29 May 1906, Paris
Before embarking on this subject, we must realise that since occultism has been popularised, a certain class of theosophical literature has given rise to mistaken ideas as to the real goal of occult science. It has been contended that the goal is the annihilation of the body through asceticism and that reality is an illusion which must be conquered, reference being made to the ‘maya’ spoken of by Hindu philosophy. This is more than exaggeration; it is an actual error, contradicted by the science and practice of occultism.
Greek imagery compares the soul to a bee and this is much truer to the facts. Just as the bee emerges from the hive and gathers the juice of flowers to distil and make it into honey, so does the soul come forth from the Spirit, penetrates into reality and gathers its essence which is then borne back again to the Spirit.
Occultism does not disdain reality but seeks rather to understand and make use of it. The body is not merely the vesture, it is the instrument of the Spirit. Occultism is not a science which subordinates the body but teaches us how to use it for higher ends. Could we be said to understand the nature of a magnet if we described it merely as a piece of iron shaped like a horse-shoe? No, indeed. But we have understood if we say: ‘The magnet is a piece of iron having the power to attract other pieces of iron.’ Visible reality is wholly pervaded with a deeper reality and it is this deeper reality which the soul tries to penetrate and master.
For thousands of years the higher wisdom was guarded in profound secrecy by Occult Brotherhoods. A man had to belong to one of these Brotherhoods before he could learn even the elements of occult science. To enter a Brotherhood he had to pass certain tests and swear not to make wrong use of the truths revealed to him. But the conditions of civilisation, and particularly of the human intellect, have entirely changed since the sixteenth century and above all in the last hundred years under the influence of scientific discoveries. As the result of science, a certain number of truths pertaining to Nature and the world of sense — which in olden times were known only to Initiates — have become public property. Knowledge possessed by science today was once in the keeping of the Mysteries. The Initiates have always known that which all men were destined, in time, to know. That is why the Initiates have been called prophets.
The advent of Christianity wrought a great change in the manner of Initiation. Initiation since the time of Christ Jesus has not been the same as before His coming. We can only understand this by studying the nature of man and the seven fundamental principles of his being.
(1) The physical body, visible to the natural eye and familiar to science. As a purely physical being, man corresponds to the mineral world; he is a combination of all the physical forces of the universe.
(2) The etheric body. How does it become perceptible?
We know that hypnosis induces a different state of consciousness, not only in the hypnotised subject but also in the hypnotist, who suggests anything he pleases to his subject. He can make him think that a chair is a horse, or that the chair is not there, or again that there is nobody in a room which is really full of people. The Initiate consciously exercises a power whereby he can blot out from his vision the physical body of the person in front of him. Then, in place of the physical body he beholds, not an empty space, but the etheric body. This body somewhat resembles the physical body and yet it is different. It takes on the form of the physical body, extending slightly beyond it. The etheric body is more or less luminous and fluidic. Instead of organs there are currents of diverse colours, the heart being a veritable vortex of forces and streaming currents. The etheric body is the ‘etheric double’ of the material body. Man possesses it in common with the plants. It is not produced by the physical body as naturalists might be led to believe; on the contrary, the etheric body is the builder of every living organism. In the plant, as well as in man, it is the force of growth, rhythm and reproduction.
(3) The astral body has neither the form of the etheric nor of the physical body. It is an ovoid and extends beyond the body like a cloud, an aura. The astral body can take on all the colours of the rainbow, according to the passion by which it is animated. Each passion has its astral colour. Besides this, the astral body is, in a certain sense, the synthesis of the physical and etheric bodies, for the reason that the etheric body always has a contrary character to the sex of the physical body. The etheric body of a man is female; the etheric body of a woman is male. In both man and woman, the astral body is bisexual. In this sense, therefore, it is a synthesis of the two other bodies.
(4) The self — Manas in Sanscrit, Joph in Hebrew — is the intelligent, rational soul. It is the indestructible individuality which can learn to build the other bodies — the ‘inexpressible,’ the human self and the divine self.
The union of these four elements was venerated by Pythagoras in the sign of the tetragram.
The evolution of man consists in transforming the lower bodies with the aid of the self into spiritualised bodies. The physical body is the most ancient principle — hence the most perfect — of man's being. The task of the present epoch of human evolution is to transform the astral body.
In civilised man, the astral body is divided into two parts — a lower and a higher. The lower part is still chaotic and dark, the higher is luminous, penetrated even now by the forces of Manas — that is to say, it has a certain order and regularity.
When the Initiate has purified his astral body of all animal passions, when it has become wholly luminous (the first phase of Initiation), he has arrived at the stage of catharsis. Only then can he work at his etheric body and by this means ‘affix his seal’ to the physical body. Of itself, the astral body has no direct influence upon the physical body. Its forces must pass by way of the etheric body. The task of the disciple, therefore, is concerned with the transformation of the astral and etheric bodies in order, finally, to acquire full and complete control of the physical body. This is how he becomes a master.
We are touching here upon a marvelous law of human nature, proving that the self and Manas are the central points of man's development. When Manas dominates the astral and etheric bodies, man acquires new faculties and these in turn influence the spiritual and divine form of man. When Manas works upon the etheric body, light and power for the purpose of man's spiritual being (Budhi) are generated. When Manas works upon the physical body, light and power for man's divine Spirit (Atma) are generated. The evolution of man, therefore, amounts to a transformation of the lower bodies by the higher Self.
We have a paramount example of the working of the lower self in an anecdote told by Darwin. On one of his journeys he conversed with a cannibal and asked, through an interpreter, if he felt no repugnance against eating human flesh. Whereupon the savage burst into laughter, saying: “One must have tasted human flesh before one can know whether it is good to eat. And you know nothing about it whatever!”
The transformation of the astral body goes hand in hand with the control of feelings and their purification.
The lower part of the astral body of man in our age is dark; the higher part is limpid and full of colour. The higher part has been transmuted and permeated by the self but not the lower part as yet. When man has transformed the whole of his astral body we say that he has changed it into Manas. Not until then can he begin to work on the etheric body. There is a reason why this is so. Everything in the astral body is ephemeral. Everything that happens in the etheric body leaves an indelible trace which is, furthermore, impressed like a seal into the physical body.
The higher stages of Initiation consist in controlling all the phenomena connected with the physical body, in mastering and controlling them at will. The Initiate possesses Atma to the extent to which he achieves this; he becomes a sage and has power over Nature.
The difference between Eastern and Western Initiation lies in the method by which the master brings the pupil to the point of being able to work on his etheric body. Here we must consider the different conditions in which man finds himself during sleep and waking life.
During sleep the astral body is partly freed from the physical body and is in a condition of inactivity, but the vegetative activity of the etheric body continues.
At death, the etheric and astral bodies are wholly severed from the physical body. In the etheric body — which is the bearer of memory — inheres a remembrance of the past life and at the moment the etheric body frees itself, the dying have before them a tableau of their whole life. Freed from the physical body, the etheric body becomes much more sensitive and impressionable because it is no longer impeded by physical substance.
Oriental Initiation consisted in a process whereby the etheric and astral bodies of the neophyte were forced out of his physical body. He lay in a trance lasting three days and during this time the hierophant controlled his freed etheric body, poured impulses into him and taught him wisdom which remained as a powerful, lasting impression. When he awoke from the trance, the new Initiate found himself in possession of this wisdom, for the reason that memory inheres in the etheric body. The wisdom was occult doctrine but it bore the permanent and personal stamp of the hierophant who had imparted it. A man who had passed through this Initiation was said to be ‘twice-born.’
The process of Western Initiation is quite different. Eastern Initiation takes place while man is in a state of sleep; Western Initiation must be achieved in a state of wakefulness. In other words, there is no separation of the etheric and physical bodies. In Western Initiation the neophyte is free; the master simply plays the rôle of an awakener. He does not try to dominate or convert; he simply recounts what he himself has seen, — And how ought we to listen? There are three ways of listening: to accept the words as infallible authority; to be sceptical and fight against what is heard; to pay heed to what is said without servile, blind credulity and without systematic opposition, allowing the ideas to work upon us and observing their effects. This latter is the attitude which the pupil should adopt towards his master in Western Initiation.
The Initiator knows that he who is master must also be servant. It is not his task to mould the soul of his pupil to his own image but to discover and solve the enigma of this soul. The teaching given by the Initiator is not dogma; it is simply an impulse for development. Every truth that is not at the same time a vital impulse, is a sterile truth. That is why all thought must be filled with the element of soul. Thought must be permeated with feeling; otherwise it will not pass into the realm of soul and it will be stillborn thought.