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The Nature of Thought


Annie Besant



THE nature of thought may be studied from two standpoints: from the side of consciousness, which is knowledge, or from the side of the form by which knowledge is obtained, the susceptibility of which to modifications makes possible the attainment of knowledge.


This possibility has led to the two extremes in philosophy, both of which we must avoid, because each ignores one side of manifested life. One regards everything as consciousness, ignoring the essentiality of form as conditioning consciousness, as making it possible.


The other regards everything as form, ignoring the fact that form can only exist by virtue of the life ensouling it. The form and the life, the matter and the spirit, the vehicle and the consciousness, are inseparable in manifestation, and are the indivisible aspects of THAT in which both inhere, THAT which is neither

consciousness nor its vehicle, but the ROOT of both.


A philosophy which tries to explain everything by the forms, ignoring the life, will find problems it is utterly unable to solve. A philosophy which tries to explain everything by the life, ignoring the forms, will find itself faced by dead walls which it cannot surmount.


The final word on this is that consciousness and its vehicles, life and form, spirit and matter, arc the temporary expressions of the two aspects of the one unconditioned Existence, which is not known save when manifested as the Root-Spirit—(called by the Hindus Pratyagatman), the abstract Being, the abstract Logos—whence all individual selves, and the Root-Matter (Mula-prakriti) whence all forms.


Whenever manifestation takes place this Root-Spirit gives birth to a triple consciousness, and this Root-Matter to a triple matter; beneath these is the One Reality, for ever incognisable by the conditioned consciousness. The flower sees not the root whence it grows, though all its life is drawn from it and without it it could not be.


The Self as Knower has as his characteristic function the mirroring within himself of the Not-Self. As a sensitive plate receives rays of light reflected from objects, and those rays cause modifications in the material on which they fall, so that images of the objects can be obtained, so is it with the Self in the aspect of knowledge towards everything external.


His vehicle is a sphere whereon the Self receives from the Not-Self the reflected rays of the One Self, causing to appear on the surface of this sphere images which are the reflections of that which is not himself.


The Knower does not know the things themselves in the earlier stages of his consciousness. He knows only the images produced in his vehicle by the action of the Not-Self on his responsive casing, the photographs of the external world.


Hence the mind, the vehicle of the Self as Knower, has been compared to a mirror, in which are seen the images of all objects placed before it.


We do not know the things themselves, but only the effect produced by them in our

consciousness; not the objects, but the images of the objects, are what we find

in the mind. As the mirror seems to have the objects within it, but those apparent objects are only images, illusions caused by the rays of light reflected from the objects, not the objects themselves; so does the mind, in its knowledge of the outer universe, know only the illusive images and not the things in themselves.


These images, made in the vehicle, arc perceived as objects by the Knower, and

this perception consists in his reproduction of them in himself. Now, the analogy of the mirror, and the use of the word " reflection " in the preceding paragraph, are a little misleading, for the mental image is a reproduction not a reflection of the object which causes it.


The matter of the mind is actually shaped into a likeness of the object presented to it, and this likeness, in its turn, is reproduced by the Knower. When he thus modifies himself into the likeness of an external object, he is said to know that object, but in the case we are considering that which he knows is only the image produced by the object in his vehicle, and not the object itself. And this image is not a perfect reproduction of the object, for a reason we shall see in the Creator of Illusion.


"But", it may be said, "will that be so ever? shall we never know the things in

themselves? " This brings us to the vital distinction between the consciousness

and the matter in which the consciousness is working, and by this we may find an

answer to that natural question of the human mind. When the consciousness by

long evolution has developed the power to reproduce within itself all that exists outside it, then the envelope of matter in which it has been working falls away, and the consciousness that is knowledge identifies its Self with all the Selves amid which it has been evolving, and sees as the Not-Self only the matter connected alike with all Selves severally.


That is the " Day be with us", the union which is the triumph of evolution, when consciousness knows itself and

others, and knows others as itself.


By sameness of nature perfect knowledge is

attained, and the Self realises that marvellous state where identity perishes

not and memory is not lost, but where separation finds its ending, and knower,

knowing, and knowledge are one.

It is this wondrous nature of the Self, who is evolving in us through knowledge

at the present time, that we have to study, in order to understand the nature of

thought, and it is necessary to see clearly the illusory side in order that we

may utilize the illusion to transcend it. So let us now study how Knowing—the relation

between the Knower and the Known—is established, and this will lead us to see

more clearly into the nature of thought.







There is one word, vibration, which is becoming more and more the keynote of

Western science, as it has long been that of the science of the East. Motion is the root of all. Life is motion; consciousness is motion. And that motion affecting matter is vibration. The One, the All, we think of as Changeless, either as Absolute Motion or as Motionless, since in One relative motion cannot be.


Only when there is differentiation, or parts, can we think of what we call motion, which is change of place in succession of time. When the One becomes the Many, then motion arises; it is health, consciousness, life, when rhythmic,

regular, as it is disease, unconsciousness, death, when without rhythm, irregular. For life and death are twin sisters, alike born of motion, which is manifestation.


Motion must needs appear when the One becomes the Many; since, when the

omnipresent appears as separate particles, infinite motion must represent omnipresence, or, otherwise put, must be its reflection or image in matter.


The essence of matter is separateness, as that of spirit is unity, and when the twain appear in the One, as cream in milk, the reflection of the omnipresence of that One in the multiplicity of matter is ceaseless and infinite motion.


Absolute motion'—the presence of every moving unit at every point of space at

every moment of time-—is identical with rest, being only rest looked at in another way, from the standpoint of matter instead of from that of spirit. From the standpoint of spirit there is always One, from that of matter there are

always Many.


This infinite motion appears as rnythmical movements, vibrations, in the matter

which manifests it, each Jiva, or separated unit of consciousness, being isolated by an enclosing wall of matter from all other Jivas. Each Jiva further becomes embodied, or clothed, in several garments of matter.


As these garments of matter vibrate, they communicate their vibrations to the matter surrounding

them, such matter becoming the medium wherein the vibrations are carried

outwards; and this medium, in turn, communicates the impulse of vibration to the enclosing garments of another Jiva, and thus sets that Jiva vibrating like the

first. In this series of vibrations—beginning in one Jiva, made in the body that

encircles it, sent on by the body to the medium around it, communicated by that

to another body,


There is no convenient English word for " a separated unit of consciousness "—" spirit " and " soul " connoting various peculiarities in different schools of thought. I shall therefore venture to use the name Jiva, instead of the clumsy " a separated unit of consciousness''.


and from that second body to the Jiva encircled by it—we have the chain of

vibrations whereby one knows another. The second knows the first because he

reproduces the first in himself, and thus experiences as he experiences. And yet

with a difference. For our second Jiva is already in a vibratory condition, and

his state of motion after receiving the impulse from the first is not a simple

repetition of that impulse, but acombination of his own original motion with that imposed on him from without, and hence is not a perfect reproduction. Similarities are obtained, ever closer and closer, but identity ever eludes us, so long as the garments remain.


This sequence of vibratory actions is often seen in nature. A flame is a centre of vibratory activity in ether, named by us heat; these vibrations or heat-waves, throw the surrounding ether into waves like unto themselves, and these throw the ether in a piece of iron lying near into similar waves, and its particles vibrate under their impulse, and so the iron becomes hot and a source of heat in its turn. So does a series of vibrations pass from one Jiva to another, and all beings are interlinked by this network of consciousness.


So again in physical nature we mark off different ranges of vibrations by different names, calling one set light, another heat, another electricity, another sound, and so on; yet all are of the same nature, all are modes of motion in ether, though they differ in rates of velocity and in the character of the waves.


Sound is also primarily an etheric vibration


Thoughts, Desires, and Actions, the active manifestations in matter of Knowledge, Will, and Energy, are all of the same nature, that is, are all made up of vibrations, but differ in their phenomena, because of the different character of the vibrations. There is a series of vibrations in a particular kind of matter and with a certain character, and these we call thought-vibrations.


Another series is spoken of as desire-vibrations, another series as action-vibrations. These names are descriptive of certain facts in nature. There is a certain kind of ether thrown

into vibration, and its vibrations affect our eyes; we call the motion light.


There is another far subtler ether thrown into vibrations which are perceived,

i.e., are responded to, by the mind, and we call that motion thought. We are

surrounded by matter of different densities and we name the motions in it as

they affect ourselves, are answered to by different organs of our gross or subtle bodies. We name " light " certain motions affecting the eye; we name " thought" certain motions affecting another organ, the mind. " Seeing" occurs when the light-ether is thrown into waves from an object to our eye; " thinking " occurs when the thought-ether is thrown into waves between an object and our mind. The one is not more—nor less—mysterious than the other.


In dealing with the mind we shall see that modifications in the arrangement of

its materials are caused by the impact of thought-waves, and that in concrete thinking we experience over again the original impacts from without.


The Knower finds his activity in these vibrations, and all to which they can

answer, that is, all that they can reproduce, is Knowledge.


The thought is a reproduction within the mind of the Knower of that which is not the Knower, is not the Self; it is a picture, caused by a combination of wave-motions, an image, quite literally.


A part of the Not-Self vibrates, and as the Knower vibrates in answer that part becomes the known; the matter quivering between them makes knowing possible by putting them into touch with each other.


Thus is the chain of Knower, Known, and Knowing established and maintained



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