The Invisible World About Us
In the midst of the most vigorous life few people are perfectly free from the fear of death. Death is like skeleton that sits at the feast of life. It is the silent spectre that fills the mind with fear. Across every threshold and upon almost every heart falls this fearsome shadow. Any philosophy that removes this dread, that dispels this cloud and lights the tomb with reason’s torch, deserves the thanks and gratitude of all.
No greater boon can come to man than a knowledge of nature that shall rob death of its terror and drive this fiend of fear from the human heart.
Nothing is, or possible can be, supernatural. Nature is all-inclusive.
The lightest atom and the most ponderous star, the simple fact of daily life and the most mysterious phenomenon, are equally the subjects of universal law. A thing may be super-physical and for the moment incomprehensible; it can not possibly be supernatural.
We never fear what we really understand, and a knowledge of the invisible world about us, of the hidden side of nature, of the soul and its vestures, of the facts about death and the wider life to which it is but the doorway, will banish all doubt and fill life with confidence and joy.
Theosophists are not blind to the fact that every solution of great problems must run the gauntlet of ridicule. That has been the history of every great truth ever proclaimed.
It is the penalty of progress. It is the blind retaliation of the thoughtless, getting even with those who give them the pain of a new idea.
Jesus was killed. Socrates was poisoned. Gallileo was persecuted. Copernicus was threatened. Columbus was imprisoned. Bruno was burned. Watt and Fulton were ridiculed and jeered.
They were all unselfishly working for the enlightenment of mankind. They had ideas that were of incalculable value to the very people who derided them.
They were the sanest of the sane. Yet they were regarded as dangerous men. They were denounced as fools and frauds and fanatics and the hand of malice was not stayed until most of them were deprived of liberty or life.
Original thinkers have usually been the victims of their beneficiaries. Every hand was against them, and every dungeon yawned for them. But in our day the infliction of physical pain has gone out of fashion.
We are now satisfied with ridicule. “Crank” and “fanatic” are epithets that some people apply to a man who points out new facts than can not be explained by old theories, and produces new arguments that can not be conveniently answered. But thoughtful people no longer even ridicule new and strange ideas. With such wonders as radium and liquid air before us we begin to comprehend the fact that the invisible world about us is a vast field of unknown possibilities.
The first thing to be said about this invisible world is that everybody is acquainted with some of its manifestations. The street-cars we ride upon, and the telegrams we send, are visible evidence cf the existence of the invisible thing we call electricity,—a force as mysterious and incomprehensible to the scientist as to the school-boy.
The very winds that blow are a part of the invisible, moving masses of an invisible matter that science is now able to condense into visible, liquid form. There is a still rarer matter than air, called ether, that science declares exists, although it can not condense it, nor in any way whatever grasp, measure or contact it.
How, then, is it known to exist? Because certain phenomena could not be, without it. Just as we could not have sound without the air through which it travels, neither can we have electrical phenomena without the ether as its medium through which to work.
So in air and ether we have two kinds of invisible matter, and in electricity we have a force working through one of them whose visible results we see daily.
This is as far as physical science is at present able to go into the unseen, in this direction, but occult science goes much further. Its methods are as definite and exact as these of physical science, but its facts are obtained through the development of certain faculties or senses latent in all human beings, that give those who possess them an advantage over those who have but the five senses, much like a person with those five senses would have over another who had the four, but did not possess the sense of sight.
What has thus been learned of the invisible side of nature constitutes some of the truths theosophy offers to the world.
Theosophy divides the universe into seven planes or regions of nature, but for our present purpose we need give attention to but three of them: the physical, astral and mental.
On these occur all the phenomena of life and death, and a clear understanding of them will dispel all doubt and drive away all fear for either our friends or ourselves.
Now, while two of these divisions of the universe are invisible to physical sight and impalpable to physical touch, they are, nevertheless, composed of matter, and the first thing we should get clearly in mind is that this invisible matter interpenetrates and completely permeates all visible matter.
If we could take a large sponge, very coarse and porous, of spherical shape, and completely fill every cell with very fine sand, and also surround it entirely with the sand; if this sand globe, somewhat larger than the sponge, could then be lifted, with the sponge inside, and put into a globe of water that would completely surround both while the water interpenetrated the whole mass, filling all the space between the grains of sand, that would give us a fair idea of the relationship of these three regions of nature.
The sponge would represent the physical region, enveloped and interpenetrated by the sand representing the astral region. The mental region would be represented by the water which entirely surrounds and interpenetrates every particle of both the others.
Holding this picture in the mind a moment, it is easy to see how a force acting on the sand and moving the grains from point to point, need not in the least disturb the sponge; and how, also, force acting on the molecules of water need not affect anything but the water, although the molecules be moved freely through the entire mass.
As a matter of fact, something like that is just what is occurring on these invisible planes of the universe. All the activities of life go forward on each without in the least interfering with any other.
What is it that makes these natural divisions, these regions of nature, these grades of matter growing finer and rarer, and that so completely separates them that they seem not to exist for each other? It is the inherent qualities peculiar to them, and which may be illustrated by the vibration of the matter of each region.
It may be crudely represented by the difference that exists between ice, water and steam. We can take the visible solid called ice, and by the application of heat raise the rate of vibration until it becomes the visible liquid called water.
We can continue the process until we change the visible liquid called water into the invisible gas called steam. It is precisely the same matter all the time . We have merely raised the vibratory rate, and in doing that we have caused a solid to disappear.
Of course, every atom of that matter is as much in existence as though we could still see it, and if this were done in a laboratory the steam could be reduced to vapor, the vapor to water and the water to ice, giving us the identical solid with which we began.
In order to understand something of the conditions of life after bodily death, we must understand what a human being really is, and not what to the deceptive physical sight he appears to be. We saw a moment ago that we are dealing with three regions, two of which are invisible to the physical eye.
Now, just as the earth has its visible and two invisible regions of matter freely interpenetrating each other, so a human being has a visible and two invisible bodies, composed of these different grades of matter, with the same interpenetrating relationship.
So, from birth we have not only the visible physical body, but the invisible astral and mental bodies, and just as the astral region of the earth not only interpenetrates the physical but extends beyond it in all directions, as in the illustration of the sponge and sand, so the matter of the astral body interpenetrates the matter of the physical body, and extends somewhat beyond it. It is an exact duplicate in form and feature, except that it is a little larger than the physical body.
To understand how the real self, or conscious being, comes into possession of these bodies, we must get rid of some of the delusions of which we are now the unconscious victims.
One of these is that this physical life is the point where we begin the journey in the cycle of birth. This is not the home region of the soul, but the fartherest region away from it.
But on this point we are in the grip of the same sort of delusion that leads us to see the earth as the center of the universe, with the sun and stars moving about it.
If we could be transported to the sun, and from there behold the earth as the mote it would comparatively be, that delusion about their relative size and movement would instantly vanish.
Precisely so would this illusion about the importance of the physical plane, with its material affairs, vanish if viewed from the mental region. Indeed, so very illusory is this physical life that the advanced occultist speaks of the physical body as “a shadow” of the real self. As we move toward the mental region we approach reality.
Let us think, then, of the conscious being, the living, thinking soul, as beginning its journey for another cycle of experience in the highest or rarest portion of the realm we have called the mental region. Its desire for experience generates energy.
It draws to itself the unimaginably rare matter of the mental region somewhat as a magnet attracts iron filings, and as these minute iron particles arrange themselves about the magnet in perfect order, obeying the laws of vibration with the same accuracy that the earth moves in its orbit, so does this mental matter form the mental body about the soul.
This accomplished, the soul continues its descent into matter, the astral body being the next acquisition.
But we must not be misled by the phrase, “descent into matter,” or by the expression, “from higher down to lower regions.” There is no higher or lower in the sense of altitude.
The mental region is not further away than the astral. Both are as much here, within reach of the hand, as the physical. We must not forget that the matter of both interpenetrates all physical matter, and also completely envelopes it.
So the soul, or consciousness, does not come down from some place. There is no movement in space necessary. It merely attracts to itself the matter of a very rare grade, called "mental"; then, by a considerably different process in a coarser grade of matter, the astral body is secured.
Finally, by a still different process, but still one of slow building, the physical body is constructed of physical matter. The three vehicles, or organisms, through which the soul is to function in the three regions are now ready to enable it to contact the various grades of matter and obtain the experience it seeks.
Now, having followed in thought the way in which, starting on the home plane of the soul, we successively clothe ourselves in the matter of these three regions, thus acquiring a body in which it is possible to function in each region, we are in a position to understand that this physical body is very far from being the real man; and that we are, each of us, far more than we appear to be, far more than we are able to express through this physical mechanism. Somebody has somewhere given the excellent illustration of likening the soul on its home plane to the bare hand.
The hand is capable of much. In music, in art, in many lines of commercial dexterity, it can do wonders. But when the soul clothes itself in the mental matter it is more like a hand that has put on a very thin glove. It is a limitation.
The fingers are not so nimble. When, in addition, the soul takes on the astral body, it is as though the thinly gloved hand drew on a heavy glove. Now the limitation is sorely felt. The fingers can scarcely move.
The delicate touch has vanished, and the enrapturing music becomes broken and uncertain. The wonderful painting is but a hideous distortion. Then the soul reaches the physical plane and begins to express itself through the physical body. This is as though over the thin and the heavy glove is drawn
a thick mitten. The tour fingers are now one. The hand is a clumsy club, and the once divine harmony would be but meaningless sound. And so, limited and confined as we are in dense matter, the soul is showing forth in this visible life, but the merest fragment of the real self.
Clearly, the physical body is not the man. If it were, the loss of a part of the body would logically be a loss of part of the man.
But we know he may lose both arms and both lower limbs, the sight of both eyes, the hearing, the major part of the lungs an the entire stomach, and still live his allotted time.
With so little of the physical body left he is he same man, with all the force of will and power of thought, with all the attributes of character that constitute a human being.
This mere fragment of a body is sufficient for the real man to function through in the visible world.
Of course, there is a point beyond which the mutilation of the physical organism cannot go without forcing the ego to abandon it; but every forward step in surgery is demonstrating more and more clearly that the body is but a wonderful machine and laboratory operated by a still more wonderful and independent intelligence.