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CHAPTER V - ORIENTAL TEACHING AS TO THE SOUL, ETHER AND ENERGY

CHAPTER V

ORIENTAL TEACHING AS TO THE SOUL, ETHER AND ENERGY

"As from its fineness, the all-pervading ether is not touched, so the soul, located in every body, is not touched.

"As the one Sun illumines all this world so He that abideth in the body lights up the whole field.

"They, who with the eye of Wisdom perceive the distinction between the field and the Knower of the field, and the liberation of being from nature, go to the Supreme." [lxxvii]1

The literature of the East dealing with the soul and its expression, the etheric or vital body, on the physical plane is immense as a study of the very incomplete bibliography will show. Scattered throughout the Upanishads and the Puranas are thousands of passages dealing with this teaching. Two of the most important sources of information are the Shiv-Samhita and the Shatchakra Nirupanam.

Sir John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon) has done much, through his books, to bring a knowledge of this Eastern teaching and of this technique of soul development to the West; he has, through the form in which he has presented it, safeguarded the public also from a too quick comprehension of a most [93] dangerous science. A little book by a Hindu physician, well grounded in Western medicine and science, entitled The Mysterious Kundalini (Vasant G. Rele) is of real value also.

The danger of this science is well recognised by those who know anything about it. It lies in the fact that through a knowledge of a certain technical method it becomes possible for a man to work actively with the forces of his own nature, as they function through the medium of the vital body. Modern physicians are recognising increasingly the energy factor in connection with man. The electrical nature of the human unit is a natural out-growth of a necessary recognition that the physical body is formed of atoms, as are all forms in the natural world.

The Occidental scientist recognises ether and motion. The Oriental teacher speaks of the akasha and of prana. Both are dealing with the vital livingness which permeates all forms, and is the cause of their coherency, sentiency, and terms of existence. The following passage from the Kenopanishad will substantiate this.

"Unmanifested, formless, the one giver of light, is the Great Power; from that appeared the sonoriferous ether (Akasha); from that had birth the tangiferous ether.

"From the tangiferous ether, the luminiferous ether, and from this the gustiferous ether; thence was the birth of the odoriferous ether. These are the five ethers and they have fivefold extension.

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"From these the universe came forth; by these it continues; into these it disappears; among these also it shows itself again." [lxxviii]2

A resemblance between the luminiferous ether of the ancient Indian scriptures, and the light waves of the modern scientist is obvious. Rama Prasad in an amazingly interesting book called Nature's Finer Forces lists four states of subtle matter:

1. Prana or life matter

2. Psychic matter

3. Mental matter

4. Spiritual matter

and it becomes apparent that these four are qualities of the energies which use the Akasha as their medium of expression. A study of the Oriental books gives us a picture of a material world which is brought into being and animated by a subjective world of forces, which use the ether (Akasha) as their playground, and are responsible for all forms, qualities and differentiations in the phenomenal world.

The following extracts from The Serpent Power give the Oriental teaching about matter and ether.

"Recent scientific research has shown that this original substance cannot be scientific `matter'—that is, that which has mass, weight, and inertia. Matter has been dematerialised and reduced, according to current hypotheses, [95] to something which differs profoundly from `matter' as known by the senses. This ultimate substance is stated to be Ether in a state of motion. The present scientific hypothesis would appear to be as follows. There is no such thing as scientific `Matter.' If there seems to be such, this is due to the action of Shakti as Maya. The ultimate and simplest physical factor from which the universe has arisen is motion of and in a substance, called `ether,' which is not scientific `matter.' The motions of this substance give rise from the realistic point of view to the notion of `matter.' Matter is thus at base one, notwithstanding the diversity of its forms. Its ultimate element is on the final analysis of one kind, and the differences in the various kinds of matter depend on the various movements of the ultimate particle and its succeeding combinations. Given such unity of base, it is possible that one form of matter may pass into another." [lxxix]3

In another book Arthur Avalon says:

"In the first place, it is now admitted that `matter,' even with the addition of all possible forces, is insufficient to explain many phenomena, such as those of light; and it has, accordingly, come to be an article of scientific faith that there is a substance called `Ether'; a medium which, filling the universe, transports by its vibrations the radiations of light, heat, electricity, and perhaps action from a distance, such as the attraction exercised between heavenly bodies. It is said, however, that this Ether is not `matter,' but differs profoundly from it, and that it is only our infirmity of knowledge which obliges us, in our attempted description of it, to borrow comparisons from `matter' in its ordinary physical sense, which alone is known by our senses. But if we assume the existence of Ether, we know that [96] `material' bodies immersed in it can change their places therein. In fact, to use an Indian expression, the characteristic property of the vibrations of the Akasha Tattva is to make the space in which the other Tattvas and their derivatives exist. With `Matter' and Ether as its materials, Western purely `scientific' theories have sought to construct the world." [lxxx]4

"Many people were wont, as some still are, to laugh at the idea of Maya. Was not matter solid, permanent and real enough? But according to science what are we (as physical beings) at base? The answer is, infinitely tenuous formless energy which materialises into relatively stable, yet essentially transitory, forms.... The process by which the subtle becomes gradually more and more gross continues until it develops into what a friend of mine calls the `crust' of solid matter (Parthivabhuta ). This whilst it lasts is tangible enough. But it will not last for ever and in some radio-active substances dissociates before our eyes." [lxxxi]5

Vivekananda, who did so much to reveal the soul of India to the West, says:

"According to the philosophers of India, the whole universe is composed of two materials, one of which they call Akasa. It is the omnipresent all penetrating existence. Everything that has form, everything that is the result of the compounds, is evolved out of this Akasa. It is the Akasa that becomes the air, that becomes the liquids, that becomes the solids; it is the Akasa that becomes the sun, the earth, the moon, the stars, the comets; it is the Akasa that becomes the body, the animal body, the planets, every form that we see, everything that can be sensed, everything that exists. It itself cannot be perceived; it is so subtle that [97] it is beyond all ordinary perception; it can only be seen when it has become gross, has taken form. At the beginning of creation there is only this Akasa; at the end of the cycle the solids, the liquids, and the gases all melt into the Akasa again, and the next creation similarly proceeds out of this Akasa.

"By what power is this Akasa manufactured into this universe? By the power of Prana. Just as Akasa is the infinite omnipresent material of this universe, so is this Prana the infinite omnipresent manifesting power of this universe. At the beginning and at the end of a cycle everything becomes Akasa, and all the forces that are in the universe resolve back into the Prana; in the next cycle, out of this Prana, is evolved everything that we call energy, everything that we call force. It is the Prana that is manifesting as motion; it is the Prana that is manifesting as gravitation, as magnetism. It is the Prana that is manifesting as the actions of the body, as the nerve currents, as thought force. From thought, down to the lowest physical force, everything is but the manifestation of Prana. The sum-total of all force in the universe, mental or physical, when resolved back to its original state, is called Prana..." [lxxxii]6

A more modern writer, Ramacharaka, says:

"In order to avoid misconceptions arising from the various theories regarding this great principle, which theories are usually attached to some name given the principle, we, in this work, will speak of the principle as 'Prana,' this word being the Sanscrit term meaning 'Absolute Energy.' Many occult authorities teach that the principle which the Hindus term `Prana' is the universal principle of energy or force, and that all energy or force is derived from that principle, or, rather, [98] is a particular form of manifestation of that principle.... We may consider it as the active principle of life—Vital Force, if you please. It is found in all forms of life, from the amoeba to man—from the most elementary form of plant life to the highest form of animal life. 'Prana' is all pervading. It is found in all things having life, and as the occult philosophy teaches that life is in all things—in every Atom—the apparent lifelessness of some things being only a lesser degree of manifestation, we may understand their teachings that 'Prana' is everywhere, in everything. 'Prana' must not be confounded with the Ego—that bit of Divine Spirit in every soul, around which clusters matter and energy. 'Prana' is merely a form of energy used by the Ego in its material manifestation. When the Ego leaves the body, the 'Prana,' being no longer under its control, responds only to the order of the individual atoms, or groups of atoms, forming the body, and as the body disintegrates and is resolved to its original elements, each atom takes with it sufficient 'Prana' to enable it to form new combinations, the unused 'Prana' returning to the great universal storehouse from which it came. With the Ego in control, cohesion exists and the atoms are held together by the Will of the Ego.

"'Prana' is the name by which we designate a universal principle, which principle is the essence of all motion, force or energy, whether manifested in gravitation, electricity, the revolution of the planets, and all forms of life, from the highest to the lowest. It may be called the soul of Force and Energy in all their forms, and that principle which, operating in a certain way, causes that form of activity which accompanies life."[lxxxiii]7

This prana is therefore the universal life principle in all forms, and the so-called energies or [99] life of the human body are the differentiated quota of that universal principle which any particular human soul has appropriated.

The energies which utilise the akasha (ether) in the universe are divided into three main divisions according to the Ageless Wisdom.

1. Fohat, is analogous to what the Christian regards as the spirit; it is the will-to-exist, the determining life principle of God, Who, we can predicate, is the sum total of all forms, and of all states of consciousness; it is divine Purpose, actively functioning.

2. Prana, is analogous to the activity of the consciousness principle, the Soul of the Christian. This prana is an effect of the union of spirit or life, and matter or substance, and demonstrates as the energy of the form, as it produces cohesion, animation and sensitivity, carrying out divine purpose.

3. Kundalini, as it is called in connection with the human form, is the force latent in matter itself; it is the integral life of the atom, apart from any form in which that atom may participate in its tiny cycle of experience.

Shakti is power or energy. Arthur Avalon defines it as follows:

"What then is Shakti and how does it come about that there is some principle of unconsciousness in things; a fact which cannot be denied. Shakti comes from the root `shak' `to be able,' `to have power.' It [100] may be applied to any form of activity. The power to burn is Shakti of fire and so forth. These are all forms of activity which are ultimately reducible to the Primordial Shakti (Adya Shakti) whence every other form of Power proceeds." [lxxxiv]8

These three types of energy are therefore aspects of the one universal life, as it expresses itself through a solar system, utilising the ether as its medium or field of activity, and producing therefrom all the objective forms. The process repeats itself in man, according to the Hindu philosophy.

The physical body is the expression in its component parts or atoms of the third type of energy, and the sum-total of that atomic energy is called Kundalini:

"The centre where all residual sensations are, as it were, stored up is called Mul-adhara chakra, and the coiled up energy of action is Kundalini, `the coiled up'."

"It is the individual bodily representative of the great cosmic power (Shakti) which created and sustains the universe." [lxxxv]9

The physical body itself is often regarded as an atom in the body of the human kingdom, and in this case the Kundalini energy, localised as it is supposed to be in a centre at the base of the spine, would be a positive nucleus, with the other atoms of the body regarded as electronic in nature.

The vital body, or body of ether, is the medium [101] for the expression of the life soul, that sentient vivifying duality which we call prana. This dual energy has two positive centres in the vital body and consequently in the physical—one in the heart, where feeling and sentiency are claimed to be centred, and another in the head where the mind and the spiritual consciousness find expression.

Dr. Rele says that "Prana proper is located between the larynx and the base of the heart."

"The heart more than the head occupies the attention of the thinkers of the Upanishads. It is there that the vital breaths reside. Not only the five pranas, but also eye, ear, speech, and manas originate from the heart. The heart and not the head is the home of manas; and the former therefore is the centre also of conscious life. In sleep the organs of the soul remain in the heart, and there also they gather at death; `through the heart we recognize forms,' through the heart we recognize faith, beget children, know the truth, on it speech also is based, while the further question on what the heart is based is angrily rejected. Not the organs however alone, but all beings are based upon and supported by the heart; and even setting aside the actual definition of the heart as Brahman, it is yet the empirical home of the soul, and therefore of Brahman—`here within the heart is a cavity, wherein he resides, the lord of the universe, the ruler of the universe, the chief of the universe.' The heart is called hridayam, because `it is he' who dwells `in the heart' (hridi ayam, Chand. 8.3.3.), small as a grain of rice or barley; an inch in height the purusha dwells in the midst of the body, as the self of created things in the heart." [lxxxvi]10

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"Similarly numerous passages in the later Upanishads celebrate Brahman as `implanted in the cavity of the heart.' The identity of the atman in us with the atman of the universe is expressed by the tat tvam asi of Chand. 6.8-16, and also by the etad vai tad, `in truth this is that,' of Brih. 5.4, which is probably an imitation of the other. The same formula is found twelve times in Kath. 4.3-6.1, in a prose passage appended to the verses. The highest bliss, according to Kath. 5.14, consists in the consciousness of this thought. We quote in this connection only Kath. 4.12-13:

"An inch in height, here in the body
The purusha dwells,
Lord of the past and the future;
He who knows him frets no more—
In truth, this is that.

"Like flame without smoke, an inch in height
The purusha is in size,
Lord of the past and the future;
It is he to-day and also to-morrow—

In truth, this is that."

 [lxxxvii]11

As here the purusha is compared to a smokeless flame, so in imitation of this passage, in S'vet. 6.19, it is likened to a fire whose fuel is consumed; while in S'vet. 5.9, the contrast between the atman within us and the atman in the universe is pushed to an extreme:

"Split a hundred times the tip of a hair,
And take a hundredth part thereof;
That I judge to be the size of the soul,
Yet it goes to immortality."

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The description of the atman as a smokeless flame in the heart has been developed in the Yogi Upanishads into the picture of the tongue of flame in the heart, the earliest occurrence of which is perhaps Mahan. 11.6-12." [lxxxviii]12

The Scriptures are full of references to the fact that Atman, the self, is found in the heart, from whence it expresses itself as the life principle through the medium of the blood. The soul nature, or the rational mind and the self-conscious individual, expresses itself in the head and from that position governs the nervous system:

"It has now been proved, that the highest centres are located in the cortex of the brain, where knowledge of action and sensation is manifested. These centres are both receiving i.e. sensory; and directing i.e. motor, and have their subsidiary centres in the two large swellings called the basal-ganglia in each hemisphere of the brain. They are known as thalamus and corpus striatum. The first one is auxiliary to the chief sensory centre and the second one auxiliary to the chief motor centre in the cortex of the brain. Normally, the auxiliary motor centres are more or less under the control of the will.... The Yogi is concerned with the subsidiary nerve centres in the thalamus. The normal function of the thalamus is to receive sensations from all parts of the body, which are relayed to it through the spinal cord, before they reach the chief centre.

As this is the highest reflex centre in the brain and as all impressions ascend to it, it is called the Udana-prana. The last relay in the cord, from which it receives impulses, is from that portion of the cord, [104] called the Bulb, which is on a level with the root of the nose. Udana-prana is, therefore, said to rule the portion of the head above this point.

The Yogi, by a conscious control over the Udana-prana, suppresses all incoming and outgoing sensations into it, and this is necessary to prevent the distraction of the mind which he is anxious to control." [lxxxix]13

Srinivasa Iyengar makes the following postulates and states that all the schools of thought, except the school of crude Nihilism, accept them.

1. Man is a complex of consciousness, mind and body.

2. The Atma (self) is of the nature of the consciousness and is immutable.

3. Mind, though an inner organ, is material, and is other than the atman.

4. All energy in the universe is personal, i.e., bound up with consciousness.

5. This energy is prana, which is intermediate between mind and matter.

"Hindu philosophy regards Prana and not motion as the fundamental energy of the cosmos. Prana is conceived as a power coming from or started by the Purusha (Spirit aspect—A.A.B.) and acting on matter."

"All the energy of animals is nervous energy till it leaves the muscles and acts on outside objects. This nervous energy is called Prana. Western Science has for a hundred years unsuccessfully tried to explain nervous energy as a form of mechanical motion; Eastern Philosophy reverses the process and derives mechanical [105] motion from Prana, or energy accompanied by consciousness.

"Prana corresponds to the Psychikon pneuma, animal spirits, of Greek philosophy, a category which is intermediate between spirit and matter, and brings them into relation with each other." [xc]14

Arthur Avalon says:

"Various people have in antiquity assigned to various parts of the body the `seat of the soul' or life, such as the blood, the heart, and the breath. Generally the brain was not so regarded. The Vaidik system posits the heart as the chief centre of Consciousness—a relic of which notion we also still preserve in such phrases as `take it to heart' and to `learn by heart.' Sadhaka, which is one of the five functions of Pitta, and which is situated in the heart, indirectly assists in the performance of cognitive functions by keeping up the rhythmic cardiac contractions, and it has been suggested that it was perhaps this view of the heart's construction which predisposed Indian physiologists to hold it to be the seat of cognition. According to the Tantras, however, the chief centres of consciousness are to be found in the Chakras of the cerebro-spinal system and in the upper brain (Sahasrara), which they describe, though the heart is also recognized as a seat of the Jivatma, or embodied spirit, in its aspect as Prana." [xci]15

These two points of view account probably for the phenomenon of the human being. As evolution proceeds it may be found and demonstrated that the positive centre or nucleus for the life of [106] the material form is located at the base of the spine, that the positive centre for the life of the sentient conscious man is in the heart, whilst the positive centre for the mind and the spiritual life principles is in the head.

The whole scheme and technique of the Oriental teaching as to the centres in man have in view the increasing display of prana or life-soul energy. Through an understanding of this a man can demonstrate (through the automaton of the physical body) those soul powers and spiritual qualities which are the inheritance of the spiritual man, the Soul.

The object, therefore, of all methods and practices is to bring about conscious union with the soul, and produce the subordination of the two lower energies, those of matter and those of the sentient mental nature, to the highest of the three energies, the spiritual life. When this is accomplished, the spiritual life principle animates a soul which knows no barriers and limitations because it has brought its mechanism to the highest state of perfection. Matter has been raised into heaven, and hence the Hindu teaching that the Kundalini fire, the energy of matter (sometimes called the mother) has eventually to be raised from its position at the base of the spine up into the head. This is a correspondence to the Roman Catholic teaching as to the Assumption of the Virgin-Mother into Heaven to take her place by the side of her Son, the Christ, the Soul. This has to be brought about [107] consciously by the soul or self, seated in the mind and brain consciousness, and from there assuming control of the energies of the entire natural man. This is Yoga or union, which is not only a mystical experience, but a vital or physical one also. This is the at-one-ment of the Christian. It is an integration of the entire man, physical, sentient, and mental, and then a conscious unification with the universal soul. Dr. Rele says:

"The word `Yoga' is derived from the root `Yuga' to join or to weld together. Just as in welding, two pieces of the same metal are made to become one by the process of heating and hammering, so also in the Yoga of Indian Philosophy, the embodied spirit `Jivatma,' which is a part of the universal spirit `Paramatma,' is made to become one with the Universal Spirit by certain physical and mental exercises.

"Yoga is the science which raises the capacity of the human mind to respond to higher vibrations, and to perceive, catch, and assimilate the infinite conscious movements going on around us in the universe." [xcii]16

René Guénon sums up the result of this union in the following terms:

"Deliverance or Union, which is one and the same thing, involves, as we have already stated, `over and above,' the possession of all states, since it is the perfect realization (sadhana) and totalization of the being; it is moreover of little import whether these states are or are not actually manifested, since it is only as permanent and immutable possibilities that they are to be metaphysically considered. `Lord of many states by [108] the simple effect of his will, the Yogi only concerns himself with one, leaving the others void of the animating breath (prana), as so many unused instruments, he can animate more than one form in the same way that a single lamp may supply more than one wick.' `The Yogi,' says Aniruddha, `is in direct connexion with the primordial principle of the Universe, and in consequence (secondarily) with the whole of space, of time and of things,' that is to say, with manifestation, and, more particularly, with the human state in all its modifications." [xciii]17

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