Theosophy being of recent disclosure to the West, and none of us, therefore, having been Theosophists from childhood, almost every one encounters perplexities from the unfamiliarity of the new facts and of the new methods of thought. We may be entirely convinced of their correctness; the demonstration may be conclusive; in fulness, reason, stimulus, and expectation, the new faith is so obviously richer that the deserted one may appear incomparably jejune and poor; we may have become fluent with its ideas and its terms; nevertheless, its whole genius is so diverse from all hitherto habitual to us that we do not as yet think or move quite easily. It is as if an inhabitant of the dry Egyptian plain was transported, to Switzerland. It would not be only a revelation as to scenery, but an induction into a new life, whereof the sights, the sounds, the movements, the habits, the very air breathed and water drunk, had been wholly unknown. Until all these had become familiar, there would be a process of mental re-moulding, re-adjustment, modification. And so with the thinker transported from the circumscribed habitat of conventionalism to the stupendous scenery of the Theosophic domain. His Deity has been an enlarged, not always an exalted, Man; his universe ended with the telescope; his chronology went back but 60 centuries; other than animals, he knew of but three kinds of beings, — men, angels, and demons; human life was short, not easily justified, and morally puzzling; its hereafter was hazy, and all but its terrors had been carefully concealed; of its present, nothing could be known except what was disclosed to the eyes, ears, and touch, and any supposition of forces or beings or agencies beyond was probably absurd and certainly false.
Out of these ideas the Theosophist has removed to a realm practically boundless. Limitations have dropped off in every direction. Anthropomorphic conceptions of Deity vanish at once. Matter expands till it fills space. Existing chronologies have as much real antiquity as yesterday's newspaper. Life multiplies till air, earth, fire, water, the illimitable ether teem with it. Humanity receives a justification and acquires a destiny. Light is poured into futurity. The senses, as sole criteria of fact, are deposed; means are put within reach by which the investigation of the whole universe is made possible. There is no boundary line to knowledge; there is not even an horizon.
Now, of course, our mental capacities cannot instantly enlarge to this. The fresh air is invigorating, but then it is strange. The lungs are inelastic, the muscles torpid, the movements new. We hardly realize our freedom, and at every slight excursion we strike against some old prejudice or error, or feel the cramp which reminds us how long and how closely we had been bound. This is inevitable, but it is also temporary. We shall acquire agility; the cramp will gradually disappear; the errors discarded as beliefs will steadily weaken as hindrances; new habits of thought will form, new powers of perception develop, new vigor of advance arise. Revolutions do not go backwards, nor are the emancipated again enslaved.
In the happy process of enlargement, we are wise, I think, to meet every check or difficulty with whatever means, however humble, may most effectually remove it. And it very often happens, in Theosophic thought, that a perplexity dissolves if we can confront it with some visible, familiar fact in life. The latter, being known to us, if in clear analogy with the former which is not known, may dissipate its strangeness and secure for it a welcome. Nor is this an artificial or whimsical procedure. It is but an application of the doctrine of Analogies, which, say the Adepts, pervades the universe. "As above, so below" is one of their constant maxims. We are quite right to use it in our humbler exercises.
Of the many illustrations possible let us take, this evening, one from each of three planes of life, — that below us, our own, and that above us.
For the conception of a medium of existence diverse from ours, diffused, invisible, yet material, though of a far more tenuous and rarefied nature than our air, science has happily prepared us by its "Undulatory Theory of Light," wherein is predicated a sensitive ether pervading space. We have, therefore, no antecedent difficulty in conceding an unseen world of more delicate texture than this. But science has done nothing to people it, and so the Theosophic doctrine of Elementals is new. We are abundantly accustomed to the word, yet the thing has perhaps for us not wholly lost a fanciful quality and entered the region of fact. Now I have found it to gain reality by thought on this wise. It is difficult to conceive of the direct action of will upon matter. There seems no mode by which an intangible, immaterial purpose can educe obedience from a lifeless, irresponsive block. I see a stick lying 20 feet away. I will it to approach me, but there is in it no consciousness of my will, and there is no apparent link between the distinct kingdoms of mind and matter. I sign to my dog, and he brings it at once. Here, then, is the link supplied, an intermediary agency with sufficient intelligence, on the one side, to apprehend the order, and with the physical power, on the other, to carry it out. The widely-separated kingdoms are connected by a medium uniting some of the features of each. In fact, a very subtle question in thought is promptly solved by one of the most common-place facts in life.
Analogy instantly suggests a similar nature and function in Elementals, and hence a similar naturalness. What is there either improbable or inconceivable in an order of beings lower than our own, with no more conscience than have some grades of animals and with as much intelligence as have others, quite as controllable by men who understand them as are animals by men who understand them, and dwelling in a medium which, though unseen, may be as real as the unseen ether of Light? But Analogy does not stop here. Those of you who have read Sir John Lubbock's remarkable monograph on Earth-Worms know that the whole face of nature is being constantly re-formed through that humble agency. That is to say, an important, an indispensable, condition of agriculture is committed to the charge of a lowly, unprogressive, mindless creature, which lives, perpetuates its species, blindly performs its mission, and expires. Why, then, may not a somewhat higher function in Nature be entrusted to a somewhat higher organism, a still higher function to a still higher organism, and so on, the intelligence and the physical strength increasing, but there being no moral endowment because there are no moral duties? If earth-worms knead the soil and coral-insects erect islands in the ocean, it seems not unreasonable that larger operations in ever-active Nature, less mechanical and more intelligent, may be effected by Elemental spirits. And analogy goes still further. We see in animals instincts and habits which may as well mark Elementals. Secretiveness, playfulness, mischievousness, friendliness or hostility to man, a transmitted tendency to routine, constructive power, conformity to laws in mechanics, — all are illustrated in dogs, kittens, monkeys, beavers, birds, and bees. Why then may they not exist in sylphs and gnomes? In fact, if the perfection and regularity of a bee's honeycomb, which combines the maximum of space with the minimum of material, are due to the action of a conscious being, why may not this be equally true of a crystal? Yet again. The enormous differentiation of animal life in structure and quality, according to its function and its habitat, seems to indicate a corresponding differentiation, for corresponding reasons, of Elemental life in the various regions and operations peculiar to it. The four classes usually mentioned are doubtless capable of subdivision indefinitely. And once more. No small part of the animal world has been subdued to the will of man. This is, of course, mainly due to his larger intelligence, yet is in measure the result of his ability to impart, record, and transmit observations. The same reasons seem to justify the possibility of his controlling Elementals. Indeed, the theological doctrine that he is to conquer the earth implies that he is to conquer the beings which mould the earth, and any far-reaching vision of human triumph must include a sway over all lower organisms.
It would seem, then, that analogies from very familiar facts around us warrant some vivid conception of the unseen beings no less around us. Our knowledge of the animal kingdom impels to a belief in the Elemental kingdom.
Let us now step up to the plane of man, and attempt a similar process there. Whether we look at the lives of men or at the conventional beliefs they hold, it is equally evident that this present visible existence is considered the normal and important one, its interests being necessarily dominant, and those of the future, invisible world, however to be cared for, being, from the nature of the case, subordinate. More or less of this mode of thought has been so habitual with ourselves that we probably find the opposite, the Theosophic, mode only natural while we are reading Theosophic books or afterwards meditating on their contents. And yet most certain is it that Theosophy affirms the real, permanent, important life to be unseen, that which depends upon a material environment being absolutely transient and relatively mean. As the Adept, St. Paul, expressed it, "The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
Now if we are to be true Theosophists in either thought or aim, we have to reverse our former conception. The invisible world has to become the true world, and the visible world the deceptive world. And here again analogy is at hand to help us. The simplest incidents or acts disclose the tremendous forces hidden from sight. A leaf falls because of the all-pervading principle of gravitation; I hold this paper because of an inscrutable energy behind the muscular contraction which is its physical expression. You who are listening to these words hear them, indeed, through undulations set up in a material atmosphere and impinging on the tympanum of the ear; but no sense can reach the mysterious force which transmits the vibrations of the material tympanum to the unmaterial mind, still less the force which transmutes mere sound into thought, least of all the force which is mind. Look around you in the world and analyse the causes of the seething activity everywhere apparent. Every sound, every movement in this great city has its source in some desire of the inner being, — ambition, love, acquisitiveness, or other. We can hardly take one step from visible things towards their causes before we are in the realm of the invisible. All roads seem to lead to the unseen. It, not matter, has "the promise and the potency" of every form of life.
But if the mechanics of daily life, if the continuance of vegetation, the conservation of vital powers, the evolution of all terrestrial advance are referable back to impalpable forces, — gravitation, electricity, magnetism, etc., only the effects of which we see; if even our own careers and the very constitution of society itself are but the objective, visible results from subjective, intangible desires; is it too much to say that the unseen is as much vaster than the seen in its resources as it must be in its extent? A pebble, a stick, a leaf has behind it stupendous powers; it is insignificant, but it reveals the immeasurable.
The effect of observation, then, is to belittle the seen in comparison with the unseen; and herein Theosophy is in complete analogy with science. Yet surely the analogy need not pause at this point, but may proceed to urge that the constitution, the training, and the destiny of Man may justly be based on the same principle. The material elements must be the less important elements, the material life the less important life. Permanency, potency, boundlessness must inhere in a region which is not transient, weak, limited, as is this earth. And, indeed, our confidence in the analogy is strengthened by the fact that, up to a certain point, it is held to vigorously by all men in civilized lands. Cultivation of the mind is considered finer than cultivation of the body; the scholar ranks higher than the athlete. But if it is admitted that spiritual powers are nobler than mental, even as mental are nobler than physical, — which is, in truth, the position of the Theosophist, it follows that there is the same reason for developing the spirit rather than the mind, that there is for developing the mind rather than the body. The same principle which elevates a Herbert Spencer above a Sullivan will, analogically extended, elevate an Adept above a Herbert Spencer. And it follows that, when we read of the training given to secure mastery of self, ascendency over distraction from discomfort or desire, fixedness of meditation with a view to enlightenment, a distaste for levels of being lower than the highest, we have not encountered something which is chimerical or grotesque, but a sober, logical, scientific method of spiritual education.
The third illustration proposed is from the plane of life above us, — that of Adepts. No doubt there is, among Theosophists, much misconception of the Adept character. For present purposes, however, we may describe him as an advanced man, who, through the expanding of the spiritual principle, has become a Master in mind and over matter, and whose powers are therefore, from the conventional point of view, supernatural. (1) All this, to the conventionalist, appears nonsense. To us it is a reality. Nevertheless, there is a certain remoteness about it. There is only one conceded Initiate in Western lands, and few of us have been privileged to see her. The East is faraway, and residence even in it by no means ensures approach to a Master. Hence belief is not always without misgivings, and I suppose there are few Theosophists who are not at times staggered by the strangeness of the conception. Still, it too is not without its analogies, and the weak may fortify themselves by recalling them.
All history shows that deeds beyond experience have been pronounced incredible upon hearsay, and pronounced miraculous upon being seen. An astronomer foretells an eclipse to barbarians; he is ridiculed till it arrives, and then he is worshipped. The Adept from whom I have quoted a sentence once healed a cripple in cultivated Greece, and was hailed with the cry, "The Gods have come down to us in the likeness of men." In these days, though apotheosis does not follow phenomena, incredulity lasts till demonstration. It has been so with every great invention of modern times, and it must be so till is pulverized the inveterate habit of judging impossible that which does not square with ordinary observation. The moment we realize — not concede only — the dictum that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy," we are unshackled; and the moment we perceive that those things are attainable, our freedom has begun. And why should it not be so? Every new fact in science or invention means that an explorer has been where we have not been, and has brought back something which we have not seen before. Surely we are accustomed to the idea that realms beyond our ken are being daily entered, examined, and sampled. Where, and on what principle, are we to set bounds to them? Is the Astral Light necessarily more impervious than the Space-Ether? If a Tyndall may reveal the vibrations of the one, is it impossible that a Adept may reveal the photo-pictures of the other? In fact, (one may ask), is an Adept more impossible than a Tyndall? Each represents high ability, developed by specialized training into exceptional power.
We speak now, it is true, of matters on planes lower than the spiritual. But this does not vitiate the analogy. For, 1st, the difference between the lofty spiritual functions of an Adept and the highest attainments of an acute physicist is not any more truly a difference in kind than are those attainments of the physicist and the solely-muscular capacities of a burly savage; and, 2nd, if antecedent improbabilities of evolution fail in the one case, they may in the other. Indeed, one may say that the contrast between an Adept and a Tyndall is not any greater than between a Tyndall and a savage.
Moreover, there is yet another consideration. All of us know that our unseen minds may, and do, grow in power of apprehension and in thoroughness of insight. We know, too, that the moral nature, also unseen, expands and strengthens with appropriate exercise. It would seem, then, that the spiritual principle, no less unseen, may no less have capacities as yet feeble. It, too, may evolve, and quicken, and ultimately triumph.
These various analogies indicate that an Adept is not a phantasm, or a chimera, or an ingenious invention of Mr. Sinnett, but an entirely possible flower of a peculiarly rich, a highly cultivated, yet an entirely natural, soil. And, if so, we believers are not only judicially yielding to the burden of testimony, but are rationally following the pathway of logic. Before the sceptic and the scoffer we have only to point to Nature, Analogy, and Fact.
Reverting now to the propositions with which this paper began, it would appear that the means to give reality to the more distinctive features of Theosophy is to perceive their likeness to those in departments of life better known. While we treat them as eccentric, we are never free from a haunting suspicion that they are doubtful. But if they are merely an extension of principles elsewhere demonstrated, if analogy shows that, so far from being isolated or grotesque, they lie really along the very lines enclosing conceded fact, the only thing needed for greater peace of mind is greater use of mind. The demand is not for more faith, but for more reason. We are not required to apologize, internally or externally, for positions which seem at first odd, but rather to assert that they are quite what might have been expected from the very constitution of being. Given a world enormously transcending that which we can see or hear or touch with our physical senses, its repletion with various forms of life seems inevitable. Given a humanity whose most powerful motives and impulses come from interior desire, and whose development on the material plane is necessarily limited while that on the immaterial plane has no bounds whatever, there can hardly be question as to the true sphere of effort. Given a telescopic look into the realm of Evolution, with some apprehension of what that discloses and means and foretells, and the supposition that Adeptship is incredible becomes infantile. More than this; there awakens a prevision that we ourselves are the proper subjects for all the fulness which analogy assigns to the race, and an assurance that every day of duty wrought and concentration gained is speeding us on to a time when incarnations shall have been completed and destiny shall have been achieved.
1. The reference, of course, is only to White Adepts. (return to text)
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