The Theosophical Forum – September 1944


[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]

Until somewhat more than a hundred years ago the study of mental processes and mental reactions was a part of the greater subject of philosophy, and was a matter of discussion in the days of Pythagoras, of Plato and Aristotle; while if we turn to the Orient we shall find that the study is as old as records can be found of thinking man.

The term psychology has now as many meanings as there are individuals who use it. To one it means the study of everyday behavior, to another, the study of mental processes, to another physical reactions to external stimuli, to yet another the study of the abnormal characteristics of people.

But what does psychology mean in reality? Psychology is defined as the "science of the nature, functions and phenomena of the human soul or mind." Or again, as the "science" of consciousness. We learn that a science systematises a subject and the phenomena belonging thereto. Hence if psychology is a science of consciousness, the field of psychology must consist in systematising the facts of consciousness. Here it is obvious that we meet a very real difficulty, for consciousness can only be studied by means of the mental workings of the conscious thinker. Modern research tends to approach this study through sensory impressions, and to ignore evidences of a higher mind, or of a Self within. Still less will it, generally, accept the idea of previous lives; of an incarnating entity, a soul entering again a life on earth, a sojourn of not only one but of many lives.

This is perhaps the fundamental difference between the Oriental and Occidental approach to the study of a conscious, thinking entity. The Oriental looks upon man as an evolving being, upon life and death as but two aspects of the one great and all-enduring Life; while the Occidental regards a child as a newly-created soul entering life with a mind clean as a tabula rasa upon which is to be written the growing character, which character will be the result of its reactions to the stimuli of the events of the present life.

What then shall we understand by the title "The Complete Psychology'? It must be more comprehensive than a little classification and generalization. From the point of view of a Theosophical student the subject is very comprehensive indeed. As H. P. Blavatsky says, in Isis Unveiled, I, xxvii-xxviii, psychology is the "science of the soul, both as an entity distinct from the spirit and in its relations with spirit and body." Psychology so understood leads us to the questions, Who am I? Where did I come from? What is the Soul? In fact, it becomes the study of Man, Man as a Child of the Universe, inseparable from it, a child that always was, always will be. Will be, yes, but not always as he is today, but a being steadily growing ever greater and grander, ever more intelligent and intuitive; ever more spiritual and conscious, learning to work with the Universe, that Universe of which he is such an insignificant, yet supremely important part. How is this possible, the psychologists will ask. Prove it! Yes, prove it. Can you prove consciousness by means of test-tubes and scales? Can you measure love, kindness, compassion and truth by means of grams and atomic weights? Yet had we developed our spiritual eyes, our spiritual senses, we could then see the vibrations, shall we say, of consciousness, of love, and all the other virtues, as well as the vices of our composite natures. We certainly have no difficulty in seeing effects.

Yes man is one with the Universe, compounded of its elements, modelled upon it, built of the same atoms, infilled with the same consciousness, urged by the same divine currents. Man, then, even as the Universe, is compounded of something which can range vast spaces, which can pass through many experiences, which can grow, which can evolve; for Man in his essence is one with the unlimited Boundless All, the Nameless, THAT of the Hindu philosophy. Between Man in his essence, and man here on earth there are many stages, even as with the ray of light from the sun to our earth. In its essence it is pure sunlight; on earth it needs the dust of earth to make it visible to our physical eyes. So with man. Rooted in the Spiritual Sun, he needs the dust of earth as a means of functioning here on earth; he needs a body. Thus it is that in Ancient Philosophy man is spoken of as a combination of three converging streams or bases of evolution, called by the Hindus, the Three Upadhis. The one divine, of cosmic reach; the second intuitional and intellectual, with solar reach; and the third the vital-astral-physical man, child of the earth. Paul would say: Spirit, Soul and Body. The idea is exactly the same.

The body is built up of the life-atoms belonging to that stage of evolution; the soul, of life-atoms appropriate to its stage; and spiritual life-atoms belonging to the Spiritual Man. Man himself, however, is one yet many, and the process of evolution brings about an unfolding of the composite parts of his constitution in such a way that he grows more and more at one with the Essence of himself, that is, with his own Higher Self. Psychology deals most particularly with that intermediate nature, which, using the above phraseology, is soul. It is the realm of the dual mind, the lower mind tending downwards towards the realm of the body, the higher mind reaching upward to the realm of spirit.

Theosophists for purposes of more intensive study will again subdivide spirit, soul and body into seven principles. But let it never be forgotten that these principles are not separate, but subdivisions, for man is in reality, a stream of consciousness. He can by the exercise of his will learn to function consciously in any part of his constitution. Indeed as complete man he will have actual knowledge of all the realms of Nature.

Believing as we do, that man lives many lives on earth, and that which happens to him now, is the result of that which he built up for himself in the past, and that the future is being built up now, it follows that the life-atoms composing the various aspects of himself will bear his stamp, and will be attracted psycho-astrally to him again and again. These life-atoms will have a kind of memory, a kind of tendency. For instance, if the mind has dwelt upon high and lofty thoughts, the atoms of the brain, the vehicle or tool of the mind, will be stamped with a tendency to seek high and lofty strata. Similarly, evil and cruel thoughts will stamp evil and cruelty upon the life-atoms. Think of the impress we make, by ignorant or careless abuse, upon the physical life-atoms of our bodies. Thus it is we build up a group of atoms impressed by our own acts in the present, the immediate past, and far, far distant past. So some event occurs which stirs this tendency, low or high as the case may be, and we are influenced by the accumulation we have thus built up. This explains why unforeseen calamity will sometimes overwhelm us. This tendency or memory of the less evolved life-atoms, is, I believe, the sub-conscious self so often referred to by the psycho-analysts: for it is true that we can, almost unconsciously to our thinking selves, be influenced by our sub-conscious, that self below consciousness. But why add to its life by stimulation? Why not seek for our super-conscious self — that self in which is centered the higher segregation, in the aroma of noble thoughts and deeds of the present, the immediate past, and the far distant past.

I sent my soul thro' the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my soul returned to me
And answered "I myself am Heav'n and Hell!"

sang the Sufis.

We thinking beings half-way between heaven and hell, with heaven and hell within our own souls, which path shall we follow — the pathway leading to the gods, or the one leading to the playground of our own concentrated evil and wrong-doing?

As Dr. de Purucker, the late Leader of the Theosophical Society, wrote so beautifully in his book The Esoteric Tradition, II, 1007:

Let a man learn to grow towards this Divine within himself, and he will begin to Know. He becomes the understander then, because his own understanding has been fired into awakening, has been stimulated to awakening under the touch of the divine Ray of his own inner god. He will indeed learn from the Universe outside: he will study the stars and the atoms; he will study with fascinated interest the world around him, the growing grass in the fields, and the budding flowers and the burgeoning trees, and all else. Everywhere he will learn lessons of invaluable worth for his growth. He will read the sacred literatures of the world and profit greatly by them. Yet despite all the knowledge that he will ingather from his studies of beings and things around him, one of his first discoveries will be that the greatest and holiest and dearest teacher is the Master within himself — his spiritual nature: deathless, undying, inexhaustible in its wisdom, for this his Spiritual Nature or Monad is in essence one with the Heart of the Universe.

The Theosophical Forum