reprinted from “Theosophical Siftings” Volume - 2 -

To many of the readers of the following notes, the suggestions therein contained will come with no sort of novelty; but, perhaps, to some few hesitating on the banks, drawn this way by an irrepressible desire for large thinking, yet restrained by the fear of being unscientific, this essay may appeal, and to these I venture to suggest that they give a casting vote for Occultism. For the way to Occultism lies through a certain ground, common to it and to science; and standing hereon, we can look backward or forward. It is said that the man who could realize the hour of his death would in that moment die, and a corresponding paralysis must overtake our investigative efforts when we come within sight of the point from which no further avenues of knowledge open. When we see ourselves hemmed in by the blank wall of the unknowable, we shall never take the trouble to reach it. We are being dragged by science within sight of a line of finality; we must show that line to be the reflection upon creation of a self-limited mind that knows not its own depth. From the things that it knows, science claims to cast the horoscope of the knowable; we must show its data to be too few for the strain. The first glimpse of a new law whereon previously discrete facts can be smoothly strung, and under which they become coherent, gives the highest pleasure that can be reached; belief in the existence of a vast underlying network of such laws, the most potent of stimuli; belief that they are illimitable, range behind range, for ever more general; and belief in the correspondingly expanding powers of man to comprehend; such only can make life worth living, and the modes of expansion the only worthy study. And if to this we can add a conception of ourselves as individuals returning again and again to life with added or developed faculties and ranges of conscious comprehension, and of such wide comprehension as includes within itself the highest morality — with such beliefs we attain a platform of equanimity, and motives for action and aspiration from which we shall not be disturbed [Page 9] But Contrary beliefs and conceptions yield a contrary result. In opposition to this great creed, it is held that human powers and faculties will never alter in kind, and but measurably in degree; that a time will come when the broad scheme of things, so far as it is knowable, will be known, and that nothing can then remain but to turn back and make more lists of the details whose principles are fixed, complete tables of dead facts; that selfishness and altruism will find a respectable equilibrium for jogging along till the sun goes out and the worlds get even in temperature; finally, and worst, that at death the individuality dissolves for ever, and the personality gets split among the children. To the extent that the former beliefs lead to a large and enjoyed life full of motive for high action and thinking, does the latter to a small and dark one; a life weighted with the background consciousness of iron limitations. The proportion of suicides rises steadily year by year in nearly every country in Europe. Along with the obscuration of hope and the gathering belief in the extinction of self at some time, comes the determination to extinguish it now. Evolution is a widening of consciousness till it includes that of others; a growing belief in the impossibility of the extinction of consciousness; an increasing intuitive comprehension of a man's unity with the laws of things. The possibility of suicide is the negation of evolution. A man's acts are swayed according to the key-note of his octave, according to his point of arrival in the scale of evolution. If he be dead drunk, or the subject of apoplexy, his acts are but little more than those of a vegetable; advanced nerve-diseases will leave him but the functions of an animal; selfishness is frequently the premonitory symptom of insanity; certain alcohols render the impulse to suicide irresistible. Therefore, by the presence of disease, a man can be pushed down the scale of being and evolution, through all the grades of selfishness, up which in the course of development he has come, till he becomes scarcely, and then not at all, conscious of the existence of others, from that point at which the existence of others is as important to him as his own. Suicide is the consummation of selfishness, and it is this which modern thinking produces as its cream.

Taking now two aspects of Evolution, we shall say that it is an increasing loss of the dominant sense of self, an increasing share in the consciousness of others; and in the second, that it is an increasing consciousness of relationship to the forces and planes of nature. There is, as has been pointed out, no sufficient and logical reason for placing the birth of consciousness anywhere in the great scale. In all the advance in complicity both as regards grouping of cells in ganglia and other groups, and in the arrangement and number of atoms in molecules, in all this line from the mineral to the cerebral grey matter there does not seem any such suddenness in change as should entitle us to say — "herewith enters consciousness". If reaction to stimuli be the test of consciousness, then the ameba is conscious, the yeast ferment is conscious, the micro-organism of disease is conscious, and the solution of copper that takes the opportunity to [Page 10] precipitate about the introduced knife is conscious. If it be said that the animal would alone be conscious, what of the little microscopic world that is equally animal and vegetable ? If consciousness be called a function of nerve-matter, at what point in its specialization does the previously unspecialized embryonic cell acquire this function ? The complex responses of a frog to the stimuli of life are presumably conscious; why not his simpler responses when his cord is severed ? why not the still simpler electric responses of his individual muscles when their nerves are cut ? why not the magnetic responses of the iron molecules therein ? To draw a line anywhere in all the motions of being is warranted by nothing. Yet consciousness may perhaps be assumed to advance in degree as at distant points to appear distinct in kind; and the advance in degree is in the direction of synthesis. The stone loses nothing of its characters on being split in two; there are simply two stones. But the lopped-off branch of a tree “dies" — that is, descends nearer in the scale to a mineral; and subsequent mutilations produce but two sticks instead of one, no longer changing its mode of life; with the descent in mode of life should go a descent in complexity and coherence of its consciousness. In man is reached consciousness of himself — self-consciousness, so far, the completest unification. Must the process stop now? May there not be another mode as far above this, as this above that of the tree, and the tree above that of the mineral ? We therefore conceive of the growth of consciousness as a synthesis of unit consciousnesses. If molecules live in a stone as individuals and in man as a whole, may not men, thinking and feeling now as units, grow at last to a coherence wherein they think and feel as one, overhung by and taking common share in the common consciousness of life ? So far, then, evolution is loss of selfish consciousness, and to make an attempt to realize this now would be to take rank as allies with the evolving purpose of Nature.

Parallel with this line of advance, and necessarily concomitant therewith, is an increased delicacy and perfection of response, and conscious response, to all the plans of forces. For there are new forces that only take action after every new degree of the fusion of units, after every step in advance up the evolutionary grades. A ray of light affects a stone slowly, simply, invisibly, or scarcely at all; it affects a flower visibly in an hour; an electric current acts most obviously upon the highly complex molecules of protoplasm; emotion sways the lives and determines the deaths of men. What are the forces which, affecting the lower worlds slowly, simply, or not at all, affect men quickly and obviously, and what is the ultimate tendency of the effects they produce ? In another aspect of the same question, what planes are superimposed upon the brute to make him a man, and what upon man to make him a god ? We cannot see in the study of the universe any warrant for any limit to expansion drawn anywhere. Wherever we find a seed, we cannot but expect the fruit.

Appeal has here to be made to certain bodies of evidence to which as yet [Page 11] science, or orthodox science, attaches little weight, or which it ignores. There is an unconscious and self-deceptive fraud which is apt to obtain with all of us, and which is being at this day displayed by the leaders in science towards a set of groups of facts. When we have fixed our modes of thinking and grown crusted in our places, it is useless to set before us new facts that seem to overthrow our old and somewhat time-tried principles. Of the truth of these latter we are certain, and though the new facts seem, perhaps, to inflict with them a little awkwardly, they must obviously come in ultimately under the accepted systems; meantime they can quite well stand in the cold, disregarded. The more obtrusive they become, the more studiously are they avoided, but fifty years' steady growth of spiritualistic belief is fifty years' activity of toes in large boots, and continuous deception thereby on the part of millions, who must all take rank under the two banners of the defrauders and the defrauded. This seems absurd; but the sacred repose of the theories must not be profaned. Old bottles must hold old wine. The modes of scientific investigation rest at last upon the dicta of the senses and assume, with certain corrections, the validity of sense; but the point is as to whether all knowledge has this basis, whether there be not some transcending the field of sense. The senses give dicta only concerning the qualities of things, not the thing possessing the qualities. Were there a hundred senses, we should know but a hundred qualities, remaining still ignorant of the substance. Are, then, all our ideas at bottom based on the evidences of the senses, recombined in ever-increasing range of abstractness? Is thought simply comparison. Are our conceptions of Time and Space simply conceptions of things respectively sequent and extended with the things disregarded, and hence derived from the senses ? If this be maintained, where did we get our conception attaching to the word consciousness ? This cannot be an idea arising from qualities. It cannot have entered through any of the avenues of sense, or have been abstracted from knowledge so entering. All modes of thinking and observing must assume a mental region wherein rules another lord than sense, and wherein certain primary ideas arise. In one philosophical view Space and Time are modes in which phenomena are by our own minds compelled to clothe themselves for us, are innate pre-existent ideas, arising in an occult mental region, which is not that of ordinary consciousness. The problem, then, to be solved is whether or not there be any evidence that consciousness can be shifted back into this; whether from that region it is ever possible to think.
In Herbert Spencer's view Space and Time are considered to be abstract ideas, arising from things of sense, and, therefore, not innate, being abstract extension and sequence; that is to say, in the one case, the idea of size abstracted from the thing possessing size, and in the other that of succession abstracted from the events that succeed each other. Yet he postulates an underlying reality to appearances, a noumenon to phenomena, a possessor of qualities, presenting itself to, or “welling up” in consciousness by a path other [Page 12] than that through the senses, or into a mental region not dominated by sense. Our problem, therefore, remains. Can the ordinary location of consciousness in the parts of the mind accessible along the avenues of sense be shifted into that inner occult sanctum wherein wells up this primary conception? As it is impossible to help postulating such a region, can we make use of our belief in it to get there ? We must study the conditions under which thinking would transact itself if effected from this standpoint. There must be a ratio between the activities of this inner and the ordinary outer mind. Thought withdrawn entirely from the latter and concentrated in the former would leave the man apparently unconscious, really unconscious as regards the outer world, intensely conscious to the inner, and it is at once suggested that this is the effect of anaesthetics. Sir Humphrey Davy, recovering from anaesthesia, found himself exclaiming, “The world is ideas; ideas are the only reality". Moreover, the knowledge now open from this vantage-ground would have no relation to words, and not be expressible therein, for words deal with ideas arising out of the objective world. And if we accept the first view of Space and Time, consciousness will now have got behind their source, and will be independent of them; will, in fact, be dealing with that which is; not what will be, nor has been. To perfect forevision there could be no time, for all the to-come would be the now; we, limited in purview, seeing the universal picture in bits successively, reflect our limitation and call it Time. To get behind Time is to get behind limitation. Our very sense of personality comes only from living in bits of things, and to live in the All, to be co-extensive with possibility, to conceive with the universal conception, is to reach Nirvana and to know that space, time, motion, and personality are all illusion. There is no state for embodiment in words; the intenser the thinking the less can the thinker bring from his trance his thoughts. But if in the future of evolution there be held in store for man any such state as this, any such widening and deepening of consciousness, there must be some indications or evidences of the rudiments.

Occultism claims that mind has the potentiality of harmony, plane for plane, with Nature, and if this be true its correspondence with some at any rate of the psychic planes must prevail now. We must be able to show some of the steps towards this philosophically postulated indestructible conception of the noumenon behind phenomena. And it would seem obvious that this peremptory appeal from this real to the deepest recesses of mind can rest only on the fact that it is mind, appealing to its like. Forces act on their own plane, and the fact that they effect changes in mind shows that behind them, indicated crudely and clothed by them, the heart and reality of them is mind.

That any new discoveries of groups of facts fell in at once with existing scientific theories would simply prove their want of value in the dispensation of knowledge, for any theories that fail to formulate all possible facts must ultimately get killed by those that lie outside its range. “When the report of [Page 13] the Paris Commission on Mesmerism of 1831 was read before the Medical Academy of Paris, an academician named Castel rose and protested against the printing thereof, because, he said, if the reported facts were true, half of our physiological science would be destroyed.” [ V. a clear review of Du Prel’s book in March “Theosophist,” the “Philosophie der Mystik," also T.P.S. pamphlet No. 3]. It would seem that the reported facts were true, and many more of an equally destructive character. The facts of mesmerism are getting too stalwart, and they are accordingly about to be received into the true fold; but the Castels are uprising in the usual disgust to offer the usual protests against the facts of spiritualism and clairvoyance. A proper study of mesmerism will serve to indicate for us the possibility of the displacement of consciousness. It is abundantly verified in the experiments, among others, of Charcot at Paris, that a primary effect of mesmerism is to produce anaesthesia. The numerous surgical operations of Elliottson upon patients thus anaesthetized show the same thing. But, so far from being helpless, the body is more than ever under the control of the will. In an instance reported by two of Charcot's colleagues, the hypnotized subject was made by a simple act of will to produce all the obvious and successive phenomena of a burn upon her chest, without the application of heat, and after recovery. Organic bodily changes are not only caused thus, but, if existent, may undergo cure. Complex muscular responses are rendered to magnets held about the head and over the body, and small changes of heat, normally unrecognizable, distinguished. If the subject promise, or be desired to effect it, certain avenues of sense can be kept closed. He may wake blind, or blind as concerns anyone person or thing. In touch with the operator, the subject can be silently or by word led into his state of mind, and the most varying emotions roused and dominated, each producing its appropriate actions. Promises concerning future performance made under this condition remain after waking as residua outside the condition of waking consciousness, coming duly thereafter at the promised time to fruitage as acts. According to promise, he may wake with one limb or half his body paralyzed or anaesthetized. [ Further details concerning these and like experiments may be found in the "International Scientific" volume (Binet) already referred to; and among innumerable others in the studies of Heidenhain, Reichenbach, and in Professor Gregory's book.]. Therefore, by some mesmeric process, consciousness is displaced to a mental area, not that of waking life, wherein bodily functions not ordinarily under the control of the will pass into its control, and wherein there is a new and increased susceptibility to the finer forces of magnetism and electricity. A deeper state is within the personal knowledge of many; further back from the frontiers of mind, and responding to yet subtler forces. Herein arise the powers of clairvoyance and psychometry. The limitations of distance are more and more completely transcended, and for the moment scenes remote in space and time are lived in. [Page 14] None of these powers are necessarily limited to the trance condition. Reichenbach found that a certain amount of sensitivity to some of the occult qualities of things can be developed in a few hours by anyone who will remain in darkness and without food. Pyramidal columns of light can be seen about the poles of magnets, and chemical bodies recognised by the quality of the sensations they impart. Gurney and Myers have placed on record evidence enough that, in the ordinary waking state, minds are deeply linked, without regard to space, and scenes and states of one may be transferred to another, so that all the surroundings of a man, and the emotions arising out of them, may be equally vividly the property of his distant friend. And this most often at the approach of some violent death, when, with the passion of the scene, the whole mind is strung to an unwonted intensity, and the picture powerfully projected upon some sensitive imagination.

So also with the barriers of time. We are all sometimes psychometrists; not always seeing, but often feeling the phantom photographs about us; re-thinking old thoughts; reclothing, like Denton's wife, the old fossils with the life and colour they once moved in: the haunted houses of psychical research are but one of a thousand ways in which the past has written its pictured records, and the vagaries of dreams are not all our own. The current catalogue of human faculties is incomplete. The generation waits before a mass of new facts, wishing to see reason to believe them, yet held back by the “second toe in boots" theorists. But the facts are getting too uproarious to be ignored, though to recognise them is to invite a revolution. Spiritualism, mesmerism, clairvoyance and psychometry herald either a whirlwind of changing thought and deepening knowledge, or a stupendous and growing epidemic of credulous idiocy.

It is held, then, by the Occultist that the reasoners of science are occupied with the part instead of the whole; with secondaries instead of primaries. May it not be that the transactions of the séance-room, wherein the pictures of some vivid mind are forced by will to take objective form and colour, palpable to all may be the epitome of a greater process, and all the universe be the clothed ideas of a mind behind the veil ? And it is no valid objection to this, even were it true, to urge that the pictures of the séance-room are an illusion common to all the spectators. Perhaps, also, the world is an illusion common to mankind. There must be a reality behind the illusion, in the greater, as in the lesser process, and sensitives to the greater, as to the lesser persistent ideas, only we call the former adepts, seers, and prophets. And inasmuch as the strong will and imagination can, in the séance-room, create the pictures of which the sensitives or medium or all the circle are conscious, it is held that this also is a type or epitome of and ultimately to be evolved into the larger cosmic volition and ideation which is creation. To this, at present rudimentary, receptive and creative mental region, the region whence take origin the conceptions of time and space, [Page 15] the region wherein arises cognition of the ultimates of things, words have no relation. It is only when its rays have filtered down through the thick strata below that they take narrow forms, and fill verbal frameworks. Words are the lowest vehicle, the stage-coaches, in the communication of thought, serving only till the psychic wires are strung between the inner minds of all men. It is here that the free-will controversy finds for us its solution. Man finds himself full from moment to moment of the certainty that he acts freely; submitting himself to rational distillation, he finds that he can only act according to the voting-majority of motives. The indestructible conception must for the higher mind be the truth, for no motive can be ascribed to the primary ideative processes. Once the higher lawless region be admitted, the limits of the lower mind must
not be reflected upon it. The one is the creator; the other deals only with things created. Reasoning is but the faculty of one of many planes of consciousness, and will not serve for the expression of the others. The musician lives nearer the heart of creation than the logician and knows more of its meaning, yet save in music he cannot convey it. The ultimate state of man may be nearer that into which he is now thrown by the richer blends of sound and colour than that produced by the wooden grace of rigid syllogisms. In any case the prevailing psychology can only be sure of one thing, and that is that its theories are necessarily false, for they embrace too few facts. It speaks nothing to the point concerning the great ranges of emotion arising out of sound, scent, and colour; it knows nothing of the location of consciousness when the physical body is unconscious; it knows nothing of the bewildering thought-probing of the séance-room, nor of any other of the thousand curious happenings and displays of spiritualism; and it has not yet taken account of the powers of psychometry nor of the modes whereby minds are linked through space. A true psychology must deal with these and more. It must rise above the lowest manifestations of mind as affected by the outermost garb of Nature, and bring more to the front its own dictum that there is a region in mind that cannot free itself from the deepest reality behind everything. Psychology must grow by the study rather of disease than of health. In some insanities there is an entire change in the set characteristics of the personality; or consciousness may be so split that the subject views himself as two; Hartley Coleridge as a child frequently spoke of himself as four distinct entities; some homicides view their own crimes, whilst performing them, with the horror of an outsider — the normal volition and consciousness of the man is not in the acting part of him, but stands a dismayed critic of the criminal; the psychic phenomena of hysteria are obscurely linked with the periodicity of the lunar cycle. All these things a comprehensive psychology should, yet does not explain. The law of association of ideas appears to be absolutely transcended by the action of certain drugs. In some constitutions Indian hemp arouses vast, vague or vivid incoherent vistas and sheets of colour, rising and dissolving with great sounds; or there come [Page 16] great pictures of men and nature beyond number and time and space. De Quincey speaks of his opium visions as being cast in a scale of time and space of inconceivable magnitude. Behind these produced ideas of time and space is the producing mind, working in a mode that is not reasoning. Thus, if mind is the producer of the forms of things and of one substance with what is behind form, psychology includes all knowledge. Gathering up the threads, it is increasingly suggested the more they are contemplated that evolution in its totality comprises the expansion of will; the perfecting of sensitivity to ideas; the breaking down of the barriers of individual consciousness; and the slow change of relation between the inner and outer minds, till the latter merges in the former; the expansion of the ideative will, till the pictures that are created no longer flit across the imagination and vanish, but are held and fashioned and clothed with or impressed on matter; the attainment of perfect sensitivity to, or union with, the great ideas of which objective things are copies till the perceiver and the perceived are known for one. So as time moves on, the lives of men must lighten, and the heavy sense of limit dissolve into wider knowledge and pass into the limbo of other illusions. All aspects of evolution converge to one point. The finest force in Nature is thought; to respond more and more perfectly to the thought of others is to share their consciousness, and thus, losing the overbearing sense of self, to become unselfish.

We have tried to show that there is already in us, if we could but know it and live in it, a germ of mind subtly linked with its like in all men and in the moving springs of Nature, and that the whole course of evolution is to raise the whole thinking man to this level, into the blinding light of intuition.


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