The 'Mahatma Letters' were written between 1880 and 1884 by Koot Hoomi and Morya and sent to the enquirer and journalist A.P. Sinnett. The original letters were bequeathed to the British Museum in 1939 and are currently housed in the British Library.
The letters were originally published in 1923 by A. Trevor Barker in the publication The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett.
This article first appeared in The Theosophist October 2009 Vol 131 No.1 under the title: 'Theosophy for a New Generation of Inquirers: Seven Facets of Esoteric Science.'
Since Madame Blavatsky received the antagonism of the religious establishment in nineteenth century London the intellectual climate has greatly changed. Nowadays there is widespread apathy in a Society dominated by materialism. However, there remains a small minority who still wish to challenge her teachings on other but religious grounds.
Principal among these challenges are those in the scientific community for whom anything that does not provide proof as justification is unacceptable if not derided. Of course their attitude is much more compatible with materialism and atheism than those who believe in some sort of afterlife.
The battle is not quite as one-sided as it might seem, however. It is obvious that if a good argument can be made for a continuation of individual human consciousness beyond death then that will have profound significance to those who ask 'What is life all about and is there an underlying plan and purpose to it?'
It is here that Theosophy and those who propound its teachings have a real contribution of some substance to make. The amazing repeatability of the NDE (Near Death Experiences) of those who undergo dangerous surgery and who have to be resuscitated when they die in the operating theatre provide solid evidence, which is up to scientific standards, that some consciousness can survive the unconsciousness of the physical brain.
In The Mahatma Letters to A.P.Sinnett we read that 'they forget, or never knew that he who holds the keys to the secrets of death is possessed of the keys of life' (chron. ed., No. 136).
Furthermore, in the Foundations of Esoteric Philosophy, Ianthe Hoskins writes:
The second assertion of The Secret Doctrine is the absolute universality of that law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow, which physical science has observed and recorded in all parts of nature. An alternation such as that of Day and Night, Life and Death, Sleeping and Waking, is a fact so perfectly universal and without exception, that it is easy to comprehend that in it we see one of the absolutely fundamental laws of the universe.
This really meets the modem man who looks for reliable evidence, on his own ground. This is playing to the rules which make it much more difficult for him to be dismissive. The concepts of karma and reincarnation continue to attract attention from people with a wide variety of viewpoints and are both theosophical subjects which can be easily presented to a new generation of enquirers. The motive behind an enquiry may influence the ability of the enquirer to accept explanations.
Just as Autumn sees the fading of Nature's Summer bloom and she prepares through Winter for another Spring; so man's physical strength weakens while his spirit grows in wisdom and lays the foundation for another earth life. How- ever, the concept that we live an earth life for spiritual development and the acquisition of qualities of unselfishness, altruism and loving concern for others does not seem to be widely held. More often it would seem that man is motivated primarily by selfish desires with little concern about what their fulfilment has on the lives of others.
Relevant Concepts for a New Generation
The doctrine of karma.
The doctrine of reincarnation.
A view of time measured by the frequency of events which determines its duration.
The concept of occult or dimensionless space.
The seven principles of man.
The teaching of the various states of consciousness within this hierarchy.
The notion of 'ever-becoming' as nature in all her cycles progresses towards a limitless horizon of perfection and evolution.
1. The Doctrine of Karma
There is widespread appreciation of the idea that nature is governed by immutable laws. In fact .modem science and engineering totally depends upon this changelessness in all aspects of its activities. Consequently it is relatively easy for enquirers with this background to accept that the fundamental laws which govern human life and consciousness have similar characteristics. The idea of natural justice has a universal appeal. Furthermore the extension of the principle of cause and effect, so fundamental in science, to man's spiritual side seems imminently reasonable.
This all neatly obviates the need for a 'Day of Judgement' in the future and substitutes a far more credible alternative in the automatic operation of the law of karma. This is why the consideration of the whole cycle of life is so essential. Where the earth life is a life of causes, the bardo state between lives is that part of the cycle where the effects are experienced. Each individual reaps the harvest they have sown. Without fear or favour the inexorable and immutable law of karma pays the wages of good and ill. The process is not enacted under anaesthetic like a hospital operation. The persistence of some consciousness after physical death ensures that justice is not only done, but seen by the individual to be done.
2. The Doctrine of Reincarnation
The acceptance of the concept of life as a cyclic process where physical earth life alternates with the bardo state virtually demands the idea of reincarnation as an integral part of the overall process. Naturally the enquiring mind will need answers to many fundamental questions before accepting that life is a cyclic process on the scale suggested, and if consciousness really does persist between lives.
The development of spiritual qualities during life is a major theme for many of the world's religions, but the significance of events after death is not widely addressed. There is also a lack of authoritative, credible detail about such events and until recent times little information that would be classified as reliable evidence. By contrast, H. P. Blavatsky and even more so the Mahatmas in the Mahatma Letters give us a great deal of information derived mainly from that huge accumulation of occult knowledge called the Ancient Wisdom.
Concepts of space and time have been developed enormously by modem theoretical physics and it is here that esoteric science has a significant contribution to make. With its concepts of subjective time and duration together with occult or dimensionless space a framework is provided within which answers to questions such as 'Where do we go between lives and how long do we have to wait to reincarnate?' can be made.
3. A View of Time Measured by the Frequency of Events
The entry into Devachan does not only complete the withdrawal from 3-dimensional space, but it also marks the end of earth time for the deceased. Time is much more complex than it appears to be. The variability of time in relation to earth time across the vast distances of the universe which can only be measured with reference to the speed of light has been shown by Einstein's Theory of Relativity. It is hardly surprising that withdrawal from 3-D space into abstract or occult space would have a significant effect upon time as we know it.
In fact, even now we experience the same subjective variability in time. When we are enjoying ourselves time seems to go quickly. When we are unhappy and particularly when we are in pain, time seems to go more slowly. If we look more deeply into this subjective experience of time, we see that we really measure time by the frequency of events. The more things that happen to us and around us in an hour, the faster that hour seems to go for us. When we are busy time flies! The converse is also true.
4. The Concept of Occult or Dimensionless Space
Esotericism teaches that there is an inner and an outer aspect of many things including space. Outer space is that which contains everything to do with this realm of physical matter which is located in different places throughout the universe. Inner space is that which contains the world of thoughts and ideas, concepts that do not occupy physical space. It is a fundamental step in the progress of the student when he grasps this idea of the reality of the inner or hidden side of existence.
We are told: 'Devachan is a state, not a locality' (Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, chron. ed., No.l04).
5. The Seven Principles of Man
There seems to be an ongoing acceptance of the idea that man consists of three parts: body, mind and spirit. It is a relatively small step to ask the student to accept a further division into seven parts for the purpose of study. This analytical approach is a virtually universal scientific method to achieve progress in unravelling problems in nature. So Theosophy names the seven parts or principles of man: Atma (spirit), Buddhi (vehicle of spirit), Manas (mind), Kama (desire, emotion), Prana (motivating life- force), Linga Sarira (astral body) and Sthula Sarira (physical body).
The combination of Atma and Buddhi is called the Monad; Manas or Mind is divided into two parts, upper and lower. The upper or higher manas is combined with the Monad to form the Individuality which then becomes a vehicle for the Egoic Consciousness. The lower manas is often combined with Kama and called the kama manasic principle because they function so closely together (sometimes called the middle duad). This combines with the three lower principles or lower triad to form the personality and is the vehicle for our normal waking consciousness. It is this consciousness which fades as these lower principles finally disintegrate during the after-death processes, so that only the Egoic consciousness remains to enter Devachan.
6. The Teaching of Various States of Consciousness
There are different states of consciousness associated with man's seven principles. The highest spiritual consciousness is said to be achieved by the egoic individuality, i.e. with the Monad combined with upper manas. This can only be achieved by the practice of meditation and contemplation of spiritual things.
The higher consciousness is able to watch and direct the lower mind's thinking consciousness. Something we do every day when we decide what we wish to think about.
The Kamic consciousness is that of the emotions and we are all aware when we are emotionally aroused and our focus is in our emotions. Likewise, our focus of consciousness can be entirely in our physical bodies and this is particularly true when we are very hungry or thirsty or in great pain.
7. The Notion of Ever-Becoming
It is the cultivation of our higher consciousness which is necessary to prepare us for our journey through the bardo state between lives and ultimately to enter the Nirvana (state) to begin a different, higher more advanced cycle beyond earth life to continue our spiritual evolution.
There is a general acceptance of the theory of evolution of physical life from simple beginnings to the incredible physical complexity of man and it seems that future generations are unlikely to quarrel with this basic hypothesis. As we have seen elsewhere there is an inner as well as an outer side and it is a reasonable sup- position that man also evolves spiritually to similar levels of complexity.
In fact, the study of the past and of the principles underlying evolutionary advance points to the inescapable fact that we all, individually and collectively, are the humanity whose evolution is the central theme of Theosophy and Esoteric Science. ~
Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home -
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet: I do not ask to see
The distant scene - one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
John Henry, Cardinal Newman
Colin Price worked as a research scientist and chartered electrical engineer for over 30 years. He served for a number of years as National President of the Theosophical Society in England, and took an active part in the work of the national and international Theosophical Society including twice leading the 'School of the Wisdom' at Adyar, India. Colin is a trustee of The Blavatsky Trust.
The article is taken from a talk given at the European Congress, Helsinki, July 2007.