The Life Principle
H P Blavatsky
A FEW years back a very interesting controversy raged between several scientists of reputation. Some of these held that spontaneous generation was a fact in nature, whilst others proved the contrary; to the effect that, as far as experiments went, there was found to be biogenesis, or generation of life from previously existing life, and never the production of any form of life from non-living matter.
An erroneous assumption was made in the first instance that heat, equal to the boiling point of water, destroyed all life organisms; but by taking hermetically sealed vessels containing infusions, and subjecting them to such or a greater degree of heat, it was shown that living organisms did appear even after the application of so much heat. By more careful experiments, the following fact was brought to light, that spores of Bacteria, and other animalculae, which generally float in the air, can, when dry, withstand a greater degree of heat, and that when the experiments are made in optically pure air, no life ever appears, and the infusions never putrefy.
Along with the fact of biogenesis, we must note, however, Mr. Huxley's caution, when he says, "that with organic chemistry, molecular physics, and physiology yet in their infancy, and every day making prodigious strides, it would be the height of presumption for any man to say that the conditions under which matter assumes the qualities called vital, may not some day be artificially brought together"; and, again, "that as a matter not of proof, but of probability, if it were given me to look beyond the abyss of geologically recorded time, to the still more remote period, when the earth was passing through chemical and physical conditions which it can never see again, I should expect to be a witness of the evolution of living protoplasms from non-living matter." Tracing inorganic matter upwards to the form which approaches most nearly to vital organisms, we come to those complex substances called "colloids," which are something like the white of an egg, and form the last stage of the ascending line from inorganic matter to organic life.
Tracing life downwards we ultimately reach "protoplasm," called by Huxley "the physical basis of life," a colourless, jelly-like substance, absolutely homogeneous without parts or structure. Protoplasm is evidently the nearest approach of life to matter; and if life ever originated from atomic and molecular combinations, it was in this form.
Protoplasm in its substance is a nitrogenous carbon compound, differing only from other similar compounds of the albuminous family of colloid by the extremely complex composition of its atoms. Its peculiar qualities, including life, are not the result of any new and peculiar atom added to the known chemical compounds of the same family, but of the manner of grouping and motions of these e1ements.1 Life in its essence is manifested by the faculties of nutrition, sensation, movement, and reproduction, and every speck of protoplasm develops organisms which possess these faculties. The question has been asked whether this primitive speck of protoplasm can be artificially manufactured by chemical processes. Science has answered in the negative, as it knows as yet of no process by which any combination of inorganic matter could be vivified.
The law of evolution has now been satisfactorily proved to pervade the whole of the Universe, but there are several missing links, and, doubtless, the discoveries of modern science will in course of time bring many new facts to light on these obscure points which at present defy all search. Far more important than the question of the origin of species is the great problem of the development of life from what is looked upon as the inanimate mineral kingdom.
Every discovery of science, however limited it may be, affords food for thought, and enables us to understand how far we are to believe on the ground of observation and experiment, and how far we theorize in the right direction.
Science has not been able to prove the fact of "spontaneous generation" by
experiment, but the best of scientists think it safe to believe that there must have been spontaneous generation2 at one time. Thus far, scientific thought is in accord with esoteric teachings.
Occult philosophy has it, that motion, cosmic matter, duration, space, are
everywhere. Motion is the imperishable life, and is conscious or
unconscious, as the case may be. It exists as much during the active period of the Universe, as during Pralaya, or dissolution, when the unconscious life still maintains the matter it animates in sleepless and unceasing motion.
Life is ever present in the atom or matter, whether organic or inorganic--a
difference that occultists do not accept. When the life energy is active in
the atom, that atom is organic; when dormant or latent, the atom is inorganic.
The Jiva, or life principle, which animates man, beast, plant, and even a
mineral, is a form of force indestructible since this force is the one life, or animal mundi, the universal living soul, and since the various modes in which objective things appear to us in nature in their atomic aggregations, such as minerals, plants, animals, etc., are all the different forms or states in which this force manifests itself. Were it to become for one single instant inactive, say in a stone, the particles of the latter would lose instantly their cohesive property, and disintegrate as suddenly, though the force would still remain in each of its particles, but in a dormant state.
When the life force is disconnected with one set of atoms it becomes immediately attracted by others; but in doing so, it does not abandon entirely the first set, but only transfers its vis viva, or living power--the energy of motion--to another set. But because it manifests itself in the next set as what is called Kinetic energy, it does not follow that the first set is deprived of it altogether; for it is still in it, as potential energy, or life latent.
More than any other, the life principle in man is one with which we are most familiar, and yet are so hopelessly ignorant as to its nature. Matter and force are ever found allied. Matter without force, and force without matter, are inconceivable. In the mineral kingdom the universal life energy is one and unindividualized; it begins imperceptibly to differentiate in the vegetable kingdom, and from the lower animals to the higher animals, and man, the differentiation increases at every step in complex progression.
When once the life-principle has commenced to differentiate, and has become
sufficiently individualized, does it keep to organisms of the same kind, or does it after the death of one organism go and vivify an organism of another kind? For instance, after the death of a man, does the Kinetic energy which kept him alive up to a certain time go after death and attach itself to a protoplasmic speck of the human kind, or does it go and vivify some animal or vegetable germ?
After the death of a man, the energy of motion which vitalized his frame is said to be partly left in the particles of the dead body in a dormant state, while the main energy goes and unites itself with another set of atoms. Here a distinction is drawn between the dormant life left in the particles of the dead body and the remaining Kinetic energy, which passes off elsewhere to vivify another set of atoms. Is not the energy that becomes dormant6 life in the particles of the dead body a lower form of energy than the Kinetic energy, which passes off elsewhere; and although during the life of a man they appear mixed up together, are they not two distinct forms of energy, united only for the time being?
A student of occultism writes as follows:
Jiva, or the life-principle, is subtle super-sensuous matter, permeating the entire physical structure of the living being, and when it is separated from such structure life is said to be extinct. A particular set of conditions is necessary for its connection with an animal structure, and when those conditions are disturbed it is attracted by other bodies presenting suitable conditions.
Every atom has contained within it its own life, or force, and the various atoms which make up the physical frame always carry with them their own life wherever they travel. The human or animal life principle, however, which vitalizes the whole being, appears to be a progressed, differentiated, and individualized energy of motion, which seems to travel from organism to organism at each successive death. Is it really, as quoted above, "subtle super-sensuous matter," which is something distinct from the atoms that form the physical body?
(1) If so, it becomes a sort of a monad, and would be something akin to the higher human soul which transmigrates from body to body.
Another and more important question is:--Is the life-principle, or Jiva,
something different from the higher or spiritual soul? Some Hindoo Philosophers hold that these two principles are not distinct, but one and the same.
(2) To make the question plainer, it may be enquired whether occultism knows of cases in which human beings have been known to live quite separated from their spiritual soul?
(3) A correct comprehension of the nature, qualities, and mode of action of the principle, called "Jiva," is very essential for a proper understanding of the very first principles of Esoteric Science, and it is with a view to elicit further information from those who have kindly promised to give help to the Editors of LUCIFER on deep questions of the science, that this feeble attempt has been made to formulate a few questions which have been puzzling almost every student of Theosophy.
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