Yet it is precisely this question which is the one fundamental
question of the central idea of life.
Science has chosen as its object a few manifestations that accompany
life; and mistaking2 the part
for the whole, called these manifestations the integral
total of life. . . .
The question inseparable from the idea of life is not whence
life, but how one should live that life:
and it is only by first starting with this question that one can
hope to approach some solution in the problem of existence.
The answer to the query "How are we to live?" appears
so simple to man that he esteems it hardly worth his while to
touch upon it.
. . . One must live the best way one can--that's
all. This seems at first sight very simple and well known
to all, but it is by far neither as simple nor as well
known as one may imagine. . . .
The idea of life appears to man in the beginning as a most simple
and self-evident business. First of all, it seems
to him that life is in himself, in his own body.
No sooner, however, does one commence his search
after that life, in any one given spot of the said
body, than one meets with difficulties. Life is
not in the hair, nor in the nails; neither is it
in the foot nor the arm, which may both be amputated;
it is not in the blood, it is not in the heart,
and it is not in the brain. It is everywhere and it is
nowhere. It comes to this: Life cannot be found
in any of its dwelling-places. Then man begins to look
for life in Time; and that, too, appears
at first a very easy matter. . . . Yet again, no
sooner has he started on his chase than he perceives that here
also the business is more complicated than he had thought.
Now, I have lived fifty-eight years, so says
my baptismal church record. But I know that out of these
fifty-eight years I slept over twenty. How then? have I
lived all these years, or have I not? Deduct the months
of my gestation, and those I passed in the arms of my nurse,
and shall we call this life, also? Again, out of
the remaining thirty-eight years, I know that a good half
of that time I slept while moving about; and thus,
I could no more say in this case, whether I lived during
that time or not. I may have lived a little, and
vegetated a little. Here again, one finds that in
time, as in the body, life is everywhere,
yet nowhere. And now the question naturally arises,
whence, then, that life which I can trace to nowhere?
Now--will I learn. . . . But it so happens that in this
direction also, what seemed to me so easy at first,
now seems impossible. I must have been searching for something
else, not for my life, assuredly. Therefore,
once we have to go in search of the whereabouts of life--if search
we have to--then it should be neither in space nor in time,
neither as cause nor effect, but as a something which I
cognize within myself as quite independent from Space,
time and causality.
That which remains to do now is to study self. But
how do I cognize life in myself?
This is how I cognize it. I know, to begin with,
that I live; and that I live wishing for myself everything
that is good, wishing this since I can remember myself,
to this day, and from morn till night. All that
lives outside of myself is important in my eyes, but only
in so far as it co-operates with the creation of that which is
productive of my welfare. The Universe is important
in my sight only because it can give me, pleasure.
Meanwhile, something else is bound up with this knowledge
in me of my existence. Inseparable from the life I feel,
is another cognition allied to it; namely, that
besides myself, I am surrounded with a whole world of living
creatures, possessed, as I am myself, of
the same instinctive realization of their exclusive lives;
and that all these creatures live for their own objects,
which objects are foreign to me; that those creatures do
not know, nor do they care to know, anything of
my pretensions to an exclusive life, and that all these
creatures, in order to achieve success in their objects,
are ready to annihilate me at any moment. But this is not
all. While watching the destruction of creatures similar
in all to myself, I also know that for me too, for
that precious ME in whom alone life is represented,
a very speedy and inevitable destruction is lying in wait.
It is as if there were two "I's" in man; it is
as if they could never live in peace together; it is as
if they were eternally struggling, and ever trying to expel
One "I" says, "I alone am living as one
should live, all the rest only seems to live. Therefore,
the whole raison d'être for the universe is in that
I may be made comfortable."
The other "I" replies, "The universe is
not for thee at all, but for its own aims and purposes,
and it cares little to know whether thou art happy or unhappy."
Life becomes a dreadful thing after this!
One "I" says, "I only want the gratification
of all my wants and desires, and that is why I need the
The other "I" replies, "All animal life
lives only for the gratification of its wants and desires.
It is the wants and desires of animals alone that are gratified
at the expense and detriment of other animals; hence the
ceaseless struggle between the animal species. Thou art
an animal, and therefore thou hast to struggle.
Yet, however successful in thy struggle, the rest
of the struggling creatures must sooner or later crush thee."
Still worse! life becomes still more dreadful. . . .
But the most terrible of all, that which includes in itself
the whole of the foregoing, is that:--
One "I" says, "I want to live, to
live for ever."
And that the other "I" replies, "Thou shalt
surely, perhaps in a few minutes, die; as
also shall die all those thou lovest, for thou and they
are destroying with every motion your lives, and thus approaching
ever nearer suffering, death, all that which thou
so hatest, and which thou fearest above anything else."
This is the worst of all. . . .
To change this condition is impossible. . . . One can avoid
moving, sleeping, eating, even breathing,
but one cannot escape from thinking. One thinks,
and that thought, my thought, is poisoning
every step in my life, as a personality.
No sooner has man commenced a conscious life than that consciousness
repeats to him incessantly without respite, over and over
the same thing again. "To live such life as you feel
and see in your past, the life lived by animals and many
men too, lived in that way, which made you
become what you are now--is no longer possible. Were you
to attempt doing so, you could never escape thereby the
struggle with all the world of creatures which live as you do--for
their personal objects; and then those creatures will inevitably
destroy you.". . .
To change this situation is impossible. There remains but
one thing to do, and that is always done by him who,
beginning to live, transfers his objects in life outside
of himself, and aims to reach them. . . . But,
however far he places them outside his personality, as
his mind gets clearer, none of these objects will satisfy
Bismarck, having united Germany, and now ruling
Europe--if his reason has only thrown any light upon the results
of his activity--must perceive, as much as his own cook
does who prepares a dinner that will be devoured in an hour's
time, the same unsolved contradiction between the vanity
and foolishness of all he has done, and the eternity and
reasonableness of that which exists for ever. If they only
think of it, each will see as clearly as the other;
firstly, that the preservation of the integrity
of Prince Bismarck's dinner, as well as that of powerful
Germany, is solely due: the preservation of the
former--to the police, and the preservation of the latter--to
the army; and that, so long only as both keep a
good watch. Because there are famished people who would
willingly eat the dinner, and nations which would fain
be as powerful as Germany. Secondly, that neither
Prince Bismarck's dinner, nor the might of the German Empire,
coincide with the aims and purposes of universal life,
but that they are in flagrant contradiction with them.
And thirdly, that as he who cooked the dinner, so
also the might of Germany, will both very soon die,
and that so shall perish, and as soon, both the
dinner and Germany. That which shall survive alone is the
Universe, which will never give one thought to either dinner
or Germany, least of all to those who have cooked them.
As the intellectual condition of man increases, he comes
to the idea that no happiness connected with his personality is
an achievement, but only a necessity. Personality
is only that incipient state from which begins life, and
the ultimate limit of life. . . .
Where, then, does life begin, and where does
it end, I may be asked? Where ends the night, and
where does day commence? Where, on the shore, ends
the domain of the sea, and where does the domain of land
There is day and there is night; there is land and there
is sea; there is life and there is no life.
Our life, ever since we became conscious of it,
is a pendulum-like motion between two limits.
One limit is, an absolute unconcern for the life of the
infinite Universe, an energy directed only toward the gratification
of one's own personality.
The other limit is a complete renunciation of that personality,
the greatest concern with the life of the infinite Universe,
in full accord with it, the transfer of all our desires
and good will from one's self, to that infinite Universe
and all the creatures outside of us.3
The nearer to the first limit, the less life and bliss,
the closer to the second, the more life and bliss.
Therefore, man is ever moving from one end to the other;
i.e., he lives. THIS
MOTION IS LIFE ITSELF.
And when I speak of life know that the idea of it is indissolubly
connected in my conceptions with that of conscious life.
No other life is known to me except conscious life, nor
can it be known to anyone else.
We call life, the life of animals, organic life.
But this is no life at all, only a certain state or condition
of life manifesting to us.
But what is this consciousness or mind, the exigencies
of which exclude personality and transfer the energy of man outside
of him and into that state which is conceived by us as the blissful
state of love?
What is conscious mind? Whatsoever we may be defining,
we have to define it with our conscious mind. Therefore,
with what shall we define mind? . . .
If we have to define all with our mind, it follows that
conscious mind cannot be defined. Yet all of us,
we not only know it, but it is the only thing which is
given to us to know undeniably. . . .
It is the same law as the law of life, of everything organic,
animal or vegetable, with that one difference that we see
the consummation of an intelligent law in the life of a plant.
But the law of conscious mind, to which we are subjected,
as the tree is subjected to its law, we see it not,
but fulfil it. . . .
We have settled that life is that which is not our life.
It is herein that lies hidden the root of error. Instead
of studying that life of which we are conscious within ourselves,
absolutely and exclusively--since we can know of nothing else--in
order to study it, we observe that which is devoid of the
most important factor and faculty of our life namely, intelligent
consciousness. By so doing, we act as a man who
attempts to study an object by its shadow or reflection does.
If we know that substantial particles are subjected during their
transformation to the activity of the organism; we know
it not because we have observed or studied it, but simply
because we possess a certain familiar organism united to us,
namely the organism of our animal, which is but too well
known to us as the material of our life; i.e.
that upon which we are called to work and to rule by subjecting
it to the law of reason. . . . No sooner has man lost faith
in life, no sooner has he transferred that life into that
which is no life, than he becomes wretched, and
sees death. . . . A man who conceives life such as he finds
it in his consciousness, knows neither misery, nor
death: for all the good in life for him is in the subjection
of his animal to the law of reason, to do which is not
only in his power, but takes place unavoidably in him.
The death of particles in the animal being, we know.
The death of animals and of man, as an animal, we
know; but we know nought about the death of conscious mind,
nor can we know anything of it, just because that conscious
mind is the very life itself. And Life can never
be Death. . . .
The animal lives an existence of bliss, neither seeing
nor knowing death, and dies without cognizing it.
Why then should man have received the gift of seeing and knowing
it, and why should death be so terrible to him that it
actually tortures his soul, often forcing him to kill himself
out of sheer fear of death? Why should it be so? Because the man
who sees death is a sick man, one who has broken the law
of his life, and lives no longer a conscious existence.
He has become an animal himself, an animal which also has
broken the law of life.
The life of man is an aspiration to bliss, and that which
he aspires to is given to him. The light lit in the soul
of man is bliss and life, and that light can never be darkness,
as there exists--verily there exists for man--only this solitary
light which burns within his soul.
We have translated this rather lengthy fragment from the Report
of Count Tolstoi's superb lecture, because it reads like
the echo of the finest teachings of the universal ethics of true
theosophy. His definition of life in its abstract sense,
and of the life every earnest Theosophist ought to follow,
each according to, and in the measure of, his natural
capacities--is the summary and the Alpha and the Omega of
practical psychic, if not spiritual life. There
are sentences in the lecture which, to the average theosophist,
will seem too hazy, and perhaps incomplete. Not
one will he find, however, which could be objected
to by the most exacting, practical occultist. It
may be called a treatise on the Alchemy of Soul. For that
"solitary" light in man, which burns for ever,
and can never be darkness in its intrinsic nature, though
the "animal" outside us may remain blind to it--is that
"Light" upon which the Neo-Platonists of the Alexandrian
school, and after them the Rosecroix and especially the
Alchemists, have written volumes, though to the
present day their true meaning is a dark mystery to most men.
True, Count Tolstoi is neither an Alexandrian nor a modern
theosophist; still less is he a Rosecroix or an Alchemist.
But that which the latter have concealed under the peculiar phraseology
of the Fire-philosophers, purposely confusing cosmic transmutations
with Spiritual Alchemy, all that is transferred by the
great Russian thinker from the realm of the metaphysical unto
the field of practical life. That which Schelling would
define as a realization of the identity of subject and object
in the man's inner Ego, that which mites and blends the
latter with the universal Soul--which is but the identity of subject
and object on a higher plane, or the unknown Deity--all
that Count Tolstoi has blended together without quitting the terrestrial
plane. He is one of those few elect who begin with
intuition and end with quasi-omniscience. It is
the transmutation of the baser metals--the animal mass--into
gold and silver, or the philosopher's stone, the
development and manifestation of man's higher SELF
which the Count has achieved. The alcahest of the
inferior Alchemist is the All-geist. the all-pervading
Divine Spirit of the higher Initiate; for Alchemy was,
and is, as very few know to this day, as much a
spiritual philosophy as it is a physical science. He who
knows nought of one, will never know much of the other.
Aristotle told it in so many words to his pupil, Alexander:
"It is not a stone," he said, of the philosopher's
stone. "It is in every man and in every
place, and at all seasons, and is called the
end of all philosophers," as the Vedanta
is the end of all philosophies.
To wind up this essay on the Science of Life, a
few words may be said of the eternal riddle propounded to mortals
by the Sphinx. To fail to solve the problem contained in
it, was to be doomed to sure death, as the Sphinx
of life devoured the unintuitional, who would live only
in their "animal." He who lives for Self,
and only for Self, will surely die,
as the higher "I" tells the lower "animal"
in the Lecture. The riddle has seven keys to it,
and the Count opens the mystery with one of the highest.
For, as the author on "Hermetic Philosophy" beautifully
expressed it: "The real mystery most familiar and,
at the same time, most unfamiliar to every man,
into which he must be initiated or perish as an atheist,
is himself. For him is the elixir of life, to
quaff which, before the discovery of the philosopher's
stone, is to drink the beverage of death, while
it confers on the adept and the epopt, the true
immortality. He may know truth as it really is--Aletheia,
the breath of God, or Life, the conscious mind
This is "the Alcahest which dissolves all things,"
and Count Tolstoi has well understood the riddle.
Lucifer, November, 1887
1 Or Life-origination, Life-fusion, Life-division,
Life-renewal and Life-transmission.
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2 "Mistaking" is an erroneous term to use.
The men of science know but too well that what they teach concerning
life is a materialistic fiction contradicted at every step by
logic and fact. In this particular question science is
abused, and made to serve personal hobbies and a determined
policy of crushing in humanity every spiritual aspiration and
thought. "Pretending to mistake" would
be more correct.--H.P.B
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3 This is what the Theosophists call "living
life"--in a nut-shell.--H.P.B.
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