by the Rt. Rev. C.W. Leadbeater


The astounding practical materialism to which we have been reduced in this country can hardly be more clearly shown than it is by the expressions that we employ in common life. We speak quite ordinarily of man as having a soul, of " savingÓ our souls, and so on, evidently regarding the physical body as the real man and the soul as a mere appanage, a vague something to be considered as property of the body.

With an idea so little defined as this, it can hardly be a matter of surprise that many people go a little further along the same lines, and doubt whether this vague something exists at all. So it would seem that the ordinary man is very often quite uncertain whether he possesses a soul or not; still less does he know that the soul is immortal. That he should remain in this pitiable condition of ignorance seems strange, for there is a very great deal of evidence available even in the outer world, to show that man has an existence quite apart from his body, capable of being carried on at a distance from it while it is living, and entirely without it when it is dead.

Until we have entirely rid ourselves of this extraordinary delusion that the body is the man, it is quite impossible that we should at all appreciate the real facts of the case. A little investigation immediately shows us that the body is only a vehicle by means of which the man manifests himself in connection with this particular type of gross matter out of which our visible world is built.

Furthermore, it shows that other and subtler types of matter exist, not only the ether admitted by modern science as interpenetrating all known substances, but other types of matter which interpenetrate ether in turn, and are as much finer than ether as it is than solid matter. The question will naturally occur to the reader as to how it will be possible for man to become conscious of the existence of types of matter so wonderfully fine, so minutely subdivided. The answer is that he can become conscious of them in the same way as he becomes conscious of the lower matter, by receiving vibrations from them.

And he is enabled to receive vibrations from them by reason of the fact that he possesses matter of these finer types as part of himself, that just as his body of dense matter is his vehicle for perceiving and communicating with the world of dense matter, so does the finer matter within him constitute for him a vehicle by means of which he can perceive and communicate with the world of finer matter which is imperceptible to the grosser physical senses.

This is by no means a new idea. It will be remembered that St. Paul remarks that " there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body,Ó and that he furthermore refers to both the soul and the spirit in man, by no means employing the two synonymously, as is so often ignorantly done at the present day. It speedily becomes evident that man is a far more complex being than is ordinarily supposed; that not only is he a spirit within a soul but that this soul has various vehicles of different degrees of density, the physical body being only one, and the lowest of them.

These various vehicles may all be described as bodies in relation to their respective levels of matter. It might be said that there exist around us a series of worlds one within the other (by inter-penetration), and that man possesses a body for each of these worlds, by means of which he may observe it and live in it. He learns by degrees how to use these various bodies, and in that way gains a much more complete idea of the great complex world in which he lives; for all these other inner worlds are in reality still part of it.

In this way he comes to understand very many things which before seemed mysterious to him; he ceases to identify himself with his bodies, and learns that they are only vestures which he may put off and resume or change without being himself in the least affected thereby. Once more we must repeat that all this by no means metaphysical speculation or pious opinion, but definite scientific fact thoroughly well known experimentally to those who have studied Theosophy.

Strange as it may seem to many to find precise statements taking the place of hypothesis upon questions such as these, I am speaking here of nothing that is not known by direct and constantly repeated observation to a large number of students. Assuredly " we know whereof we speakÓ, not by faith but by experiment, and therefore we speak with confidence. To these inner worlds or different levels of nature we usually give the name of planes. We speak of the visible world as " the physical planeÓ, though under that name we include also the gases and various grades of ether.

To the next stage of materiality the name of " the astral planeÓ was given by the medieval alchemists (who were well aware of its existence), and we have adopted their title. Within this exists another world of still finer matter, of which we speak as " the mental plane" , because of its matter is composed what is commonly called the mind in man. There are other still higher planes, but I need not trouble the reader with designations for them, since we are at present dealing only with manÌs manifestation in the lower worlds.

It must always be born in mind that all these worlds are in no way removed from us in space. In fact, they all occupy exactly the same space, and are all equally about us always. At the moment our consciousness is focused in and working through our physical brain, and thus we are conscious only of the physical world, and not even of the whole of that. But we have only to learn to focus that consciousness in one of these higher vehicles, and at once the physical fades from our view, and we see instead the world of matter which corresponds to the vehicle used.

Recollect that all matter is in essence the same. Astral matter does not differ in its nature from physical matter any more than ice differs in its nature from steam. It is simply the same thing in a different condition. Physical matter may become astral, or astral may become mental, if only it be sufficiently subdivided, and caused to vibrate with the proper degree of rapidity.