Students of Theosophy will always owe a debt of gratitude to the author of Esoteric Buddhism for the efforts made therein to at once simplify and elaborate the teaching he received from Masters through H. P. B. But when the time had come to give the Secret Doctrine to the world, few will regret that H. P. B. took advantage of the opportunity to correct certain mistakes made in the earlier book. The letters transmitted by H. P. B. to Mr. Sinnett, published in the Occult World, clearly show the immense difficulty under which the Masters labored to express their teaching in terms that would be understandable to their recipient. Looking back over that correspondence one cannot help being struck by the nature of the questions addressed to the Masters. The replies given show that these questions were not only almost exclusively scientific, and materialistic at that, but were also such as might have well been addressed by counsel in cross-examination. This does not reflect discredit upon the author of Esoteric Buddhism, for he took up the legitimate attitude of a man of the world, who knew something about modern science, and whose mind was open to receive truth from any source that lay open to him, so long as he had been introduced to it in a reasonably orthodox manner. Such an attitude, however, sufficiently explains why his conclusions were fallacious on certain important points, based as those conclusions were on insufficient data and dealing as he was with an abstruse and unfamiliar subject. H. P. B. in the Secret Doctrine elucidated matters satisfactorily to all concerned, except to the few whose preconceptions debarred them from adopting any other view but that based upon their friend's original misinterpretation.
A more recent contribution in Lucifer to the discussion of this matter demonstrates among other things the difficulty some people experience in overcoming a strong leaning towards materialism, for materialism has ample scope for its expression in Theosophy, as well as in orthodox Christianity and more directly in atheism. Such an innate tendency of the mind may be persistently maintained through many outer changes of belief, and at all times and under all conditions may be trusted to degrade and ultimately destroy all that it touches. Applied in this particular instance, it has taken a metaphysical conception such as the septenary constitution of the earth and by meditation has produced seven balls tied together with string, gummed to space, fixed by a hawser to the Absolute, and held in leash by the sun with the help of all-pervading gas, metaphorically if not actually.
It may be well, therefore, to consider H. P. B.'s teaching in regard to the constitution of the earth as given in the Secret Doctrine, and to endeavor to obtain some conception of the metaphysical nature of this and every other world in space. Beginning with fundamentals, we have to bear in mind the Unity that underlies all manifestation. Manifested, that Unity can be studied under various aspects, though remaining in Itself unknown. For purposes of preliminary study it is well to take the three aspects — Consciousness, Matter or Substance, and Spirit or Life. Every atom and every universe, every event and person, every object and every subject, can be studied from each of these three standpoints; and while such things in themselves remain the same though expressed in these different terms, it will not be possible to obtain a comprehensive view of any one of them unless all three aspects are recognized and observed. To baldly state that a man has this or the other appearance will convey no true impression of his nature. He must also be described from the standpoints of consciousness and of force. Only then can we form an estimate of his character. But the real man still remains unseen and unknown. To know and see the reality we must identify ourselves with the reality, must become at one with the Root of all things. That is only possible because of the issuance of all things, man included, from this root Unity, and the consequent tendency of everything to return to its source, much as the waters of a river rushing to the sea return in the form of rain and dew to the mountains whence they came.
This process of emanation may be imagined as taking place from within outwards, and the resulting absorption from without within. Emanation, beginning with the one, becomes the many, and the final result may be described as the differentiation and densification of matter; the differentiation and limitation of consciousness manifesting through this matter; the differentiation and confinement of life or force. Then the reaction takes place and the many re-become the one.
On seven great planes manifestation is said to take place. On the four lower planes form exists; the three higher are formless. On each of these planes consciousness, life and substance are inseparably present. Even on the outermost subdivision of the lowest of these seven planes there is life and consciousness; nor are these distinct from substance, for all are but aspects of the eternal and changeless Unity. On each of the planes consciousness is limited by the substance-vehicle through which it there manifests; and substance varies enormously from its most dense condition to a condition that could only be described as spiritual.
These planes may be diagramatically represented as seven concrete divisions, but it should be understood that they might equally well be pictured as seven concentric circles, as seven separated globes, or in any other way preferable to each individual. To imagine them as actually distinct divisions would be to misunderstand the entire philosophy. They interpenetrate each other, overlap, and might be roughly compared to a sponge soaked in water, containing at the same time a considerable quantity of air, all of these being permeated by ether. In this case different states of matter interpenetrate. It is easy to trace different states of consciousness in oneself and to observe that these are not hard and fast divisions but that they merge and overlap, as in the dreaming and waking states.
Everything in nature exists on these seven planes. Man, essentially one, is said to have "seven principles;" he exists in seven states, or on seven planes; he can be studied from seven different standpoints — but these principles are not water-tight compartments. It is, for instance, impossible to say where the physical body ends and the astral body begins. The earth on which man lives is the physical body of a sevenfold being. It has its astral body with various subdivisions acting as vehicles for its life principle, its Kama or force, its mind and the rest. The principles of the earth correspond to those of man, but in the case of the earth these principles are called globes to avoid confusion. They are no more separate as globes, however, than when called principles. What relation, then, does man bear to the different globes or principles of the earth? This brings up the whole question of objectivity and subjectivity, and it is only possible to deal with this in the most summary and cursory manner.
What is now called the physical world is "objective" because man is functioning in and through substance of the plane called physical, for the objectivity of matter depends upon the plane of matter through which consciousness is functioning at the time. If he transfers his consciousness to another plane of matter, as in sleep, physical things cease to be objective (though they may be seen subjectively) and he sees objectively the things of another plane, as, for instance, one of the lower subdivisions of the astral plane. On coming back to this plane he will not remember such experiences unless his physical brain be sufficiently sensitive and sufficiently steady in certain respects to record these impressions. In the case of seeing a chair or other object, the process from the Theosophical standpoint is familiar enough. Chair does not exist as chair apart from interpreting consciousness, and that is a point of immense importance. Apart from the mind that makes of it "chair," and considering it physically, it is a congeries of molecules in motion, not compact, but vibrating at a great rate and with interspaces as between the planets and stars in space. This vibration is communicated to the nerve ends and, passing along the nerves till it reaches the brain, is transferred by way of the astral body to the inner and real seat of sensation, where vibration takes form and gives rise to an idea in the mind. This idea reacts back to the brain. Thus in every case and on all planes, whether physical or other senses are first impressed, objectivity depends upon mind, the interpreter.
The objective of one plane is the subjective of another. "Ideas" are subjective to man when he is functioning in and through his physical body, but if he transfers his consciousness to the plane of ideas and functions in his mind-body (composed of the same order of substance as that which clothes the ideas), they will be seen objectively by him. That will become his "physical world" for the time being, though conditions of time, space, and so forth, will have entirely altered. On that plane everything on which the mind is turned becomes instantly objective, and a glimmering of this may be seen in the power of the imagination to call up image after image at will, so that in the case of those who have very powerful imaginations a picture is reflected upon the eye from within.
Applying the above to the Earth-chain of Globes, the meaning of the Master's words will become clear when he wrote that the other six globes are "not in consubstantiality with our earth, and thus pertain to quite another state of consciousness." The substance of which they are composed is on a plane different to our earth plane, and in order to see any one of the other globes objectively we must transfer our consciousness to a vehicle composed of its order of matter. This is further explained by H. P. B. when she says that "when 'other worlds' are mentioned — whether better or worse, more spiritual or still more material, though both invisible — the occultist does not locate these spheres either outside or inside our Earth, as the theologians and the poets do; for their location is nowhere in the space known to, and conceived by, the profane. They are, as it were, blended with our world — interpenetrating it and interpenetrated by it." (1) Planets that are seen objectively in the sky are visible for the same reason that the physical bodies of other men are visible to us; they are composed of matter on the same plane as our earth. Mars, Mercury and other visible planets do not belong to the Earth-chain; they are each of them the physical bodies of real "planets," are each of them septenary, are, roughly speaking connected with the earth in somewhat the same way as the different members of a family. But to make the different members of a family the various principles of one entity would certainly not be philosophical, and yet that is practically the interpretation put by the author of Esoteric Buddhism upon the teaching in regard to the Earth-chain of Globes.
Until we realize that the mind is the theatre of human evolution, and that the passage of the monads from globe to globe is really a transference of consciousness from plane to plane as it descends into matter and ascends towards spirit, we shall not be able to form a true conception of the Theosophical philosophy, even intellectually. It is in the mind that we live and that we die, that we suffer and enjoy, and it is only with the mind that we can become conscious of objects on any plane and will finally gain first-hand experience of the Earth's inner being.
1. Secret Doctrine, vol. i, p. 605 (o.e.) The whole of pages 605 and 606 should be read in this connection. (return to text)
TheosophyTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE