The Path – September 1895

THE NATURE AND PURPOSE OF DEVACHAN: II (1) — Joseph H. Fussell

We have called the mind an instrument of the soul, and like any instrument it may be well or ill-used, it may be under complete control or be unmanageable. It is very important to realize that the soul or real man is above the mind and that it has this power to control it. The mind has been well compared to a boat and the soul to the boatman. A good sailor will guide his boat whithersoever he wishes, but one who does not know how to manage rudder and sails is at the mercy of every tide and every wind and, drifting hither and thither, can keep no certain course. Nearly every thoughtful person realizes to some extent that the mind is an instrument; yet few fully realize that it can be completely controlled. Those whose chief object is the gratification of the senses come to identify themselves with the physical body and those whose life is centered in the things of the mind often identify themselves to a greater or less degree with the mind. Entire control of the mind is impossible so long as there is any identification of the soul with it.

We take hold of physical things with our hands, i.e., we grasp them physically. We also take hold of things with our minds and grasp them, metaphysically, with the understanding. It was held by some of the ancient philosophers that the mind takes on the form of that to which it is applied and becomes modified thereby, i.e., it becomes conformed, to a degree depending on the intensity of the thought, to the idea underlying the object of its attention. If, therefore, the mind be the subtile vesture of the soul, its form will correspond in the main to the general character of the thoughts which occupy it, and will be continually modified thereby, reacting more slowly on the physical, external vesture until that also represents and corresponds to the inner character or thought.

The mind may be made to take conscious hold of a thing, with intent and deliberately, or a thought or idea may enter and occupy the mind subtilely and almost unnoticed and become firmly established before we are well aware of its presence. Every thought is a seed, and once it has gained entrance to the mind will either begin to grow, or else remain dormant until favorable conditions shall permit its growth and ripening. If a bad thought is permitted to enter it will stay as a seed unless immediately expelled by the conscious thinking of the opposite thought, but if not expelled it will remain until later it may be aroused into activity by another thought of kindred nature, and then once again comes the opportunity of expulsion. So too good thoughts may remain unconsciously in the mind as seeds ready to give their added strength to new good thoughts. Whatever thought has been permitted to enter will at some time present itself either for rejection or to gain further strength. So long however as our minds are occupied with thoughts which are not allied to one of these latent seeds of thought and also so long as no awakening suggestion comes from without the seed will lie dormant.

Now, our actions do not spring from our occasional thoughts but from our character. We may define character as the — relatively — permanent mass of thoughts, the involuntary and unconscious bent of the mind which shows itself throughout the whole life. It is said that when a man is himself, when he is under no restraint, then his innate character is most evident. To some extent character is expressed externally in the physical form, but could we see the inner form, the mental vesture, we should find that it exactly represented the character in every particular. The mental vesture is the exact counterpart, in form, of the character, and the building up and changing of this vesture goes on step by step with the building up and changing of character.

But the character is not changed by a passing thought, it can be changed only by persistent thinking and by the constant endeavor to express the thought in action. Just as it is with difficulty that the ordinary child learns to play on a musical instrument or to draw, every motion requiring a conscious effort of the will; but after long practice, attention having no longer to be paid to the individual motions, the hand and the eye become trained and immediately responsive to the mind and will; so it is with modes of thought and with the practice of ethics. We may realize, whether intellectually or intuitionally, that we ought to cultivate a certain habit of thought or follow a certain line of conduct and yet at the beginning it may be almost impossible for us to carry this out. It is however a matter of general experience that by persisting in any certain course of thought or action the difficulties gradually grow less until conscious effort is no longer needed and a habit is formed, which becomes a "second nature." But what becomes of the great mass of thoughts which in any man's life will generally show a tendency in some particular direction, but which are never persistently and consciously followed out or cultivated? What happens in the case of a man who more or less drifts through life, at least so far as his relation to his higher nature is concerned? What also happens in the case of a man with an intense love of art, or an intense desire to help humanity or to follow some ideal, but who is unable to carry out his desires or to accomplish save in very slight degree that which he has set his heart upon, though he may give his whole life to the work? Surely in the latter case the life is not wasted. The mind of the man who drifts is like a field into which all kinds of seeds, good and bad, flowers and weeds, are blown by the wind, but the ground of which is not cultivated or tilled. The mind of the other is like a field the soil of which needs breaking up before the seed can grow. Other parts of the field may be well tilled and other seeds be grown to flowers and fruit but in this one corner the field is barren.

In the Bhagavad-Gita occurs this passage: "Whoso in consequence of constant meditation on any particular form thinketh upon it when quitting his mortal shape, even to that doth he go."

This gives us the key-note to the whole matter, for a man at the moment of death reviews the whole of his past life and that "particular form" which he "thinketh upon" is the dominant form of the past life, is the trend and aim — unconscious perhaps — of all his thoughts and acts. A man is forced to think at the moment of death that which he thought during life, he has no choice in the matter and cannot will it otherwise.

According to this philosophy then, the earth-life strikes the key-note to the life after death, that is, to the devachanic life.

The devachanic state is essentially one for the assimilation of all those thoughts and aspirations of the preceding state that relate in any way to the higher nature, and is for the transforming of these into character. Those thoughts which had been ours in earth-life and which may have remained little more than dormant seeds, or which on the other hand we may have tended carefully but yet could never bring to full perfection — all these will take root and grow in the devachanic state. They may not take deep root, or grow luxuriantly, for this depends on the intensity of the thought and the effort exerted in its direction at the moment of death. But every thought-seed which relates to the soul will there blossom forth. For the devachanic plane is the plane of thought, of dream — but remember such dreams are real experiences, they are not mere dreams or idle visions — and there the soul is clothed only in the mental vesture, the garment of thought, and is no more hampered and confined in the physical vesture — it is entirely freed for the time from the earth plane.

In earth-life we spin the threads of thought and aspiration which in Devachan are woven into the inner vesture of the soul; we prepare the bricks and mortar in earth-life and in Devachan these are fitted into place and used in the edifice of thought which the soul is building for itself. So we go on spinning and weaving and building, often undoing what we have done and so having to weave and build again and again until a perfect vesture without seam, a perfect dwelling-place, is prepared for the true man, the soul.

One purpose of earth-life is to express the inner nature in the outer external act; this we cannot help doing, it is the law of our being, and as said in the Bhagavad-Gita:

"All creatures act according to their natures; what then will restraint effect?"

The purpose of Devachan is to build up this inner nature — the character. Let us consider again the cases above mentioned; of the man ever striving to express himself in art or music, or to reach his ideal in whatever direction it may lie, but who apparently fails because his external nature and his environments are not suited to the carrying out of his ideals. In Devachan when freed entirely from the limitations of external physical life, the thought has free scope and can express itself in the thought vesture which responds immediately and coincidently with the thought. So it is said that man in Devachan achieves to the full all that he desires. This must be so. It is not unreasonable that it should be so, nor is it illusionary. Man simply rises to the plane of his ideal and has a foretaste of what he will in part some day accomplish in earth-life. I say he will accomplish it, maybe at first only in part, but ultimately in its perfection; for he builds this ideal into his character and nature and will act according to his nature, and if we accept the doctrine of the perfectibility of man all powers must ultimately be his. That which may now prevent the full exercise of his powers in their perfection is the other side of his nature, the lower nature which wars ever against the higher and according to which man is also constrained to act until by self-restraint and devotion to the higher nature he entirely subdues the lower. In the next earth-life the devotee who has given his life to music or art will, it is held, come back with the power to express his ideal in its completeness, all other things being equal. The philanthropist, unable to carry out his plans for the good of his fellowmen though devoting all his energies to the work, will come back into conditions where his energies will find full play. This is because in Devachan the thoughts, desires and efforts of the past life have woven themselves into his character, and become part of his own nature, so that the artist, the musician or the philanthropist cannot help but express this nature in outward act. But then comes a test, the test that all who have genius, all who have great powers, must meet. Will they use these powers for self or for others, will ambition find entrance into their hearts, or will each be able to say: "When the Master reads my heart He shall find it clean utterly"?

And the man who drifts, who has no definite purpose in life, who has good thoughts at times and high resolves but does not persist in them; his Devachan will correspond to his life. His good thoughts and resolves will blossom and bear fruit and will mould and transform his inner vesture, but only to the extent of the thought energy and the endeavor to express them in act during life. Still his character will be to this extent modified and strengthened so that in the succeeding life there will be a greater ability to give them outer expression.

This assimilation and transformation of thought into character form, in the writer's opinion, the great purpose of Devachan. For the great majority of people, Devachan is necessary, and if the above view be a correct one it is not a state of selfishness as has been held by some, any more than it is a form of selfishness for us to digest our food so that it may give us strength to continue our work, — it is a necessity in nature.

The points we have yet to consider in connection with this subject are the so-called illusion of Devachan and the possibility of rising above the necessity of Devachan or shortening its period.

(To be concluded)

FOOTNOTE:

1. Continued from August number. (return to text)


The Path

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE