The last and biggest of Arthur E. Powell’s 4 volumes of the findings of the clairvoyant researches of the Theosophists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries sets out what is known about the highest and most inaccessible parts of our spiritual selves.
According to these students of the “occult” world, reality is composed of 7 levels or planes, and our lives are actually lived on all of them simultaneously. The body that we think of as our physical self is just one–the lowest one–of the “vehicles” that our actual self, the “ego,” makes use of in order to evolve toward complete self actualization. The vitality and coherence of that physical body is due to a separate but closely connected vehicle known as the “etheric” body. Our sensations of pleasure and pain and our emotional nature are the manifestations of the vehicle known as the astral body, which functions on its own plane of reality that differs from ordinary physical reality not in location but in the fineness of its matter. Our concrete thoughts–our thoughts about specific objects–are formed of the matter of the mental plane, a still finer level of reality “above” the astral. Our abstract thoughts, our thoughts about ideas and not merely about concrete things, are formed of the matter of the higher mental plane. This is the plane of our “causal” body, the vehicle that sets the vehicles below it in motion.
The levels beyond the higher mental plane are also addressed in this book, to the extent that the investigators could learn about them. Above the mental plane is the plane they call “buddhic,” the source of our intuitive knowledge, and the “atmic,” which is the plane of our will. There are two further planes that are so far above and beyond our ordinary consciousness that they cannot really be known or described. To move upward through the planes of reality is to move ever closer to God or ultimate reality. To function on any plane above the astral is possible only to the extent that we have transcended selfish motives. All planes are populated by many beings, human and nonhuman.
This is mind-stretching stuff. The material is dense but well organized by the author, who spent years collecting and collating the various Theosophical writings in order to distill their contents into a single coherent overview. This reader thinks that he succeeded very well.
Do you believe in the findings of a group of clairvoyants? That’s up to you. The test–the only test available to us who currently lack these clairvoyant powers–is how well the teachings accord with one’s own experience. As far as I’m concerned, they accord very well. And if we’re inclined to doubt, we shouldn’t forget that William James observed that doubt needs to be justified as much as belief does.
We already know that the universe is a big place. These books reveal that it’s actually a lot bigger than we think it is–and much more structured and meaningful. They deal with topics that are of the utmost importance to every sentient being, and it turns out that even the things we call “minerals” are sentient beings for this purpose. Our existence is much more wondrous than we imagine.
If your mind is open, or is capable of becoming so, then I would heartily recommend that you plunge into this series of books by Powell, starting with The Etheric Double: The Health Aura of Man, which deals with phenomena that are closest to our familiar physical life. The books should certainly be read in order; let your mind be stretched slowly!
There’s a great deal more that I could say about these books. My own spiritual training has been Buddhist, and the Theosophists make use of Buddhist terms and concepts, even as it appears that their view of reality is quite other than what was taught by the Buddha. I’ll say only this for now: appearances can be deceiving. Let’s just leave it at that.
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