the fact that separation without death produces the same effects in a minor key, to realize the evolutionary value of death. In constant association we grow careless and indifferent. But an absence of a month or two enables one to get a truer perspective of personal associations and thereafter life has new zest. A child regards its mother with a certain degree of appreciation but a short absence enormously increases its appreciation. All human beings come into closer and more sympathetic association after a period of separation, and the completeness of the separation caused by death renders it peculiarly efficacious in the development of the spiritual side of one's nature. It often requires death to turn attention away from materialistic life. Frequently a family becomes completely absorbed in material success. There is no thought at all given to the higher life. Wealth, position, power, fame, all the vanities of the world, hold them firmly. They become completely self-centered. Then suddenly death enters and breaks the family circle, and the transient character of all they had been so strenuously striving for suddenly dawns upon them, and attention is turned to the nobler things of life. It is a well known fact that great wars are accompanied or followed with widespread spiritual awakening, and it is no doubt largely because the shadow of death has fallen on tens of thousands of households.
It has sometimes been asked by doubtful critics if it would not be an improvement on nature's plan if the sorrow caused by the death of our friends were softened by direct knowledge of their continued existence. It is evidently the plan of nature to have the physical life and the astral life normally separated at our present level of evolution. Some of the reasons have already been discussed. There are undoubtedly others that we are incapable of understanding, and still others that we can readily comprehend. If the higher, joyous life of the astral world were open to our consciousness, then concentration upon the duties of this life would be difficult, if not impossible. Our life in the physical body may be compared to the tasks of children in school. They have serious business before them in the acquiring of knowledge and the development of the intellect. They can best accomplish the work when completely isolated from other phases of life. Introduce into their work-day consciousness the joys of a child's existence, the circus, the military parade, the picnic and the dancing parties, and the purpose for which the school exists would be defeated. To exactly the extent that the consciousness is withdrawn from such things will desirable progress be made with the work of the school-room. And so it is with the limitation of our physical senses. It serves a purpose.
But there is a point in human evolution where such limitation of the senses is no longer of any service and may be transcended. Some people have attained it. They are those who have previously been referred to as the psychic scientists, with the higher clairvoyance of the cerebro-spinal system developed. It is an accomplishment to which all may aspire. None need submit to the separation commonly caused by death. By hard work in co-operating with nature's methods of evolution and by a serious and sustained effort to live the highest and most helpful life of which one is capable, it is possible in time to attain a level of consciousness where one has personal knowledge that the dead still live. But in the very work of rising to that level, the concentration previously enforced by the limitation of the physical senses will have been acquired.
One of the common delusions about death is that some radical change in the nature of a person then takes place. This is no doubt due in part to the theological ideas that have come down to us from the time of the Middle Ages. It is popularly supposed that at death one comes to some sort of a judgment that classes him as either a saint qualified for eternal bliss or a fiend fit only for endless torture! The belief is based on that erroneous view of human nature that was common to the melodrama of a past generation and that will possibly have eternal life in the cheap novel. It represented the hero as unqualifiedly good and the villain as absolutely bad. The one had no flaw of character and the other had not a redeeming feature. But human nature does not thus express itself. The spark of divine life is in all, notwithstanding it is sometimes darkly hidden. On the other hand we find no perfected beings. The perfect heroes were merely creations of an imperfect imagination. At our halfway stage of evolution we find neither the absolutely good nor the hopelessly bad.
Why should the change we call death transform a human being? It is merely the loss of one part of the mechanism of consciousness. The soul, the thinker, has lost connection with the physical world because the physical body has ceased to exist. The mental body and the astral body remain and they enable him to think and feel. But he can not think more than he knows, nor feel what he has not evolved. All that has happened in death is that contact with the material world has been lost.
One of the misconceptions is that death brings great wisdom, and we often hear of people getting into communication with those who have passed on, with the hope of obtaining valuable advice. It is true that death ushers one into a realm of wider consciousness and that in the astral world one can see a little further ahead and take a few more things into consideration. But—and it is a vital point—he would have no better judgment in determining a course of action than he had while here in the physical world.
Both mentally and emotionally he is unchanged. His grade of morality is neither better nor worse. His tolerance or narrowness remains what it previously was. If he was bigoted while here he is still bigoted there. If he was the unevolved ignoramus here he remains precisely that in the astral world. Whether genius or fool, saint or villain, he remains unchanged and goes on with his evolutionary development, but in a world where emotion is the determining factor.
Death merely opens the door to a new and wider realm where the evolution of the soul proceeds. It would be difficult to say which is the greater misfortune—the delusions that make death the king of terrors, or the complacent belief that if death does not end all, it at least brings the soul to a judgment that ends all personal responsibility and settles one's fate forever. Death can no more lessen responsibility or transform the moral nature than sleep can change character or determine destiny.
The theosophical conception of death is as consoling as it is scientific. Instead of the fear of death it gives us knowledge of continued life. Instead of doubt and despair it gives us confidence and joy, for it guarantees the companionship once more of those we have known and loved, and erroneously supposed we have lost.
THE ASTRAL WORLD
When the physical body dies there is an interval between the loss of consciousness here and the dawning of the astral consciousness. During that interim a review of the life scenes takes place. Everything between birth and death passes again through the consciousness, as it thus pauses in the etheric double, between the life activities of two worlds. Then peaceful unconsciousness follows, from which the man awakes in the astral world.
To those accustomed to thinking of the dying as passing to some remote heaven, where they become angels, it will perhaps sound startling to say that a dead man is not aware at first that the change we call death has taken place. Yet that is a common experience. Nor is it at all remarkable that it should be so with many. We have only to recall the fact that all physical matter is surrounded and permeated with astral matter to realize that the physical plane is duplicated in astral matter. Not only the physical body of the human being but, of course, every physical object, has its astral duplicate. The dying man loses consciousness of the physical plane and awakes as from a sleep to the astral consciousness. He sees then the exact duplicate, in astral matter, of the familiar scenes he has left behind. He sees, too, his friends, for their astral bodies are replicas of their physical forms.
And yet, notwithstanding all this there is a difference, though not a difference that enables him to comprehend what has occurred. He may know that only yesterday, or what seems to him to have been yesterday, he was ill and confined to his bed, and was perhaps told that he was about to die; and now he is not ill; indeed, he never felt so free from aches and pains in all his life. The pulsing energies and exhilaration of youth are his again! This mystifies him. He sees his friends and naturally speaks to them, but gets no reply and finds that he can not attract their attention. It must be remembered that he can not see their physical bodies any more than they can see his astral body. Yet he truly sees them. If a so-called dead man and a living person look at the same instant at another living person they will both see him, but the latter sees the physical body while the former sees the astral body that surrounds and permeates it.