Copyright © 2011 by Theosophical University Press
The nineteenth century, as yet unforgotten but in no wise regretted, left to its child the twentieth century a legacy from which the world is still suffering; but from whose unholy domination, spiritual, intellectual, and moral, there are signs heralding a liberation. It was a hard and bitter century, one in which every decent instinct of the human soul had to pay heavy toll.
There is probably in known history no single century which has been so heavily scored with the records of moral failures, and so blackened by the almost unchecked selfishness and scramble for power. It was a self-satisfied, smugly content, and very egoistic age in which so many men imagined that they had reached the acme of all possible knowledge in religion, philosophy, and science; and all this was brought about largely by the subordination of spirituality and moral instincts to a struggle for material prosperity, hand in hand with national and political self-seekings, which resulted in the vicious struggles of nation against nation, culminating in the world-wide psychical conflagration of 1914.
It was otherwise a strange century, too, full of striking contrasts and impossible contradictions, which marched together shoulder to shoulder, elbowing their way through human life. It was an age when the average man accepted certain misunderstood religious beliefs in one portion of his brain, and in another harbored scientific theories which were as unproved as were the religious ideas, but which were wholly incompatible and therefore irreconcilable. Man's nature was split, divided against itself, by these dimly perceived contradictions which most people refused frankly to face.
The teaching of brotherly love was on the lips of everybody; but the practices, in international affairs as well as in national, social, and political relations, ran violently counter to the noble doctrine. It was indeed a century in which the worship of violence, however disguised, was seen on every hand; and although man constantly said that "Right is Might," nearly always the practice was "Might is Right." Yet any thinking person can see that the saving grace in the relations of man to man and nation with nation is the inflexible will to do kindly justice toward all, irrespective of one's own self-interest.
There probably exists no clearer picture of the facts than that which may be found in a study of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. Here two of the great teachers of mankind did their utmost to sow at least a few seeds of spirituality into the minds of two men of the nineteenth century, A. P. Sinnett and A. O. Hume. Mr. Sinnett was perhaps slightly the superior, in point of spiritual discernment; while Mr. Hume was perhaps slightly the superior in intellectual capacity. Two typical men of the nineteenth century, with all the intellectual vices combined with the relatively few virtues of their age, were in correspondence with two mahatmas; and nothing could be more interesting than to observe the patient kindliness of the teachers in striving with the utterly unconscious yet incredible self-sufficiency and smug egoisms of their two "lay chelas." Their attitude was one of almost continuous insistence that the ancient wisdom was to be delivered in accordance with the framework of thought and outlook which in their egoism they laid down as the channel through which the message to mankind should flow. They insisted that time would be gained by the working of "phenomena," their idea being that by the working of material marvels the world would be almost forcibly converted to belief in the esoteric wisdom. When the teachers pointed out that this was precisely the worst manner in which to build the foundation of the spiritual and intellectual philosophy, it was impossible for the two "lay chelas" to understand that phenomena inevitably call for ever more phenomena. When, further, the mahatmas flatly declared that it were better for the tenets of the archaic wisdom to remain forever unknown to the world at large than to be founded upon such shifting sands, the two "disciples" showed clearly that in their view morals or ethics were but conventions of human society and had no real basis in natural law. Therefore they felt that the conditions placed around the delivery of the sublime message of the masters were both unnecessary and arbitrary.
Matters connected with life and death were particularly interesting to both Mr. Sinnett and Mr. Hume, but being men of the nineteenth century, it is probable that to them life and death were radically contrasted, instead of being two aspects of the same thing: a passage of the evolving and peregrinating human monad into the earth-sphere and out again. In other words, death is but one of the junctions of life; and the proper contrast with death is not "life" but birth.
Human outlooks are changing enormously. The casting aside of old scientific inhibitions and prejudiced views, which had reached their maximal efflorescence in the closing years of the nineteenth century, has opened up to modern scientific research such new and hitherto untrodden fields of thought and investigation that an entirely new psychology now prevails.
Science is rapidly approaching the acceptance of certain ones at least of the fundamental teachings of the archaic wisdom. Chief among the ideas or conceptions of not a few scientists, is that the essence of Being is mind-stuff, as some call it, or cosmic consciousness as the Esoteric Tradition calls it. This is indeed an enormous advance over the all-negating materialism which was almost universally accepted at the close of the nineteenth century. Talk of the "cosmic mathematician" or of a "cosmic artist," while exceedingly imperfect language, is a grand stride forward.
"Life" and "death" are two processes or "events," or better, two phases of experience of the monadic force-substance. As concerns the manifested universe, life and death are two aspects of the identic working of universal cosmic force, which in all periods of evolutionary manifestation takes this dual form. But behind these two processes there is the intelligent urge, the conscious driving force or energy, which causes beings and things to follow a pathway of development which is already latent in the germ or seed — cosmic or individual — and which through evolutionary growth unfolds the intrinsic factors of individuality lying dormant in the beginning in the heart of the seed of the entity-to-be.
What is this driving force, this intelligent and vital urge within the germ? Each such germ or seed is one of the infinite number of monadized atoms of the cosmic Life. When we consider the individual entity, such as a man, a beast, a plant, or a mineral atom, then particularizing becomes necessary, and we see that this driving force or inner urge is the working outwards or expression of the flow of the vital energy arising in the monad and streaming forth from it, for the monad is the spiritual center or core of any entity. This spiritual center is an entity itself, in which inhere throughout endless time and thence flow out into evolutional development the characteristics or individuality thereof. This in brief is the general meaning of the doctrine of svabhava.
Why is an acorn always the parent of an oak? Why does an apple seed invariably produce an apple tree? These questions are not merely banal repetitions of a fact of common knowledge; they are pertinent queries which have never yet been explained by Western science. The doctrine of svabhava, of the characteristic spiritual-vital monad, answers these questions by stating that the acorn or any other individual germ produces its own kind invariably, on account of the indwelling characteristic individuality, the monadic characteristic or ray at the heart of the germ of the oak or of the seed of the apple tree. If things grew helter-skelter, if there were no chain of individualized causation infallibly producing results in accordance with the "individuality" of preceding causes, if there were no law of reproductive individuality in the universe, then why should not an apple seed produce a banana plant, or a peach seed produce a strawberry vine? Or why could we not discover tiny human infants in the heart of a rose?
Quite outside of the fact that here lies one of the secret processes of reimbodiment or reincarnation, it likewise explains the continuity of type and the different species or classes which compose the several kingdoms of nature. Furthermore, with this same fact there is intimately involved what has always been a great problem for biological science, to wit, the origin of variation of species. All such origins with their variations in space and time arise from the fact that the emanations flow forth into the physical world from the indwelling spiritual monads of the various kingdoms, each such flow being stamped with its own inherent characteristic type of svabhava. This obviously is the cause of the continuance of types through the ages, subject of course to the modifications brought about by evolutionary unfolding of inner and hitherto dormant characteristics. It is precisely this emanational unfolding which brings about the so-called origins and "variations" of living creatures.
Furthermore every monad is a "creative" or rather emanational center or focus eternally active during a manvantara, so that forth from its heart there poured at least in the beginning of the period of cosmic manifestation an unending stream of characteristics in germ, each one being the starting-point or "origin" of some new variation, which, if it lived and prevailed against the various antagonistic factors in the environment, established itself as a "new" variety or species or some more comprehensive group.
There is one important point to remember in this connection: just because the globe-manvantara on our earth has already passed its lowest point of descent and is beginning its ascent, the bewildering number of new varieties and types which characterized the entire course of the arc of descent will henceforth grow constantly fewer. The whole course of the working of the life-waves on the upward arc, or arc of ascent, is toward integration, thus bringing about in the course of ages a constantly decreasing number of types and families; whereas on the descending arc, the whole effort of nature was one of differentiation or dispersive activity, i.e. the bringing about of vast numbers of specific variations of the fundamental generalized type, which, because it is monadic, endures perpetually.
As said, it is the monadic individuality, the individualized characteristic, inherent in and vitalizing the seed of the entity-to-be that not only furnishes the drive, but governs the nature and kind, racial and otherwise, of the entity that later is to be. This vital and intelligent urge is the aggregate of forces of several different kinds, dormant in the monadic ray issuing forth from the monad itself, which latter is called in Sanskrit the jiva. The characteristic individuality inherent in the vital energy of the monadic ray forever stamps the operation of this ray in all its functions, and therefore expresses in time and space, what in the beginning lay involved in the monad. This is the true meaning of evolution, a process of the self-expression of the peregrinating being in the worlds and spheres of matter, a process taking place in "death" as well as in "life." Each individual monad, by means of its projected force or monadic ray unfolds by emanation that particular life-characteristic which, coincident with its appearance, stamps its nature on the evolving substance or body in which it may at any time dwell, thus producing the enormously wide variety of races and families, genera, and species, as well as the variations in the kingdoms which surround us.
Although this monadic ray is spoken of as an individual, it actually is a sheath or bundle of spiritual forces aggregated into a unity. The human constitution is a composite, a stream of consciousness flowing forth from the deathless center or spiritual monad, which last is at once the immortal root of the human being and his essential self. The monad which is thus the highest or inmost core of any entity in manifestation is the fundamental individual, from which consciousness and selfhood emanate in a stream passing through all the different grades or degrees of the entity's constitution, which stream is thus the monadic ray.
The symbol familiar to many and used by more than one ancient school is a pillar of light, as figurating the human constitution considered as a unitary whole. This pillar of light as it emanates outwards into manifestation from the heart of the monad is of supernal brilliance in its highest parts; but as it passes more deeply into matter, its luminosity is progressively dimmed until it reaches the physical sphere where it functions invisibly in surroundings which are as "black as night" — i.e. in the vital-astral physical triad of the human constitution. Throughout the entire extent of this pillar of light runs the stream of essential selfhood or monadic consciousness, which stream is the monadic ray surrounded by the pillar of light — the inner and invisible composite human constitution.
As this monadic ray streams downwards through this pillar of light, it makes for itself at appropriate places knots or foci of active consciousness which are in themselves minor monads, ego-souls of the human constitution. They are in descending order: the divine soul, the spiritual soul, the manasic or human soul, the kama-manasic or animal soul, and the vital-astral soul. Through them all flows and works and functions the essential monadic ray, which is identic with the sutratman of Hindu philosophy, a Sanskrit term signifying "thread-self," having its seats or respective knots or foci in the aggregated totality of the different subtle sheaths or "souls."
Thus, when death supervenes to an entity, say a human being, it is a process of progressive involution; therefore an exact reversal of the process of evolution that had previously taken place during the building of the structure of the complex constitution or pillar of light. First the physical body is cast off, with its accompanying gross astral vitality and this includes of course the model-body or linga-sarira. After a certain period of time, depending in each case upon the karmic attributes and qualities of the man, in his just ended earth-life, the consciousness rises out of the astral worlds into the next higher monadic center or focus of consciousness, which in its turn is finally indrawn into the bosom of the spiritual monad; and here is where the human monad or human ego enters into the devachanic state.
When the time comes for the devachan to end, and for the human monad to awaken from its blissful dreaming — because of the awakening of the karmic seeds of attributes and qualities hitherto lying latent in the human ego and brought over from the last earth-life — it automatically follows these attractions toward the earth-sphere, descending through the intermediate realms that it had traversed on its upward journey to the devachanic state. Thus it passes downwards from the spiritual monad into the more material realms, building for itself at each step appropriate sheaths or subtle bodies in which it may live on these lower planes, thus re-forming the knots or foci which it had previously infolded into itself, until finally it reaches the earth-sphere and is attracted to the appropriate human womb to which its karmic affinities draw it.
It should be clear that the Esoteric Philosophy does not teach the existence of the human being as an unchanging ego which passes from life to life merely gaining experience without modification of itself. Much to the contrary: the ego itself is an evolving focus of consciousness in the pillar of light, and therefore the human ego itself is in the never-ending process of undergoing continuous expansion of consciousness itself. Hence, the ego is no unchanging entity flittering from birth to birth; and for this reason the reincarnation of this human ego should never be considered to be the passage of a spiritual and permanent mannikin from earth-life to earth-life.
It was for this reason that Gautama the Buddha stated emphatically that there is no permanent — unchanging — "ego" or "soul" in man; and the profound significance of this statement has escaped the understanding of all commentators since the Buddha's day. The point is a subtle one, and therefore is somewhat difficult to understand. Consider the case of a human being as he grows from birth to adulthood, and then reaches the portals of death. There have been profound modifications of the consciousness of this human being; yet the man of fifty is the fruitage or direct karmic result of the boy of ten. The boy and the man are the same, yet not identic; the same because being the same stream of consciousness; yet not identic, because the consciousness has grown or evolved.
Precisely the same with reincarnation. The "old man" is the same as the "new man" yet not identic; for the "new man" in the new earth-life has all the added increments gained by the devachanic interim which have become, with the total karma of the "old man," what we now call the "new man." The whole doctrine is one of immense hope for it shows that each new rebirth is a step forwards, comprising a working out, and therefore oblivion of, past errors and sins, and a new chance always recurring for the future. This does not mean that the "old" is annihilated or wiped out, for this is impossible; the "old" remains as karmic fruitage or heritage until it has been equilibrated or exhausted; but upon this "old" there comes the continual influx of new spiritual and intellectual increments, thus radically modifying the character; so that as time passes, the old gradually disappears because it exhausts itself, and the new becomes steadily better.
Life is not merely one continuous process of building up a physical body, which when this building-up has reached a certain term is followed by sudden collapse and consequent dissolution due to entry into the structure of something radically different from life and called death. Death is the logical opposite of birth; indeed, speaking with stricter accuracy, death is not an opposite but is another form of birth — a passing of the monadic ray out of the phase of earth-life into its consecutive and consequential phase called astral life.
All the processes of nature which follow one another in regular serial order as an unbroken chain of causation, are methodical and continuous and likewise composite. There could be no building-up process without an equivalent functioning of what men call death — instantly, hourly, and always concurrently. Death is but change: the ending of one event in the chain of causation, introducing the next succeeding karmic consequential event. Birth into earth-life is the exact analog to the death of the physical body, for the birth of the physical body is the event which introduces the peregrinating monad into that phase of its journey called earth-life. There can be no birth which is not at the same time a death or termination of the event which immediately preceded it; so that the birth of the monad into earth-life is its death in the immediately preceding phase of astral life.
The seed-germ cannot grow unless the physical covering or outer shell dies, so that the germ may sprout. The majestic oak, buffeted by the storms of centuries, would not come from the acorn unless the acorn gave up its life to it. Take the physical body: at every step we meet these two processes going on together. Not a single cell of the body when it is worn out remains, but it disappears into its own progeny, and is replaced from its own substance by a new cell. The vital functions are in very truth equally the mortal functions. Every instant of growth is an instant nearer dissolution, and each step of growth or what men call life is brought about by the death of the immediately preceding link in the chain of existence of life. There can be no death where there is no life, for life and death are not opposites but one, an identity. Mortality is the fruit of life, as life is the child of death, and again as death or change introduces a new phase of life.
It is evident that Paul the Apostle had the same thought in mind when he wrote in his alleged First Epistle to the Corinthians the following:
I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:
And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
There are also celestial bodies and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. — 15:31, 35, 36, 37, 40, 44
In an article on "Life," written by Dr. Peter Chalmers Mitchell for the Encyclopaedia Britannica he says:
Until greater knowledge of protoplasm and particularly of proteid has been acquired, there is no scientific room for the suggestion that there is a mysterious factor differentiating living matter from other matter and life from other activities.
The present writer is in hearty sympathy with this extract from Dr. Mitchell's article; for the capital mistake made by European science from the time of Newton has been the supposition that life is an absolute, or a thing-in-itself, which therefore is in essence not merely distinct from matter but radically different. This is an erroneous supposition which the Esoteric Philosophy repudiates; for in its teaching, what modern science calls matter is an invariable manifestation of the cosmic jiva — of the incomputably great numbers of conscious monads existing in all-various degrees of development, which not merely vitalize the material sphere, but actually are the material sphere. In other words, the entire range of hierarchical material worlds or spheres, including therefore the physical sphere, is a web of interacting foci or monadic points of consciousness, each such monad or jiva being a center or focus of what scientific thinkers call mind-stuff. As these monads or foci of mind-stuff exist and function in differing grades of evolutional development and comprise the totality of all that is, it thus becomes evident that even the chemical atom with its infinitesimal electronic foci is the expression in the mineral sphere of a monadic center. Hence it is that "life" is not something apart from and different from matter, which acts upon it as an outsider, but that matter itself in all its phases and degrees is but the interacting expressions of these hosts of monadic centers — each such monad being a fountain of vital force.
Thus nature throughout all her kingdoms is motivated and activated from within outwards; and therefore all vehicles or expressions of these inner and invisible entities are what we call the manifold differentiations of the material spheres.
With the renaissance of scientific thought out of the credulities of the Middle Ages, it was inevitable that men should seek for some universal standard by which they might test the ideas and intuitions that at various times appear. In this search, inquiring minds turned in the only direction that seemed to furnish the requisite conditions of universality — to nature herself. But approaching nature as they did with the preconceptions inherent in their age, what could they expect to find in such preliminary study? Unguided by any other philosophy of life than that of the religious and scholastic thinking of the Middle Ages — indeed in a sense misguided thereby due to the strong psychological force of their environment — their minds unconsciously approached such a study of nature already crystallized in certain avenues of thinking.
Thus arose, among others, the theory of vitalism, which seems to have been the general idea that behind or within the physical and chemical processes in animal and plant bodies, there exists something called life. This life was supposed, apparently, to be an active force existing apart from and quite different from matter; and death was supposed to be the withdrawal of this mysterious life from matter or physical bodies. The deduction seems accurate enough that the basic idea of vitalism was that the so-called life is entirely immaterial, and in no sense identical with matter itself, but which nevertheless worked through matter and gave it its various attributes and qualities — outside of such inherent attributes or qualities that chemical elements of matter themselves might be supposed to have.
The philosophical and scientific problems that arose out of such a theory, and which by many were considered to be virtually insoluble, appalled and repelled thinkers of another cast of mentality. In their recoil from the vitalistic theory, they became what were called mechanists, saying that there is no such thing as life per se, that there is nothing but physical and chemical forces; and that it is the interacting of these forces or energies which produce the varieties of animal and plant life. But just as vitalism had its day, so all the signs are pointing to the conclusion that mechanism likewise has run its course.
Dr. George G. Scott, associate professor of biology at the City College of New York, wrote:
Inseparably connected with physical and chemical ideas of protoplasm is the functioning of protoplasm. Inseparably connected with the societies of cells must be an integrative activity of the whole mass as a unit. This organization cannot be dissected; it cannot be seen with the aid of a microscope. It is not material in the ordinary sense of the word. This has led to the development of two general ideas or schools of thought — Vitalism and Mechanism. The vitalist says that life is more than mere physical and chemical forces and that we have not yet been able to elucidate what life is. The mechanist claims that life-activities are no more or less than exhibitions of known physical and chemical laws. The biological mechanist who confidently asserts that life-processes are merely exhibitions of phenomena, taking place according to known laws of physics and chemistry is open to criticism fully as much as the vitalist. . . . When life-phenomena are really understood it may be that this so-called life-force or "vital spirit" will be identified as a form of energy. — The Science of Biology, pp. 38-9
This last statement shows clearly that vitalism is in some respects nearer to the esoteric doctrine than is mechanism; but the theosophist repudiates the vitalistic idea that "life" is something radically different from the underlying substance out of which matter is formed.
Still another view of this controversy is introduced by Dr. Max Verworn, professor of physiology at the University of Bonn, Germany. After describing the growth in Europe of the ideas of vitalism, and of the nature of soul and of spirit as held in European thought from the Greeks down to his own day, he depicts the further development of scientific ideas along these lines:
By degrees there emerged once more the tendency to explain vital phenomena by mystical means, finding expression in the Animism of Stahl, to quote an example; and in the second half of the 18th century Vitalism originating in France, began its victorious march throughout the whole scientific world. Again the opinion came to be entertained that the cause of vital phenomena was a mystical power (force hypermecanique) — that "vital force" which, neither physical nor chemical in its nature, was held to be active in living organisms only. Vitalism continued to be the ruling idea in physiology until about the middle of the 19th century, . . . by the second half of the 19th century the doctrine of vital force was definitely and finally overthrown to make way for the triumph of the natural method of explaining vital phenomena, . . . It would, it is true, appear as if in our day, after the lapse of half a century, mystical tendencies were again disposed to crop up in the investigation of life. Here and there is heard once more the watchword of Vitalism. — "Physiology," Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911)
This tendency to change is in itself an excellent thing, because it prevents crystallization of scientific ideas into mere scientific dogmatisms. Yet for all this, as any collection of textbooks will show, scientific ideas tend strongly to become dogmatic, although a scientific theory is proved by experience to be as transitory as are the fads and theories in any other department of human life.
Everything, in the view of science, seems to be essentially "energy"; and matter itself is but the forms or aspects of cosmic energy, which some identify with mind-stuff. In this they are closely approaching the theosophical conception that matter is in reality a concretion or crystallization of forces, or, more accurately, an incomprehensibly great concretion of monads, centers of life. As H. P. Blavatsky wrote years ago, matter is condensed or concreted radiation — or what in those days was called "light." In 1888 this was universally considered to be the declaration of an erratic idealist, and without any foundation in nature. Yet today this statement would be considered to be scientifically orthodox.
What is light? Our scientists tell us that light is an electromagnetic vibration and that there are many kinds of electromagnetic "waves" — a popular word used to express the method of propagation of electromagnetic energies through space. When an electromagnetic energy vibrates at an extremely rapid rate, mounting into trillions and much higher frequencies per second, combined with a decrease in the length of the individual wave, such a condensation of moving force or energy must produce upon any human sense organ the exact sense-impression of a form of matter. This illustration conveys at least some notion of how a force vibration at an enormously high rate can produce the impression of body or material bulk.
What then is life, per se? What is this essential or fundamental reality within, behind, and productive of organic structures and their respective phenomena? Life per se is intelligent substantial spiritual force — manifesting in myriad forms of energy. Corporately considered it is the intelligent, ever-active, and inherently vital force or forces of any being. Life is an ethereal fluid, a vital fluid, therefore it is also substance, but ethereal substance; and life, furthermore, is inherently active on every one of the planes or worlds, visible and invisible, which in their aggregate compose and in fact are the universe. Indeed, both force and substance are themselves fundamental or essential aspects or phases of the underlying universal reality, the everlasting cosmic life-substance-intelligence.
Birth and death are obviously the beginning and the end of a temporary life-phase of any entity; whereas Life per se, as the cosmic causal originant, is the intelligent driving force-substance behind and causative of both birth and death. However, expressions such as "life" are abstractions which, it could be argued, are not entities in themselves, but stand for abstract aggregates of living beings. To illustrate: humanity is no being or entity in itself, but it is composed of human beings. Similarly, there is no such thing as force or substance per se; but there are vast hierarchies of living beings whose self-expressions appear as forces and substances.
Light, for instance, is a form of radiation, emanating from a radiating body which is not only its causal parent, but without such body expressing its vital force in radiation, the light would not exist. In other words, light is the vital fluid of a living entity, streaming forth from it; if the entity did not exist the vital fluid could not emanate from it, and light would be non-existent.
It is a mistake to suppose that light as radiation is an entity which "just exists" in so-called empty space. Sooner or later the vital fluid called light which has emanated from the sun, and after it has undergone almost innumerable modifications of integration and disintegration, will return to the parent-body which originally gave it birth.
Can we say that electricity is any other than the emanated entity or parent-source which gave it birth, and that if the parent-source were non-existent, the electric radiated fluid could have appeared? Electricity is an abstract term for the various "electric" vital radiations from different sources; it is in fact, one of the forms of cosmic vitality. It is thus an entity because having existence as a temporarily enduring vital-fluid which we cognize as radiation of a kind; but its origin is in the secret vital heart of living beings of cosmic magnitude — in other words, the various suns in space. Although these suns are collectively the fountainhead of cosmic electricity, nevertheless every being of the innumerable hierarchies which fill and indeed make space, is likewise a fountainhead of smaller magnitude, which in its turn pours forth from its vital font within its own streams or currents of electric and magnetic flow or radiation. Behind all such vital activities, and presiding over them, there is the all-permeant cosmic intelligence; and in the cases of minor beings, the intelligences of minor magnitude of which they are the evolving imbodiments.
Beginnings and endings thus apply only to bodies or vehicles, physical or ethereal as the case may be, which inshrine the causative monadic or spiritual rays. These beginnings and endings are, in fact, dreams of illusion when we turn to the grander scale of the cosmic life, to that inner, continuous stream of intelligent vital essence which passes uninterrupted through the portals of birth, and passes out by the portal of death, into another stage of life on a succeeding plane in a slightly higher world. For that vital essence or life-stream is a living and continuous force of cosmic origin, and thus, just because it is of the essence of the universe, it continues until the end of the solar manvantara. It then vanishes from the planes of lower manifestation and is indrawn into the solar monad, into the state which we may call the solar nirvana; but in long ages thereafter, it will reappear in manifestation in the various planes and worlds, when Brahman again breathes forth from its own essence the new solar universe, the imbodiment of the solar universe that was.
Beginnings and endings are thus indeed dreams of illusion, because not absolute. Can we ever reach, even in thought, an ending beyond which naught is? Nature strives ever for the unattainable, and so does man, a child of nature: when we reach what we think to be an ultimate, we find that it is but a stepping stone to something grander and loftier still.
Some people have said: "There is something in my heart so beautiful that I don't want ever to lose it"; and to this wonder-beauty, the human being clings and clings — for himself, making for himself a future path of pain and sorrow. No! Beings do not grow in that way. While it is altogether right to search for the beautiful and even to strive after the Unattainable, because this is giving reign to the divine hunger in our hearts and loosing the shackles of personality which bind us into the material realm, nevertheless the secret of success is never enchaining our imagination to the Beautiful nor identifying our hearts' hunger for the Unattainable with any relative accomplishment; for this is weaving around our spirits the webs of illusion, woven of our own yearnings to possess and to become. It is right to strive for the Beautiful and the Unattainable, but only when we realize that it is done with no sense of personal gain, for this is a limitation, and a building of the prison around our souls. Herein lies the reason why all the great seers have taught that we must not make prison walls around ourselves even by our loftiest soarings of thought and feeling, for this means self-identification with the prison walls, the fatal error of all exoteric religions and of all philosophies born in the pronaos of the temple of divine wisdom. Beings grow greater by gaining greater understanding, by expansion, by renunciations of what is imperfect for a greater "perfect." Never say that a thing is so beautiful that a more beautiful does not exist. Nature in her operations tears down in order to produce something better, although so devious at times that the tearing down seems to be death, an ending.
Even when times of grief and pain come to us, we should always remember that it depends upon us to see in them new portals opening into something better, something higher. When the first tiny flame of impersonal love warms the heart of a man, and something inexpressibly beautiful takes birth within him, it is all too human to hug the new and beautiful thing to oneself. Yet it must be cast aside; otherwise the man is shutting himself out from receiving something grander.
He who binds to himself a joy
Doth the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity's sunrise.
— William Blake, Songs of Innocence
Unless a man watch carefully, even what he loves may imprison him with adamantine walls, so he trains himself not only to strive for something continuously better, but with deliberate hand breaks the illusion of relative completeness and satisfaction, knowing that outside the prison-walls of selfhood are the inconceivable glories which his spirit breathes into his attentive soul.
Let us not complain of the "dreadful" fate which overtakes us when the great liberator gives us the beautiful repose which is an inherent characteristic of certain phases of spiritual activity. We continuously yearn for release; then when it comes, we exclaim against the coming and for the time prefer to embrace our sorrow and the keen kiss of pain rather than the peace and bliss which we had been yearning for.
There can be no life without death. There can be no death without life. The two are one, for the wisest man who ever lived would find it impossible to say where true life ends and where it begins, or where death or change ends and where it begins. The decay and final dissolution of the physical body is actually as strong an action of vital functions, and is as much life, as is the growth of the microscopic human seed to a six-foot man, which signifies death to the imbodying ego out of the other world into the here.
This process is an incessant whirling of the wheel of life, passing through many phases and thereby bringing about many and varying changes of environment: and it is just these repetitive changes which constitute what we call "life" and "death." The proper terms are rather "birth" and "death," birth being the opening scene in a new act and death the ending scene in the same act; the drama of life proceeding meanwhile in its slow and majestic circulations throughout the remaining acts, until at the end of the cosmic manvantara, the spirit or monad returns to rest into the bosom of the solar divinity, from which it issued forth in the beginning of that cosmic term.
The mistake of vitalism despite its attractive philosophical feature seems to have lain in the restricting of the term "life" or "vital activity" to "animate" beings. But in the view of the ancient wisdom, nothing is "dead": everything is alive, "dead matter" being as fully infilled with life or vital activity as are the so-called animate beings. Thus, if the "animism" of early peoples means merely that all entities possess or are "souls," each of its own evolved type and each occupying its own particular position on the wheel of life, then animism is one of the fundamental truths of nature.
There exist spheres and worlds in the universe whose inhabitants do not die after the manner in which we die, but pass by imperceptible states into a larger unfoldment of faculty and power, precisely as in human life the baby passes into childhood and the child into adulthood. Such an individual or inhabitant easily and smoothly passes out of its visible into the invisible realms, without either break in consciousness or loss of the "physical" vehicle.
This statement may seem incredible, yet experience of what takes place even on our earth shows us adumbrations of what is here referred to. The meaning is that as the termination of the imbodiment draws near, the "physical vehicle," pari passu with the etherealizing of the inner constitution of the imbodied being, itself etherealizes or grows progressively less material or "physical"; so that actually there is no "death" or dissolution of the "physical" encasement whatsoever, and this process is replaced by a gradual blending into the substance and matters of the superior world or sphere — which we may perhaps compare to the vaporizing of water, or the change of ice into water. But these entities which undergo no "death" as humans do, like all entities imbodied in worlds of manifestation, have a term of what is equivalent to the human life-span, after which they also may be said to "die" and enter into higher spheres or worlds than those in which they now find themselves, and in which "death" as we understand it is non-existent.
In far future aeons, the bodies of the men-to-be, when the end of what will then be called "life" comes, will disappear or vanish away with scarcely a break in the indwelling consciousness, and without a laying aside of the physical vehicle, for the reason that as death approaches, that vehicle will grow itself progressively more ethereal and tenuous, thus fitting it for its passage or blending with the inner realms.
Preceding this state of the far distant future by long aeons, death will occur as a quiet "falling asleep," at which time the physical body will evaporate rather than decay.
Why does this method of passing on not happen now? For the simple reason that we live on a grossly dense and heavily material sphere, on the lowest globe of the planetary chain of earth; and our bodies, which are the children of this material globe, are of necessity correspondingly dense, otherwise they could not be here as actively manifesting physical entities. Our present bodies are not fit for, and therefore cannot enter into, the ethereal inner realms of nature. Nature has no such leaps from point to point. Throughout all her worlds and spheres, she proceeds step by step in all her movements, and therefore in evolutionary development.
In the old Greek adage, "Sleep and death are brothers," there exists no small amount of truth; in fact, they are not merely brothers, born of the same womb of consciousness, but they are literally one. Death is a perfect sleep, with an "awakening" in the devachan and a full awakening in the succeeding reincarnation; whereas sleep is an imperfect death, nature's prophesying of the future, whereby she teaches us by the fact that nightly we sleep, and therefore nightly we partially die. Indeed, one may go still farther and say that death and sleep and initiation are but different forms of the same process.
The only difference between death and sleep is one of degree. Anyone who has stood at the bedside of one who is dying must at the time have been impressed with the similitude between the coming of death and the going to sleep. Precisely as in sleep the mind of consciousness becomes the focus of forms of mental activity called "dreams," following upon a period of complete unconsciousness, just so is death followed by "dreams" supervening after the instantaneous but complete period of unconsciousness which marks the moment of passing.
The whole process of death is a breaking-up process; but life flows on uninterruptedly. Not only does the physical body die or dissolve into its component atoms, but the energic bundle, the sheaf of forces, which man is, his entire constitution, breaks up slowly in its lower parts after the death of the physical body. It is this bundle of energies which during earth-life worked in and through the body, the body providing the field of fullest manifestation of these energies on this earth. But there is a core to this sheaf or bundle; and it is this which at death withdraws its vitalizing ray, thus freeing itself from its anchoring in this lowly sphere. This core comprises the inspiring and vitalizing monadic ray.
To illustrate this idea: in order to furnish ourselves with electrical power, we need a central station where the electricity is generated, and whence it is transmitted to outlying districts and there distributed to the many units of consumption. By pressing a button, the current which flows along the wire becomes either usable or stops. Shall we say that instantaneously it is snatched back into the power-station when the current is switched off at the point of consumption? Or shall we simply say that the current ceases to flow?
So also the monad, our essential self, may be called the spiritual power-station of our constitution. The monad is most emphatically not in the body, but it overenlightens it; and its monadic ray runs through all intermediate portions of the constitution down to the body, which thus is its ultimate vehicle or carrier. As long as this spiritual electricity is active in the final or lowest unit, the process called "life" continues; but the instant when death ensues, is equivalently the instant when this monadic ray is drawn back to the monad as quick as thought, quicker than lightning.
Death is liberation; the opening of a new door into nature's invisible mansions. The tired body, the worn heart, the weary brain, now function no more. At the instant of death the divine monad is withdrawn from its respective organs of expression in the body and enters into its own unfettered consciousness, experiencing the full realization of all the splendor of spiritual life, and all the grandeur of impersonal intellection; each of these functions being now unfettered and free in full activity, each in its own causal realm. All beneath it enters into the devachanic condition; whereas, the lower elements of the septenary or denary constitution of man have already by this time been dissolved into their component life-atoms.
Life, whether considered as an entity or as a process, is no mysterious thing: it is in fact the most familiar thing in the world to men, because life is all that is, since it is the root or essence of all, without imaginable beginning or conceivable end. What is it that gives its "life" to any one entity? It is the vital electricity in the entity itself; or, to turn our vision to more ethereal and causal parts of the entity's constitution, we could call the "life" of such an entity the spiritual electricity of its monad, which is but another name for the vital characteristic or individuality of the monad. Life, therefore, is in one sense spirit-substance; life furthermore is the carrier of consciousness. Consciousness and life together originate and produce from themselves the manifestations of force or energy, which in turn deposits the matters and substances of the universe. All these entities or elements are but names used to differentiate the all-various forms of unceasing activity of the primordial basis of cosmic being: infinite and boundless, the carrier of all the higher parts of the cosmic entity which holds the cosmic figure in equilibrium and in perpetual existence throughout endless duration. Yet "cosmic entity" is but a generalizing expression, and is not "God" as usually understood. It is rather the vast cosmic ocean composed of all the individual droplets of life, the innumerable cosmic lives or individual entities which in their incomprehensible totality make and indeed are the universe. It is not denied that this cosmic aggregate can have an individuality of its own; but even so, when compared with the boundless infinitude, it is but a cosmic speck lost in the ocean of infinity and is only one of countless other multitudes.