The human body is constantly undergoing a process of decay and of reconstruction. First builded into the [Page 13] etheric form in the womb of the mother, it is built up continually by the insetting of fresh materials. With every moment tiny molecules are passing away from it; with every moment tiny molecules are streaming into it. The outgoing stream is scattered over the environment, and helps to rebuild bodies of all kinds in the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms, the physical basis of all these being one and the same.
The idea that the human tabernacle is built by countless lives, just in the same way as the rocky crust of our Earth was, has nothing repulsive in it for the true mystic. … Science teaches us that the living as well as the dead organism of both man and animal are swarming with bacteria of a hundred various kinds; that from without we are threatened with the invasion of microbes with every breath we draw, and from within by leucomaines, aerobes, anaerobes, and what not. But Science never yet went so far as to assert with the Occult Doctrine that our bodies, as well as those of animals, plants, and stones, are themselves altogether built up of such beings, which, except larger species, no microscope can detect. So far as regards the purely animal and material portion of man, Science is on its way to discoveries that will go far towards corroborating this theory. Chemistry and physiology are the two great magicians of the future, who are destined to open the eyes of mankind to the great physical truths. With every day, the identity between the animal and physical man, between the plant and man, and even between the reptile and its nest, the rock, and man, is more and more clearly shown. The physical and chemical constituents of all being found to be identical, chemical Science may well say that there is no difference between the matter which composes the ox and that which forms man. But the Occult Doctrine is far more explicit. It says: Not only the chemical compounds are the same, but the same infinitesimal invisible lives compose the atoms of the bodies of the mountain and the daisy, of man and the ant, of the elephant, and of the tree which shelters him from [Page 14] the sun. Each particle – whether you call it organic or inorganic – is a life. [The Secret Doctrine, Volume 1, Page 281 of 3rd Edition]
These “lives” which, separate and independent, are the minute vehicles of Automatic Vitality, aggregated together form the molecules and cells of the physical body, and they stream in and stream out, during all the years of bodily life, thus forming a continual bridge between man and his environment. Controlling these are the “Fiery Lives”, Energising Vitality, which constrain these to their work of building up the cells of the body, so that they work harmoniously and in order, subordinated to the higher manifestation of life in the complex organism called Man. These Fiery Lives on our plane correspond, in this controlling and organising function, with the One Life of the Universe, [The Secret Doctrine, Volume 1, Page 281 of 3rd Edition] , and when they no longer exercise this function in the human body, the lower lives run rampant, and begin to break down the hitherto definitely organised body. During bodily life they are marshalled as an army; marching in regular order under the command of a general, performing various evolutions, keeping step, moving as a single body. At “Death” they become a disorganised and tumultuous mob, rushing hither and [Page 15] thither, jostling each other, tumbling over each other, with no common object, no generally recognised authority. The body is never more alive than when it is dead; but it is alive in its units, and dead in its totality; alive as a congeries, dead as an organism.
Science regards man as an aggregation of atoms temporarily united by a mysterious force called the life-principle. To the Materialist, the only difference between a living and a dead body is that in the one case that force is active, in the other latent. When it is extinct or entirely latent, the molecules obey a superior attraction, which draws them asunder and scatters them through space. This dispersion must be Death, if it is possible to conceive such a thing as Death, where the very molecules of the dead body manifest an intense vital energy. … Says Eliphas Levi: “Change attests movement, and movement only reveals life. The corpse would not decompose if it were dead; all the molecules which compose it are living and struggle to separate.” [Isis Unveiled, Volume 1, page 480]
Those who have read The Seven Principles of Man, [ Theosophical Manuals. No 1] know that the etheric double is the vehicle of Prana, the life-principle, or vitality. Through the etheric double Prana exercises the controlling and co-ordinating force spoken of above, and “Death” takes triumphant possession of the body when the etheric double is finally withdrawn and the delicate cord which unites it with the body is snapped. The process of withdrawal has been watched by clairvoyants, and definitely described. Thus Andrew Jackson Davis, “the Poughkeepsie Seer”, [Page 16] describes how he himself watched this escape of the ethereal body, and he states that the magnetic cord did not break for some thirty-six hours after apparent death. Others have described, in similar terms, how they saw a faint violet mist rise from the dying body, gradually condensing into a figure which was the counterpart of the expiring person, and attached to that person by a glistening thread. The snapping of the thread means the breaking of the last magnetic link between the dense body and the remaining principles of the human constitution; the body has dropped away from the man; he is excarnated, disembodied; six principles still remain as his constitution immediately after death, the seventh, or the dense body, being left as a cast-off garment.
Death consists, indeed, in a repeated process of unrobing, or unsheathing. The immortal part of man shakes off from itself, one after the other, its outer casings, and – as the snake from its skin, the butterfly from its chrysalis – emerges from one after another, passing into a higher state of consciousness. Now it is the fact that this escape from the body, and this dwelling of the conscious entity either in the vehicle called the body of desire, the kamic or astral body, or in a yet more ethereal Thought Body, can be effected during earth-life; so that man may become familiar with the [Page 17] excarnated condition, and it may lose for him all the terrors that encircle the unknown. He can know himself as a conscious entity in either of these vehicles, and so prove to his own satisfaction that “life” does not depend on his functioning through the physical body. Why should a man who has thus repeatedly “shed” his lower bodies, and has found the process result, not in unconsciousness, but in a vastly extended freedom and vividness of life – why should he fear the final casting away of his fetters, and the freeing of his Immortal Self from what he realises as the prison of the flesh?
This view of human life is an essential part of the Esoteric Philosophy. Man is primarily divine, a spark of the Divine Life. This living flame, passing out from the Central Fire, weaves for itself coverings within which it dwells, and thus becomes the Triad, the Atma-BuddhiManas, or Spirit, the reflection of the Immortal Self. This sends out its Ray, which becomes encased in grosser matter, in the desire body, or kamic elements, the passional nature, and in the etheric double and the physical body. The once free immortal Intelligence thus entangled, enswathed, enchained, works heavily and laboriously through the coatings that enwrap it. In its own nature it remains ever the free Bird of Heaven, [Page 18] but its wings are bound to its side by the matter into which it is plunged. When man recognises his own inherent nature, he learns to open his prison doors occasionally and escapes from his encircling gaol; first he learns to identify himself with the Immortal Triad, and rises above the body and its passions into a pure mental and moral life; then he learns that the conquered body cannot hold him prisoner, and he unlocks its door and steps out into the sunshine of his true life. So when Death unlocks the door for him, he knows the country into which he emerges, having trodden its ways at his own will. And at last he grows to recognise that fact of supreme importance, that “Life” has nothing to do with body and with this material plane; that Life is his conscious existence, unbroken, unbreakable, and that the brief interludes in that Life, during which he sojourns on Earth, are but a minute fraction of his conscious existence, and a fraction, moreover, during which he is less alive, because of the heavy coverings which weigh him down. For only during these interludes (save in exceptional cases) may he wholly lose his consciousness of continued life, being surrounded by these coverings which delude him and blind him to the truth of things, making that real which is illusion, and that stable which is transitory. [Page 19] The sunlight ranges over the universe, and at incarnation we step out of it into the twilight of the body, and see but dimly during the period of our incarceration; at Death we step out of the prison again into the sunlight, and are nearer to the reality. Short are the twilight periods, and long the periods of the sunlight; but in our blinded state we call the twilight life, and to us it is the real existence, while we call the sunlight Death, and shiver at the thought of passing into it. Well did Giordano Bruno, one of the greatest teachers of our Philosophy in the Middle Ages, state the truth as to the body and Man. Of the real Man he says:
He will be present in the body in such wise that the best part of himself will be absent from it, and will join himself by an indissoluble sacrament to divine things, in such a way that he will not feel either love or hatred of things mortal. Considering himself as master, and that he ought not to be servant and slave to his body, which he would regard only as the prison which holds his liberty in confinement, the glue which smears his wings, chains which bind fast his hands, stocks which fix his feet, veil which hides his view. Let him not be servant, captive, ensnared, chained, idle, stolid, and blind, for the body which he himself abandons cannot tyrannise over him, so that thus the spirit in a certain degree comes before him as the corporeal world, and matter is subject to the divinity and to nature. [ "The Heroic Enthusiasts", translation by L. Williams, Part 2, Pages 22-23 ]
When once we thus come to regard the body, and by conquering it we gain our liberty, Death loses for us [Page 20] all his terrors, and at his touch the body slips from us as a garment, and we stand out from it erect and free.
On the same lines of thought Dr. Franz Hartmann writes:
According to certain views of the West, man is a developed ape. According to the views of Indian Sages, which also coincide with those of the Philosophers of past ages and with the teachings of the Christian Mystics, man is a God, who is united during his earthly life, through his own carnal tendencies, to an animal (his animal nature). The God who dwells within him endows man with wisdom. The animal endows him with force. After death, the God effects his own release from the man by departing from the animal body. As man carries within him this divine consciousness, it is his task to battle with his animal inclinations, and to raise himself above them, by the help of the divine principle, a task which the animal cannot achieve, and which therefore is not demanded of it. [ Cremation, Theosophical Siftings, Volume 3 ]
The “man”, using the word in the sense of personality, as it is used in the latter half of this sentence, is only conditionally immortal; the true man, the evolving God, releases himself, and so much of the personality goes with him as has raised itself into union with the divine.
The body thus left to the rioting of the countless lives – previously held in constraint by Prana, acting through its vehicle the etheric double – begins to decay, that is to break up, and with the disintegration of its cells and molecules, its particles pass away into other combinations. [Page 21]
On our return to Earth we may meet again some of those same countless lives that in a previous incarnation made of our then body their passing dwelling; but all that we are just now concerned with is the breaking up of the body whose life-span is over, and its fate is complete disintegration. To the dense body, then, Death means dissolution as an organism, the loosing of the bonds that united the many into one.
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