The Path – October 1895

THE BODILY SEATS OF CONSCIOUSNESS: I — Herbert Coryn

To simplify the difficult study of the bodily Headquarters of consciousness, a study nevertheless upon which each of us can immediately enter, we will take the three leading and quite obvious grades, namely, (a) the physiological, organic, animal consciousness resident in the animal organs, (b) the intellectual or human consciousness of the brain, (c) the spiritual or essential and permanent consciousness of the heart.

Every cell in the body as also every particle of any kind of matter is a life, a centre of conscious Force. Every such point of consciousness is capable of acting upon our human consciousness and of giving rise to some kind of sensation on some plane. That sensation constitutes partial knowledge of it. Some of such centres of conscious life produce in our consciousness the sense: of solidity and from that notion of solidity arises our chief conceptions of matter as a solid something. But in nature is really only the conscious life; the solidity is of our own addition. But the particles or points of consciousness in nature and our own body, physical, astral, or subtler still, act on our consciousness in many other ways. Some of them awake passions; others awake pictures belonging to our own past, and this constitutes memory; some awake pictures of places and scenes belonging to remote areas of time and space; some engender spiritual ideation in our consciousness. Both we ourselves and all these are points of consciousness in the Universal Mind. These monads exist severally on the various planes of that Mind, and they act upon that level of our consciousness to which they correspond, for man belongs to all the levels of nature. And we in our turn react upon them, color them, train them. The many millions of points of consciousness of which the body is composed, from the physical plane upward, pass and repass through our own consciousness, acting and reacting; and it is thus easy to see that about us is an epitome of the universe, and that the body may be the temple of all the consciousnesses. A few facts as to the relation of consciousness to the body are known to all, and a few more are well known in medicine. Going beyond such scraps of knowledge into a generalization, we can see the probability of the truth that every bodily organ, by means of the nerve plexuses that surround and penetrate it, is connected with our brain and consciousness, and that each modifies consciousness in a peculiar way. Every cell of each organ has a consciousness of its own; a group of many cells thus combined into an organ has also, as a group, a complex consciousness of its own; the whole body composed of all the organs, has also an animal consciousness of its own as a whole, and this consciousness is our consciousness to the extent that we are animals. In fact many of us are but roughly reasoning animals. Well then, this total bodily consciousness of ours has a certain character or flavor which is its usual one, and it is a blend of the several flavors of consciousness contributed by the organs and their cells. So unless we take ourselves in hand we are at the mercy of the organs. Let a few nerve fibres lose a little of their proper sheath of oily material and neuralgia arises, also probably an altered view of life as a whole. Malposition or inflammation of an important group of organs will or may so alter consciousness as to produce hallucinations, melancholia, or insanity. The general color of consciousness may, as is well known and proverbialised, be altered by a sluggish liver. Life then seems not worth living: immortality is very doubtful, at any rate for you, and your sins acquire a very menacing aspect. Your new business venture is certain to fail. You take with more or less wisdom a blue pill. Tomorrow you get up cheerful; your business venture is a certain success; your sins, if any, are few and little detrimental; life is a splendid possession. That represents what the liver can do in consciousness.

You do too much bicycling and strain your heart, so that it beats weakly and irregularly. While it does so, you feel an indefinable sense of impending disaster, you walk about under the oppression of a gloomy forevision which really foresees nothing. You acquire a belief in portents and the sight of a black cat fills you with foreboding. With a wisdom derived from your success with the blue pill, you take a heart tonic. The disasters disappear over the edge of the horizon; your scepticism as to portents returns. Analogously patients with advanced lung disease are often singularly hopeful. The general consciousness can also react on the organs. Prolonged grief, or a piece of very bad news may produce jaundice or totally stop all the powers of digestion. A fear of coming calamity or an anxiety may weaken the heart, make it irregular, or stop it altogether. Let these suffice as examples. The general flavor of consciousness, then, made up by the blended flavors contributed by the organs, constitutes what we call temperament; and men differ in temperament because the emanations from the organs differ in proportion to each other for different men. And that proportion is in its turn due mainly to the trend of the last life; is karmic. It was not for nothing that what we now call "the blues" was last century called "the spleen," for the spleen is one of the organs whose influence, if not quite healthy, makes us moody and depressed. We may also note the relation of the liver to gout and rheumatism, and the temper of the gouty man. All this may sound very materialistic, but it is not so in reality. The distemper of the organs today is the physical register and effect of the unbalanced mind of yesterday. It occasionally happens that a periodically due attack of epilepsy is replaced by an ungovernable outburst of rage, and it seems reasonable to assume that in such case the epilepsy of this life is karmic effect of ungoverned rage in the last. Continued alcoholism will deprave the liver, and many cases of congenitally depraved liver with a resulting morbid, gloomy, passionate, or suicidal temperament, may well be karmic result of alcoholism in the last birth, in its turn due to unregulated desire for the sensation of physical luxury. In a sentence, the bodily mechanism of this life with its disturbing action upon the mind, is the result, in its unbalance, of the unbalanced mind of last life. It must be true that diseases primarily arise in consciousness, as unruled desire.

(a) We have been laying the foundation for a closer study of the sensuous consciousness, the first of our three degrees. With your sensuous consciousness you hear what is being said; with your intellectual consciousness you understand it; with your spiritual consciousness you may have an intuition that it is right or wrong, elevating or otherwise. The sensuous consciousness is the consciousness of the body and senses. As you sit wrapped in thought your eye wanders round the room and reads the title of a book. After you have done thinking, the title of the book floats across your mental consciousness and you wonder how it got there and where you saw the book. You, the self, become conscious of what was at first only in the consciousness of the eye.

Or you wake up gradually and become at last aware that for the past hour you have had a toothache. The nerve has known of it all that hour, and at last you partake yourself of the same pleasing knowledge. The hysterical patient with an anaesthetic arm and hand is not herself aware (if the arm is out of her sight through a hole in a screen) that you have guided her fingers holding a pencil to write the word London. The hand will nevertheless of itself automatically rewrite the word.

The sensuous consciousness is of the body and senses. It is always there, but the mind does not necessarily attend to it. When the mind does attend to it, it passes into the sensuous state, by far the most usual, the densest and grossest state. The sensuous consciousness is the being aware of what the body and senses are saying; by it we relate ourselves by many avenues of communication to the outer world, and this consciousness is calm or muddled, happy or irritable, acute or dull, according to the condition of the organs. It has in the organs its proper seat, and in their consciousness resides its primary memory. For example, the stomach and palate remember the meal of yesterday, or rather remember the set of sensations they experienced during the eating of the meal, which was all they knew about it. Hunger reawakens this memory and from this springs the wider memory of other organs; that of the nose, giving the anticipated smell of the dishes; that of the eye, their appearance; that of the organic nerves, the pleasant sensation following repletion. All these memories of the body reside therein, and therein alone. When they wake up, each organ of memory flashes a series of sparks into the mental consciousness, awakening it, throwing it vividly into the sensuous state, and causing it to set about preparations for dinner that involve thought. But if we were engaged in deep meditation about something, the whole set of bodily memories regarding dinner could arise in the organs without affecting the mind, except perhaps with a sense of vague discomfort. The proper memory of the mind has nothing to do with these, and if the mind desires to remember the sensations of dining it must do so by awakening the memory of these sensations in their appropriate organs and then attend thereto. But there is no need to take so much trouble, for in an hour or two the organs will take the matter into their own hands. The killing out of any particular bodily desire is to be done by the steady exclusion from the mind of the pictures that radiate from the memory and nascent activity of the organ particularly concerned. Thus the organ is deprived of the mental reactive force which alone keeps it in an unduly active state, and it starves down to the proper degree of subordination. This inevitably, however slow the process.

(To be continued)


The Path

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE