There are many statements in theosophical literature referring to a time when mankind, much wiser though less developed intellectually than at present, possessed a Third Eye which served as an organ of spiritual clairvoyance as well as of objective sight.
The pineal gland was in earliest mankind an exterior organ of physical vision, and of spiritual and psychic sight. But due to the evolutionary course that the human frame followed, as time passed on and our present two optics began to show themselves, the pineal gland or the "Third Eye," the "Eye of Siva," the "Eye of Dangma" began to recede within the skull, which latter finally covered it with bone and hair. It then lost its function as an organ of physical vision, but has never ceased to continue its functions even now as an organ of spiritual sight and insight. — G. de Purucker, Man in Evolution, pp. 367-8
Since nature repeats herself everywhere and each creature records in its form and life cycle the age-long history of the race to which it belongs, it may be expected that what took place in the history of humanity must surely have been reflected in the evolution of the lower animals as well. This is shown in The Secret Doctrine where H. P. Blavatsky says:
In the beginning, every class and family of living species was hermaphrodite and objectively one-eyed. In the animal, whose form was as ethereal (astrally) as that of man, before the bodies of both began to evolve their coats of skin, viz., to evolve from within without the thick coating of physical substance or matter with its internal physiological mechanism — the third eye was primarily, as in man, the only seeing organ. — II, 299
Continuing, H. P. Blavatsky discusses the development of the lateral eyes:
The two physical front eyes developed later on in both brute and man, whose organ of physical sight was, at the commencement of the Third Race, in the same position as that of some of the blind vertebrata, in our day, i.e., beneath an opaque skin. Only the stages of the odd, or primeval eye, in man and brute, are now inverted, as the former has already passed that animal non-rational stage in the Third Round, and is ahead of mere brute creation by a whole plane of consciousness. Therefore, while the "Cyclopean" eye was, and still is, in man the organ of spiritual sight, in the animal it was that of objective vision. And this eye, having performed its function, was replaced, in the course of physical evolution from the simple to the complex, by two eyes, and thus was stored and laid aside by nature for further use in Aeons to come. — Ibid.
The foregoing outlines the evolutionary development of the organs of sight in both man and beast from theosophical records.
Now to examine the physical evidence as known to modern science and as found in the structure of various creatures.
To begin with, most insects have two kinds of eyes; two compound eyes containing many hundreds of facets, and usually three simple eyes or ocelli arranged in a triangle near the top of the forehead. There are certain insects which possess one or the other type only, but when this occurs a portion of these organs is structurally modified for specialized use in dim light. This reminds us of the distribution of the rods and cones in the human eye so that the central portion of the eye is adapted to bright light while the outer portion is more sensitive to night sight.
Among the night-hunting spiders three of the eight ocelli, there being no compound eyes, show an opalescent lustre and are believed to function where there is little light.
The May-fly in its adult state lives only for a day, and having no need to eat possesses only rudimentary mouthparts. Yet for that single day a portion of each compound eye (there being no simple eyes), is modified to serve during the mating flight of evening. Short as is the adult life of the May-fly there is a previous existence when as a water-nymph it crawls about on the bottom of a stream, finding its way by means of primitive ocelli. After some twenty moults the insect larva crawls above the water on a small twig and bursting its skin emerges as a winged May-fly. But there is still another moult and early in the course of its one day, it sheds a final delicate skin from the body and even the surface of the wings and appears more a creature of air than of substance, however refined.
Stranger still are the bi-focal eyes of many water-bugs which have double compound eyes, and so can see both their enemies in the air and beneath the surface of the water at the same time.
The common ant has a pair of elaborate compound eyes, with the addition of three ocelli forming a triangle above the lateral eyes. It has been suggested that the simple eyes are of value for close vision or in dim light, although this is not definitely established. That ants have some very efficient means of night vision seems certain.
The great majority of insects, like the ant, are equipped with both types of visual organs, and it is interesting to note that in the metamorphosis cycle of those insects like the Dragonfly and Butterfly the larva (caterpillar or nymph) possesses only the small ocelli, and acquires the compound eyes at the time it emerges as an adult. This cycle of metamorphosis, like the embryonic development of the higher animals, is believed to recapitulate the history of the species. For this and other reasons entomologists are agreed that the simple eyes still present in most of the insects, are a remnant of what was formerly the only organ of sight. In other words the evolution of the insect eye parallels that of other branches of the animal kingdom in many ways.
Among the vertebrates vestiges still exist, concealed within the skull, of what corresponds to the traditional Third Eye of man, although science speaks of it as the Median Eye and states that there were originally not one eye but a pair arranged tandem, one slightly behind the other, on each side of the median line of the skull.
Dr. G. L. Walls says:
There are indications from elasmobranch embryology, that the provertebrates possessed a metameric series of paired visual organs on the roof of the head. Most of them rapidly disappeared as the lateral, ordinary eyes became perfected; but two pairs of dorsal eyes still hung on almost until the cyclostome level of evolution was reached. In most modern cyclostomes, two dorsal eyes are present. They do not represent a pair, however, for they are arranged in tandem with one behind and below the other. (1)
Each, according to Dr. Walls, is one surviving member of an original pair.
Remnants of this median eye are found today in fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and animals in such variety that it would be tiresome to name any but outstanding examples. The common lizard and also the so-called horned toad have such a remnant in the middle of their foreheads although covered with scales. The brow-spot of the tadpole has a similar origin.
A number of the more primitive lizards possess a median eye which still functions as an organ of sight. Best known of these is the Tuatera which is now confined to a small islet on the coast of New Zealand. The Tuatera is a living fossil of the most primitive order of reptile known. In the center of its forehead is located, beneath a protective scale, a lens and retina, which still functions as an organ of sight although the Tuatera has the ordinary eyes common to all reptiles also.
Although the facts discovered by scientists regarding the evolution of sight appear closely to parallel the teaching of theosophy, Science has advanced little in its understanding of the function of the median or pineal or third eye in man, or in the animals.
The philosopher Rene Descartes, who died in 1650, thought the pineal gland to be the seat of the soul, that through it "the soul comes into contact with the body, whence it radiates by means of the animal spirits, nerves and even the blood." Commenting on this Dr. Adolph M. Hanson remarks:
It now seems that it may influence the acts of that fundamental ego that is back of human personality more than any other gland.
This small gland, that median eye of our arachnoid [!] ancestors, from being the lone all-seeing eye of the past seems to be the hidden, back-seat driver of human destinies, that in some way, for good or for evil, may influence the acts of the ego in the flesh more than any other one gland. It was laid down with the foundation of the face and therefore, was most likely the very first tissue, or one of the first tissues, to take on the function of internal secretion. — Minnesota Medicine, February, 1937 p. 78
Unfortunately medical science, in addition to misunderstanding Descartes, confines its investigation to the one aspect of glandular secretion and its effects upon the body alone, and makes no distinction between the lower animals and man.
Here the theosophical doctrines open up a new vista of thought. For they show that with the obscuration of the Third Eye within the skull in man, its function changed from that of objective vision to that of spiritual clairvoyance and that its destiny in the future is to become increasingly active. As shown in the Dialogues of G. de Purucker (III, 374), there are three lines of evolution for the human being, each of which has its focus or point of contact in the human body. These three also are three states of consciousness. Of these the Divine-Spiritual functions through the heart, the Psycho-Mental through the brain, and the Vital-Astral-Physical line of evolution through the liver and spleen. Since the descent of the Manasaputras and the coming of mind, the brain has developed enormously and at present contains the highest and most ethereal substance in the human body, being composed of quasi-spiritual energy or fluid derived from the manasic plane and beyond the reach of scalpel or test-tube analysis.
As expressed in Man in Evolution:
Connected with the brain are the two wonderful glands, the pineal and the pituitary, already mentioned. The pineal gland is as it were a casement opening out into infinite seas and horizons of light, for it is the organ that in us men receives the direct mahatic ray, the ray direct from the cosmic intellect. — p 366
The pituitary gland is described as the lieutenant of the pineal for "It is the organ of will and urge and growth and impulse; but when the pineal sets the pituitary vibrating in synchrony with its own vibration, you have a god-man, for there is the intellect envisaging infinity." (Ibid.)
It is, however, the Buddhic light of compassion and divine love which illumines the heart causing it to glow and which in turn sets the pineal gland vibrating. Thus, after all, the way to awaking the Third Eye is through the living of compassion and love for all that lives.
1. "The Vertebrate Eye, by Gordon Lynn Walls. Cranbrook Institute of Science, 1942. (return to text)