The Physical Plane
Last revised: 6 August 2008
The Physical World
The Most Important Point in Physical Life is When We Turn from the World and Begin Withdrawing
The entire period of an incarnation is in reality occupied by the ego in first putting himself forth into matter, and then in drawing back again with the results of his effort. If the ordinary man were asked to draw a line symbolic of life, he would probably make it a straight one, beginning at birth and ending at death; but the theosophical student should rather represent the life as a great ellipse, starting from the ego on the higher mental level and returning to him. The line would descend into the lower part of the mental plane, and then into the astral.
A very small portion, comparatively, at the bottom of the ellipse, would be upon the physical plane, and the line would very soon re-ascend into the astral and mental planes. The physical life would therefore be represented only by that small portion of the curve lying below the line which indicated the boundary between the astral and physical planes, and birth and death would simply be the points at which the curve crossed that line - obviously by no means the most important points of the whole.
The real central point would clearly be that furthest removed from the ego - the turning point, as it were - what in astronomy we should call the aphelion. That is neither birth nor death, but should be a middle point in the physical life, when the force from the ego has expended its outward rush, and turns to begin the long process of withdrawal. Gradually his thoughts should turn upward, he cares less and less for merely physical matters, and eventually he drops the dense body altogether. His life on the astral plane commences, but during the whole of it the process of withdrawal continues.
The result of this is that as time passes he pays less and less attention to the lower matter of which counterparts of physical objects are composed, and is more and more occupied with that higher matter of which thought-forms are built - so far, that is, as thought-forms appear on the astral plane at all. So his life becomes more and more a life in a world of thought, and the counterpart of the world which he has left fades from his view, not that he has changed his location in space, but that his interest is shifting its centre. His desires still persist, and the forms surrounding him will be very largely the expression of these desires, and whether his life is one of happiness or discomfort will depend chiefly upon the nature of these. (Charles Leadbeater, LAD, 12-14.)
Our physical world consists of seven sub-planes or degrees of density of matter, but our sight enables us to perceive only two of these with anything approaching perfection. We can / usually see solid matter, if it is not too finely sub—divided; we can see a liquid that is not absolutely clear; but we cannot see gaseous matter at all under ordinary conditions, except in the rare instances in which it has an especially brilliant colour (as in the case of chlorine) or when it happens to be dense, to be much compressed, and to be moving in a particular way - as in the case of the air which may sometimes be seen rising from a heated road. Of the four etheric subdivisions of physical matter we remain absolutely unconscious so far as sight is concerned, although it is by means of the vibration of some of these ethers that what we call light is conveyed to the eye. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 28-9.)
The Physical Body: The Gross and Etheric Bodies
[The two elements of the physical body] are distinguishable by the materials of which they are composed into the gross body and the etheric double, the latter being the exact duplicate of the visible body, particle for particle, and the medium through which play all the electrical and vital currents on which the activity of the body depends. ... Also, the name etheric double exactly expresses the nature and constitution of the subtler portion of the physical body, and is thus significant and therefore easy to remember, as every name should be; it is "etheric" because made of ether, "double" because an exact duplicate of the gross body - its shadow, as it were. (Annie Besant, MHB, n.p.)