The Path – October 1895



Years ago, long before I had even heard of Theosophy, Dr. J. R. Buchanan told me about his discovery of Psychometry. I did not believe a word of the seemingly preposterous things he claimed as within the scope of his new science, and would have found his affirmations amusing if my mind had not been pre-occupied with saddened contemplation of him as a mental wreck. While we were talking, a member of his class came in — a dainty little lady with a handsome intellectual face and charming manners — and the old man said to her, "I have been telling my friend about our new science, but can see that he does not believe in it. Have you any objection to giving him a demonstration of what it can do?" "None whatever," she replied smilingly. He requested that I should give her a piece of paper bearing writing, or marks of any sort, made by one whom I knew well. I did, and she held it in her right hand probably twenty minutes, while taking part brightly in a general conversation upon a variety of topics. Then she described the writer of that letter, who was one of the most prominent and brainiest of New York journalists, told first how he looked, his height, figure, complexion, the colors of his eyes and hair, and so on: then reviewed his habits, the bent of his mind, preferences, prejudices and ambitions; analyzed his character; even admirably defined the peculiarities of his literary work. All was clear, definite, detailed, and exceedingly accurate, as I either knew at the time or ascertained by subsequent inquiry. The man could not have done himself more exact justice, and in some matters would not, I think, have done so much.

Amazement almost paralyzed me. I had watched her closely, and she had not seen a stroke of the writing (could not, indeed, if she had wished to): I had been careful to give no hint of the writer's identity and she did not know who the man was, any more than I know the name of the political boss in the chief city on Mars, — but she knew what he was, as if she had been his conscience. When she took her departure the doctor increased my perplexity by his explanation of the phenomenon. He said a great deal about the astral essence, or spirit of things, and I listened, but my mental attitude was that of the old sailor regarding a tough yarn, that he "might hoist it aboard, but couldn't stow it away in the hold."

That experience worried me a long time; it seemed so utterly inexplicable. Thought-transference I knew something about, but psychometry went altogether beyond that into regions not merely unexplored but actually unsuspected. Either the doctor had not been sufficiently clear and explicit for me to understand him, or my personal evolution had not yet reached the point where I could assimilate his information — the latter most probably — and it was all hazy to me. It would have been soothing if I had been able to treat it in the scientific materialist's way of dealing with supersensuous things, which is simply to deny their existence; or that of the parson's, who put up a sign at the entrance of every unexplored path — "No Thoroughfare," or "Closed, by order of the Commissioners." or something of the sort. As I said, it worried me, until Theosophy taught me the septenate composition of man, what his astral principle is, whence it is derived, its functions and importance as the link between the plane of gross matter and the higher realms of mind and soul. I say Theosophy taught me; but, to be explicit, the exponent was William Q. Judge, which is, after all, the same thing to me, since the philosophy and he — the wisest and best teacher we have since H.P.B. is gone — are inseparable in my mind.

Recapitulation, to an assemblage of Theosophists, of what we all have been able to learn concerning the astral being would, it seems to me, be a waste of time, if not actually bordering upon impertinence. But I may be permitted to suggest, simply as an unauthorized and wholly personal notion of my own, a mild protest against getting into a habit of being misled by the common use of the words "lower" and "higher" as applied to the principles of man. Of course the permanencies — spirit, soul and mind — are of more ultimate importance than the transient personal principles; but while we are in the corporeal phase of our evolution, it is not wise to even affect to look down upon the latter, or assume that they are to be regarded as regrettable clogs upon our ineffable remainders. The principles are not disposed like the steps of a stairway, but interblended, mutually introactive and reciprocal in their action, like the atoms of the akasa, differentiated into distinct gradations, yet one and the same in ultimate essence of being. Our development of the "higher" principles depends upon our employment of them as forces upon the "lower," which are requisite as the field of such exercise, and the good and evil of the "lower" are dependent upon circumstances and susceptible of adjustment by ourselves. Do not let us forget that the only essential, unqualified and avitchi-deserving evil is that which may be developed in the manasic principle. Such development may seem to be from kamic incitement, but the kamic impulse then is only a reflection of the baleful light from the wicked manas. Properly controlled, the kamic influence is simply one of energy, forceful for good, inspiring and sustaining the loftiest endeavors of the human soul. The kama-rupa, man's self-created embodiment from the akasa, of his most intense desires, dominant thoughts, and habitual impulses, is not necessarily a thing of horror, but may be deva or demon just as he wills it. And as for the intellectual side of manas as distinguished from the spiritual — the "lower manas" as it is styled — it may be purified, elevated, strengthened, but must always be an inseparable adjunct in even the highest states of consciousness. I don't think I could respect an angel who had not a finely developed lower manas — if such a being were possible, which I do not believe — and am very sure I have no confidence in the compatibility of lofty spirituality with low intellectuality in humanity. Exceedingly stupid and grossly ignorant persons are sometimes very pious Christians, but that is quite in "the eternal order of the fitness of things," and does not at all disturb my views of the general principle involved. They may be even conspicuously moral persons — which is quite another thing — but their quality as such is surely not a resultant from their lack of intelligence. An oyster has probably as few vices as any other creature living, but that is simply because it is an oyster, not by reason of its spirituality. As for the astral principle, which binds together all personal entities in one common humanity, through which we are first made conscious of our one-ness with the universe, (manifested God) and by the right use of which we may pass the veil of the Unknown, still as mortals, and win knowledge and power commensurate with our aspirations; the Magical Agent of sensation and action! the Liberator from the trammels of corporeality! the Enlightener! — is it not worthy of our profound interest and tireless endeavors for its comprehension and control? Nothing is more apparent than that the most advanced races of humanity have, at this time, reached the point in evolution where development of the astral consciousness is a natural and inevitable step in their progress. Whether so recognized or not, its manifestations are the dominant interest of the seriously thinking world of today. Advanced scientists already accept the astral body of man as a logical necessity, arriving at perception of its existence through a process of reasoning analogous to that which compelled recognition of the akasa — finding it indispensible to explanation of certain indisputable phenomena. No force can produce effects without an adequate medium of transmission to its objective point of manifestation. This is as true of the mental energies as of those of light, heat, or motion. The astral principle of man is the adequate medium between his own mind and his gross body; the converter of the intensely rapid vibrations of the former to the low rate of the latter for the phenomena of action, and the converter of the lower rate to the higher for phenomena of sensation. Furthermore, it is the sensitive medium by which the vibrations of one mind are communicated directly to another in the now familiar phenomena of telepathy and hypnotism — neither of which would be possible without it — through the continuous vibrations of the astral matter of the akasa in unison with those of the active entities impelling and sensing them. One school of hypnotists affirm a magnetic aura as a prime factor in the production of phenomena, which another school deny, but that is a detail at present unimportant, particularly as that aura is not comprehended as the astral principle and is only under discussion between them with reference to its possible influence in inducing the trance state. The hypnotization of a sensitive is, primarily, domination of the physical forces through mastery of the astral, upon which they are dependent; secondarily, subjugation of the mental forces of the hypnotee, likewise through control of the astral consciousness, by the hypnotizer. The abnormal state thus induced might properly, so far as the subject is concerned, be characterised as one of astralization, since in it consciousness is confined to the astral plane, through inhibition of the normal mental control belonging to the personality. And it is interesting, and highly significant, to observe that under the operation of this inhibition the newly awakened, or liberated, faculty of perceptivity becomes, in some cases, so intense that it extends to vestiges of impression from precedent incarnations, in the sub-conscious mind.

It is not at all surprising that the experiments of the hypnotists opening the door to an illimitable field of recondite knowledge, should have fascinated and filled them with wonder and awe at the revelations of the mysteries of the personality which they have been able to penetrate, and the powers of which they find themselves possessed; but it is strange that so few of them seem yet to have remembered the scientific law already referred to — that requiring an adequate medium for the transmission of every force as a condition to its manifestation. As the vibrations of light would stop short at an exhausted receiver, did not the akasic atoms transmit them through the atmospheric vacuum, so, were there not something of synchronous vibrational rate to carry the mentally impelled astral vibrations of the hypnotizer to the astral percipience of the hypnotee, there could be no transmission of the former's energy for control of the latter. That something is the semi-material gradation of the akasa which we refer to as the "astral current," or "astral light," or "astral plane," and the next important step science will be compelled to take is its recognition. That step cannot now be long delayed, and, when taken, will be, by virtue of its enforced admission of akasic differentiation and consequently of the supersensuous planes, the death-blow to materialism. The limit of knowledge our occidental scientists may attain in this new field of study, without adoption of the methods of the occultists, may be an interesting subject for speculation. Already they have handled and thrown aside, without suspicion of their use, the keys to doors confronting them. In no branch of science dealing with gross matter would have been overlooked such plain indications and suggestions for more exhaustive knowledge, as have been afforded in hypnotism's tentative touch of the supersensuous world. Here is one conspicuous illustration.

Oriental philosophies affirm the practicability of evolving material forms from semi-material astral matter by the intelligently directed force of will. They say that by properly applied mental effort one can cause to appear objectively to him any form or color which is first a clear subjective concept and upon which he with concentrated attention fixes his will; furthermore, that by continued application of such will-force he will be able to eventually cause a condensation and agglomeration of the tenuous astral matter to such an extent that the form or color will appear objectively to the sensuous perceptions of others, and even attain enduring materiality in conformity with his creative concept. All that simply amuses our wise men, who do not believe a word of it. Yet some of them, without seeming to know it, have done something toward proving the oriental claims, which it is strange they do not realize.

During some experiments at Nancy, a woman in hypnotic trance was shown a perfectly blank white card and told there was a picture of Napoleon upon it. She recognized the portrait at once, criticised and admired it. The imaginary picture in the mind of the hynotiser was clearly transferred to her astral consciousness, and she saw it on the card in every detail of uniform, expression, and so on. After a little time, her attention being momentarily withdrawn, the card was reversed and turned over. Then she was told to look at it again. She said, "It is on the other side. Now you are holding it upside down." Evidently it was objective to her astral perception, not merely a subjective-reflection from her master's mentality. Then the card was placed in a pack of others, in every way exactly similar to it, except that it had on one edge, for the purpose of identification, a minute mark which she could not have known anything about, since it was made by another person than the hypnotizer, who did not draw her consciousness to it. The pack was thoroughly shuffled and placed in a drawer, and she, having been told that after awakening she should remember and pick out that particular card bearing the picture, was restored to normal conditions. This instruction as to what the sensitive shall, or shall not, do or remember upon awakening, seems necessary to establish an available connection between the astral consciousness and the normal faculties. Without it there is no memory of anything occurring in the trance state. When the woman was fully awake, she was told to look among the cards in the drawer for one bearing a picture. She did so, and quickly picked out the marked card, saying, "Here is one with a portrait of Napoleon on it." When other persons were unable to see anything on the smooth white surface, she became indignant, thinking some trick was being played upon her. The cards were then photographed together, spread out on a plain surface. To corporeal sight they were just so many blank spaces, but care had been taken to locate the one representing the marked card, and when they were put before the sensitive, though she was, to all seeming, in perfectly normal condition, at once she pointed out that particular card as bearing the portrait of Napoleon. She believed that she saw it with her physical eyes, the illusion of sense being fully established, but the perception was of course by her sensitized astral, consciousness. She saw it just as various persons I know see elementals and "spooks" — and sometimes deem them "angel visitors from the summer land." Would the camera make record of conditions of matter beyond the range of our most highly developed and aided sensuous perceptions? Why not? In enlargements of siderial photographs, discovery of stars is made where no telescope, however powerful, could reveal anything. She believed that she saw the portrait with her normal sight, as if it had been a photograph or engraving, and yet she was wide awake. Now, what did she see? It is by no means a violent assumption that the will-force of the operator and her thorough conviction, directed to the card with considerable definiteness of attention, had operated to make a deposit of astral matter there in conformity with the concept in their imaginations — a portrait of Napoleon — and that her perception of it was by no means the mere interesting illusion her hypnotizer supposed, but veritable sight, by the extremely sensitized astral vision, of what was as real on the astral plane as an alto-relievo in bronze would have been on the material plane. The experiment is not reported as having been carried beyond that point. No attempt seems to have been made to test if that astral picture would be visible to the astral consciousness of another sensitive, or if, by further and yet more intense concentration of attention upon it, a deposit of astral matter sufficient for sensuous perception could have been procured. Yet both those things, it would seem, should have suggested themselves; could not have failed to do so, I am sure, if the experimenters had been Theosophists.

While man's body was still composed of astral matter, up to the time when the third root-race began to approximate in materiality to their environment of gross matter, he needed, and had, but three senses, hearing, touch, and sight. The third race began to acquire the additional sense of taste, which was the normal possession of the fourth. In like manner of gradual development, the fifth sense, smell, possessed only by the more advanced of the fourth, toward the completion of their period became common — with all previously possessed — to the fifth root-race, ours. And again "coming events cast their shadows before," as we of the fifth race are growing conscious of a sixth sense, which will be the birth-right of the sixth root-race, for whom the way is now being prepared. The arcane wisdom teaches that perfected humanity will be endowed with seven senses, but what the seventh will be we can hardly even imagine, as it must necessarily transcend our present powers of comprehension. The sixth, that of Astral Perception, which challenges our attention now, is as much as we are able to deal with understandingly. As we know, each of our five senses is but the responding of astral matter, slightly differentiated for special service in different organs, to the tatwic vibrations in the akasa. Hardly anybody has them all equally developed, and, so slight are the distinctions between their service, frequently when one is lost another takes its place. All are but means of perception to one synthesizing cause, that of knowledge by the astral consciousness, for transmission of correct cognition to the mind. That superior sense, capable of grasping knowledge without employment of the five intermediary senses, the exercise of which is limited by the physical organs, is what is now demonstrated, by exceptional organism and under abnormal conditions. Already sensitives in hypnotic trance hear what is far beyond the range of physical ears, see that which is shut from them by walls, and — when not by extraneous mental control compelled to err — are accurately conscious of the qualities of materiality, odor, and sapidity possessed by remote objects. The man of the sixth root-race will possess those capabilities, in his normal condition, as an attribute of his conscious waking life, without susceptibility to its perversion at another's will.

By the way, that most common of hypnotic experiments, the betrayal of the senses of the hypnotee, is a noteworthy proof of the astral body and demonstration of its being the real receiver of all sense impressions. At the will of the hypnotizer the sensitive finds sweet sour or bitter, is deaf to loudest noises, insensible to vilest smells, experiences pain as pleasure, sees things that are not or does not see those which are, and so on, — all without any impairment of the physical organs. This seems wonderful to those who view things from a materialistic stand-point only, but is very simple.

The physical eyes do not see, or the physical ears hear, or the physical brain think. The mechanism of sensation and impulsion to voluntary action is altogether in the astral being, which is controlled by the mind capable of exerting will-force upon it. One may gain such command over his astral organs as to be, at will, deaf, blind, insensible to heat or cold or pain, and this while his physical organs are in normal condition. Of itself, the gross body can, in none of its parts, do or experience anything. Even those editors who, when writing about Theosophy, seem to think with their feet, are not even capable of that.

The change of state called "death" is the first step of the Ego in its periodical change of vestments. The corporeal body is abandoned. Its component myriad lives, drawn from the material elements and held together until then by the superior force of the jivic differentiation of the universal pranic wave of life, are set free and, animated by the life-principle infusing each according to its special laws, all return to their respective affiliations with gross matter. All the rest of the man remains, but in what may be scientifically characterized as a "critical" state, one of change. Enough of the jivic principle is retained in the entity to hold together the semi-material astral body, or linga sarira, constituting it still a vehicle for the yet more ethereal principles of both the personality and the individuality. It is now in what we know as the kama-lokic state. The lower manas yet inhabits the entity, endowing it with powers of reflection, giving direction to kamic incitements, and, under the impulsion of the higher manas, enhancing recollection. At the same time, the instrument of action and sensation — the corporeal body — exists no longer; hence the desires of the kamic principle — or animal soul — vivified and spurred to the utmost, are starved and made tortures instead of gratifications. From these conditions it would seem natural to deem the kama-lokic state, while awaiting the second death, one of retrospective agony and horrible illusions of present experience, the legitimate products of evil life; not very far removed from the Christian's hell, except that the high temperature and brimstone of the latter would be subjective to the former, realized only by those ill-advised enough to have expected them.

How long the kama-lokic state continues is a question. I have somewhere read, or heard affirmed, that it lasts until the second death, that of the astral body, and that cannot occur until the corporeal body has been resolved back to its elements. But I find no reason for believing anything of the sort. I do not see how the abandoned material particles can have any influence at all in determining conditions for the now wholly disconnected entity upon another plane. If that were so, the most infamously vile rich man could practically assure himself against having to endure more than a few minutes of kama loka at the utmost. He would simply need to make inheritance of his wealth conditional upon his body being promptly cremated and proper chemical treatment being given to his ashes. And, on the other hand, the purest, tenderest and saintliest soul that lived on earth in the days of the Pharoahs and, according to the custom of her people, had the ill-luck to be embalmed, would be suffering unspeakable tortures yet, through that unfortunate circumstance only. It is a notion which so little commends itself to my reason and sense of justice that I could almost as soon believe in the vicarious atonement. The truth no doubt is that the duration of the kama-lokic state is a matter of karmic adjustment, to meet with absolute justice the deserts and requirements of each individual case, and is even less subject to estimate of time limitation than the duration of the devachanic state. All that can be said positively is that it ends with the "second death," the withdrawal of the manasic triad to devachan, which is beyond the field of our present consideration.

The linga sarira thenceforth exists only as an unconscious form, a "shell" in semblance of its departed personality, gradually disintegrating and dissipating, soon restoring its atoms to the astral current whence they had been temporarily withdrawn. Until wholly dissipated, it is a convenience for elementals seeking to effect impersonations of the dead, in obedience to mediumistic invocations. The last spark of jiva left it when the manasic triad went out, and thereafter its process of decay is analogous to that of the corporeal body.

But one principle strictly belonging to the personality is still left, the kama rupa or animal soul, which preserves a specialized consciousness confined to its dominant faculties, memory — through vestiges of sensuous impression made during life — and desire, the product of such memory impelling to recurrent experience. The power of ratiocination it has lost with the lower manas; a vehicle for action and sensation it no longer possesses, since deprived of the linga sarira. It can only wait and suffer until the karmic hour strikes for its return to the world of causes and effects. And, with exceptions which will be noted, it does return, for it, the self-created Self of the man, the embodiment of all characteristics of his personality, is the germ upon which is formed the astral body of a "new-springing life." It is the karmic link between incarnations. Through it the heredity of ancestral physical features and mental traits and the latencies from which atavismic phenomena spring are preserved. It is the seed from which grow the distinctive conformations of body and the cerebral developments that limit and modify the faculties and tendencies of the lower or personal mind. In it inhere the taints of evil, the accursing skandhas, of an unworthy past. In short, it is the architect of the corporeal house that will exactly meet the requirements for experience of some Ego returning to reincarnation. And it should not be understood as wholly evil. Good also inheres in this abstract remnant of personality. It returns to life through the energy of its desire for existence, which is its dominant quality, but the purpose of such desire is not necessarily altogether bad. Where it is, the current of karmic retribution carries it steadily downward, from one incarnation to another, through a succession of beings devoid of the higher principles, under increasing weight of woe resultant from continuous evil, until the desire for life fades out and the wretched entity reaches extinction. Who but the All-Wise shall say at what point in that descent return for the miserable animal soul is no longer possible — where must be abandoned the hope that the energy of its nature may not be helpful to evolutionary ascent by the human soul to union with the spiritual if the right influences can be brought to bear upon it?

I am well aware that this view of the functions of the kama-rupa may be regarded by some of my brethren as — to say the least — not explicitly set forth in such teachings as we have received. Indeed, if I remember aright, somewhere there is a statement from which the assumption may be drawn that the kama-rupa in some mysterious way becomes responsible for the existences of animals, or incarnates in animals, or something of the sort. As a figurative affirmation that may be all right. I have no doubt some reincarnated human beings possess the characteristics of lions, many more those of foxes and wolves, and an infinite number are much like asses. But as a literal statement of fact I find nothing in reason to support it. And I have too much respect for the animals to believe it, anyway. I sympathize with good Walt Whitman who wrote:

"I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained.
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy, over the whole earth."

To return from this gruesome digression to the more engaging theme of astral consciousness: What a magnificent vista of possibilities opens before the imagination in contemplation of the conditions of existence in a community where everybody shall be endowed with that sixth sense and, beyond it, have fully developed astral sensitiveness to the mental vibrations of those surrounding him; where each will not simply live in a glass house but himself be transparent. Professional reformers would have there no excuse for continuing in business; selfish financiering, corrupt "practical politics," hypocrisy, treachery and crime would no longer pay, indeed would not even be practicable; and vice would die a natural death. There is no wild improbability in such an imagining, unless we utterly refuse to believe in a coming millenium when everybody shall "eschew sack and live cleanly." If evolution is eventually to bring man to perfection, as we all hopefully believe, a very long stride in that direction would certainly result from the universal conscious utilization of the full powers of the astral body.

The Path