I attempt to describe in a sequence of ordered aphorisms the understanding I have grasped over time from esoteric sources concerning the topic mentioned. I accept and believe these things due to experience, pondering, and various researches impossible to explain here. It is offered because I find this understanding relieves many, many confusions and stands in its own kind of light which will appeal to certain kinds of people. I cannot say I fully ‘know’ these things until I experience them myself in clear spiritual perception — but it comes near to knowing for me. Do not believe or disbelieve, rather live with the ideas and test them in life. Any errors are my own.
Kingdoms Of Nature
Lions can never be immoral. Because they lack the capacity to consider the morality of any action they perform, or any desire they embody. They act 100% purely according to their nature: Lion-ness. It is impossible for them to commit evil.
No matter how savage, terrible, bloody, callous, murderous, violent, or cruel their actions may appear, the deeds of lions have no moral coloring. Similarly, cows and chickens are not benevolent when they yield milk or eggs. There is no intersection with their natures and morality.
In fact, this is an important distinguishing element, esoterically, between animals and men. It is one of the key defining characteristics of human beings that they have the capacity to act morally, and also reflect upon the moral quality of things. (I have hinted here at another key distinction between ourselves and the animal kingdom, namely the capacity for self-consciousness. In a real sense, animals lack ‘selves’.)
As a brief meditative interlude, study again the painting above, taking in the way the animal and the human figures are illustrated. Enlarge it, and let the images work upon you. The animals seem to exhibit less individuality or dimensionality and instead display a ‘type’ — each one trapped or enchanted within its own caricature of feeling and nature. In fact, the animal’s outer form expresses the caricature. Whereas the humans appear to possess depth, interiority, unpredictability — a dimension beyond those of the animals. Rubens was after all no dummy, and many old masters had an esoteric sensitivity.
Similarly, we can identify a clear conceptual dividing line between the kingdom of animals and that of plants. Whereas animals have feelings and experience inner states of comfort, safety, alarm, fear, and rage, the plants and trees evince no evidence of this. We see the emotive experience of animals in their eyes and hear them in their vocalizations. Plants merely respond to external conditions, sunlight, rain, the soil — and then grow or falter.
You can also get a feeling for this distinction, between the flora and the fauna, when gazing at the Rubens painting. The greenery presents only with life, the forces of growing and blossoming. They are rooted in the place of their origin, lacking the capacity for movement or travel. The animals show more, the capacity for inner movement and sentience.
Finally there are the rocks and crystals and physical earth which comprises the mineral kingdom, more basic even than that of the plants. Here everything has been reduced to mere form, empty of life. Change, when it occurs, is due exclusively to external agency like wind, rain, and heat.
These then are the four nested earthly natural kingdoms. The mineral, the plant, the animal, and the human. I say nested because each one in turn adds a feature or quality which the previous one lacks. Over lifeless minerals, the plant world contains life. Over living plants, the animal world contains sentience, experience, and feeling. Over the animal world, humanity is distinguished by self-awareness and a moral participation in the world. (Put aside all the other numerous distinctions between kingdoms for now, and just contemplate these as fundamental and defining.)
In esoteric parlance, these realities are described in terms of bodies, or sheaths. A plant is distinct from a crystal because it has an extra kind of body which the mineral lacks. Humans have 4 kinds of bodies, animals 3, plants 2, and minerals only 1.
How Human Beings Are Constituted
The lowest body, common to all of these kingdoms of nature, but the only one which the mineral possesses, is called the physical body. Associate nothing else with this term but what has been said. A good way to visualize and isolate your conception of the physical body within human beings is to think about a corpse. Physical bodies in isolation are not alive. At death, the physical sheath withers and decomposes — precisely because the other three bodies have departed from it.
That body which we share in common with plants and animals (but not with minerals) is called the etheric body. It is the sheath which confers life. It is responsible for maintaining our form throughout our physical life, and it empowers physical growth, mediates nutrition, and so forth. Physical bodies in isolation cannot grow or change or live; they need an etheric body for that.
That body which we share in common with the animals only (but not with minerals or plants) is called the astral body. It is the sheath which confers sensation, feelings, liking and disliking — it is that component most closely associated to the term psyche. It is responsible for conferring upon us an inner life.
That body which we alone possess and makes us the crown of earthly creation is called the ‘I’. Of all the human sheaths it is the newest, the youngest in evolution. It is closely connected to occurrences of the phrase “I AM” in the Gospel of John. It is the cosmic purpose of present earthly conditions, and is still unfolding and undergoing development. Enough so that its mere existence is debated among intellectuals and even theologians. It confers upon us self-consciousness and the ability to perceive, and choose whether to act with, morality.
If you want to formulate an idea, or catch a glimpse, of your own I, try to observe its subtle background presence whenever you feel a moral intuition. Or even by trying to observe your own deep thinking. The chief difficulty is confusing it with aspects of the psyche, the soul. The I is beyond subjective and objective; it is a purely spiritual injection into the human being. Precisely because it is still coming into its own as an entity, not everyone will have an easy time of identifying it. (People who write poetry on WP are, I imagine, especially well situated to catch such a glimpse. Hunt the I within the deliberate process of searching and tasting for the right word, and in the judging of truth within language.)
These then are the descriptions of the four components of earthly human beings: the physical, the etheric, the astral, and the I. They interpenetrate and affect each other in complex and myriad ways, but this basic scheme is very helpful for considering human beings from a spiritual perspective.
Human Development Within Life
The four human sheaths have developed consecutively over ageless spans of cosmic evolution; the physical began first, though in a completely different form. This entire process is mirrored within every individual human lifetime.
During the first 7 years of the child’s life, the focus of all spiritual energies involved is upon the unfolding and elaborating of the human physical body. By the end of this period the inner organs have been basically formed and the structural plan of the body set and molded according to the needs and nature of the spirit inhabiting it.
During the period between ages 7 to 14, the focus of the entire organism shifts towards the elaborating of the etheric body. By age 14, maturity of the digestive and reproductive process have been achieved. The lifelong base temperament of the child is in evidence, for this is a manifestation of the etheric within humans.
It is interesting and important to note that by the time the etheric body has fully matured, in females about age 14 and in males perhaps a year or so older, the human organism is fully capable of reproducing its own kind. Sexual maturity, in terms of functionality, is completed and contributed fundamentally nothing from later phases of human development when the focus is upon the astral and the I.
Development and elaboration of the astral body, the psyche, takes place principally between the ages of 14-21. And after this comes a seven year period chiefly devoted to the unfolding and development of the I. By age 28 the human I is fully operative within the human being, and in females this can happen a year earlier or so. It is a saving grace of the human being that the I is free to develop itself for the rest of the earthly life, and also by exercising of its (the I) energies the further developing and refining of the astral body is also something freely obtainable for the duration of the human life.
In part this excess ‘free’ development is connected with the cultivation of virtues. But it is only a potential, not guaranteed. The human being is free to pursue further development along these lines or not — it is entirely self-directed after age 28, and this is another crucial differentiating element between humanity and the kingdom of animals.
Permanence and Impermanence – An Aside
Whatever the I wins for itself in terms of extra development during earthly existence is not subject to decay or extinction, as the physical corpse is. These qualities or capacities become part of the permanent nature of the I, and survive physical death, and will participate in a future incarnation.
The etheric and astral bodies of humans also survive physical death but they do not survive unchanged all the way until the following human incarnation. They gradually dissolve into the spiritual realms, the etheric first and more quickly, and then the astral. But a kind of extract is preserved of the astral especially, which is reunited with the I just before the subsequent incarnation.
This is primarily how karma is transmitted. It is utterly useless to try and think about karma within the confines and boundaries of a single lifetime. Too much is unknown and only confusion will result. The concentrated extract of the previous astral body contains the residue of all the passions and inclinations which the soul once exhibited — especially where these passions, sympathies, and antipathies affected other people. In sum they form a kind of karmic debt which unites with the I to influence the destinies of the coming lifetime.
People do not recall anything, in general, about previous lives precisely because the I is not yet sufficiently developed (it being the only portion of us which actually existed during the previous incarnation). However this is undergoing evolution as well, and by next incarnation many people will be alive who have memories and conceptions of their past live(s). This is connected with the ongoing deepening of the I.
The Fall From Paradise
But now let us circle back to the original theme of sin and morality. The four components of the human developed sequentially with the I being the newest. Therefore it stands to reason that an evolutionary phase existed when humans as yet only consisted of the first three kinds of body: physical, etheric, and astral.
This is not the same as saying that at that primeval age humans were animals, for at that time no I was yet in earthly existence, though it was part of the cosmic design and as such imprinted the three lower bodies in a characteristically human way. Humans were not yet awake individuals but lived in a kind of dream symbiosis with the spiritual realms. This is what is referred to in the Book of Genesis as Eden or paradise.
This is the moment when the higher being known as Lucifer, a kind of fallen or oppositional god, approached Man and exerted his influence upon human evolution. Basically the crux of Lucifer’s seduction was to deepen the human interest in the sensory realm and all that was connected to sense impressions upon the physical Earth — to the extent that humans intensely liked and intensely disliked certain of these impressions and came to seek out life events which accorded with these tastes or preferences. (I wont draw your attention much to the evident implications of this for sexuality.) This of course is symbolized Biblically by the tasting of the forbidden apple.
The original creating gods who gave form to the humans and blew individual life into their nostrils, known collectively as the Elohim and led by Jahve, sometimes rendered as Jehovah or Yahweh, did not plan for humanity to dip so deeply into the sensory aspect of Earthly life. Lucifer knew the implications of this and that men would over the course of generations become more individualized and more and more remotely connected with the spiritual realms — their origin. This gradual (over many generations) accustomizing of humanity to the earthly and alienation from the spiritual world is known as the Fall. Man became more and more identified with his lowest constituent: the physical body.
It is worth considering, before jumping to conclusions that you have a solid grasp upon good and evil in connection with Genesis, that Lucifer was given free reign to introduce this deformation against the Elohim. And by Whom? It can only have been granted by a still higher power. Thus you can well imagine that some good, some purpose, was mixed in, by design, to the de-spiritualization of humanity by Lucifer. This good has to do with the eventual development of human freedom. For at the stage where only the vision of the Elohim held sway, mankind was in paradise but unfree.
Two Kinds Of Sin
Now ask yourself, recalling what was said about lions and conscience and the I: was the tasting of the apple an immoral act?
The human being of the time of the Elohim in paradise was incapable of committing an evil sin. They simply possessed as yet no I, no real basis upon which to make judgements about morality.
But the human being of that epoch was also not quite like an animal of today, entirely free of the implications of immoral (objectively speaking) action. The Luciferic injection, and its acceptance, caused a certain abiding deformation within the then human astral body. The deepened interest in sensory impressions of the earthly surroundings marked an enchanted or mesmerized human subjectivity increasingly as generations wore on. And into this imperfect problematic chalice, the human I was now destined to descend.
Recall what was said about reproduction and the human etheric body: by age 14 it is fully ready to reproduce another human, and it receives absolutely nothing of subsequent relevance from the astral body as it undergoes its own elaboration later in life. In fact it is the opposite. What it receives from the astral body hinders it. The astral with its constantly surging passions and sensorial infatuations, complexities, and spiritual distraction, works as a muting or negative influence upon the relative spiritual purity of the etheric body — which still functions largely as divinely and miraculously ordained by the gods, conferring life in constancy and abundance.
This deformation increases with the generations over the ages. Ever so slightly, the initial astral pollution continues to weaken the etheric, because it is the etheric body which is the vehicle of heredity. This is Original Sin. It is independent of any I. It was well understood by the ancient Hebrews, for example, at least by their wise elders, and the concept very centrally figures into the entire Old Testament which is basically about the adventures of God’s covenant with one isolated group or tribe where the passing generations of their pure as possible etheric bodies (and also purifying astral bodies) was designed and destined to eventually permit the incarnation of a god, Christ, into a man, Jesus, at the Baptism by John in the river Jordan. (It was also well grasped by numerous other spiritual cultures and traditions of the ancient world.)
By contrast, impurities and deformations of character introduced into the human astral body due to acts of an individual I despite its conscience and moral perceptions constitute actual sins or immoralities. Depending on the extent, seriousness, selfishness, and disregard for other divinely incarnated humans in one’s sphere of influence, these acts can approach evilness.
Summarizing, we have two sources of deformation in the human being, one inherited as a kind of longterm karma of the entire species. It was sourced in the astral body but has the effect of gradually eroding and degenerating the human vitality over time. And the other an individually produced error or sin, originating with the human I even up to the present moment. This last type of sin introduces a new kind of deformation into the astral body of the individual, and is passed on via karma to future lives.
Since original or inherited sin is a species-wide issue now for every new human life, it represents an opportunity for brotherhood, compassion, and acceptance, which surprisingly can open us up to a kind of grace in dealing with it at an individual level. Humility can be inspired in us through the Christ example, a god who voluntarily underwent human life and death. The life portrayed in the gospels between the ages of 30-33 is the only instance in human history of a completely karma-free existence. Every deed performed in every second of that period of three years was a free deed of a higher being for the benefit of humanity. A completely uncompelled sacrifice. This goes far to suggest the route that can be taken by humans in the future to gradually redeem individual karma, and even take on the karma of others as an act of freedom and love. We are a little more than halfway through this period of earthly human evolution. Much more revelation will come if we work for being able to receive and understand it. Orthodoxy in religion tends to work against this, because it falsely puts forth dogma and portrays spiritual revelation as set in stone and unchanging from the past. But everything is living, evolving, in the spiritual reality, even the being of Christ. We must become more open. If we do not, worldly events will (continue to) take place which perform this function involuntarily for us.
Thank you for reading and thinking about this.
[ Image : Snippet from Rubens’ classic oil painting ‘Fall Of Man’ from 1615. Curiously, the animals and plants were contributed by the equally well-known master Jan Breughel (elder) ]
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