What does Theosophy say about the psychic faculties and powers that are advertised so widely?
The words "psychic" and "psychism" are used to cover a variety of unusual or so-called "occult" matters, not generally understood. These include clairvoyance, telepathy, divination, hypnotism, mediumship, automatic writing, crystal-gazing, psychometry, second sight, astral voyaging, mental and magnetic healing, tantric magic, fortune-telling, "magnetic personality," and many other things which science does not fully explain. The psychic faculties and powers, which are latent in all men, are gradually becoming more active today.
I hear that Theosophists are opposed to the cultivation of these powers. Should not everything in Nature be studied?
Certainly; and also everything in human nature, for man should "know himself." But most persons are more eager to get hold of these powers for personal ends than to get an understanding of just what they are and how to use them safely and wisely.
How, then, do you Theosophists begin to study psychic matters?
First of all, by studying the teachings of H. P. Blavatsky, who gave the world what she was taught by the Masters of Wisdom, Compassion, and Peace. We repudiate the methods of all who misinterpret her teachings, or who commercialize truth and mislead by promises of forced psychic development. Her Theosophy goes to the root of the matter by explaining man's composite nature — the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual sides of his being, which, of course, include his psychic faculties, and the part they play.
What do you mean by man's composite nature?
Everyone knows of the familiar division of body, soul, and spirit, though these three may be subdivided to make seven. Here on earth we live in a human-animal body; the opposite pole of our being is the spiritual or higher part of us, which makes itself known in the voice of conscience, in flashes of intuition, in unselfish heroism, and the like. Between these two poles is the intermediate part, commonly called the soul. This human soul is the everyday Mr. Smith or Mrs. Brown, who we too often think is our real self, while, in fact, it is only the temporary "personality" of the present life. The spiritual or enduring man is known in Theosophy as the "individuality" reimbodying in changing personalities, life after life, until he makes himself a perfect man.
How do you know the difference between individuality and personality?
The personal side of our character acts in desires, curiosity, egoism, jealousy, animal instincts, lower human love, and other phases of self-interest, on the one hand. Yet, on the other, it responds at times to the spiritual call of heroism, self-sacrifice, and perfect love which belong to the higher nature — the "individuality," which would share its own richness, beauty, and spiritual vision with its lower personality. It is often very difficult to distinguish between our two natures, which pull in opposite directions; we are easily self-deceived by the cunning with which the lower desires use the mind to argue their case.
What part of us do the psychic powers belong to? Are they altogether bad?
Not at all. They are part of our whole nature, and are no better or worse than the strength in your arm with which you can help a friend or strike an enemy. But, as the majority of men are dominated by selfishness rather than by spirituality, the psychic powers are certain to be generally misused and then to recoil upon those who are unprepared and unworthy to use them.
Why not teach men to use them for good? Surely the world needs every kind of help?
Because men must first change their selfish minds and hearts, which are already working so much harm. Why give them new and strange powers before they are ready to use what they now have for constructive and not for destructive purposes?
But the advertisements offer to make a man a great success, with a magnetic personality, so that he can control others and make them admire him, and so on. I'd be making quite a man of myself if I could do all that.
You would only be building up a personality of uncanny selfishness, adding no true manliness to your character, but losing ground instead of progressing. There are various psychic tricks that are easy to learn, but why waste time that way? Even animals have a certain degree of clairvoyance and prevision. Everyone knows that they often sense impending disaster on land or sea, and also see things invisible to man. A classic case was Balaam's ass seeing the angelic messenger before his master did. But spiritual clairvoyance, which man alone can develop, is very different, and is gained only by great purity and holiness of life and strict self-control. That is the true way "to make a man" of oneself. It is no sign of manhood to bid for admiration, or to scheme for success by subtil means.
Well, if these psychic powers are not worth bothering about, why study them at all?
Because they are one of the vital questions of the day. In this age of inquiry, many really spiritually-minded people are seeking to understand the mystical in man and the truly occult in Nature. They, like many others, have peculiar need of reliable knowledge, which only the Theosophical philosophy offers in fulness. Moreover, the craze for psychism shows that our latent psychic faculties are awakening, so that it is most important to understand them, since they must be reckoned with. "Sensitives" who are more or less clairvoyant, clairaudient, or unusually susceptible to vague impressions and impulses, are increasing. Having no knowledge of their own inner nature, many of them drift into Spiritualistic connexions and we find many good people vainly pursuing ghostly phantoms in the hope of gaining light on the mysteries of life and death. Others are attracted to all kinds of so-called "mystical" cults by alluring notices proffering arcane knowledge and power.
In the midst of the above conditions, the majority are living mostly in the personal part of their nature, with its restless egoism and desires. The temptation to cultivate psychic powers for self-interest is great. If they are so misused, one is lured on into a form of astral intoxication most difficult to resist. Just as the drinker in delirium tremens loses sight of his ordinary senses and judgment and sees strange things and creatures, so the psychic habitue loses his normal poise on the physical plane and stumbles along after alluring astral phantasies and thrills.
What do you mean by astral?
Our world is enveloped by a realm of impalpable substance, more invisible and all-pervading than the air we breathe; this is called the Astral Light. It interpenetrates the solid earth and extends from low levels through grade after grade of ethereality, finally to merge into more spiritual realms. Its lower degree is the "ether" of some scientists, and this is the first remove beyond ordinary matter. This astral light pervades the "astral plane" of consciousness, which contains various forms of life in keeping with its peculiar nature, and has its own laws governing them.
We little realize how much our daily lives are affected by astral influences. Every thought and act impresses itself and is recorded upon the sensitized substance of the astral light. These living pictures are constantly reflected back upon all of us, with more or less damaging effects. The lower astral levels, nearest the Earth, reflect all that is worst in our selfish civilization. We literally live in a hypnotizing atmosphere.
What is our astral body?
It is the invisible model-body upon which the physical is built, cell for cell — an ethereal mold upon which, for example, the healing flesh restores the parts lost in wounds. It is the bridge between physical man and his thought and feeling. For us it is not natural, safe, or profitable to try to dissociate these bodies which work together. The subtil bait boldly advertised by purveyors of so-called "occultism" in promising to teach all and sundry "how to travel out in the astral," etc., offers an unwholesome adventure, though it is often disguised in a fine philosophy. As a rule, no warning is given the unwary traveler of the many pitfalls along the way, nor of the real danger that he may not get back into his body wholly, if at all. Unhinged minds and wrecked lives only too often result from artificially dissociating the inner principles from the body. Theosophical students who know somewhat of man's inner nature often read between the lines recording unhuman, purposeless crimes, or strange suicides, the tragic story of those who have gone astray on some psychic bypath. Physicians in our over-crowded insane asylums report that many cases of disordered minds and perverted morals have followed the disintegrating strain connected with one or another popular mental or emotional cult.
But I know of people who have found out how to see wonderful scenes and even beings in visions?
Such things are not spiritual. When not imaginary they are evidences of the astral plane — sometimes they are reflected pictures of human thoughts; or they may be the work of certain Nature-spirits who, able to take on any form at will, delight in throwing a strange glamor over human beings. The majority of psychic venturers leave behind their ordinary senses, will, and intelligence, and they do not get above the ghostly and unwholesome levels, where they are helpless invaders and at the mercy of various unknown influences which are consciously active on their own ground. It is true that some mediumistic natures of clean life and good intentions report experiences of beauty and interest in certain astral levels. Nevertheless, once the door is opened into this region, hordes of evil influences have their chance to press through and to contact human life. Then again, how few psychics allow for the fact, or even know, that the astral light has the power to distort or to reverse images, events, the sequence of time, etc., thereby making everything they see unreliable? We get glimpses of this confusion in ordinary dreams, during which we are conscious on the astral plane. It is proverbial that dreams go by contraries.
But there are many systems teaching Mind-control. Why study Theosophy?
Because these modern systems are incomplete without knowledge of man's whole nature and therefore are misleading. During the past half-century various "metaphysical" and healing cults have sprung up, and, by putting some incomplete philosophical ideas into plausible form having popular appeal have gained a wide following. Some of these, by methods of affirmation and denial, do provide, at times, the things desired for personal satisfaction — money, health, or whatever it may be. However, success thus gained by the psychic power of concentrated will is not an unmixed blessing. Occult powers used for self interest may bring something not rightly our own, or we may precipitate something out of its rightful time and place into our life. In either event we sow confusion in the field of events and, sooner or later, we shall have to reap the disordered results.
No true Theosophist would join a circle united in a "magic rite of concentration" to influence the life or acts of another person in any way, with or without his consent. The Masters of Wisdom, with all their superior knowledge and power, never interfere with the sacred rights of the human will.
But do not Tkeosophists approve of Hypnotism in very special cases?
Certainly not; that is another wrong done through the inner nature. This misuse of will-power for personal ends not only dominates our whole economic and public life by high-power "suggestion" in subtil forms, but hypnotism is also used without disguise. While the medical profession has abandoned its use in surgery, many practitioners use hypnotic treatment in mental and moral cases. Their success in dispersing the symptoms blinds both operator and subject to the fact that the real cause is untouched and will work itself out in some other way, in this or another life. The operator literally implants a portion of his own will in the subject, entangling both of them, on inner lines, with the confused and unnatural results of this tampering with vital centers of being.
Physical ills should be treated by suitable physical means; in addition to this, the truly scientific physician will deal with mental and moral wrongs by arousing the positive willpower of his patients, whose greatest need is to use their own innate powers of wholeness and healing. A man can do for himself what no one else can do — if he is shown how.
The hypnotised subject, like the entranced medium, is crowded out, leaving his body and senses at the mercy of the dictating will of some alien influence. The victim of moral burglary, he awakes with weakened will, and his nature open to invasion by dangerous forces.
Hypnotism is advocated by many psycho-analysts, who utterly ignore man's spiritual nature in their moral vivisection of the lower mind and emotions. Prevalent ignorance of man's composite nature is shown in the fact that any medical circle should even consider a system of psychoanalysis based on the degrading fallacy that our whole human welfare is merely a matter of sex!
Widespread information of "how to hypnotise" is made to serve every kind of self-interest. Scoundrels and criminals use this weapon effectively in their evil work.
Do the Theosophical Masters advertise to teach the use of psychic powers?
No, indeed! though shameful misuse of their sacred names has misled many inquirers. Among the self-styled "teachers" of so-called "occultism" is a most insidious and sinister class who make artful appeals to curiosity and to the selfish and emotional desires of human nature. In the public press and in other ways they make glowing and suggestive offers of "secret instructions" for gaining "personal powers," a "magnetic personality," "success," "control over others," or "how to get out into the astral," "how to meet the Masters," "speedy initiation for $2.00," etc. Some itinerant lecturers and their imitators are even teaching the degraded and diabolical rites of the "Black Art." In some cases their victims are taught to open inner centers of vital force which are unknown to Western Science, but which are so powerful as to overwhelm the unprotected dabbler in psychism, who too often pays for his rashness with loss of health, moral balance, and even sanity. These teachers are themselves wanderers in the shadows of the astral world.
True teaching about the mysteries of both Man and Nature cannot be bought; no genuine occult Teacher will ever sell his sacred knowledge, nor can he be reached merely by forcing the petty, unreliable clairvoyance taught at so much per lesson. The World Teachers all down the ages have advised the cultivation of spiritual clairvoyance, never the psychic reflexion, which is so dangerous. Their pupils are subjected to severe training in self-discipline before being allowed to open any inner powers; they must prove their complete freedom from personal selfishness and their devotion to humanity. When obtained, their powers are regarded as a sacred trust never to be used for personal ends.