by Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840-1921)
IN many of the tasks of life the first step costs the great effort, and the investigation of truth in the higher regions of Nature justifies the familiar maxim. The first step for the modern inquirer is that which carries his consciousness across the threshold of matter into the invisible world. Never mind for the moment whether occult progress be attempted by a direct onslaught on the defences of the invisible world, or by purely internal combats with the desires of the lower self. The unseen must first become a reality for anyone who seriously desires to enter into relations with it, whether he sets his will to work to vanquish his own frailties, or the forces of Nature on the astral plane. An internal struggle with material desire undertaken for a spiritual purpose, just as much as the other kind of contest, is a recognition of the superior realm; and it is not a struggle of the kind we are contemplating at all, if it is merely undertaken for a worldly purpose, as thrifty habits may be cultivated, for instance, at the bidding of the grossest material selfishness. But though a recognition of the invisible world must in this way have been forced, at an early stage of his inquiry, on the mind of everyone who becomes an earnest explorer of Nature’s higher laws, its invisibility is a terrible barrier in the way of the progress that would otherwise be made by the throngs of intelligent materialists who people civilised countries at this epoch of our history. From the point of view of conventional thinkers — of those alike who sacrifice their Sunday mornings to provide for the contingency that there may be something in religion after all, and of those who are frankly incredulous of any Nature lying beyond the reach of instrumental research — a tremendous revolution in all their views of life is accomplished if they are somehow brought face to face with the reality of super-material phenomena, if they ever discover the invisible world and come to know it, or any part of it, as an unequivocal fact.
Long experienced explorers of the unseen often forget how profoundly clouded the whole region seems from the shore of materialistic thought. Indeed, from the shore of other systems where habits of metaphysical speculation would lead men to repudiate the charge of materialism, the unseen appears to be equally impenetrable to all human faculties. It is as though we lived beside an ocean always shrouded from view by a belt of mist. A few persons are in the constant habit of pushing out beyond in boats, but these, when they come back, are told, “ Nonsense! ; there is no ocean; you have been dreaming !” For the vast majority, the mist is an infinite void. Only by a minority have the few who have passed through it, been even [Page 187] encountered. Will anyone who knows his generation pretend to say that even among ordinary religious people the next world is a certain fact in Nature, like the next street? How many are there who do more than rest on the hypothesis that there may be somewhere a heaven to “go to” when the dreadful moment comes at which mortal man must perforce bid adieu to the warm precincts of the cheerful day. “God forbid !” a bishop is said to have piously remarked when warned, during danger at sea, that he would be in Heaven that night. The next world of commonplace orthodoxy is but too often regarded as a desperate resource for ruined men, whose fortune of life has been wrung from them to the last drop. For those who are bankrupt of breath, “ let us trust” (as a frequent phrase expresses the idea) that some compensation may be provided by Providence hereafter, though it does all remain so hopelessly obscure.
“Ah, if you could only show me that there really is a life beyond this — a perpetuation of this real individual Me after I am what my friends will call dead — you would be giving me a blessing that no words could over-estimate”. That is a passionate cry from many hearts to those who talk of other lives for the soul — of spiritual rewards, or the fruit of Karma in future states of existence.
It is a cry which few people indeed, even among those who have been in contact with the invisible world, are in a position to satisfy. Most of us are obliged to reply: “This satisfaction can only be acquired by a resolute effort; it is impossible for us to bring you proof of what we know, to save you trouble. If you would know whether Africa exists, we cannot bring you Africa to prove it; we can only give you directions how to get there if you are willing to undertake the journey”. “But why”, we might ask, “cannot you believe the testimony of those who have had proof of the sort you require”. The answer always is in effect: “C’est le premier pas qui coute. It would be worth worlds to know, but to believe without personal knowledge — that would be an act of faith. I might as easily believe at once in the Roman Catholic Church”.
There is a great difference, really, between the surrender of that reason claimed by ecclesiastical tyranny and the faith required to enable a seeker after truth to gain personal cognisance of the invisible world. The priest and the occultist both claim faith from the neophyte; but the first bids him develop this by strangling his reason, the second by satisfying it. Sensible faith is that which recognises the logic of facts appealing to human intelligence. It is stupid to believe that which you have no reason for believing; it is no less stupid to disbelieve that which there is reason to believe. The majority of modern men and women, indeed — fed exclusively on the husks of knowledge — are too profoundly ignorant of the records accumulated by those who have penetrated the unseen to be called stupid for undervaluing them. But on one or the other horn of the dilemma they must take their place. They are unconscious of the existence of the records left, or of the work done by students of [Page 188] occultism in its various phases; or they must be held responsible for defects of understanding. Does anyone say: “What are the records you refer to ?” The answer would be analogous to one that might be given to a person brought up in American backwoods, on modern practicalities exclusively, and who in mature life should hear someone refer to classical literature as important. “What book do you want me to read ? ” he might ask. What would an accomplished University devotee of Greek poetry think in reply, even if he tried to disguise his answer in polite terms ?
Any fairly considerable acquaintance with the literature of occult research — including in that broad designation records of any super-material phenomena — will put any man in a position in which he must either believe in the existence of the invisible world, or discover that he is an irrational being, whose “convictions” are merely acts of submission to the decrees of the multitude. And then, for most of those who perceive that they must believe, or who find that they cannot continue to disbelieve, some personal contact with some phases of the invisible world will probably follow in the sequence of events; because, once believing — once saturated with a complete conviction that there are other planes of Nature — these will present themselves to the mind as so interesting; that it becomes worth while to take trouble in order to get the gratification of beholding their phenomena in some way or other; and then success will sooner or later be attained. While people merely think “ there may be an invisible world, let us try if we can find it out”, they are easily baffled by failure. They draw one or two covers “blank” and retire from the effort declaring “there is nothing to be discovered; it is all a delusion”. The man who has read and assimilated what he has read is, as we have said above, saturated with a conviction on the subject. His state of mind remains unaffected by personal failure; and still impelled by the fascination of the idea, he will try again and again till he succeeds. When anyone says, “ I wish I could see something out of the common way, but I never have any luck in such things”, the answer is: “Then you certainly do not wish much” . Probably such people do not wish enough to take the trouble merely to study. What they wish is that conclusive phenomena demonstrating the existence of the invisible world should always be on view at some London theatre, where inquirers might go without liability to disappointment, when other engagements permitted.
And yet, though it is so easy to blame and ridicule that attitude of mind, no one who has the influence of the higher occultism in his heart, and at the same time a capacity for sympathising with the best attributes of modern culture, can be otherwise than indefatigably anxious to waken up the present generation more fully to an appreciation of the sublime knowledge accessible to those who get across the outer barriers and come to realise the existence of the world beyond, once for all. [Page 189] Occultists will often fail to understand the situation aright. There are some who would do nothing but draw from their own knowledge of the invisible world a store of moral maxims, and serve these out to their brethren, fearing to suggest further inquiries lest danger should be incurred, for, of course, people are put in danger the higher they climb, falls being then more disastrous. But maxims to have any value must be in circuit with knowledge. “Be good !” is a sound maxim. “Be good children !” is often an efficient exhortation, but it will not survive, the period when the persons addressed say “Why ?” And all the educated world is saying “Why ?” now in regard to injunctions which rest upon incredible assertions. Why is Society so tolerant of some misdoing which the Church has always specially condemned, though it lies outside the catalogue of offences like robbery and murder, proscribed by common convenience ? Because maxims which merely rest upon religion have no longer any binding force; in other words, because religion is the science, or the sum total of the sciences of the invisible world, and men now claim to have cut and dried maxims overhauled on principles to which this age of science has accustomed them. It is quite possible to get this done. The fact that this is a scientific age is a declaration, in other words, that a time has come for putting a scientific complexion on religious thought; in other words again, for beginning to lead the public, in flocks, where hitherto rare pioneers only have penetrated in secret — across the threshold unto the limitless realms of the invisible world. By flocks we need not be supposed to mean crude masses of humanity selected on no system, but large numbers compared to the rare explorers of former times, considerable groups of the most intelligent and advanced minds of the age. A man of the present day, who has obtained the beautiful culture of modern civilisation, who may be an accomplished classic, a finely-trained man of science, a poet, an artist, and yet a person so ignorant or stupid (as to certain facets of his mind) as not to know anything about the invisible world, is a creature who provokes in the more enlightened observer a feeling analogous to that with which one might look at a lady of fashion, beautiful in the face, but whose winning draperies you know to hide ugly deformities or repulsive disease. Or treating the subject more abstractedly, this lovely culture of modern civilisation is like the soulless statue — the Galatea without life. Surely it is time that the gods informed the marble with the breath of the spirit; and have they not shown themselves ready to do this if the sculptor does but appeal to them ?
The man who penetrates, or gets into relations of some sort or other with the invisible world, will not necessarily be illuminated at once with a flood of exhilarating knowledge. The new realm may open out before the explorer in many different ways; and there is much going astray amidst its innumerable mazes for new comers, as a rule. But to discuss these perils in detail would be to attempt an essay on all branches [Page 190] of occultism. For the present we are arguing merely that to make no journeys there at all is to give up progress, to move no longer with the onward stream of evolution, to fall out of the line of march.
It is deplorable that men of intelligence, in the present day, should neglect to pick up the threads which might guide them to some knowledge of the invisible world, for two reasons, or rather, the reasons why this is deplorable may be divided into two great classes, those which have reference to knowledge, as such, and those which have reference to the spiritual interests of mankind. To people who appreciate spiritual interests, nothing else is relatively worth a thought; but for men of modern civilisation at large knowledge is worth everything for its own sake; it is the end they are pursuing, and this being so, it is astounding that they neglect the most subtle, fascinating and intricate phenomena of all nature, those which have to do with super-material planes of existence and natural force. And from that point of view, any passage across the threshold of the invisible world will do as well as any other. The tables that move without hands, the pencils that write without fingers, are surely linked with mysteries of Nature not yet understood, and, therefore, worth examination. Investigations concerning them bring one face to face with the forces of the invisible world.
Are we told that science cannot grasp these phenomena to investigate them ? The statement is not true. They cannot be grasped at any time by anybody, but no more can the depths of stellar space be fathomed by whoever chooses whenever it suits his leisure. Great telescopes are scarce; nights perfectly fitted for observation must be waited for with patience. But when they come, the men who have got the telescopes take observations and make reports, and their records are studied by other astronomers, and used as the foundation of theories, as the raw material of current knowledge. If similar methods were adopted with even the crudest spiritualistic, not to speak of scientific, research in occult mystery, the world at large would not be blundering about as it is, with absurd denials of facts known to thousands. Clairvoyance again, by flights of perception through the invisible world, bridges gulfs that are materially impassable. But what does modern culture know of it? As a scientific fact, it is enormously more certain than the existence, for example, of the satellites of Mars; but who disputes the latter fact ? They have been seen, those satellites, if they are not seen easily or often, and therefore their existence has been established. But five newspapers out of six in the present day — barometers of prevailing belief — would profess to disbelieve in clairvoyance if the subject had to be mentioned; to disbelieve in that which is an elementary truth having to do with the most easily accessible region of supermaterial knowledge !
To gain touch with this is not to be put at once in possession of that [Page 191] certainty concerning the survival after death of the real “Me” in each case, which is the great point to be established for most European doubters, but it is the first step. Students of the laws which govern existence in the higher realms of Nature can gain no hearing from those to whom that great point remains unsatisfied. Once the higher realm is felt to be a reality, the possibility of gaining a knowledge of the laws which prevail there presents itself to the mind with an altogether new significance. And finally, closer attention shows that this knowledge certainly has been gained; that the path leading to spiritual wisdom is defined; that with some of the powers which reign in the invisible world we may enter into more or less definite relations beforehand here; that of all practical pursuits which men of clear heads and resolute purpose can set themselves to, during the space of incarnate earthly life, immeasurably the most practical, in so far as it has to do with objects which dwarf all others in their importance, are those which have to do with the culture and development of that Higher Self within them which has its natural home in the invisible world, and is but a passing guest in the midst of material occupations. To use and apply the knowledge of supermaterial laws which occult studies disclose is a life’s task, but of that for the moment we need not speak. It is with the heedless and frivolous generation at large that we are concerned in this appeal — with those who waste great gifts of intelligence and splendid energies and courage and indomitable industry on transitory pursuits, on money-making (in excess), on discovery and research that merely subserve passing material wants, on the struggle for flattering distinctions which cast a meteoric gleam on the brief journey to personal oblivion, on the “solid realities” of the visible world, which, like the ice drops of a hailstorm, are as hard as bullets one minute and dissolved in new forms the next. It is all for want of taking the first step that they are squandering their lives. Their immediate predecessors knew no more than they perhaps of the hidden mysteries, but they were less critical of the distorted shape in which pious tradition told them of the future and of the powers above. The heirs of modern thought have grown in knowledge of molecules and of the transmutation of energy but as they look back upon the beliefs which contented their forefathers, they perceive that their fuller science of the physical plane has entirely shut out the wide, vague prospect that used to gleam on the earlier horizon.
Rational human creatures cannot afford to leave that prospect in a permanent eclipse. The neglect of all facts concerned with the durabilities of existence; the concentration of effort and interest on the hastily dissolving view of its physically manifested phases, is the crying folly of the period. To spring at once into complete conscious spiritual relationship with the higher planes of Nature is not an easy achievement. The great Realities lie within a domain which makes no direct appeal to the five senses of the earthly body, and the only way of approaching their comprehension [Page 192] is to press on through the darkness, beyond which other men before us declare that they have reached illuminated altitudes.
But meanwhile, the torpor of the educated world at large in regard to the promptings which ought now to stir its activity in this direction is little less than idiotic. Idiotic relatively, that is to say, to spiritual culture. There are men of illustrious fame in the various provinces of intellectual culture, who are behaving relatively to their own higher potentialities, as the luckless victim of a shallow skull may behave towards the teachings of science and art. But there is always one thing to be remembered about them; they are curable. Their cure can be undertaken with sure certainty of success at any moment, but for each sufferer from that inner cataract which shuts out from his consciousness the prospect of the invisible world, there is only one surgeon who can successfully perform the necessary operation — the man himself. What we can do who have accomplished the feat for ourselves, is to encourage others — not to go, but to come and do likewise.