The Path – August 1895


Very few of us accomplish in life all that we wish. We propose to ourselves to do much that is noble, we have high aspirations and hopes. We give much thought to these, laying out plans and building castles in the air. This of course affects our lives and actions to some extent. In some cases it very largely affects them, but in the majority there is some great obstacle to fulfilment; either the conditions of life are unfavorable, or our duties to others dependent on us require all our energies. It is but a dream, a mere dream, to too many. Does it follow however that our castle building, our hopes and aspirations, are futile? We cannot answer this question unless we know something of the true nature of man and of the planes of being on which he acts.

It will be sufficient for our purpose to consider man as a threefold being, or to view him under three aspects:

(1) the real man, the soul, the essential nature of man, the experiencer and actor;
(2) the mind or middle nature of man;
(3) the physical body or external nature, including in this the passions and desires.

We may look upon (2) and (3) as being planes of manifestation of the soul, or as being vestures in which the soul is clothed, or as instruments it uses to gain experience.

If we think seriously on the matter it is not difficult to understand that the physical body with the passions and desires does not constitute the real man, for we know that it is possible to train, control, and use these. This implies an actor above or behind the physical body to whom the latter is an instrument. It is more difficult to realize that the mind is also an instrument, and that it is not the mind itself which controls the body but that the real man stands even back of the mind and uses it and can train it for greater and greater use as an instrument. The mind is an instrument by means of which man may control his lower external nature. We can understand too that the physical body is a vesture, vehicle, or sheath for the soul or real man, but it is more difficult to understand that the mind, using the term in a general sense, is also a sheath or vesture. It is through these mental and physical vestures that the soul gains experience on lower planes of being.

We use the physical vesture in all our relations with external nature and in the ordinary actions in everyday life; generally speaking, we may say that the physical vesture is that which is used during- life on the physical plane. Many people, not stopping to think about the matter, imagine that all life, i.e., that between birth and death, is spent on the physical plane. But is this really so? We might ask if they ever used their minds to such an extent that they forgot, for instance, that it was dinner time, or that they did not hear some one speak to them. Or, we might ask if they ever dreamed, or where they were when they were fast asleep, not even dreaming. If we consider the matter it becomes clear that a great part of life is not spent on the physical plane, but on some other plane, and that the soul uses some other vesture or instrument than the physical body for gaining experience on this plane. This other plane is the mental plane, the plane of thought, imagination, will, aspiration, and of ideals. The vesture that the soul uses on this plane we may call the mental vesture.

Now let us ask ourselves another question: What is it that makes life joyful and happy or hard and miserable? Is it the possession of external things, wealth, position, fame, or does it not rather depend on the mental attitude? This question does not require any detailed discussion and we may answer immediately that it is the mental attitude that colors and changes the whole of life. The reason of this is that man is essentially a thinking being, who in the present stage of evolution has reached that point where his most important and peculiar sphere of action is the mind. Man has risen above the animal stage of evolution, in which he was happy and contented with objects of sense and with mere externals; by becoming man he became a thinker, a dreamer, and, no longer satisfied with mere animal existence, he questions himself and nature, seeking to know the riddle of life. If on the one hand we were mere animals or on the other had complete control over our animal nature we would use all the animal functions of our physical bodies according to nature; we would eat for instance only when hungry — in order simply to satisfy hunger, and we would be satisfied always with the simplest kind of food. But we are no longer animals, and the great majority of us have not yet conquered our animal natures. The two natures in us, the physical and the mental, get sadly mixed up, and we do not eat and drink only to satisfy our needs but take an aesthetic pleasure in our eating and drinking, i.e. the mind enters into the simplest and most external things of life. I do not say this is all wrong, but it is part of the discipline of life to attain to the right proportion in regard to these two natures.

No action originates on the physical plane, the seed of all action is on the mental plane; action on the physical plane is an effect of some cause on the mental plane. But we know that thoughts do not immediately take effect in action on the physical plane, in fact the thought energy may remain stored up for years or for a lifetime and never result in action during the present life. Because of this and because of ignorance of the true relation between thought and act the majority of people have come to consider that, after all, the plane of action, the physical plane, is the real plane, and the other is a mere illusion; they say it only exists in thought, in the mind, thus making thought and the mind an illusion. So, too, they consider the waking life as the only real life. When they go to sleep and perhaps dream they know on waking that they have lived through the night because they are alive today and remember their life of yesterday, but sleeping is not real life to them, because they do not do anything when they are asleep and the dreams they have are only dreams; they vanish into thin air as soon as they awake. This is no proof however that we do not really live and gain experience during sleep, it simply is a proof that such people are not able to coordinate the two states of consciousness, the waking and the sleeping. It does not prove anything else. It is not possible here to consider all the evidence and arguments that during sleep the soul is active on another plane of consciousness and in a world entirely different from this; not a world of dream and illusion, but a world of real experience and development. Our waking life oscillates between two poles, (a) physical activity with a minimum of mental activity, and (b) a maximum of mental activity, mental abstraction, with a minimum of physical activity. Normally, during sleep, the physical activity is also a minimum, but can we say that the mental activity is a maximum? In one sense, yes, but not in the sense of activity of the merely intellectual and reasoning powers for which the brain is an instrument. According to many writers on Theosophy, ancient and modern, these are only the lower powers of the mind. The higher powers are very difficult to describe, but some idea may be obtained from a consideration of the state of pure mental abstraction, sometimes called "brown study." In such a state the mind ceases to reason, to cogitate, but passes into what is called contemplation, a state of knowledge of the attainment of knowledge.

From the standpoint of everyday life such a state appears to be one of inactivity because the brain is not active, but it is really a state of higher activity, of finer vibrations, too fine indeed for the brain in its normal state to respond to. In the dream state the brain is to some degree active but generally not under control, the soul having for the time being partially loosened its hold of the physical body: most dreams are not due to direct action in the brain but are the result of reflections, generally very imperfect, from the higher and true thought plane. In deep, dreamless sleep the soul loosens its hold still further of the physical organism and may leave it for a time, although still magnetically connected with it, and hence to some extent being still influenced by the physical plane.

We can now go a step further. After death the soul leaves the physical body and the physical plane altogether and — not considering any intermediate planes — passes into Devachan. It is impossible to describe states of consciousness; they must be felt and experienced. But if we try to understand the relations between those states that we experience in earth-life we may to some extent infer what the devachanic state is like. That is, we may make it more real to us, and in this way attain to a clearer comprehension of the various statements in regard to Devachan which have been made by theosophical writers and so accept these statements, not merely on authority, but because of their reasonableness.

One of the first points to be noted is that the soul in Devachan is entirely out of the influence of earth-life and of the physical plane; the soul no longer has a physical vesture or a physical brain which it may use as an instrument. It is clothed only in a mental vesture and its plane of consciousness will therefore be a step beyond all those we have so far considered. In ordinary and intense thought activity, in dreaming, and dreamless sleep, the soul is still connected to some extent with the physical body and therefore liable in varying degree to the influences of the physical plane. But in Devachan it passes beyond all these, and, because of its being freed from this lower plane becomes thereby more open to influences from higher planes. Devachan is a mental plane, and the vesture of the soul when in it is a mental vesture. Hence in order to understand more clearly the nature of Devachan we must study our own minds and the laws of thought.

(To be continued)

The Path