The Inner Life, v. I/Fourth Section/V
In any diagram which represents the various planes we usually draw them as lying one above the other like the shelves of a book-case. But then in explaining that diagram we are careful to say that this must not be taken literally, since all the planes interpenetrate and all of them are about us here all the time. That is perfectly true, and yet there is a sense in which the shelf-like arrangement is true also. We may perhaps draw an analogy from the condition of affairs which we find existing upon the surface of the physical earth. We may take the solid matter for all practical purposes as existing only under our feet, as the lowest stratum of physical matter, though of course it is true that countless millions of particles of solid matter are also floating in the air over our heads.
We may say that, roughly speaking, the liquid matter of the earth (chiefly water) lies upon the surface of the solid matter, though again it is true that a large amount of water interpenetrates the earth beneath us, and also that millions of tons of water are raised above the surface of the earth in the form of clouds. Still, the great bulk of the liquid matter of the earth lies on the top of its solid matter in the form of the ocean, lakes and rivers. Then the gaseous matter of our earth (chiefly the atmosphere) lies upon the surface of the water and of the solid earth, and extends much further away into space than either the liquid or the solid.
All three conditions of matter exist here at the surface of the earth where we live, but the water in the form of clouds extents further above that surface than does ordinary dust, and again the air, though interpenetrating both the others, extends much further away still. This is by no means a bad analogy to explain the arrangement of the matter of the higher planes.
What we call our astral plane may also be considered as the astral body of the earth. It certainly exists all around us, and interpenetrates the solid earth beneath our feet, but it also extends far away above our heads, so that we may think of it as a huge ball of astral matter with the physical earth in the middle of it, much as the physical body of a man exists within the ovoid form which is filled with astral matter, except that in case of the earth the proportionate size of its astral body outside the physical is enormously greater than in the case of man. But just as in the case of the man densest aggregation of astral matter is that which is within the periphery of the physical body, so in the case of the earth by far the greater part of its astral matter is gathered together within the limit of the physical sphere.
Nevertheless, the portion of the astral sphere which is exterior to the physical, extends nearly to the mean distance of the moon's orbit, so that the astral planes of the two worlds touch one another when the moon is in perigee, but do not touch when the moon is in apogee. Incidentally, it follows that at certain times of the month astral communication with the moon is possible, and at certain other times it is not.
The mental plane of our earth bears about the same proportion to the astral as the latter does to the physical. It also is a huge globe, concentric with the other two, interpenetrating them both, but extending much further from the centre than does the astral globe. It will be seen that the effect of this is that, while matter of all the planes exists together down here, there is a certain amount of truth in the illustration of the shelves, for beyond the limit of the physical atmosphere there is a considerable shell which consists only of astral and mental matter, and outside of that again another similar shell which consists of mental matter only.
When we reach the buddhic plane the extension becomes so great that what we might call the buddhic bodies of the different planets of our chain meet one another, and so there is but one buddhic body for the whole chain, which means that in the buddhic vehicle it is possible to pass from one of these planets to another. I presume that when investigations in a similar way are extended to the nirvanic plane it will be found that that matter extends so much further that other chains are included in it as well — perhaps the entire solar system.
All this is true as far as it goes, and yet it does not convey a really accurate idea of the true position of affairs, because of the fact that our minds can grasp only three dimensions, whereas in reality there are many more, and as we raise our consciousness from plane to plane, each step opens before us the possibility of comprehending one more of these dimensions. This makes it difficult to describe exactly the position of those who have passed away from the physical life to other planes. Some of such people tend to hover round their earthly homes, in order to keep in touch with their friends of the physical life and the places which they know; others, on the other hand, have a tendency to float away and to find for themselves, as if by specific gravity, a level much further removed from the surface of the earth.
The average person passing into the heaven-life, for example, tends to float at a considerable distance above the surface of the earth, although on the other hand some of such men are drawn to our level. Still, broadly speaking, the inhabitants of the heaven-world may be thought of as living in a sphere or ring or zone round the earth. What Spiritualists call the summer-land extends many miles above our heads, and as people of the same race and the same religion tend to keep together after death just as they do during life, we have what may be described as a kind of network of summer-lands over the countries to which belong the people who have created them.
People find their own level on the astral plane, much in the same way as objects floating in the ocean do. This does not mean that they cannot rise and fall at will, but that if no special effort is made they come to their level and remain there. Astral matter gravitates towards the centre of the earth just as physical matter does; both obey the same general laws. We may take it that the sixth sub-plane of the astral is partially coincident with the surface of the earth, while the lowest, or seventh, penetrates some distance into the interior.
The conditions of the interior of our earth are not easy to describe. Vast cavities exist in it, and there are races inhabiting these cavities, but they are not of the same evolution as ourselves. One of these evolutions, which is at a level distinctly lower than any race now existing upon the surface of the earth, is to some extent described in the seventeenth life of Alcyone, published recently in The Theosophist; the other is more nearly at our level, yet utterly different from anything that we know.
As the centre of the earth is approached, matter is found to exist in a state not readily comprehensible to those who have not seen it; a state in which it is far denser than the densest metal known to us, and yet flows as readily as water. But yet there is something else within even that. Such matter is far too dense for any forms of life that we know, but nevertheless, it has connected with it an evolution of its own.
The tremendous pressures which exist here are utilized by the Third LOGOS for the manufacture of new elements; in fact, the central portions of the earth may with great truth be regarded as His laboratory for temperatures and pressures are obtainable there of which we on the surface have no conception. It is there that, under His direction, troops of devas and nature-spirits of a particular type combine and separate, arrange and rearrange the ultimate physical atoms, working along the wonderful double spiral which is symbolized in Sir William Crookes' lemniscates. From this point also, incredible as it seems to us, there is a direct connection with the heart of the sun, so that elements made there appear in the centre of the earth without passing through what we call the surface; but it is useless to speak of this until the higher dimensions of space are more generally understood. As in the case of the physical, the densest astral matter is far too dense for the ordinary forms of astral life; but that also has other forms of its own which are quite unknown to students of the surface.
In investigating the interior of the earth we did not find a central shaft running from pole to pole, such as has been described by some mediums, nor did we find a number of concentric spheres resting upon cushions of steam. At the same time there are certain forces which do play through concentric layers, and it is not difficult to see what were the natural phenomena which deceived those who, in perfect good faith, made that statement.
There is unquestionably a force of etheric pressure just as there is of atmospheric pressure, and it can be utilized by man as soon as he can discover some material which is ether-proof. The same pressure exists in the astral world. The most ordinary example of this is what happens when a man leaves his body in sleep or in death.
When the astral body is withdrawn from the physical, we must not suppose that that physical body is left without an astral counterpart. The pressure of the surrounding astral matter — and that really means the action of the force of gravitation on the astral plane — immediately forces other astral matter into that astrally empty space, just as, if we create a vortex and draw out the air from a room, other air flows instantly from the surrounding atmosphere. But that astral matter will correspond with curious accuracy to physical matter which it interpenetrates. Every variety of physical matter attracts astral matter of corresponding density, so that solid physical matter is interpenetrated by what we may call solid astral matter — that is, matter of the lowest astral sub-plane; whereas physical liquid is interpenetrated by matter of the next astral sub-plane — astral liquid; while physical gas in turn attracts its particular correspondence — matter of the third astral sub-plane from the bottom, which might be called astral gas.
Take the case of a glass of water; the tumbler (being solid matter) is interpenetrated by astral matter of the lowest sub-plane; the water in the tumbler (being liquid matter) is interpenetrated by astral matter of the second sub-plane, counting from the bottom upwards; while the air which surrounds both (being gaseous matter) is interpenetrated by astral matter of the third sub-plane, counting from the bottom upwards.
We must also realize that just as all these things, the tumbler, the water, and the air, are interpenetrated by physical ether, so are their astral correspondences further interpenetrated by the variety of astral matter which corresponds to the different types of ether. So when a man withdraws is astral body from the physical there is an inrush of all three varieties of astral matter, because man's physical body is composed of solid, liquid and gaseous constituents. Of course there is ether in the physical body as well, so there must also be astral matter of the higher sub-planes to correspond to that.
That temporary astral counterpart formed during the absence of the real astral body is thus an exact copy of it so far as arrangement is concerned, but it has no real connection with the physical body, and could never be used as a vehicle. It is constructed of any astral matter of the required kind that happens to be handy; it is merely a fortuitous concourse of atoms, and when the true astral body returns it pushes out this other astral matter without the slightest opposition. This is one reason for the extreme care which ought to be exercised as to the surroundings in which we sleep, for if those surroundings are evil, astral matter of the most objectionable type may fill our physical bodies while we are away from them, leaving behind it an influence which cannot but react horribly upon the real man when he returns. But the instant inrush when the body is abandoned shows the existence of astral pressure.
In the same way, when the man has finally left his physical body at death, what he leaves is no longer a vehicle, but a corpse — not in any true sense a body at all, but simply a collection of disintegrating material in the shape of a body. Just as we can no longer call that truly a body, so we cannot call the astral matter which interpenetrates it truly a counterpart in the ordinary sense of the word. Take an imperfect yet perhaps helpful analogy. When the cylinder of an engine is full of steam, we may regard the steam as the living force within the cylinder, which makes the engine move. But when the engine is cold and at rest, the cylinder is not necessarily empty; it may be filled with air; yet that air is not its appropriate living force, though it occupies the same position as did the steam.
Astral matter is never really solid at all — only relatively solid. You know that the mediaeval alchemists always symbolized astral matter by water, and one of the reasons for that was its fluidity and penetrability. It is true that the counterpart of any solid physical object is always matter of the lowest astral sub-plane, which for convenience we often call astral solid matter; but we must not therefore endow it with the qualities with which we are familiar in solids on this plane. The particles in that densest kind of astral matter are further apart relatively to their size than even gaseous particles; so that it would be easier for two of the densest astral bodies to pass through each other than it would be for the lightest physical gas to diffuse itself in the air.
On the astral plane one has not the sense of jumping over a precipice, but simply of floating over it. If you are standing upon the ground, part of your astral body interpenetrates the ground under your feet; but through your astral body you would not be conscious of this fact by anything corresponding to a sense of hardness, or by any difference in your power of motion. Remember that upon the astral plane there is no sense of touch that corresponds to ours upon the physical. One never touches the surface of anything, so as to feel it hard or soft, rough or smooth, hot or cold; but on coming into contact with the interpenetrating substance one would be conscious of a different rate of vibration, which might of course be pleasant or unpleasant, stimulating or depressing. When on awakening in the morning we remember anything corresponding to our ordinary sense of touch, it is only that in bringing the remembrance through, the physical brain adopted the means of expression to which we are accustomed.
Though the light of all planes comes from the sun, yet the effect which it produces on the astral plane is entirely different from that on the physical. In astral life there is a diffused luminosity, not obviously coming from any special direction. All astral matter is in itself luminous, and an astral body is not like a painted sphere, but rather a sphere of living fire. It is also transparent, and there are no shadows. It is never dark in the astral world. The passing of a physical cloud between us and the sun makes no difference whatever to the astral plane, nor of course does the shadow of the earth which we call night.
The invisible helper would not pass through a mountain, if he thought of it as an obstacle; to learn that it is not an obstacle is precisely the object of one part of what is called “the test of earth.” There cannot be an accident on the astral plane in our sense of word, because the astral body, being fluidic, cannot be destroyed or permanently injured, as the physical body can. An explosion on the astral plane might be temporarily as disastrous as an explosion of gunpowder on the physical, but the astral fragments would quickly collect themselves again.
People on the astral plane can and do pass through one another constantly, and through fixed astral objects. Remember that on the astral plane matter is so much more fluidic and so much less densely aggregated. There never can be anything like what we mean by a collision, and under ordinary circumstances two bodies which interpenetrate are not even appreciably affected. If, however, the interpenetration lasts for some time, as it does, for example, when two person sit side by side through a service in a church or a performance in a theatre, a considerable effect may be produced.
There are many currents which tend to carry about persons who are lacking in will, and even those who have will but do not know how to use it. During physical life the matter of our astral bodies is constantly in motion, while after death, unless the will is exercised for the purpose of preventing it, it is arranged in concentric shells with a crust of the coarsest matter on the outside. If a man wishes to be of service on the astral, this shelling must be prevented, for those whose astral bodies have been thus re-arranged are confined to one level. If the re-arrangement has already occurred, the first thing that is done when a person is taken in hand is to break up that condition and set him free on the whole of the astral plane. For those who are acting as invisible helpers on the astral plane there are no separate levels; it is all one.
In India the idea of service on the astral plane is not so widely known as in the West; the idea of service to God for the attainment of liberation is more prominent than that of service to one's fellowmen. Atmospheric and climatic conditions make practically no difference to work on the astral and mental planes. But being in a big city does make a great difference, on account of the masses of thought-forms. Some psychics require a temperature of about eighty degrees in order to do their best work, while others do not work well except at a lower temperature.
If necessary, occult work can be done anywhere, but some places afford greater facilities than others. For example, California has a very dry climate with much electricity in the air, which is favourable for the development of clairvoyance Here in Adyar there is no resistance to our thought-forms on account of the environment, because we are all thinking more or less along the same lines. But we must remember that there may always be resistance on the part of the person to whom we are sending thoughts, for some persons have for a whole life-time built round themselves such shells of selfishness that one cannot penetrate them even when one wishes to do them good.