THE LIFE PRINCIPLE
A FEW years back a very interesting controversy
raged between several scientists of reputation. Some of
these held that spontaneous generation was a fact in nature,
whilst others proved the contrary; to the effect that,
as far as experiments went, there was found to be biogenesis,
or generation of life from previously existing life, and
never the production of any form of life from non-living matter.
An erroneous assumption was made in the first instance that heat,
equal to the boiling point of water, destroyed all life
organisms; but by taking hermetically sealed vessels containing
infusions, and subjecting them to such or a greater degree
of heat, it was shown that living organisms did appear
even after the application of so much heat. By more careful
experiments, the following fact was brought to light,
that spores of Bacteria, and other animalculae,
which generally float in the air, can, when dry,
withstand a greater degree of heat, and that when the experiments
are made in optically pure air, no life ever appears,
and the infusions never putrefy.
Along with the fact of biogenesis, we must note,
however, Mr. Huxley's caution, when he says,
"that with organic chemistry, molecular physics,
and physiology yet in their infancy, and every day making
prodigious strides, it would be the height of presumption
for any man to say that the conditions under which matter assumes
the qualities called vital, may not some day be artificially
brought together"; and, again, "that
as a matter not of proof, but of probability, if
it were given me to look beyond the abyss of geologically recorded
time, to the still more remote period, when the
earth was passing through chemical and physical conditions which
it can never see again, I should expect to be a witness
of the evolution of living protoplasms from non-living matter."
Tracing inorganic matter upwards to the form which approaches
most nearly to vital organisms, we come to those complex
substances called "colloids," which are something
like the white of an egg, and form the last stage of the
ascending line from inorganic matter to organic life.
Tracing life downwards we ultimately reach "protoplasm,"
called by Huxley "the physical basis of life,"
a colourless, jelly-like substance, absolutely homogeneous
without parts or structure. Protoplasm is evidently the
nearest approach of life to matter; and if life ever originated
from atomic and molecular combinations, it was in this
Protoplasm in its substance is a nitrogenous carbon compound,
differing only from other similar compounds of the albuminous
family of colloid by the extremely complex composition of its
atoms. Its peculiar qualities, including life,
are not the result of any new and peculiar atom added to the known
chemical compounds of the same family, but of the manner
of grouping and motions of these e1ements.1
Life in its essence is manifested by the faculties of nutrition,
sensation, movement, and reproduction, and
every speck of protoplasm develops organisms which possess these
faculties. The question has been asked whether this primitive
speck of protoplasm can be artificially manufactured by chemical
processes. Science has answered in the negative,
as it knows as yet of no process by which any combination of inorganic
matter could be vivified.
The law of evolution has now been satisfactorily proved to pervade
the whole of the Universe, but there are several missing
links, and, doubtless, the discoveries of
modern science will in course of time bring many new facts to
light on these obscure points which at present defy all search.
Far more important than the question of the origin of species
is the great problem of the development of life from what is looked
upon as the inanimate mineral kingdom.
Every discovery of science, however limited it may be,
affords food for thought, and enables us to understand
how far we are to believe on the ground of observation and experiment,
and how far we theorize in the right direction.
Science has not been able to prove the fact of "spontaneous
generation" by experiment, but the best of scientists
think it safe to believe that there must have been spontaneous
generation2 at one time. Thus far, scientific
thought is in accord with esoteric teachings.
Occult philosophy has it, that motion, cosmic matter,
duration, space, are everywhere. Motion is
the imperishable life, and is conscious or unconscious,
as the case may be. It exists as much during the active
period of the Universe, as during Pralaya, or dissolution,
when the unconscious life still maintains the matter3
it animates in sleepless and unceasing motion.
Life is ever present in the atom or matter, whether organic
or inorganic--a difference that occultists do not accept.
When the life energy is active in the atom, that atom is
organic; when dormant or latent, the atom is inorganic.
The Jiva, or life principle, which animates
man, beast, plant, and even a mineral,
is a form of force indestructible since this force is the one
life, or animal mundi, the universal living
soul, and since the various modes in which objective things
appear to us in nature in their atomic aggregations, such
as minerals, plants, animals, etc.,
are all the different forms or states in which this force manifests
itself. Were it to become for one single instant inactive,
say in a stone, the particles of the latter would lose
instantly their cohesive property, and disintegrate as
suddenly, though the force would still remain in
each of its particles, but in a dormant state.4
When the life force is disconnected with one set of atoms it becomes
immediately attracted by others; but in doing so,
it does not abandon entirely the first set, but only transfers
its vis viva, or living power--the energy of motion--to
another set. But because it manifests itself in the next
set as what is called Kinetic energy, it does not follow
that the first set is deprived of it altogether; for it
is still in it, as potential energy, or life latent.
More than any other, the life principle in man is one with
which we are most familiar, and yet are so hopelessly ignorant
as to its nature. Matter and force are ever found allied.
Matter without force, and force without matter,
are inconceivable. In the mineral kingdom the universal
life energy is one and unindividualized; it begins imperceptibly
to differentiate in the vegetable kingdom, and from the
lower animals to the higher animals, and man, the
differentiation increases at every step in complex progression.
When once the life-principle has commenced to differentiate,
and has become sufficiently individualized, does it keep
to organisms of the same kind, or does it after the death
of one organism go and vivify an organism of another kind? For
instance, after the death of a man, does the Kinetic
energy which kept him alive up to a certain time go after death
and attach itself to a protoplasmic speck of the human kind,
or does it go and vivify some animal or vegetable germ?5
After the death of a man, the energy of motion which vitalized
his frame is said to be partly left in the particles of the dead
body in a dormant state, while the main energy goes and
unites itself with another set of atoms. Here a distinction
is drawn between the dormant life left in the particles of the
dead body and the remaining Kinetic energy, which passes
off elsewhere to vivify another set of atoms. Is not the
energy that becomes dormant6 life in the particles
of the dead body a lower form of energy than the Kinetic energy,
which passes off elsewhere; and although during the life
of a man they appear mixed up together, are they not two
distinct forms of energy, united only for the time being?
A student of occultism writes as follows:
Jiva, or the life-principle, is subtle super-sensuous
matter, permeating the entire physical structure of the
living being, and when it is separated from such structure
life is said to be extinct. A particular set of conditions
is necessary for its connection with an animal structure,
and when those conditions are disturbed it is attracted by other
bodies presenting suitable conditions.7
Every atom has contained within it its own life, or force,
and the various atoms which make up the physical frame always
carry with them their own life wherever they travel. The
human or animal life principle, however, which vitalizes
the whole being, appears to be a progressed, differentiated,
and individualized energy of motion, which seems to travel
from organism to organism at each successive death. Is
it really, as quoted above, "subtle super-sensuous
matter," which is something distinct from the atoms
that form the physical body? (1)
If so, it becomes a sort of a monad, and would be
something akin to the higher human soul which transmigrates from
body to body.
Another and more important question is:--Is the life-principle,
or Jiva, something different from the higher or spiritual
soul? Some Hindoo Philosophers hold that these two principles
are not distinct, but one and the same. (2)
To make the question plainer, it may be enquired whether
occultism knows of cases in which human beings have been known
to live quite separated from their spiritual soul? (3)
A correct comprehension of the nature, qualities,
and mode of action of the principle, called "Jiva,"
is very essential for a proper understanding of the very first
principles of Esoteric Science, and it is with a view to
elicit further information from those who have kindly promised
to give help to the Editors of LUCIFER on
deep questions of the science, that this feeble attempt
has been made to formulate a few questions which have been puzzling
almost every student of Theosophy.
(1) Modern Science, tracing all vital phenomena to the
molecular forces of the original protoplasm, disbelieves
in a Vital Principle, and in its materialistic negation
laughs, of course, at the idea. Ancient Science,
or Occultism, disregarding the laugh of ignorance,
asserts it as a fact. THE ONE
LIFE--is deity itself, immutable,
omnipresent, eternal. It is "subtle,
super-sensuous matter" on this lower plane of ours,
whether we call it one thing or the other; whether we trace
it to the "Sun-force"--a theory by B. W.
Richardson, F.R.S.--or call it this,
that, or the other. The learned Dr. Richardson--an
eminent authority--goes further than words, for he speaks
of the life-principle as of "a form of MATTER"(!!)
Says the great man of science: "I speak only of a
veritable material agent, refined, but actual and
substantial, an agent having quality of weight and of volume;
an agent susceptible of chemical combination, and thereby
of change of physical state and condition; an agent passive
in its action, moved always, i.e.,
by influences apart from itself, obeying other influences;
an agent possessing no initiative power, no vis
or energia naturæ, but still playing a most
important, if not a primary part in the production of the
phenomena resulting from the action of the energia upon
visible matter" (p. 379). As one sees,
the Doctor plays at blind man's buff with occultism, and
describes admirably the passive, "life elementals"
used--say--by great sorcerers to animate their homunculi.
Still the F.R.S. describes one of the
countless aspects of our "subtle, super-sensuous-matter-life-principle."
(2) And the Hindu philosophers are right. It is here that
we have real need of the divisions of everything--Prakriti,
Jiva, etc.--into principles to enable us to explain
the action of Jiva on our low planes without degrading
it. Thence, while the Vedantin philosopher may be
content with four principles in his universal Kosmogony,
we occultists need at least seven to enable ourselves to
understand the difference of the Protean nature of the life-principle
once it acts on the five lower spheres or planes.
Our readers, enamoured with Modern Science, at the
same time as with the occult doctrines--have to choose between
the two views of the nature of the Life Principle, which
are the most accepted now, and--the third view--that of
the occult doctrines. The three may be described as follows:--
I. That of the scientific "molecularists" who
assert that life is the resultant of the interplay of ordinary
II. That which regards "living organisms" as
animated by an independent "vital principle,"
and declares "inorganic" matter to be lacking this.
III. The Occultist or Esoteric standpoint, which
looks upon the distinction between organic and inorganic matter
as fallacious and nonexistent in nature. For it says that
matter in all its phases being merely a vehicle for the manifestation
through it of LIFE--The Parabrahmic
Breath--in its physically pantheistic aspect (as Dr. Richardson
would say, we suppose) it is a super-sensuous state of
matter itself the vehicle of the ONE
LIFE, the unconscious purposiveness
(3) It is just this. A human being can "live"
quite separated from his Spiritual Soul--the 7th and 6th principles
of the ONE LIFE or
but no being--whether human or animal --can live separated from
its physical Soul, Nephesh or the Breath
of Life (in genesis). These "seven
souls" or lives (that which we call Principles),
are admirably described in the Egyptian Ritual and the
oldest papyri. Chabas has unearthed curious papyri and
Mr. Gerald Massey has collected priceless information upon
this doctrine; and though his conclusions are not ours,
we may yet in a future number quote the facts he gives,
and thus show how the oldest philosophy known to Europe--the Egyptian--corroborates
our esoteric teachings.
Lucifer, March, 1888
1Vide Mr. Samud Laing's new book "A Modern
Zoroastrian." The whole of the work is well worth
study, as it is as interesting as it is scientific.
Several quotations have been made in this article from that excellent
Notwithstanding its excellency, it is a very materialistic
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2Esoteric Science, holding that nothing in
nature is inorganic, but that every atom is a "life,"
does not agree with "Modern Science" as to the meaning
attached to "Spontaneous Generation." We may
deal with this later.--(ED.)
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3 Esoteric Science does not admit of the
"existence" of "matter," as such, in Pralaya.
In its noumenal state, dissolved in the "Great Breath,"
or its "laya" condition, it can exist only potentially.
Occult philosophy, on the contrary, teaches
that, during Pralaya, "Naught is. All
is ceaseless eternal Breath."--(ED.)
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4 "Five Years of Theosophy,"
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5As far as the writer knows, Occultism
does not teach that the LIFE-PRINCIPLE--which
is per se immutable, eternal, and as indestructible
as the one causeless cause, for it is THAT
in one of its aspects--can ever differentiate individually.
The expression in Five Years of Theosophy must be
misleading, if it led to such an inference. It is
only each body--whether man, beast, plant,
insect, bird, or mineral--which, in assimilating
more or less the life principle, differentiates it in
its own special atoms, and adapts it to this or another
combination of particles, which combination determines
the differentiation. The monad partaking in its universal
aspect of the Parabrahmic nature, unites with its monas
on the plane of differentiation to constitute an individual.
This individual, being in its essence inseparable from
Parabrahm, also partakes of the Life-Principle in its Parabrahmic
or Universal Aspect. Therefore, at the death of
a man or an animal, the manifestation of life or the evidences
of Kinetic energy are only withdrawn to one of those subjective
planes of existence which are not ordinarily objective to us.
The amount of Kinetic energy to be expended during life by one
particular set of physiological cells is allotted by Karma--another
aspect of the Universal Principle--consequently when this is expended
the conscious activity of man or animal is no longer manifested
on the plane of those cells, and the chemical forces which
they represent are disengaged and left free to act in the physical
plane of their manifestation. Jiva--in its
universal aspect--has, like Prakriti, its
seven forms, or what we have agreed to call "principles."
Its action begins on the plane of the Universal Mind (Mahat)
and ends in the grossest of the Tanmatric five planes--the
last one, which is ours. Thus though we may,
repeating after Sankhya philosophy, speak of the
seven prakritis (or "productive productions")
or after the phraseology of the Occultists of the seven jivas--yet,
both Prakriti and Jiva are indivisible abstractions,
to be divided only out of condescension for the weakness of
our human intellect. Therefore, also, whether
we divide it into four, five or seven principles matters
in reality very little. --(ED.)
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6 A dormant energy is no energy.
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7 "Five Years of Theosophy," page
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