In talks and study classes presented by the United Lodge of Theosophists, one may sometimes encounter the expression “the permanent astral.” But what exactly does that refer to? The term “permanent astral” was itself coined by Robert Crosbie, the founder of the ULT, and one therefore never comes across it being used by H. P. Blavatsky or William Q. Judge, nor by any of the various Theosophical Society organisations. But the concept or principle itself is indeed found in the writings of HPB and WQJ, even if the exact phrase is not.
William Judge indicates that only a very few people have a permanent astral body. The majority just have the ordinary astral body or astral double, which begins to take shape at conception and disintegrates after death at the same rate as the physical body. The ordinary astral body can be read about here. We can read in WQJ’s notes for an occult novel in “Letters That Have Helped Me” (p. 250) about what he calls the two kinds of reincarnation:
“(a) Ordinary reincarnation in which there is no memory of the old personality, as the astral body is new; and:
“(b) Exception as to astral body; but similarity of conception to that of ordinary cases, where the child retains the old astral body and hence memory of old personality and acquaintance with old knowledge and dexterity.”
Then, in giving a brief account of one of his own former deaths and births, he says:
“He first strives for some lives ordinarily and then in one he grows old and wise, and sitting before a temple one day in Madura he dies slowly, and like a dissolving view he sees the adepts round him aiding him; also a small child which seems to be himself, and then thick darkness. He is born then in the usual way. Twice this is repeated, each time going through the womb but with the same astral body.”
Now let’s see Robert Crosbie’s four statements about the permanent astral in the book “Answers to Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy” where he makes the following explanations:
* “It is a body formed of astral substance during a life-time by the reincarnating ego; when so formed it remains with all its powers and functions as the astral form for succeeding lives. In ordinary cases, a new astral is projected for each birth, . . .” (p. 71)
* “The astral body is a transitory aspect of the substance of the Inner Man in all cases where the “personality” has not been reduced to a cipher as a basis for conscious action. The exceptions are where the being has formed a “permanent astral.” It may be conceived that the Masters have a permanent astral and something more, by which any kingdom of nature or state of matter may be contacted.” (p. 82)
* “The ordinary astral is constructed on the basis of the skandhas, while the permanent astral is constructed during life on the basis of the aspirations and self-induced efforts, out of astral substance, but not exactly of the earthly astral substance. If one building a permanent astral gives way to anger or evil feelings in any direction, he spoils his building, but the old skandhic astral body is left in full play. One with a permanent astral never has a Kamaloka, nor a Devachan, for he knows too much, and cannot be drawn into those conditions. Then he comes back, working not only with tendencies, but with aspirations, knowledge and effort, which are permanent.” (p. 168-169)
* “The “permanent astral” is formed during life from the elements belonging to the Real Man, the Ego. The ordinary astral is formed for each birth before conception. It is governed by the karma to be expended in the next life ensuing. . . . Only those who have arrived at a certain stage of development or initiation return to incarnation with a “permanent astral.” All others form a new astral for each incarnation. That is why they don’t bring the memory through; they haven’t established it on this plane. The permanent astral is the astral permeated, changed, refined by the fire of consciousness and thus made permanent.” (p. 248)
So one with a permanent astral doesn’t undergo the same processes and states after death as the average person but simply remains in their now permanent astral vehicle on higher planes, presumably functioning and working consciously until their Karma or the pressing needs of humanity compel them to once again take up residence in a physical body here on Earth. Crosbie associates the acquirement of a permanent astral with having reached “a certain stage of development or initiation.”
Sometimes Theosophists speak of William Judge’s article “Culture of Concentration” as describing how to build the permanent astral but in fact it does not or at least that is not what it is directly referring to. In the article, WQJ states that the cultivation of concentration in meditation and in daily life will eventually lead to being able to extricate one’s astral body, the Linga Sharira, from the physical body – instead of it being entirely enmeshed with the latter, as is the case for most people during life – and to start to function in it as a distinct vehicle of consciousness. But while all who are serious about their inner evolution must eventually pass through this stage, WQJ makes no mention there of such a development equating to having achieved a permanent astral body, nor to the extricated astral body being formed “from the elements belonging to the Real Man, the Ego.” But it’s true that such development will certainly have to be passed through at some point before one can ever hope to form a permanent astral.
The type of development of a permanent subtle form or body or vesture most frequently referred to in Theosophy is of what is called the Nirmanakaya. A footnote on p. 96 of the original 1889 edition of “The Voice of the Silence” reads:
“The three Buddhic bodies or forms are styled:-
“The first is that ethereal form which one would assume when leaving his physical he would appear in his astral body – having in addition all the knowledge of an Adept. The Bodhisattva develops it in himself as he proceeds on the Path. Having reached the goal and refused its fruition, he remains on Earth, as an Adept; and when he dies, instead of going into Nirvana, he remains in that glorious body he has woven for himself, invisible to uninitiated mankind, to watch over and protect it.”
Although “Nirmanakaya” is technically the name for the body or ethereal vesture of a Bodhisattva – being described on p. 42 as the “Bodhisattvic Body” – it’s also often used simply as a synonym for the Bodhisattva himself or herself. It can be seen that such beings – and Those who Theosophists call the Masters of Wisdom are such beings, whether incarnated or otherwise – have arrived at the attainment of unbroken continuity of consciousness. According to Theosophy, this is the true immortality.
Raghavan Iyer, who wrote many articles for a ULT magazine titled “Hermes” which he edited (published between 1975-1989 by the Santa Barbara Lodge of the ULT), felt that “permanent astral” was not the ideal term to use when describing the “Bodhisattvic Body” of the Nirmanakaya vesture. Robert Crosbie never actually directly equated the permanent astral with the Nirmanakaya body but one could well get the impression from what he said about the former that he was actually speaking of the latter, although as can be seen above, he commented “that the Masters have a permanent astral and something more.” Iyer felt that if one were to call the Nirmanakaya body a “permanent astral” it would be misleading and a loose usage of the term, since one could get the impression that sustained “aspirations and self-induced efforts” of a general kind are sufficient in themselves to somehow produce within oneself the “glorious body” (as HPB called it) of a Bodhisattva or that such sustained aspirations and efforts would somehow turn one’s Linga Sharira into the Bodhisattvic body.
Instead, said Iyer, a “permanent divine vesture or Buddha-body . . . is an exact replica of the inmost causal body of the perfected man. Certainly, a conception so central to mystical training cannot have a merely mechanical or external interpretation.” (“Transcendence and Transformation” article) He remarked at the same time that “The alchemical significance of . . . the seven hidden points [of the Pythagorean Tetraktys, illustrated in an article here] relates to the creation, through Deity Yoga of a permanent divine vesture or Buddha-body.”
This may well raise two questions. First, what is “the inmost causal body of the perfected man”? The term “causal body” (Karana Sharira in Sanskrit) is defined in a variety of different ways in the original Theosophical literature and sometimes seemingly contradictory and vague ways. The most precise, detailed, and esoteric explanations about it – albeit still unavoidably brief and cautious, perhaps indicating how sacred and esoteric a subject it really is – were given by HPB in her magazine “Lucifer” and can today be found on p. 205 of the book “Theosophical Articles and Notes”:
“. . . the Karana Sarira, or “causal body” of Eastern philosophy. It is the inseparable and coexistent vehicle of the Monad during the periods of manifestation, and is best described, as indicated by its name, as that in which inhere all the Karmic causes which have been generated by that “monad.”
“The exact relation of this causal or spiritual body to the Monad in Devachan has never been clearly explained in any Theosophical treatise. It would seem probable, however, that during the Devachanic state this vehicle undergoes a process of involution, by which it assimilates all the spiritual essence of the experiences passed through during the previous life.
“The spiritual body being co-existent with the Monad cannot die, but it would appear probable that the return to incarnation is caused by the termination of the process of involution just mentioned.”
So, according to Iyer, the Nirmanakaya vesture is derived from this – the causal body or Karana Sharira – rather than from that lower and far less spiritual part of us which we ordinarily call the astral body, namely the Linga Sharira.
And the second question: what is this “Deity Yoga” spoken of as the means by which the Bodhisattvic or Buddha-body of the Nirmanakaya is created and fashioned? The term “Deity Yoga” is in Sanskrit “Devatayoga” and is an important phrase and concept in Vajrayana Buddhism, i.e. Tibetan Buddhism. Deity Yoga was described by Tsong-Kha-Pa as the legitimate defining feature of the tantric side of Tibetan Buddhism, the tantric side not being originally intended for the average Buddhist but for those devoted Lamas who have pledged themselves irrevocably to the Bodhisattva Path of compassion, renunciation, and unending selfless service to humanity.
As explained elsewhere on this site, tantra in itself is not a bad word and does not automatically equate to sexual tantra but when it does, it is – in the view of the Theosophical Mahatmas and Teachers – a serious form of black magic, which should be avoided at all costs. (To explore this subject further, please see Gelugpas, Tantra & Theosophy: Resolving a Complex Puzzle.) While some Tibetan Buddhists, including among the Gelugpas founded by Tsong-Kha-Pa, have added sexual, questionable, and untheosophical components to their practice of Deity Yoga, at its purest core the practice is legitimate, Theosophical, and even found briefly referred to (albeit not by name) in such places as “The Voice of The Silence.”
In Tibetan Buddhism, the main element of Deity Yoga is a regular practice of meditation on a deity or Buddha of one’s choice, which one feels most strongly connected to (called in Sanskrit one’s Ishta-Devata) and this involves, most fundamentally, recitation of the appropriate mantras, visualisation of the deity, to the extent that one loses – during the practice – all consciousness of one’s own self and perceives nothing before one’s mind’s eye but the chosen deity as a living, powerful entity which is ultimately not separate from oneself, and meditation on the mandala that is known to represent or symbolise the deity’s Divine Body or Buddha-body – their permanent divine vesture in all its glory. Iyer’s article “The Forward Impulse,” along with an article titled “The Tanka” which also appeared in the magazine “Hermes,” cautioned people against attempting the practice of Deity Yoga as presented in Tibetan Buddhism, saying that it is not wise to do except under the guidance of an Initiate-Teacher and that the aspirant to chelaship (i.e. one aspiring to become a disciple of the Masters of Wisdom) will eventually be led to the true practice at the right time (which may not be in the present life) and in the right way.
But this does not mean that serious, devoted students of Theosophy who feel deep reverence and love for the Masters and Teachers of the Esoteric Philosophy cannot begin a safe form of Deity Yoga even now, should they so wish.
The essence of the practice is expressed on p. 16 of “The Voice of The Silence” (which H. P. Blavatsky translated from a still secret text of esoteric Buddhism known as the Book of The Golden Precepts) in these words: “Silence thy thoughts and fix thy whole attention on thy Master whom yet thou dost not see, but whom thou feelest.” In an explanatory note in the same book (p. 73) HPB defined what is called Dharana: “Dharana, is the intense and perfect concentration of the mind upon some one interior object, accompanied by complete abstraction from everything pertaining to the external Universe, or the world of the senses.”
William Judge also advised: “The image of the Master is the best protection against lower influences; think of the Master as a living man within you.” (“Letters That Have Helped Me” p. 164) Robert Crosbie echoed that advice in “The Friendly Philosopher” p. 96. In the article The Occult Life of B. P. Wadia we quoted the late Dallas Tenbroeck who mentioned that Bhavani Shankar had “a period which he spent in meditation and devotion with thought centered on HPB and the Masters [which] began at 4.00 a.m. and would continue for a period of 4 to 5 hours” every day. Interestingly, “Bhawani Shankar used at that time a special bell,” the use of a bell being also a component of the Tibetan Buddhist version of Deity Yoga. The Masters are technically not “deities,” however, and nor do They wish to be thought of as “gods,” but nonetheless They are Bodhisattvas, Buddhas of Compassion of various grades and degrees. Deity Yoga is very closely akin to Guru Yoga, another practice found in Tibetan Buddhism and taught by Tsong-Kha-Pa and others.
In his article “The Forward Impulse” Raghavan Iyer presents a safe and simplified practice of Deity Yoga which is still by no means “easy” or quick of accomplishment and nor is it actually necessary or essential in order for one to be a good student of Theosophy . . . but for those who are esoterically inclined and particularly devoted towards the Masters and who hold in their heart the aspiration of one day joining that Brotherhood of Bodhisattvas, the possessors of the Nirmanakaya vesture which goes hand in hand with full self-conscious immortality, it is presented here in case it may be found of value:
“The capacity to think constructively of oneself is intimately connected with the mysterious power of Kriyashakti, and is crucial to the gaining of self-conscious immortality. Without vainly attempting to pry into arcane mysteries, anyone may begin to draw upon this sovereign power through mystic meditation. One may take the sublime portrait of the Self-Governed Sage [i.e. the “word portrait” presented by Krishna in Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita and which is reproduced in the article The Theosophy of The Bhagavad Gita] – associating it, if one wishes, with an actual statue or picture – and think of the resplendent qualities of the Silent Sage, adoring and apprehending them, assimilating them in one’s heart and mind. Thus can one actively and deliberately undertake a subtle process of transformation in one’s own astral sphere.
“The true aim of this esoteric practice of self-transformation is to engender the priceless seed of bodhichitta [i.e. the term used in Mahayana Buddhism for the desire to become enlightened for the benefit of others], which in the bloom of enlightenment becomes the Self-Governed Sage. By meditating upon, by adoring, by even thinking of oneself in relation to the Self-Governed Sage – intensely, persistently and with unconditional will, heart and mind – one may gestate the embryonic Bodhisattva in oneself. So it is that in the Deity Yoga of Tibetan Buddhism, detailed rules for meditation and purification are given in relation to the meticulous consecration of the field, the mandala, the magnetic sphere and the central image upon which the rapturous meditation is based. All are integral parts of a systematic discipline which can only be helpful if used with the assured guidance of an accredited guru, with an authentic spiritual lineage (Guruparampara).
“In Deity Yoga, or indeed in any such arduous practice, it is vitally important to understand at some level the abstruse notion of voidness, of omnipresent Akashic Space. One must have the proven capacity, philosophically, to make real to oneself transcendental and absolute abstractions. As soon as one can do this, one becomes intensely aware of the tremendous richness, the unbounded potency, existing within metaphysical Space and also, therefore, within any enveloping matrix of ideation, even within one’s own imperfect vestures. As one gains this sacred awareness, one will become effortlessly able to bring down the ineffable light of intense concentrated adoration. This is an extremely high and difficult practice, and certainly much too sacred to be spoken about. But if one truly thinks about it, and truly determines to do it for the highest motives, there is no looking back.
“Until this point is reached, the neophyte must patiently engage in a long and arduous course of preparation, probation and purification, seeking to gain at least conceptual clarity with regard to the impersonal nature of inmost creativity.”
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