A great deal of idle nonsense has been published since 1875 about the modern theosophical movement and its sponsors, a little-known order of Adepts, Masters of wisdom, compassion and peace. A careful review of their letters and articles written in the 1880s is eye-opening: it shows they made an effort to respond to every important question troubling the thinkers, scientists and scholars of that era — a rather remarkable performance by any standard. The Adepts came forward with explanations based on their own comprehensive perspective of reality. It was up to Western investigators and students to take and prove or to disdain the data freely proffered from sources ordinarily occult or esoteric. But they emphasized that they were not interested in the growth of knowledge for its own sake; that neither exact science nor any other branch of scholarship could make claim upon them unless its activity would promote the amelioration of the sum of human misery.
What was the condition of human knowledge then? The 19th century was a critical one in the history of thought. It witnessed the great struggle between an empirical science and an orthodox religious theology, with the year 1859 forming a major watershed. Scientific investigators made strenuous efforts to discover what are space, time, gravity, light, sound, electricity and magnetism, heat, force and energy, and matter itself. The nature of life, especially "organic" life, was pondered. It was a time of extensive theory construction based on laboratory experiments and mathematical formulae and equations. Physical science became the "great explainer" capturing the luminous zone of the public mind. Nothing was left upon which the soul — man's vital consciousness — could build, and the times were impelled toward an extreme agnosticism grounded in rank materialism. Something was needed to guide men's thinking toward a more balanced vision of themselves and the universe, to prevent their spiritual impulses from falling back into flagrant superstition and sacerdotalism. Not surprisingly, then, the Adepts devoted considerable attention to the findings and practitioners of science, whose ranks included intuitive as well as materialistic thinkers, some of the former joining the nascent theosophical movement.
Taking advantage of questions on physical science put to them by two English members — A. P. Sinnett, a newspaper editor in India, and F. W. H. Myers, one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882 — two Adepts, Kuthumi and Morya, generally known by the initials K.H. and M., offered their findings in the light of their own scientific spiritual philosophy. Additional material was later included in The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky, published in 1888 with their consent. Perhaps the best way to show their wider knowledge is to compare some of their statements with later scientific discoveries.
The Nature of Matter
Science a hundred years ago believed the matter of the universe was composed of ultimate particles, the indivisible, "billiard-ball" atoms, which by combining formed the elements. Matter was found to exist in three states — solids, liquids, and gases — but the nature of energy, electricity and magnetism was a mystery.
Sinnett and Myers were told by the Adepts that the matter of science, far from being the Primary Element, was the most differentiated and hence the lowest of seven states of substance; that it forms but one pole of the manifested stuff of the solar system, the other — and inseparable — pole being energic life and consciousness. All manifestation is bipolar and is evolving. Solids, liquids and gases are only the first three conditions of substance on this plane, the Adepts identifying the "radiant matter" of Sir William Crookes as its fourth. A fifth state they termed "extra-radiant," and said that the visible sun is composed of substance in its sixth and seventh states — totally distinct from any found on earth. H. P. Blavatsky explained:
It is on the doctrine of the illusive nature of matter, and the infinite divisibility of the atom, that the whole science of Occultism is built. It opens limitless horizons to substance informed by the divine breath of its soul in every possible state of tenuity. — The Secret Doctrine 1:520
Roentgen's discovery of X-rays in 1895 led to the revelation by J. J. Thomson two years later of sub-atomic particles — electrons — foreshadowed in Crookes' "radiant matter." This divisible atom upset all former theories of matter derived from classical Newtonian physics, and ushered in modern or New Physics. In 1900 Max Planck showed that matter radiated electromagnetic waves which behave like a stream of particles (photons) and obey a universal constant in nature: small, indivisible quanta of energy expelled one at a time according to a whole-number progression. Radiation is both wavelike and corpuscular — a contradiction according to classical physics! In his 1905 theory of relativity Albert Einstein added recognition that mass or substance is equivalent to energy and that time and space are integral factors of the substance-energy continuum making up the universe (see pp. 91, 109, The New World of Physics, by A. March and I. M. Freeman, 1963). Niels Bohr used these advances to devise the first practical theory of atomic structure in 1913; it showed the atom to be a replica in micro-dimension of the solar system of macro-dimension: a central, positively charged nucleus around which circled varying numbers of particles, much as planets circle a sun. Then in 1931 Planck summed up all of physics' progress by writing that
the final consequence of the researches which were directed towards discovering the inner constitution of matter within the past fifty years is the knowledge that all matter is made up of two primordial elements: negative electricity and positive electricity. — The New Science, 11
"Substance" thus is dual in nature and disappears into "energy." The universe is composed of "matter" and "antimatter." So illusive has matter become that contemporary physicists now state that an electron is neither a particle nor a wave, "but an entity that defies every attempt at pictorial description" (The New World of Physics, p. 133). It is no longer legitimate to ascribe to elementary particles the substantiality of pellets of matter. They are nonmaterial structures, and the New Physics has become metaphysics because it deals with factors beyond visibility and natural law that can be coped with only by a statistical law known as the "principle of indeterminacy." This recalls another statement Blavatsky made in 1888 that the physicist
. . . must first know what an atom is, in reality, and that he cannot know. He must bring it under the observation of at least one of his physical senses — and that he cannot do; for the simple reason that no one has ever seen, smelt, heard, touched or tasted an "atom." The atom belongs wholly to the domain of metaphysics. It . . . has nought to do with physics, strictly speaking, as it can never be brought to the test of retort or balance. — S.D. 1:513
The Sun: Source of Matter
In the 1880s the sun's substance was thought to consist of gases in combustion at intensely hot temperatures. Writing to Sinnett in October 1882, K.H. denied such gaseous combustion, inasmuch as the sun we see is "but a reflection." He said the sun takes back nothing from its system, yet gives the latter all its seven states of substance through an inexhaustible radiant energy.
Yes; call it "Radiant Energy" if you will: we call it Life — all pervading, omnipresent life, ever at work in its great laboratory — the SUN. — The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, 168
By 1940 science had shown the sun as not hot in terms of ordinary combustion, but as consisting of "a mechanical mixture of pure elementary substances," and George Gamow then wrote:
We must therefore imagine the interior of the Sun as some kind of gigantic natural alchemical laboratory where the transformation of various elements into one another takes place. — The Birth and Death of the Sun 2:89
Our stellar body is now described by scientists as a "cosmic energy plant" or, as James Van Allen recently put it, "that nuclear physics laboratory called the sun." This view came to the fore only after 1939 when Hans Bethe first explained the transformation of hydrogen — the simplest element — into helium in the sun. In 1957 a definitive scientific analysis showed that in all the stars processes are going on which build up the simplest elements one by one into more and more complex structures. Today scientists attempt on earth to duplicate conditions of matter as they are thought to be in the sun in an attempt to understand the process of "fusion" by which stars create elementary substances. But that is not all: it is now believed that, as the English mathematician, the late Jacob Bronowski, put it in 1973:
Matter itself evolves. The word comes from Darwin and biology, but it is a word that has changed physics in my lifetime. — The Ascent of Man, 344
If the foregoing record of utterances does not demonstrate that the Adepts long ago acquired through their own means a very advanced knowledge of the nature of the solar system if not of the cosmos itself, even additional citations probably will not. What is clear is that what science calls matter — the vehicular or substantial pole of the duality of manifestation, the other pole being, in the Masters' view, life-energy-consciousness — evolves forth from stars — from our sun in our own system. Beginning there as relatively homogeneous substance, matter assumes steadily more complex, graded differentiations until it reaches the "heaviest" complexity native to our physical plane.* Thus the sun has been found to be the primary source not alone of the energy in our solar system but also of the graded substances composing it. Perhaps the ancients' term of gratitude and respect, "Father Sun," was after all not so unscientific!
*Even heavier elements than any existing on earth have been 'created' by science in the laboratory; but these do not hold together for long. This is strongly suggestive of the modern theosophic concept that such elements represent structures of "matter" which are not native to our own but to worlds of being 'below' ours in terms of materiality and utterly unknown to us.
The Question of Jupiter
Asked by Sinnett about the planet Jupiter, in October 1882 K.H. wrote:
In its present position in space imperceptibly small though it be — the metallic substances of which it is mainly composed are expanding and gradually transforming themselves into aeriform fluids — and becoming part of its atmosphere.— Mahatma Letters, 167
Little was known about Jupiter's composition even early in the present century. In the 1950s science held several theories about it. One, proposed by W. R. Ramsey, believed Jupiter to consist mainly of hydrogen. Commenting on this in 1954 the British Astronomer, Patrick Moore, wrote:
If hydrogen is responsible for 80 per cent. of Jupiter's mass, there will be no fundamental difference between the centre and the outer layers, except that the terrific pressure near the centre will compress the hydrogen gas so much that it will actually start to behave like a metal, not like a gas at all. -- Guide to the Planets, 116
Not, however, until the tiny unmanned spacecraft, Pioneer 10, passed within 81,000 miles of Jupiter in December 1973, could science confirm or negate these ideas. After data from the flight had been analyzed, "Jupiter's New Look" was published about September 1974. It presented that planet as composed mainly of hydrogen and helium gases laced with clouds of ammonia crystals and water ice, surrounding a large inner sphere of "liquid metallic hydrogen" — making Jupiter a great ball of whirling gases and metallic liquids with no solid surface.
The Nature of the Moon
Until a few years ago science held several theories about the moon, some little changed since the late 19th century: that it was torn from the earth's side in a comparatively late stage when the earth had already cooled off to a liquid state and its surface probably covered with a thin, solid crust; that the earth and moon condensed simultaneously, as neighbors, from the same mass of primordial dust; and, that the moon was a body accidentally captured by the earth's gravity. By the mid-1950s it seemed more likely the moon had always been a separate world, but lunar theories have usually assumed the moon to be younger than the earth. Recent estimates of the latter's age, based on isotopic composition of terrestrial lead ore, range from four to five billion years. Radiometric tests have given the oldest known terrestrial rocks an age of about 3.5 billion years.
In mid-1969 the Apollo 11 lunar expedition produced moon rocks tested at 3.5 to four billion years old, and the later Apollo 12 team returned lunar soil particles given a test-age of some 4.6 billion years! This is about one billion years older than any known terrestrial rock. Moreover it equates with science's estimated age for the earth and solar system itself. Because the same kind of test was applied to both terrestrial and lunar rocks, the comparison of their respective ages is valid regardless of whether radiometrics yield true ages in terms of actual years of time. These findings astonished some scientists. The moon's comparative age, plus notable differences in lunar and earth chemistry, appear to have ruled out the general theory of lunar formation from a fragment ripped from the earth. Moreover, the Apollo evidence suggests that the moon has not been heated for billions of years by volcanism or any other "living" process like those observed on live planets, remaining unchanged since long before the first life is thought to have appeared on earth.
Shortly before the Apollo landings the Nobel Laureate Chemist, Harold Urey, had observed that "all explanations for the origin of the moon are improbable." Urey had recorded his belief that the moon may be considerably older than the earth, a relic of objects dating from the earliest period of the solar system's formation. He believed this would make of it a "far more interesting" object of investigation than if the moon were a mere daughter of the earth (The New York Times, August 25, 1969).
According to the statements of M. and K.H., made in the 1880s, the moon is much older than the earth, being in fact the latter's ancestor or progenitor. The moon is now, they said, the relatively lifeless "ghost" or astral shade of the earth, having long ago bequeathed its vitality to the new planet. That it still gives some vital energies to the earth and draws upon the latter electromagnetically, is shown in its influences over earth tides and the growth cycles of plant life. Other remaining exchanges of energies between earth and moon, unknown to science as yet, remain a distinct probability in the theosophical view because of their cosmogonic relationship. Although the full report of lunar expedition findings has not yet been issued, those which have been shared with the public tend to support rather than refute the Masters' teaching about the moon.
The Earth's Protective Shield
Queried by Sinnett whether magnetic conditions and the sun affect earth's weather, in October 1882 K.H. referred to the "meteoric continent above our heads" which he said was a mass of strongly magnetic meteoric dust that the earth attracts because it itself is an electrified conductor. Every atmospheric change and disturbance, he added, is due to the combined magnetism of the "two great masses" — the earth and the "meteoric continent" between which our atmosphere is compressed. The sun has little to do with atmospheric phenomena.
High above our earth's surface the air is impregnated and space filled with magnetic, or meteoric, dust, which does not even belong to our solar system. . . . [there are] strong magnetic poles above the surface of the earth . . . and one of these poles revolves around the north pole in a periodical cycle of several hundred years. — Mahatma Letters, 161-2, 167-8
In February 1958 the unmanned rocket, Explorer I, discovered that lying between 1-3,400 miles above the geomagnetic equator and within earth's magnetic envelope is an enormous doughnut-shaped belt of trapped protons and electrons, generated by cosmic rays (i.e., from outside the solar system). The following December another rocket, Pioneer III, discovered a second, bowl-shaped belt from 8-12,000 miles out that covers the whole globe except the poles, in whose latitudes its extreme edges dip low enough to touch the outer atmosphere. This belt traps charged particles such as ultraviolet and X-rays, allowing only relatively few to escape and enter the atmosphere at the poles where their descent creates the phenomena of the auroras. Called the Van Allen belts after their discoverer, these hitherto unknown protective zones around the earth screen out high-energy particles continuously bombarding our planet, which otherwise might destroy life on its surface. Astronomers now believe that two are really one great belt filled with particles.
Making allowance for the lack of suitable technical language in the 1880s to describe such phenomena, the words of K.H. strongly suggest the Van Allen radiation belts. Or, more accurately, the cause of those belts: enormous relatively permanent strata of magnetized meteoric matter or dust that function as traps for radiation from the sun and outer space.
Other questions commented upon by the Adepts, such as the genesis and size of the universe and the nature of electricity and magnetism, must be deferred because of considerations of space. That their views were far in advance of 19th-century discoveries and shed a quiet but astonishing light on findings that science was to make only in the 20th century becomes crystal clear from the record. It verifies that the Adepts are indeed advanced men possessing an unusual knowledge of the facts of nature beyond that of Western science. The balanced approach they displayed toward problems of life and learning, the careful, tactful treatment accorded Westerners with whom they corresponded, and their open-eyed dedication to solid human progress rather than to fantastic or unrealistic objectives, all inspire us ordinary men with much confidence in them and their purposes. A study of their writings will dissipate any consternation we may feel that such unusual humans exist. We come to realize they are getting on with their tasks for the world, expect us to get on with ours, and will help us insofar as circumstances and we ourselves allow.
(From Sunrise magazine, November 1975. Copyright © 1975 by Theosophical University Press)