The Adepts and Modern Science
The Path, August, 1893
Modern science is a bugbear for many a good Theosophist, causing him to hide his real opinions for fear they should conflict with science. But the latter is an unstable quantity, always shifting its ground, although never devoid of an overbearing assurance, even when it takes back what it had previously asserted. The views of scientific men have frequently been brought forward as a strong objection to the possibility of the existence of Adepts, Masters, Mahatmas, perfected men who have a complete knowledge of all that modern science is endeavoring to discover. Many trembling members of the Society, who do not doubt the Masters and their powers, would fain have those beings make their peace with science, so that the views of nature and man put forward by the Mahatmas might coincide with the ideas of modern investigators. It will be profitable to try to discover what is the attitude of the Adepts towards modern science.
The question was raised quite early in the history of the Society in the correspondence which Mr. Sinnett had with the Adept K.H. in India, and there is in the answers published by Mr. Sinnett in the Occult World enough to indicate clearly what is the attitude of such beings to modern science. That book will often have to be referred to in future years, because the letters given in its pages are valuable in more senses than has been thought; they ought to be studied by every member of the Society, and the ideas contained therein made a part of our mental furniture.
It is evident from the remarks made in the Occult World that the persons to whom the letters were written had a high respect for modern science; that they would have liked to see science convinced of the machinery of the occult Cosmos, with all that that implies; that they thought if modern scientific men could be convinced by extraordinary phenomena or otherwise about the Masters and Theosophy, very beneficial results to the Society would follow. There can be no doubt that if such a convincing were possible the results would have followed, but the hope of convincing our scientists seemed vain, because no way exists to alter the attitude of materialistic modern science except by a complete reform in its methods and theories. This would be a bringing back of ancient thought, and not agreeable to modern men. To pander in any way to science would be impossible to the Masters. They hold the position that if the rules and conclusions of nineteenth century science differ from those of the Lodge of the Brothers, then so much the worse for modern conclusions, as they must all be revised in the future. The radical difference between occult and modern materialistic science is that the former has philanthropy as its basis, whereas the latter has no such basis. Let us now see what can be discovered from the letters written by K.H. to Mr. Sinnett and another.
Mr. Sinnett writes,
The idea I had especially in my mind when I wrote the letter above referred to was that, of all tests of phenomena one could wish for, the best would be the production in our presence in India of a copy of the London Times of that day’s date. With such a piece of evidence in my hand, I argued, I would undertake to convert everybody in Simla who was capable of linking two ideas together, to a belief in the possibility of obtaining by occult agency physical results which were beyond the control of modern science.
To this he received a reply from K.H., who said:
Precisely because the test of the London newspaper would close the mouths of the sceptics it is inadmissible. See it in what light you will, the world is yet in its first stage of disenthralment, hence unprepared. . . . But as on the one hand science would find itself unable in its present state to account for the wonders given in its name, and on the other the ignorant masses would still be left to view the phenomenon in the light of a miracle, every one who would be thus made a witness to the occurrence would be thrown off his balance and the result would be deplorable.
In this is the first indication of the philanthropic basis, although later it is definitely stated. For here we see that the Adepts would not do that which might result in the mental confusion of so many persons as are included in “ignorant masses.” He then goes on to say:
Were we to accede to your desires, know you really what consequence would follow in the trail of success? The inexorable shadow which follows all human innovations moves on, yet few are they who are ever conscious of its approach and dangers. What are they then to expect who would offer to the world an innovation which, owing to human ignorance, if believed in will surely be attributed to those dark agencies that two-thirds of humanity believe in and dread as yet?
Here again we see that Adepts will not do that which, however agreeable to science, extraordinary and interesting in itself, might result in causing the masses once more to consider that they had proof of the agency of devils or other dreaded unseen beings. The object of the Adepts being to increase the knowledge of the greater number and to destroy dogmatism with superstition, they will not do that which would in any way tend to defeat what they have in view. In the letter quoted from, the Adept then goes on to show that the number of persons free from ignorant prejudice and religious bigotry is still very small. It is very true that such an extraordinary thing as the production of the Times in India across several thousand miles of ocean might convince even hundreds of scientific men of the possibility of this being done by a knowledge of law, but their belief would have but little effect on the immense masses of uneducated persons in the West who are still bound up in religious bigotry and prejudice. The Adept hints that “the inexorable shadow that follows all human innovations” would be a sudden blazing forth again of ignorant superstition among the masses, which, gaining force, and sweeping all other men along in the immense current thus generated, the very purpose of the phenomenon would then be negatived. On this the Adept writes a little further on,
As for human nature in general, it is the same now as it was a million years ago, prejudice based upon selfishness, a general unwillingness to give up an established order of things for new modes of life and thought—and occult study requires all that and much more—proud and stubborn resistance to truth if it but upsets the previous notion of things: such are the characteristics of the age. However successful, the danger would be growing proportionately with success,
that is, the danger would grow in proportion to the success of the phenomenon produced.
No choice would soon remain but to go on, ever crescendo, or to fall, in this endless struggle with prejudice and ignorance, killed by your own weapons. Test after test would be required and would have to be furnished; every subsequent phenomenon expected to be more marvelous than the preceding one. Your daily remark is that one cannot be expected to believe unless he becomes an eye-witness. Would the lifetime of a man suffice to satisfy the whole world of skeptics? . . . In common with many you blame us for our great secrecy. Yet we know something of human nature, for the experience of long centuries, aye of ages, has taught us. And we know that so long as science has anything to learn, and a shadow of religious dogmatism lingers in the hearts of the multitudes, the world’s prejudices have to be conquered step by step, not at a rush.
These simple remarks are philosophical, historically accurate, and perfectly true. All spiritualistic mediums know that their visitors require test after test. Even the dabbler in psychic matters is aware that his audience or his friends require a constant increase of phenomena and results, and every earnest student of occultism is aware of the fact that in his own circle there are fifty unbelievers to one believer, and that the believers require that they shall see the same thing over again that others report.
Proceeding with this matter to another letter, the Adept says:
We will be at cross purposes in our correspondence until it has been made entirely plain that occult science has its own methods of research as fixed and arbitrary as the methods of its antithesis, physical science, are in their way. If the latter has its dicta, so also has the former.
He then goes on to show that the person desiring to know their science must abide by their rules, and taking his correspondent as an illustration, he says:
You seek all this, and yet, as you say yourself, hitherto you have not found sufficient reasons to even give up your modes of life, directly hostile to such communication.
This means of course that scientific men as well as other inquirers must conform to the rules of occult science if they wish to know it, and must themselves change their modes of thought and action. He then goes on to analyze the motives of his correspondent, and these motives would be the same as those impelling science to investigate. They are described to be the desire to have positive proofs of forces in nature unknown to science, the hope to appropriate them, the wish to demonstrate their existence to some others in the West, the ability to contemplate future life as an objective reality built upon knowledge and not faith, and to learn the truth about the Lodge and the Brothers. These motives, he says, are selfish from the standpoint of the Adepts, and this again emphasizes the philanthropy behind occult science. The motives are selfish because, as he says:
The highest aspiration for the welfare of humanity become tainted with selfishness if in the mind of the philanthropist there lurks a shadow of a desire for self-benefit, or a tendency to do injustice, even where these exist unconsciously to himself. Yet you have ever discussed but to put down the idea of a universal brotherhood, questioned its usefulness, and advised to remodel the Theosophical Society on the principle of a college for the special study of occultism.
The Adept makes it very clear that such a proposition could not be entertained, showing once more that the Brotherhood, and not the study of secret laws of nature, is the real object the inner Lodge has in view. Brotherhood as an object is the highest philanthropy, and especially so when connected with science.
In another letter, written after consultation with much higher Adepts, who have never been mentioned and who are utterly unknown even to Theosophists, being too high to be encountered, he takes up the same subject, saying,
In conformity with exact science you define but one cosmic energy, and see no difference between the energy expended by the traveller who pushes aside the bush that obstructs his path and the scientific experimenter who expends an equal amount of energy in setting the pendulum in motion. We do; for we know there is a world of difference between the two. The one uselessly dissipates and scatters force; the other concentrates and stores it; and here please understand that I do not refer to the relative utility of the two, as one might imagine, but only to the fact that in the one case there is brute force flung out without any transmutation of that brute energy into the higher potential form of spiritual dynamics, and in the other there is just that. . . . Now for us poor unknown philanthropists no fact of either of these sciences is interesting except in the degree of its potentiality for moral results, and in the ratio of its usefulness to mankind. And what, in its proud isolation, can be more utterly indifferent to every one and everything, or more bound to nothing but the selfish requisites for its advancement, than this materialistic science of fact? May I ask, then, what have the laws of Faraday, Tyndall, or others to do with philanthropy in their abstract relations with humanity, viewed as an intelligent whole? What care they for man as an isolated atom of this great and harmonious whole, even though they may be sometimes of practical use to him? Cosmic energy is something eternal and incessant; matter is indestructible: and there stand the scientific facts. Doubt them and you are an ignoramus; deny them, a dangerous lunatic, a bigot: pretend to improve upon the theories, an impertinent charlatan. And yet even these scientific facts never suggested any proof to the world of experimenters that nature consciously prefers that matter should be indestructible under organic rather than inorganic forms, and that she works slowly but incessantly towards the realization of this object—the evolution of conscious life out of unconscious material. . . . Still less does exact science perceive that while the building ant, the busy bee, the nidifacient bird, accumulates each in its own humble way as much cosmic energy in its potential form as a Hayden, a Plato, or a ploughman turning his furrow. . . . The hunter who kills game for his pleasure or profit, the positivist who applies his intellect to proving that plus multiplied by plus equals minus, are wasting and scattering energy no less than the tiger which springs upon its prey. They all rob nature instead of enriching her, and will all in the degree of their intelligence find themselves accountable. . . . Exact experimental science has nothing to do with morality, virtue, philanthropy—therefore can make no claim upon our help until it blends itself with metaphysics. Being a cold classification of facts outside of man, and existing before and after him, her domain of usefulness ceases for us at the outer boundary of these facts; and whatever the inferences and results for humanity from the materials acquired by her method, she little cares. Therefore as our sphere lies entirely outside of hers,—as far as the path of Uranus is outside the earth’s,—we distinctly refuse to be broken on any wheel of her construction. . . . The truths and mysteries of Occultism constitute, indeed, a body of the highest spiritual importance, at once profound and practical for the world at-large, yet it is not as an addition to the tangled mass of theory or speculation that they are being given to you, but for their practical bearing on the interests of mankind.
We have in these extracts a clear outline of the exact position of the Adepts towards modern science, together with the statement of the reasons why they do not come forth by astounding phenomena to convince the world of their existence. The reason for the refusal is that the world is not ready, but is in such a condition that the end would be obstructed and damage be the result. Their attitude to modern science is that they accept the facts of science wherever they prove the truths of Occultism, but they consider modern science to be materialistic and also devoid of philanthropy. This we must admit to be the case, and as the student who has had experience in these matters knows for himself that the Adepts have the truth and possess a knowledge of nature’s laws, he approves of their refusing to come down to science and of their demand that science must rise to them. He also knows that in the course of the cycles the mass of men will have been educated and developed to such a position that a new school, at once religious and scientific, will have possession of the earth and rule among all men who possess civilization.