THEOSOPHY, Vol. 25, No. 11, September, 1937
(Pages 508-513; Size: 17K)
THE MYSTERY OF REGENERATION
QUESTION: When a physical arm is amputated, the astral arm is unharmed. Since the astral arm is the design model for the physical, why doesn't another physical arm grow in place of the amputated member?
Answer: This question generally arises in connection with statements made in The Ocean of Theosophy (p. 41) regarding the astral body, in which Mr. Judge discusses teratological phenomena and amputation. The problem derives not alone from the theoretical inference that because the astral body was the basis for the lost limb, it should be able to form a new one, but also from the fact that there are in nature numerous examples of such regeneration. Several of the amphibia can replace lost parts to a high degree. The whole limb of a salamander or a triton will grow again and again after amputation. Many lower marine animals like the hydra have the capacity to reproduce an entire organism from a single transverse section. The Flatworm, cut into nine pieces, will grow into nine normal smaller worms. Crayfish grow new claws, Starfish new rays; Earthworms may be cut into sections and the segments from three different worms grafted together to produce a fourth. Still more familiar is the same power in the vegetable kingdom. Whole plants may be grown from a piece of the root, stem, and in special cases, of the leaf, of certain species. The grafting of fruit trees illustrates this capacity as practically applied by the orchardist.
Why should such regeneration be unique to the lower orders of life? To the theosophist, it is obvious that the explanation lies in an understanding of the astral principle and its changing capacities under cyclic law in man and nature. The question, then, involves the various differentiations of this "formative hand of nature," as determined by the level of intelligence peculiar to each grade of being. As regeneration is a secondary aspect of the creative force in nature, our study should begin with a general consideration of morphogenesis as a universal process.
The evolution of form out of pre-existing material is in every case the result of thought. Forms evolved consciously are the work of an Adept; other men throw them off unconsciously. Adepts do not become involved in their creations because they act as the One Self, never becoming identified with the forms deliberately produced, although using them. The tendency of matter to run to forms is the reflection of this creative power. The limited creative faculties of man are the result of his partial awareness of inner spiritual powers, now circumscribed by the laws of the phenomenal plane. The entire universe is the result of this power of thought, called Kriyasakti. Among the lower forms, we see its operation in Memory of Nature -- the endless repetition of creative impulses imparted by higher beings in this and former periods of evolution. Spirit is Life working intelligently -- purposively; Matter, the irrational reflection of spiritual processes. The subtler the grade of matter, the more perfectly does it mirror the creative intelligence from which its forms are derived.
A remarkable illustration of the power of thought as manifested in the lower kingdoms appears in The Theosophist, February, 1885:The fact of an insect assuming the form of a fly is known in Sanskrit as Bhramarakitanyayam. This law is known to every school boy in India and abroad. Hindoo boys have very often tried this experiment and succeeded. The process is simple. Make a paper box or a tube; put a bee and a green caterpillar with some tender leaves in the box; and close the box. Then the bee begins its operation. It sits to look steadily into the face of the insect; whenever the latter moves a little, the bee stings it. This punitory discipline, continued for a week or so, creates such terror and fright in the insect that it entirely forgets everything, nay its self existence, but the form of its terrible master -- bee; till by the end of nearly a fortnight the insect gradually assumes through this dreadful active meditation and devotion the very form of the bee with wings; and flies off as a bee when the lid is opened. This is both practically and scientifically true. This explains also the law of Affinity or Molecular attraction or Integration of homogeneous particles and the molecular repulsion or disintegration of heterogeneous ones.If all the powers of nature are present in man, some now active, others latent, it follows that he could, if he knew how, replace a lost limb. But were this possible as a conscious act to present humanity, would we be living on the physical plane? Manifestly, such a direct use of Kriyasakti would involve knowledge of what Mr. Judge calls the "inner chemical and dynamic laws of Nature." And if the phenomenal plane of existence is wholly the result of man's thinking of it as reality, such knowledge as a common possession would dissolve what we think of as "matter" into thin air.
Not only does man contain all the powers of nature, but the same lower forms which exhibit the "regeneration" now lost to him are veritably his own creation. The teachings on physical evolution given in The Secret Doctrine are the practical key to the problem. Note that "regeneration" of the kind suggested is no more possible to the mammals than to humans, and then consider the respective origins of the mammalians and the amphibia and other lower forms:So far as our present Fourth Round terrestrial period is concerned, the mammalian fauna are alone to be regarded as traceable to prototypes shed by Man. The amphibia, birds, reptiles, fishes, etc., are the resultants of the Third Round, astral fossil forms ... projected into physical objectivity subsequent to the deposition of the first Laurentian rocks. (II, 684.)But--...the Third Round terrestrial animal forms were just as much referable to types thrown off by Third Round man, as that new importation into our planet's area -- the mammalian stock -- is to the Fourth Round Humanity of the Second Root-race. (II, 685.)It appears, therefore, that the forms of life possessing the power of regeneration belong to the third Round. They should, in this case, typify or express in reflected form the capacities of their creators during that period. We have before us in all the vast variety of natural life an objective record of the successive steps in the evolution of form which ended with the present type of humanity. As creative intelligence is lacking in the lower kingdoms, these forms are literally living images of our own past, each species exemplifying a rung in the ladder of human phylogeny. Thus, to explain the evolution of the human body H.P.B. directs our attention to the lower forms: "...the progressive order of the methods of reproduction, as unveiled by science, is a brilliant confirmation of esoteric Ethnology." (II, 166.)
What was the nature of third Round evolution, which produced the types of the organisms which can now regenerate lost parts? The teaching is that each round develops an element, in the following succession: Fire, Air, Water, Earth. Here Water, suggests H.P.B., was not that element as we know it, but was "that primordial fluid which was required, according to Moses, to make a living soul with." (I, 254.) This, as well as numerous other statements, indicates the astral character of third Round evolution. H.P.B. speaks of the "cast-off clothes" of man which determined the shape of all the lower forms as "the prototypes which man shed in the course of his astral developments." (II, 684.)
We might consider next some statements regarding astral substance. The Earth was at one time semi-astral, or "viscid": "The word 'astral' does not necessarily mean as thin as smoke, in occult phraseology, but rather 'starry,' shining or pellucid, in various and numerous degrees, from a quite filmy to a viscid state,..." (II, 251.) In writing of the relation between the third Round astral prototypes and the origination of pre-mammalian species in this Round, H.P.B. remarks, "...there are precise domains wherein the astral merges into physical evolution." (II, 257.)
The foregoing should be sufficient basis for the citation of some recent scientific discoveries in the field of morphogenesis. In modern biology, two kinds of cells are recognized, germ cells and somatic cells. The germ cells, according to Weissmann, contain the memory-pattern of the entire organism. Somatic cells, on the other hand, can reproduce only themselves. The characteristic feature of regeneration in mammals is that lost cells are only replaced from cells of the same morphological order. The somatic tissue of the lower animals, however, has the power to form a complete organism, including the reproductive organs and new germ cells. This, as is pointed out by L. L. Woodruff in Foundations of Biology, indicates that we must postulate at least a potential supply of the germ residing in the somatic tissue...." But where does the germ cell obtain the pattern of the whole organism? Chemical analysis of the chromosomes of germ cells has revealed an amazing lack of variety in their constituents. If chromosomes are the bearers of tiny particles called genes, and if the latter are physical entities containing the hereditary characters of the future organism, we might expect them to have a highly complex chemical structure. Yet, in General Cytology (Cowdry, University of Chicago Press) A. P. Matthews writes, "it is very improbable that were the chromosomes constituted of widely different genes they would show so simple and definite a composition." There can be but one conclusion: The morphological plan is written in a subtler substance than visible physical matter. This is the astral body. In the lower forms, however, the organic memory of the astral matrix pervades in latency the entire form, as must be the case if a small piece of a worm can reconstruct the complicated system of tissues and organs of its species. Such a capacity indicates that the morphogenetic process during the third Round was quite different from the prevailing order of the fourth. The unfolding of the astral pattern is now limited to the specialized agency of the germ cell, in the case of those forms peculiar to fourth Round evolution.
In other words, the present lowest forms are nearest third Round conditions. Thus, worms, insects, etc., consist in large part of germ plasm, while in man and mammal somatic cells enormously preponderate. This may be regarded as a physical explanation of the problem. Add to this the psychological factor: the imagination of man which dwells on the injury, and we can well see how the astral member might soon wither away. If thought can generate organic lesions, as is now admitted by medical science, who can deny that the same power reversed might work equal wonders on the side of reconstruction? One who has consulted the remarkable cures accomplished at Lourdes is justified in believing such regeneration well within the power of the man of Will and Yoga.
Recent biological experiments throw a new light on the protean functions of the astral body. Dr. Oscar Schotté of Amherst considers the possibility "of every cell in a body becoming the seed of a whole new individual." (New York Herald-Tribune, April 27.) He cut small sections from the eggs of newts, salamanders and frogs and planted these "seeds" in the fast-growing tissue of parts being regenerated by adult animals of the same species. We quote a description of the result:Planting them in the regenerating tail was like letting them steal a biological hitch hike in order to ride to maturity. The seed acted like hitch hikers, who once taken aboard the car, robbed their host. The seed took over control of the rapidly growing tail tissue and instead of letting it grow into a tail they fashioned it into a new head -- if the seed was cut from that part of the egg. The animal thus became possessed of two heads, one at each end of its body.In another such experiment Dr. Schotté used as a "seed" or "organizer" that portion of the egg destined to grow into an eye. According to the experimenter:The eye cups implanted in the midst of the regenerating mesenchyme not only induced the neighboring tissues to differentiate into physical lenses, but also induced in every step a complete redifferentiation of the surrounding cells, preceded by intense proliferation....Curiosities of this kind can occur without the aid of vivisection. In certain rare cases among insects a leg may be replaced by a wing. Some lizards may have more than one tail. When one is injured but not disconnected, another may grow, and lizards with three tails have been observed. The additional appendages, however, do not contain true vertebrae. (Herald-Tribune, March 8, 1936.) Whence these "mistakes" of Nature? Reflection on some statements made by H.P.B. (S.D. I, 277-80) should help clear up this problem for the student.
The unraveling of the whole process is characterized by a continuous supply of new cellular material added to the blastema by proliferation. If an organizer such as the eye cup be implanted in these shifting masses of cells, an eye field is organized which spread with the material. By some unknown process the eye field must exert its influence beyond its proper limits and the materials constituting the borders of the eye field in turn become organizers for far more remote organs such as an ear, a nose, a mouth.
The probable explanation of this induced growth process and of the induction of embryonic organs is that the transplanted eye cup induces an "eye field" which, with time, spreads and becomes an "upper head field," thereby inducing the formation of an ear vesicle. These diverse fields complete each other and eventually a "lower head field" is created.
Truly the formative potencies covered by the Theosophical term, "Astral," are well nigh infinite in extent. This is sensed in modern biology by a growing realization of the complexity of protoplasm, which might be regarded as a precipitation of astral matter on this plane. The distribution of the astral "fields" or axes of growth throughout the body of the lower animals -- in every cell in all those forms which reproduce by simple fission -- shows above all the hierarchical nature of the primitive orders of life. Because on this, the plane of illusion, they present the appearance of individuality, is no reason to conclude that they are discrete entities on the plane of intelligence.
At our present stage of human evolution we can only reason and speculate about the precise nature of the laws governing these mysteries, taking for our guide Analogy and Correspondence. When as a race we return to the primeval condition of Will-born beings, with bodies of the order described in the article, "The Elixir of Life," then all the enigmas of morphogenesis will dissolve in the fire of spiritual knowledge.
[Note: Here is the link to the 3-part article, which is found in another section on this web site, entitled "The Elixir of Life", that is pointed to (just above) by the Editors. --Compiler.]
(Compiler's note: There will be others.)
"THE ASTRAL BODY: HISTORICAL STUDIES"
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