THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 1, November, 1961
(Pages 21-23; Size: 10K)
[Article number (14) in this Department]
IT has sometimes been suggested that twentieth-century interest in "beyond the grave" psychic phenomena is hearteningly more scientific and less cultish than was the case when H. P. Blavatsky wrote Isis Unveiled. Yet we find such influential professors as C. J. Ducasse, Hornell Hart, and Ian Stevenson devoting most of their attention to reports of after-death life gained through psychic means. In these terms, it is difficult to see what sort of "advance" could be considered to have taken place. As in the case of Bridey Murphy, a phenomenal approach to the idea of reincarnation never seems to reach beyond the psychic aspects of the subject.
In the first place, if one is to attempt generalizations concerning such contemporary scholars as the three mentioned, it is necessary to note that each one of the three proceeds in a rather different manner, although interested in the same questions. Professor Hart, for example, concerns himself with the probability of "personal survival" exclusively in terms of phenomena usually called "spiritualistic," and his latest book fails even to mention the idea of pre-existence or reincarnation. While Dr. Stevenson, as a recent notice in Lookout suggests, is something of a natural reincarnationist, he feels that a case for reincarnation should be presented in scientific rather than philosophical terms. [Note: "Lookout" refers to the "On the Lookout" department in THEOSOPHY magazine.--Compiler.] Dr. Ducasse, however, sees no reason why philosophical argument and scientific case-studies should interfere with one another -- and consequently argues for reincarnation both scientifically and philosophically. The interesting point, here, is that those who make a disciplined approach to the conception of an after-life do so individualistically, and not by reference to some popular school of semi-religious thought such as represented by the "Spiritualists" in the last century. This, of itself, suggests a measure of justification for the feeling, expressed by a number of Theosophists, that psychism is now at least being dealt with in a manasic fashion.
Yet it is natural that present Theosophical students, nurtured by attentive study of H.P.B.'s writings -- and those readers of THEOSOPHY who are accustomed to the predominantly philosophical approach of William Q. Judge and Robert Crosbie -- should find the current interest in the phenomenal aspects of "personality-survival" of no crucial importance. It should be remembered, however, that the Theosophical Movement was launched on the 1850-75 wave of interest in spiritualist phenomena, and it was within this intrinsically inadequate area that H.P.B. found an initial audience for Isis Unveiled. Having made a beginning, then, among those dissatisfied, for whatever reason, with the oversimplifications of nineteenth-century science and religion, H.P.B. worked on to the presentation of the entirety of what is now referred to as her "Message." It does not, therefore, strain the imagination to think that H.P.B. would take full advantage of the sort of interest now being shown in "beyond the grave" phenomena by well-known men of scientific bent and training.
Moreover, at this time informed researchers are not debating the reality of spiritualist communications, but are engaged in the far more significant discussion of what the implications of these undoubted phenomena may be. Dr. C. D. Broad, for example, has suggested the possibility that most spiritualist phenomena are reflex responses from a portion of the departed personality. This and other suppositions open the door quite naturally to consideration of theosophical doctrine and theory regarding the after-death states in general. A contemporary "Isis Unveiled" would be likely to make considerable use of such current works as those of Dr. Broad, Dr. Ducasse and Dr. Stevenson -- and would also no doubt show familiarity with developments of thinking among the more philosophically inclined members of the British and American Societies for Psychical Research. Points of departure in the direction of theosophical perspectives are indicated again and again, as in the concluding pages of nearly all J. B. Rhine's works on extrasensory perception. Here, as in other such works, it becomes apparent that if any portion of the departed personality can be shown to survive, the question of another, if not similar, kind of survival for the entire individuality must be considered with an eye to the issues of philosophy and religion.
It may also be noted that the consideration of after-death phenomena is becoming a matter of increasing interest to psychologists and philosophers. Several universities have established departments dealing with extrasensory perception, and the realization that, for the modern scholar, this is a legitimate, if fascinating, "new" field is not nearly as uncommon as was the case twenty years ago. It is quite possible that many more philosophers and psychologists will find themselves meeting the challenge of this new field, in a manner similar to Dr. Ducasse's pioneering Nature, Mind, and Death.
As for the fields of psychology and psychotherapy, one has only to reread carefully H.P.B.'s long and carefully-written article, "Psychic and Noëtic Action," to surmise that she would make excellent use of such contemporary authors as Erich Fromm, Viktor Frankl, and A. H. Maslow. [Note: A link to HPB's article follows this one.--Compiler.] The entire region of psychic phenomena does, after all, require a clarification between the psychic and noëtic elements of man's nature -- and this is also a logical introduction to increasingly pertinent speculations regarding pre-existence and rebirth. As last month's On the Lookout pointed out, Dr. Stevenson's transition from examination of psychical phenomena to a search for evidence regarding reincarnation is not only a natural sequence, but strikes the mind of the public with considerable impact. For here is a psychiatrist who undertakes such investigation, not extracurricularly -- so far as his profession is concerned -- but with the conviction that the possibility of reincarnation is relevant to every aspect of psychological inquiry.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
Wherever Theosophy spreads, there it is impossible for the deluded to mislead, or the deluded to follow. It opens a new path, a forgotten philosophy which has lived through the ages, a knowledge of the psychic nature of man, which reveals alike the true status of the Catholic saint, and the spiritualist medium the Church condemns. It gathers reformers together, throws light on their way, and teaches them how to work towards a desirable end with most effect, but forbids any to assume a crown or sceptre, and no less delivers from a futile crown of thorns. Mesmerisms and astral influences fall back, and the sky grows clear enough for higher light. It hushes the "Lo here! and lo there!" and declares the Christ, like the kingdom of heaven, to be within. It guards and applies every aspiration and capacity to serve humanity in any man, and shows him how. It overthrows the giddy pedestal, and safely cares for the human being on solid ground. Hence, in this way, and in all other ways, it is the truest deliverer and saviour of our time.--H. P. BLAVATSKY
Note: Here's the link to HPB's article, entitled "Psychic and Noëtic Action", that was spoken of near the end of the above article by the Editors.--Compiler
[Article number (15) in this Department]
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