The Key to Theosophy
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
The Key to Theosophy
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
What is Really Meant
Q. I have heard some Theosophists speak of a golden thread on which their lives were strung. What do they mean by this?
A. In the Hindu Sacred books it is said that the part of us which undergoes
periodical incarnation is the Sutratman, which means literally the "Thread
Soul." It is a synonym of the reincarnating Ego-Manas conjoined with
Buddhi-which absorbs the Manasic recollections of all our preceding lives. It is
so called, because, like the pearls on a thread, so is the long series of human
lives strung together on that one thread. In some Upanishad these recurrent
rebirths are likened to the life of a mortal which oscillates periodically
between sleep and waking.
Q. This, I must say, does not seem very clear, and I will tell you why. For the
man who awakes, another day commences, but that man is the same in soul and body as he was the day before; whereas at every incarnation a full change takes place not only of the external envelope, sex, and personality, but even of the mental and psychic capacities. The simile does not seem to me quite correct. The man who arises from sleep remembers quite clearly what he has done yesterday, the day before, and even months and years ago. But none of us has the slightest recollection of a preceding life or of any fact or event concerning it … I may forget in the morning what I have dreamt during the night, still I know that I have slept and have the certainty that I lived during sleep; but what
recollection can I have of my past incarnation until the moment of death? How do you reconcile this?
A. Some people do recollect their past incarnations during life; but these are
Buddhas and Initiates. This is what the Yogis call Samm -Sambuddha, or the
knowledge of the whole series of one's past incarnations.
Q. But we ordinary mortals who have not reached Samm -Sambuddha, how are we to understand this simile?
A. By studying it and trying to understand more correctly the characteristics
and the three kinds of sleep. Sleep is a general and immutable law for man as
for beast, but there are different kinds of sleep and still more different
dreams and visions.
Q. But this takes us to another subject. Let us return to the materialist who,
while not denying dreams, which he could hardly do, yet denies immortality in
general and the survival of his own individuality.
A. And the materialist, without knowing it, is right. One who has no inner
perception of, and faith in, the immortality of his soul, in that man the soul
can never become Buddhi-Taijasi , but will remain simply Manas, and for Manas
alone there is no immortality possible. In order to live in the world to come a
conscious life, one has to believe first of all in that life during the
terrestrial existence. On these two aphorisms of the Secret Science all the
philosophy about the postmortem consciousness and the immortality of the soul is built. The Ego receives always according to its deserts. After the dissolution
of the body, there commences for it a period of full awakened consciousness, or a state of chaotic dreams, or an utterly dreamless sleep undistinguishable from annihilation, and these are the three kinds of sleep. If our physiologists find
the cause of dreams and visions in an unconscious preparation for them during
the waking hours, why cannot the same be admitted for the postmortem dreams?
I repeat it: death is sleep.After death, before the spiritual eyes of the soul,
begins a performance according to a program learnt and very often unconsciously composed by ourselves: the practical carrying out of correct beliefs or of illusions which have been created by ourselves. The Methodist will be Methodist, the Muslim a Muslim, at least for some time-in a perfect fool's paradise of each man's creation and making. These are the postmortem fruits of the tree of life.
Naturally, our belief or unbelief in the fact of conscious immortality is unable
to influence the unconditioned reality of the fact itself, once that it exists;
but the belief or unbelief in that immortality as the property of independent or
separate entities, cannot fail to give color to that fact in its application to
each of these entities. Now do you begin to understand it?
Q. I think I do. The materialist, disbelieving in everything that cannot be
proven to him by his five senses, or by scientific reasoning, based exclusively
on the data furnished by these senses in spite of their inadequacy, and
rejecting every spiritual manifestation, accepts life as the only conscious
existence. Therefore according to their beliefs so will it be unto them. They
will lose their personal Ego, and will plunge into a dreamless sleep until a new
awakening. Is it so?
A. Almost so. Remember the practically universal teaching of the two kinds of
conscious existence: the terrestrial and the spiritual. The latter must be
considered real from the very fact that it is inhabited by the eternal,
changeless, and immortal Monad; whereas the incarnating Ego dresses itself up in new garments entirely different from those of its previous incarnations, and in
which all except its spiritual prototype is doomed to a change so radical as to
leave no trace behind.
Q. How so? Can my conscious terrestrial "I" perish not only for a time, like the
consciousness of the materialist, but so entirely as to leave no trace behind?
A. According to the teaching, it must so perish and in its fullness; all except
the principle which, having united itself with the Monad, has thereby become a
purely spiritual and indestructible essence, one with it in the Eternity. But in
the case of an out-and-out materialist, in whose personal "I" no Buddhi has ever
reflected itself, how can the latter carry away into the Eternity one particle
of that terrestrial personality? Your spiritual "I" is immortal; but from your
present self it can carry away into Eternity that only which has become worthy
of immortality, namely, the aroma alone of the flower that has been mown by
Q. Well, and the flower, the terrestrial "I"?
A. The flower, as all past and future flowers which have blossomed and will have to blossom on the mother bough, the Sutratman, all children of one root or
Buddhi-will return to dust. Your present "I," as you yourself know, is not the
body now sitting before me, nor yet is it what I would call Manas-Sutratman, but
Q. But this does not explain to me, at all, why you call life after death
immortal, infinite, and real, and the terrestrial life a simple phantom or
illusion; since even that postmortem life has limits, however much wider they
may be than those of terrestrial life.
A. No doubt. The spiritual Ego of man moves in eternity like a pendulum between the hours of birth and death. But if these hours, marking the periods of life terrestrial and life spiritual, are limited in their duration, and if the very
number of such stages in Eternity between sleep and awakening, illusion and
reality, has its beginning and its end, on the other hand, the spiritual pilgrim
is eternal. Therefore are the hours of his postmortem life, when, disembodied,
he stands face to face with truth and not the mirages of his transitory earthly
existences, during the period of that pilgrimage which we call "the cycle of
rebirths"-the only reality in our conception. Such intervals, their limitation
notwithstanding, do not prevent the Ego, while ever perfecting itself, from
following undeviatingly, though gradually and slowly, the path to its last
transformation, when that Ego, having reached its goal, becomes a divine being.
These intervals and stages help towards this final result instead of hindering
it; and without such limited intervals the divine Ego could never reach its
ultimate goal. I have given you once already a familiar illustration by
comparing the Ego,or the individuality, to an actor, and its numerous and
various incarnations to the parts it plays. Will you call these parts or their
costumes the individuality of the actor himself? Like that actor, the Ego is
forced to play during the cycle of necessity, up to the very threshold of
ParaNirvana, many parts such as may be unpleasant to it. But as the bee collects
its honey from every flower, leaving the rest as food for the earthly worms, so
does our spiritual individuality, whether we call it Sutratman or Ego.
Collecting from every terrestrial personality, into which Karma forces it to
incarnate, the nectar alone of the spiritual qualities and self-consciousness,
it unites all these into one whole and emerges from its chrysalis as the
glorified Dhyani-Chohan. So much the worse for those terrestrial personalities
from which it could collect nothing. Such personalities cannot assuredly outlive
consciously their terrestrial existence.
Q. Thus, then, it seems that, for the terrestrial personality, immortality is
still conditional. Is, then, immortality itself not unconditional?
A. Not at all. But immortality cannot touch the non-existent: for all that which
exists as Sat, or emanates from Sat, immortality and Eternity are absolute.
Matter is the opposite pole of spirit, and yet the two are one. The essence of
all this, i.e., Spirit, Force, and Matter, or the three in one, is as endless as
it is beginningless; but the form acquired by this triple unity during its
incarnations, its externality, is certainly only the illusion of our personal
conceptions. Therefore do we call Nirvana and the Universal life alone a
reality, while relegating the terrestrial life, its terrestrial personality
included, and even its Devachanic existence, to the phantom realm of illusion.
Q. But why in such a case call sleep the reality, and waking the illusion?
A. It is simply a comparison made to facilitate the grasping of the subject, and
from the standpoint of terrestrial conceptions it is a very correct one.
Q. And still I cannot understand, if the life to come is based on justice and
the merited retribution for all our terrestrial suffering, how in the case of
materialists, many of whom are really honest and charitable men, there should
remain of their personality nothing but the refuse of a faded flower.
A. No one ever said such a thing. No materialist, however unbelieving, can die
forever in the fullness of his spiritual individuality. What was said is that
consciousness can disappear either fully or partially in the case of a
materialist, so that no conscious remains of his personality survive.
Q. But surely this is annihilation?
A. Certainly not. One can sleep a dead sleep and miss several stations during a
long railway journey, without the slightest recollection or consciousness, and
awake at another station and continue the journey past innumerable other
halting-places till the end of the journey or the goal is reached. Three kinds
of sleep were mentioned to you: the dreamless, the chaotic, and the one which is
so real, that to the sleeping man his dreams become full realities. If you
believe in the latter why can't you believe in the former; according to the
after-life a man has believed in and expected, such is the life he will have. He
who expected no life to come will have an absolute blank, amounting to
annihilation, in the interval between the two rebirths. This is just the
carrying out of the program we spoke of, a program created by the materialists
themselves. But there are various kinds of materialists, as you say. A selfish,
wicked Egoist, one who never shed a tear for anyone but himself, thus adding
entire indifference to the whole world to his unbelief, must, at the threshold
of death, drop his personality forever. This personality having no tendrils of
sympathy for the world around and hence nothing to hook onto Sutratman, it
follows that with the last breath every connection between the two is broken.
There being no Devachan for such a materialist, the Sutratman will reincarnate
almost immediately. But those materialists who erred in nothing but their
disbelief will oversleep but one station. And the time will come when that
ex-materialist will perceive himself in the Eternity and perhaps repent that he
lost even one day, one station, from the life eternal.
Q. Still, would it not be more correct to say that death is birth into a new
life, or a return once more into eternity?
A. You may if you like. Only remember that births differ, and that there are
births of "still-born" beings, which are failures of nature. Moreover, with your
Western fixed ideas about material life, the words living and being are quite
inapplicable to the pure subjective state of postmortem existence. It is just
because, save in a few philosophers who are not read by the many, and who
themselves are too confused to present a distinct picture of it, it is just
because your Western ideas of life and death have finally become so narrow, that on the one hand they have led to crass materialism, and on the other, to the
still more material conception of the other life, which the Spiritualists have
formulated in their Summerland. There the souls of men eat, drink, marry, and
live in a paradise quite as sensual as that of Mohammed, but even less
philosophical. Nor are the average conceptions of the uneducated Christians any
better, being if possible still more material. What between truncated angels,
brass trumpets, golden harps, and material hellfires, the Christian heaven seems
like a fairy scene at a Christmas pantomime.
It is because of these narrow conceptions that you find such difficulty in
understanding. It is just because the life of the disembodied soul, while
possessing all the vividness of reality, as in certain dreams, is devoid of
every grossly objective form of terrestrial life, that the Eastern philosophers
have compared it with visions during sleep.
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