What light does Theosophy throw upon the problem of man's real nature?
First of all, Theosophy denies that man is merely a "large-brained ape," perishing at death, as it is alleged "all other animals" do. Neither is he the ordinary personality of theology, created at birth and departing into an eternity of happiness or misery after death. The real man is a glorious, immortal Intelligence, striving to evolve to greater heights. This inner self passes through many lives on earth as it works onward and learns by experience. The ordinary human personality, Mr. A. or Mrs. B., is only a temporary instrument through which the Higher Self comes in touch with the ordinary world of matter.
Behind or above even this greater Self, stands a still more sublime Light, a Spark of the Central Divine Flame. This Light is hidden behind the deeply enshrouding veils which constitute the composite nature of man, but we can find it if we will. Though the journey may be long and hard, the reward is past all telling.
That is a wonderful picture. What is the first step on this journey?
It is simple — to practise brotherhood, to become unselfish. That is the only way to the inner Divinity. The Grecian Oracle said "Man know thyself," the god within; and when Jesus said "Ye are gods" and "the kingdom of God is within you," he was only repeating the message of all the World-Teachers. Have you studied your own nature without fear or favor?
Very little, and I have not been overpleased with what I found when I tried. There seem to be two natures within which do not agree. My conscience and my desires are so often at loggerheads!
You have recognized that we have at least two natures, a higher and a lower, but there are many degrees between the man of flesh and the god. Your present personality, with its limitations and inner conflicts, is one of these.
That seems strange. I always thought I was — well, just myself, a thinking being, a unit.
Here is a suggestion to think over. Compare the state of a man who is thoughtful of others and self-sacrificing, with that of one who thinks of nothing but his own self-interest. Remember how a soldier may get a wound and never feel it in the heat of battle, or a student forget his meals when intent upon a problem. These are familiar illustrations of different states of consciousness.
Do you mean that they are only different sides of the same human nature?
Yes, but they point to something deeper, to a far greater complexity in the constitution of man than has been suspected in the West. Man is far more than he appears, even the worst of us.
Well, it has never seemed reasonable to me that "pure Spirit" could directly interlock with gross matter, yet most believers in a future life speak of nothing but "body and soul." It is not scientific.
No indeed, and such a crude notion shows how far Western thought has fallen behind the profound psychology of the great Eastern philosophies. Theosophy clears up that incongruity and many others by its scientific analysis of the graded links that unite the opposite poles of our being.
That is a new idea to me. Please explain those elements.
Theosophy classifies man on earth into seven main "principles" or components. This arrangement is in harmony with such great natural laws as we find in the sevenfold divisions of light, sound, the chemical elements, etc. The human septenary can be condensed into three major divisions for convenience. Here is an arrangement which combines both enumerations in simple form:
SPIRIT Atman the Immortal Self or Divine "Monad." Buddhi the Spiritual Soul, the first Veil of Atman. SOUL Manas (higher part) the Higher Mind, illuminated by Buddhi. The Reincarnating Ego. Manas (lower part) the ordinary brain-mind. The "Human" Ego. Kama the element of Desire. The Driving Energy in man. BODY Prana the Vital Energy, the Life-principle. Linga-sarira the Model Body or Ethereal Framework. Sthula-sarira the Physical Body.
The foreign names are Sanskrit, and are more expressive than the English equivalents, as you will find when you study Theosophy.
The upper combination, or "Spirit," is the highest, immortal essence in Nature and in ourselves, the Spark of the Divine Flame. It cannot properly be called "human" in our present imperfect state of evolution. These diviner principles are beyond our highest imagination, but we can learn to tread the path which leads onwards and upwards to the highest illumination — the path of unselfish love and service to humanity. Those who have followed it to the end are the supermen, the Buddhas and the Christs.
The Intermediate Duad, called "Soul," is the highest thinking part of our really human nature. The higher mind, or Manas, is the Reincarnating Ego, the enduring source or "parent-soul" of the ordinary mortal personality. This spiritual self projects, as it were, a Ray or Shadow from itself at every new incarnation, a pale and too often distorted reflection, that is called the Lower Manas. The Reincarnating Ego is like a long-lived tree which puts forth its leaves for a season and in the autumn withdraws the sap to enrich the trunk. The Lower Manas is the ordinary brain-mind with its emotions and limitations. Owing to its close association on earth with the driving force of Kama or Desire, it is the battlefield of the inner conflict you have described. Desire may be either good or evil, according to the thought that colors it, but it is the necessary impulse by which we rise. Unfortunately for us, the temptations of "the world, the flesh, and the devil" are so strong that the Lower Manas, or Kama-Manas, is easily entangled in a thousand illusions. But even those who have fallen into grave errors feel something of the high and holy aspirations flowing from the inner god, the "Father in Heaven," and every man has the power of choice. We are our own saviors.
Do I understand, then, that the lower reflection of this Thinker is the personality that I call "myself," with all my faults and failings, and that the Higher Manas is a kind of overshadowing Guardian which lives in a higher spiritual state?
That is partly correct, but the Reincarnating Ego is not really a different being from yourself, although you may have difficulty in recognizing its presence. It is the better and nobler side of your thinking being, as it were, and, in its comparative freedom from the bondage of matter, it has a far greater range of spiritual power and knowledge than the brain-mind. It carries the memories of all the previous incarnations, which are a sealed book to the personality of any one lifetime. It knows the justice of all that happens to the personality — that this is the result of the acts and thoughts of former lives. When possible, it breaks through the barriers to illuminate some difficult problem with a flash of intuition, or maybe to warn against coming danger. It is the inspiration of genius.
Tell me something about the lowest division of the three.
Little need be said about the body of flesh. It is the most fleeting and illusory of all. Every moment new particles are streaming in and others are passing out, and even its very atoms are "mostly holes" as science has lately discovered. The body is not the producer of life and thought, but is the result of them. The life-energy which holds it together, Prana, or the "Breath of Life," is a part of the Universal Life acting through a subtle, semi-material form or model body on which the physical body is built. This is the Linga-sarira or "Astral Body." It can be studied only under unusual conditions, but it is not spiritual, though made of ethereal substance. It is the necessary channel or link between the mind and the brain, and when its remarkable properties are studied by the psychologists of the future they will find the answer to many problems.
Then can this Astral Body be separated from the physical?
Very rarely, except in the natural way during sleep. Occasionally the Astral Body of a living person who is a medium detaches itself and assumes the appearance of another human being, because it is plastic and can reflect images existing in the ether or in the minds of others. Sometimes the Astral Body of a deceased person becomes visible for a short time after death, and is mistaken for the true "spirit" which has passed inwards and onwards beyond our reach.
Is this the explanation of well-authenticated ghost stories?
In some cases, probably; but we cannot pursue that subject now, as it would lead us too far afield. The Linga-sarira changes very little during life, but, as a rule, it breaks up soon after death.
What becomes of the higher elements after death? What happens to "me," with all my weaknesses and worldly passions?
There is, of course, no "death" for the spiritual part of us. Death is the twin brother of sleep. Just as we lay aside our garments after the day's work and lie down to rest, so does the Reincarnating Ego and its "reflection," the Lower Manas, abandon the physical and astral bodies when they are no longer needed. After certain experiences which follow the great change, the Lower Manas passes through a period of purification in a state called "Kama-loka." For the average person this is a quiet and painless process, but for the selfish and grossly sensual it is indeed far from pleasant. When the purification is accomplished the purified Lower Manas is absorbed into the bosom of its parent, the Higher Manas, from which it originally came. In this high, spiritual state, called "Devachan," it enjoys unspeakable peace and happiness until the hour strikes for another incarnation on earth.
Are the lower desires entirely dissipated when this purification is complete?
For a while they are associated with the dregs of the Lower Manas, which are too heavily weighted with evil to rise to spiritual planes, but they finally disintegrate. We cannot, however, escape the consequences of our acts and thoughts, good or bad. Their seeds remain dormant until the next incarnation, when they send out roots and branches to form a new personality. The universal law of Karman, of Cause and Effect, cannot be avoided.
How do the various elements in man assemble for the next life?
When the time comes for a new experience on earth, the Reincarnating Ego feels the stirring of the seeds that were sown in the past. By perfectly natural means the lower principles are re-formed. A new Astral Body is developed of the required kind; upon this the physical takes shape; and then the animating energy of Prana, the Breath of Life, comes into action. Meanwhile and progressively, the Higher Manas sends out its Ray to illuminate the brain of the growing child, and the curtain rises on a new act in the drama of our evolution toward human perfection.