The Tree of Life
Theosophical Forum, June, 1899
“Rooted above, with branches downwards, stands the immemorial Tree of Life. This, verily, is called the Shining, the Eternal, the Immortal. In it are all worlds set, nor does any go beyond.”—Katha Upanishad.
“Learn now from me, concerning Hunger and Thirst. For a man hungers, as they say, the waters, verily, guide what is eaten by him; like as there are guides of cattle, guides of horses, guides of men, in the same way are the waters guides of what is eaten. This stands forth as an outgrowth; know, therefore, that is not without a root. And where would its root be, but in the Waters? Therefore, through Food as the outgrowth, seek its root, the Waters; and through the Waters as outgrowth, seek their root, the Radiance; and through the Radiance as outgrowth, seek its root in Being; for all creatures are rooted in Being, Being is their home, in Being are they set firm.
“And likewise when a man thirsts, as they say the Radiance guides what he drinks; like as there are leaders of cattle, leaders of horses, leaders of men, so is the Radiance the leader of the waters. This stands forth as an outgrowth; know, therefore, that it is not without a root. And where would the root be, but in the Radiance; therefore, through the waters as outgrowth, seek their root, the Radiance; and through the Radiance as outgrowth, seek its root in Being; for all creatures are rooted in Being, Being is their home, in Being are they set firm.
“And how these three powers, on entering into man, become each threefold, has been taught by me before. When man goes forth in death, Voice in him enters into Mind, Mind enters into Life, Life into Radiance, and Radiance into the higher Divinity. This Soul, verily, is the Self of all beings; it is the Real; it is the Self; that thou art, O Shvetaketu.”—Chhandogya Upanishad.
Man is the Tree of Life, rooted in the Eternal, and branching downwards through the three worlds. Measuring downwards from the Eternal, which is infinite Life itself, the highest of the three worlds is the causal world, the world of will and power, creative, above space and time, and therefore beginningless, endless. In the causal world is the first outgrowth of the Tree of Man: the causal self, with its celestial vesture, drawing its life directly from the one Life, and vividly touching and answering to all other selves.
The second outgrowth of the Tree of Life is in the second world, the world of the waters: the psychic realm of emotional and passionate life. Here, the psychic self falls under the dominion of time, though not yet of space; therefore all pure psychic energies are free from the bonds of space, though subject to time. The free psychic self can exercise all its powers across the wide deserts of space, as if space were not; space has no being for the psychic self.
The third outgrowth of the immemorial tree is in the lowest world, the world of sensation, of the natural body, of the physical man. And as sensations are contacts of surface, and surface means space, therefore this lower world is subject to space as well as time.
As the leaves of the tree gather sustenance from the air; drawing in material from the outer world, transforming it, and adding it to the substance of the tree; so the outermost growth of the tree of man, the physical body in the natural world, gathers material through sensations from the world around it, transforms it through emotional life, and adds it at last to man’s lasting possessions in the causal world. Sensations are the food in the fable; all that is drawn from the natural world, the whole body of sensations, is spoken of as food; while all that comes to us from psychic and emotional life is spoken of as drink, as our sustenance drawn from the waters. And as emotion takes up sensation, and weaves it into the psychic body of man, so the waters become the leaders and guides of food. As will guides emotion, the Radiance behind is the guide of the waters. Therefore, the symbolic food of regenerate man is imaged as sacramental bread and wine, transformed and instinct with life.
This is the symbol of the Tree of Life; ancient as man’s first paradise, and to be found again when he returns to his home, when the Tree shall bear twelve manner of fruit. While man is true to the symbol, it is well with him. If he fails, he is driven forth, and comes under the dominion of mighty fear. For the true man must perpetually draw his sustenance through the Radiance; derive the substance of his life, his sense of power and endurance, from his root in the Eternal; and only so long as life is flowing to him through his root, can his bodily and psychic outgrowths draw in and assimilate the substance of the outward world.
Man’s instant inspiration, in every act, in every bond, must come from his root in the Radiance, or he violates his law of life. When we seek the root of stability and power in the outer world, in a bulwark and barrier of material things, the sap is failing from our branches, and we are already under sentence of death. For the utmost material gains are hounded irrevocably by man’s mortality; the longer they have lasted, the nearer is the end. Therefore, the votaries of wealth are haunted by the inexorable spectre, drawing nearer and nearer, and the end is swift darkness and oblivion.
And it is part of the curse on falseness to life’s first law, that they who seek stability and power where they are not, never secure what they seek for a single faultless instant. There is always nature’s grinding mutation fighting against them, grimly certain to win. Nine parts in ten of man’s ambition are not material or sensual at all, but purely psychic, a matter of feeling, not sensation; therefore ambition brings us under the psychic law, insatiate and grasping personality, egotism thirsting and crying to be slaked, yet never satisfied, or possible to satisfy. For egotism prompts endless comparison with others, and no man ever excelled all men in all things. Even if we surpassed all the living, there are still the serene and mighty dead, challenging comparison, whom no man can excel. And as we rise in life, the dead rise with us, and we must measure ourselves against the best of all time. Therefore the hour this instinct of comparison enters life, that same hour peace leaves it.
Sensual life is under the sway of grinding mutation. perpetual building through dissolution. Psychic life is under egotism, ever comparing itself with others; whence come envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharity. Both are subject to death, and the shadow of death is on them. Over both hangs the black mantle of fear. As men grow away from pleasant and wholesome animal life, and its instinctive direct dealing with nature, they come under the realm of psychical law, under the sway of fear. And when many are fearful together, fear soon breaks into panic; one running makes the others run, all racing for an invisible goal, trampling each other down in the race. This is the Struggle for Life, which surges and rages around us,—no law of nature at all, but a wave sent forth into nature, from the fearful heart of man.
And all the misery of the struggle, where nine fail through weakness, for one who wins through strength, comes from this panic of fear; yet the victors are to be little envied, for they are doomed to struggle again among themselves, with the black garland of mortality waiting as the one certain prize for the victor among victors.
There is a cure for fear, and one cure only: once more to break through from the psychic world of emotion to the causal world of power; to rest in the Radiance, not in sensuality; to be strong in will, not in possessions doomed to waste away. It is only as every act flows from the world of will, rising clear and lucent in the Radiance, that man is man at all, a conscious worker in immortality. The first certain sign that a man’s life is flowing from this source, is the passing away of the evil genius of envy, of comparison with its miserable fruits. For he who lives creatively, from his genius, finds all things in him new, impossible of comparison with anything that has been before, or shall be after. Take the simplest instance: for thousands of years, the world’s singers have been adding line after line of true music and beauty to the great epic of man; yet the same line has never been written twice; all are individual and perfect. Nor did any true singer in his hour of inspiration ever feel, or dream of, comparison with others; singing in glad forgetfulness, in the fulness of his heart, intent only on his song.
Thus it should be, not with song only, but with every act and instinct of the will; always something new and unprecedented; for the living will of man is better than any of its works. Therefore, the way of escape from fear is this: at all hazards, and with high, indomitable valor, to break through the mind-woven barriers into the living world of will and power. Thereafter, the initiative of life will flow forth naturally from the highest, from the eternal and boundless sea of Life. Though still fighting, and battling valiantly with pure joy in the fight, the visible man stands aside in the battle; the Warrior is other than he; his unborn, deathless Self.
The Radiance glows in every heart of man. Nothing but pure faith in the Radiance, sterling fidelity, is needed to lead man back to his home. But faith and valor are treasures which grow, like the blue champaka flower, hardly elsewhere than in the gardens of heaven. So that the ancients fabled that only sons of Jove himself, high king of gods and men, could ever hope to win to the immortal world. For the seeming-valiant are often valiant from fear, running bravely to escape the pursuer behind them.
Every man is heir to conscious immortality, not in some future world shimmering along the rim of heaven, but here and now; for here, he is in the midst of the Eternal; even now he is in the heart of the everlasting. And finding our immortality, we find that sense of present and instant power, the want of which has made us miserable, driving us in our misery to make others wretched with us. It is for the man of valor to claim his heritage; the usurper is only his craven self; so by the Self, let him overcome the self, and win his crown.
When the well-springs of light and power are opened, all the long forgotten potencies of the will, the riches of heart and soul and understanding, begin to stir and open in the sunlight. There is no longer the question, what work we shall do; we ask now whether all time will be long enough for us to complete it, with the power we now have at command, and the fine perfection which has become our standard.
The work before us includes the transforming of the whole natural world, till it is instantly subject to our wills, ready to embody the secrets of the highest. We are destined to utmost conquest over all material powers. This splendid instinct of mastery drives men into right action even now, while they believe wrongly; for will is far wiser than thought. But our methods of material conquest are all short-sighted; our ponderous materialisms essay the conquest of space and time, but in a wrong and halting way. For the smallest liberation of psychic life from its material husk and vesture is a final conquest over space; the least infiltration of the Radiance is a final victory over time, for it makes man immortal, freeing him from time.