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The Earth a living being? What the Mahatmas say

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(This article has also been posted under Theosophy > Theosophical Articles > Hierarchies)

Blavatsky spent many pages in both volumes of her Secret Doctrine commenting on scientific ideas of her day, and so did Gottfried de Purucker in his days. Efforts have also been made in a magazine like The Theosophical Forum, especially in the late forties when Arthur Conger was the chief editor, and in other places. Though speaking many decades ago, and reacting to the scientific impulses of their days, their commentaries always referred to universal themes, which are topical today as they were then. And we are probably far from having plumbed the depths of all that they have said and written. There is hardly a subject of interest for science, philosophy, religion or human welfare to which they have not referred. No doubt their works (and those of other Theosophical thinkers) contain an almost inexhaustible source of wealth, available for human evolution in the coming centuries.

The same could be done, and far more elaborately, by people who have enough knowledge of these matters, for physics, evolution theories, biochemistry and chemistry, astronomy, brain research, the question of life on other planets and in other solar systems, psychology, and also sciences such as indology, buddhology, mythology, archeology, anthropology, etc., etc., etc. But Theosophists must at all times avoid being superficial, vague or biased. There are so many interesting questions that can be discussed, many of which are very fundamental for present-day science.

An interesting development in biology is the arising of more holistic ideas concerning cooperation of life on earth as part of her processes. It was James Lovelock who presented what has become known as the Gaia hypothesis – the idea of the earth as a self-organizing organism-like entity. See for more about this the article Gaia on this site. And it was only a small step, which he did not oppose, at least not explicitly deny, to speak of Mother Earth as a living being. He found that the constants of temperature, oxygen, carbon-dioxide, ozone in the upper atmosphere, etc., were in fact regulated by micro-organisms in the oceans, in swamps, on continental flats and so forth. But one cannot expect these micro-organisms themselves to self-consciously have the broader picture of serving the entire earth. The next step is easily made: is the earth indeed a living organism, does it have intelligence, or are the processes guided by “something” that has an overview of the processes of the earth? Lovelock and others hastened to explain that their ideas were fully compatible with Darwinism. But are they? It is difficult to conclude whether something is a living organism if we have no clear picture of what life is. As theosophists we would certainly include the minerals of which the earth and our bodies are built among the living.

And another question: as far as the earth is concerned, are we and the plants and animals living on the earth, or are we together composing the earth? Is the earth a living organism, but not Mars or Venus? These questions have all been discussed in theosophical literature, recent and ancient, and there are answers which leave no doubt once one understands them. In the Mahatma Letters for example, we find a discussion of which aspects of the earth’s physical constitution are represented by the various kingdoms of nature. It says: “… The correspondence between a mother globe and her child man may be thus worked out. Both have their seven principles. In the Globe, the elementals (of which there are in all seven species) form (a) a gross body, (b) her fluidic double (liṅgaśarīram), (c) her life principle (jiva); (d) her fourth principle kāma rūpa is formed by her creative impulse working from centre to circumference; (e) her fifth principle (animal soul or Manas, physical intelligence) is embodied in the vegetable (in germ) and animal kingdoms; (f) her sixth principle (or spiritual soul, Buddhi) is man (g) and her seventh principle (ātma) is in a film of spiritualized ākāśa that surrounds her” (The Mahatma Letters, pp. 93, 94). This refers only to the subdivisions of the physical aspect of the earth. We, and the animals, and plants and elementals are the earth, we are not merely living on the earth. This, we may expect, applies equally to the other planets, visible or invisible, inside or outside the solar system. Also Blavatsky made the link between ourselves as living beings and the earth: “it is the spirit of the Earth in its triple unity that builds the physical body, attracting to it the Spirits of Life and forming his Liṅga Śarīra” (SD 2:241). “The earth and its Astral Light are as closely related to each other as the Body and its Liṅga Śarīra, the earth being the upādi of the Astral Light” (IGT 22, 171). “Upādi means that through which a force acts. The word ‘vehicle’ is sometimes used to convey the same idea. If ‘force’ be regarded as acting, ‘matter’ is the upādi through which it acts. Thus the Lower Manas is the upādi through which the Higher can work; the Liṅga Śarīra is the upādi through which prāṇa can work. The Sthūla-Śarīra is the upādi for all principles acting on the physical plane” (IGT 168*). This is, then, as true for the earth as it is for a human. “… the Astral Light is not a universally diffused stuff, but pertains to our earth and all other bodies of the system on the same plane of matter with it. Our Astral Light is, so to speak, the Liṅga-Śarīra of our earth; …” (BCW XII: 613 E. S. INSTRUCTION NO. III). This makes it completely acceptable that there are indeed forces that guide the processes of the earth globe as a whole, making use of all the various living beings that live in the sea, on land or in the air, though they themselves are probably as unaware of their task as the cells of our brains are unaware of the function they have for the human body and mind. Of course, science has at present knowledge of almost exclusively the physical forms of life, but no doubt the same is true for all those aspects of the living world that are not (yet) perceptible by our senses or instruments.

Everything that is connected with the earth, the visible and invisible, divine and elemental hosts of beings, the invisible globes referred to as A, B, C, E, F, G (or Z) etc., the peregrinating life-waves, the lokas and talas and their denizens, the vital streams of the solar system passing through the sun and along the globe chains of the visible and secret planets, is indeed very complex. What living being in the entire universe is not very complex?

Before we can fully answer the question of whether the earth is a living organism and what that means, we have to know all these theosophical subjects in sufficient detail. This is too much, at the moment, for science to grasp and accept, but perhaps we can give some indications to support the idea of a living entity and place this idea philosophically in a wider context, and in this way give some feeling of hope to those who feel already in their hearts that there exist greater truths. We may point out the Buddhist wisdom that there is no separateness, and that therefore there exists nothing that does not have the nature of all other things within it. That means that, if we humans have within our being, besides our physical principle, a life-force, intelligence, desire-principle and the ability to become at one with the divine, this must also be true for every other thing within the universe, including Mother Earth. Just as streams of vitality flow through every cell of our body, so must the same be true for the earth, the solar system or larger systems, or the infinitesimal world of the atom. Of course, every single being within infinitude has its own place, stage of evolution, grade of consciousness, svabhāva, and though identical in essence, no two beings, whether men or planets are identical in manifestation.

In this and other ways, I hope, if we act with wisdom and humility, we can help to widen the present views and open scientists’ eyes to the existence of a universal theosophic wisdom-philosophy that really makes sense.

Abbreviations and literature:

ML Trevor Barker, A.: The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena; also: Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett; in Chronological Sequenceby A. T. Barker/V. Hao Chin Jr., Theosophical Publishing House.

SD Blavatsky, Helena P.: The Secret Doctrine, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, 1988

BCW Blavatsky, Helena P.: Collected Writings, The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, 1991

IGT Spierenburg, Henk J.(comp. & ann.): The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky to her pupils (1890-91) (2nd, revised and enlarged edition), Point Loma Publications, San Diego, 1995