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The Web of Life 


 Annie Besant


MRS. BESANT gave an address elucidating some points in A Study in Consciousness, at 28 Albemarle Street, London, W. - 2nd July, 1905.


   TO-DAY we are going to study "The Web of Life" (page 70 of A Study in Consciousness) and the first thing we want to realize is of what this life-web consists. It is not sufficient to say that "it is of buddhic matter", as I wrote in the above mentioned book; these loose descriptions are not sufficient for the student.

   You know that when you think of the world and its Lord - ĪSHVARA, the LORD, the LOGOS, and Prakrti or Mūlaprakrti, that on which He works, Matter - you have to remember that between the two is a link spoken of by H.P.B. as Daiviprakrti, a name used in India for what is called by Swami Subba Rao "the Light of the LOGOS"; it is the outgoing energy of the LOGOS, that by which He works or "sports" in Matter; for the working is spoken of in Samskrit books as Līlā, which means sport; [1] the shaping of a world to that great Being is a delight, not a toil. Another word used for this link by H.P.B. is Fohat; Fohat is the relation between the LOGOS and the Matter of which He builds His Universe - the "Matter" taken in the highest sense. Where you think of the Matter as Mūlaprakrti, or the Root of Matter, then the energy which plays within it and on it is called Fohat. The same phrase is used in regard to any system in the Kosmos, because in relation to the system it is the root of its matter.

   Another word is sometimes used for this link - Prāna (pra, forth, ana, breath). Prāna has had in some of our books a very restricted significance. It has even been spoken of as though only a "principle" of man, confined to the physical plane. That, which is really an undue limiting of the Samskrit term, has been cleared away by H.P.B. in the Instructions, which appear at the end of vol. 5 of The Secret Doctrine, Adyar Edition. It is truly spoken of as being on all planes, the life-breath everywhere. Both definitions of Prāna, the universal and the more restricted, are true; it is quite fair to use the word Prāna for the life-breath in man, if the word is not restricted to that meaning, and if it is understood that it can also be used synonymously with Daiviprakrti, or Fohat. It is the out-breathing, the breathing forth, and it is as true for the whole [2] system as the out-breathing of the LOGOS, as it is true in miniature as the breath of man. It can be used in the restricted as well as in the universal sense, and it is necessary always to remember that if a definition is not complete it is not necessarily false, for at each stage there are correspondences, to which the same names are applied. Included under the meaning of the word Prana is the force of the LOGOS which shapes Matter; "I am Prāna", says Indra, speaking as Lord. It means that force of the LOGOS which, going forth from Him, plays upon the Matter which He shapes into a Universe. Wherever it is force on whatever plane, Prāna has always that characteristic of the shaper, the moulder, the life-giver; it means all forces in the Universe which are Life, the vital forces everywhere, and it is these which have to do with the shaping of Matter.  Prāna, then, means the aggregate of life-forces - vitality.

   Another word, Akāsha, is often used as the antithesis of Prāna, as that on which it works. In all systems of Yoga these two words - Prāna and Akāsha - are used to express the two aspects of the One Reality. We are dealing with these things from the standpoint of Yoga, so that it is quite right that we should use these words in that sense.

   I have to remind you of Prāna here because of its connection with the Life-Web, not only on the [3] physical plane but on all planes. If I call it the out-going energy of the Self, it would be a very good definition of it, for that includes all life-forces; what are they but the out-breath of the Self?

   The difference between that and the Will, which is its directing force, is that the Will is an internal change in consciousness, while Prāna is that energy which, directed by the Will, works on Matter, and brings about a certain result.

   For clearness, I use the Samskrit terms, for they are precise and accurate, whereas the English terms, adopted in endeavouring to utilize the thoughts of a metaphysical and philosophical people, are much less accurate. I shall use Ichchhā for Will, and Prāna in the sense defined, instead of speaking of Will and out-going energy.

   Let us now turn to the Web of Life (A Study in Consciousness, pp. 70-72). We have here a very brief and imperfect description of the Life-Web, for it is useless to give many details as to a fact that cannot be proved, and which is of more interest to the student than to an ordinary reader. We must amplify the description.  As here said, the web is of buddhic matter; but this web is ensheathed on each plane by a sheath composed of atoms of that plane, and when we deal with its functions the composition is important; we have a core of  [4] buddhic matter encased with three sheaths - mānasic, astral and physical - but only the atomic matter of each plane enters into these sheaths. The sheath on each plane has some of its ramifications, the finest, without any core of buddhic matter, and these become more numerous on each descending plane, thus being most numerous on the physical. After the death of each body the sheath belonging to its plane breaks up, as the buddhic core withdraws from it, and with its disintegration decay of that body sets in. The last part of it to break up is that in which the heart is built.

   The Life-Web has two chief functions. In the first place it is an organ or vehicle of the Ego-consciousness; it is the vehicle of Self-consciousness. Coming down from the Self, or rather from its reflection, the Spiritual Triad, composed of buddhic matter, we think of it then simply as a vehicle of consciousness, the Self working in the matter of the body.  Secondarily, the Life- Web in its ensheathed state is a vehicle for Prāna on every plane, for the aggregate of life-forces on every plane. So that you must look upon it in these two lights: first, as being pure and simple buddhic matter, a vehicle of consciousness - the highest consciousness; second, in its ensheathed state as the vehicle of the life-forces in their application to the matter of each plane - to the matter which composes the bodies - the matter [5] which is vitalized by Fohat and its differentiations. The word Fohat is not found in the Hindu cosmogony; its equivalent is Prāna. Keep these two ideas clearly in your mind: the purely buddhic life-web as the vehicle of consciousness; the sheaths of the life-web as the vehicle of the life-forces, or Prāna.

   Looking back at this in the endeavour to reach it in simpler forms than those in which it is found in man, I searched for it in the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. This is what one always does when one finds a complicated mechanism existing in man, because it is much easier to study it in its simpler forms.

   In A Study in Consciousness I spoke of it as in man, as a single thread which is a prolongation of the Sūtrātmā, and which forms an intricate network. I said nothing about the way in which previous branchings take place in, lower forms of life. In the stone it exists only as a thread, with slight indications of future branches; these, as we ascend from the mineral kingdom, show themselves as actual branchings. In the crystal indeed there is already a rudimentary branching that can be observed. In many of the minerals there are only very slight indications - nothing that can be called branching at all, but minute spots or bulgings, which, observed in more highly organized forms, [6] prove to be the places at which branches originate.

   In the vegetable kingdom you find that the branching is beginning, but nothing of the nature of a true web is present. There are separate branchings going out, but they do not anastomose; each branch remains distinct.

   In the animal kingdom the branching is more frequent, and the branches become more and more subdivided as the animal rises higher and higher in the scale of consciousness, and the sheaths, beyond the core of buddhic matter, do anastomose and form a web; in the animal man of the First, Second and first half of the Third Root Race you have a more complicated form than that which you find in the animal - the branching is very much more subdivided and the anastomosing more frequent, but even then the branchings of the buddhic core do not join into a web.

   In the middle of the Third Root Race, when the "Sons of Mind" came down on the physical plane, a true web is formed for the first time - a web of buddhic matter.  We may summarize these changes thus: in the stone the vehicle of consciousness is little developed, the sheaths of Prana are the prominent phenomena; in the vegetable, the Pranic sheaths are still the most prominent, but the inner core is more active; in the animal the two parts [7] are more balanced; while in the man, the inner is assuming predominance, and the predominance becomes more marked as intelligence progresses. The inner core of the Life-Web is the means of communication between the Spiritual Triad and the bodies, and, as more and more life is poured down, the inner core glows ever more radiantly with the pulsing fire.

   I have said - you will excuse the recapitulation, but I am anxious you should follow me closely - that where there is a pure buddhic web you have a vehicle of consciousness, and that the sheaths of this form the vehicle of Prāna on each plane. On each plane, as the thread comes down to secure a permanent atom, it is ensheathed in a secondary thread made up of the atoms of the plane - the Monadic Essence of the plane. No other part of the matter of the plane has a share in the making of these secondary threads which serve as the vehicle of Prāna on each plane. You have a secondary thread of mental atoms; one of astral atoms, and at last one of physical atoms, each surrounding and interpenetrating the lower; so that when you deal with the life-web on the physical plane it is a far more complex thing than the slight sketch in A Study in Consciousness would indicate.

   This sheathing of the core by the atoms on the different planes has much to do with the question [8] of the branching, and a few more details may be given.

  Let us begin with the physical plane. I could not see the buddhic life-web on this plane in my physical consciousness, talking as I am doing now. What I should see under these conditions as the Life-Web is not the buddhic core, but the atomic sheaths; it is that which is seen as developing itself in the way of branching and becoming a web. We have said that the thread is sheathed as it comes down, but it is only sheathed. The branching of the sheath, and also the branching of the web itself, begin on the physical plane, so that the thread may be still unbranched on the mental and astral planes, whilst it is widely branched on the physical plane.  In the man we find, of course, a complete web, core and sheaths, on the three planes, but we also find the appearance of that on the physical and astral planes in the animals, though when we examine closely we find there are no anastomoses of the core. The buddhic web is not as full and complete as the web of the sheaths, and the meshes are much wider; so that you get a much finer web made by the sheath, on the physical plane, supported by the larger web of the buddhic matter. If you would imagine a large net with wide meshes, and over that two other nets with meshes growing smaller and smaller, you would have a very fair materialistic picture of it, [9] and you would learn that this wider-meshed net might contain them all as does the buddhic web; but the meshes of the ensheathing threads become closer and closer with every descent.  A man's physical plane web is curiously close. In every mesh of it the Prāna plays. It follows every thread of the atomic sheath. The Prāna does not give to our physical plane consciousness, our ordinary waking consciousness, any consciousness of its flow along these channels. That does not enter into our waking consciousness; it makes part of the physical plane consciousness which does not enter into our waking consciousness, and is part of the "sub-conscious" of the psychologist. Physical consciousness it is, but not the waking consciousness man.

   In man the astral webbing of the buddhic core is also very complete, but it is not the same in all people. On the mental plane the webbing of the core has scarcely begun in some, though very complex in others; as said, it does not exist in the animal, where branches of the core, not a webbing, are found; a webbing only of the sheaths exists in the animal.

   In sleep the buddhic web does not withdraw from the physical body. The Sūtrātmā connects the physical plane web with the webs of the planes above, so that now you have a concept of these as [10] a web stretching down from the Spiritual Triad, sending but on each plane branches which either do or do not branch again on the various planes, and which either do or do not anastomose, according to the creature you are looking at. In the process, the thread as it descends, coils many times round the permanent atom before it begins to branch, and it is from various points in that coil that the branches come out, so that each web on each plane is connected in this way with its own permanent atom, the coils of the Sūtrātmā round the permanent atom giving the surface from which the web goes out.

   Let us, for a moment, return to a stone; we see the thread, but not branches; we see going out from the various points of the coiling a number of the atomic threads, giving a vehicle for the Prāna to hold the stone together. All the forces of attraction and cohesion are, of course, due to the Prāna and are life-forces. It was Prāna that H.P.B. was speaking about when she said that gravitation is only an aspect of a greater force. It is a part of Prāna, one of the modes of its manifestation.

   A connection of enormous importance is made, with the coming down of the "Sons of Mind", between the true permanent mānasic atom on the mental plane and the aggregation of mental matter which we usually term the mental unit. With Their coming a complete path is made for the play [11] of consciousness throughout the human mechanism. The consciousness from the Spiritual Triad now works down through the mānasic atom, and all that makes the web of life now passes through that.  At the earlier stage the mānasic atom was not included; the energy came from the Spiritual Triad, but without passing through the mānasic atom. From the time that man is man, it all comes down through the mānasic atom. What is technically termed the merging of the higher and the lower Manas simply means that it is no longer necessary to keep the permanent unit with a coil of the thread round it; the whole of its content has passed into the permanent atom, and then the web of the mānasic plane takes a similar relation to the mānasic plane as the web of the physical bears to the physical plane. The "merging" is the making of this change, so that it is no longer necessary to keep a special unit for the unification of the mental body. The mānasic atom is able to do all that is necessary.

   For a moment let us glance at death.  The secondary life-thread of the physical body is left behind; the buddhic web withdraws, leaving the secondary thread behind to disintegrate with the body. The buddhic web forms a cocoon round the permanent physical atom, and acts as a protective ensheathing to it. The atom is cut off during the [12] period between death and rebirth from all possible contact with the physical plane; it is isolated by this web, which makes round it an impenetrable magnetic field.  The same process takes place on the man leaving the astral plane; the astral web is left behind in the astral body, which then disintegrates, and the astral atom is similarly ensheathed.  The same thing happens when the mental body disintegrates. This makes that triple brilliant nucleus which has been so often spoken about.  In each case the function of the Life-Web is the same, viz., to protect the permanent atoms. Do not confuse that with the protection of Devachan, the protection which guards it from all sorrow; it has nothing to do with it. The whole mental body is in Devachan, and Devachan as a whole is a specially guarded area; we are here dealing only with the permanent atoms which are the centres of each body. The protection is for the permanent atoms when the body is to disintegrate, so that everything may be stored up and kept, and so that, when the Life-Web unfolds again, the permanent atoms may be rendered capable of their functions, and the shaping again of the atomic sheath may be made possible.

   There is this difference between sleep and death, that in sleep the whole Life-Web remains in the body, communicating with the remainder of itself [13] through the Sūtrātmā, whereas in death the sheath is left behind and disintegrates, lacking the support and binding force of the buddhic core. In trance, the buddhic core is largely withdrawn, and hence the awakening of the entranced subject is difficult.

   At death, the physical permanent atom escapes by way of the Sushumna Nādi, a passage which exists between the heart and the brain. (This is the secondary Sushumna Nādi, the primary being in the spinal cord.) The Sushumna Nādi is physical, but it is not likely that it will be discovered by anatomy, because it is not open except in certain conditions of Yoga and at the moment of death. It is a passage of which the walls are ordinarily closed, physical, but very minute.

   With regard to the relation of this Life-Web to the problem of multiplex personality, so much debated by psychologists, there appear to be three chief classes into which the cases of multiplex personality may be divided:

1. Possession by other entities (usually termed obsession if the entity is    evil, possession if he is good).

2. Physical traces of our own past, received by physical heredity.

3. A sort of psychometry. [14]

These classes are not likely to be exhaustive; we shall undoubtedly have to add to them later on; I simply make these three main classes, as a temporary scheme.

   1. First of all, as to possession by another personality, whether total or partial. Here we have cases in which another entity, functioning in the astral world, takes possession of the whole body of another, pushing out the rightful owner and usurping his place; sometimes only a part of the body is taken possession of like the arm in automatic writing, in cases where the brain is not affected.

   In this case, the buddhic cores of the webs of the two personalities come into touch with each other, so that there is a sharing of consciousness, and there will be the dominance of the one or the other as the intruding personality is able to overbear or push aside the buddhic web in the physical body concerned, or not; and the predominance of this second personality will be in proportion to its successful partial replacement of the buddhic web in connection with the cerebro-spinal system.

   Now this takes place where the physical Prānic currents are weak, which means where the sheath of the buddhic web in the physical body has, through some disorganization of the body, become broken, so that you practically get gaps in the sheath. In the ordinary person no such intrusion takes place, [15] because his sheathing is complete, and that in a sense guards the buddhic web, so far as consciousness is concerned. I do not quite understand why. It obviously offers no impediment to the action of buddhic matter. I can only tell you that the intermingling does not take place.

   The only suggestion I can make at present is that you not only have to do with buddhic matter, but with consciousness acting through buddhic matter, and that consciousness, apparently by something analogous to "attention" down here, identifies itself with its own appropriated buddhic matter, and not with that appropriated by another.  On the buddhic plane this is not so to the same extent. You there get intermingling of consciousness, with a remaining but very subtle sense of identity.  Down here the separation is made by the denser sheaths, as the sunbeams are separated if they shine into different earthen pots, though the light is all one. That attention of the consciousness is confined to its own buddhic web, and does not meddle with other people's buddhic web; in some way it is conscious of the intrusion of a sheath which does not belong, to it, and, knowingly or unknowingly, it rejects it.

   Suppose, however, that the sheathing is broken and that there are gaps in it - a thing which may come about very easily by various kinds of diseases or a general weakening - this means that the Prānic [16] supply is diminishing, and that the vehicles are suffering; then you get the possibility of another sheath pushing itself in and taking possession of the organism. Then the consciousness - the ordinary waking consciousness - would become the consciousness of the other person, whilst the original owner of the body would have lost for the time an effective vehicle. For we are only conscious, in our waking consciousness, of that which is contacted by the buddhic web of life. Where the buddhic consciousness is not in touch with the body, our consciousness is not active on the physical plane. For our waking consciousness has for its vehicle, so far as its content is concerned, this web, and it does not work on the physical plane without this web.

   The carrying-on of the life-processes is now done "automatically", i.e., under the habit which has been imposed upon the sheaths in which it travels by the constant working of Prāna. It can be retaken into consciousness by the exercise of Ichchhā. Consciousness can turn its attention to its sheaths, and their content will come into consciousness. Otherwise, not.  Hatha Yoga works on this line and regains conscious control of the Prānic currents along the sheaths.

   All cases, I think, of multiplex personality due to the taking possession by another entity will come under this general idea. This appears to be the [17] reason why they so often arise after a severe illness. The protective ensheathing being injured, an opening is made by which another can take possession of the mechanism.

   2. "Traces of our own past."  These play a large part in everybody; they are traces imprinted on the permanent atom - tendencies to vibrate in particular ways - and these may be made active by a repetition of the event to the recurrence of which they were originally due. This is not a case of the appearance of personalities which are markedly different.  I think the best illustration, perhaps, is the widely spread phenomenon among children of fear in the dark. That may indeed be caused from the astral plane, but with children that is rarely the case, for the child is a protected creature - he is guarded. So are older people, only they sometimes break-down the walls between the planes; but the child does not push into the other worlds, and yet most children have some fear in the dark. That fear is really physical, not astral, and it is physically inherited. It is very readily intelligible if you think of the physical continuity with previous forms we have inhabited, and if you remember that the life of the savage is subject to continual alarm, especially when darkness comes and hides the enemies that assail; in the dark he is constantly in a state of alert watching, because of the foes who choose [18] night for attack. Naturally the many lives of savage experience have left physical traces, which can readily be roused again. When they are aroused, it is chiefly by something from without that calls the attention of consciousness - as the mere fact of the dark. When that occurs there is a sudden springing up of the past picture. The impression such an upspringing gives to an observer is exactly the same sort of impression which you get when two electric poles are brought near enough to each other for a spark to flash between them. The poles approach; the spark flashes out. So in this case a picture suddenly springs up. It may be a picture of an attack in the dark of one savage on another; the spring of a wild beast; the cleaving of the night by a thunderbolt; fears, by the repetition of which a trace has been left in the permanent atom. The permanent atom, being stimulated by the mere fact of darkness, thrills a little in answer, and a picture is formed. Remember that all these pictures are ever present in the Ākāshic records; it is merely a question of the throwing out of one of these pictures by a thrill of association.

   3. That is very closely allied to the third class: "A sort of psychometry", with this difference, that in class 2, it comes out of our own past through physical heredity, through the permanent atom, [19] and in class 3, it comes from any past which we contact through an object that has been in that past. It may be an outer object, and we have then ordinary psychometry; or it may be an object which has come from the outside to form part of our body, and so seems no longer an outer object, though really outer to consciousness. Hence I use the phrase, a "sort of psychometry".

   We are always receiving these impulses from particles of our bodies, but normally we take no notice of them, their faint thrillings being over-borne by our own vivid consciousness. They come and go. Our body is built up of myriads of aggregations of matter, which have their own series of incidents through which they have gone in their past, incidents which belong to them, and from the content of their consciousness.

   Our bodies are made up of these endless separate personalities who build them up, and with whom our consciousness has nothing to do normally. But suppose that by something from without, contact with, say, a stone or any other object, or by some memory rising from within, there is a little reinforcement of energy directed towards the group of cells with which that contact or memory is connected, then that reinforcement causes a picture to be thrown out from the past of that little group of cells, a picture which belongs to it by virtue of its [20] own past. It is not that these pictures exist in -connection with the stone or with anything else the pictures exist in the Ākāsha. The stone is nothing more than a link, and when that comes into touch with you, affects you, a picture springs out by the contact. If it be a picture connected with the outer object, the psychometrist sees it as a picture; if it comes from an aggregate of cells in our own body, it appears as a memory and is ascribed to another personality.

  You must not think of the pictures as hanging round a thing, which happens rarely. In the case of a piece of marble from a pillar which has stood in a temple where ceremonies were going on continually, then indeed it is possible that the astral and mental particles might be affected; but the Ākāshic records do not hang around stones. Certain persons - psychometrists - can come into touch with these records by the consciousness being directed towards that link, and the contact causes a picture to spring out around the stone. It is the work of this same Life-Web, which comes into touch with the life-thread in the stone, and by that temporary reinforcement a picture is thrown up in the astral light. A great many of the slighter phases of "personalities" are of that nature - temporary stones in our own body - parts of others which have come into our own, and have brought [21] with them their own special threads of memory which may thus become ours.

   For the most part, in trying to psychometrize an object, the psychometrist will put it to some part of the body which is in close connection with the sympathetic nervous system, from which a little reinforcement of the Pranic forces is obtained some ganglion of the sympathetic nervous system - so as to cause a reaction upon the buddhic thread of consciousness.

   It would be by no means a bad plan for the student to take a psychological problem from some book and to work it out carefully, in order to see under what class it falls, or even to find out that there exists some other class, beyond these three. In that way the researches of the psychologists may be made useful to the student. He can try to work it out, and then have his result tested by some one who has direct vision.

   Remember that you can find out a good deal more than you usually do by fixing the mind steadily on the problem in question. If the consciousness is developed to the point of being able to put itself into touch with the fact, outside the body, it will be able to make an impression on your reasoning faculty which will guide you right to the fact. And without the slightest clairvoyance you may reach an accurate conclusion. For the [22] most part you very much over-estimate the value of psychic vision, and you might do far more than you do by the exercise of consciousness without the psychic organ. You need have no psychic vision in order to reach the solution of most of these problems, but it is necessary to set your consciousness working on the problem, to concentrate on it, and to draw it away from outside things while you are thus at work. You might then test your result, as I said, by submitting the solution to some one who has psychic senses at work.  But, as a matter of fact, the psychic senses, until they are very highly trained, are less trustworthy than the exercise of the reason, aided as it is from the higher planes, when you exclude the outer world and bend all your attention on the problem in hand.  Suppose you develop a sense organ on the astral plane, and have it working. It is the same consciousness which is to work in it that works on the physical plane. When you use your eyes and look at an object, you do not only see what the eye tells you; you put into your vision all the previous seeings and all the results of the reasonings on those seeings, and the whole of that is part of your actual perception. In beginning to use the astral eyes you have a set of previous perceptions which are physical, and none that are astral, so that you get a vague astral outline, filled in with a content of physical experience. [23] This is one of the fruitful sources of error for the untrained psychic, and yet it is one which is generally wholly ignored. I refer you on this to my article on the "Reality of the Unseen",* [*This article appeared under the title "Reality of the Invisible and the Actuality of the Unseen Words" and it was reprinted as "Adyar Pamphlet, No. 40."] which you will find in the August number of the Theosophical Review, and which I counsel you to read with care. 



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