Copyright © 1977 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
One of the most momentous questions that every thinking man asks himself is this: Whence do we come into this physical world? And another question of intellectual and heart moment to each one of us is this: Who are we, and what are we? Then comes a third question to the mind as it ponders over the other two: Whither do we go at death? We come here on the stage of life as it is on this planet earth. We make a few gestures and movements, suffer somewhat, rejoice somewhat, are ill or well as the case may be; and then we pass off that stage, which apparently knows us no longer, nothing but a memory of us remains, and perhaps not even that. Yet in a universe governed by law and order and progress, the sufferings that we have endured, the joys that we have had, the ideals fulfilled and unfulfilled, must have had their origin somewhere. Where is that beginning? They have a partial fruition perhaps here in earth life; and then we leave the stage of earth life. Is all then ended? How can that be?
All that we were, as well as our sufferings and our joys and our ideals, manifest or unmanifest, were all forces playing through us. They came from somewhere out of the dark, out of the invisible, and played through us a little while. What then has become of them? They played their part on the stage of life, and that very playing was a cause of other effects and effectual relations which in their turn are forces acting as causes of future effects; and these must have their appropriate stage or stages of action somewhere, somewhen.
It is these same questions, mutatis mutandis, that occur to the thinking mind when it reflects upon the nature, origin, and destiny of the worlds which bestrew the spaces of infinitude. Whence came they? What are they? What is their destiny? These questions are at the background of the minds of all thinkers, of all scientists, of all researchers, and of all lookers into the mysteries of the cosmos or universe surrounding us. They are questions which have answers. The mere fact that these things are, shows that there are answers to be had somewhere to the questions concerning them.
What is the method by which worlds, and we men and other beings, their children, evolve? What is the method by which we come from the invisible into the visible, out of the darkness, as it is to us, into the light as it seems to us? — albeit to the spirit within us material existence is death, and existence in its own realms of spirit is life. This life to it is death and darkness and the tomb; while what we call the darkness of the inner worlds is the supernal light of its own realm to the spirit in us.
The method by which these entities, worlds and men and all the rest, seek expression is a cyclical method, that is to say, a procedure in and through cyclical progress. As the great seers of the human race have put it on record for us — seers who were and who are the most fully evolved men that the globe has yet produced, and who have recorded their experiences and have handed them down to us as the guide of our life — that method works somewhat as follows:
Beginning as an unself-conscious god-spark, each entity, each spirit-soul, each monad — for there is a monad at the heart of every individual entity — seeks self-expression and the building up of appropriate vehicles through progress, until finally such method produces a vehicle which can express, more or less fully, the spiritual energies and forces of the monad within.
When this point of progress has been reached, man then from an unself-conscious god-spark has become a self-conscious god, a self-conscious spirit, because he self-consciously manifests the sublime powers and faculties of the monad within, and he likewise lives in appropriate realms of existence where he builds for himself vehicles capable of expressing somewhat of the sublime inner faculties.
So it is with all the hosts of lives, because the entire universe is composite of these hosts, each one of which holds its character and its individuality and its own particular origin, this last in the spiritual world it is true, yet each following its own particular pathway of progress.
All come from the central Fire. Yet from the moment of their issuance therefrom each such spark follows its own especial line. Why? Because it is a treasury of sleeping faculties particular to itself; in short, because it is ensouled by its own characteristic force, its own individuality, its own swabhava, to use the Sanskrit term. This amounts to saying that each such god-spark follows a path of self-development eventuating in self-directed evolution, when a vehicle capable of expressing self-consciousness has finally been built to enshrine the god-spark working through it.
So again is it with the worlds, the universes. They issue forth into physical manifestation from the bosom of great Mother Nature as nebulae which are composed of most ethereal matter, matter so quasi-spiritual that we cannot see it as it is, either with our physical eyes or indeed with our physical instruments as aid to our vision. There are, at the present time, uncounted hosts of such spiritual universes, not yet visible to us, because our physical organs have not developed the subtlety of vision enabling us to see things so much more subtle and fine and spiritual than the gross physical matter that our eyes may take in and our brain-organ understand.
In time each such world as it passes on its downward and cyclical way into the matter worlds, seeking expression and therefore knowledge on and of these lower planes and in these lower spheres, undergoes concretion or materialization of its substance, partly by the gathering into itself of inferior and smaller lives which help to build it up, even as man gathers into his body these inferior and smaller lives which help to make that body; and partly by the outflowing from its own core of subordinate lives. Each such world thus takes a form and a quality and a substance which is a mass of atoms expressing the inner forces of itself. It thus manifests a spiritual or energic side, and a material or vegetative or body side.
This course of progression of a monadic ray (or of a world) through the spheres, from higher to lower planes, is naught else but a succession of states, spiritual, ethereal, astral, physical, which follow each other continuously, each being a continuation on a lower plane in the descent from a preceding higher state. It is like a flow of water. Thus downwards, from its spiritual origin in any one life cycle, passing cyclically through various planes, it continues that flow of successions of states as it progresses forwards, until it reaches the lowest point of matter attainable in that life cycle; then it begins its ascent on its return to more ethereal realms, and finally to those realms which are its original source — spirituality.
At the end of its period of existence on any one plane — our own physical plane for example, which is its most material sphere, and therefore its turning point before it reascends — our universe, any universe, passes into the invisible realms when its life cycle is run in these realms of matter; even as man passes into the invisible realms when his life cycle is run on this earth. That particular life cycle is then ended. It has attained once again its primordial point of departure, but now it is greater, grander, because more evolved. And with it into invisibility have gone all the various organs or spheres or houses of life which composed the universe, each one with its manifold assortment of lives, which are incomputable in number, for there are hosts upon hosts, hierarchies upon hierarchies of them.
After a long, long period of universal repose, a definite time period called a pralaya, (1) our universe follows a new cycle down into newer substances and matters acting according to a preceding cause, which we may call an evolutionary seed, the fruitage of its former self. The vast aggregate of life forces which now reawaken into life, again inform a nebula, which will be ready waiting for it, and which nebula will be the first manifestation of the stirrings of its own inner life force. Then, passing through various nebular stages of evolution, it will in time settle down anew into stellar or solar and planetary bodies, each one of such bodies, solar or planetary, bringing forth anew what is within itself, its intrinsic and inherent and latent life forces, expressing itself on this plane, which is a somewhat higher one than the plane on which our universe in its preceding period of manvantara had manifested itself on and in.
Yes, these worlds must have their period of repose, even as man must have his, when his cycle is run. When that period comes they rest in the invisible realms with all their freightage or burden of lives, and after that rest return and repeat the cycle of evolutionary manifestation, but at each recurrence on higher planes than the preceding.
Nature repeats herself everywhere. She follows grooves of action that have already been made; she follows the line of least resistance in all cases and everywhere. And it is upon this repetitive action of our Great Mother — universal nature — that is founded the law of cycles, which is the enacting of things that have been before, although each such repetition, as said, is at each new manifestation on a higher plane and with a larger sweep or field of action. Back of all the seeming of nature, behind all the cyclical phenomenal appearances which our senses interpret to us as best they may, lies the universal life in its infinitude of modes of action and expression.
Let us now take another step in advance in the outlining of this doctrine. What is it that causes this materialization or concretion or thickening of the original substance of a world, a universe? The answer is to be found in the teaching that spirit and essential substance are fundamentally one; which is virtually what the greatest scientific physicists believe when they declare that matter and force (or energy) are fundamentally one. This may seem like a dark saying and a hard one at first sight, but it is the current dictum of modern scientific physics, thus re-echoing the age-old philosophy.
At a certain stage of its movement forwards and downwards of progression or evolution, force passes the frontiers of any particular world-sphere and becomes very ethereal matter, because actually force is ethereal matter, so to say; or, to put it more accurately, matter is crystallized force.
What do we mean by matter? Matter as we cognize it is the physical basis of the things which we see around us. But if we try to analyze it, we seem to reach nothing. We do not know what to think. A man may ask himself, "What is matter, after all?" Let him ask the physicist, the chemist, the philosopher, and the chances are that nine times out of ten they will tell him, as honest men, "We do not know. All we know is that it is the substantial basis in and on which what we call force works."
But what is force? And the answer is, "Force is that which works on matter, and matter provides the substantial basis for force"! Yet are we going to cheat ourselves with words? We can so tie ourselves up in intangible abstractions such as these words, force and matter, that literally we go mentally nowhere and understand nothing.
Force is merely moving matter, or matter in movement, subtle matter, flowing matter. Force on the ethereal planes, or rather forces, are substances: on these ethereal planes they actually are solids, fluids and, if you like, "gaseous" matter; but in our more gross and material world, we sense them only as forces. Electricity is a case in point. It is material; we know that. Otherwise, indeed, how could it work in, through, and upon substance or matter, if it were entirely different from matter and had in itself nothing of a substantial nature? These forces working in the ethereal realms of matter are extremely subtle. Their rates of vibration are highly individual.
When an explosion takes place, what happens? A certain portion of matter then is violently converted into gas. Now if we did not know this true explanation of the fact, we should say that the matter had disappeared or vanished into nothingness, and that force had replaced it; that is to say, that matter had become an energy, which indeed is the actual fact. But energy as so used in ignorance of the true explanation would mean what it meant in the 1890s — that some unknown thing, called force, had suddenly appeared in the explosion to which matter had given birth in an unknown way.
My point is this: gas is matter. Hence when an explosion takes place through the conversion of solid into a gaseous matter, it merely means that matter has become etherealized and energic; it does not mean that matter and force are two utterly separate, distinct things. If we could again explode the gas resulting from the first explosion and thus turn it into a matter or substance still more ethereal than that gas, the same process would have taken place, and the gas would have been turned, as just said, into a matter or substance still more energic than the preceding, but it would still be matter.
Reverse the idea and consider a condensation of ethereal substance into a more material or concrete substance, into a crystallized form of that substance, which before we called force or energy. That is all there is to it.
Spirit and substance are fundamentally one. Matter passes into force or energy, or substance passes into spirit, when the material or substantial cycle of either is completed — that is to say, when the cycle of any particular evolving entity, be it globe or anything else, is ended, when its time of dissolution or vanishing again into the invisible world arrives. Matter is thus metamorphosed into force again.
The eminent English physicist, Sir Oliver Lodge, stated in a lecture a number of years ago, that the universe is composite of something which he called "substantial," but which, he said, we cannot as yet understand or grasp the meaning of; yet this "something" is an old story in the age-old philosophy, and was as familiar to the sages of the past as it is to those of the present. Theosophists call this something "substantial" one of the garments of mulaprakriti ("root-matter"), that garment being the akasa, a Sanskrit term meaning "luminous" or "brilliant." Indeed, that is exactly what primordial or original physical matter is: that something substantial of which Sir Oliver speaks is the lowest or most material form of akasa — and perhaps we might call it ether, though there are many cosmic ethers of many grades of tenuity, ranging from the lowest material through all intermediate stages to the most highly spiritual.
Original physical matter, even as we see it in the heavens at night manifesting as the so-called irresolvable nebulae — that is to say, nebulae which cannot be resolved by the telescope into groups or clusters of separate stars — is supposed to be of a gaseous nature; but, as a matter of fact, if we could put some of it into our test tubes, we should not know it was there, nor would it respond to any physical test or chemical reagent to which we might try to subject it, because it is a matter entirely different from the physical matter that we know. It is original physical matter, as likewise is, by the way, the substance of comets, which will account for the extreme tenuity of the cometary substance and the curious behavior of a comet's tail when it approaches and recedes from the sun, apparently defying the laws of physical astronomy. This subtle matter we often speak of as mother-substance.
Sir Oliver further said that this substance or 'fluid' is
in a violent state of spinning, and is the seat of an immensity of energy such as has never been imagined. 'Matter' is a temporary appearance or effect in the substance, which can vanish entirely in a burst of energy. — "Energy," Citizens' Lecture, Annual Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, September 6, 1927
This is really a wonderful remark for a modern scientific physicist! This conversion of force into matter and its reconversion through a "burst of energy" into force again, is exactly what happens; and it is the age-old teaching of the wisdom-religion.
In another lecture, Lodge previsions another theosophical commonplace of philosophy, in his statement that matter disappears into energy, or rather force, at the consummation of the vast life cycle of the universe, only to reappear as matter again at the beginning of a new life cycle of the universe in some future age.
Yet in spite of the fact that Lodge declares the fundamental identity of spirit and matter, in certain statements he still makes a sharp distinction between these two. Is this not because he is still under the influence of the old materialistic teaching that matter and spirit are two fundamentally different and distinct things, entirely separate, and that in some wonderful and mysterious way, which no human ingenuity has yet succeeded in explaining, spirit works upon matter? Yet, how can that be? It is contrary to all the teaching of modern scientific knowledge, physics or other. Only that which is material in some degree can work upon and affect other material things; and therefore do we say, quite in line with this last teaching of physical science, that force and matter are one fundamentally, as is proved by the one working upon the other.
This teaching of the ultimate identity of force and matter, or spirit and substance, is important because, among other things, it furnishes a perfect encyclopedia of suggestions and leads us to draw conclusions which will enable us to settle in our own mind many of the problems which have vexed Occidental scholars for many hundreds of years.
But in talking of these things we find that language is inadequate. We of the Occident have no terms by which to express these utterly new thoughts in our mental world. The most that we can do, in order to give some idea of our meanings, is to hint at these meanings, convey the idea by graphic symbol, or by analogy, or suggestion. Therefore do we repeat that matters, substances, are crystallized forces and, on the other hand, that forces are actually immaterialized matters or substances.
We see matter moved or motivated by force or energy, and when we examine it more particularly with an attention still more profound, we then find that this matter is really matters, and that this force is really forces. The word force is an abstraction, a generalizing term, but if we reduce it to the concrete conception which is indeed its real meaning when properly used, as we see it manifested in the cosmos around us, we find that this abstraction is a mental representation of cosmic forces, just in the same manner that the word man when used as an abstraction is representative of human beings, in the sense of humanity.
Now what are these forces? We say that they are monads which have reached full development for and in our own particular hierarchy, that is, our cosmical system, both inner and outer; and that it is their life-impulses, their vitality, which furnish the energies with which the cosmos manifests. More simply put, the forces of the cosmos that we know are the life-impulses, the will-impulses, of these fully developed monads of our hierarchy. In ancient times they would have been called gods. Modern scientific thinkers call them forces; but the term really matters nothing.
The universe is composed of units, and the heart or core of each one of such units is what we call a monad. Each one of these monads, then, is a spiritual consciousness-life-center. And as the universe is infinite, and comprises the infinite degrees or stages or steps of which I have spoken, so these stages or steps are formed of the incomputable hosts of the monads in various degrees of self-expression; or to put it more accurately still, are composed of the vehicles or bodies in which each such monad manifests itself as in a garment taken from its own life and substance.
The lowest range of such garments that we humans can cognize is the congeries of material entities around us, or the aggregate of these garments of the monads, manifesting as potential force-substances, potential or sleeping atoms, but not as kinetic or awakened atoms, for these latter are the intermediate nature between the monad per se and these lower garments. Such is force and matter.
We see, then, that these two fundamental elements of the cosmos, because we understand them only in an illusory manner, are obviously illusions for us. The forces which play in and through the cosmos, although themselves substantial, seem unsubstantial and immaterial to the lower parts of the cosmos in which they all work. We do not understand them as they are in themselves.
Consciousness therefore is matter; matter is consciousness; for have we not seen that the cosmos is composed of nothing but an infinite number of spiritual entities, "spiritual atoms," if we like, self-motivated, self-driven, self-impelled particles of consciousness?
Locke, the English philosopher and logician of the seventeenth century, gave birth to a thought which is typically theosophical. In his two-volume work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, he conceived of an immense hierarchy of entities — he called them variously, "spiritual beings," "species of spirits," "intelligences," the name matters not for the moment — running from the Deity or Author of all, down to the beast, and below. He wrote:
And when we consider the infinite power and wisdom of the Maker, we have reason to think that it is suitable to the magnificent harmony of the universe, and the great design and infinite goodness of the Architect, that the species of creatures should also, by gentle degrees, ascend upward from us toward his infinite perfection, as we see they gradually descend from us downwards: . . . — Book III, ch. vi
Thus, finding in all parts of the creation, that fall under human observation, that there is a gradual connexion of one with another, without any great or discernible gaps between, in all that great variety of things we see in the world, which are so closely linked together, . . . the rule of analogy may make it probable, that it is so also in things above us and our observation; and that there are several ranks of intelligent beings, excelling us in several degrees of perfection, ascending upwards towards the infinite perfection of the Creator, by gentle steps and differences, that are every one at no great distance from the next to it. — Book IV, ch. xvi
Leibniz, the great German philosopher, taught the same thing, but elaborated it to vastly greater length. But the theosophist goes much farther and says that this hierarchy of conscious entities, of monads, of spiritual atoms, in almost innumerable grades of progression, from the highest to the lowest, all moving onward and upward, is but one of an infinite number of such hierarchies. He declares also that the hierarch of any such hierarchy is a fully developed monad, a fully developed intelligence, having under its control, whether that control be cosmic or atomic, the inferior entities comprised in its hierarchy.
When an automobile speeds along the road, it carries with it everything of which it is composed. Of necessity, every molecule, and every atom of the hosts forming those molecules, go with it; and every proton and electron in their turn forming the hosts of atoms, of necessity likewise go with it. All the component parts of which such a vehicle is composed of necessity follow the path which the speeding vehicle follows, because they compose it. And so is it with the various bodies or 'vehicles' which enshrine and manifest and express the indwelling powers or energies or forces, whether such body or vehicle be a sun or a planet or a comet or a nebula, or a human body, or an animal body, or any other body.
The directing intelligence sitting at the wheel of the vehicle which we have chosen for our figure of speech, is representative of the directing intelligence sitting at the heart or core of each and every manifesting body in the cosmos. This directing intelligence is the divine hierarch of the hierarchy or cosmos, great or small, which it guides and inspirits.
The same law runs throughout the countless hierarchies which go to make up the whole universe as a composite entity. Man's body, for instance, is composed of innumerable lives, hierarchies of lives, of various grades; and ruling over these sits man himself in the temple of his soul, the directing intelligence of all. Man is a composite hierarchy.
These teachings of the true nature of force and matter explain the process by which all hierarchies pass through their evolutionary life cycles. The spiritual body of the universe in its inception becomes more grossly material as the substances and energies of which it is composed transform themselves into inferior matter. This grossening, coarsening, materializing, of these forces becoming substance and matter, proceeds apace as the universe runs its course down into what become material realms.
When the materialization has reached its ultimate, or to put it more clearly, when such materialization has reached what for any particular universe is its period of gross physical existence, then such coarsening or materialization stops, and this is the turning point in the evolutionary path of such a universe. When this gross physical nature has thus been acquired through the progressive coarsening of the forces of which the reimbodied entity is composed, there ensues a change in the direction, as it were, that the universe henceforth must follow. Matter begins then to etherealize itself, to re-energize itself, to rebecome energy, but very, very slowly of course. It takes ages and ages and aeons upon aeons for this cosmic work to eventuate in evolutionary perfection; but that work goes on all the time, without intermission and without ceasing at any instant.
Therefore, as this etherealization goes on, as this re-etherealizing of the matter of which the universe consists proceeds, that universe rebecomes the forces of which it was at first composite, but with all the added qualities and characteristics of an evolved cosmic entity; and this takes place furthermore on a higher plane than that which witnessed the evolution of the universe that preceded it.
The passing of matter back into force gradually leads it upward and upward through progressive etherealization and final spiritualization, until ultimately it rebecomes spirit in those cosmic realms whence it originally set forth on its long evolutionary cyclical journey, but greater in quality and of superior texture in all senses is it when it returns to that primordial source. It is these two procedures that take place during the passage of a world from the invisible into the visible, and then from the visible back into the invisible.
Table of Contents
1. The periods of evolutional activity are called in theosophy manvantaras, a Sanskrit term which means periods of manifestation when the universe is not "asleep." In the periods of rest or of "sleep" it reposes. These latter are called pralayas, another Sanskrit word, meaning "dissolution." Yet if we were to analyze these periods of rest we should find that they are not a state of mere "nothingness" but are made up of condition after condition through a complete cycle, which closes only as the new cycle of activity begins. (return to text)