Theosophy – June 1897

Health and Disease — A. Keightley

Everybody believes that the meaning of these words is an open secret. Health is the absence of disease, disease is the presence of some other condition, whether due to accident, infectious fever or perverted vital process. But is "everybody" right? Is there nothing hidden? Is the common voice the voice of common sense? The view so taken seems rather a short-sighted one. Of course on a merely material basis the view is not very far out, especially if it be held that "life" is due to the interaction of the various cells and organs of the body. But one of the old philosophers very wisely said that life does not so much consist in living as in being well and we may infer from this and our own experience that any deviation will mean disease.

If we refer to any theosophical book or to eastern and western philosophies we find that in all alike a separate and distinct place is given to a "vital principle." This means that life does not consist in the interaction of cellular particles but that it is in virtue of an inherent and not extraneous vitality and that these particles themselves have life and form. What their form may be or what is their power or method of cohesion is another matter altogether. The living body has been compared to a sponge floating in an ocean of life. The water of the ocean within and without is continuous and is the universal life principle. But this principle being universal permeates all forms of matter alike, though not equally, and according to this mode of action of the life principle are the bodies classified.

Such may be said to be the simple, natural method. But let us carry the simile of the sponge a little further. While there is an equal interchange of give and take from and to within and without the sponge — in short while the centripetal and centrifugal forces are balanced, so long everything goes well. Life and healthy life is manifested in the sponge. On the other hand let us suppose that the incoming is greater than the outgoing: the balance is disturbed and life becomes congested within the sponge. The cellular lives take on too great an activity and unless relieved a vibration is communicated to the sponge which may shatter the united body of the sponge to pieces. Too much life in a body kills that body just as surely as too little will cause its death.

From another aspect we may regard all things known to us as varying manifestations of force in matter. Science tells us that matter in itself is one and the same and that the difference between bodies as we know them is due to difference in the rate of vibration of the force. Take for instance the different colors of the spectrum. The colors of the objects we see with our eyes depends (a) on the wave lengths of the vibration of the ether (b) on the varying degree in which any matter or form stops and absorbs those wave-lengths and (c) on the retina of the observer being correctly attuned to perceive the wave-lengths allowed to pass and those absorbed by the colored body in question. Another element in the question is whether the etheric light-waves are reflected back from the body observed or transmitted through it, to the retina of the observer.

Such very briefly is the case for sight. Coarser vibrations of the air affect the organs of hearing: still coarser those of touch; similarly in varying degree the organs of smell and taste. But the underlying principle becomes clear. Bodies differ from one another to human perception by reason of the varying rate of vibration of force in and between the particles of matter contained in them.

Let us apply this to our study of "Health and Disease." Without going into details the anatomist will tell us of a vast complexity of structure, each part of which serves its purpose in the vegetable or animal economy. Each has its own part to play and no organ of different structure can play that part or perform that function. Each different structural type has its own life-vibration and does it well or ill — too much, too little or exactly right in the general run of bodily work.

Now let us resume the analogy of the musical vibration. According to the rate of vibration is the musical note. According to the various notes in relation to each other is harmony or discord produced. Thus taking all the vibrations of the various organs of any animal or vegetable body, there will be what we may call the "chord of the mass.'' And going further, there will be the harmony and discord of the family or nation of individuals. Thus in the unit human body the due and accurate performance of function of the various organs will constitute health, while failure in anyone function constitutes disease.

But the problem is at once complicated when we commence to study the human constitution. If we regard living bodies as simply so much matter vibrating variously according to its organic structure, the chord of the mass is, though complicated, comparatively simple. As soon as we introduce the question of the astral or etheric body and its vibrations, of the astral plane and its inter-communication and interpenetration with the physical, we are confronted with another class of vibration as much more subtle than the physical as the Roentgen vibrations are more subtle than the waves of sound. But even then when we assume that the astral vibrations may be grouped under one generic head we are confronted with a further and more subtle set belonging to the domain of mind, exemplified in the well known influence of mind over body. Still the principle is the same and we may perhaps justifiably conclude that the great life vibration is one and the same, operating variously in matter and thereby constituting the various bodies and the grades of matter of which these bodies are formed. "Health" and "Disease" still bear the same relation to each other and to the human constitution — but the sources of health or the seats of disease have been rendered more subtle and complex. They have been rendered much more dynamic than structural. Furthermore, just as we have seen that the physical harmony or discord is subject to the more subtle forces of the astral and mental (for lack of a better word) planes, so we may conclude with Pat-anjali that there are other and more subtle planes and vibrations, for the ''mind'' is only the internal instrument or organ for the manifestation of more subtle forces.

Such considerations lead us to a more expanded view of "Health and Disease." We can regard "Health" as the perfect and balanced action not only of a physical body but also as the perfect action of astral and mental vibrations manifesting the free and indwelling "spirit." But what of disease? This conversely would be the imperfect action. Apart from this, however, I think that we may regard disease as a perverted vital process. Theoretically, of course, all should be perfect, but as a rule, nay invariably, it is to be seen that individual human units have made their own conditions; have by physical, astral and mental action created such conditions and set up such vibrations that the beneficent force of life is on the one hand either unable to "inform" the various grades of matter, or on the other enters in such quantity as to rend to pieces that form of matter which it enters. In the first volume of the Secret Doctrine there is a curious footnote in which H. P. Blavatsky deals with the action of the minute "lives" or units of the animal economy. It is there stated that the life force is manifested at one time for the purpose of construction and that the same force is also used to change or destroy the form which had previously been erected. Thus I take it that the life force passes into manifestation in its outbreathing; it recedes in its inbreathing, still changing its form; and still pursuing the change of form it undergoes a period of "rest," following in this the analogy of physiological respiration. Then comes a fresh cycle of manifestation.

Thus we can follow the law of cause and effect through various incarnations in reference to "Health and Disease." We may consider, from the point of view of vibration, that all action sets up a vibration which may be in harmony or discord with (a) the existing chord of the mass of that human unit on the physical, astral or mental planes, and (b) the chords of other units in relation with that one, and (c) the dominant note of the universal life force. The result will almost inevitably be a discordant vibration. Such discordant vibration, wherever it act, will as surely produce "disease" either mental, astral or physical, which will manifest on all the planes or be stored up as a "mental deposit'' or skandha to be more easily manifested on another occasion.

This naturally raises the question of the cure of disease and the promotion of health. It would seem easy, perhaps, for the possessors (if there be such) of the "Elixir of Life" to cure all diseases of suffering humanity by a few of their magical drops. But this would be contrary to nature and would be akin to a vicarious atonement if the harmony of health were to be thus produced. Man is his own destroyer, and he must be his own physician. Terrible would be the result of these magic drops: they would kill the body as surely as the strongest prussic acid. To be an "Elixir of Life" the drops must be a concentrated life-force imprisoned in a vehicle. Such a force coming in contact with a body and vibrations not attuned to itself would rend that body asunder and destroy it as a form. Man can do it for himself if he chooses, but must not attempt to shirk the consequences of his own acts. Having by acts (and the thoughts which preceded them) laid up the mental deposits which will manifest later as discord and disease, how is he to restore harmony within himself and with nature around him: how manifest harmoniously the indwelling life-force?

The answer is tolerably simple. He has to simplify himself. While man continues to occupy himself with a makeshift panorama of his own making he will perpetuate the evil. What man wants is an ideal — an ideal self to which he may cling and of which he can think, and then by gradually raising that ideal he may come to realize his own true healthy self.

In all this I would not be understood as saying that the cure of bodily or astral disease lies in the mind or that the presence of bodily disease is evidence of an unclean or diseased mind. Nor would I wish to argue that to cure disease of the body we are to meet it on the mental plane alone. I say, on the contrary, that nature means us to meet it on all planes alike. Again, when I see a diseased body and the clear spirit shining through ill-health, I rejoice, for I know that the mental deposits have worked down and out and that the karmic deposit is almost done away with. Meet discord with the true weapons and restore the harmony: but do this because it is right according to nature's laws and not because you shall benefit your own poor body. If you use the mental life force for this purpose you will lay up a mental discord, and by injecting too much of this into a form unfit to receive it render that form diseased and insane in every sense of the word.

Therefore, I say: use all things properly according to nature's laws to a lawful end on every plane alike. Regarding all these manifestations as so many different vibrations we shall find that we become more and more impersonal and by becoming so that we shall be better able to sympathize with and thereby help the suffering.

Consequently the touchstone — the ''Elixir of Life'' which all alike have it in their power to administer to suffering humanity — one which is without danger to those who receive it — is that loving vibration of the human life-force which we try to express by Brotherhood.