[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]
Probably the best method of introducing a rather unusual subject would be to give a dictionary definition of the word perception:
1. Perception is denned as the act, process, or faculty, of perceiving, the mental action of knowing external things through the medium of sense-presentations. 2. Intuitive apprehension, insight, or discernment.
Such actions as tasting, feeling, hearing, smelling, and seeing, are so commonplace and so very nearly automatic, that one rarely stops to question or examine them with a view to determining their infallibility or fallibility as the case may be. We touch a piece of wood, and we say it is hard; boiling water may unfortunately come into contact with our skin, and we say it is hot; and so on, and anyone who dared to question the truth of these statements would be advised to bang his head against a table, or to plunge his hand into a saucepan of boiling water, and he would soon find out the truth of the statement. Under normal circumstances there can be little doubt that the "Doubting Thomas" would very quickly be convinced.
However, during the last quarter of a century in the Western World, there have been some investigations conducted on a comparatively small scale, with some extraordinary results. The most known of these has been that field of investigation connected with hypnotism and mesmerism. One simple experiment was the placing of a drop of cold water on the hand of a person under hypnosis, and the suggestion being made that the water was boiling, whereupon a blister appeared upon the skin. Another experiment was to get a person under hypnosis to read a closed book. Many other experiments have occurred from time to time, the results of which have been passed over because they have not been fully understood.
In this connexion there have been interesting statements in recent papers. I refer only to two. In a recent issue of The Daily Telegraph, an account is given of experiments conducted and reported to the International Optical Congress at Oxford, "in which persons securely blindfolded had recognised the form and colour of objects, had "read" the headlines of a newspaper and had even been able to reproduce shorthand written on a blackboard." In THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM for January, 1936, p. 45, there is an interesting account of "The Fire-Walking Performance in England.'
Now the effect of these experiments is to throw a doubt upon the correctness of sense-impressions. In the good old days cold water was cold water, and fire was hot; but now apparently there seems to be a certain doubt about the matter. With reference to the hardness of wood: in common with other substances, wood, we know, is composed of atoms; but I call your attention to what Sir Oliver Lodge has to say about the atom (Read p. 55, My Philosophy.)
On this view, or indeed in any form of the electrical theory of matter, the atom of matter consists mainly of empty space." (1)
So our solid wood has become something that has at least as much space in it, relatively speaking, as there is space in the sky. So much for the hard wood.
By way of contrast, let us take something that we have been accustomed to regard as the most impalpable of substances, namely the ether; and I refer you again to Sir Oliver Lodge, and his remarks on this ethereal substance on p. 145 of the same book.
. . . but on the analogy of matter the ether is of the order a million million times as dense as "water.'
So now we see that everything that we thought was something is nothing; and the something that we thought was nothing is everything. These tools of sense are the instruments which every lay scientist uses in his investigations, so that it can hardly be wondered at that the "ultima thule" of each scientific generation is merely the jumping-off place for the next. This of course must obviously be the case, because when a race is on the upward arc of a cycle, each new generation is born with, and develops, sense-organs which on the average give a little clearer impression of reality than had been obtained by their less well-equipped forebears. This is a natural corollary to the law of evolution.
Modern materialistic science is concerned only with effects, and in the field of effects it has done, and is doing, very valuable work. The great benefits that have accrued to the human race through this study of effects must not be underestimated. Modern science is very effective as far as it goes. It is when it endeavors to measure reality and the world of causes with its little materialistic ruler that it is out of its depth. I refer you to a passage written by one who seems to me to be one of the most outstanding personalities of the last century, namely H. P. Blavatsky. On p. 669 of Volume I of The Secret Doctrine she sums up the very materialistic science of the latter half of the last century in a very complete manner. That science has moved away a little from this hard material outlook, I will not deny, in fact I have already stated that such must be the case.
Thus it is that the scientists have committed one of the most elementary errors of logic in building up their scientific edifice upon an unproved assumption, this assumption being that the senses transmit true sensations of the matter with which they come into contact. Another assumption is that the senses are aware of everything within their ambit. Now when these assumptions are shaken, the whole scientific structure begins to totter, inasmuch as it is in any degree considered to be a measure of reality. The following, from a review of a book by one of America's best known scientists, Man the Unknown, by Dr. Alexis Carrel, illustrates exactly what I mean:
"Man," Dr. Carrel writes, "should be the measure of all. On the contrary, he is a stranger in the world he has created." If, therefore, we are to attain to a better adjustment between man and his environment, we must desist from studying matter and concentrate upon knowing ourselves. "Our ignorance of ourselves," writes Dr. Carrel, "has given to mechanics, physics, and chemistry the power to modify at random the ancestral forms of life." He then proceeds to study the effects of such modifications. . . . Man is not to be comprehended merely as a chemical compound. There is something more important even than human intelligence, and that is moral sense. "Moral beauty," writes Dr. Carrel, "is an exceptional and very striking phenomenon. He who has contemplated it but once never forgets its aspect. This form of beauty is far more impressive than the beauty of nature and of science. It gives to those who possess it divine gifts, a strange and inexplicable power. It increases the strength of intellect. It establishes peace among men. Much more than science, art or religious rites, moral beauty is the basis of civilization."
How, then, are we to recover that lost basis? The first thing to do is to separate the quantitative from the qualitative. "In man," writes Dr. Carrel, "the things which are not measurable are more important than those which are measurable." A new synthesis must then be built up inspired by a precise knowledge, not only of the body, but also of the soul of man.
It may be noticed that the definition of perception which I have given was divided into two parts. Having dealt with the first part, let us turn our attention to the second part: "Intuitive apprehension, insight, or discernment." As Dr. Carrel suggests, the study of man by man has been grossly neglected. The cycle of science is completing its round, and we are arriving back in Ancient Greece, and the Delphic Oracle is again uttering its injunction that rang through Greece at the height of her glory: "Man, know thyself." Ancient Greece was the farthermost Western point influenced by Eastern Science. In the East, the study of man and his relation to the universe has been carried on from unrecorded time. This has been so because the Eastern metaphysicians, philosophers, and scientists, have realized that by the understanding of the constitution of man, they were given the key to reality. They never mixed cause and effect. They realized that through the organs of sense man could only contact effects and must remain ignorant of causes.
To start off on our investigation of man and his relation to his surroundings, we need to get one fundamental fact very clear. Man must be divided up into at least two constituent parts, the operator and the machine, or body and soul, or conscious and subconscious, whichever you like to call them.
Now the second half of our definition speaks of "Intuition." I think we may define Intuition as the method of perceiving something without the medium of the senses. How is this to be done? Let us turn to an ancient work, translated in part by H. P. Blavatsky from the Senzar and Tibetan as The Voice of the Silence:
Having become indifferent to objects of perception, the pupil must seek out the rajah of the senses, the Thought-Producer, he who awakes illusion.
The Mind is the great Slayer of the Real.
Let the Disciple slay the Slayer.
When to himself his form appears unreal, as do on waking all the forms he sees in dreams;
When he has ceased to hear the many, he may discern the ONE — the inner sound which kills the outer.
Then only, not till then, shall he forsake the region of Asat, the false, to come unto the realm of Sat, the true.
The Self of matter and the SELF of Spirit can never meet One of the twain must disappear; there is no place for both.
Ere thy Soul's mind can understand, the bud of personality must be crushed out; the worm of sense destroyed past resurrection. . . .
Help Nature and work on with her; and Nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance.
And she will open wide before thee the portals of her secret chambers, lay bare before thy gaze the treasures hidden in the very depths of her pure virgin bosom . . . — From Fragment I
These same ethical teachings are also found imbodied in the New Testament.
Now if the theory of evolution holds good, it follows that there must be high types of men as well as low types. We know where to find the low types. Where are the higher ones to be found? A more evolved person would be able to comprehend to a greater degree the secrets of nature, and we have all read of the Mystery-Schools of Greece, such as Eleusis and Samothrace, and also those of Egypt. Students have endeavored to discover what was taught at these schools, but have never succeeded, and this is only logical, as a high degree of "intuition" would be necessary to understand the teachings. What was taught to the elect students was the Laws of Nature, and it was here that the candidate for the Mysteries trained himself, and was instructed in the deeper Laws of Nature. Christ taught in the same way, for he told his disciples that "unto the multitude I speak in parables, but unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven." He also said: "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you," also, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things shall be added unto you."
This is precisely the same advice as Dr. Carrel is offering us 2000 years later. The basic idea underlying all religions worthy of the name, is the development of the inner consciousness, in order to enable the individual to apprehend more clearly the reality and purpose of life. The teachings given out by various teachers, in public in parables, and in the Mystery Schools in essence, and the rules of conduct laid down, were directed towards the extension of the consciousness to enable the individual to pierce the veil of matter and to get a little nearer to reality. These teachings have been corrupted and overlaid with the ideas of men who have come after, and sacerdotalism almost inevitably corrodes them with the passage of time, so that we now find the jewels of truth covered with a heavy layer of dross.
Herodotus speaks rather disparagingly of the Mystery Schools because, when in Egypt, he had been told by an initiate that one of their great secrets was that the "Gods were men." This shows that Herodotus, although he may have been a fine historian, was not one who had been instructed in the Mysteries, (2) for in truth the statement made by the Egyptian initiate is the deepest of mysteries. In the West the Mystery Schools were closed by Justinian, about the Sixth Century, because in a cycle of increasing materiality they had become corrupt. Nor are these teachings confined to the East. Many English poets show great intuition in their writings, possibly none more so than Alfred Lord Tennyson. He has written a poem, "The Mystic," which is a description of a person who has attained to a high state of perfection, and he closes with the lines:
How could ye know him? Ye were yet within
The narrower circle, he had wellnigh reached
The last which with a region of white flame,
Pure without heat, into a larger air
Upburning and an ether of black blue,
Investeth and ingirds all other lives
Thus it is that we have two methods of perception open to us, the one, the study of the phenomenal world of effects through the medium of the senses, and the other the study of the world of reality and causes through the intuition and higher vision. Possibly the most successful path would be the one that lies midway between the two. The scientist tells us how to pursue the former, and the teachers, poets, mystics, and sages, tell us how to discover the latter. Tennyson was one of these and he leaves us concise instructions in this second method when he writes:
With faith that comes with self-control,
The truths that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved,
And all we flow from
Soul in Soul
1. Because of lack of space, these and following interesting quotations have had to be omitted or curtailed. Eds. (return to text)
2. Since writing the above, I notice that in The Esoteric Tradition, on p 608, Dr. de Purucker states that Herodotus was an Initiate. — W. S. D. (return to text)
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE