Matter

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Matter, in the Theosophical view, is a manifestation of the One Principle beyond the range and reach of thought, the Absolute. Matter, as well as spirit, are just aspects of this Principle, though they appear to our perception as being different:

Spirit, life and matter, are not natural principles existing independently of each other, but the effects of combinations produced by eternal motion in Space.[1]

General description

According to Mme. Blavatsky, what we call "matter" is the phenomena that appears to our consciousness, "substance" being its noumenon or cause:

In strict accuracy—to avoid confusion and mis-conception—the term “Matter” ought to be applied to the aggregate of objects of possible perception, and “Substance” to noumena; for inasmuch as the phenomena of our plane are the creation of the perceiving Ego—the modifications of its own subjectivity—all the “states of matter representing the aggregate of perceived objects” can have but a relative and purely phenomenal existence for the children of our plane. As the modern Idealists would say, the co-operation of Subject and Object results in the Sense-object or phenomenon.[2]

She explained that the occult concept of matter is not limited to what can be perceived on the physical plane:

Matter, to the Occultist, it must be remembered, is that totality of existences in the Kosmos, which falls within any of the planes of possible perception.[3]

Thus, in its ultimate nature, matter is not different from spirit. In one of his letters, Mahatma K.H. wrote to A. O. Hume:

The conception of matter and spirit as entirely distinct, and both eternal could certainly never have entered my head, however little I may know of them, for it is one of the elementary and fundamental doctrines of Occultism that the two are one, and are distinct but in their respective manifestations, and only in the limited perceptions of the world of senses.[4]
In the book of Kiu-te, Spirit is called the ultimate sublimation of matter, and matter the crystallization of spirit. And no better illustration could be afforded than in the very simple phenomenon of ice, water, vapour and the final dispersion of the latter, the phenomenon being reversed in its consecutive manifestations and called the Spirit falling into generation or matter.[5]

About this, W. Q. Judge wrote:

Theosophy postulates an eternal principle called the unknown . . . The perceived universe is the manifestation of this unknown, including spirit and matter, for Theosophy holds that those are but the two opposite poles of the one unknown principle. They coexist, are not separate nor separable from each other, or, as the Hindu scriptures say, there is no particle of matter without spirit, and no particle of spirit without matter.[6]

For this reason, matter in its essence (sometimes called "substance"), is seen as eternal. Mahatma K.H. wrote:

Matter we know to be eternal, i.e., having had no beginning (a) because matter is Nature herself (b) because that which cannot annihilate itself and is indestructible exists necessarily — and therefore it could not begin to be, nor can it cease to be (c) because the accumulated experience of countless ages, and that of exact science show to us matter (or nature) acting by her own peculiar energy, of which not an atom is ever in an absolute state of rest, and therefore it must have always existed, i.e., its materials ever changing form, combinations and properties, but its principles or elements being absolutely indestructible.[7]

Spirit (or life) and matter being the two aspects of the same principle, there is no matter without spirit (or life), and no spirit without matter of some kind. H. P. Blavatsky is reported to have said:

There is no dead matter. Every last atom is alive. It cannot be otherwise since every atom is itself fundamentally Absolute Being. Therefore there is no such thing as ‘spaces’ of Ether, or Akasha, or call it what you like, in which angels and elementals disport themselves like trout in water. That’s a common idea. The true idea shows every atom of substance no matter of what plane to be in itself a LIFE.[8]

Theosophy postulates the existence of different states of matter, from the highest cosmic matter down to the physical matter, forming seven planes "each more dense on the way down to the plane of our senses than its predecessor, the substance in all being the same only differing in degree."[9] All forms of matter are differentiations of a primordial one element, differentiation that is ultimately a māyā or illusion:

The homogeneous primordial Element is simple and single only on the terrestrial plane of consciousness and sensation, since matter, after all, is nothing else than the sequence of our own states of consciousness, and Spirit an idea of psychic intuition. Even on the next higher plane, that single element which is defined on our earth by current science, as the ultimate undecomposable constituent of some kind of matter, would be pronounced in the world of a higher spiritual perception as something very complex indeed.[10]

Differentiation of matter

The highest state of matter (many times referred to as "substance") is Mulaprakriti, variously called "primordial cosmic substance"[11], "undiferentiated cosmic substance"[12], Pre-cosmic substance, the root of matter, etc. During the manvantaric impulse it becomes svabhavat, and later akasha or the "cosmic substance". Further on this becomes cosmic matter, which differentiates into the different manifested planes.

The Stanza I.1 states that before the re-awakening of the universe the "eternal parent" was "wrapped in her ever invisible robes." According to Mme. Blavatsky, the robes refer to "the substance . . . on the seventh plane of matter counting upwards, or rather from without within."[13] These "robes," also referred to as "skins," are the germ for all the septenaries that will be manifested:

Q. What, then, are the seven layers of Space, for in the “Proem” we read about the “Seven-skinned Mother-Father”?
A. Plato and Hermes Trismegistus would have regarded this as the Divine Thought, and Aristotle would have viewed this “Mother-Father” as the “privation” of matter. It is that which will become the seven planes of being, commencing with the spiritual and passing through the psychic to the material plane. The seven planes of thought or the seven states of consciousness correspond to these planes. All these septenaries are symbolized by the seven Skins.[14]

The opposite process, that of coming back to the source substance, was described by Master K.H. in one of his letters as follows:

There is a moment in the existence of every molecule and atom of matter when, for one cause or another, the last spark of spirit or motion or life (call it by whatever name) is withdrawn, and in the same instant with the swiftness which surpasses that of the lightning glance of thought the atom or molecule or an aggregation of molecules is annihilated to return to its pristine purity of intra-cosmic matter. It is drawn to the mother fount with the velocity of a globule of quicksilver to the central mass.[15]

Physical matter

At the end of the nineteenth century, the atoms were thought to be like small, hard, indivisible, "balls" of matter, with no motion. In 1888, Mme. Blavatsky quotes Professor Philip Spiller who wrote that "no atom, is in itself originally endowed with force, but that every such atom is absolutely dead, and without any power to act at a distance". To this, she commented:

Occultism says that in all cases when matter appears inert, it is the most active. A wooden or a stone block is motionless and impenetrable to all intents and purposes. Nevertheless, and de facto, its particles are in ceaseless eternal vibration which is so rapid that to the physical eye the body seems absolutely devoid of motion; and the spacial distance between those particles in their vibratory motion is—considered from another plane of being and perception—as great as that which separates snow flakes or drops of rain. But to physical science this will be an absurdity.[16]

This was proved by Science in the following decades. In 1897, Physicist J. J. Thomson discovered the electron through his work on cathode rays, thus overturning the belief that atoms were indivisible. In 1909 it was suggested that most the atom's mass was concentrated in a nucleus at the center of it, with electrons fast-moving around. After the 1920's the radius of the atoms began to be measured and it was discovered that most of the atom's volume consisted of empty space.

Mme. Blavatsky also proposed that the atoms can be divided "ad infinitum", which makes them "simple centers of force", a concept very close to the current one in Science:

The atom is elastic, ergo, the atom is divisible, and must consist of particles, or of sub-atoms. And these sub-atoms? They are either non-elastic, and in such case they represent no dynamic importance, or, they are elastic also; and in that case, they, too, are subject to divisibility. And thus ad infinitum, But infinite divisibility of atoms resolves matter into simple centres of force, i.e., precludes the possibility of conceiving matter as an objective substance.[17]

Notes

  1. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 93b (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 317.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 329.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 514.
  4. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 90 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
  5. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 90 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
  6. William Quan Judge, Theosophy Generally Stated ??????
  7. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 88 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 272.
  8. Robert Bowen, Madame Blavatsky on How to Study Theosophy (Wheaton, Il: Theosophical Society in America, [1989?]), 9.
  9. William Quan Judge, Theosophy Generally Stated??????
  10. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1978), 542.
  11. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1979), 24.
  12. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 75.
  13. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 35.
  14. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 304.
  15. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 90 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 283.
  16. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), fn., 507-508.
  17. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 519.