Of course it is most difficult, and, as you say, "puzzling" to understand correctly and distinguish between the various aspects, called by us the "principles" of the real EGO. It is the more so as there exists a notable difference in the numbering of those principles by various Eastern schools, though at the bottom there is the same identical substratum of teaching in all of them.
X. Are you thinking of the Vedantins? They divide our seven "principles" into five only, I believe?
M. They do; but though I would not presume to dispute the point with a learned Vedantin, I may yet state as my private opinion that they have an obvious reason for it. With them it is only that compound spiritual aggregate which consists of various mental aspects that is called Man at all, the physical body being in their view something beneath contempt, and merely an illusion. Nor is the Vedanta the only philosophy to reckon in this manner. Lao-Tze in his Tao-te-King, mentions only five principles, because he, like the Vedantins, omits to include two principles, namely, the spirit (Atma) and the physical body, the latter of which, moreover, he calls "the cadaver." Then there is the Taraka Raja Yoga School. Its teaching recognizes only three "principles" in fact; but then, in reality, their Sthulopadhi, or the physical body in its jagrata or waking conscious state, their Sukshmopadki, the same body in svapna or the dreaming state, and their Karanopadhi or "causal body," or that which passes from one incarnation to another, are all dual in their aspects, and thus make six. Add to this Atma, the impersonal divine principle or the immortal element in Man, undistinguished from the Universal Spirit, and you have the same seven, again, as in the esoteric division. (1)
X. Then it seems almost the same as the division made by mystic Christians: body, soul, and spirit?
M. Just the same. We could easily make of the body the vehicle of the "vital Double"; of the latter the vehicle of Life or Prana; of Kama-rupa or (animal) soul, the vehicle of the higher and the lower mind, and make of this six principles, crowning the whole with the one immortal spirit. In Occultism, every qualificative change in the state of our consciousness gives to man a new aspect, and if it prevails and becomes part of the living and acting EGO, it must be (and is) given a special name, to distinguish the man in that particular state from the man he is when he places himself in another state.
X. It is just that which is so difficult to understand.
M. It seems to me very easy, on the contrary, once that you have seized the main idea, i.e., that man acts on this, or another plane of consciousness, in strict accordance with his mental and spiritual condition. But such is the materialism of the age that the more we explain, the less people seem capable of understanding what we say. Divide the terrestrial being called man into three chief aspects, if you like; but, unless you make of him a pure animal, you cannot do less. Take his objective body; the feeling principle in him — which is only a little higher than the instinctual element in the animal — or the vital elementary soul; and that which places him so immeasurably beyond and higher than the animal — i.e., his reasoning soul or "spirit." Well, if we take these three groups or representative entities, and subdivide them, according to the occult teaching, what do we get?
First of all Spirit (in the sense of the Absolute, and therefore invisible ALL) or Atma. As this can neither be located nor conditioned in philosophy, being simply that which is, in Eternity, and as the ALL cannot be absent from even the tiniest geometrical or mathematical point of the universe of matter or substance, it ought not to be called, in truth, a "human" principle at all. Rather, and at best, it is that point in metaphysical Space which the human Monad and its vehicle man, occupy for the period of every life. Now that point is as imaginary as man himself, and in reality is an illusion, a maya; but then for ourselves as for other personal Egos, we are a reality during that fit of illusion called life, and we have to take ourselves into account — in our own fancy at any rate, if no one else does. To make it more conceivable to the human intellect, when first attempting the study of Occultism, and to solve the A B C of the mystery of man, Occultism calls it the seventh principle, the synthesis of the six, and gives it for vehicle the Spiritual Soul, Buddhi. Now the latter conceals a mystery, which is never given to any one with the exception of irrevocably pledged chelas, those at any rate, who can be safely trusted. Of course there would be less confusion, could it only be told; but, as this is directly concerned with the power of projecting one's double consciously and at will, and as this gift like the "ring of Gyges" might prove very fatal to men at large and to the possessor of that faculty in particular, it is carefully guarded. Alone the adepts, who have been tried and can never be found wanting, have the key of the mystery fully divulged to them. . . . Let us avoid side issues, however, and hold to the "principles." This divine soul or Buddhi, then, is the Vehicle of the Spirit. In conjunction, these two are one, impersonal, and without any attributes (on this plane, of course), and make two spiritual "principles." If we pass on to the Human Soul (manas, the mens) every one will agree that the intelligence of man is dual to say the least: e.g., the high-minded man can hardly become low-minded; the very intellectual and spiritual-minded man is separated by an abyss from the obtuse, dull and material, if not animal-minded man. Why then should not these men be represented by two "principles" or two aspects rather? Every man has these two principles in him, one more active than the other, and in rare cases, one of these is entirely stunted in its growth: so to say paralyzed by the strength and predominance of the other aspect, during the life of man. These, then, are what we call the two principles or aspects of Manas, the higher and the lower; the former, the higher Manas, or the thinking, conscious EGO gravitating toward the Spiritual Soul (Buddhi); and the latter, or its instinctual principle attracted to Kama, the seat of animal desires and passions in man. Thus, we have four "principles" justified; the last three being (1) the "Double" which we have agreed to call Protean, or Plastic Soul; the vehicle of (2) the life principle; and (3) the physical body. Of course no Physiologist or Biologist will accept these principles, nor can he make head or tail of them. And this is why, perhaps, none of them understand to this day either the functions of the spleen, the physical vehicle of the Protean Double, or those of a certain organ on the right side of man, the seat of the above mentioned desires, nor yet does he know anything of the pineal gland, which he describes as a horny gland with a little sand in it, and which is the very key to the highest and divinest consciousness in man — his omniscient, spiritual and all embracing mind. This seemingly useless appendage is the pendulum which, once the clock-work of the inner man is wound up, carries the spiritual vision of the EGO to the highest planes of perception, where the horizon open before it becomes almost infinite. . . .
X. But the scientific materialists assert that after the death of man nothing remains; that the human body simply disintegrates into its component elements, and that what we call soul is merely a temporary self-consciousness produced as a by-product of organic action, which will evaporate like steam. Is not theirs a strange state of mind?
M. Not strange at all, that I see. If they say that self-consciousness ceases with the body, then in their case they simply utter an unconscious prophecy. For once that they are firmly convinced of what they assert, no conscious afterlife is possible for them.
X. But if human self-consciousness survives death as a rule, why should there be exceptions?
M. In the fundamental laws of the spiritual world which are immutable, no exception is possible. But there are rules for those who see, and rules for those who prefer to remain blind.
X. Quite so, I understand. It is an aberration of a blind man, who denies the existence of the sun because he does not see it. But after death his spiritual eyes will certainly compel him to see.
M. They will not compel him, nor will he see anything. Having persistently denied an after-life during this life, he will be unable to sense it. His spiritual senses having been stunted, they cannot develop after death, and he will remain blind. By insisting that he must see it, you evidently mean one thing and I another. You speak of the spirit from the Spirit, or the flame from the Flame — of Atma in short — and you confuse it with the human soul — Manas. . . . You do not understand me, let me try to make it clear. The whole gist of your question is to know whether, in the case of a downright materialist, the complete loss of self-consciousness and self-perception after death is possible? Isn't it so? I say: It is possible. Because, believing firmly in our Esoteric Doctrine, which refers to the post-mortem period, or the interval between two lives or births as merely a transitory state, I say: — Whether that interval between two acts of the illusionary drama of life lasts one year or a million, that post-mortem state may, without any breach of the fundamental law, prove to be just the same state as that of a man who is in a dead swoon.
X. But since you have just said that the fundamental laws of the after-death state admit of no exceptions, how can this be?
M. Nor do I say now that they admit of exceptions. But the spiritual law of continuity applies only to things which are truly real. To one who has read and understood Mandukya Upanishad and Vedanta-Sara, all this becomes very clear. I will say more: it is sufficient to understand what we mean by Buddhi and the duality of Manas to have a very clear perception why the materialist may not have a self-conscious survival after death: because Manas, in its lower aspect, is the seat of the terrestrial mind, and, therefore, can give only that perception of the Universe which is based on the evidence of that mind, and not on our spiritual vision. It is said in our Esoteric school that between Buddhi and Manas, or Isvara and Prajnsa (2), there is in reality no more difference than between a forest and its trees, a lake and its waters, just as Mandukya teaches. One or hundreds of trees dead from loss of vitality, or uprooted, are yet incapable of preventing the forest from being still a forest. The destruction or post-mortem death of one personality dropped out of the long series, will not cause the smallest change in the Spiritual Ego, and it will ever remain the same EGO. Only, instead of experiencing Devachan it will have to immediately reincarnate.
X. But as I understand it, Ego-Buddhi represents in this simile the forest and the personal minds the trees. And if Buddhi is immortal, how can that which is similar to it, i.e., Manas-taijasi (3), lose entirely its consciousness till the day of its new incarnation? I cannot understand it.
M. You cannot, because you will mix up an abstract representation of the whole with its casual changes of form; and because you confuse Manas-taijasi, the Buddhi-lit human soul, with the latter, animalized. Remember that if it can be said of Buddhi that it is unconditionally immortal, the same cannot be said of Manas, still less of taijasi, which is an attribute. No post-mortem consciousness or Manastaijasi, can exist apart from Buddhi, the divine soul, because the first (Manas) is, in its lower aspect, a qualificative attribute of the terrestrial personality, and the second (taijasi) is identical with the first, and that it is the same Manas only with the light of Buddhi reflected on it. In its turn, Buddhi would remain only an impersonal spirit without this element which it borrows from the human soul, which conditions and makes of it, in this illusive Universe, as it were something separate from the universal soul for the whole period of the cycle of incarnation. Say rather that Buddhi-Manas can neither die nor lose its compound self-consciousness in Eternity, nor the recollection of its previous incarnations in which the two — i.e., the spiritual and the human soul, had been closely linked together. But it is not so in the case of a materialist, whose human soul not only receives nothing from the divine soul, but even refuses to recognize its existence. You can hardly apply this axiom to the attributes and qualifications of the human soul; for it would be like saying that because your divine soul is immortal, therefore the bloom on your cheek must also be immortal; whereas this bloom, like taijasi, or spiritual radiance, is simply a transitory phenomenon.
X. Do I understand you to say that we must not mix in our minds the noumenon with the phenomenon, the cause with its effect?
M. I do say so, and repeat that, limited to Manas or the human soul alone, the radiance of Taijasi itself becomes a mere question of time; because both immortality and consciousness after death become for the terrestrial personality of man simply conditioned attributes, as they depend entirely on conditions and beliefs created by the human soul itself during the life of its body. Karma acts incessantly: we reap in our after-life only the fruit of that which we have ourselves sown, or rather created in our terrestrial existence.
X. But if my Ego can, after the destruction of my body, become plunged in a state of entire unconsciousness, then where can be the punishment for the sins of my past life?
M. Our philosophy teaches that Karmic punishment reaches the Ego only in its next incarnation. After death it receives only the reward for the unmerited sufferings endured during its just past existence. (4) The whole punishment after death, even for the materialist, consists therefore in the absence of any reward and the utter loss of the consciousness of one's bliss and rest. Karma — is the child of the terrestrial Ego, the fruit of the actions of the tree which is the objective personality visible to all, as much as the fruit of all the thoughts and even motives of the spiritual "I"; but Karma is also the tender mother, who heals the wounds inflicted by her during the preceding life, before she will begin to torture this Ego by inflicting upon him new ones. If it may be said that there is not a mental or physical suffering in the life of a mortal, which is not the fruit and consequence of some sin in this, or a preceding existence on the other hand, since he does not preserve the slightest recollection of it in his actual life and feels himself not deserving of such punishment, but believes sincerely he suffers for no guilt of his own, this alone is quite sufficient to entitle the human soul to the fullest consolation, rest and bliss in his post-mortem existence. Death comes to our spiritual selves ever as a deliverer and friend. For the materialist, who, notwithstanding his materialism, was not a bad man, the interval between the two lives will be like the unbroken and placid sleep of a child; either entirely dreamless, or with pictures of which he will have no definite perception. For the believer it will be a dream as vivid as life and full of realistic bliss and visions. As for the bad and cruel man, whether materialist or otherwise, he will be immediately reborn and suffer his hell on earth. To enter Avichi is an exceptional and rare occurrence.
X. As far as I remember, the periodical incarnations of Sutratma (5) are likened in some Upanishad to the life of a mortal which oscillates periodically between sleep and waking. This does not seem to me very clear, and I will tell you why. For the man who awakes, another day commences, but that man is the same in soul and body as he was the day before; whereas at every new incarnation a full change takes place not only in his external envelope, sex and personality, but even in his mental and psychic capacities. Thus the simile does not seem to me quite correct. The man who arises from sleep remembers quite clearly what he has done yesterday, the day before, and even months and years ago. But none of us has the slightest recollection of a preceding life or any fact or event concerning it. . . . I may forget in the morning what I have dreamed during the night, still I know that I have slept and have the certainty that I lived during sleep; but what recollection have I of my past incarnation? How do you reconcile this?
M. Yet some people do recollect their past incarnations. This is what the Arhats call Samma-Sambuddha — or the knowledge of the whole series of one's past incarnations.
X. But we ordinary mortals who have not reached Samma-Sambuddha, how can we be expected to realize this simile?
M. By studying it and trying to understand more correctly the characteristics of the three states of sleep. Sleep is a general and immutable law for man as for beast, but there are different kinds of sleep and still more different dreams and visions.
X. Just so. But this takes us from our subject. Let us return to the materialist, who, while not denying dreams, which he could hardly do, yet denies immortality in general and the survival of his own individuality especially.
M. And the materialist is right for once, at least; since for one who has no inner perception and faith, there is no immortality possible. In order to live in the world to come a conscious life, one has to believe first of all in that life during one's terrestrial existence. On these two aphorisms of the Secret Science all the philosophy about the post-mortem consciousness and the immortality of the soul is built. The Ego receives always according to its deserts. After the dissolution of the body, there commences for it either a period of full clear consciousness, a state of chaotic dreams, or an utterly dreamless sleep indistinguishable from annihilation; and these are the three states of consciousness. Our physiologists find the cause of dreams and visions in an unconscious preparation for them during the waking hours; why cannot the same be admitted for the post-mortem dreams? I repeat it, death is sleep. After death begins, before the spiritual eyes of the soul, a performance according to a program learned and very often composed unconsciously by ourselves; the practical carrying out of correct beliefs or of illusions which have been created by ourselves. A Methodist will be a Methodist, a Mussulman a Mussulman of course, just for a time — in a perfect fool's paradise of each man's creation and making. These are the post-mortem fruits of the tree of life. Naturally, our belief or unbelief in the fact of conscious immortality is unable to influence the unconditioned reality of the fact itself, once that it exists; but the belief or unbelief in that immortality, as the continuation or annihilation of separate entities cannot fail to give color to that fact in its application to each of these entities. Now do you begin to understand it?
X. I think I do. The materialist, disbelieving in everything that cannot be proven to him by his five senses or by scientific reasoning, and rejecting every spiritual manifestation, accepts life as the only conscious existence. Therefore, according to their beliefs so will it be unto them. They will lose their personal Ego, and will plunge into a dreamless sleep until a new awakening. Is it so?
M. Almost so. Remember the universal esoteric teaching of the two kinds of conscious existence: the terrestrial and the spiritual. The latter must be considered real from the very fact that it is the region of the eternal, changeless, immortal cause of all; whereas the incarnating Ego dresses itself up in new garments entirely different from those of its previous incarnations, and in which all except its spiritual prototype is doomed to a change so radical as to leave no trace behind.
X. Stop! . . . Can the consciousness of my terrestrial Egos perish not only for a time, like the consciousness of the materialist, but in any case so entirely as to leave no trace behind?
M. According to the teaching, it must so perish and in its fulness, all except that principle which, having united itself with the Monad, has thereby become a purely spiritual and indestructible essence, one with it in the Eternity. But in the case of an out and out materialist, in whose personal "I" no Buddhi has ever reflected itself, how can the latter carry away into the infinitudes one particle of that terrestrial personality? Your spiritual "I" is immortal; but from your present Self it can carry away into after-life but that which has become worthy of immortality, namely, the aroma alone of the flower that has been mown by death.
X. Well, and the flower, the terrestrial "I"?
M. The flower, as all past and future flowers which blossomed and died, and will blossom again on the mother bough, the Sutratma, all children of one root or Buddhi, will return to dust. Your present "I," as you yourself know, is not the body now sitting before me, nor yet is it what I would call Manas-Sutratma — but Sutratma-Buddhi.
X. But this does not explain to me at all, why you call life after death immortal, infinite, and real, and the terrestrial life a simple phantom or illusion; since even that post-mortem life has limits, however much wider they may be than those of terrestrial life.
M. No doubt. The spiritual Ego of man moves in Eternity like a pendulum between the hours of life and death. But if these hours marking the periods of terrestrial and spiritual life are limited in their duration, and if the very number of such stages in Eternity between sleep and awakening, illusion and reality, has its beginning and its end, on the other hand the spiritual "Pilgrim" is eternal. Therefore are the hours of his post-mortem life — when, disembodied he stands face to face with truth and not the mirages of his transitory earthly existences during the period of that pilgrimage which we call "the cycle of rebirths" — the only reality in our conception. Such intervals, their limitation notwithstanding, do not prevent the Ego, while ever perfecting itself, to be following undeviatingly, though gradually and slowly, the path to its last transformation, when that Ego having reached its goal becomes the divine ALL. These intervals and stages help towards this final result instead of hindering it; and without such limited intervals the divine Ego could never reach its ultimate goal. This Ego is the actor and its numerous and various incarnations the parts it plays. Shall you call these parts with their costumes the individuality of the actor himself? Like that actor, the Ego is forced to play during the Cycle of Necessity up to the very threshold of Para-nirvana many parts such as may be unpleasant to it. But as the bee collects its honey from every flower, leaving the rest as food for the earthly worms, so does our spiritual individuality, whether we call it Sutratma or Ego. It collects from every terrestrial personality into which Karma forces it to incarnate, the nectar alone of the Spiritual qualities and self-consciousness, and uniting all these into one whole it emerges from its chrysalis as the glorified Dhyani Chohan. So much the worse for those terrestrial personalities from which it could collect nothing. Such personalities cannot assuredly outlive consciously their terrestrial existence.
X. Thus then it seems, that for the terrestrial personality, immortality is still conditional. Is then immortality itself not unconditional?
M. Not at all. But it cannot touch the non-existent. For all that which exists as SAT, ever aspiring SAT, immortality and Eternity are absolute. Matter is the opposite pole of spirit and yet the two are one. The essence of all this, i.e., Spirit, Force and Matter, or the three in one, is as endless as it is beginningless; but the form acquired by the triple unity during incarnations, the externality, is certainly only the illusion of our personal conceptions. Therefore do we call the after-life alone a reality, while relegating the terrestrial life, its terrestrial personality included, to the phantom realm of illusion.
X. But why in such a case not call sleep the reality, and waking the illusion, instead of the reverse?
M. Because we use an expression made to facilitate the grasping of the subject, and from the standpoint of terrestrial conceptions, it is a very correct one.
X. Nevertheless, I cannot understand. If the life to come is based on justice and the merited retribution for all our terrestrial suffering, how, in the case of materialists many of whom are ideally honest and charitable men, should there remain of their personality nothing but the refuse of a faded flower!
M. No one ever said such a thing. No materialist, if a good man, however unbelieving, can die forever in the fulness of his spiritual individuality. What was said is, that the consciousness of one life can disappear either fully or partially; in the case of a thorough materialist, no vestige of that personality which disbelieved remains in the series of lives.
X. But is this not annihilation to the Ego?
M. Certainly not. One can sleep a dead sleep during a long railway journey, miss one or several stations without the slightest recollection or consciousness of it, awake at another station and continue the journey recollecting other halting places, till the end of that journey, when the goal is reached. Three kinds of sleep were mentioned to you: the dreamless, the chaotic, and the one so real, that to the sleeping man his dreams become full realities. If you believe in the latter why can't you believe in the former? According to what one has believed in and expected after death, such is the state one will have. He who expected no life to come will have an absolute blank amounting to annihilation in the interval between the two rebirths. This is just the carrying out of the program we spoke of, and which is created by the materialist himself. But there are various kinds of materialists, as you say. A selfish wicked Egoist, one who never shed a tear for anyone but himself, thus adding entire indifference to the whole world to his unbelief, must drop at the threshold of death his personality for ever. This personality having no tendrils of sympathy for the world around, and hence nothing to hook on to the string of the Sutratma, every connection between the two is broken with the last breath. There being no Devachan for such a materialist, the Sutratma will reincarnate almost immediately. But those materialists who erred in nothing but their disbelief, will oversleep but one station. Moreover, the time will come when the ex-materialist will perceive himself in the Eternity and perhaps repent that he lost even one day, or station, from the life eternal.
X. Still, would it not be more correct to say that death is birth into a new life, or a return once more to the threshold of eternity?
M. You may if you like. Only remember that births differ, and that there are births of "still-born" beings, which are failures. Moreover, with your fixed Western ideas about material life, the words "living" and "being" are quite inapplicable to the pure subjective state of post-mortem existence. It is just because of such ideas — save in a few philosophers who are not read by the many and who themselves are too confused to present a distinct picture of it — that all your conceptions of life and death have finally become so narrow. On the one hand, they have led to crass materialism, and on the other, to the still more material conception of the other life which the Spiritualists have formulated in their Summerland. There the souls of men eat, drink, and marry, and live in a Paradise quite as sensual as that of Mohammed, but even less philosophical. Nor are the average conceptions of the uneducated Christians any better, but are still more material, if possible. What between truncated Angels, brass trumpets, golden harps, streets in paradisaical cities paved with jewels, and hell-fires, it seems like a scene at a Christmas pantomime. It is because of these narrow conceptions that you find such difficulty in understanding. And, it is also just because the life of the disembodied soul, while possessing all the vividness of reality, as in certain dreams, is devoid of every grossly objective form of terrestrial life, that the Eastern philosophers have compared it with visions during sleep.
1. See The Secret Doctrine for a clearer explanation. (return to text)
2. Isvara is the collective consciousness of the manifested deity, Brahma, i.e., the collective consciousness of the Host of Dhyani Chohans; and Prajna is their individual wisdom. (return to text)
3. Taijasi means the radiant in consequence of the union with Buddhi of Manas, the human, illuminated by the radiance of the divine soul. Therefore Manas-taijasi may be described as radiant mind; the human reason lit by the light of the spirit; and Buddhi-Manas is the representation of the divine plus the human intellect and self-consciousness. (return to text)
4. Some Theosophists have taken exception to this phrase, but the words are those of the Masters, and the meaning attached to the word "unmerited" is that given above. In the T. P. S. pamphlet No. 6 a phrase, criticized subsequently in Lucifer, was used, which was intended to convey the same idea. In form, however it was awkward and open to the criticism directed against it; but the essential idea was that men often suffer from the effects of the actions done by others, effects which thus do not strictly belong to their own Karma, but to that of other people — and for these sufferings they of course deserve compensation. If it is true to say that nothing that happens to us can be anything else than Karma — or the direct or indirect effect of a cause — it would be a great error to think that every evil or good which befalls us is due only to our own personal Karma. (Vide further on.) (return to text)
5. Our immortal and reincarnating principle in conjunction with the Manasic recollections of the preceding lives is called Sutratma, which means literally the Thread-Soul; because like the pearls on a thread so is the long series of human lives strung together on that one thread. Manas must become taijasi, the radiant, before it can hang on the Sutratma as a pearl on its thread, and so have full and absolute perception of itself in the Eternity. As said before, too close association with the terrestrial mind of the human soul alone causes this radiance to be entirely lost. (return to text)