THE GROWTH OF THE SOUL
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTORY.
The progress of Theosophic knowledge Super-physical research Expansion of Theosophic literature Its bearing on the problems of life Advanced evolution in some cases to be expected Nature of effective testimony on occult matters The volume of evidence now available Witnesses to the truth amongst us Earlier evidence now enlarged The divinity latent in man Its development as evolution proceeds.
Theosophic teaching has expanded during the last twelve years till it now constitutes a vast coherent statement concerning human evolution, the conditions of existence that await humanity on supra physical planes of nature, and the methods by which it is possible to acquire faculties, knowledge, and opportunities of usefulness far exceeding those in possession of ordinary humanity at the present day. It presents itself as the most widely reaching system of philosophy with which the progress of thought has yet put us in contact.
Treated as a hypothesis it would claim attention by offering a reasonable explanation of many phenomena of life constituting painfully insoluble enigmas on any other theory; including an elucidation of the way in which it is built up on positive knowledge concerning the conditions under which human consciousness may function out of and independently of the body, it surely makes a startling appeal to advanced intelligence. No man of science worthy of the name would exalt the pursuits in which he may be engaged to a level of importance comparable with that of spiritual research, provided he acknowledged that there were any means of really making sure of discoveries along that road. Unhappily most patient questioners of Nature in the Western world are persuaded that definite answers are only to be obtained in reply to questions concerning the laws and properties of matter; but if it were satisfactorily established that questions concerning the laws and properties of consciousness could be answered as explicitly, eager explorers of that untrodden realm untrodden as they imagine it would surely endeavour to equip themselves for the new research.
No doubt it is a very delicate research. Matter, and even the subtlest forces that pervade matter, are uniform and reliable in their activities; once their secrets are wrung from them, the same answer will be given to the same question however often it may be put. The truth may be difficult to attain, but once attained its disguise can never again be assumed. Till recently, on the other hand and some persons will still think the qualification unnecessary there has been nothing indisputably established about the laws and properties of consciousness, considered as something apart from its physical vehicle. Metaphysics, in so far as vague speculation bearing that title has been cast in a scientific mould, has dealt with thought itself as an object of contemplation rather than with the thinking consciousness as an entity. We have no body of manageable facts or phenomena to deal with as a foundation on which to build any certain conclusions in reference to extra-corporeal consciousness, or rather, those of us who have had such facts at our disposal have been unable to hand them out to the world at large for examination. A new chemical compound, however unstable or difficult to handle, is at all events on equal terms with every experimentalist. An abnormal human being, with spiritual faculties adapted to function independently of the bodily organism, is a human being, with rights as such, and generally with an extreme susceptibility to suffering. He or she may render priceless service to individuals by introducing them to laws of Nature concerning consciousness apart from the body, but cannot be used to break down the rocky barriers of incredulity in the world at large, any more than a violin could be used as a spade to dig up a clay soil. The best that can be done with the help of such persons towards educating the world at large is done when their capacities and testimony are reported upon by careful observers.
Nine people out of ten, or a larger proportion of larger numbers, habitually reject the second-hand evidence thus provided, but at the same time a small minority shows a better sagacity, and minorities gradually accumulate. In this way, by degrees, a body of enlightened opinion is formed, and so it comes to pass that people who are quite untouched by the growing belief that there is an unseen world around us, with which human consciousness is in some sort of relationship independently of the senses, are already left in the rear of anything that deserves to be called advanced thought. Of course, there is a long interval between the recognition of the broad idea just described and the appreciation of theosophic teaching as the scientific outcome of knowledge concerning the laws which regulate the expansion, growth, and the progress of consciousness out of the body. But at all events, if there is an unseen world, in addition to that visible to eyesight, it is a part of Nature, and will be credited as such by every scientific mind, with being under the reign of law. There must be a science of unseen, unfelt phenomena lurking in the possibilities of the future, if there are such phenomena in existence. If for no better reason, theosophical writers might expect, therefore, to be commended for their attempt to arrange, with order and scientific method, the chaotic evidences relating to the unseen world which pour in upon us from so many quarters. Supposing their interpretation of Nature in her higher aspects were merely hypothetical, by what other process has any science been perfected ? Incoherent facts, accumulated in the beginning at random, are pored over and studied, till hypotheses are framed in the attempt to reconcile and correlate them. The hypotheses are open to revision later on, if new experience challenges their applicability. The situation as regards theosophical teaching is not as though this represented a hypothesis in rivalry with others. It is the only comprehensive theory of superphysical Nature that has yet been presented to the world in a shape which can be regarded as scientific in its range and character. Supported as it is at every turn by superphysical facts available for examination, it embraces an interpretation of the laws and conditions which regulate the growth of the Human Soul, the neglect of which by any thoughtful persons who rise above the contemplation of purely material objects, is so unreasonable as to be almost absurd.
What other knowledge can compare with that which enables us to form a right appreciation of the spiritual potentialities bearing on the permanent and imperishable elements of our own being ? The future, looking beyond the limits of physical life, is moulded, according to theosophical teaching, in accordance with the causes brought into activity during the physical life; and though occult science is the last spiritual system in the world to suggest that finite blunders or neglect have infinite consequences, it is, nevertheless, profoundly earnest in assuring us that no great results in the future, either for evil or good, are possible without being provided for by adequate causation. Our will, our intelligently directed effort, need not be called into play to assist Nature in the regular development of her general design; but as regards the destinies of each individual, he himself must make choice with his eyes open in reference to the part he elects to play in the loftier regions, so to speak, of that general design, and the very first step he must take in that direction, if he is ever to move on at all, is the step involved in the effort to comprehend. He cannot afford to drift on for ever, or for very much longer, paying attention only to material things. His eyes can only be opened to the character of the loftier regions referred to by virtue, in the first instance, of knowledge gained concerning the superphysical realms, spheres, or planes of Nature.
Esoteric teaching exhibits the fundamental truth of things in regard to these mighty departments of consciousness, as those know full well who, first taking the trouble to understand the esoteric statement, proceed then, with whatever means may be within their reach, to check and verify it. But this is just what the intellectual world of our time, at large, has not yet attempted. Only a few, relatively, of its leading thinkers are even proclaiming the importance of psychic investigation. Still fewer have had the quick discernment to perceive that the esoteric teaching offered by theosophical literature reaches far ahead of such immature discoveries as unaided psychic investigation has yet brought out. Though embracing and interpreting these, it also embraces and interprets the most perplexing riddles of human existence, and the most embarrassing traditions of religious faith.
The "few," indeed, are pretty numerous, if we look at them apart from the rest. After all, the theosophical movement has struck its roots into almost every country all over the civilised world. Its literature has been translated into nearly every civilised language, and all over Europe and America we find considerable groups of people, including men of the highest culture, devotedly attached to theosophic study, ardently convinced that it opens out a pathway of research leading to positive knowledge concerning the spiritual future of mankind. But this fact only renders it the more unreasonable and deplorable that such groups should even collectively remain a mere handful, compared with the hosts of the educated world at large.
However, whether fully or only partially comprehended, the teaching that has been offered to the world through theosophic agency does nothing less than offer a revelation from the spiritual plane of consciousness and knowledge, and one which must, in accordance with the infallible pressure of necessity in the future, be recognised as such, however many or however few may be those who in the present invest themselves with the great advantage of recognising it among the earliest.
The guidance under which I began to write on these subjects in the year 1880 has never been inactive in my life from that time till now, and the information on the basis of which "Esoteric Buddhism" was written has been expanded and deepened in a great variety of ways, one consequence of which is that I am now enabled to put forward the great and manifold additions to #ie earlier teaching which the present volume contains. And in the interval a flood of theosophical writing has emanated from other exponents of the spiritual science under elucidation. Some of these writings appear to be exactly parallel with the guidance I have received; in some cases subtle ideas are differently expressed; in others, again, there may be apparent discrepancies between the interpretations I have given and those which others have constructed. Such variations of conception, however, in regard to the meaning of occult teaching as bearing on remote problems of cosmology and on departments of natural science beyond the range of physical exactitude, are of no consequence in reference to the general value of the theosophic revelation at large. Minor conflicts of opinion in respect to the manner in which ideas of a very obscure order can best be translated into the language of incarnate thinking ought rather to be welcomed than otherwise as stimulating the activity of minds addressed to such undertakings. In its bearings on the possibilities of individual spiritual evolution there is no ambiguity in the teaching of Theosophy, no room for differences of interpretation among honest exponents of the one great doctrine.
And it is mainly with the purpose of setting forth these essential principles clearly by themselves, with all such amplifications of the previously existing explanations as the later information supplied to me enables me to furnish, that the present work has been undertaken. From a complete account of the laws governing human evolution as a whole, from the first manifestations of spirit on the material plane, to the culmination of the all but deified human individuality, any students sufficiently in earnest will be able to discern the methods and principles that regulate individual progress.
But theosophic literature is not merely designed for the service of those whose already awakened intuitions render them quickly appreciative of the lines on which spiritual progress may be achieved. It should aim quite as much at leavening religious and scientific thought at large with the great ideas on which the ultimate progress of the race depends. At some stage or other of his immortal career every human being who would not drop hopelessly into the rear of the advancing wave of evolution must make a beginning in the work of voluntarily uniting his own individuality with the forward movement. That beginning is only to be made by attaining a broad comprehension of the enterprise before him. But a great deal of preparatory culture is possible for the human mind, even before spiritual enthusiasm becomes a clearly defined motive for intelligent action. The views of life and Nature which Theosophy unfolds are precisely adapted to subserve that culture, and thus the explanations with which this book is concerned are subject to no narrow limitations as regards those to whom they are addressed. There is no logical coherence in a scheme of things which regards the mankind round us as a worthy culmination of all the efforts Nature has made so far. Justice will never be fulfilled if the variegated panorama of existence, as passing now before our sight, is a point of departure from which each of us passes out, once for all, to be stereotyped for good or evil hereafter in some other spheres of unchanging beatitude or suffering. Vaguely it may be apprehended, there must be some unknown futurity in which moral cause and effect will still be operative with much finer exactitude than would be involved in a broad separation of all post mortem humanity into sheep and goats. With resolute striving after the realisation in life of whatever ideals of goodness may present themselves as best calculated to bring the soul into sympathetic relations with the Divine consciousness, many people may be, without knowing what they are about, entering on the path of the higher evolution; and some students of the laws governing the higher life knowing that it is easier to become intelligent than morally exalted would prefer to see their fellow creatures animated by moral enthusiasm rather than by the thirst for spiritual knowledge as such. But none the less is it inevitably true that a beginning must be made sooner or later in the acquisition of the knowledge, and the response which Nature would make to the life of unsefish devotion to high ideals, unaccompanied by an intellectual appreciation of the reason why unselfishness and moral exaltation are conducive to great results hereafter, would be the gift at a future step of progress, of peculiarly favourable opportunities for acquiring the knowledge.
And while in this way moral exaltation to begin with, will bring such opportunities in its train in the long run, it is also true that for persons of a type of mind that I believe to be very widely diffused, nothing can be more conducive to the cultivation of the highest moral attributes than an intellectual appreciation of the truly symmetrical and reasonable laws really governing human evolution, which the esoteric doctrine brings to light. For it may surely be argued with some force that the spectacle of the world with its hideous entanglements of apparently unmerited suffering, with its rampant injustice, and wild carnival of cruelty and wrong always roaring in full activity around us, and interpreted by no other philosophy than an appeal to the inscrutability of the Divine will, is hardly calculated to convince the thoughtful spectator that he belongs to a universe in which the principles of goodness and justice are triumphant, nor to encourage him in attempting to combat the apparent victories of the evil principle. We know that the spectacle leads some thoughtful spectators, at all events, to the sorrowful conclusion that all is for the worst in this worst of all possible worlds, and that non-existence would be distinctly preferable to existence on the terms offered us.
A new, a more enlarged and more enlightened view of human existence is the foremost necessity of the age, and that view is afforded by the Theosophic revelation. My task will be to trace out the bearing of that revelation on the problems of individual life as we stand now confronted by the phenomena of our own generation, and enabled for the first time in the history of metaphysical speculation to deal with the higher planes of Nature's activity, and the possibilities of spiritual consciousness, as with an open book.
And here at once I may as well grapple with questions that will arise in the reader's mind as to the grounds on which I speak of mysteries hitherto generally deemed insoluble, as coming within the range of positive knowledge. From the first, Theosophical teaching introduced those who studied it to the idea, that in some exceptional cases human evolution had far outstripped the stage exemplified by the ordinary humanity around us. Those who had advanced to a high degree along this path of development were spoken of as Adepts, and by other names. That one will serve for the moment.
ome of us came into more or less intimate relations with certain Adepts, and out of such relationships all Theosophical teaching arose. Now that it has been developed to the extent with which advanced Theosophists are familiar, it constitutes, as I say, a coherent interpretation of life and Nature claiming attention and respect on its own merits. This volume, for instance, is offered to the non-Theosophical reader as a view of the spiritual constitution and destinies of man, which it will be worth his while to examine, independently of all authority on which it rests. It embodies its own authority, in one way, by affording the only available solution of many human problems to , which no other system of philosophy or religion affords an answer. But it does really come to us under guarantees of immense importance for those who can understand them. So it is only fair to readers who may be able to appreciate these, to say something more about them at the outset.
Part of the teaching modern Theosophists have received shows us that, granting certain conditions of preparedness on the part of persons still on the ordinary level of evolution, well directed efforts to that end will lead to the awakenment of interior faculties, by means of which such persons are able to cognise and communicate with adept teachers, clairvoyantly. All such processes of development will be considered much more fully later on in this volume, but it is enough for the moment to refer to the position in general terms. As time elapsed a considerable number of Theosophic students became enabled to take advantage of the opportunities thus pointed out to them. No one decently well informed concerning the progress of superphysical research during the century just coming to an end ought to find such a state of things surprising or difficult of intellectual acceptance. Nor, apart from modern experiences, should the existence of adepts beings on a higher level of spiritual development than the common run of mankind be regarded as otherwise than probable by rational thinkers. Once let us realise the fundamental fact of spiritual evolution, ill understood as yet by the world at large the fact that the spiritual entity which is the permanent ego of each human being, itself evolves through successive physical lives, and the more rapid evolution of some as compared with the majority becomes a matter of practical certainty. Some great figures in the past, on spiritual heights far above those generally attained, show us examples of such pre-eminence, and reflection may enable us to feel sure that besides the pre-eminent spiritual leaders who have played a part before the world, others must have been evolved in connexion with less conspicuous destinies. For when we understand something of the manner in which spiritual influences operate on the higher planes of Nature, we are not surprised to find that the real work of those who attain great spiritual advancement, is mainly carried on in ways which do not bring them into direct physical relationship with the less developed masses of mankind. The seclusion of the Adepts is a physical seclusion alone, favourable to greater activity on other planes than would be possible for them if they mixed in the turmoil of ordinary life. It is no seclusion at all, from the point of view of those among their pupils and disciples, wherever these may be living, who also develop their consciousness on those other and higher planes of Nature.
The direct testimony of such pupils, available for many earnest students of Theosophic teaching, is now multiplied to such an extent that doubt about the existence of the adept fraternity has long been absurd, from the point of view many of us occupy. Testimony which rests on the use of abnormal faculties is just as easily susceptible of collateral checks and corroboration as any other sort. Certainly it stands more in need of check and corroboration, because a new factor, liability to mistaken observation, is introduced. But this can be neutralised. For example, suppose a friend whose personal honour you trust, tells you that at a certain time and place he met some common acquaintance. Thereupon you believe that at the time and place mentioned the acquaintance was actually present. But, if your friend tells you at such and such a time and place, being then himself "out of the body" and functioning on the " astral " plane of Nature, he saw such and such a person you do not necessarily feel sure the person named was there. It is possible your friend was subject to a delusion. However completely the statement may have been made in good faith, it wants corroboration. But suppose another friend whom you also have reason to credit with abnormal faculties says, "Yes, I was there at the same time; what A says is true; I also saw so and so" the united testimony of the two observers is worth very much more than twice what each would have been worth singly. Now, suppose the two observers become three or four and that their testimony does not relate to one observation but to a continual familiarity with the person or persons and places described, then the actual existence of such persons becomes as assured to you as though the testimony related to the physical plane of facts altogether.
That is the state of the case for many modern Theosophists in Europe, not to speak of those in India, where pupils of the Adepts in a position to visit them out of the body, are more often encountered. The whole subject, for them, has been lifted right out of the position in which it stood when it rested on the testimony of the first promoters of the Theosophical movement. The honesty of that testimony has been abundantly vindicated, but we can afford now to rest our assurances on evidence with which it has had nothing to do. It may be convenient for me to incorporate with this explanation the substance of a statement I put forward in a Transaction of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society in April, 1894. Referring back to the beginning of my own Theosophical studies in India, about the year 1880, I explained how, growing interested in the whole matter I became acquainted with other persons also interested. Two of these especially, natives of India, earnest spiritual-minded men, told me in course of time that they knew the "Masters" on the astral plane i.e., in that extraphysical state of consciousness of which millions of crass materialists know nothing, but of which a large number of mystic students know a great deal.
A third Indian acquaintance, after acquiring astral plane knowledge of the Masters, determined to reach them personally in the physical body or perish in the attempt. He pushed across the Tibet frontier and, guided by astral perceptions, succeeded in his quest. He saw in the flesh those whom he and others had previously seen in vision, recognising them as such, and returning to tell of his success. Meanwhile I had been receiving a long series of letters, reaching me, apparently from certain Mahatmas, under peculiar circumstances described in my books, and conveying a mass of teaching which in due time I was enabled to publish, and in which great numbers of people have found a better clue to the comprehension of their own nature and of the world around them than any previously known religion or philosophy afforded.
One all-important fact thus revealed was that the avenues of initiation were still open for people who were qualified to advance along them; that the "Masters," though in seculsion, were not inaccessible for persons in whom certain interior faculties were ripe for development. Many person, including some Europeans whom I know, were inspired by this revelation to make the necessary exertions, and have learned to transfer their consciousness to the astral plane, to get about freely on that level of Nature, to obtain access to the Mahatmas, and to recognise, as also astral pupils, friends whom they know in the flesh. One such person, a European, whose development has taken place since the formation of the Theosophical Society, first came into conscious relation with the Mahatmas while working for Theosophy in India in connection with the headquarters of the Society at Adyar. Another gained the same privileges here in Europe, scarcely knowing the persons chiefly concerned with the Theosophical Society organisation in India. Within the last year or two, other Europeans and one person of Eastern parentage, among my own circle of intimate friends, have in varying degrees acquired the faculty of consciousness on the astral plane, and of clairvoyance in the ordinary state, to the extent of being able to hold converse, when permitted, with some of the Mahatmas, or to see them when they or some of their disciples have come astrally among us.
Thus I am dealing with a large group of witnesses to the truth, not with any one or two. Let me call them by letters of the alphabet, to show more definitely how their testimony hangs together. 
A. went in the flesh many years ago to Tibet. C, D., and E. have seen him with the Masters when themselves there in the astral.
B. is " dead " as regards the body in which I knew him. Being a regular disciple, his post mortem h adventures do not follow the normal course. C. knew , him while living in India; and sees him still from time to time in an astral body with the Masters.
C. is an advanced disciple, as much at home on the astral plane, and as fully reminiscent of all that happens to him there, as though the matters dealt with were yesterday's doings in the flesh. On the astral plane he constantly sees D., E., F., and H., all of whom know him and know one another on this plane of life, discuss what takes place when with the Masters, after returning to their normal condition, and are in all respects themselves completely in their mutual relation on the higher plane.
D. has more recently attained to similar privileges, and is in the full exercise, not merely of the faculties just noticed, but also, as is indeed the case with C. likewise, of the astral and devachanic vision in the as waking state in the body. A better appreciation pi of what this means will be acquired by the reader, to whom the terms used may be unfamiliar, when n he has gone over some of the later chapters of this book.
E. Everything just said of C. and D. applies also to E. in the fullest measure. C. and E. knew one another on the astral plane before they were acquainted in physical life. E. has been in free and unrestricted relations with the Masters for several years, though only coming into the inheritance of this privilege earned in former lives since the activities of the Theosophical Society began. Unlike C. and D., however, E., though also a European, reached the development described without having any touch with the Theosophical Society in the first instance. This is important with reference to preposterous hypotheses sometimes put forward with regard to "hypnotic influences." E. knows others of the Masters besides those of whom theosophic literature has treated, sees on the astral plane (as D. does also) both in and out of the body; has friendly relations also with F., G., and H. on the other plane.
F. is not yet so far on, but knows the Masters on the astral plane; also sees D., E., and H. there constantly.
G. is but just beginning to exercise the faculty of astral consciousness, and need not be more minutely explained.
H. is in a position to be present frequently when astral meetings of pupils are held in the Masters' presence; recollects as yet imperfectly, but is sometimes able to corroborate C, D., E., and F. with respect to conversations at which all were present.
Concerning the reasons why the great "Masters of Wisdom" have remained in the deep seclusion that has shrouded their very existence, even during recent centuries of Western progress, it would be premature to say much at this stage of my explanation. But for the sake of its direct bearing on the question I may quote a few lines from an old alchemical treatise of the seventeenth century, by a writer who was truly an occult philosopher, though availing himself of the then favourite alchemical disguise. In his Lumen de Lutnine Eugenius Philalethes, referring obviously to those whom we now speak of as the Adepts or Mahatmas, says: "Every sophister contemns them because they appear not to the world, and concludes there is no such society because he is not a member of it. There is scarce a reader so just as to consider upon what grounds they conceal themselves and come not to the stage when every fool cries enter ! No man looks after them but for worldly ends. How many are there in the world that study Nature to know God ? Certainly they study a receipt for their purses, not for their souls, nor in any good sense for their bodies. It is fit that they should be left to their ignorance as to their cure. It may be the nullity of their expectations will reform them, but as long as they continue in this humour neither God nor good men will assist them."
The fact of the matter is, indeed, not so much that the Adepts have withdrawn into seclusion as that mankind at large in the modern world has turned a deaf ear to their teaching, until in the end it has all but forgotten their existence. As Thomas Taylor the indefatigable translator of the Neo-Platonists writes in his preface to the Orphic Hymns, "Wisdom, the object of all true philosophy, considered as exploring the causes and principles of things, flourished in high perfection among the Egyptians first and afterwards in Greece. Polite literature was the pursuit of the Romans; and experimental enquiries increased without end and accumulated without order, are the employment of modern philosophy.
Modern enquiries never rise above sense, and everything is despised which does not in some respect or other contribute to the accumulation of wealth, the gratification of childish admiration, or the refinement of corporeal delight."
It is the prevalence of this characteristic in the modern world that has shut the higher spiritual teaching out of our lives to so great' an extent. But happily the exclusion is not complete. For all who can appreciate the height to which it may lead, the Adepts in this closing decade of the nineteenth century are just as accessible as in those bygone ages to which Thomas Taylor refers, when all men knew that the " Mysteries " were a portal through which it was possible for those prepared to make immediate temporal sacrifices, to pass on towards a loftier spiritual evolution. Though rarely approached in the Western world of late, such portals are open still; and Theosophists who have gained access to them have learned before going far to be guided by the great law which governs all real occult progress, that such progress is never to be attempted even by the neophyte with the single purpose of acquiring spiritual exaltation for himself alone. In its higher stages that progress must find its pre-eminent motives in the desire to help on the spiritual development of humanity at large; and so, in a humbler way, those who make their first steps on "the Path" with a clear sight of the destination to which it leads, cannot but be inspired to proclaim with all the earnestness at their command the importance of the discoveries they have attained to concerning the place occupied by the Adepts in the spiritual evolution of mankind. Only by learning to appreciate in some measure the attributes and powers of these, our Elder Brethren, will humanity at large get some glimpse of the future that lies before them, of the possibilities connected with spiritual evolution that are associated with the rank in Nature to which they have now attained. The investigation of these possibilities is the foremost task of those who may fairly be described as occult students. The effort to realise in daily work and thought and habits, the lofty ideals which theosophic teaching defines for our aspiration, is the next step in their upward progress. Such efforts can only be made with the best effect when we comprehend the system to which we belong, and, in some measure, the design that it subserves. We cannot aim intelligently at the noblest objects, for the sake of which such efforts should be made, till we know something of the extent to which consciousness may be developed on those higher planes of Nature, as yet veiled from ordinary vision. And this cannot be appreciated even in imagination till those higher planes are described for us by persons who are already in a position to function there. Bewildering at first, as it .may be, the vast cosmology of occult teaching must be apprehended in general outline, at all events, before the true character of the spiritual evolution available for us can be adequately grasped. But it is not necessary to plunge into this at the beginning of the whole study. We begin to appreciate -the nature of the prospect before us when we get firm hold of the idea that Man is not merely a product of Nature adrift on the stream of evolution, but is eventually carried, so to speak, by that stream out into a vast ocean that he can only cross by virtue of conscious efforts put forward on his own account. And then, with some comprehension of its winds and currents with some understanding, that is to say, of the higher planes of Nature that may be described for us by those familiar with them we may know enough to appreciate the way in which it is competent to man to help forward his own evolution towards the loftier levels.
Just as chemistry or astronomy may be largely comprehended now by people who would not have been equal, in the first instance, to the task of wresting their secrets from Nature, so with occult science. The comprehension of great realms of superphysical law and phenomena is relatively easy for any of us who will take advantage of the adequate guidance offered, now that the knowledge has been acquired by those who have been spiritually strong enough to lead the way. In the present day people quite unprovided with psychic gifts may invest themselves with a true and sufficient acquaintance with realms of nature which seemed almost hopelessly removed beyond the comprehension of all but the initiated few only a handful of years ago. Only by students of mediaeval occult literature, almost maddening in its obscurity, can the bright light now thrown in our own time upon the subjects that literature dealt with be estimated at its true value.
In chaotic disarray, indeed, but in great abundance, facts have been lying before us for the last half century which have all along established for observers, whose common-sense has been unclouded by illogical prejudice, the broad truth that animated matter does not sum up or embrace the whole intelligent consciousness of the world. Mainly, it would seem, because these facts were not amenable to systematic experiment or correlation, the classes chiefly concerned with the interrogation of Nature have shunned them with something like irritation. They had dropped from the clouds, as it were, in an unintelligible fashion, instead of growing in a reasonable and coherent manner out of previously existing knowledge. It was very doubtful, when first reported, whether they had really occurred. No one could make sense of them, and with the unacceptable hypotheses concerning their origin generally put forward by those who testified to their occurrence they were doubly offensive to a materialistic generation. Whether they had to do with the records of psychic mesmerism or were frankly associated with spiritualistic mediumship, they were equally out of gear with ordinary knowledge and were too hastily assumed to involve a denial of principles to which ordinary knowledge was devoted. But, inhospitably received as they were, evidences of incident and experience transcending those of familiar physical science continued to pour in very freely. The literature of spiritualism, mainly consisting of records of abnormal observation and experience, has expanded to enormous proportions. The accumulations of mesmeric record were very considerable before the new departure, which within the last few years has reconciled public opinion with mesmerism generally by restating some of its conclusions under a new name. Psychic research of an independent character, keeping both spiritualism and mesmerism, with all their hypotheses, at arm's length, has also accumulated its records, and the situation is now such that nothing but ignorance or stupidity of the densest sort can in the present day provoke a denial of the broad conclusions which point to the existence of superphysical conditions of matter, force, and consciousness. These conclusions may not be sufficiently precise in themselves to constitute material from which to deduce any theory of extra corporeal life, but they ought to satisfy even the least thoughtful observer that there is a realm of some sort of extra corporeal life around us. And when we find as we do find at the outset of any examination of the facts concerned that different people are very differently endowed in respect to their capacity for cognising the phenomena of the superphysical planes, that ought to suggest the possibility that some persons may be able to cognise these completely enough to make sense of them, and fit their phenomena into a coherent scheme of Nature. At this stage of the argument we get back to the theory that with adequate guidance it is possible for persons who are themselves quite without the gifts required for the personal observation of occulta, phenomena, to bring the whole subject within the area of intelligent study. We can listen first of all to a statement which may profess to formulate the various and bewildering phenomena of psychic, mesmeric, and spiritualistic investigations (together with many others besides). We may check the methods by which information of that kind is alleged to be attained, by the consideration of all accumulated experience of abnormal vision, and may then check the statement itself by a general consideration first of all of its inherent reasonableness; secondly, of its adaptation to the enigmas and requirements of life, and thirdly, of its symmetry as compared with the working of Nature in departments within the range of easy observation. Finally, we may consider its power of explaining the sporadic and, in themselves, unintelligible occurrences that lie around us in profusion.
Just such a statement as I have here imagined is embodied in the theosophical literature of recent years. Available for our acceptance if we find it satisfying the tests that we are entitled to apply, we now have before us a scheme of nature, of the world, of human life and future existence, which has as it were drawn aside the veil from the symbolism of religion, and brought the region of faith within the area of exact apprehension.
And theosophic teaching in reference to spiritual progress should surely claim favourable consideration from modern thinkers, if for no other reason, for this: that it brings that transcendental process within the uniform operation of cause and effect. Perhaps, indeed, religious teaching has only seemed to disregard cause and effect in assigning the conditions of afterlife to arbitrary favour or condemnation. Clear-sighted students may as readily discern true theosophy disguised in the symbolism of religion, as the most intelligent exponents of religious doctrine will discern the spirit of religion in the sublime teaching of occult science; but at all events popular corrupt religion is apt to regard the destinies of man after death as subject to treatment which, whether gracious or retributive, is influenced by considerations quite external to himself; and exact thinking must recognise such treatment as capricious as outside the law of cause and effect which operates so invariably in all realms of Nature, fairly open to observation. Theosophy, on the other hand, in regard to the progress of humanity, embodies an infinite exaltation of the doctrine of the conservation of energy. All future experiences of each of us in turn are the inevitable and logical outcome of our previous acts with their concurrent states of mind. The apparent irregularity and injustice of life is an appearance merely due to the fact that we take too short a view of life when we think that we perceive such irregularity and injustice. Spiritual science reveals the fact that each human life stretches both in front of and behind any given period of physical manifestation to an enormous extent. On the whole account the events and conditions of each life in turn are the effects of antecedent causes.
With this magnificent revelation, which is at the root of all truly scientific views of human existence, we shall be largely concerned later on; but there are some general principles concerning the potentialities of human progress which may be dealt with at once.
If we start from the safe point of departure to be found in the established fact that some persons have a much more highly perceptive organism than others, and if we keep touch with the idea that faculty itself is the product of causes, we are at all events within reach of a plausible hypothesis pointing to the theory that people may perhaps be able by appropriate effort to develop the aptitudes of their own organism for cognising a wider range of natural phenomena than those which are reflected in the five senses. And if so, do we not come within range of the idea that human evolution may be the product of two lines of force, the one proceeding, so to speak, from Nature at large, and representing the normal impulse of evolution, the other generated by the spontaneous volition of the individual, and representing the previously dormant principle of Divinity within him?
This idea is really the keynote of the scientific view of human spiritual evolution. The will force of each human being who would rise in Nature must be united with the evolutionary tendencies of the race as a whole in order that his greatest possible development may be brought about. The plain common-sense of this should be obvious to any one who will dwell in thought on the deep significance of any among many conventional religious phrases that are constantly echoed and rarely appreciated. Take, for instance, the familiar idea that in God we live and move and have our being. The converse spoken with all due reverence is a corollary of that statement. God the spirit or influence of God lives in us, and in so far as we have consciousness of being very ungodlike in many respects, it should be obvious that the extent to which that condition of things may be destined to become a vital truth, depends on the degree to which we render ourselves, so to speak, habitable for God. But surely, if one human being has rendered himself very much more habitable for God than another, that human being is the one whose will has become a more potent force than the will of the other, for it is more largely infused with the Will which, in its perfection, is recognised as the first cause of all things, and the guiding principle of Nature and evolution.
Who can fail to see what nonsense it must be to predicate the same immediate destiny in evolution for the God-inhabited man and the mere self-centred human animal. True, conventional religion, taking refuge in a meek faith that the worst sinner may be purified somehow in another world, is content to remain' in ignorance of the way in which its paradox works, of the device by which it is arranged that opposite causes should produce the same effect; but occult science, comprehending the patience of Nature, as well as its invariability, is well aware that the human animal will have other chances, besides any one in particular that we may see him wasting, for making the efforts that will render himself in some future personality the temple of spiritual consciousness. Opportunities may be wasted, and if so they may recur. The considerations governing that reflection will be examined later on. The all-important point is that at some stage or other of his career a human being must undertake his own evolution unite an adequately powerful ray of the Universal Spirit with his own consciousness or he will not evolve up into those superior realms of evolution which the humanity of our own epoch merely exists to subserve. Nor is that the whole of the thought which this simple view of the subject suggests. It is a commonplace of all scientific thinking that there cannot be immobility in Nature; there must be progress or retrogression change of some sort. Nothing really stands still, either in the cycles of astronomy, or chemical change, or metaphysical condition. A man may live one life, perhaps, and appear to be neither higher nor lower in the scale of Nature at the close of it than he was at the beginning; but one life is after all but a brief interval in eternity, or even in those very protracted cycles of time which occult science prefers to handle rather than to prattle, with the modern creeds, of conceptions so embarrassing to the finite mind as eternity and infinitude.
The man, as a continuous being, having a life history of which the one physical personality is but a single link, cannot stand still in evolution. It is an intellectual absurdity to imagine man doing that. He must either advance or recede; progress or retrogress like everything else every being else in Nature. Up to the rank in creation where most of us are standing now, such retrogression as has been possible need not for the moment be considered. The great automatic forces of evolution have driven each individual forward. There has been suffering perhaps, if during the process of such driving his will has been set against the Great Power behind him, but broadly speaking there has been no retrogression. From the humbler spheres of consciousness in the lower kingdoms of Nature the soul, in dim ages of the past, has risen upward. Through processes of ethereal existence antedating the humanity of the type now attained, the individuality has moved onward towards its higher destinies as a human being qualified to say with a full comprehension of what it is about "Now I will blend this consciousness and volition which is myself with the superior divine consciousness of which I am the material mirror, and thus illuminated and inspired I will move forward again ever onward and upward." But just because he is now qualified to say this if he chooses to act upon such a declaration, a man is also qualified to determine that it is all too much trouble; too painful for the time-being, perhaps. And then if the election is so made, the human consciousness which is the product of natural evolution so far, chooses, in effect, to unite itself with matter and its limitations, instead of with spirit and its potentialities. It is not necessary to stop here and at full length attempt to define the characteristics of the descent that must then set in. It should be obvious to any rational understanding that such a descent is the inevitable alternative to the conscious self-directed ascent, at the turning point of evolution, wherever that may be, at which a higher progress to be achieved by the preparation of the interior self for the access of the Divine influx is offered to each man in turn as a potentiality of the consciousness he has attained. But looking upward and considering the prospects of humanity so very ill comprehended as yet by the world at large in their broadest aspects the truth just defined is one of pre-eminent significance. We have got half-way through the great evolutionary process on which the human faculty is launched. So far we have been led and supported. For the rest of the way we must push on ourselves seeing our way; understanding what is expected of us; resolute to fulfil the Divine purpose.
Nor from this moment onward need we be any longer in the dark concerning the road to be travelled, the interior development we have it in our power to reach, nor the attributes of that rank in Nature which it is open to us to attain. The view of the whole evolutionary scheme that has been gradually set forth in Theosophical literature is now sufficiently complete to make the prospects of the future as intelligible as the history of the past. We are, as I have said, half-way through the whole "manvantara," or period within which the present chapter of spiritual evolution is designed to take place. The time spent up to now on other planets besides this has been counted in millions of ages. Millions of ages lie before the human family for the full and complete development of its evolution. Paying attention for the moment to that which may be described as normal evolution alone, occult science shows us that the stupendous task of harmonizing our wills completely with the Divine idea of the whole undertaking, and of mastering all the knowledge which it is possible for us to acquire when our natures are adequately exalted by that process, is one which may be protracted over the whole range of those millions of ages. We shall gather more as we go on concerning the circumstances under which it is so protracted, but taken as slowly as Nature allows for, or as rapidly as the process can be hastened, nothing can be achieved from the middle point of the manvantara onwards unless a comprehension of what is to be done animates each effort at every stage. That is the all-essential idea to keep hold of in contemplating the prospects of humanity. The nature of the attainments possible eventually, will be considered more conveniently at a later stage of the inquiry.
1. In preparing the second edition of this work nine years after the publication of the first, it would be impossible for me to bring the statement which follows up to date, because to do so I should exhaust the alphabet in referring to the various persons who have since then crossed the threshold dividing mere confident belief from personal knowledge relating to the occult world. I leave the statement as it was given in the first edition as an indication of the manner in which, though not as showing the extent to which, our touch with the higher planes of consciousness has gradually been established.