[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.]
The Theosophical viewpoint regarding one of the most widely discussed of all human diseases. This article is extracted from the manuscript copy of the Theosophical Encyclopedic Glossary in preparation at Point Loma under the direction of Dr. G. de Purucker.
In the exhaustive medical literature on this subject, cancer or carcinoma, in brief, is known as a malignant epithelial tumor composed of a connective tissue-stroma surrounding groups or nests of multiplying epithelial cells. In general, carcinomas have capacity for unlimited growth, for invading adjacent tissues, and for producing similar typical growths in distant tissues in the same body, or, as in experimental research, by grafts which "take" in another animal's body. The invaded tissues do not become cancerous from contact with the growth which crowds them aside, and, robbing them of nutrition, substitutes its own type of cells for those of the infiltrated organ. These multiplying cells, drawing freely upon the nutritive materials of the blood — or of any living matter — pile up an unorganized, functionless, purposeless, uncontrolled local mass of cells running riot at the expense of the body. The cancer-cell, while closely resembling the normal cell, performs only one of the latter's dual activities of alternating division into fresh cells, with their typical organic functioning for the organized body's welfare. Of these alternate activities, division or "fission" is the more primitive, being that of the simple moneron-form of life.
The usual rapid production of new cells in a wound on a healthy body, or in a test-wound in normal tissue-culture, slows down when they have healed the lesion, when they again take up the alternate role of their suspended functioning. The purposeless, self-centered cancer-cells which are allowed to multiply uncontrolled, finally destroy the body.
Malignant cultures prove to be varieties of normal epithelial cells from which their slight differences are "not qualitative but quantitative." Many years of intensive clinical study and research have found no explanation for this difference, which, paradoxically, groups normal units in pathological union. The consensus of medical opinion regards malignant growths as not contagious, and as not due to micro-organisms, or to diet-deficiency, or to inheritability. Also, statistics show that cancer is steadily increasing among civilized peoples — now having second place in mortality-records — while it is relatively rare among those various less developed and backward peoples who continue to live in their native states of crude and primitive conditions. The significance of this difference has been overlooked, while the search for causes has held "suspect" everything tangible in the human body and in man's milieu. Yet it is the different degree of development of the complex inner elements and urges of conscious quality which, giving personal play to the circulating life-forces, make the modern civilized type just what it is as a human phenomenon of interacting spirit and matter. The searching analyses have yet to stress the reaction of the modern man's combined mental, emotional, and ethical consciousness and vital forces upon the highly-organized matter in his own body. In its physical form and functioning it is not different from the body of any other human being.
Progressive biological research focused upon the state of the malignant cell-unit has proposed as possible causes the failure of some chemical relationships, or, again, some disturbed relation in the nuclear chromosomes; or some unknown factor in a supposed "organizer" which directs the rhythm of somatic cell-division, and which dictates the development of the embryo. Thus the unexplored fields of research, narrowed down to, and facing an impasse at the microscopic nucleus of the cell, justify the conclusion of some biologists that the cause of cancer "is bound up with the enigma of life itself." In each man, the Cosmic forces of Vitality and of Intelligence (The Esoteric Tradition, p. 167) manifest, perforce, according to the individual karman. These combined factors, then, are the noumena of all the structural, chemical, functional, and biological phenomena which are studied. But these universal forces, in manifesting, are "stepped down," so to say, through the successive laya-centers of the inner man's spiritual, mental, emotional, and psychic nature. This series of conscious conditions provides and sets the stage, and directs the personal play of the manifesting impersonal forces. Every physical change as well as pathological phenomenon is
produced by certain conditions and changes in the tissues of the body which allow and force life to act in that body; that all this is due to those unseen creators and destroyers that are called in such a loose and general way microbes. — The Secret Doctrine, I, 262
The "enigma of life" is neither new nor local, for
there is nothing but life everywhere! And their physicians . . . did tell them [the Atlanteans], for they knew, that every disease of our bodies comes about from an excess of life, particularly what we may call the malignant or wasting diseases. In these cases, it is life running riot in the body, and that is what causes death. They knew it better than we. — Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 304
During life the entire human constitution is suffused or permeated by the organic vital fluid of the Reimbodying Ego, which acts as a cohering factor for all the life-atoms of all the planes of the constitution to form an organic "electrical field" wherein these life-atoms may inhere and work both collectively and individually, under the impulses and urges originating in the substance of the Reimbodying Ego. (The Esoteric Tradition, p. 812) At times, the intense and unceasing vital activities of the life-atoms overcomes the cohering, dominating influence of the organic psycho-electrical field. This is what brings about
many if perhaps not all of the various forms of disease of a lasting character. Cases of malignant disease are due to the same general cause but on account of specific and unusual circumstances are localized in some portion of the body where the power or control of the organic vitality becomes greatly weakened. — The Esoteric Tradition, p. 813
Lingering diseases are often preceded by a gradual withdrawal on inner lines, of the higher parts of the human constitution, which, being denied timely expression here, are drawn or levitate toward their native spiritual levels of existence. Thus the waning influence of the cohering, harmonizing, and balancing spiritual life-atoms and forces, leaves the uncontrolled pranic forces to be expended upon the vital-astral-physical nature which manifests along the various materialistic mental and emotional and sensuous levels and lines of life. These latter are evidently the general trends of our strenuous, restless, unstable, matter-of-fact civilization, now at the critical stage of a disordered evolution. In a word, an overdeveloped materialism is usurping the natural place and preventing the functional play of the duly awakening higher mind and spirit — the essentials, at this stage, alike for our civilization's present safety and for its further progress.
This dangerous collective lack of balanced evolution is repeated in the play of the life-forces upon the cells of the cancerous individual. He is karmically responsible, as a self-conscious being with free will, for staging his own play of these impelling forces. He must choose, either to progress on finer, nobler lines of human selfhood, or to retrogress in needless rounds of outgrown experiences. His functionless cancer-cell with its one primitive activity of self-division, is a localized out-of-time biological "throwback" in type to the huge ethereal ovoid cell-forms of the First Root-Race. These primitive cells were then the normal encasement of the nascent, un-self-conscious men-to-be whose mode of reproduction was simple division. Now, the normal body-cell does not "go on its own," but it adds its function to the complex organism in whose development it also has acquired its minor place to work and to evolve. The cancerous tumor, being without blood-vessels and nerves, often, when located internally, subtily enlarges without pain, until its unnourished center breaks down, and the malign condition is recognised, perhaps too late for treatment.
Nature, working always and everywhere on all lines to evolve the suitable forms for the progressive imbodiments of the manifesting One Life, leaves civilized man free to do his part by spiritually balancing his own human growth. Otherwise, he becomes an unnatural unit in the universal plan which makes ethics the natural cohering, harmonizing factor in the Universe itself which "actually is imbodied consciousnesses" (The Esoteric Tradition, p. 258). Highly evolved culture without spiritual leaven is only sublimated selfishness.
Long-continued selfish emotions cause a distorted and inharmonious flow of the pranic currents of the body, and they cause disease according to the type of the emotions. This concerns the majority today, for few have a working philosophy of life which can take things as they come. Aside from the frankly criminal and vicious types, the inner life of the many is self-centered and disturbed by the emotional play of worry, grief, disappointment, unhappiness, or a sense of futility, or of frustration — for all of whom there seems to be no way of escape. Even the exceptional cases who have no articulate troubles, and who outwardly seem free from the prevailing restlessness, suffer from a muted unrest and an inward tension. Many of these envied men and women have a haunting feeling of self-reproach for somehow being unworthy of themselves, while a more satisfying reality of life is waiting to be attained. Evidently, the emotional effect of all these conditions — to which the generally uncivilized are immune, as yet — reacts in disorder of the psycho-magnetic-electric forces flowing along the highly organized network of nerve-wires. The retarded or congested or "short-circuited" forces produce disease in one or another organ according to the type of the emotions. Statistics list the abdomen and the pelvis as the most frequent sites of cancer. Meantime, the normally enlarged range of highly civilized faculties is being given relatively little play, as guided by the harmonizing and self-giving nobler mental and spiritual lines, while the general trend of the revitalizing and creative impulses retard the pranic forces unduly at the physiological levels. Back of all precancerous microscopical and chemical findings of changes in the blood, or in the polarity of the cells, or what not, are causative inharmonies or wrongs of the inner life.
No age or personal condition is wholly exempt from malignancy; and the karmic causes, in child or adult, may date back to a former life. Cancer, with its ability to grow in any living tissue, has been found in nearly all animals and in many plants, showing the closely knitted Nature-relationships between all forms of life, each Kingdom acting upon and reacting from harmonies or disturbances in other Kingdoms. Experimental research has taken it over to the animal world countless times. Moreover, humanity's milieu is, in a real sense, a part or emanation of itself, because the vital human stream of incoming and outgoing material and of life-atoms on all planes, is interchanged with, and used by all other things and beings. Hence, man's unbalanced quality stamped upon this visible and invisible substance, would predispose its impress to reappear, at times, in the physical forms of Nature's less conscious entities.