The body, as a mass of flesh, bones, muscles, nerves, brain matter, bile, mucous, blood, and skin is an object of exclusive care for too many people, who make it their god because they have come to identify themselves with it, meaning it only when they say "I." Left to itself it is devoid of sense, and acts in such a case solely by reflex and automatic action. This we see in sleep, for then the body assumes attitudes and makes motions which the waking man does not permit. It is like mother earth in that it is made up of a number of infinitesimal "lives." Each of these lives is a sensitive point. Not only are there microbes, bacilli, and bacteria, but these are composed of others, and those others of still more minute lives. These lives are not the cells of the body, but make up the cells, keeping ever within the limits assigned by evolution to the cell. They are forever whirling and moving together throughout the whole body, being in certain apparently void spaces as well as where flesh, membrane, bones, and blood are seen. They extend, too, beyond the actual outer limits of the body to a measurable distance.
One of the mysteries of physical life is hidden among these "lives." Their action, forced forward by the Life energy — called Prana or Jiva — will explain active existence and physical death. They are divided into two classes, one the destroyers, the other the preservers, and these two war upon each other from birth until the destroyers win. In this struggle the Life Energy itself ends the contest because it is life that kills. This may seem heterodox, but in Theosophical philosophy it is held to be the fact. For, it is said, the infant lives because the combination of healthy organs is able to absorb the life all around it in space, and is put to sleep each day by the overpowering strength of the stream of life, since the preservers among the cells of the youthful body are not yet mastered by the other class. These processes of going to sleep and waking again are simply and solely the restoring of the equilibrium in sleep and the action produced by disturbing it when awake. It may be compared with the arc-electric light wherein the brilliant arc of light at the point of resistance is the symbol of the waking active man. So in sleep we are again absorbing and not resisting the Life Energy; when we wake we are throwing it off. But as it exists around us like an ocean in which we swim, our power to throw it off is necessarily limited. Just when we wake we are in equilibrium as to our organs and life; when we fall asleep we are yet more full of life than in the morning; it has exhausted us; it finally kills the body. Such a contest could not be waged forever, since the whole solar system's weight of life is pitted against the power to resist focussed in one small human frame.
The body is considered by the Masters of Wisdom to be the most transitory, impermanent, and illusionary of the whole series of constituents in man. Not for a moment is it the same. Ever changing, in motion in every part, it is in fact never complete or finished though tangible. The ancients clearly perceived this, for they elaborated a doctrine called Nitya Pralaya, or the continual change in material things, the continual destruction. This is known now to science in the doctrine that the body undergoes a complete alteration and renovation every seven years. At the end of the first seven years it is not the same body it was in the beginning. At the end of our days it has changed seven times, perhaps more. And yet it presents the same general appearance from maturity until death; and it is a human form from birth to maturity. This is a mystery science explains not; it is a question pertaining to the cell and to the means whereby the general human shape is preserved.
The "cell" is an illusion. It is merely a word. It has no existence as a material thing, for any cell is composed of other cells. What, then, is a cell? It is the ideal form within which the actual physical atoms — made up of the "lives" — arrange themselves. As it is admitted that the physical molecules are forever rushing away from the body, they must be leaving the cells each moment. Hence there is no physical cell, but the privative limits of one, the ideal walls and general shape. The molecules assume position within the ideal shape according to the laws of nature, and leave it again almost at once to give place to other atoms. And as it is thus with the body, so is it with the earth and with the solar system. Thus also is it, though in slower measure, with all material objects. They are all in constant motion and change. This is modern and also ancient wisdom. This is the physical explanation of clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, and mind-reading. It helps to show us what a deluding and unsatisfactory thing our body is.
Although, strictly speaking, the second constituent of man is the Astral Body — called in Sanskrit Linga Sarira — we will consider Life Energy — or Prana and Jiva in Sanskrit — together, because to our observation the phenomenon of life is more plainly exhibited in connection with the body.
Life is not the result of the operation of the organs, nor is it gone when the body dissolves. It is a universally pervasive principle. It is the ocean in which the earth floats; it permeates the globe and every being and object on it. It works unceasingly on and around us, pulsating against and through us forever. When we occupy a body we merely use a more specialized instrument than any other for dealing with both Prana and Jiva. Strictly speaking, Prana is breath; and as breath is necessary for continuance of life in the human machine, that is the better word. Jiva means "life," and also is applied to the living soul, for the life in general is derived from the Supreme Life itself. Jiva is therefore capable of general application, whereas Prana is more particular. It cannot be said that one has a definite amount of this Life Energy which will fly back to its source should the body be burned, but rather that it works with whatever be the mass of matter in it. We, as it were, secrete or use it as we live. For whether we are alive or dead, life-energy is still there; in life among our organs sustaining them, in death among the innumerable creatures that arise from our destruction. We can no more do away with this life than we can erase the air in which the bird floats, and like the air it fills all the spaces on the planet, so that nowhere can we lose the benefit of it nor escape its final crushing power. But in working upon the physical body this life — Prana — needs a vehicle, means, or guide, and this vehicle is the astral body.
There are many names for the Astral Body. Here are a few: Linga Sarira, Sanskrit, meaning design body, and the best one of all; ethereal double; phantom; wraith; apparition; doppelganger; personal man; perisprit; irrational soul; animal soul; Bhuta; elementary; spook; devil; demon. Some of these apply only to the astral body when devoid of the corpus after death. Bhuta, devil, and elementary are nearly synonymous; the first Sanskrit, the other English. With the Hindus the Bhuta is the Astral Body when it is by death released from the body and the mind; and being thus separated from conscience, is a devil in their estimation. They are not far wrong, if we abolish the old notion that a devil is an angel fallen from heaven, for this bodily devil is something which rises from the earth.
It may be objected that the term Astral Body is not the right one for this purpose. The objection is one which arises from the nature and genesis of the English language, for as that has grown up in a struggle with nature and among a commercial people it has not as yet coined the words needed for designating the great range of faculties and organs of the unseen man. And as its philosophers have not admitted the existence of these inner organs, the right terms do not exist in the language. So in looking for words to describe the inner body the only ones found in English were the "astral body." This term comes near to the real fact, since the substance of this form is derived from cosmic matter or star matter, roughly speaking. But the old Sanskrit word describes it exactly — Linga Sarira, the design body — because it is the design or model for the physical body. This is better than "ethereal body," as the latter might be said to be subsequent to the physical, whereas in fact the astral body precedes the material one.
The astral body is made of matter of very fine texture as compared with the visible body, and has a great tensile strength, so that it changes but little during a lifetime, while the physical alters every moment. And not only has it this immense strength, but at the same time possesses an elasticity permitting its extension to a considerable distance. It is flexible, plastic, extensible, and strong. The matter of which it is composed is electrical and magnetic in its essence, and is just what the whole world was composed of in the dim past when the processes of evolution had not yet arrived at the point of producing the material body for man. But it is not raw or crude matter. Having been through a vast period of evolution and undergone purifying processes of an incalculable number, its nature has been refined to a degree far beyond the gross physical elements we see and touch with the physical eye and hand.
The astral body is the guiding model for the physical one, and all the other kingdoms have the same astral model. Vegetables, minerals, and animals have the ethereal double, and this theory is the only one which will answer the question how it is that the seed produces its own kind and all sentient beings bring forth their like. Biologists can only say that the facts are as we know them, but can give no reason why the acorn will never grow anything but an oak except that no man ever knew it to be otherwise. But in the old schools of the past the true doctrine was known, and it has been once again brought out in the West through the efforts of H. P. Blavatsky and those who have found inspiration in her works.
This doctrine is, that in early times of the evolution of this globe the various kingdoms of nature are outlined in plan or ideal form first, and then the astral matter begins to work on this plan with the aid of the Life principle, until after long ages the astral human form is evolved and perfected. This is, then, the first form that the human race had, and corresponds in a way with the allegory of man's state in the garden of Eden. After another long period, during which the cycle of further descent into matter is rolling forward, the astral form at last clothes itself with a "coat of skin," and the present physical form is on the scene. This is the explanation of the verse of the book of Genesis which describes the giving of coats of skin to Adam and Eve. It is the final fall into matter, for from that point on the man within strives to raise the whole mass of physical substance up to a higher level, and to inform it all with a larger measure of spiritual influence, so that it may be ready to go still further on during the next great period of evolution after the present one is ended. So at the present time the model for the growing child in the womb is the astral body already perfect in shape before the child is born. It is on this the molecules arrange themselves until the child is complete, and the presence of the ethereal design-body will explain how the form grows into shape, how the eyes push themselves out from within to the surface of the face, and many other mysterious matters in embryology which are passed over by medical men with a description but with no explanation. This will also explain, as nothing else can, the cases of marking of the child in the womb sometimes denied by physicians but well-known by those who care to watch, to be a fact of frequent occurrence. The growing physical form is subject to the astral model; it is connected with the imagination of the mother by physical and psychical organs; the mother makes a strong picture from horror, fear, or otherwise, and the astral model is then similarly affected. In the case of marking by being born legless, the ideas and strong imagination of the mother act so as to cut off or shrivel up the astral leg, and the result is that the molecules, having no model of leg to work on, make no physical leg whatever; and similarly in all such cases. But where we find a man who still feels the leg which the surgeon has cut off, or perceives the fingers that were amputated, then the astral member has not been interfered with, and hence the man feels as if it were still on his person. For knife or acid will not injure the astral model, but in the first stages of its growth ideas and imagination have the power of acid and sharpened steel.
In the ordinary man who has not been trained in practical occultism or who has not the faculty by birth, the astral body cannot go more than a few feet from the physical one. It is a part of that physical, it sustains it and is incorporated in it just as the fibers of the mango are all through that fruit. But there are those who, by reason of practices pursued in former lives on the earth, have a power born with them of unconsciously sending out the astral body. These are mediums, some seers, and many hysterical, cataleptic, and scrofulous people. Those who have trained themselves by a long course of excessively hard discipline which reaches to the moral and mental nature and quite beyond the power of the average man of the day, can use the astral form at will, for they have gotten completely over the delusion that the physical body is a permanent part of them, and, besides, they have learned the chemical and electrical laws governing in this matter. In their case they act with knowledge and consciously; in the other cases the act is done without power to prevent it, or to bring it about at will, or to avoid the risks attendant on such use of potencies in nature of a high character.
The astral body has in it the real organs of the outer sense organs. In it are the sight, hearing, power to smell, and the sense of touch. It has a complete system of nerves and arteries of its own for the conveyance of the astral fluid which is to that body as our blood is to the physical. It is the real personal man. There are located the subconscious perception and the latent memory, which the hypnotizers of the day are dealing with and being baffled by. So when the body dies the astral man is released, and as at death the immortal man — the Triad — flies away to another state, the astral becomes a shell of the once living man and requires time to dissipate. It retains all the memories of the life lived by the man, and thus reflexly and automatically can repeat what the dead man knew, said, thought, and saw. It remains near the deserted physical body nearly all the time until that is completely dissipated, for it has to go through its own process of dying. It may become visible under certain conditions. It is the spook of the spiritualistic seance-rooms, and is there made to masquerade as the real spirit of this or that individual. Attracted by the thoughts of the medium and the sitters, it vaguely flutters where they are, and then is galvanized into a factitious life by a whole host of elemental forces and by the active astral body of the medium who is holding the seance or of any other medium in the audience. From it (as from a photograph) are then reflected into the medium's brain all the boasted evidences which spiritualists claim go to prove identity of deceased friend or relative. These evidences are accepted as proof that the spirit of the deceased is present, because neither mediums nor sitters are acquainted with the laws governing their own nature, nor with the constitution, power, and function of astral matter and astral man.
The Theosophical philosophy does not deny the facts proven in spiritualistic seances, but it gives an explanation of them wholly opposed to that of the spiritualists. And surely the utter absence of any logical scientific explanation by these so-called spirits of the phenomena they are said to produce supports the contention that they have no knowledge to impart. They can merely cause certain phenomena; the examination of those and deductions therefrom can only be properly carried on by a trained brain guided by a living trinity of spirit, soul, and mind. And here another class of spiritualistic phenomena requires brief notice. That is the appearance of what is called a "materialized spirit."
Three explanations are offered: First, that the astral body of the living medium detaches itself from its corpus and assumes the appearance of the so-called spirit; for one of the properties of the astral matter is capacity to reflect an image existing unseen in ether. Second, the actual astral shell of the deceased — wholly devoid of his or her spirit and conscience — becomes visible and tangible when the condition of air and ether is such as to so alter the vibration of the molecules of the astral shell that it may become visible. The phenomena of density and apparent weight are explained by other laws. Third, an unseen mass of electrical and magnetic matter is collected, and upon it is reflected out of the astral light a picture of any desired person either dead or living. This is taken to be the "spirit" of such persons, but it is not, and has been justly called by H. P. Blavatsky a "psychological fraud," because it pretends to be what it is not. And, strange to say, this very explanation of materializations has been given by a "spirit" at a regular seance, but has never been accepted by the spiritualists just because it upsets their notion of the return of the spirits of deceased persons.
Finally, the astral body will explain nearly all the strange psychical things happening in daily life and in dealings with genuine mediums; it shows what an apparition may be and the possibility of such being seen, and thus prevents the scientific doubter from violating good sense by asserting you did not see what you know you have seen; it removes superstition by showing the real nature of these phenomena, and destroys the unreasonable fear of the unknown which makes a man afraid to see a "ghost." By it also we can explain the apportation of objects without physical contact, for the astral hand may be extruded and made to take hold of an object, drawing it in toward the body. When this is shown to be possible, then travelers will not be laughed at who tell of seeing the Hindu yogee make coffee cups fly through the air and distant objects approach apparently of their own accord untouched by him or anyone else. All the instances of clairvoyance and clairaudience are to be explained also by the astral body and astral light. The astral — which are the real — organs do the seeing and the hearing, and as all material objects are constantly in motion among their own atoms the astral sight and hearing are not impeded, but work at a distance as great as the extension of the astral light or matter around and about the earth. Thus it was that the great seer Swedenborg saw houses burning in the city of Stockholm when he was at another city many miles off, and by the same means any clairvoyant of the day sees and hears at a distance.