The Theosophical Forum – January 1949


To those of us who can look back to the opening years of this century, the almost complete transformation in the thought-life of the western world is revolutionary. At the time that Madame Blavatsky published The Secret Doctrine, the two dominant yet opposing trends of thought were the materialistic with its theory of man as an animal, and the theological with its man-god and his helpless human creations; both equally mechanistic. Any other concept of man than as a creature of five senses in a physical world was taboo as a subject of conversation except on Sunday, and even then in low tones.

Most of our philosophy came from the Greek teaching of man as a triune of soma, psyche and nous (body, soul and mind), of which the latter two were almost synonymous, since knowledge obtained by the conscious mind was called psychology. Almost coincidently the occurrence of phenomena not attributable to the five senses, such as demonstrated in Spiritualism, differing states of hypnosis, and emotional and mental phases of what was termed the sub-conscious mind, opened a new field of thought and experiment. As none of these were deemed strictly physical or intellectual, they were referred to the "soul" or "psyche," and derivative words were coined.

At the same time, the sudden discovery by Science of the existence of substance in other than the accepted solid atom of physical matter, brought proof of what seemed to be matter in a hyper-physical or supersensuous state. Thus, today, energy has usurped the place of matter and the electronic atom that of the "billiard-ball." Eddington has given a humorous reference to this discovery. The picture is that we have a table which we use as a solid object. We see it as such, but to a physicist it is empty space with innumerable electric charges rushing here and there: nothing substantial about it, yet no physicist can exorcise that table.

In a study of the history of the Earth, Geology has unfolded from its rock layers the fact that in each Era some one type of life has risen to dominance, and has specialized in its individual forms until either ends in general extinction or degenerates to dwarf remnants. As we study the history of Man, we find that the same law holds good as regards types of racial growth, social relations and ruling beliefs. Dominance produces its own downfall. The mechanistic theories of Science which ruled the past century are giving way to philosophy, But a philosophy whose seeds sown in the arid fields of materialism are putting forth such a variegated coating over its sprouts as to be well-nigh unrecognizable either as philosophy or psychology.

The awakening of Science out of the darkness of the Middle ages was due to the heroism of a few minds open to the perception of the great Truth that God, Man and Nature were inseparable, acting under a uniform law which the human mind could cognize and study. God was overthrown, Man took his place, making Nature his slave. Man without God is a machine which has grown into a juggernaut as relentless as ever Jehovah was. Within this century Nature herself has awakened, and with one bursting forth after another has thrown open the doors of her inner kingdom to an appalled humanity.

Formerly, Science referred to the study of what is called the material world, that which is perceptible to the senses or capable of demonstration, while Psychology limited itself to the study of mental processes. Today, the line between what is physical and what is mental has not only shifted from its previous fixed position but varies in almost as many points as there are individual thinkers. As to Metaphysics and Psychology, they vie with each other in multiplicity of meanings, most of which show neither law nor limit. In fact, conservative psychologists deplore the ambiguity shown in the relationship between the two.

Furthermore, it is too often forgotten that much of our scientific knowledge has begun with theory which, if proven by test, becomes law; if not, is yet retained as theory until disproven. In the field of psychology this same method of theory and experiment is used in studying the self-directed impulses of the mind, but what is termed mind is a question of debate between what is called "behavior" and "reflex responses."

Physical, psychic and mental faculties are deemed subjective processes of emotional reaction. Man, the Thinker, is now the receiver and transmitter of different rates of sensory vibration. Thus, the study of functional responses in physiology, of energy vibrations in physics, and the uncontrolled entries of impulses into the brain, have been grouped into a science called psychology, which has absorbed into itself physiology and philosophy.

As proof in science, anyone can select an object, test it by himself, and have witnesses to attest his acts; but, in any mental action, thoughts can be recognized only by the thinker and need have no relation to objects in space. Where man places his thoughts, there will be his destiny. When we are awake we are aware of the physical world through our senses; when asleep, to us there is no such world. Yet, even that awareness of the waking mind is limited by the focus of our thought, and that focus is placed or altered by the will. When analyzed, such is the field of action in which students are spending their time, making their tests and confining their thoughts much like a squirrel in its cage. The key to the cage and full freedom in the field of knowledge is bestowed on the earnest student by the Ancient Wisdom today called Theosophy. It lies with Theosophy to prove to the psychologist that what is, to him, mind, is no more a purely physical fact than is the atom.

What we know as man, physical man, does not live on this Earth, he is a part of the Earth, builded of its material, belonging to its evolution. Whatever man has of substance, of garment, of personal faculties, even of ordinary thought, is part of the Earth. How could it be otherwise? We have learned that something cannot come from nothing, nor life from non-life. All is life, and life manifests itself in matter — "thing," not "no-thing."

To the Theosophist, the real man, the Self, is a ray from the center of universal Being, imbodying on Earth for experience. How could he do so without using the materials of the Earth in which to dwell? To breathe in its atmosphere he must have a material organ for it; to have a body he must form it out of the mineral and vegetable substance of the plane on which he now lives. Could he have anything physical without the Earth having it? Even our thoughts belong in part to the Earth; they pour through the mind at every waking moment, and we take or refuse what we will of them. What is this "we," this Self, that can say "I," my mind, my body? It cannot be described, it can be given no form; it is neither physical nor psychic nor mental; it has no attributes of Earth. We give it a name as the spiritual Self, we cognize it as Self-consciousness, we are aware of it in the power of aspiration. The study that leads us to a knowledge of this Self is the only true psychology.

The Theosophical Forum