PROBLEMS OF LIFE
FROM THE DIARY OF AN OLD PHYSICIAN*
By N. I. Pirogoff
(Translated from the Russian by H.P.B.)
[Lucifer, Vol. VII. December, 1890, and January and February,
1891; Vol. VIII, March, April, May, June, July, August, 1891;
Vol. IX, October, 1891.]
Every cultured man in Europe and America is more or less familiar with Doctor Pirogoff’s name. And our readers perhaps may remember what was said of this eminent Russian surgeon and pathologist in Lucifer of April last—
* [See pages 135-36 in the present Volume for bibliographical data concerning Dr. Pirogoff’s Diary.—Compiler.]
in the editorial “Kosmic Mind” Some quotations from his posthumous Memoirs were brought forward, to show how closely the views of a great man of science approximated to the occult teachings of Theosophy e.g., his ideas on the universal mind, “infinite and eternal, which rules and governs the Ocean of Life,” and also on that bugbear of the materialists—the existence in every organism, as also outside, in Kosmos, of a distinct Vital Force, independent of any chemical or physical process. It was likewise stated, that the posthumous publication of Doctor Pirogoff’s Diary had raised a stir of amazement among the Russian public, and––among the Darwinists and Materialists, his ex-colleagues—quite a storm of indignation, as our eminent surgeon had hitherto been regarded as an “Agnostic,” if not an out-and-out Atheist of Büchner’s School.
Since then we have heard it said that a few lines quoted from a man’s writings proved nothing, and that the Theosophists had no right to affirm that their views had received corroboration at the hands of such a well-known man of science. Therefore, it has been decided to make lengthy selections from the two volumes of Doctor Pirogoff’s Memoirs, and to publish their translations in Lucifer. Of course the complete Diary cannot be translated, in order to satisfy the skeptics. Nor is it needed: as it is amply sufficient, in order to prove our point, to translate only those pages which contain the writer’s intimate thoughts upon the great problems of men. These, consisting of detached fragments, it is intended to publish in a short series of articles. Moreover, an autobiography in the shape of a private diary, interspersed with anecdotes about events and people belonging to a foreign country, would interest an English reader but little. All this is attractive to those only who are familiar with the names mentioned, and of whose country the author was for over a period of thirty years the pride and glory. Hence only such pages of the Diary as bear upon what we call theosophical and metaphysical questions, or which are of a philosophical character will be translated. The value of such pages is enhanced tenfold for us, as having been penned by a man of science, whose great learning
was recognized by all Europe, and whose famous achievements in surgery have been so appreciated, that some of them have become authoritative even in England,* always so backward in recognising foreign—and especially Russian—merit.
Before proceeding with our selections, it may not be out of place, perhaps, to say a few words about the author.
N. I. Pirogoff was born in November, 1810, and died in the same month of the year 1881. Having passed the best years of his youth in the University of Dorpat, the very hotbed of German free thought during the years 1830-60, he was filled, as he himself confesses, with that proud spirit of all-denial, embodied by Goethe in his Mephisto. “Wherefore,” he writes, in describing his state of mind in those early days, “wherefore, and to what ends need we suppose the existence of a Deity? What can it explain in cosmogenesis? Is not matter eternal, and should it not be so? Why then this useless hypothesis which explains nothing?”
Elsewhere, however, probably years after, treating on the same subject, he writes in a different strain:—“Though it was a great heathen—der grosse Heide—(as Goethe was called), who said that he talked of God only with God himself, yet I, a Christian, following his advice, also avoid talking of my intimate belief and convictions even with those nearest and dearest to me: the holy to the holy.”
This accounts for the amazement experienced by those who knew Doctor Pirogoff most intimately, when on reading his posthumous Diary, they found that he had been an opponent of religion only in its forms, in its church and dogmas; but that ever since his thirty-ninth year he had found what he had craved for: namely, faith in an abstract, almost unreachable ideal, absolutely outside every form and ritualism. His writings show him to be a most profound mystic and philosopher.
Four years after his death, Doctor Pirogoff’s widow and sons gave his papers to be published, and the two volumes
* E.g., the operation on the tarsus of the foot, called “the Pirogoff Operation.”
from which the following pages are translated were printed at the end of 1887. The first volume contains in full the unfinished “Diary of an Old Physician,” and ends in the middle of a sentence, interrupted by death. An epigraph on its title page explains that the late author wrote it “exclusively” for himself, “yet not without a secret hope that, perchance, others might read it too, some day.” “The perusal of these posthumous papers leads one to think,” adds the Russian publisher in his Preface, “that this last work of the author was connected in his thoughts with his early public writings, as he added to his diary, etc., a sub-title already used by him some twenty years before, in heading his philosophical essays, namely, ‘The Questions (or Problems) of Life.’ ” But as the latter, collected in Volume II, are almost all of a social and educational rather than of a metaphysical character, it is not proposed to treat of them for the present.
[Occasionally . . . one is beset by thoughts so base and foul, that . . . . one feels . . . . almost persuaded at times that these thoughts are not one’s own, but are suggested by someone else—by that basest of beings that lives in each of us.]
The thoughts of the lower self or “personality,” a being distinct from us, truly; the indweller of the man of flesh and but too often the sorry shadow of the true and higher Self and Ego!
[. . . . a theory of mine (rather a mystical one, I confess), that the atomic, or molecular oscillations (which it is absolutely necessary to postulate in sensations) take place, not in the visible and ever-changing cells of the brain tissues alone, but also in something else besides; in a more subtle, ethereal element, which, interpenetrating the atoms, passes through them, and is impervious to all the organic changes.]
This is a purely occult teaching. Our “memory” is but a general agent, and its “tablets,” with their indelible impressions, but a figure of speech: the “brain-tablets” serve
DR. NIKOLAY IVANOVICH PIGOROV
Reproduced from Bolshaya Sovietskaya Entsiclopedia
Vol. XXXIII, 2nd edition, 1955.
only as a upadhi or a vahan (basis, or vehicle) for reflecting at a given moment the memory of one or another thing. The records of past events, of every minutest action, and of passing thoughts, in fact, are really impressed on the imperishable waves of the ASTRAL LIGHT, around us and everywhere, not in the brain alone; and these mental pictures, images, and sounds, pass from these waves via the consciousness of the personal Ego or Mind (the lower Manas) whose grosser essence is astral, into the “cerebral reflectors,” so to say, of our brain, whence they are delivered by the psychic to the sensuous consciousness. This at every moment of the day, and even during sleep. See “Psychic and Noëtic Action,” in Lucifer, Nov., 1890, pp. 181 and 182. [Present Volume, pp. 350 et seq.]
[Thus, while one “I” is based on experiment and observation, the other has to be accepted on logic, and the third may be postulated on faith.]
“Faith” is but the misapplication of an inner intuition. The latter shows to us unerringly a general truth, in this, or that, universal proposition, which the former proceeds to objectivise and disfigure, according to the canons of our objective plane. Intuition is divine, but faith is human.
[The collectivity (ensemble) of sensations, furnished to us by all our organs (both those which do not, and those that do communicate with the outward world, with the non-I), is that we call existence. . .]
Eastern Philosophy––occult or exoteric––does not admit of an “I” separate from the Universe, objective or subjective, material or spiritual––otherwise than as a temporary illusion during the cycle of our incarnations. It is this regrettable illusion, the “heresy of separateness” or personality, the idea that our “I” is distinct in eternity from the Universal EGO, that has to be conquered and destroyed as the root of selfishness and all evil, before we can get rid of rebirths and reach Nirvana.
[In connection with Dr. Pirogoff’s speculations on the subject of lunacy.] Or loss of mind, as it is very suggestively
called, is explained in Occultism as being primarily due to the paralysis of the higher functions in Kama-Manas, the physical mind—and, in cases of incurable insanity, to the reunion of the superior portion of the lower with the Higher Divine Ego, and the destruction, in consequence, of Antaskarana, the medium of communication, an event which leaves alive in man only his animal portion, whose Kamic mind lives henceforward on the astral plane.
[Dr. Pirogoff is unable to accept the then current hypotheses regarding the atoms.] Occult philosophy teaches that atoms, so called, are not of this earth but belong to quite a different plane, both of matter and consciousness.
[Nor can my thought linger long on atoms fractioned into granules, pellets, mathematical points and what not else.]
The atomic theory is on a par only with the undulatory theory of light, which necessitates the material agency of Ether. Hence, we are told by the physicists that the hypothetical agent called the ether of space is both elastic, “of extreme tenuity and absolutely imponderable.” Nevertheless this agent is made to perform functions which, if it has to remain the transmitter of light, would make it endowed to the highest degree with the properties of an absolutely hard body. This is exact, mathematical science.
[My mental analysis brings me totally to the necessity of accepting outside these atoms something permeable and interpenetrating everything and everywhere, invisible, formless, ever in motion . . .]
If we understand correctly this “something permeable and interpenetrating” all and everywhere, it is Akasa, whose lowest form is the Ether of Space, the latter, however, being considerably different from the “hypothetical agent” or medium of Science.
[My mind does not accept the idea that the mere grouping of atoms into certain forms (e.g., the cerebral cells) could make them eo ipso capable of sensing, desiring and conceiving, unless the
faculty of sensing and consciousness were already innate in such units.]
Precisely; and this is the chief argument of Theosophy. The chasm between mind and matter is an impassable one, as Mr. Tyndall and all the other Agnostics and Materialists are bound to admit. No theory of evolution or “heredity” will ever cover or explain the mystery.
[I conceive . . . . a limitless, incessantly rolling and waving ocean of life, formless, containing in itself the whole Universe, penetrating all its atoms, continually grouping them, then decomposing their combinations and aggregates, and adjusting them to the various objects of being.]
The Occultists and Theosophists call it “the One Life,” the triply manifested Deity or the three Logoi—the one pole of which is negative, the other positive—and the whole circumference and central point—universal mind and the atom. The latter are both abstractions, yet the only Reality.
[This “some one” attuning my organ into unison with the universal harmony, becomes my “I”]
Or, as the Occultist would call it, the “Higher Ego,” the immortal Entity, whose shadow and reflection is the human Manas, the mind, limited by its physical senses. The two may be well compared to the Master-artist and the pupil-musician. The nature of the Harmony produced on the “organ,” the Divine melody or the harsh discord, depends on whether the pupil is inspired by the immortal Master, and follows its dictates, or, breaking from its high control, is satisfied with the terrestrial sounds produced by itself conjointly with its evil companion—the man of flesh—on the chords and keys of the brain-organ.
[And then, the laws of the design and causation of the actions of universal ideation, become also the laws of my “I,” and I find them within myself, passing their manifestations from without, within myself, and from myself back into infinite nature.]
Had the eminent writer of the Diary studied for years the theosophical and occult literature of the Eastern philosophies, he could not have come into closer harmony of thought with esoteric mysticism. His was a purely natural idealism, however, a spiritual perception of eternal truths, that no scientific sophistry could destroy or even blunt.
[Concerning the affinity of the atoms.] Physical Science, it seems, gives the name of “atoms” to that which we regard as particles or molecules. With us “atoms” are the inner principles and the intelligent, spiritual guides of the cells and particles they inform. This may be unscientific, but it is a fact in nature.
[On the subject of Life-Force.] The bugbear of the modern materialist: that independent Entity denied so vehemently by exact Science and still believed in, and accepted by, the greatest Scientists, such as Dr. Pirogoff, who prefer truth even to—Science.
[Brain-thought is inadmissable without a brain.] Precisely so; but then Occult philosophy reconciles the absurdity of postulating in the manifested Universe an active Mind without an organ, with that worse absurdity, an objective Universe evolved as everything else in it, by blind chance, by giving to this Universe an organ of thought, a “brain.” The latter, although not objective to our senses, is none the less existing; it is to be found in the Entity called KOSMOS (Adam Kadmon, in the Kabbalah). As in the Microcosm, MAN, so in the Macrocosm, or the Universe. Every “organ” in it is a sentient entity, and every particle of matter of substance, from the physical molecule up to the spiritual atom, is a cell, a nerve centre, which communicates with the brain-stuff or that substance on the plane of divine Thought in which the prime ideation is produced. Therefore, was man produced in the image of God—or Divine Nature. Every cell in the human organism mysteriously corresponds with a like “cell” in the divine organism or the manifested universe; only the latter “cell” assumes in the macrocosm the gigantic proportions of an intelligent unit in this or that “Hierarchy” of Beings. This, so far as the differentiated, divine Mind is concerned, on its plane of ideation. This
eternal or ABSOLUTE THOUGHT—lies beyond and is, to us, inscrutable.
[Either it (our mind) has to regard all that which exists outside of itself as an illusion, or else the sentient existence of the Universe—the whole of that which is the “not-I”—must be as undeniable to it, as is its own existence.]
Vedantic philosophy explains and reconciles the difficulty in a most philosophical manner, by showing both the “I” and the universe an illusion. Naturally we cannot separate the two, both having to stand or fall together.
[. . . . our brain-mind discovering itself . . . . outside of itself, does so for the very reason that it, itself, is only a manifestation of the Higher or Universal Mind.]
Precisely so; and therefore, Occult philosophy teaches us that the human mind (or lower Manas) is a direct ray or reflection of the Higher Principle, the Noëtic Mind. The latter is the reincarnating Ego which old Aryan philosophers call Manasaputra, the “Sons of Mind” or of Mahat, the Universal Cosmic Mind. In the Hindu Purânas (see Vishnu Purâna) Mahat is identical with Brahmâ, the creative God, the first in the trinitarian group (Trimurti) of Brahmâ, Vishnu and Siva.
[On the subject of abstract concepts in Science.] Professor Stallo has most admirably illustrated and demonstrated this truth in his Concepts of Modern Science—of science honeycombed with metaphysics and pure abstractions.
[Mathematicians who now discuss . . . a fourth dimension, may find . . . . the necessity . . . . of also a fifth dimension.] If Dr. Pirogoff, an eminent scientist, thought so, then occult philosophy can hardly be taken to task and declared unscientific, in accepting the existence of a seven-dimensional space in co-ordination with the seven states of consciousness.
[Concerning the existence of the limitless and the immeasurable, likened by the author to a new continent which he thinks may never be fully discovered.] Why not, when in
the course of natural evolution our “brain-mind” will be replaced by a finer organism, and helped by the sixth and the seventh senses? Even now, there are pioneer minds who have developed these senses.
[Concerning a higher Principle, independent of the matter it rules.] Independent, outside of space and time; but dependent within the latter, on matter and substance alone, to manifest its presence in phenomena.
[We find ourselves confined within a magic circle. On the one hand . . . our own organic mind; on the other . . . . the external works of creative intelligence, which testify undeniably to the existence of another mind, with attributes for creation not only similar to, but immeasurably higher than our own.]
The Vedanta philosophy steps out of this “magic circle” by teaching that both our own mind and the Universal Mind (Mahat)—the latter in its acts of differentiation and limited creations—are both illusions. For as our minds are but the product of the Universal Mind, so is the latter but a differentiated ray of the absolute Mind or No-Mind. The ONE, or Absoluteness, is the only eternal reality.
[The life-principle . . . . . must have the properties of Force and be transformed into material atoms . . . . .]
Our philosophy teaches us that atoms are not matter; but that the smallest molecule—composed of milliards of indivisible and imponderable atoms––is substance. Nevertheless, the atom is not a mathematical point or a fiction; but verily an immutable Entity, a reality within an appearance—the molecule being in occult philosophy but a figment of that which is called maya or illusion. The atom informs the molecule, as life, spirit, soul, mind, inform Man. Therefore is the atom all these, and Force itself, as Dr. Pirogoff suspected. During the life-cycle, the atom represents, according to the geometrical combinations of its groupings in the molecule, life, force (or energy), mind and will; for each molecule in space, as each cell in the human body, is only a microcosm within (to it) a relative macrocosm. That which
Science refers to as Force, conservation of energy, correlation, continuity, etc., etc., is simply the various effects produced by the presence of atoms, which are, in fact, in their collectivity, simply the (spiritual) sparks on the manifested plane, thrown out by the Anima Mundi, the Universal Soul or Mind (Maha-Buddhi, Mahat) from the plane of the Unmanifested. In short, the atom may be described as a compact or crystallized point of divine Energy and Ideation.
[Without force, without its attributes antagonistic to Substance, the latter itself with its inertia and other properties, would become inconceivable.]
Claude Bernard, one of the greatest physiologists of this age, said that organized matter was per se inert—even living matter in that sense, he explains, “has to be considered, as lacking spontaneity,” although it can become and manifest its special properties of life, under the influence of excitation, for, he adds, “living matter is irritable.” If so, then the materialistic negation of life and mind outside and independent of matter becomes a fallacy condemned out of its own mouth. For to excite it, there must be an agent outside of matter to do so. And if there is such an agent to irritate or excite matter, then the materialist and physiologist can no longer say that “life is a property of matter or of living organised substance.” Dr. Paul Gibier—the latest scientific convert to transcendental psychology—objects to this and says, that “if organized, living matter were indeed inert, demanding an exterior stimulant to manifest its properties, it would become incomprehensible how the hepatic cell could continue, as well demonstrated, to secrete sugar long after the liver had been separated from the body.” Occultism says that there is no such thing as inert, dead or even inorganic matter. As sponge is the product of water, created, living and dying in the water, whether ocean or lake, after which it changes form but can never die in its particles or elements, so is matter. It is created and informed by life in the Ocean of Life, which LIFE is but another name for Universal Mind or Anima Mundi, one of the “four faces
of Brahmâ” on this manifested plane of ours, the visible universe.
[. . . . to my conception of limitless space and time is united that of motion; time—is the abstract motion in space, that is to say, force acting in space and transforming itself, by this very action, into substance.]
Occult philosophy explains the primeval origin of the manifested universe precisely in this way.
[Concerning the word empiricism.] In Russia the word is not connected with charlatanry and quackery but is an accepted term in Science in the sense given it by Sir W. Hamilton, i.e., “in philosophical language the term empirical means simply what belongs to, or is the product of experience and observation” plus Science.
[. . . . that, which senses in us, the sensing principle . . . cannot be localised in this or that portion of the brain; nor is it quite correct to view the brain as its only seat.]
Mesmeric and hypnotic experiments have proven beyond doubt that sensation may become independent of the particular sense that is supposed to generate and convey it in a normal state. Whether science will ever be able to prove or not that thought, consciousness, etc., in short, the sensus internum has its seat in the brain, it is already demonstrated and beyond any doubt that under certain conditions our consciousness and even the whole batch of our senses, can act through other organs, e.g., the stomach, the soles of the feet, etc. The “sensing principle” in us is an entity capable of acting outside as inside its material body; and it is certainly independent of any organ in particular, in its actions, although during its incarnation it manifests itself through its physical organs.
[May not our I come from the outside, and may it not be universal Thought itself which finds and uses the brain as an apparatus.]
This is precisely what occult philosophy claims; our Ego is a ray of the Universal Mind, individualized for the
space of a cosmic life-cycle, during which space of time it gets experience in almost numberless reincarnations or rebirths, after which it returns to its Parent-Source.
[Strange and incomprehensible is this faculty of our I to rend itself in twain.] Perchance it would appear less “strange and incomprehensible,” were the scientific psychologists to look into that doctrine of occultism which shows in man two Egos (two aspects of the same divine principle), the higher, or Individuality, and the lower, or Personality, in other words, the divine and the animal man. It is these two that during our lifetime are in incessant struggle, the one trying to gravitate heavenward, the other dragged down by its animal nature to the earth earthy.
[Concerning the author’s wondering whether his speculations on psychology may not appear as errant nonsense] We do not see why. To the materialistic psychologist (i.e., physiologist) the whole of Dr. Pirogoff’s world-concepts will appear “nonsense” of course; but the metaphysician and the theosophist will applaud almost every word he says; regretting only that men of such profoundly intuitional nature should be so rare among the men of science. What scholar with a reputation to lose would have such honesty and frankness?
[. . . . there are many fully conscious perceptions, which are so evanescent as to disappear almost instantaneously from the circle of our conscious activity and are not retained by memory.]
This scientific statement will never be accepted by an Eastern Occultist, for he would say that nothing that takes place, no manifestation however rapid or weak, can ever be lost from the Skandhic record of a man’s life. Not the smallest sensation, the most trifling action, impulse, thought, impression, or deed, can fade or go out from, or in the Universe. We may think it unregistered by our memory unperceived by our consciousness, yet it will still be recorded on the tablets of the astral light. Personal memory is a fiction of the physiologist. There are cells in our brain that receive and convey sensations and impressions, but this
once done, their mission is accomplished. These cells of the supposed “organ of memory” are the receivers and conveyers of all the pictures and impressions of the past, not their retainers. Under various conditions and stimuli, they can receive instantaneously the reflection of these astral images back again, and this is called memory, recollection, remembrance; but they do not preserve them. When it is said that one has lost his memory, or that it is weakened, it is only a façon de parler; it is our memory-cells alone that are enfeebled or destroyed. The window glass allows us to see the sun, moon, stars, and all the objects outside clearly; crack the pane and all these outside images will be seen in a distorted way; break the windowpane altogether and replace it with a board, or draw the blind down, and the images will be shut out altogether from your sight. But can you say because of this, that all these images— sun, moon, and stars—have disappeared, or that by repairing the window with a new pane, the same will not be reflected again into your room? There are cases on record of long months and years of insanity, of long days of fever when almost everything done or said, was done and said unconsciously. Yet when the patients recovered they remembered occasionally their words and deeds and very fully. Unconscious cerebration is a phenomenon on this plane and may hold good so far as the personal mind is concerned. But the Universal Memory preserves every motion, the slightest wave and feeling that ripples the waves of differentiated nature, of man or of the Universe.