from The Theosophist October 1995
Seers and Sages
The Theosophical Society is not alone in having had a succession of leading members who have offered a variety of teachings and revelations on a basis of some form of psychism or clairvoyance. Much discussion has been directed to examining the cogency, authenticity or truth of such teachings.
There is a question which needs to be more deeply examined in this connection, a question which is too often left unasked. Are we using the right criteria in judging the sort of material that is given to us by clairvoyants and psychics, or, in other words, is that material what we often suppose it to be?
In our modern theosophical literature we find much written about higher " planes of consciousness ", and we are led to suppose that the clairvoyant person can open the personal consciousness to another plane or level and so become able to see or otherwise gain information about things which cannot be found out merely by using the physical senses. But what is a higher state of consciousness and how is it different from the consciousness that we use in ordinary physical life?
What we see and hear or otherwise cognize in everyday life is registered by a mind which has been built up over a very long past for dealing with separate things. It works a dualistic fashion, dividing every experience in two components, the knower and the known or subject and object. This is the mind which, in The Voice of the Silence, is described as the "slayer of the Real".
Descartes asserted that "I think , therefore I am ". Krishnamurti said virtually the same thing in saying that thought creates the thinker. Since all our ordinary thought is of the dualistic kind, we automatically create a self-image, a subject with which we wholly identify consciousness and use to confront every kind of object.
Thinking in this way, we have built up our sciences and achieved many remarkable things. Our whole way of thinking is based on this dualistic view of things. WE base on it our system of logic and the structure of our languages. Most of us are incapable of imagining any other way in which consciousness could function. And yet it fragments our lives and creates much conflict and leaves us with a certain pervasive sense of emptiness.
But the great teachers of mankind have hinted that this way of perceiving is not enough and that there is a larger way of knowing. Patanjali, for example, describes a state of consciousness in which the knower, knowledge, and the known are found to be one. In this unitive discovery, the self-image which dualistic thought has established is seen for what it is and so is dropped from the many operations which it can falsify. The selfhood which slays the Real and which Krishnamurti described as "this I, this ignorance, this "myself" is no longer in the picture. It is seen as only a thought package consisting of a physical organism, a collection of memories and a variety of instinctive reactions for protecting and extending its own existence and evaluating other persons and things according to their usefulness for achieving that objective.
People clearly cannot respond to that individual in one of the Mahatma letters to "come our of your world into ours" until thought is liberated from its dualistic form and from the limited selfhood which that way of thinking creates.
A little inkling of liberation may make somebody a little clairvoyant. He may momentarily have his higher vision. But he is usually still satisfied to delegate most of his perceptions, his evaluations and choices, to the old accustomed processes of dualistic thinking. He is perhaps a little like the individual who said, " As for living, we can leave that to the servants".
Whether he is liberated or not, anything that the clairvoyant tries to communicate to others is put into the language of what some Theosophical books have called "the lower self". It is clothed, too, in the contents of his own personal mind and memory. It is presented therefore in accordance with the criteria of evaluation which he has relied upon ever since he began his human evolution.
An interesting case was that of Emanuel Swedenborg. Born in 1688, he experienced the onset of a remarkable capacity for clairvoyance in 1744 and thereafter lived in habitual communication with an inner world in which he had many conversations with angels and received many teachings from them.
He explained the nature of this communication as follows:
The angels who speak with man do not speak in their own language, but in the man's language or in other languages with which he is acquainted, but not in languages unknown to him. This is because angels, when they speak with man, turn towards him and unite themselves with him and the effect of this is to bring both of them into a similar state of thought; and since the man's thought clings to his memory, and this is the source of his speech, both express themselves in the same language.
Swedenborg was a scientist by training and occupation, and his thought and memories, which clothed the angelic communications he received, imposed on those communications a lucid but very limiting and selective expression. Swedenborg continued to live within his accustomed order of experience and used its language. Though he had some very perceptive things to say, he could not say them in the language of the angels. And if he had been able to say them in angelic terms, other people would not have understood.
One can compare this with the case of C.W. Leadbeater, who was not a scientist. He was rather a romantic. He liked things to fit into a framework of moral and emotional appropriateness. He looked in everything for a good story. The first literary work of his that we have in print consisted of well- written short stories which he contributed the pen-name of "Charles Webster". He adjusted his own life story as he felt to be proper and had no misgivings about carrying a passport which represented him as seven years older than was consistent with the information in his birth certificate.
C.W. Leadbeater's writings based on his clairvoyant observations were remarkably self-consistent. Count Keyserling was quite sure that Leadbeater himself had not a sufficiently sophisticated intellect to have invented them. They provided a system within which many people have lived out their lives happily and creatively. C. Jinarajadasa in particular used the Leadbeater picture of life as his own framework of reference, and it served him well. He developed out of it many further insights that were wholly his own.
What worried many, however, were the evidences that the Leadbeater world picture was not consistent with the material facts of scientific observation and discovery in various directions.
A good example was provided by the material that he presented on the subject of atoms. He did have his experience, but he expressed if in terms of the contents of his own mind and memory. He had seen a book entitled Principles of Light and Colour by Edwin Babbitt, published in Philadelphia in 1878. This book gave its author's ideas of what an atom must be like, a compact structure of curly "spirillae", and Leadbeater embodied his impressions of atoms in this form. There was no correlation between the Leadbeater atom and the atom subsequently revealed by science.
Many years after his death, however, it was noticed that in several respects his atom, as he has reported its behaviour, had a variety of resemblances to a fairly recently discovered sub-atomic particle which had been named a "quark". The resemblances were not upheld merely by people with a care for Leadbeater's reputation but were endorsed by two quite disinterested Nobel prize- winners.
There can be no doubt that, in his efforts to see things clairvoyantly. C.W. Leadbeater strove hard to achieve accuracy. The writer was told by our late President. Mr. N. Sri Ram, who was one of those who acted as amanuensis to Leadbeater, that Leadbeater, lying down and dictating an account of his clairvoyant observations, would from time to time stop, say that he had got things wrong and would have to do his investigations over again.
At a level close to that of everyday material existence, the descriptions that our theosophical seers have left us have been supported by similar descriptions given by other spirits, recently dead people, and many other objects not deeply concealed from ordinary observation, have been seen and rather similarly described by other people. But it is in those areas which may be supposed to require a more complete entry into a higher order of experience that the descriptions given by clairvoyants have departed most from conformity with accepted scientific experience.
This is particularly the case when time is involved. To see what happened in the remote past, or perhaps in the future, a clairvoyant would presumably have to ascend out of the restricted mental image of time which we normally live and would then have to make a re-entry into time at the past or future situation he wished to explore. He would later have to return to our kind of time and our point in that time in order to communicate his discoveries to the rest of us. One may wonder if this is ever fully possible within our present capacities.
The writer greatly values the contributions which our seers and clairvoyants have made to theosophical literature. But he feels that it is necessary to presuppose for all of them the introductory words. "It is as if"
It would surely be wrong to demand detailed mutual consistency among the various descriptions offered by different clairvoyants. They themselves have not always claimed that sort of consistency. The late Geoffrey Hodson once told the writer that he realized that he saw certain things differently from C.W. Leadbeater; and Leadbeater himself was quite content to publish, along with his own accounts of clairvoyantly viewed church ceremonies, other very different accounts given by Oscar Kollerstrom. A certain mutual inconsistency even offers some evidence of authenticity. We are concerned with something closer to art than to science, something in which, as physicists now say, the observer is part of the experiment, an idea which echoes Patanjalis's principle of a unity of knower, knowledge, and known.
Our everyday standards of consistency have been framed for us by that dualistic mind which, we are told, "slays" the Real and certainly limits our perception of the Real. They can be applied only with decreasing meaning when we encounter material partly shaped by a higher order of experience.
We are not free to make use of the products of clairvoyance in quite the same way as we use the materially factual products of science. "A trained seer" was an expression that one used to hear in the 1920's and 30's , but if such words convey the idea of something like a university course, they surely convey a wrong impression of the kind of authority that can be claimed for much clairvoyance.
Special authority has sometimes been claimed for certain initial revelations given in the early days of the Theosophical Society, but these too must have been subject to the same conditions of transfer from a higher order of experience to a lower. Even one who is liberated from our human mind processes and who is an Adept in living, a Master of Wisdom, could not give us detailed teachings about our past or future and our place in nature, for this could require a language that does not exist. Wisely, therefore, they have not attempted it. Some of their efforts have puzzled us by seeming to be laden with paradox, but this is an appearance arising from our dualistic "either-or" kind of thinking. One Mahatma had remarked that language was about as useful for his purpose as an axe is for doing fine carving.
The truth about things beyond the separate details of our material existence comes to us more through the liberating emergence from within us of a unitive awareness or perception of ourselves and our world rather than through the occasional revelations handed down to us by sages and seers, valuable though these can sometimes. The best that the sages and seers give us is not so much authoritative and definitive information as evocations addressed by implication to a concealed potential which, collectively, we carry within us.
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