Is Psychism Dangerous?–I

Theosophy postulates three lines of evolution—physical, intellectual and spiritual (moral)—of which intellectual and spiritual evolution are of great importance as they answer the whole question of "psychic" and abnormal powers and phenomena on which attention came to be focused increasingly since the middle of the 19th century. Even today we find that periodicals and newspapers carry articles on "psychism" under the headings Psychic Science, Astrology, Hypnotism, Mental Healing, past-life recall, etc. Etc. Is it a mere coincidence that more and more people all over the world are taking interest in the "psychic" and the "occult"? One of the reasons why people turn to psychism could be that they are not able to find solutions to their problems through physical or rational methods. To deal with stress and strain and with various diseases, people increasingly turn to the field of psychism.

In India as in the West, there are "Babas," "Swamis," "Gurus" who promise health, happiness and peace through easy and secret methods. More and more people are cashing in on the psycho-religious hunger for miracles, for personal salvation, personal power and aggrandizement. People do whatever they are asked to do, without asking for the basis, the rationale. If they are told that some breathing exercises would bring them knowledge and powers, they would do these exercises, sometimes with disastrous results.

Before Manas in man can find full expression, this confusion is bound to be there. This is an age of transition. According to Theosophy, with every Round or evolutionary cycle, one of the principles in man develops. In the Fourth Round the Kama or desire principle is dominant, and in the Fifth Round the Manas principle will be fully developed. But the beginnings of this development are being seen now.

But as Mind is being evolved more and more as we proceed in our course along the line of race development, there can be perceived underneath in all countries the beginning of the transition from the animal possessed of the germ of real mind to the man of mind complete. This day is therefore known as the "transition period"...when men's minds are only preparing for an alteration. Man is not yet fully conscious, and reincarnations are needed to al last complete the incarnation of the whole trinity [the higher spiritual man] in the body. When that has been accomplished, the race will have become as gods. (The Ocean of Theosophy)

H. P. Blavatsky points out that when the Sun enters the sign of Aquarius, psychologists will have some extra work to do, and the psychic idiosyncrasies of humanity will enter on a great change. We experience this today. In fact, she prophesied this state of "psychism" in no uncertain terms in her Five Messages:

As the preparation for the new cycle proceeds, as the forerunners of the new sub-race make their appearance on the American continent, the latent psychic and occult powers in man are beginning to germinate and grow....Your position as forerunners...has its own special perils as well as its special advantages. Psychism, with all its allurements and all its dangers, is necessarily developing among you, and you must beware lest the Psychic outruns the Manasic and Spiritual development. Psychic capacities held perfectly under control, checked and directed by the Manasic principle, are valuable aids in development. But these capacities running riot, controlling instead of controlled, using instead of being used, lead the Student into the most dangerous delusions and certainty of moral destruction. Watch therefore carefully this development, inevitable in your race and evolution-period so that it may finally work for good and not for evil; and receive, in advance, the sincere and potent blessings of Those whose good-will will never fail you, if you do not fail yourselves....

There is nothing "evil" or "wicked" in the psychic nature itself. The evil results from lack of control. In fact, the more the powers of the mind are developed, the greater is the responsibility of man, as the selfish use of these powers is more dangerous than misuse of physical powers.

The Third Object of the Theosophical Movement is: "The investigation of the unexplained laws of Nature and the psychical powers latent in man." Mr. Judge points out that there are two kinds of investigations possible: (1) actual physical and experimental investigation and (2) investigation of the philosophical basis and the laws underlying the phenomena. Actual and experimental investigation has always been discouraged by Theosophy. H. P. Blavatsky performed various phenomena, but for two reasons: (1) In her time, especially, science did not admit the existence of a super-material realm governed by laws. Religion agrees that there is a super-sensuous realm, but does not admit that there can be laws governing this realm. So we find that any abnormal occurrence or exhibition of unusual powers is explained by religion to be the work of god or devil. Science classes the whole thing as deception or fraud. H.P.B. wanted to show that every human being has the germ of psychic and spiritual powers latent in him, which is brought to fructification in Mahatmas through long training and experience. These powers are natural but not common, just as great musical ability is natural but not common. She also wanted to show that there are occult laws behind these phenomena. (2) Moreover, she wanted to leave behind a record of a different sort. In her time, only false concepts of Spiritualism and Mediumship were prevalent.

There were numerous mediums in the early 19th century. Unfortunately, people felt that these mediums could bring them in contact with the "Spirit" of their dear departed ones. But Theosophy teaches that what one comes across is only the kama-rupic shell of the dead. It is the psychic corpse of the deceased person, which gives off impressions like a gramophone record. This activity is dangerous to both sitters and mediums of the séance room. A medium makes connection with the kama-rupic shell with the aid of his nervous fluid and also the elementals. There is, besides, the presence of "elementaries" or depraved souls at almost all séances. (The Ocean of Theosophy, p. 161)

What is medium? In her article "Are Chelas Mediums?" (U.L.T. Pamphlet No. 13), H.P.B. writes that a "medium" is a person who allows other people to influence him to such an abnormal extent that he loses his self-control and does not have any power or will to regulate his own actions. This giving up of control could be active or passive—it could be conscious or unconscious. A person can submit his will to "another being" and become his slave. Or it could be an idea like love, hate, jealousy or some other passion which takes such a hold of his heart and mind that we say he is obsessed with the idea. The "other being" could be an elemental or elementary. Also, it could be one's own higher principle. The medium will then be a great musician, an artist, a writer, poet, etc. The "other being" could be a Mahatma; the "medium" then is a Chela. Sometimes a person is not aware of the source of his influence. He may write a great scientific treatise, a great poem or story, under the influence of an adept, and go on thinking that it was the personal spirit of Faraday, or Newton or Shakespeare that was writing through him.

What is dangerous is mediumship in which there is passive submission to an abnormal extent to outside influences. The influence can be from other people, from literature, from television advertisements and so on. We submit our minds to these influences. If we look at a particular advertisement for, say, a shampoo several times, then we feel compelled to go and buy that shampoo. We are passively accepting the views of others in newspaper features and editorials. We do not take pains to reason things out. Even in small things like joining an art class, let us not go and join a particular class just because everyone says so. We must collect information about different classes and then analyze and make up our mind. A person is on his way to becoming a medium if he takes undue interest in ghosts, séances, etc. Then there is the influence from the astral light, which acts as a hynotizing agent, where the lower thoughts of people are impressed. It is under the influence of these pictures in the astral that people sometimes commit crimes and do things almost against their will. In our unguarded moments these influences enter us.

This tendency towards mediumship is carried over from one life to the other. So there are some races of people in whom mediumship is natural and predominant, while in others seership. So also there is a difference in the powers exhibited—e.g., clairvoyance. There is ordinary clairvoyance and there is spiritual clairvoyance. This is looking into the astral light and predicting events, past, present and future. Mr. Judge points out that those who have the clairvoyant faculty from birth are generally physically diseased and nervously deranged. It is very rarely that a healthy and well-balanced person displays clairvoyance. In the article "Shall We Teach Clairvoyance?" Mr. Judge points out that even if it is learnt, it should be under a competent guide. (Judge Series Pamphlet No. 13, p. 20)

There are numerous difficulties and dangers. There are several layers of astral light and only a true clairvoyant can look into all the layers. There are delusions. An untrained clairvoyant is deluded, as he is not able to differentiate between the picture he sees of an idea or thought in a person's mind, and the picture of an actual event. For example, a mother who is anxious about her child may merely imagine that child meeting with an accident and thus form a picture. An untrained person will see this picture (which is solely due to emotion and imagination on the part of the mother) and predict an accident. Then again there is reversion of images. The figure 6 would be seen as 9, and 9 as 6, etc. Sometimes a picture could be coloured by one's own emotions and thoughts. Most of these are psychic visions. Mr. Judge describes even the visions of Swedenborg as psychic perception, as he claimed to have seen inhabitants of Mercury, but he described them as wearing the clothes which people in Europe were wearing at that time.

When a student starts upon the path and begins to see spots of light flash out now and then, or balls of golden fire roll past him, it does not mean that he is beginning to see the real Self—pure spirit. A moment of deepest peace or wonderful revealings given to the student, is not the awful moment when one is about to see his spiritual guide, much less his own soul. Nor are psychical splashes of blue flame, nor visions of things that afterwards come to pass, nor sights of small sections of the astral light with its wonderful photographs of past or future, nor the sudden ringing of distant fairy-like bells, any proof that you are cultivating spirituality. These things, and still more curious things, will occur when you have passed a little distance on the way, but they are only the mere outposts of a new land which is itself wholly material, and only one remove from the plane of gross physical consciousness. (Vernal Blooms, pp. 77-78)

The physical body is built on the astral body which is enmeshed in the physical like the fibres of a mango in the mango pulp. In a trained seer, the astral body is so coherent that he can project the astral out of the physical at a distance. This is how Buddha and Apollonius of Tayana were seen at two places at the same time. The real centres for hearing, seeing, smelling are in the astral body. These are used for astral perceptions. In clairvoyance, the image first falls on the astral eye and is then transmitted to the astral brain, then to the physical brain, and then the physical eye.

(To be concluded)

You can be subject to no greater or lesser rule than that which you impose upon yourself.

Gain that during your youth which can compensate you for loss of youth in old age. And if you are of the opinion that wisdom is the food of old age, then see to it in your youth that you will not lack such a diet.

Only they are poor who have too many wishes.

—Leonardo da Vinci

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