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Esoteric Christianity

By Annie Besant

Resurrection And Ascension

THE doctrines of the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ also form part of the Lesser Mysteries, being integral portions of "The Solar Myth", and of the life-story of the Christ in man. 

As regards Christ Himself they have their historical basis in the facts of His continuing to teach His apostles after His physical death, and of His appearance in the Greater Mysteries as Hierophant after His direct instructions had ceased, until Jesus took His place. In the mythic tales the resurrection of the hero and his glorification invariably formed the conclusion of his death-story; and in the Mysteries, the body of the candidate was always thrown into a deathlike trance, during which he, as a liberated soul, travelled through the invisible world, returning [Page 200] and reviving the body after three days. And in the lifestory of the individual, who is becoming a Christ, we shall find, as we study it, that the dramas of the Resurrection and Ascension are repeated.

But before we can intelligently follow that story, we must master the outlines of the human constitution, and understand the natural and spiritual bodies of man. "There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body".[1 Cor., xv, 44. ]

There are still some uninstructed people who regard man as a mere duality, made up of "soul" and "body". Such people use the words "soul" and "spirit" as synonyms, and speak indifferently of "soul and body", or "spirit and body", meaning that man is composed of two constituents, one of which perishes at death, while the other survives. For the very simple and ignorant this rough division is sufficient, but it will not enable us to understand the mysteries of the Resurrection and Ascension.

Every Christian who has made even a superficial study of the human constitution recognises in it three distinct constituents — Spirit, Soul, and Body. This division is sound, though needing [Page 201] further sub-division for more profound study, and it has been used by S. Paul in his prayer that "your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless" [1 Thess., v, 23. ] That threefold division is accepted in Christian Theology.

The Spirit itself is really a Trinity, the reflexion and image of the Supreme Trinity, and this we shall study in the following chapter.[See Chapter IX, "The Trinity" ] The true man, the immortal, who is the Spirit, is the Trinity in man. This is life, consciousness, and to this the spiritual body belongs, each aspect of the Trinity having its own Body. The Soul is dual, and comprises the mind and the emotional nature, with its appropriate garments. And the Body is the material instrument of Spirit and Soul. In one Christian view of man he is a twelve-fold being, six modifications forming the spiritual man, and six the natural man; according to another, he is divisible into fourteen, seven modifications of consciousness and seven corresponding types of form. This latter view is practically identical with that studied by Mystics, and it is usually spoken of as seven-fold, because there are really seven divisions, each being two-fold, having a life-side and a form-side. [Page 202]

These divisions and sub-divisions are somewhat confusing and perplexing to the dull, and hence Origen and Clement, as we have seen,[See Ante, pp. 72, 84, 85.] laid great stress on the need for intelligence on the part of all who desired to become Gnostics. After all, those who find them troublesome can leave them on one side, without grudging them to the earnest student, who finds them not only illuminative, but absolutely necessary to any clear understanding of the Mysteries of Life and Man.

The word Body means a vehicle of consciousness, or an instrument of consciousness; that in which consciousness is carried about, as in a vehicle, or which consciousness uses to contact the external world, as a mechanic uses an instrument. Or, we may liken it to a vessel, in which consciousness is held, as a jar holds liquid. It is a form used by a life, and we know nothing of consciousness save as connected with such forms. The form may be of rarest, subtlest, materials, may be so diaphanous that we are only conscious of the indwelling life; still it is there, and it is composed of Matter. It may be so dense, that it hides the indwelling life, and we are conscious only of the form; still the life is there, and it is composed of the opposite of Matter — Spirit. [Page 203] The student must study and re-study this fundamental fact — the duality of all manifested existence, the inseparable co-existence of Spirit and Matter in a grain of dust, in the Logos, the God manifested. The idea must become part of him; else must he give up the study of the Lesser Mysteries. The Christ, as God and Man, only shows out on the kosmic scale the same fact of duality that is repeated everywhere in nature. On that original duality everything in the universe is formed. 

The third portion is the Desire Body, so called because man's feeling and passional nature finds in this its special vehicle. In sleep, the man leaves the physical body, and carries on his conscious activities in this, which functions in the [Page 204] invisible world closest to our visible earth. It is therefore his vehicle of consciousness in the lowest of the super-physical worlds, which is also the first world into which men pass at death. 

The fourth portion is the Mental Body, so called because man's intellectual nature, so far as it deals with the concrete, functions in this. It is his vehicle of consciousness in the second of the super-physical worlds, which is also the second, or lower heavenly world, into which men pass after death, when freed from the world alluded to in the preceding paragraph.

These four portions of his encircling form, made up of the dual physical body, the desire body, and the mental body, form the natural body of which S. Paul speaks.

This scientific analysis has fallen out of the ordinary Christian teaching, which is vague and confused on this matter. It is not that the churches have never possessed it; on the contrary, this knowledge of the constitution of man formed part of the teachings in the Lesser Mysteries; the simple division into Spirit, Soul, and Body was exoteric, the first rough and ready division given as a foundation. The sub-division as regards the "Body" was made in the course of later instruction, as a preliminary to the training by [Page 205] which the instructor enabled his pupil to separate one vehicle from another, and to use each as a vehicle of consciousness in its appropriate region.

This conception should be readily enough grasped. If a man wants to travel on the solid earth, he uses as his vehicle a carriage or a train. If he wants to travel on the liquid seas, he changes his vehicle, and takes a ship. If he wants to travel in the air, he changes his vehicle again and uses a balloon. He is the same man throughout, but he is using three different vehicles, according to the kind of matter he wants to travel in. The analogy is rough and inadequate, but it is not misleading. When a man is busy in the physical world, his vehicle is the physical body, and his consciousness works in and through that body. When he passes into the world beyond the physical, in sleep and at death, his vehicle is the desire body, and he may learn to use this consciously, as he uses the physical consciously. He already uses it unconsciously every day of his life when he is feeling and desiring, as well as every night of his life. When he goes on into the heavenly world after death, his vehicle is the mental body, and this also he is daily using, when he is thinking, and there would be no thought in the brain were there none in the mental body. [Page 206]

Man has further "a spiritual body". This is made up of three separable portions, each portion belonging to one of, and separating off, the three Persons in the Trinity of the human Spirit. S. Paul speaks of being "caught up to the third heaven", and of there hearing "unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter".[2 Cor., xii, 2, 4.] These different regions of the invisible supernal worlds are known to Initiates, and they are well aware that those who pass beyond the first heaven need the truly spiritual body as their vehicle, and that according to the development of its three divisions is the heaven into which they can penetrate.

The lowest of these three divisions is usually called the Causal Body, for a reason that will be only fully assimilable by those who have studied the teaching of Reincarnation — taught in the Early Church — and who understand that human evolution needs very many successive lives on earth, ere the germinal soul of the savage can become the perfected soul of the Christ, and then, becoming perfect as the Father in Heaven,[S. Matt., v, 48. ] can realise the union of the Son with the Father. [S. John.xvii, 22,23. ] [Page 207] It is a body that lasts from life to life, and in it all memory of the past is stored. From it come forth the causes that build up the lower bodies. It is the receptacle of human experience, the treasurehouse in which all we gather in our lives is stored up, the seat of Conscience, the wielder of the Will.

The second of the three divisions of the spiritual body is spoken of by S. Paul in the significant words: " We have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens". [2 Cor., v, 1. ] That is the Bliss Body, the glorified body of the Christ, "the Resurrection Body". It is not a body which is "made with hands", by the working of consciousness in the the lower vehicles; it is hot formed by experience, not builded out of the materials gathered by man in his long pilgrimage. It is a body which belongs to the Christ-life, the life of Initiation; to the divine unfoldment in man; it is builded of God, by the activity of the Spirit, and grows during the whole life or lives of the Initiate, only reaching its perfection at "the Resurrection".

The third division of the spiritual body is the fine film of subtle matter that separates off the [Page 208] individual Spirit as a Being, and yet permits the interpenetration of all by all, and is thus the expression of the fundamental unity. In the day when the Son Himself shall "be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all", [1 Cor., xv, 28.] this film will be transcended, but for us it remains the highest division of the spiritual body, in which we ascend to the Father, and are united with Him.

Christianity has always recognised the existence of three worlds, or regions, through which a man passes; first, the physical world; secondly, an intermediate state into which he passes at death; thirdly, the heavenly world. These three worlds are universally believed in by educated Christians; only the uninstructed imagine that a man passes from his death-bed into the final state of beatitude. But there is some difference of opinion as to the nature of the intermediate world. The Roman Catholic names it Purgatory, and believes that every soul passes into it, save that of the Saint, the man who has reached perfection, or that of a man who has died in "mortal sin". The great mass of humanity pass into a purifying region, wherein a man remains for a period varying in length according to the sins he has committed, [Page 209] only passing out of it into the heavenly world when he has become pure. The various communities that are called Protestant vary in their teachings as to details, and mostly repudiate the idea of post mortem purification; but they agree broadly that there is an intermediate state, sometimes spoken of as "Paradise" or as a "waiting period". The heavenly world is almost universally, in modern Christendom, regarded as a final state, with no very definite or general idea as to its nature, or as to the progress or stationary condition of those attaining to it. In early Christianity this heaven was considered to be, as it really is, a stage in the progress of the soul, re-incarnation in one form or another, the pre-existence of the soul, being then very generally taught. The result was, of course that the heavenly state was a temporary condition, though often a very prolonged one, lasting for "an age" — as stated in the Greek of the New Testament, the age being ended by the return of the man for the next stage of his continuing life and progress - and not "everlasting", as in the mistranslation of the English authorised version.[ This mistranslation was a very natural one, as the translation was made in the seventeenth century, and all idea of the preexistence of the soul and of its evolution had long faded out of Christendom, save in the teachings of a few sects regarded as heretical and persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church. [Page 210]

In order to complete the outline necessary for the understanding of the Resurrection and Ascension, we must see how these various bodies are developed in the higher evolution.

The physical body is in a constant state of flux, its minute particles being continually renewed, so that it is ever building; and as it is composed of the food we eat, the liquids we drink, the air we breathe, and particles drawn from our physical surroundings, both people and things, we can steadily purify it, by choosing its materials well, and thus make it an ever purer vehicle through which to act, receptive of subtler vibrations, responsive to purer desires, to nobler and more elevated thoughts. For this reason all who aspired to attain to the Mysteries were subjected to rules of diet, ablution, etc., and were desired to be very careful as to the people with whom they associated, and the places to which they went.

The desire body also changes, in similar fashion, but the materials for it are expelled and drawn in by the play of the desires, arising from the feelings, passions, and emotions. If these are coarse, the materials built into the desire [Page 211] body are also coarse, while as these are purified, the desire body grows subtle and becomes very sensitive to the higher influences. In proportion as a man dominates his lower nature, and becomes unselfish in his wishes, feelings, and emotions, as he makes his love for those around him less selfish and grasping, he is purifying this higher vehicle of consciousness; the result is that when out of the body in sleep he has higher, purer, and more instructive experiences, and when he leaves the physical body at death he passes swiftly through the intermediate state, the desire body disintegrating with great rapidity, and not delaying him in his onward journey.

The mental body is similarly being built now in this case by thoughts. It will be the vehicle of consciousness in the heavenly world, but is being built now by aspirations, by imagination, reason, judgment, artistic faculties, by the use of all the mental powers. Such as the man makes it, so must he wear it, and the length and richness of his heavenly state depend on the kind of mental body he has built during his life on earth.

As a man enters the higher evolution, this body comes into independent activity on this side of death, and he gradually becomes conscious of his heavenly life, even amid the whirl of mundane [Page 212] existence. Then he becomes "the Son of man which is in heaven", [S.John, iii, 13.] who can speak with the authority of knowledge on heavenly things. When the man begins to live the life of the Son, having passed on to the Path of Holiness, he lives in heaven while remaining on earth, coming into conscious possession and use of this heavenly body. And inasmuch as heaven is not far away from us, but surrounds us on every side, and we are only shut out from it by our incapacity to feel its vibrations, not by their absence; inasmuch as those vibrations are playing upon us at every moment of our lives; all that is needed to be in Heaven is to become conscious of those vibrations. We become conscious of them with the vitalising, the organising, the evolution of this heavenly body, which, being builded out of the heavenly materials, answers to the vibrations of the matter of the heavenly world. Hence the "Son of man" is ever in heaven. But we know that the "Son of man" is a term applied to the Initiate, not to the Christ risen and glorified but to the Son while he is yet "being made perfect". [Heb. v, 9]

During the stages of evolution that lead up to and include the Probationary Path, the first division of the spiritual body — the Causal Body [Page 213] — develops rapidly, and enables the man, after death, to rise into the second heaven. After the Second Birth, the birth of the Christ in man, begins the building of the Bliss Body "in the heavens". This is the body of the Christ, developing during the days of His service on earth, and, as it develops, the consciousness of the "Son of God" becomes more and more marked, and the coming union with the Father illuminates the unfolding Spirit. 

In the Christian Mysteries — as in the ancient Egyptian, Chaldean, and others — there was an outer symbolism which expressed the stages through which the man was passing. He was brought into the chamber of Initiation, and was stretched on the ground with his arms extended, sometimes on a cross of wood, sometimes merely on the stone floor, in the posture of a crucified man. He was then touched with the thyrsus on the heart — the "spear" of the crucifixion — and, leaving the body, he passed into the worlds beyond, the body falling into a deep trance, the death of the crucified. The body was placed in a sarcophagus of stone, and there left, carefully guarded. Meanwhile the man himself was treading first the strange obscure regions called "the heart of the earth", and thereafter the [Page 214] heavenly mount, where he put on the perfected bliss body, now fully organised as a vehicle of consciousness. In that he returned to the body of flesh, to re-animate it. The cross bearing that body, or the entranced and rigid body, if no cross had been used, was lifted out of the sarcophagus and placed on a sloping surface, facing the east, ready for the rising of the sun on the third day. At the moment that the rays of the sun touched the face, the Christ, the perfected Initiate or Master, re-entered the body, glorifying it by the bliss body He was wearing, changing the body of flesh by contact with the body of bliss, giving it new properties, new powers, new capacities, transmuting it into His own likeness. That was the Resurrection of the Christ, and thereafter the body of flesh itself was changed, and took on a new nature. 

This is why the sun has ever been taken as the symbol of the rising Christ, and why, in Easter hymns, there is constant reference to the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. So also is it written of the triumphant Christ: "I am He that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death".[ Rev., i, 18.] All the powers of the lower worlds [Page 215] have been taken under the dominion of the Son, who has triumphed gloriously; over Him death no more has power, "He holdeth life and death in His strong hand". [H. P. Blavatsky. The Voice of the Silence, p. 90, 5th Edition.] He is the risen Christ, the Christ triumphant. 

The Ascension of the Christ was the Mystery of the third part of the spiritual body, the putting on of the Vesture of Glory, preparatory to the union of the Son with the Father, of man with God, when the Spirit reentered the glory it had "before the world was". [S.John, xvii, 5. ] Then the triple Spirit becomes one, knows itself eternal, and the Hidden God is found. That is imaged in the doctrine of the Ascension, so far as the individual is concerned.

The Ascension for humanity is when the whole race has attained the Christ condition, the state of the Son, and that Son becomes one with the Father, and God is all in all. That is the goal, prefigured in the triumph of the Initiate, but reached only when the human race is perfected, and when "the great orphan Humanity" is no longer an orphan, but consciously recognises itself as the Son of God. [Page 216]

Thus studying the doctrines of the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, we reach the truths unfolded concerning them in the Lesser Mysteries, and we begin to understand the full truth of the apostolic teaching that Christ was not a unique personality, but "the first fruits of them that slept", [1 Cor., xv, 20] and that every man was to become a Christ. Not then was the Christ regarded as an external Saviour, by whose imputed righteousness men were to be saved from divine wrath. There was current in the Church the glorious and inspiring teaching that He was but the first fruits of humanity, the model that every man should reproduce in himself, the life that all should share. The Initiates have ever been regarded as these first fruits, the promise of a race made perfect. To the early Christian, Christ was the living symbol of his own divinity, the glorious fruit of the seed he bore in his own heart. Not to be saved by an external Christ, but to be glorified into an inner Christ, was the teaching of esoteric Christianity, of the Lesser Mysteries. The stage of discipleship was to pass into that of Sonship. The life of the Son was to be lived among men till it was closed by the Resurrection, [Page 217] and the glorified Christ became one of the perfected Saviours of the world. 

How far greater a Gospel than the one of modern days ! Placed beside that grandiose ideal of esoteric Christianity, the exoteric teaching of the churches seems narrow and poor indeed. [Page 218]  




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