The ideas aroused by this word in the minds of typical members of our Western civilization and in the minds of those who have come under the influence of Theosophy, are quite different. To the former it suggests eternal existence of human personality with the implication that something else is mortal and has no future life after the certain event which none can escape. It does not touch upon the fact as to whether or not there is development or change in this soul, but implies simply that it persists, in other words, that it has unending life; while to the Theosophist, on the contrary, it is a matter of acquired self-consciousness. For the Christian, the soul is immortal and the body mortal. For the Theosophist, the human soul is mortal, but not eternally so. It is mortal until through the numerous earth-lives through which it is destined to pass, it has acquired immortality — that is, the ability to understand itself, its place in the Universe, and how to use and hold that place through a knowledge of the forces which maintain cosmic harmony.
In one sense, every atom in the universe is immortal, since all are parts of the Whole and since whatever exists can never cease to exist. It is form which changes and therefore is mortal. Most of us in and beyond middle age were taught in our youth the strange theory that in this living Universe there exists dead matter. The fact that this was accepted shows how little we used our power of thought, for even our living bodies are made up largely of that so-called lifeless matter.
No real understanding of man as to how he came to be, as to his composition, as to his purpose and destiny, existed in the West until H. P. Blavatsky restated the Ancient Wisdom-Religion in the last century. Thought was turned outward, and the masses accepted what in future retrospect will be regarded as fairy-tales (or nightmares!).
This restatement of the old philosophy awakened thousands of minds, started the clarification of others who were already questioning, and saved many others from cold and blunting materialism. It outlined the laws of the Universe, explained the phenomena of Nature. It placed the instinct for ethics, insecurely resting on sentiment or dogmatic authority, and in danger of falling often even from these supports, on a sane, firm, deeply-rooted and permanent basis of fact — a fact so incontrovertible, so thoroughly supported by universal experience, that it is impossible for honest and searching minds to dodge it.
Man, the hopeless enigma, was thus shown not only his composite nature, but his place in, and relation to, the composite nature of the Universe, of which he is and always must be an integral part, and out of which he can never go. In short, he was in possession once more, as in the ancient past, of his divine heritage — the knowledge of his origin and destiny necessary to guide wisely his life.
We cannot arrive at the significance of "immortality" without some understanding of the elements or principles which make up man's complex nature. The division given to the Christian nations of Body, Soul, and Spirit, while correct enough, is not sufficiently complete for practical purposes, that is, for pointing out the evolutionary processes which must take place to bring about immortality for the human soul.
The Archaic Wisdom-Religion, as stated for this age, divides man into seven principles, with three others belonging to the higher and unmanifested planes of Nature, making in all ten, and these divisions a little analytical reflexion and self-study will reveal to be almost evident and half-consciously recognised by a majority of thinking people.
To begin with, we have a body of flesh, which is the lowest principle, the elements of which are derived from Mother Earth, and which is evidently mortal as we use this term. It has a limited existence in its present form, though the particles composing it change from moment to moment, as we all know. However, thus states Theosophy: these elements or life-atoms belong to the ego who uses this body and who is therefore responsible for the impression or color it gives to them as they pass and repass through the body. When the ego comes back over and over again for a new incarnation, it inevitably attracts its old physical atoms which, on their part, have been gaining their experience in physical nature's realms, guided by the quality stamped upon them by their over-lord, the ego. For atoms are in different stages of evolution as are higher beings, and the atoms of a holy man, for instance, would never be attracted to the body of a degenerate.
Inasmuch as the components of the physical body are constantly fluctuating, as we all recognise, there must evidently be another or stable body which lasts through a whole incarnation to preserve the form. This is man's second principle, is of astral matter, is known as the astral body, and is built from atoms from the next cosmic plane, the astral plane. When man returns to earth-life from the higher and spiritual realms, these old atoms must likewise be recollected from the astral plane of Nature.
Above these two lower principles we have the currents of vitality known as Prana, the third principle counting from below up, supplied, as is all else, from the cosmic reservoir, and fourth, the principle of desire, or Kama, which directs the Will. The less a man is evolved, the more does this principle of desire hold him in his narrow personality with limited understanding, sympathies, and power.
The next principle, or mind, is the pivot around which the real evolution of man in his present stage is turning, and is the principle which must be understood in order to grasp the idea of immortality for man. Theosophical students are familiar with the history of the awakening of the sleeping minds of men in the Third Root-Race on this Globe Earth by the Manasaputras, those beings who on earlier worlds had evolved beyond the human stage, and had the ability and the divine compassion to awaken these sleeping fires for the on-coming races of man for this planet. It is a wonderful and thrilling story. Every nation, in its own way, has told of this, the Greeks in the story of Prometheus.
This history is but one example of two universal facts — one, that in every entity down to the very atoms are locked up all the potentialities of the Universe, and two, that this unfolding is always brought about by beings a grade above the principle or part to be unfolded. Beginning with the awakening of mind, this unfolding must, on the part of the lower entity, be voluntary. The Manasaputras evoke the power, but man must himself use this power, something in the way that a teacher can stimulate the mind of the pupil which he must himself exercise in order to progress.
Now this mind in man is not yet fully awakened. The process will continue for average mankind for ages, as long as the life of this planet. That part which has been awakened we call the Higher Manas and it is immortal. The other, the Lower Manas is, as yet, mortal, and it is in these two conflicting currents that we find the human soul and also where we can discover the meaning of "immortality." Herein lies the secret of duality, which we cannot but recognise in ourselves and all men, the potentialities of the god or the demon. It is in this area of mystery that is enacted the divine tragedy of human existence.
Evolution for man consists in the transference of his lower mind to the plane of the higher. The lower mind is unstable, at the mercy of the play of impulses from the undeveloped animal-nature and the unchained forces from uninformed and short-sighted desires. Man's real teacher is his own Higher Ego, but the pupil, the Lower Ego, must, through the power of the uncovered divinity buried in it, evoke its will and voluntarily yield itself to the higher guidance. Every incarnation should see progress made in this direction, but not until this voluntary transference of the Lower Ego is complete, will the human have the power to hold itself together and become immortal; only then is it working with instead of against the universal life currents, which are an expression of the universal law of compassion. Until then it must follow the way of the lower principles and be dissipated after each period of activity, or earth-life, and during each period of rest and assimilation for the Higher Ego, to be reassembled for the next Day of Work, the succeeding earth-life.
Thus, immortality for the lower human soul is yet to be won, and the stage upon which this immortal drama must be played is earth-life. It is folly to count upon something strange happening to make of us saints after so-called death. We take to that blissful land only what we have gained through self-directed evolution, and we come back with the riches we carried to it, but refreshed, strengthened reinforced after the merciful rest provided by Nature.
Katherine Tingley in Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic writes with eloquent warning as well as encouragement on this vital subject of the duality in human nature. She warns that at each moment as we consciously incline toward good or evil, one or the other feeds into and fills the mind, and that any conscious volitional backing given to any fault or failing may end in involving all the rest on that lower side of the nature and consequently is an "immensely pregnant move downward": on the other hand, no failures should discourage, and if they are followed by as many undaunted struggles upward, the help of the "Warrior" within is certain. "For This is an unconquerable power, eternal and sure," she quotes elsewhere. To reconstruct mankind, we must arouse more faith in the Self. Loss of such faith is the initial step in all spiritual failures. Then follows loss of faith in others, until finally the unfortunate victim finds himself "living in a strange house: the house of the lower nature."
It should be fully realized, however, that this "lower" is the weaker part. All the forces of the Universe work with one who allies himself with his own Higher Ego. Through this he is firmly anchored to a world in which reign peace, joy, and unbounded opportunities.
Every careful observer will probably find that these five elements in human nature are clearly recognisable, and see that they are not an arbitrary and fantastic division. This is likewise true of the two higher. Interest centers around man as a thinker because evolution at present is more active in this principle. But it is obvious that there is in man something yet higher, for he can direct his mind, force it to work on this or another subject. This higher and sixth principle is known in Theosophy as the Spiritual Ego, the real man. The seventh, the Divine Ego, links him finally to the very root of Being, the reality of which and necessity for which become evident to one who recognises that the Universe is one organism of which all entities, high and low, are integral parts, and upon which unity rests the eternal fact of Universal Brotherhood.