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What is Life?

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Introduction to Biology.[1]

As regards the question ‘what is life?’ the modern occidental world deviates very far from others. The gap between the occidental scientific axioms in this respect is so large that almost nobody dares to take the jump. To the western mind, including that of some of the most progressive biological thinkers of our days, life is conditioned by matter. Life can only exist (or manifest?) within a very narrow range of physical and chemical conditions. It can only arise where chemistry allows the formation of carbon-based organic structures, and at temperatures and pressures where (liquid) water can exist. Official research and speculation concerning extraterrestrial life directs its efforts toward planets, moons and meteorites which may answer these conditions. If such conditions are not met, life is thought impossible, at least at present. Therefore life on Mars or Venus is hardly expected, or at best life in a very primitive or rudimentary form. Other conditions we attach to the definition of life are procreation and active movement. This separates nature into two parts: living and nonliving, organic and inorganic, having DNA and not having DNA. Consequently, minerals do not live, because they don’t meet the requirements. Nevertheless, from a philosophical point of view, these conditions are quite arbitrary. Rather they are descriptive of what we wish to include in the living world and what not, in order to satisfy our dualistic mind-set. But what if we detach life as a principle from these arbitrary conditions? What would happen if we were to define life as the energy of conscious existence? There is no irrefutable argument to define a point where consciousness begins and unconsciousness ends. As humans we may lose waking consciousness and enter dream consciousness, but does that mean that consciousness itself is interrupted? Is consciousness defined by DNA? If so, do viruses, bacteriophages and mitochondria have consciousness, while other complex organic structures or inorganic crystals do not? Perhaps consciousness is a matter of graduation. The occidental division into life and non-life, consciousness and non-consciousness may be practical in daily society, but not very philosophical. If we discard this duality, we see life as a universal phenomenon which connects all things within it. Then the earth is alive, minerals are, the other planets of our or other solar systems are, and the sun, the stars and any other galactic structure. Even so-called dead matter is alive. Life is no longer a mysterious phenomenon, mystically born out of dead matter as a result of particular molecular arrangements, but is the omnipresent consciousness-force in everything. We are indeed a living universe. This idea is at least as philosophically acceptable as the contemporary predominant occidental view. Yet the consequences resulting from the view we choose are tremendous. It seems a choice between darkness and light, because if the view of the universality of life is accepted, the whole universe becomes a living phenomenon, and everything that is essential to life becomes universally valid.

The occult definition of life as expressed in modern theosophical literature is: “It is the ONE LIFE, eternal, invisible, yet Omnipresent, without beginning or end, yet periodical in its regular manifestations, between which periods reigns the dark mystery of non-Being; unconscious, yet absolute Consciousness; unrealizable, yet the one self-existing reality; truly, ‘a chaos to the sense, a Kosmos to the reason.’ Its one absolute attribute, which is ITSELF, eternal, ceaseless Motion, is called in esoteric parlance the ‘Great Breath,’ which is the perpetual motion of the universe, in the sense of limitless, ever-present SPACE. That which is motionless cannot be Divine. But then there is nothing in fact and reality absolutely motionless within the universal soul” (The Secret Doctrine (SD) Vol. 1 p. 2). Another theosophical work adds: “Life per se is conscious, substantial, spiritual force, manifesting in myriad ways as the various lives and as forms of energy, whether macrocosmic, microcosmic, or infinitesimal. Force and substance, or life, are essential aspects of universal reality which in its highest is termed cosmic life-substance-intelligence. As there is a vast scale of substance-forces existing in all-various degrees of ethereality, so ‘there is life per se, in individuals manifesting as a vital fluid belonging to each one such grade or stage or plane of material manifestation – and these vital fluids in their aggregate form what we may call the Universal Life, manifesting in appropriate form on any one plane and functioning therefore through the various matters of that plane’” (The Esoteric Tradition p. 431).

“Life as an entity or process is all that is, the basis or essence of all that is – beginningless and endless. It is the spiritual electricity, or the vital svabhāva, of the monad [immortal essence, jīva], which it pours forth out of itself and thus produces the individual characteristics of every entity, celestial or terrestrial. As the divine monad is a breath of pure spirit, pure consciousness, life may be called the innumerable manifold phases of consciousness in time and space. ‘Consciousness is the Originant, and this Originant by its own inherent powers and energies, faculties and attributes, produces life out of itself: not at any one time specifically, but continuously forever, and coincidentally with its own existing duration. Consciousness and life together originate and produce thereafter from themselves what men call the manifestations of force or energy, which in its turn deposits or lays down, so to say, the matters and substances of the Universe, much as wine will deposit its lees’” (ET 749 / Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary (ETG).

The term jīva is used for life or living soul in Hinduism and Jainism, especially when referring to the eternal essential living soul of each being. Prāṇa is the term used for the life as it manifests as streams of energy in each individual which withdraw at death, and pervade every cell or atom during life. Thus so-called life and death are but different phases of the eternal life of the jīva or living soul.

Another remarkable thing in the western mind is the almost absolute separation between certain scientific disciplines, the one utterly ignorant about the other. Here I especially refer to the separation between the physical sciences and parapsychology. Parapsychology has in the last few centuries delivered thousands and thousands of proofs of the existence of life after death, spooks, apparitions, spiritualistic phenomena, gnomes, elementals, remembrances of former lives, etc., etc. This science has made it impossible to sustain the belief that life is confined to physical structure. What if your grandfather can still appear and tell you sensible things after his corpse has decomposed? Parapsychology is not a part of the present dissertation, but seems to have sufficiently proven that life can exist without physical matter, and that some sensitive people can perceive such life-forms. So, is it impossible that people who stand closer to nature or are spiritually and psychically more receptive than most of us, have indeed gathered genuine and true information about invisible (non-physical) forms of life? We must take into consideration however that a lot of spiritual knowledge can not even be imagined by the minds of common people, and therefore is packed in a symbology that can be understood only when one is ready for it and the keys have been given. This symbology may take very different forms in different cultures, though the symbols may for each be entrances to the same worlds of reality. Of course I am referring to genuine knowledge, not to the humbug that is sold at the street corner, especially in the modern western society. So, perhaps there are life-forms on other planets, or on invisible planets or elsewhere in space. Detailed descriptions of such life-forms have been given in all corners of the world, including modern theosophy, and these details suggest that the approaches of such cultures have been scientific and can indeed be factually known, and that, if our own sciences become more open and spiritual, we too can know such worlds and learn what the forces and divinities of the universe really are.

  1. From: Global Philosophical and Ecological Concepts by Rudi Jansma, Publ. Motilal Banarsidass Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, India; 941 pp. (2 Vols.) ISBN: 978-81-208-3198-8 [<<]