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The Planetary Chain
Alfred Percy Sinnett
An Extract from Esoteric Buddhism
ESOTERIC science, though the most spiritual system imaginable, exhibits as running throughout Nature, the most exhaustive system of evolution that the human mind can conceive. The Darwinian theory of evolution is simply an independent discovery of a portion - unhappily but a small portion - of the vast natural truth. But occultists know how to explain evolution without degrading the highest principles of man. The esoteric doctrine finds itself under no obligation to keep its science and religion in separate water-tight compartments. Its theory of physics and its theory of spirituality are not only reconcilable with each other, they are intimately blended together and interdependent. And the first great fact which occult science presents to our notice in reference to the origin of man on this globe, will be seen to help the imagination over some serious embarrassments of the familiar scientific idea of evolution. The evolution of man is not a process carried out on this planet alone. It is a result to which many worlds in different conditions of material and spiritual development have contributed. If this statement were merely put forward as a conjecture, it would surely recommend itself forcibly to rational minds. For there is a manifest irrationality in the commonplace notion that man’s existence is divided into a material beginning, lasting sixty or seventy years, and a spiritual remainder lasting for ever. The irrationality amounts to absurdity when it is alleged that the acts of the sixty or seventy years - the blundering, helpless acts of ignorant human life - are permitted by the perfect justice of an all-wise Providence to define the conditions of that later life of infinite duration. Nor is it less extravagant to imagine that, apart from the question of justice, the life beyond the grave should be exempt from the law of change, progress, and improvement, which every analogy of Nature points to as probably running through all the varied existences of the universe. But once abandon the idea of a uniform, unvarying, unprogressive life beyond the grave - once admit the conception of change and progress in that life - and we admit the idea of a variety hardly compatible with any other hypothesis than that of progress through successive worlds. As we have said before, this is not a hypothesis at all for occult science, but a fact, ascertained and verified beyond the reach (for occultists) of doubt or contradiction.
The life and evolutionary processes of this planet - in fact, all which constitutes it something more than a dead lump of chaotic matter - are linked with the life and evolutionary processes of several other planets. But let it not be supposed that there is no finality as regards the scheme of this planetary union to which we belong. The human imagination once set free is apt sometimes to bound too far. Once let this notion, that the earth is merely one link in a mighty chain of worlds, be fully accepted as probable, or true, and it may suggest the whole starry heavens as the heritage of the human family. That idea would involve a serious misconception. One globe does not afford Nature scope for the processes by which mankind has been evoked from chaos, but these processes do not require more than a limited and definite number of globes. Separated as these are, in regard to the gross mechanical matter of which they consist, they are closely and intimately bound together by subtle currents and forces, whose existence reason need not be much troubled to concede, since the existence of some connection - of force or ethereal media - uniting all visible celestial bodies, is proved by the mere fact that they are visible. It is along these subtle currents that the life elements pass from world to world.
The fact, however, will at once be liable to distortion, to suit preconceived habits of mind. Some readers may imagine our meaning to be that after death the surviving soul will be drawn into the currents of that world with which its affinities connect it. The real process is more methodical. The system of worlds is a circuit round which all individual spiritual entities have alike to pass; and that passage constitutes the Evolution of Man. For it must be realized that the evolution of man is a process still going on, and by no means yet complete. Darwinian writings have taught the modern world to regard the ape as an ancestor, but the simple conceit of Western speculation has rarely permitted European evolutionists to look in the other direction, and recognize the probability, that to our remote descendants we may be, as that unwelcome progenitor to us. Yet the two facts just declared hinge together. The higher evolution will be accomplished by our progress through the successive worlds of the system; and in higher forms we shall return to this earth again and again. But the avenues of thought through which we look forward to this prospect, are of almost inconceivable length.
It will readily be supposed that the chain of worlds to which this earth belongs are not all prepared for a material existence exactly, or even approximately resembling our own. There would be no meaning in an organized chain of worlds which were all alike, and might as well all have been amalgamated into one. In reality the worlds with which we are connected are very unlike each other, not merely in outward conditions, but in that supreme characteristic, the proportion in which spirit and matter are mingled in their constitution. Our own world presents us with conditions in which spirit and matter are on the whole evenly balanced in equilibrium. Let it not be supposed on that account that it is very highly elevated in the scale of perfection. On the contrary, it occupies a very low place in that scale. The worlds that are higher in the scale are those in which spirit largely predominates. There is another world attached to the chain, rather than forming a part of it, in which matter asserts itself even more decisively than on earth, but this may be spoken of later.
That the superior worlds which man may come to inhabit in his onward progress should gradually become more and more spiritual in their constitution - life there being more and more successfully divorced from gross material needs - will seem reasonable enough at the first glance. But the first glance in imagination at those which might conversely be called the inferior, but may with less inaccuracy be spoken of as the preceding worlds, would perhaps suggest that they ought to be conversely less spiritual, more material, than this earth. The fact is quite the other way, and must be so, it will be seen on reflection, in a chain of worlds which is an endless chain - i.e. round and round which the evolutionary process travels. If that process had merely one journey to travel along a path which never returned into itself, one could think of it, at any rate, as working from almost absolute matter up to almost absolute spirit; but Nature works always in complete curves, and travels always in paths which return into themselves. The earliest, as also the latest, developed worlds - for the chain itself has grown by degrees - the furthest back, as also the furthest forward, are the most immaterial, the most ethereal of the whole series; and that this is in all ways in accordance with the fitness of things will appear from the reflection that the furthest forward of the worlds is not a region of finality, but the stepping-stone to the furthest back, as the month of December leads us back again to January. But it is not a climax of development from which the individual monad falls, as by a catastrophe, into the state from which he slowly began to ascend millions of years previously. From that which, for reasons which will soon appear, must be considered the highest world on the ascending arc of the circle, to that which must be regarded as the first on the descending arc, in one sense the lowest - i.e. in the order of development- there is no descent at all, but still ascent and progress. For the spiritual monad or entity, which has worked its way all round the cycle of evolution, at any one of the many stages of development into which the various existences around us may be grouped, begins its next cycle at the next higher stage, and is thus still accomplishing progress as it passes from world Z back again to world A. Many times does it circle, in this way, right round the system, but its passage round must not be thought of merely as a circular revolution in an orbit. In the scale of spiritual perfection it is constantly ascending. Thus, if we compare the system of worlds to a system of towers standing on a plain - towers each of many stories and symbolizing the scale of perfection - the spiritual monad performs a spiral progress round and round the series, passing through each tower, every time it comes round to it, at a higher level than before.
It is for want of realizing this idea that speculation, concerned with physical evolution, is so constantly finding itself stopped by dead walls. It is searching for its missing links in a world where it can never find them now, for they were but required for a temporary purpose, and have passed away. Man, says the Darwinian, was once an ape. Quite true; but the ape known to the Darwinian will never become a man - i.e. the form will not change from generation to generation till the tail disappears and the hands turn into feet, and so on. Ordinary science avows that, though changes of form can be detected in progress within the limits of species, the changes from species to species can only be inferred; and to account for these, it is content to assume great intervals of time and the extinction of the intermediate forms. There has been no doubt an extinction of the intermediate or earlier forms of all species (in the larger acceptation of the word) - i.e. of all kingdoms, mineral, vegetable, animal, man, &c. - but ordinary science can merely guess that to have been the fact without realizing the conditions which rendered it inevitable, and which forbid the renewed generation of the intermediate forms.
It is the spiral character of the progress accomplished by the life impulses that develop the various kingdoms of Nature, which accounts for the gaps now observed in the animated forms which people the earth. The thread of a screw, which is a uniform inclined plane in reality, looks like a succession of steps when examined only along one line parallel to its axis.
The spiritual monads which are coming round the system on the animal level, pass on to other worlds when they have performed their turn of animal incarnation here. By the time they come again, they are ready for human incarnation, and there is no necessity now for the upward development of animal forms into human forms - these are already waiting for their spiritual tenants. But, if we go back far enough, we come to a period at which there were no human forms ready developed on the earth. When spiritual monads, traveling on the earliest or lowest human level, were thus beginning to come round, their onward pressure in a world at that time containing none but animal forms, provoked the improvement of the highest of these into the required form - the much-talked-of missing link.
In one way of looking at the matter, it may be contended that this explanation is identical with the inference of the Darwinian evolutionist in regard to the development and extinction of missing links. After all, it may be argued by a materialist, “we are not concerned to express an opinion as to the origin of the tendency in species to develop higher forms. We say that they do develop these higher forms by intermediate links, and that the intermediate links die out; and you say just the same thing.”
But there is a distinction between the two ideas for any one who can follow subtle distinctions. The natural process of evolution from the influence of local circumstances and sexual selection, must not be credited with producing intermediate forms, and this is why it is inevitable that the intermediate forms should be of a temporary nature and should die out. Otherwise, we should find the world stocked with missing links of all kinds, animal life creeping by plainly apparent degrees up to manhood, human forms mingling in indistinguishable confusion with those of animals. The impulse to the new evolution of higher forms is really given, as we have shown by rushes of spiritual monads coming round the cycle in a state fit for the inhabitation of new forms. These superior life impulses burst the chrysalis of the older form on the planet they invade, and throw off an efflorescence of something higher. The forms which have gone on merely repeating themselves for millenniums, start afresh into growth; with relative rapidity they rise through the intermediate into the higher forms, and then, as these in turn are multiplied with the vigour and rapidity of all new growths, they supply tenements of flesh for the spiritual entities coming round on that state or plane of existence, and for the intermediate forms there are no longer any tenants offering. Inevitably they become extinct.
Thus is evolution accomplished, as regards its essential impulse, by a spiral progress through the worlds. In the course of explaining this idea we have partly anticipated the declaration of another fact of first-rate importance as an aid to correct views of the world-system to which we belong. That is, that the tide of life, - the wave of existence, the spiritual impulse, call it by what name we please - passes on from planet to planet by rushes, or gushes, not by an even continuous flow. For the momentary purpose of illustrating the idea in hand, the process may be compared to the filling of a series of holes or tubs sunk in the ground, such as may sometimes be seen at the mouths of feeble springs, and connected with each other by little surface channels. The stream from the spring, as it flows, is gathered up entirely in the beginning by the first hole, or tub A, and it is only when this is quite full that the continued in-pouring of water from the spring causes that which it already contains to overflow into tub B. This in turn fills and overflows along the channel which leads to tub C, and so on. Now, though, of course, a clumsy analogy of this kind will not carry us very far, it precisely illustrates the evolution of life on a chain of worlds like that we are attached to, and, indeed the evolution of the worlds themselves. For the process which goes on does not involve the pre-existence of a chain of globes which Nature proceeds to stock with life; but it is one in which the evolution of each globe is the result of previous evolutions, and the consequence of certain impulses thrown off from its predecessor in the superabundance of their development. Now, it is necessary to deal with this characteristic of the process to be described, but directly we begin to deal with it we have to go back in imagination to a period in the development of our system very far antecedent to that which is specially our subject at present - the evolution of man. And manifestly, as soon as we begin talking of the beginnings of worlds, we are dealing with phenomena which can have had very little to do with life, as we understand the matter, and, therefore, it may be supposed, nothing to do with life impulses. But let us go back by degrees. Behind the human harvest of the life impulse, there lay the harvest of mere animal forms, as every one realizes; behind that, the harvest or growths of mere vegetable forms - for some of these undoubtedly preceded the appearance of the earliest animal life on the planet. Then, before the vegetable organizations, there were mineral organizations, - for even a mineral is a product of Nature, an evolution from something behind it, as every imaginable manifestation of Nature must be, until in the vast series of manifestations, the mind travels back to the unmanifested beginning of all things. On pure metaphysics of that sort we are not now engaged. It is enough to show that we may as reasonably - and that we must if we would talk about these matters at all - conceive a life impulse giving birth to mineral forms, as of the same sort of impulse concerned to raise a race of apes into a race of rudimentary men. Indeed, occult science travels back even further in its exhaustive analysis of evolution than the period at which minerals began to assume existence. In the process of developing worlds from fiery nebulae, Nature begins with something earlier than minerals - with the elemental forces that underlie the phenomena of Nature as visible now and perceptible to the senses of man. But that branch of the subject may be left alone for the present. Let us take up the process at the period when the first world of the series, - globe A let us call it, - is merely a congeries of mineral forms. Now it must be remembered that globe A has already been described as very much more ethereal, more predominated by spirit, as distinguished from matter, than the globe of what we at present are having personal experience, so that a large allowance must be made for that state of things when we ask the reader to think of it, at starting, as a mere congeries of mineral forms. Mineral forms may be mineral in the sense of not belonging to the higher forms of vegetable organism, and may yet be very immaterial as we think of matter, very ethereal, consisting of a very fine or subtle quality of matter, in which the other pole or characteristic of Nature, spirit, largely predominates. The minerals we are trying to portray are, as it were, the ghosts of minerals; by no means the highly-finished and beautiful, hard crystals which the mineralogical cabinets of this world supply. In these lower spirals of evolution with which we are now dealing, as with the higher ones, there is progress from world to world, and that is the great point at which we have been aiming. There is progress downwards, so to speak, in finish and materiality and consistency; and then, again, progress upward in spirituality as coupled with the finish which matter or materiality rendered possible in the first instance. It will be found that the process of evolution in its higher stages as regards man is carried on in exactly the same way. All through these studies, indeed, it will be found that one process of Nature typifies another, that the big is the repetition of the little on a larger scale.
It is manifest from what we have already said, and in order that the progress of organisms on globe A shall be accounted for, that the mineral kingdom will no more develop the vegetable kingdom on globe A until it receives an impulse from without, than the Earth was able to develop Man from the ape till it received an impulse from without. But it will be inconvenient at present to go back to a consideration of the impulses which operate on globe A in the beginning of the system’s construction.
We have already, in order to be able to advance more comfortably from a far later period than that to which we have now receded, gone back so far that further recession would change the whole character of this explanation. We must stop somewhere, and for the present it will be best to take the life impulses behind globe A for granted. And having stopped there we may now treat the enormous period intervening between the mineral epoch on globe A and the man epoch, in a very cursory way, and so get back to the main problem before us. What has been already said facilitates a cursory treatment of the intervening evolution. The full development of the mineral epoch on globe A prepares the way for the vegetable development, as soon as this begins, the mineral life impulse overflows into globe B. Then when the vegetable development on globe A is complete and the animal development begins, the vegetable life impulse overflows to globe B, and the mineral impulse passes on to globe C. Then, finally, comes the human life impulse on globe A.
Now, it is necessary at this point to guard against one misconception that might arise. As just roughly described, the process might convey the idea that by the time the human impulse began on globe A, the mineral impulse was then beginning on globe D, and that beyond lay chaos. This is very far from being the case, for two reasons. Firstly, as already stated, there are processes of evolution which precede the mineral evolution, and thus a wave of evolution, indeed several waves of evolution, precede the mineral wave in its progress round the spheres. But over and above this, there is a fact to be stated which has such an influence on the course of events, that, when it is realized, it will be seen that the life impulse has passed several times completely round the whole chain of worlds before the commencement of the human impulse on globe A. This fact is as follows: Each kingdom of evolution, vegetable, animal, and so on, is divided into several spiral layers. The spiritual monads - the individual atoms of that immense life impulse of which so much as been said - do not fully complete their mineral existence on globe A, then complete it on globe B, and so on. They pass several times round the whole circle as minerals, and then again several times round as vegetables, and several times as animals. We purposely refrain for the present from going into figures, because it is more convenient to state the outline of the scheme in general terms first, but figures in reference to these processes of Nature have now been given to the world by the occult adepts (for the first time, we believe), and they shall be brought out in the course of this explanation very shortly, but, as we say, the outline is enough for any one to think of at first.
And now we have rudimentary man beginning his existence on globe A, in that world where all things are as the ghosts of the corresponding things in this world. He is beginning his long descent into matter. And the life impulse of each “round” overflows, and the races of man are established in different degrees of perfection on all the planets, on each in turn. But the rounds are more complicated in their design than this explanation would show, if it stopped short here. The process for each spiritual monad is not merely a passage from planet to planet. Within the limits of each planet, each time it arrives there, it has a complicated process of evolution to perform. It is many times incarnated in successive races of men before it passes onward, and it even has many incarnations in each great race. It will be found, when we get on further, that this fact throws a flood of light upon the actual condition of mankind, as we know it, accounting for those immense differences of intellect and morality, and even of welfare in its highest sense, which generally appear so painfully mysterious.
That which has a definite beginning generally has an end also. As we have shown that the evolutionary process under description began when certain impulses first commenced their operation, so it may be inferred that they are tending towards a final consummation, towards a goal and a conclusion. That is so, though the goal is still far off. Man, as we know him on this earth, is but half-way through the evolutionary process to which he owes his present development. He will be as much greater, before the destiny of our system is accomplished, than he is now, as he is now greater than the missing link. And that improvement will even be accomplished on this earth, while, in the other worlds of the ascending series, there are still loftier peaks of perfection to be scaled. It is utterly beyond the range of faculties untutored in the discernment of occult mysteries, to imagine the kind of life which man will thus ultimately lead before the zenith of the great cycle is attained. But there is enough to be done in filling up the details of the outline now presented to the reader, without attempting to forecast those which have to do with existences towards which evolution is reaching across the enormous abysses of the future.
An expression occurs in the foregoing chapter which does not recommend itself to the somewhat fuller conceptions I have been able to form of the subject since this book was written. It is stated that “the spiritual monads - the individual atoms of that immense life impulse of which so much has been said - do not fully complete their mineral existence on globe A, then complete it on globe B, and so on. They pass several times round the whole circle as minerals, and then again several times round as vegetables, &c.” Now it is intelligible to me that I was permitted to use this form of expression in the first instance because the main purpose in view was to elucidate the way in which the human entity was gradually evolved from processes of Nature going on in the first instance in lower kingdoms. But in truth at a later stage of the inquiry it becomes manifest that the vast process of which the evolution of humanity and all which that leads up to is the crowning act, the descent of spirit into matter, does not bring about a differentiation of individualities until a much later stage than is contemplated in the passage just quoted. In the mineral worlds on which the higher forms of plant and animal life have not yet been established, there is no such thing, as yet, as an individual spiritual monad, unless indeed by virtue of some inconceivable unity - inconceivable, but subject to treatment as a theory none the less - in the life impulses which are destined to give rise to the later chains of highly organized existence. Just as in a preceding note we assumed the unity of such a life impulse in the case of a perverted human Ego falling away as a whole from the current of evolution on which it was launched, so we may assume the same unity backwards to the earliest beginnings of the planetary chain. But this can be no more than a protective hypothesis, reserving us the right to investigate some mysteries later on that we need not go into at present. For a general appreciation of the subject it is better to regard the first infusion, as it were, of spirit into matter as provoking a homogeneous manifestations. The specific forms of the mineral kingdom, the crystals and differentiated rocks are but bubbles in the seething mass assuming partially individualized forms for a time, and rushing again into the general substance of the growing cosmos, not yet true individualities. Nor even in the vegetable kingdom does individuality set in. The vegetable establishes organic matter in physical manifestation, and prepares the way for the higher evolution of the animal kingdom. In this, for the first time, but only in the higher regions of this, is true individuality evoked. Therefore it is not till we begin in imagination to contemplate the passage of the great life impulse round the planetary chain on the level of animal incarnation, that it would be strictly justifiable to speak of the spiritual monads as traveling round the circle as a plurality, to which the word “they” would properly apply.
It is evidently not with the intention of encouraging any close study of evolution on the very grand scale with which we are dealing here, that the adept authors of the doctrine set forth in this volume, have opened the subject of the planetary chain. As far as humanity is concerned, the period during which this earth will be occupied by our race is more than long enough to absorb all our speculative energy. The magnitude of the evolutionary process to be accomplished during that period is more than enough to tax to the utmost the capacities of an ordinary imagination. But it is extremely advantageous for students of the occult doctrine to realize the plurality of worlds in our system once for all - their intimate relations with, their interdependence on each other - before concentrating attention on the evolution of this single planet. For in many respects the evolution of a single planet follows a routine, as it will be found directly, that bears an analogical resemblance to the routine affecting the entire series of planets to which it belongs. The older writings on occult science, of the obscurely worded order, sometimes refer to successive states of one world, as if successive worlds were meant, and vice versa. Confusion thus arises in the reader’s mind, and according to the bent of his own inclination he clings to various interpretations of the misty language. The obscurity disappears when we realize that in the actual facts of Nature we have to recognize both courses of change. Each planet while inhabited by humanity, goes through metamorphoses of a highly important and impressive character, the effect of which may in each case be almost regarded as equivalent to the reconstitution of the world. But none the less, if the whole group of such changes is treated as a unity, does it form one of a higher series of changes. The several worlds of the chain are objective realities, and not symbols of change in one single, variable world. Further remarks on this head will fall into their place more naturally at the close of a later chapter.
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