The Sphinx of Theosophy, Part I

Annie Besant

Theosophy 212 b AB

The year 1917:  Annie Besant,  B. P Wadia and George Arundale were interned in Gulistan, Ootacamund. The photo was taken on the day of their internment . Dr Besant  is seen with New India which she published weekly

The Egyptian Sphinx will be familiar to every one of you, either by its pictured semblance, or possibly by the vision of its actual form. To me, and I dare say to many of you, there has always been a certain fascination in that mighty Sphinx, so serene in its composure, so absolutely still, so impressive in that stillness, with, as it were, the wisdom of ages sculptured on its impassive face. Few I think can have looked at it without feeling the fascination of the mystery of its wise eyes and fast-locked lips; few can have seen it without dreaming fantastically whether questions addressed to it might not possibly win answer to many problems of the world.

I have thought sometimes about that creed, so strange to many. Although it came from the East, it is of the thought of all climes and ages. That thought of the world that we speak of now as Theosophy, has in itself much likeness to that sculptured Sphinx, so much promise of answer to mystery and so much silence in face of the questionings of the world -- silence that has been profound for centuries, but silence that more recently has been broken. Tonight I am to try if it were possible to sketch for you something of what that Sphinx has to say of the world-questionings, to strive to give you in some fashion a rough answer, as it comes to some of us from the lips of the thinkers of the East.

Theosophy is a vast subject, embracing as the whole of human life at once. It is a philosophy, a science, and a religion. In dealing with it, one can but sketch it in roughest outline, hoping that even the outline may stir some thinkers to enquiry, and by their study, they may fill in details necessarily left untouched in a lecture.

For many of us, in whom the habit of study has grown through a lifetime given to it, to many of us it seems as though years of careful thinking would only bring us as it were to the threshold of the subject that I am to treat tonight. There are still many problems left unanswered to those given so long to study. No reply has come to many questions. In this mere one-hour lecture, those of you new to the subject can expect many questions that remain unanswered. Much may seem puzzling. Much may seem impossible. It is only by years of study that you can hope to grasp the explanation of even some of the problems that I set before you.

Tonight, then, in sketching my outline, I propose to try to present to you Theosophy first in what it says as to the Universe; then in what it says as to man and his destiny; and lastly in what it says touching human duty. Under those three heads, I shall have more than enough to say. In taking it in this fashion, with a sketch of the philosophy of the Universe, with a sketch of the destiny of the human race, with a sketch of the ethical system that is based upon the philosophy -- in so dealing with it, I hope to succeed in leaving at least some coherent impress on your minds, something that perchance may win one here and there to go further into that which I can unfold to so small an extent.

And now first then, as to what Theosophy tells us as to the Universe, the view of the Universe that it puts before us, the line of thought along which it leads us when we face the vast problems of existence. To the Theosophist, the Universe is but the outbreathing of the eternal and universal life.

Has it ever struck you how we find rhythm throughout Nature everywhere? Turn to the lowest forms of animate life, to those small infusoria that only the microscope can enable you to study and to scrutinize. Even as you watch that speck of animated matter, you see the rhythm of the breathing -- outbreathing and the inbreathing -- that is part of the very life of that lowly form of existence.

Just as you find rhythm is the lowest, so right through the universe similar rhythm is found: everywhere rising and falling, everywhere expansion and contraction, everywhere the ebbing and the flowing, whether you look at worlds, or whether you look at atoms; and to the Theosophist, this Universe as a whole pulses with the same rhythm that you find in its minutest portions. The outbreathing of the universal life is the Universe; the inbreathing is the disappearance of that Universe once again; and so through the endless ages of eternal life, so through the whole of that eternity that stretches behind us and before us, we see the outbreathing and the inbreathing of the living, we see the formation and the disappearance of the Universes.

While we can study the Universe, we cannot study the source of its periodical life; we cannot use words regarding that center and source of all existence that shall not in the very using be self-contradictory and incomprehensible. We cannot speak of It as life, for life is but one of Its aspects, and It is All. We cannot speak of It as intelligence, for intelligence is but a phase, and It is the essence of everything. Before that Unknowable, human thought can only be silent.

Imagine some such infusorium, as I spoke of, trying to describe to its fellow infusoria the thinking and the arguments of intelligent man. You can guess how blind would be its groping; you can imagine the follies and the self-contradictions that it would utter. Further than it is below us are we below the Center and the Essence of Life; and before that, the Universal, we can but bow in silence, knowing that all our thought is but impertinence, and that any word of ours would be but audacity and not reality. From THAT, which in one of its aspects to us is life, the Universe proceeds.

Think of this life, as for clearness you may imagine it, pulsing outwards through infinite space. Imagine then this life differentiating itself, as our Theosophical philosophy puts it, into seven stages or planes of existence. Imagine it pulsing outwards through these seven stages. It becomes more and more "material," as we call it. It proceeds with the most ethereal of spirit at the innermost, the most material of matter at the outermost. Then you grasp the first fundamental thought of the philosophy, the sevenfold plane of existence. With each sevenfold plane of existence, there are sevenfold series of organisms fitted to inhabit that plane, and sevenfold consciousness existing in each of these planes.

Thus everywhere in your Universe you have this fundamental conception: Seven stages of existence, uttermost spirit above and uttermost matter below, and between those two poles of spirit and of matter stretch every kind of form of animated existence, each stage suitable to its inhabitants, each series of organisms fitted for that plane of existence on which they live.

This notion of the sevenfold existence is not a mere dream. Has it never struck you how strangely this "seven" meets you everywhere? In light, which is one, you have seven colors, which united make the whiteness of the light. In the sound that is music, you have seven notes in your scale, and your eighth is but a repetition of the first on a higher plane. Throughout Nature, you have the suggestion of this seven-stepped existence, so to speak; you have it in light and in color perceptible to the eye, as in sound to the ear; and you have it, we are taught, through the whole of the Universe, making one mighty unity with the sevenfold diversity of existence.

When once you have grasped that fundamental notion, then simpler before you will stretch the idea of the different beings, each suitable to the plane of existence on which it lives. Then you will begin to realize that there may be existence other than your own. There may be intelligences under conditions that differ from those that surround you. Each stage of being will be suitable to its environment. Each will have a consciousness fitted to its own surroundings. You are fitted to the world that you are on, this terrestrial matter that is the third of the planes that we know of. On other planes are lives in other stages than yours, other forms of consciousness. Those other lives and other forms of consciousness are not supernatural although they are superhuman, for they are all as natural as your own lives, living, thinking, as you live or think, but on a different plane, on a different stage, of conscious existence.

Reaching then that point of thought, you will see the Universe evolving along these different lines. You will see what you call spirit gradually descending, as we phrase it, into matter and climbing upwards through matter to self-consciousness, and so reaching once more the goal from whence it came. So that to us all existence is a cycle, and the very object of existence is the gaining and the gathering of knowledge and of experience.

Spirit becomes self-conscious through its union with matter. Spirit becomes self-conscious as it descends through matter and climbs up from it once again. And so in treading that mighty cycle, so in passing through these various stages, it gathers up into one all knowledge and all experience, becoming perfect through the experience through which it passes, and taking back at the ending all that it has gained in the course of that pilgrimage of millenniums.

When that view of the Universe has worked itself into your thought, when you realize that you are part of this mighty whole, that your individual self is a portion of that evolving life, that your humanity is the very image in small of the Universe at large, that the evolution of humanity is the great object of this mighty cycling through eternity, then you have caught, as it were, the first glimpse of this great philosophy of life, you have taken your first steps on that path of knowledge that takes us so far onwards into the future, as well as gathers up for us all the treasures of the past.

From this rough outline of this cosmic view, this view of the Universe as a mighty and evolving life through the seven stages, turn from that to man, the microcosm. He reproduces, as it were, in himself the very essence of this total evolution, the man sevenfold as the Universe is sevenfold and each stage of the human life corresponding to a stage of the Universe.

I need not weary you with the Sanskrit terms that we familiarly use among us in dealing with the sevenfold aspect of man. I am taking the thing rather than the name, and am trying to clear your conceptions rather than to burden you with a difficult terminology.

Think, then, of man as sevenfold in his nature; think of each of these aspects in man as corresponding to the aspects in the Universe. Think of the highest, the seventh aspect of all, as being the spark of the universal Spirit, as the very life of the life of the Universe in man, a spark from the universal fire in the very center of man's being, a pulse of the eternal life. Then passing from that highest and most abstract part of man, think of the human spirit that is its vehicle, as you might have a lamp encircling the flame, the spirit that, in union with the eternal spark that I spoke of, and in union also with the highest mind in man, forms that upper triad of which the Theosophist so often speaks.

The union of the divine element with the human spirit and with the loftiest mind forms the true individuality of the man, which existed in the past and will exist in the future. In conjunction with that higher trinity in man is the fourfold aspect of his lower life; the physical body that he has in common with the brute, and its astral counterpart; the life that animates that body, the mere animal life just as any brute may live; then the passions and the emotions and the lower intellectual faculties that you may find in your horse and your dog, as you find them in the man, the same in essence although not in degree.

Thus you have this lower part of man; this physical life, with his emotions, with his lower intellect, with his physical body. There you get the lower and the transitory part of man, whose life is of the earth from which it comes, and that goes back to the earth and scatters when death at last touches him. It scatters, not in a moment, but gradually disappearing, not at once, but not any the less certainly. For that which is eternal in man is not his physical body, is not his animal soul; it is that higher trinity I spoke of: the spark of the eternal life, the human spirit that is its vehicle, and that highest and noblest intellectual portion that knits him to the divine, and that cannot perish but must endure forever.

Looking thus at man, you have our Theosophical conception of the human being. The higher trinity, the lower quaternary: and all man's life upon the earth is the attempt to evolve, to render perceptible, the Higher Self within him, and to conquer and hold in subordination the lower life that comes from earth.

Here we come to that portion of our teaching that raises much of opposition from those who do not think, but only deride or scoff at what they cannot understand. The Theosophist says to every one of you, "In you, whether you know it or not, there resides this higher trinity that is part of your heritage as man. It is for you to evolve it if you will, and to render active what in most today is latent. You can render it active if you will. Latent in you there is the glorious possibility, which belongs to every child of man, of conquering the lower and of evolving the higher, with all that that conquest and all that that evolution means."

These higher powers of what we call the Manas, or the mind in man, those powers, though latent in the majority, are beginning to show themselves in many of our own race and of our own time. Not as yet is the highest showing itself; not that spark of the everlasting life nor the very spirit in which it dwells; but the lower, the third of the trinity of which I speak, this higher mind of man is beginning to show itself in our present race, and signs of it are not wanting that everyone of you may discover.

It is not in the normal that you must seek for information about these awakening powers in man; it is in the abnormal and not the normal that you must look for the further evolution. For it is only in those who are a little way ahead in their evolution that you will find these powers dawning, unless you can evoke them in the ordinary man by using certain artificial means that, by rendering the lower part of man quiescent and lethargic, will enable the inner self to shine more brightly forth.

You may study, if you will, now as a recognized science the phenomena of Clairvoyance, which you get in connection with the mesmeric and hypnotic trance. In the trance, you will find some of these powers partially evolved, suggesting to you what they will be in the days to come, when their full development has been reached.

Glance for a moment at some of the well-known hypnotic phenomena where the body being thrown into a state of trance, the lower quaternary is for a time paralyzed. Your bodily organ of vision has been closed. Your ears are deaf to every outside sound. All in you that is purely physical has been thrown to sleep, is helpless and unconscious. It is when the physical is most unconscious that the psychical can best testify of its real existence and it is when all the organs of the mind are dulled and helpless that the mind itself is able to manifest its supremacy. Then you can get vision without organ of vision. Then you can get hearing without the organ of hearing. You can see hundreds of miles away. You can hear across a continent. You can converse across an ocean, for the mind knows no barrier of time or of space, and it can converse with other minds when once the lower life is made quiescent and still.

In your hypnotic phenomena, you will find this vision, this mental activity, without bodily organ. If you like, you may exercise your mental perception under conditions where all bodily vision is impossible, as in the diagnosis of obscure diseases, the description of internal organs, as described before medical men repeatedly, the postmortem examinations of the body testifying to the reality of the vision of the Clairvoyant.

Here you are not dealing with what you may think merely fancies of the Theosophist; you are dealing with the testimony of the laboratory and of the dissecting room, that comes from men of science revered wherever civilization has made its way. You can go to Charcot or to Liebault. You can go to Heidenhain or to many other scientists in France or Germany. They will give you the evidence of this abnormal exercising of the human mind, of this exercise of mental faculty without bodily organ, of this seeing without eyes, when the mind sees, perceiving without bodily assistance.

You can go yet further, and to a person under such conditions you can project your own thought, so that the thought becomes visible and audible to him. You can take a blank piece of paper and on that paper throwing your own thought-image, the person you have hypnotized will see what you desire. He shall see, and your thought to him becomes material because he judges it mind to mind. Remember what I said as to the seven states of consciousness.

[From LUCIFER, August 15, 1890, pages 450-60.]

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