The Hard Lesson We Can Learn
From Widespread Disease and Suffering
Steven H. Levy
“Astral Light – The invisible region that surrounds our globe, as
it does every other, and corresponding as the second Principle of
Kosmos (…) to the Linga Sharira or the Astral Double in man. A
subtle Essence visible only to a clairvoyant eye, and the lowest but
one (viz., the earth), of the Seven Akashic or Kosmic Principles.
Eliphas Lévi calls it the great Serpent and the Dragon from which
radiates on Humanity every evil influence. This is so; but why not
add that the Astral Light gives out nothing but what it has received;
that it is the great terrestrial crucible, in which the vile emanations
of the earth (moral and physical) upon which the Astral Light is fed,
are all converted into their subtlest essence, and radiated back
intensified, thus becoming epidemics – moral, psychic and physical.”
(“The Theosophical Glossary”, H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophy Co., p. 38)
By March 2020 the new 2019 coronavirus, officially named Covid-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO), has spread to dozens of countries across the world. The WHO says the world should be prepared for a pandemic.
The physical consequences alone of a viral pandemic are very serious. In February 1957, a new influenza virus emerged in East Asia causing a pandemic, the so-called Asian Flu. Some 1.1 million deaths were estimated to be caused worldwide.
Officially, a pandemic is the easy transmission from person to person of a new disease throughout many countries. Whereas, an epidemic is a widespread occurrence of a disease in a community at a particular time.
As the student of Theosophy understands, the interdependence and interconnectedness of humanity is a fact in all departments of nature – physical, psychic and moral. Human beings, individually and collectively are continuously impressing one another and being impressed by dark as well as inspiring psychic and moral influences. These local and widespread contagions have a periodic tendency determined by two fundamental laws of nature – periodicity, or the cyclic return of impressions, and the karmic law of cause and effect. The meaning, significance, and consequences of a pandemic are much more complex than one might expect, since they are often accompanied by moral and psychic “Infection.” People need to prepare and organize appropriately. Pandemics create both challenges and opportunities for advancement.
Students of the history of pandemics recognize this truth as well. A wonderful source on the subject is a new book written by historian Frank M. Snowden, “Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present”. Frank M. Snowden is a professor emeritus of history and the history of medicine at Yale. He demonstrates that epidemics affect every aspect of human life. They influence politics, revolutions, and the environment. They can inflame racial discrimination and invoke the inhuman responses of governments. They change societies and affect personal relationships.
Most importantly, Professor Snowden concludes that pandemics and epidemics are not random events that affect societies indiscriminately, chaotically and without warning. A society produces its own vulnerability to viral epidemics by its structure, values, standard of living, and political priorities. It is an opportunistic contagion that moves across the moral and mental fault lines of a society. They manifest as a causal chain of ordered events. This idea is well understood and appreciated by the student of Theosophy to be a special aspect of the universal law of karma called by the ancients as the nidanic chain of incessant causation and effect.
Professor Snowden emphasizes that the history of pandemics reveals a truth that students of Theosophy have already come to realize from their experience with individual and interpersonal reactions to the real and imagined threat of the coronavirus. The truth is that viral epidemics and pandemics hold up a mirror as to who we really are, or at least the weaknesses and strengths that are ordinarily hidden from our view. This is no surprise to the Theosophist who understands the above quotation from “The Theosophical Glossary”. The astral light that surrounds and interpenetrates the world is like a hall of mirrors that reflects back in an intensified manner the vile emanations it has received from humanity.
Individually and collectively, pandemics and epidemics affect us mentally, psychically, and morally. The experience makes us more aware of our attitude towards our own mortality, to death, to our lives, to our environment. We certainly get to witness that we create the environment in which we live and that it responds to us. We become more aware of the values that shape our daily lives and little behaviors that would normally seem insignificant and unnoticeable. Do we care about the people we work with, the poor, the elderly, the sick and vulnerable people of the world? The way in which we respond reveals our moral values and commitments.
All the challenges notwithstanding, the collective and individual experience of an epidemic or pandemic has and can be an unrivaled learning experience and opportunity for advancement of an individual or society.
Great humanitarian reforms and organizations have sprung up in the wake of epidemics. For the serious Theosophists who try to make the teachings practical in their lives and fit themselves to be better able to help others, the experience arouses opportunities to crush out passions that primarily benefit the selfish tendencies of personality. The experience provides an opportunity to think about otherwise mundane matters of everyday life from the point of view of Divine Wisdom, and to crush out the notion of an existence that is separate from others.
Pandemics seem to teach an inescapable lesson that sermons, lectures, articles, and visual media often fail to impress so vigorously. That is that regardless of our race, ethnicity, economic status, creed, sex, condition, or organizational affiliation, we are all in this together and that we have to organize our lives and sacrifice some personal comfort with thought of the benefit of others. The health and well-being of those who might otherwise be perceived among us as the least and most vulnerable affects the health of all. As Professor Snowden says, we are best prepared for any pandemic or epidemic when we realize that what affects one person anywhere affects everyone everywhere.
No Theosophist could say it better.
The Meaning of a Pandemic” was published at the associated websites on 7 March 2020.
Click to see other texts by Steven H. Levy, M.D., a theosophist living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. 
Read the book “Man and Society in Calamity”, by Pitirim A. Sorokin.
Link to the website of the World Health Organization:
Regarding the planetary level of karmic law, see the article “Human Ethics and Earthquakes”, by Damodar K. Mavalankar. 
You might like to examine the booklet “Health and Therapy”.