THEOSOPHY, Vol. 40, No. 7, May, 1952
(Pages 321-324; Size: 12K)


[Article number (6) in this Q&A Department]

MEMORY has been offered as a proof of the existence of self. "Suppose," says one author, "that we see a ship on the sea and then turn away; we can recall that image at will and even compare it with the image of a ship we saw years ago. What is it that remembers, if not the self?" he asks. Yet in the teachings it is said that the pictures of memory reside in the Astral Light. How, then, can one prove this metaphysical reality in these terms, if astral substance -- a form of PHYSICAL substance -- is the stuff of memory?

The "Astral Light" is spoken of in The Secret Doctrine, in part, as "a faithful record of every act and even thought of man." And the Glossary says that the Astral Light is "the great terrestrial crucible, which gives out nothing but what it has received, in which the vile (and good) emanations of the earth (moral and physical) upon which the Astral Light is fed, are all converted into their subtlest essence, and radiated back intensified, thus becoming epidemics -- moral, psychic and physical." This sort of definition would seem to add weight to the questioner's viewpoint, for it portrays the Astral Light as a passive physical substance, mechanical in operation. Like a mirror, it is a medium which reflects action -- that is its nature. And, like a mirror, it needs no one to turn its powers on or off, yet it would need "selves," or some activating principle, to energize its operation.

What is the nature of memory? Does it in any other way support the contention of the author quoted above? In the Key, H.P.B. describes three kinds of "memory"; remembrance and recollection, which belong to physical memory, and reminiscence, which is an intuitional perception apart from and outside our physical brain. The kind of memory which is used to recall physical images such as the ship seen at sea, would seem to be remembrance rather than recollection. H.P.B. writes that "if an idea be sought after by the mind, and with pain and endeavor found and brought again into view, it is recollection." She also states that remembrance and recollection are connected with the healthy functioning of the brain. This sort of memory can be explained as a phenomenon of the psychic world. Whenever a familiar sight, a similar series of events, or any such connecting link between experiences occur in the life of a man, simply by the law of the attraction of like things, the memory of that previous thing would, so to say, "fly down" to the man's consciousness.

But, what is it that recalls an image? What is that center before which the pictures and ideas of the past reassemble? No one can recall our memories for us. Unless there is a "self" present, there is nothing to recall memories, for the subject that remembers must surely be the same subject, the continuing self that formerly observed the ideas or pictures again recalled. This could not be the mind alone, for the mind changes and grows constantly, and if we look back many years to young childhood -- we need not even look this far -- we find that although the general character and tendencies of the mind were undoubtedly present then as now, our mind is not the same mind. As the mind grows in power, the memory, a faculty of the mind, may also extend its range and scope; but the energizing force -- the self -- uses the mind and powers "as a flame lights up a jar." Through memory it allows or compels the past to reappear.

Why are so many Sunday and Wednesday evening lectures devoted to a consideration of the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation, since the basic principles upon which the "twin doctrines" operate are relatively simple and easy to comprehend and this much repetition seems unnecessary?

This question, by no means new since it has probably been considered in one form or another by all who regularly attend the evening lectures, is essentially concerned with the working policy of the Lodge, concisely stated in its Declaration. [Note: The "Lodge" referred to here is "The United Lodge of Theosophists" (ULT).--Compiler.] Obviously, the weekly evening lectures provide one of the means by which the spread of the fundamental principles of Theosophic philosophy is accomplished. The lectures, then, are arranged primarily to meet and stimulate the unacquainted mind of the newcomer, be he agnostic, Christian, or whatever else. From this we would deduce that the most "down-to-earth," reasonable, and vital -- from the standpoint of everyday living -- doctrines must be expounded.

In "reaching" the mind of the inquirer (and the mind of "the race"), it is reasonable to expect that the Theosophic conception of the soul-nature of man be given more attention, even, than the natural laws which govern the effects of causes set in motion by each self-conscious soul, or the periodic life-cycle of re-birth which the soul follows. To the newcomer, the necessary hypothesis that man is a soul is at once asserted; expansion and elucidation of this concept necessarily brings out the soul-characteristics of self-reliance, continuing moral responsibility, and immortality.

Based on the premise of soul, the doctrines of Karma and reincarnation can be presented in very simple form, for, to quote the Key to Theosophy, "It does not require metaphysics or education to make a man understand the broad truths of Karma and reincarnation," and it is precisely this "man" -- the lay majority of the Western world -- with which the Theosophical Movement is most concerned. The misery and suffering, the turns in fortune and apparent injustice of environmental circumstances, common plagues among the masses, are to be understood solely through the verity: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," unless applied on a collective karma scale through the perspective of cyclic rebirth. This explanation, from a logical viewpoint, puts to shame the verbal Christian panacea: "It is the will of God."

The great psychological barrier, raised by the theological beliefs in vicarious atonement and the inherently sinful nature of man, has hindered and cramped the innate receptivity of the mind of the West to these "natural" doctrines. It is this obstacle that the Theosophical Movement must and will eventually overcome completely -- allowing the "lost chord of Christianity" to be heard once again.

Why do materialists and agnostics show impatience or dislike for Theosophical postulating of an "Unknowable" yet "Divine" Principle as the essence of man?

In The Secret Doctrine, H.P.B. writes that the principle of Reality proposed is one "on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude." "How discouraging a thought!" -- or, "How suspicious!" may say the agnostic. "Must we not start with what is known from experience, and build our temple of knowledge stone by stone with proven things?" In other words, an explanation, and perhaps even a "proposition," must be in terms of the known to be intelligible. It may, then, seem that to introduce "The Absolute," and call it an "unknowable" principle confuses more than it explains.

Therefore we can suppose that any thoughtful man will see a certain logic in Chapman Cohen's careful development of some of the implications of the concept of an "Unknowable" God principle. Cohen writes in his Materialism Re-stated: "People have assumed that apart from the world given in consciousness, there is some other world of which we may acquire knowledge, and which has been dignified by the name of 'Reality,' as against the known world, which became, by implication, transient and illusory. It is a most extraordinary thing that the world we do know should be dismissed as illusory, while a world of which we know nothing whatever, of which we never can know anything, and of the nature of which we cannot form the slightest conception, is accepted as the one enduring 'Reality.' I do not wonder that theological philosophers have clung to it with such desperate affection. A world beyond knowledge, is a world beyond criticism, and a thing which is beyond knowledge and criticism is a truly ideal foundation upon which to build a theological system." Cohen here must mean any system whose exponents talk about a "metaphysical reality," yet Theosophy has never claimed the existence of a "world beyond knowledge," and is not this the most significant distinction?

There is another distinction, too, which can be made between Theosophy and the Christian religion and between Theosophy and science: What question is each most interested in? The church has concerned itself primarily with asking, "What?" "What is God?" The church's God, therefore, has been described endlessly, and been both limited and made an object of fear in different ways at different times. Science, on the other hand, has definitely confined itself to answering, "How?" "How do things work?" Theosophy, however, devotes itself to an interesting combination of the two, which could possibly be phrased, "How is 'God' -- also myself -- at work?" Theosophy does put down a "God premise," so to speak, yet then goes directly to the question of man's knowledge and aspirations, which does not take one away beyond "knowledge and criticism." The premise of a Divine Principle is a logical necessity, though, in order for the idea of man's own capacity for endless knowledge to exist.

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(June 1952)
[Article number (7) in this Q&A Department]

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