THE GROWTH OF THE SOUL
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
The gulf which lies between the thinking of the ordinary world in reference to matters having to do with the destinies of the human soul, and the position occupied by those students of the school with which I am specially concerned, is widening, year by year. "Current teaching,"as Mr. Balfour has called it, stands still; knowledge concerning the conditions of existence in ultraphysical realms of Nature has expanded enormously for those who have sought it the right way during the last fifteen years, and is expanding with ever-increasing rapidity. With the first gush of Theosophic teaching we were told that knowledge concerning matters generally thought to be unknowable had not only been reached by a few philosophers holding themselves, for reasons of their own, aloof from contact with the world at large, but was acquirable also in the long run by all who took certain prescribed methods for its acquisition — much more rapidly if appropriate qualifications were possessed at the outset. This idea has not lain unfruitful in the minds of those who were the first to appreciate the significance of the Theosophical opening. Many are those who have entered, as the phrase goes, on the path of Theosophical progress; several have already advanced sufficiently to be themselves in a position to investigate mysteries hitherto regarded as lying beyond incarnate human ken. Much, therefore, that in earlier Theosophical books could only be treated as ex cathedra statement — forcibly appealing, perhaps, to reason, but not otherwise susceptible of verification — has come within range of personal observation for several students amongst ourselves. The sources of the earlier teaching have not by any means run dry, but we are now in a position to get corroborative testimony concerning the outlines of this teaching, together with an immense amplitude of detailed information from persons who have thus advanced a part of the way on the journey towards genuine spiritual development. Views of Nature which he wholly beyond the range of ordinary perception have come within the domain of positive and experimental knowledge for those who have best profited by current opportunities.
There is something pathetic, for us who know better, in the altitude of mind of people who treat as matters of ribald incredulity the existence of faculties in daily use amongst some of us in connexion with the study, not merely of literary philosophy, but of special conditions of existence. That other world from which, in the old phrase, no traveller returns, has been found accessible to travellers who are going backwards and forwards constantly, and in saying this, I am leaving entirely out of account communications from the "next world "purporting to come from those who have passed over to it finally.
The explanations given in the present volume concerning the principles on which the growth of the soul proceeds, have been rendered possible by the continual expansion in this way of the fundamental teaching put forward in "Esoteric Buddhism." But nothing in this later presentation of the subject has been the fruit of mere intellectual speculation. Readers chiefly familiar with metaphysics in their non-theosophical aspect are used to regarding them as altogether speculative; but, however slowly those outside the central nucleus of Theosophical activities may recognise the fact, the fact nevertheless is that metaphysical experiment and observation have now become possible for a good many people still in direct relations with ordinary humanity. The human body is not really the prison of consciousness it was once supposed to be; other senses may be developed besides the five faculties of physical perception, and the result is that a great deal may be known concerning aspects of Nature which the familiar five faculties are quite unable to deal with.
The information so attained is essentially necessary to a comprehension of the natural possibilities lying before man in connexion with that growth of his soul to which this volume relates. To introduce the subject and show it susceptible even of definite treatment, it will be necessary to build a bridge across the widening gulf of which I have spoken, so that, at all events, whoever endeavours to apprehend what I have to say may have before his mind, even if only in the form of a hypothesis, the knowledge concerning ultra-physical nature which has been accumulated by Theosophical students within the last few years. That which we have to recognise as actually going on in connexion with the progress of the human race is a process of growth as regards individual souls not less protracted and elaborate than that evolutionary work going on pari passu on the physical plane of life and developing the simplest organic cells into the complicated bodies of the higher animals. The fundamental blunder concerning the inner nature of man which has saddled itself upon many religious systems (as true as they are beautiful in their spiritual essence) is the notion which represents the human soul as going through two simple phases — the physical existence of which we are cognisant on this earth, and the uniform unchangeable destiny of sorrow or joy that ensues hereafter as the consequence either of the brief physical life, according to one view, or of a pre-appointed destiny according to another. That which we get at, since we have begun to understand the actual working of Nature, is a scheme in which we see vast amplitudes of time laid out before consciousness as the field of its individualisation, and stupendous possibilities of growth and development, extending as far beyond the heights which human civilisation has yet reached as this has reared itself above the earliest humanity of which geology bears trace.
Occult teaching casts a light to almost immeasurable distances along this path of progress, recognising the continued individuality of every human being as extending through an infinite multiplicity of changes and varied states, the whole process moving in great cycles in which were turn ever and anon to the physical plane of existence, and gather from each great sweep of the spiral evolution something which is contributed to the truly permanent entity constituting the individual soul. That is the one unchangeable centre of identity throughout the whole process. The expansion of its consciousness, faculties, and moral grandeur is the subject I have before me for elucidation, so far as the resources of our present knowledge extend. And their extent is already so vast — even though the horizon of the unknown lies ever in a widening circle beyond — that it is not possible even to describe the manner in which this growth is accomplished without paving the way for the main idea that has to be developed by a multiplicity of subordinate explanations. In this way it has been necessary to wander sometimes in the progress of this work into many fields of occult inquiry, which at the first glance may have seemed out of touch with the main object in view; but such collateral surveys have not merely been necessary in themselves, but have been calculated to show that an inquiry into the nature of the soul's growth is really one of even more dazzling magnitude than the simple words would at first suggest.
Just as I had to explain, in the preface to the first edition of this book, that Theosophic research and teaching had greatly expanded the knowledge embodied in "Esoteric Buddhism" of which it was the sequel, so I have now to account for the enlargement of this edition by reference to the expanded development of our information since "The Growth of the Soul" was originally published in 1896. I find scarcely anything to alter or correct, but in reference to the constitution of the Earth, the life of the Astral Plane, and the relationship of the animal with the human kingdom, later acquisitions of knowledge have rendered it desirable to include in the new volume a good deal of additional detail that was not ripe for exposition nine years ago.