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The Writings of Alfred Percy Sinnett

Alfred Percy Sinnett

1840 -1921

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The Occult World


A P Sinnett


Preface to the American Edition

I VENTURE to think that this volume has acquired an importance that did not attach to it at first, now that subsequent experience has enabled me to follow it up with a more elaborate philosophical treatise. In the later work I have endeavored to set forth the general outlines of that knowledge concerning the higher mysteries of Nature which the following pages describe as possessed by the Indian " Mahatmas," or Adept Brothers. To that later work the reader whose attention may be arrested by the story told here must of course be referred ; but meanwhile, the present introduction to the subject may be recommended to public notice now in a more confident tone than that which I was justified in taking up when it was first put forward. At that time the experiences I felt impelled to relate embodied no absolute promise of the systematic teaching accorded to me afterwards. Certainly those experiences in themselves appeared to me to claim telling. They seemed by far too remarkable to be left buried unfruitfully in the consciousness of the few persons concerned with them. It was true they elucidated no great principles of science; they merely suggested that for some of the abnormal phenomena which have arrested public attention during the last few years a more scientific explanation than those usually assigned might be possible. They afforded, if not absolute proof, at least an overwhelming assumption, that living men might actually develop faculties qualified to operate freely on that superior plane of Nature beyond the reach of the physical senses which, had been generally supposed accessible only to the spirits of the dead. But all was still shadowy and ill-defined. The story I had to tell revealed a magnificent possibility rather than a definite prospect. It would still, perhaps, have been an interesting story, even if the curtain had gone down upon the situation as I left it when these pages were first put together, but it would have been nothing then, compared to what it has since become.

Now the position in which the subject stands has altogether changed. The tentative communications addressed to me by my Mahatma correspondent in the first instance have paved the way for a long series of still more instructive and valuable letters. Assisted in other ways as well, my comprehension of occult philosophy advanced so far during the two years following the first appearance of this volume, that I was enabled to publish a more important statement, defining the outlines of that teaching, and exhibiting in a connected and intelligible shape the great esoteric theory of human evolution on this earth ( and of the cosmogony on which it depends) with which the Adepts deal. The opening which presented itself to me in 1880 proved, in fact, no passing adventure, but the beginning of a new intellectual life. Attracted to it as I was at the time, I was certainly far then from divining the magnitude of the results destined to flow from it. But now that the proportions of the revelation I have thus been happily instrumental in procuring for the service of my readers have become apparent, I revert to the introductory episode of the undertaking with the certain assurance that I shall be engaging no one who will spare me his attention in any waste of time.

I am bold enough to say this because the Mahatmas, or great philosophical teachers of Asia, into some relations with whom I was enabled to come under the circumstances described in the following narrative, have now surrendered to the outer world so much of the spiritual science they have hitherto jealously guarded, that the whole framework of their stupendous doctrine has grown intelligible. Fragments of esoteric truth- of that science of superphysical nature which the Adepts explore- have been thrown out into the world at large from time to time before now, but in puzzling and unattractive disguises. The esoteric doctrine is no new system of belief, but, on the contrary, can be discerned now as lurking in a good deal of old Kabalistic and Oriental literature, that very few ordinary readers could have made sense of without the help of the keys now put in their hands. But now at last the subject has emerged into the clear daylight of modern thinking, and the central principle of the sublime esoteric doctrine stands plainly revealed as one which harmonizes in absolute perfection with the preparatory conceptions of Nature that have been derived by physical science from the observation and reflection of the current century. Biology is the latest, and, in some respects, the greatest of the physical sciences ; and as the corollary, the complement, the crown of the science of Life, we are now furnished, by the teaching that has come to us from the East, with the science of spiritual evolution. Without this it may now be seen by those who appreciate the necessity of this doctrine, -the manifest, inherent self-evidence of it when it is once fairly understood, -without it, the doctrine of physical evolution is a libel on Nature, a caricature of her grandest purposes. The great idea to which I am now referring exhibits the human soul as a continuous entity, subject to an individual evolution of vast duration, and developing on the spiritual plane of existence, as a result of its successive returns to Earth life. Mounting always upward, it has passed through the lower manifestations of the animal kingdom, and can never again revert to them; but as regards the future, it will not merely pass through a purposeless succession of human lives like those going on around us. It will advance and expand in its individual progress towards perfection, pari passu with that general improvement of physical types on Earth which is still going forward, though the short views of human nature afforded us by mere historic observation may not render this process of improvement as perceptible to uninitiated intelligence as it becomes to the psychic discernment of the Adept.

To comprehend the way the work goes on, we have to contemplate the operations of Nature on other planes besides those cognizable to the physical senses. And it soon becomes apparent that the physical life of the Earth is only one process of the long series over which the evolution of humanity extends. But -and this is one of the most admirably scientific and ethically beautiful of the ideas brought out by occult study -the physical life of the Earth is shown to be no incoherent episode in the experiences of a human soul, no futile incident in the course of a spiritual evolution, the major portion of which is accomplished in higher spheres of being. It is inseparably blended along its whole course with the spiritual growth of the soul. The Earth is shown to be no cosmic railway carriage which we enter for the purpose of accomplishing a more or less laborious journey, and the discomforts of which we may carelessly forget when we are able to jump out of it on reaching our destination. It is the home of our race for a long time to come, if not for eternity, and it is our interest, as well as our duty, to embellish and improve and ennoble it. " In my Father's house," says the old symbolical text, " are many mansions," and in this planetary house of humanity there are many more states of existence than the physical state. Some of these states may be far more enjoyable, for that matter, than the physical state as this is at present; and the esoteric doctrine shows us that the duration of the higher spiritual states, when each individual Ego passes each time into these, is enormously more prolonged than its physical states, but both kinds of existence are equally necessary in the whole scheme of things.

All these views, and the vast mass of explanatory detail which has since been furnished to the inquirers of the Theosophical Society , were still undeveloped for those of us who were pursuing the clue afforded by my experiences of 1880, when the present book was written. But I refer to them here because I want very briefly to indicate the direction which our later inquiries took when, our attention having been arrested by the strange and startling phenomena here described, it dawned upon us by degrees that the intellectual instruction the Mahatmas could give us, if they would, would be enormously more interesting than even the exhibition of their abnormal powers. The same considerations I hope will follow in due order, in the case of readers whom this volume may have the good fortune to attract. It has been sometimes argued in my hearing that it would have been better if the authors of this great new movement of spiritual thought -new for us, though so old in one sense -which theosophy embodies had furnished us with the results of their philosophical thinking without impairing the pure dignity of that exalted scheme by mingling it in the first instance with sensational displays of thaumaturgic skill. I am not inclined myself to quarrel with the order in which events were actually unfolded, Miracles, it is quite true, are illogical guarantees for theological dogma; but the manifest possession of great faculties and powers in other planes of Nature than those on which ordinary conclusions concerning her processes are formed, does certainly afford a presumption that persons so endowed may gather observations on those higher planes which it is well worth our while to correlate with our own. Meanwhile I do not put forward the narrative of occult phenomena, of which this volume largely consists, as a statement which in itself constitutes a foundation for the very stupendous edifice of doctrines which later opportunities enabled me to construct. But I know that the experiences I record in this book were neither futile nor fruitless in their effects on my own development; and in anticipation of events that may contribute in no small degree, in a near future, to give a great impetus to theosophic speculation in America, I venture to recommend this book with special urgency to the American public, in the hope that a reflection on their minds of the influence produced on my own, by the incidents described, may serve to attract a good many fresh explorers into the paths of study and meditation, in which I believe myself to have gained such inestimable advantage.

I have not found much to alter in the original text of this book, though I am glad to, take advantage of this opportunity to append some notes here and there, and amplify some passages. But important additions to its contents have been made from time to time, and now especially I am anxious to call the attention of American readers to the latest of these, which will be found in an appendix. It is possible that in America some persons, to whom the existence of theosophy as a new school of thought is not altogether strange, may have heard of it especially in connection with a correspondence which has attracted a good deal of attention in the spiritualistic press. The discussion to which I refer has borne reference to a manifest identity of language traced between a certain passage in one of my Mahatma teacher's letters and a similar passage in an address delivered a few years ago by an American lecturer. The explanation I am now enabled to give of the curious circumstances under which this state of things arose, constitutes in itself, I venture to think, not merely a complete refutation of some unfriendly theories which were started to account for it, but also affords a very interesting contribution to our acquaintanceship with the ways and faculties of the Mahatmas.





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