“Better remain silent, better not even think, if you are not prepared to act.” ..Annie Besant
The development most likely to unite science and religion is verification that apart from the physical body we know and love, there is a more subtle element which so far, is only detectable by inference from external bodily actions, and of course by intuition. This element is the architect and scaffold of what we perceive as the physical structure, reacts in a consistent and predictable way, and forms the most influential part of the human personality. If it can be shown that religion is actually man’s first steps at understanding the nature of this intangible element, science and religion would become partners, each changing the other’s view of mankind, life and the universe.
The psychic body has long been spoken about in literature concerned with psychic matter. Annie Besant, a 19th century social activist, became interested in such matters after being asked to write a review of Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine. Seeking an interview with Blavatsky, she became impressed by the author’s Theosophy, and eventually abandoned her Marxist links in favour of it: she even represented Theosophy at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Her later alliance with Charles Leadbeater promoted the premise that humanity also had a psychic component, which had to be taken into consideration when attempting the betterment of society. Leadbeater, amid much controversy, later introduced a young Krishnamurti to the world as a bearer of truth. Whether prohetic or not, this turned out to be the case as eventually Krishnamurti, severing ties with the institutional forms encrusting him, became a world renowned speaker on the psychic nature of man.
Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine was an ambitious two-volume attempt to frame the origin of the Universe and the development of mankind along ages-long cosmic cycles of energetic activity and rest. She proposed that each physical race – oriental, pacific, caucausian, arabic, etc – was gifted with various qualities which created certain challenges and lessons to learn. Underlying all this was her belief that “All men have spiritually and physically the same origin, which is the fundamental teaching of Theosophy”.
When I was 19 someone gave me an already well-worn book called Thought Forms, produced in 1901 by Besant and Leadbeater, which intriguingly attempted to define musical forms in colour:
“We have often heard it said that thoughts are things, and there are many among us who are persuaded of the truth of this statement. Yet very few of us have any clear idea as to what kind of thing a thought is, and the object of this little book is to help us to conceive this.“
…Naturally every sound makes its impression upon astral and mental matter—not only those ordered successions of sounds which we call music. Some day, perhaps, the forms built by those other less euphonious sounds may be pictured for us, though they are beyond the scope of this treatise;
“…It is well for us ever to bear in mind that there is a hidden side to life—that each act and word and thought has its consequence in the unseen world which is always so near to us, and that usually these unseen results are of infinitely greater importance than those which are visible to all upon the physical plane.”
At the same time this book was written, Picasso was cultivating the mental perspective to conceive of cubism, having already accumulated the artistic skills with which to express it. Cubism required one to accept that an illustration could be more than a pleasing rendering of the physical world, but hint at other dimensions too, and thereby become a deeper representational truth. This groundbreaking idea required a huge mental leap both for Picasso, his collaborator Charles Braque, and indeed their audience.
The idea that three dimensions might be shown on a two dimensional surface had long intrigued artists. Techniques such as the mechanical vanishing points, and atmospheric perspective had grown in maturity but attempting to add the dimension of time was a remarkable step. Gauguin and Van Gogh had already used colour as a symbol for deeper ideas, but they had stayed within the same representational framework. To step outside of this required a new way of drawing, but also, a completely new way of thinking: all standard pictorial symbolism had to be abandoned and demanded a mature insight to express, and to understand.
Cubism could never have made an entrance as anything but an eccentricity even fifty years earlier, and would have been ample proof of insanity before then. Its development and acceptance shows not only that mankind had progressed mentally – which could only have proceeded from changes in the brain – but that the works of genius had a hand in focusing this development. As a result cubism, after being mocked at its introduction, became the single most significant artistic leap of the 20th century.
The idea that genius is a first arrival at a destination towards which the mass of mankind is evolving at a slower rate has a significance for religion too. The predominant religious images of advanced moral products – e.g., the saints, Buddha, Christ, and the virginal Mary – all incorporate an element of divinity within a human form. Even Christ, who some suppose to be the Son of God, after any analysis remains also a human being. Hinduism attempts also to give a human form to divine elements, such as Shiva and Shakti, which might be traced to the ancient traditions of Gods as visible deities. But the prevailing idea of the more recent religions is not so much the image of God, but of a human being who incorporates features of divinity. This is remarkable as it coincides with an age in which man has attempted to penetrate veil after veil of the material and intellectual world, trying to reach ultimate knowledge and certainty about the nature of the Universe, always struggling under the limitations of the intellect.
Blavatsky claimed Hinduism predicted the rise of science, and even prepared the mental cradle from which it could emerge. Be that as it may, the religions of the world have a bearing on modern development as they show an evolutionary target, and a viable path towards its attainment. These spiritual paths are enshrined in scriptures, and the theology and dogma they have accumulated does not detract at all from their value. In fact this accumulation of dogma when receding in the dimension of time away from the initial inspiration has a parallel in scientific thought – the founders of science were not interested in creating machines which cooked the human race alive: Einstein himself was appalled, and wrote, “had I known, I would have been a locksmith.”
Likewise, evolutionary theory is corrupted over time into forms of convenience suiting the mental preference of its followers: Darwin did not believe in chance evolution, clearly stating that such an idea was unscientific, as evolution continually moved onward and upward, while chance never moves in a single direction. His thinking was tinged with a strong moral component, typical in a time still coloured by religious upbringing and ways of thought. His modern supporters believe only in randomness, and generally abandon morality in favour of mercilessly critical thought. Perhaps we can attribute such a degeneration to the abandoning of spiritual ideals.
Einstein was representative of the same subtle shift in humanity’s approach which Picasso expressed. Intertwining time and space was not for artistic impact, but reflected a truth in the hard-headed world of physics: Picasso’s transformation was the same mental leap, but from a brain specifically configured, from birth, for art.
The fact that all these extraordinary new ideas emerged within the space of only six or seven years in three unrelated geographical and social areas of the world – Einstein absorbed in the scientific world in Germany, Picasso and Braque as carefree Parisian artists, and Besant and Leadbeater as social activists (Besant had long been a champion of contraception, and had even lost custody of her children in a dispute with the industrial factions) in America – show that a development within the race as a whole must have been at work, at a particular point in its evolution.
This subtle movement in thought – again, only possible by changes within the brain – was expressed in a variety of ways by those most susceptible to its influence, by some genetic predisposition, some advantageous circumstance of liberty and freedom of thought. All these individuals arrived at their various conclusions through their own efforts, having single-mindedly prepared their brains through steady labour.
These minds were also acutely aware of a responsibility to society as a whole, something essential for every groundbreaking innovation. It is therefore to the sensitive mind of the creative personality that we can also find hints as to moral guidance. Picasso, the experimenter with an eye for commercial appeal, made the colossal Guernica – war seen through the eyes of a child – precisely because he remained sensitive to the condition of the world:
“What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only his eyes if he is a painter, or his ears if he is a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he is a poet, or, if he is merely a boxer, only his muscle?
On the contrary, he is at the same time a political being, constantly alert to the heartrending, burning, or happy events in the world, molding himself in their likeness.”
One has to remember that Thought Forms was written at a time when it seemed quite acceptable to merge various schools of thought. Walter Gropius’ 1919 Bauhaus school in Germany reflected this trend too, combing art and architecture in a synthesis which lasts to this day. Science had yet to reach its zenith as an exploratory tool, and the authors of Thought Forms expressed the fond belief that science might soon provide positive proof of these proposed layers of existence.
As we know, science began to devote itself largely to matters of commerce, and had already become a tool used by greedy nations to exert a thunderous military might. Braque was to be permanently incapacitated in the first World War, ending his relationship with Picasso, something symbolic of politicians’ willingness to hurl mankind’s fittest, most able and bravest genetics onto a massive bonfire. The constant repeating of this pattern through the following 100 years have shown that morally, mankind has been slower to accumulate moral strength than technological obsession. Perhaps the two can never co-exist, so it is heartening to see the infatuation with technology gradually winding down.
The psychic nature of man has yet to receive the full attention of science, which has turned from an exploratory to a materialist avenue. Already some inroads have been made, specificially into meditation, mirror neurons, telomeres, psychic activity within the brain, and so on. But even without this approval from the stablishment, a person can always feel when they have sustained some damage to this moral body.
Through amoral or selfish acts and decisions, the damage to the psychic body can be felt for a time, and if persisted in, is rationalised away to avoid the constant nagging by the conscience, just as one who is grossly overweight needs many rationalisations to soothe the guilt: a diet would soon fix the problem – the weight is not so excessive – I’m big boned – I have a fat gene – we all have to die of something – and so on.
Truth is therefore often the first casualty of damage to the psychic body. It is for this reason that all religions stress the importance of truth and self-awareness, and it is sensitivity to this subtle layer of our existence which an individual embarking on spiritual practices tries to develop. Human evolution itself builds this moral increase as it works through the ages: despite the prevalence of materialist greed and degeneration, man is more aware of such glaring abormalities than at any time in the past. The tendency towards lenience and increasingly humane laws, the rise in women’s rights even in backwards and misogynistic nations such as Saudi Arabia, and the attempts to enshrine not just rules of economic expediency but of morality within law, are the evidence. We can say that human intellect has leaped ahead of the moral nature, as is obvious from a look around the world, but we should also expect a comparable explosion of development in this element of our personality too, and it is to this end that religion exists.
In billions of people, a change is slowly brewing, despite fashions, trends, technological toys and distractions: the signs are that mankind is already starting to tire of the constant twisting of technology to short term and faddish ends: Facebook, once a central object of attention has waned, as children – those least deadened by materialistic despair and most attuned to changes in tastes – tire of its limitations, even if connected to thousands of fellow users.
It is to strengthen and clean up the psychic body that the practices of religion are aimed. This is the only reason why they could have survived for so many thousands of years: the task they present is yet undone and now requires some scientific justification to make themselves presentable to the modern mind, and I am certain that this discovery is just around the corner.
Just as people go to a gym to increase the muscular power of the phjysical body, and do not become discouraged after sprains or short term disruptions to their fitness schedule, nobody should despair at falling short or experiencing setbacks in attempts to raise themselves to higher levels morally. Those who gravitate to religions and spiritual disciplines are inquiring into or attempting this improvement of a component of their own body – the psychic body -a subtle level of their existence which is affected by truth, sacrifice, self-discipline and charitable acts, which is why they have always formed a part of healthy religion.
For the same reason, every religion, and so many heroes of popular myth and storytelling, present an image of a being both human and divine. Mankind is growing morally towards mental powers which at the present moment would seem more divine than human, and its infatuation with materialism and technology is slowly yielding, in accordance with the demands of evolution, to “an infinitely more rewarding exploration of inner space”.