by a Student
Chapter 2: Who is the Man?
The first question answered by theosophy, a question upon which all else depends, is: Who am I? If the answer: You are yourself, seems silly, that is only at first glance.
Nearly every one thinks of himself as identical with the body. Is this the case? If it is, any talk about the soul, or immortality, is necessarily absurd.
We use the body; command it; work with it and train it, all as we will. With it we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, employing each sense just as we choose. It is obviously an instrument at our disposal, a wonderfully complicated tool. Can it then be the man? Can a player be identical with his instrument, a carpenter with his hammer? Yet we habitually blind ourselves to the difference by saying I am ill, or growing old, forgetting that so far as we know, it is the body only, not the man, which is subject to these changes.
If then the man, the soul, is not identical with the body, it will be natural to ask what becomes of him when, as we say, he is unconscious, or asleep, or dead, when in old age his memory is gone, his mind childish once more, his limbs stiff or paralyzed. Surely we must admit that in these cases the man himself must have changed.
From this point of view it does look as if the man and his body were one and the same, since he seems to change with its changes. Let us go a step or two further and then come back.
All the waking hours we are conscious of a stream of thoughts. We cannot stop the stream, but we can generally direct it where we will. We can cause our thought to occupy itself with whatever we choose. We can stop thinking of any one thing and think of any other. It is not always easy, for the mind seems to be a living thing with wishes of its own; but it is always possible.
So for two reasons it seems clear that the mind is not the man. First because, like a restive horse it often opposes the wishes of its owner; and secondly, because the man can, if he uses will enough, turn it where he will as a carpenter turns a chisel. Yet again we must ask what becomes of the man when his mind becomes delirious in fever or childish in old age?
And then there are the feelings, emotions. These too go on all day. We are by turns happy or miserable, hopeful or despairing, irritated or calm, compassionate or resentful. But these too we can control, especially if we have practiced doing so. We can refuse to be miserable or ruffled; we can compel ourselves to be hopeful, compassionate, considerate. Feelings also have a life and persistency of their own and may object to being controlled. But as, with practice, we can do it, it seems that they also cannot be the man.
Having thus noted that mind and emotion are, or ought to be, both under the control of the soul, through his will, we note next that there is a limit to this control. Both need a healthy body for their perfect health, and if the body is fevered or very old, mind and feeling are likely to be dim and feeble, or even quite distorted, despite every effort of the will. We have no warrant for saying that the man necessarily varies with variations in his body; but we must say that to a very great extent the mind and emotions do. So far as they do not, it is because they are sustained and guided by the will.
This leads to the next point. However ill or old the body may be, however unresponsive to the man's will, and however dimmed may be the mind and feelings, the will itself and the man who uses it may be quite unchanged. We sometimes see that up to the very moment of death, the man may be using his will in its full strength. The results may be small; the stiffening lips may refuse to utter more than a few words, perhaps of love and encouragement to those about; but it is evident that whatever else is dying, the man and the will are not. Even at the very moment of death the eye may still be speaking its message. The man, the soul, and its will, are passing on in full consciousness. And the last gleam we get of that consciousness is often one of unchanged, unlessened love for those remaining behind.
So we have arrived at some answer to our question: What, or who, am I? Let us call I the soul, and read our answer thus: The soul, the I, the self, is that conscious power which dwells during life in the body, amidst the bodily feelings, amidst the emotions, capable of dominating them; using the mind and capable of dominating it; having for its instrument of control the will. So far as we can see, neither the soul, nor its will, nor its degree of love for those it leaves behind, are necessarily affected by illness or by death.
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