In this section HPB touches upon three themes:  God, Prayer and the Source of the Human Soul.   We will be exploring the first of these in Part One.  

Please read through this section for yourselves. If you don’t have the book the text for this section can be read on line or downloaded from:   http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/key/key-5.htm

God and the Absolute

ENQUIRER. Do you believe in God?

THEOSOPHIST. That depends what you mean by the term.

ENQUIRER. I mean the God of the Christians, the Father of Jesus, and the Creator: the Biblical God of Moses, in short.

THEOSOPHIST. In such a God we do not believe. We reject the idea of a personal, or an extra-cosmic and anthropomorphic God, who is but the gigantic shadow of man, and not of man at his best, either. The God of theology, we say — and prove it — is a bundle of contradictions and a logical impossibility. Therefore, we will have nothing to do with him.  .  .  .  . if infinite ―i. e., limitless― and especially if absolute, how can he have a form, and be a creator of anything? Form implies limitation, and a beginning as well as an end; and, in order to create, a Being must think and plan. How can the ABSOLUTE be supposed to think―i. e., to have any relation whatever to that which is limited, finite, and conditioned? This is a philosophical, and a logical absurdity. Even the Hebrew Kabala rejects such an idea, and therefore, makes of the one and the Absolute Deific Principle an infinite Unity called Ain-Soph.* In order to create, the Creator has to become active; and as this is impossible for ABSOLUTENESS, the infinite principle had to be shown becoming the cause of evolution (not creation) in an indirect way ―i.e., through the emanation from itself (another absurdity, due this time to the translators of the Kabala)† of the Sephiroth.  (The Key to Theosophy, pp 61-62)

Footnotes:

* Ain-Soph, the endless, or boundless, in and with Nature, the non-existent which IS, but is not a Being.

† How can the non-active eternal principle emanate or emit? The Parabrahm of the Vedantins does nothing of the kind; nor does the Ain-Soph of the Chaldean Kabala. It is an eternal and periodical law which causes an active and creative force (the logos) to emanate from the ever-concealed and incomprehensible one principle at the beginning of every maha-manvantara, or new cycle of life.

Questions and comments welcome.

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"the infinite principle had to be shown becoming the cause of evolution (not creation) in an indirect way—i.e., through the emanation from itself (another absurdity…)", etc.

How is the absurdity of emanation different from - in footnote † - "an eternal and periodical law which causes an active and creative force (the logos) to emanate from the ever-concealed…", etc.?

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Would you care to offer your thoughts on this, Pierre?  There does seem to be a subtle difference between the footnote and the text. 

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Well, let me take a shot at this. :)

The difference between the first quote and the footnote seems to be that in the above we're talking about the Absolute (which cannot emanate) and in the footnote we're talking about the Logos (which can). It's not the periodical law itself that emanates, but the logos that does, even if it is impelled by that law to do so. So while it's absurd to think of the Absolute or "God", the boundless, infinite, omnipresent, etc., as emanating or creating anything (something infinite cannot act), it's not absurd to think of the Logos as doing the emanating. Perhaps we could say, as an illustration, that it's absurd to say that our breath itself emanates audible words, but not absurd to say that our breath moving through our vocal chords does. (very rough illustration, I know—don't take the analogy too far ;)

There's the idea that the Absolute has two aspects, one of which is Absolute Abstract Motion. This, we're told, is the Great Breath, which is that eternal and periodical law, yes? So, in a sense, the 'cause' of the emanation is still the Absolute (in an indirect way), but it's not the Absolute that itself actually does the emanating. So it can't be said that the Absolute (Ain-Soph) emanates the Sephiroth. Would it not be Kether that does the emanating?

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Jon, I think you have touched on an important difference between the main text and the clarification in the footnote.   

The difficulty for us all is that we are seeking to understanding what the Absolute Principle might be when all we have are finite concepts and descriptions with which to put our equally finite understanding into words.  The natural tendency of our mind, conditioned as it by our experience of the world of duality, is to conceptualise some thing, or being or entity that is Infinite and Absolute.  However, the teaching is that the Absolute is the Totality, the infinite Unity.  It is not some-thing, someone, or some infinite being.  As the Totality it cannot be supposed to act in relation to any thing. For how can there be any thing which is other than the Absolute Totality for it to act upon or towards or be in relationship with?’  

HPB says that an active creative force (the Logos) within that Totality is brought about by an eternal and periodical law.  That law must also be as aspect of the Absolute.  In his Talks on the Bhagavad Gita, Subba Row says there is nto one but a multitude of Logoi, each the creative force of its respective universal manifestation.  This accords with the Second Fundamental Proposition of the SD (p16) which affirms:

‘The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically  “the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing”..’  (SD I 16)

Another factor to take into account is the meaning of the terms ‘emanation’ and ‘radiation’.  In Transactions of Blavatsky Lodge  HPB says that these terms  don’t really express the occult meaning they are used to represent when explaining the coming into being of the Cosmos.  See the following:

Q. How do the terms "Radiation" and "Emanation" differ in the Secret Doctrine?

HPB. They express, to my mind, two entirely different ideas, and are the best apologies for the original terms that could be found; but if the ordinary meanings are attached to them the idea will be missed. Radiation is, so to say, the unconscious and spontaneous shooting forth, the action of a something from which this act takes place; but emanation is something from which another thing issues in a constant efflux, and emanates consciously. An orthodox Occultist goes so far as to say that the smell of a flower emanates from it “consciously” -- absurd as it may seem to the profane. Radiation can  come from the Absolute; Emanation cannot . One difference exists in the idea that Radiation is sure, sooner or later, to be withdrawn again while Emanation runs into other emanations and is thoroughly separated and differentiated. Of course at the end of the cycle of time emanation will also be withdrawn into the One Absolute; but meanwhile, during the entire cycle of changes emanation will persist. One thing emanates from the other, and, in fact, from one point of view, emanation is equivalent to Evolution; while “radiation” represents to my mind -- in the precosmic period, of course -- an instantaneous action like that of a piece of paper set on fire under a burning glass, of which act the Sun knows nothing. Both terms, of course, are used for want of better.

Transactions of Blavatsky Lodge p31 - Meeting 6

So, from the occult point of view emanation is a conscious production and as such cannot be attributed to the Absolute. Whereas radiation can bring about results according to law but which are not conscious productions.

I’m not sure, though, how consistent HPB is when using the terms, as at times she appears to use them interchangeably depending on the context in which she writes.  At the very least it seems that we should be aware that may not carry the normal meanings attached to these terms.

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Isn't Absolute Abstract Motion only a 'symbol' for Unconditioned Consciousness, and not really an aspect of the Absolute?
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Jimmy - yes, I see what you’re saying. The Secret Doctrine states that the Absolute is the rootless-root of all that was, is and ever will be.  It is the Be-ness on which all existence and the being-of-beings depends.  This ‘Be-ness’ is said to have two aspects - Unconditioned Consciousness and Bare Subjectivity.  The former aspect is symbolised by absolute Abstract Motion, the latter is symbolised by absolute Abstract Space. That’s how I’ve understood that passage in SD I 14.

Jon - re your question on Kether:  a clue is given us in SD I 18:

In its absoluteness, the One Principle under its two aspects (of Parabrahmam1 and Mulaprakriti) is sexless, unconditioned and eternal. Its periodical (manvantaric) emanation - or primal radiation - is also One, androgynous and phenomenally finite. When the radiation radiates in its turn, all its radiations are also androgynous, to become 111ale and female principles in their lower aspects.  (SD I 18)

Here we see HPB use the term emanation and radiation together, but i think the main point is with regards your question is that each radiation radiates in its turn.

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In many conversations about religion with people that we have ( and it seems like there are less of these conversations going on because of polarization) the litmus test for many is "Do you believe in God?"  If the answer is No, the conversation is over for many a religious follower.    I found it interesting that rather than answer right away in the affirmative or the negative HPB asks what is meant by God first before saying more.

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Have you tried this in person? And if so, what results did it have?

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"in order to create, a Being must think and plan. How can the ABSOLUTE be supposed to think"

This differentiates the Theosophical absolute from the Advaita Vedanta absolute, parabrahman, with which it is equated in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 15). Of course, parabrahman can only be the absolute, but it is described in the Advaita Vedanta texts differently than in the Theosophical sources. The central issue in Sankaracarya's commentary on the Brahma Sutras (or Vedanta Sutras) is that (para) brahman can think; and for this reason it cannot be the unconscious primary substance taught in Samkhya. For at least 1200 years, this has been fully accepted by virtually all Advaita Vedantins. It may be worthwhile to be aware of this, since the Theosophical writings depict Advaita Vedanta as accepting a parabrahman that is understood like the absolute is in Theosophy. It took me many years to realize that Advaita Vedantins believe in a thinking God, contrary to how their views are depicted in the Theosophical writings, where I first saw their ideas. 

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Hi David,

It’s a fascinating subject isn’t it and I’m sure that Advaitins have as many different views about their doctrines as those of us who are students of theosophy have about our own. My experience and understanding is different from your own. I don’t know of any learned Advaitins who believe the Absolute (para-brahman) can think or that Sankaracarya’s view in the Brahma Sutra bhashya should be interpreted in that light.

What you say may well be the case with respect to saguna Brahman (Isvara, the Supreme Power) which is all part of the 'creation' theories and endless disputes between different schools. Saguna Brahman (i.e. with attributes), or Isvara, is Brahman veiled by the power of maya as it appears to sentient beings who in turn are subject to ignorance (avidya).

However, Advaita asks us to keep in mind that the highest truth (paramatha) in Advaita is that Brahman is without attributes of any kind (nirguna); It is non dual; It alone exists; there is no duality, no world, no creation and no sentient beings who need liberating. Therefore all theories and disputes between Advaita and other schools concerning 'creation' theories, whether effects are in their causes & so on, are only within the realm of relative truths (vyavahara). The ultimate truth should not be lost sight of.

While this is a very interesting topic, Sankara's views on 'creation' in relation to Sankhya and other schools and traditions are also quite complex. I'm sure you will have very good reasons to arrive at your view and I would be very interested to hear them at some point, however, would it be OK to put a potential debate with regards to Sankara's views aside for the time being so that we don't lose sight of what HPB is seeking to unravel about the theosophical viewpoint on the Absolute?

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This could be a nice discussion to have in the open forum, if either of you are up for it.

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As we look over our study passage from HPB, what do members think is the essential notion that HPB is refuting in her reply?

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Permalink Reply by Jimmy on May 1, 2013 at 12:23pm
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It sounds like she's refuting the idea that the God of theology is unconditioned. When theologians say that their God is infinite, eternal, unchangeable, absolute & etc., it is an error to then assign relative attributes to the same "God". It's like saying that the unconditioned is conditioned, or that the absolute is relative. It's a contradiction. Thus the idea of an unconditioned Principle which thinks is also a contradiction, since thought, in any case is a conditioned and relative activity.
Permalink Reply by Pierre Wouters on May 1, 2013 at 12:40pm
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Hear hear, very well put sir, kudos to you!

Permalink Reply by Peter on May 1, 2013 at 1:11pm
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Thanks, Jimmy - as Pierre says, that's very well put indeed.

There are a couple of other key things that HPB is refuting in that passage if anyone would like to have a go and share their thoughts.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on May 2, 2013 at 11:28pm
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Might it be true that in theosophy the concept of God or the Absolute is both too abstract and too sacred to say much of anything about?  And the minute we say anything about it we have begun to limit it in some way?

Permalink Reply by Peter on May 3, 2013 at 4:50am
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Gerry, I think you are right.  As soon as we have our first breath of a thought about the Absolute we have begun to limit it in some way.   While this indicates that our conceptual understanding will always fall short of the reality, that doesn’t mean we should abandon the process of reflection upon That which is basis of All.   I know you’re not suggesting that we do so, but some people may arrive at that conclusion.

If we are to begin to get some overall grasp of universal law – how the cosmos unfolds, the hierarchy of intelligences, the origin of consciousness and form, the nature and purpose of evolution (physical, intellectual and spiritual), what it is that reincarnates in the individual and in the cosmos & so on – then we need also to have some relatively clear understanding of what the First Principle (the source) might be and what it is not.   In this section of The Key, even though it is hard for us to grasp what God and the Absolute IS, with a little bit of reflection we can form a clear idea of what it is not.

Here are some of the things we might list with regards to what it is not:  

  • It is not an extra Cosmic God.  That which is infinite cannot be absent from any part of the universe, whether unmanifest or manifested, otherwise it would not be infinite.
  • It is not male or female, or some superior anthropomorphic being with human attributes.  That which is Infinite cannot have finite attributes like thinking, planning and choosing to take one course of action rather than another.
  • It cannot be a form of any kind.  Form implies limitation, boundaries, parameters, a beginning and an end; it implies differentiation  and separateness between what is the form and what is not  the form.  The Absolute, as the infinite Totality and Unity, cannot be divided up into parts, some more Absolute than others. 

Perhaps members could add to this list of things which the Absolute is not.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on May 3, 2013 at 10:19am
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Yes, I whole-heartedly agree.  We should reflect upon the concept, absolutely (on the Absolulte). Where we need to be careful is in talking about it.  ( See even there 'it" is a limitation.)  This idea is the foundation for all ideas in Theosophy and one of the practical take aways from reflecting on the notion is 1. No matter what your idea or ideas may be you need to expand them, or keep moving philosophically and 2. Connect and include, distinguish yet reunite.  But we need to be humble and wise enough to know that whatever our idea of the Absolute might be it is both inadequate and more sacred than we think. And the theosophical endeavor is in large part gaining a sense of the profundity, immanence and transcendence of this one idea.

Permalink Reply by Peter on May 3, 2013 at 10:29am
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Beautifully put, Gerry.  I like your suggestion that we need to "keep moving philosophically."  It ties in with one of the ways in which the Absolute is symbolised i.e., as The ever-Becoming. (see p65 in The Key.)

Permalink Reply by Peter on May 4, 2013 at 4:30am
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Gerry, I meant to ask you to say more about "connect and include, distinguish and reunite."  Would you expand on that, please?

Having given us some indication of what God or Deity is not, HPB goes on to explain what IT is from the perspective of Theosophy.

God and the Absolute   (continued...)

Our DEITY is neither in a paradise, nor in a particular tree, building, or mountain: it is everywhere, in every atom of the visible as of the invisible Cosmos, in, over, and around every invisible atom and divisible molecule; for IT is the mysterious power of evolution and involution, the omnipresent, omnipotent, and even omniscient creative potentiality. 

ENQUIRER. Stop! Omniscience is the prerogative of something that thinks, and you deny to your Absoluteness the power of thought. 

THEOSOPHIST. We deny it to the ABSOLUTE, since thought is something limited and conditioned. But you evidently forget that in philosophy absolute unconsciousness is also absolute consciousness, as otherwise it would not be absolute.

ENQUIRER. Then your Absolute thinks?

THEOSOPHIST. No, IT does not; for the simple reason that it is Absolute Thought itself. Nor does it exist, for the same reason, as it is absolute existence, and Be-ness, not a Being. Read the superb Kabalistic poem by Solomon Ben Jehudah Gabirol, in the Kether-Malchut, and you will understand:―

“Thou art one, the root of all numbers, but not as an element of numeration; for unity admits not of multiplication, change, or form. Thou art one, and in the secret of thy unity the wisest of men are lost, because they know it not. Thou art one, and Thy unity is never diminished, never extended, and cannot be changed. Thou art one, and no thought of mine can fix for Thee a limit, or define Thee. Thou ART, but not as one existent, for the understanding and vision of mortals cannot attain to Thy existence, nor determine for Thee the where, the how and the why,” etc., etc.

In short, our Deity is the eternal, incessantly evolving, not creating, builder of the universe; that universe itself unfolding out of its own essence, not being made. It is a sphere, without circumference, in its symbolism, which has but one ever-acting attribute embracing all other existing or thinkable attributes―ITSELF. It is the one law, giving the impulse to manifested, eternal, and immutable laws, within that never-manifesting, because absolute LAW, which in its manifesting periods is The ever-Becoming.

(The Key to Theosophy, pp 64-65)

Questions and comments welcome.

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In this, in my opinion, is another example of how Theosophy appears to be able to answer any question, so to speak.

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Good to hear from you, Stephen.  Would you say a bit more, please, on what you feel it is that enables Theosophy to answer any question.  It would give us all a better understanding of what it is in the text that has prompted your comment.

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I am attempting here to point towards the fact that even in the excerpt above, the answers given to the enquirer immediately race past the general anthropomorphic tendencies of many if not most religious viewpoints prevalent even today to a point wherein the consciousness is lifted (even by simple text) to that level where one can gain insight that, being on the level it is, can lead one to gain further answers to any questions arising in the area (and even other areas). This, to me, is one example of how Theosophy can answer anything.

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That's a very rich response, Stephen.  I'm glad I asked you to say a bit more.  Thanks.

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Following on from Stephen's comments.  Does our study text from 'The Key' throw insight onto any particular areas of life, cosmos, beliefs and puzzling questions that we might have?  Feel free to add more yourself, Stephen, on what the most important insight might be for you.

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Perhaps one of the reasons that HPB refers to the Kabala in this sub-section is that the Enquirer has asked if, in short, Theosophy believes in the biblical God of Moses (p61).  The references to Ain Soph in our previous study passage and to the Kabalistic poem in our current passage imply that there was and is a deeper understanding to be gained of the term God within the tradition from which the Bible sprang forth.

In addition, we might notice one particular powerful difference of emphasis between the anthropomorphic styled God and the Deity recognised by Theosophy.  The emphasis in Theosophy is on evolving not creating.  Whereas the anthropomorphic God creates the world out of nothing and remains distinct and separate from it (i.e. is “extra Cosmic”) the theosophical view is that the universe unfolds itself out of the very essence of the Deity itself.  Thus the essence of every thing and every being is that Deity itself - “it is everywhere, in every atom, of the visible and invisible Cosmos, in, over, and around every invisible atom and divisible molecule..” (P64)

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'..the Deity recognised by Theosophy'? Here is a niggle of mine right here. To elaborate : the origin of the word Deity is from Middle English which has its origin from old French 'deite' which in its turn stems from the Greek for God : 'Deus'.

..the universe unfolds itself from the very essence of the Deity 'itself'.

Yes, the above statements are correct as meant to be understood and yet to me are not at the same time for - 'the Ultimate is not to be defined' ...

...which in itself is a definition... :)

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Stephen - yes, I appreciate the cause of that niggle of yours.  Just when it seems HPB is taking us away from the notion of God, as commonly understood, she uses the term Deity which is just another name for God or a Supreme Being.

To be fair to HPB she is attempting to meet the Enquirer on her/his own ground.  The Enquirer’s original question was “Do you believe in God?”   In our current study passage, while she uses the term Deity she does go on qualify what she means by that term:  the Deity of Theosophy is not “a Being”, “It is the one law” & so on.

Yes, all our definitions and non-definitions of the Absolute are just ways of trying to say something about it!  These will always fall short as your rightly point out.  Yet, we have to take IT into account in some way or another when wondering about the origin of things and all beings.  That you were able to perceive that the phrase 'the Ultimate is not to be defined' is still a definition may well mean that HPB is preaching to the converted in your case.  :)

It's also just possible that there is a subtle distinction between the two terms 'the Deity' and 'the Absolute' in these passages.

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Excellent.

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Seems like HPB was like a surgeon in her writings... carefully drawing us away from old concepts like the personal, wrathful God, but then keeping us from rebounding too far into strict atheism by hinting towards Deity, self-conscious Entities (even calling 'electricity' an 'entity', etc.), builders, and so on. I think she does an amazing job walking that middle line that, if we follow her lead, will keep us from falling off either side.

Thing is, in Theosophy there are self-conscious "creator" beings, "builder" beings, etc., in Cosmos, but they're just not what several religions have made them into. So I think HPB is purposely not destroying the idea of a 'creator' entirely, but instead trying to just pluck the strings from the "personal God" marionette of religion. She certainly doesn't want us going the way of science and its 'blind forces' by turning 180 degrees from the concept of God.

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What difference might it make to our understanding of the spiritual path and to our relationships with other beings when we conceive of Deity as being "the one law" rather than ‘a God’, and that our very essence and the essence of all beings is that Deity, that one Law?

ON PRAYER.  

When asked by the Enquirer, ‘do you believe in prayer and do you ever pray?’ HPB replies that it is pointless to offer prayers to the Absolute Principle which ‘is capable only of relations in its parts to each other, but is non-existent as regards any finite relations.’ Theosophists reject the whole notion of prayer as a petition to some external and unknown God (p66).  Later in this sub section she adds that it is quite foolish to believe that the Absolute or an Omniscient and Omnipotent God would need our uttered prayers to know what it has to do (p71).  In case we think there might be some superior entities, at least, to which Theosophists pray, HPB also states, “We refuse to pray to [any] created finite beings ― i.e., gods, saints, angels, etc., because we regard it as idolatry.” (p70)

ENQUIRER. Is there any other kind of prayer?

THEOSOPHIST. Most decidedly; we call it WILL-PRAYER, and it is rather an internal command than a petition.

ENQUIRER. To whom, then, do you pray when you do so?

THEOSOPHIST. To "our Father in heaven" — in its esoteric meaning.

ENQUIRER. Is that different from the one given to it in theology?

THEOSOPHIST. Entirely so. An Occultist or a Theosophist addresses his prayer to his Father which is in secret (read, and try to understand, ch. vi. v. 6, Matthew), not to an extra-cosmic and therefore finite God; and that “Father” is in man himself.

ENQUIRER. Then you make of man a God?

THEOSOPHIST. Please say “God” and not a God. In our sense, the inner man is the only God we can have cognizance of. And how can this be otherwise? Grant us our postulate that God is a universally diffused, infinite principle, and how can man alone escape from being soaked through by, and in, the Deity? We call our “Father in heaven” that deific essence of which we are cognizant within us, in our heart and spiritual consciousness, and which has nothing to do with the anthropomorphic conception we may form of it in our physical brain or its fancy: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of (the absolute) God dwelleth in you?”* Yet, let no man anthropomorphise that essence in us. Let no Theosophist, if he would hold to divine, not human truth, say that this “God in secret” listens to, or is distinct from, either finite man or the infinite essence — for all are one. Nor, as just remarked, that a prayer is a petition. It is a mystery rather; an occult process by which finite and conditioned thoughts and desires, unable to be assimilated by the absolute spirit which is unconditioned, are translated into spiritual wills and the will; such process being called “spiritual transmutation.” The intensity of our ardent aspirations changes prayer into the “philosopher's stone,” or that which transmutes lead into pure gold. The only homogeneous essence, our “will-prayer” becomes the active or creative force, producing effects according to our desire.

ENQUIRER. Do you mean to say that prayer is an occult process bringing about physical results?

THEOSOPHIST. I do. Will-Power becomes a living power. But woe unto those Occultists and Theosophists, who, instead of crushing out the desires of the lower personal ego or physical man, and saying, addressing their Higher Spiritual EGO immersed in Atma-Buddhic light, “Thy will be done, not mine,” etc., send up waves of will-power for selfish or unholy purposes! For this is black magic, abomination, and spiritual sorcery. Unfortunately, all this is the favourite occupation of our Christian statesmen and generals, especially when the latter are sending two armies to murder each other. Both indulge before action in a bit of such sorcery, by offering respectively prayers to the same God of Hosts, each entreating his help to cut its enemies' throats.

_______________________

Please share your thoughts and questions on the above.

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This is a wonderful section. The “spiritual transmutation.” is something very important, I think, though it's such a mysterious process (to my, anyhow). In my experience, we can set up a powerful 'force' in a specific direction through the 'power of prayer' (as per HPB's definition). But, like she says, I think the important thing is whether or not such a 'prayer' is selfish or not. I've found that the more I'm able to honestly and sincerely ask that the "will of my Father" be done, the more positive results occur in my life anyway. Asking for things for myself produces only negative results in the end. I think our lives are in much better hands if we give it over to our Higher Self, than if we try to 'run the show' ourselves.

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That's well put, Jon.  Our motives and the energy behind them seem to be the pivot in this process.  HPB refers to this when she says it is:

"The intensity of our ardent aspirations [which] changes prayer into the “philosopher's stone,” or that which transmutes lead into pure gold."

What is the lead and gold that HPB is referring to here?  

 

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If we accept that asking for things for ourselves produces negative results in the end, does asking things for others necessarily produce positive results?  

Can asking for things for others also be an act of selfishness?

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Yes that appears to be true.  If I pray for my children's football team to defeat your child's football team then indeed the request is selfish.

What if we "pray" for the relief of suffering of another human being? It might be futile, but is it selfish?

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I suppose the question related to this would be: is there wisdom behind the prayer? For instance, someone may be suffering, and we may pray for an end to the suffering—out of a sincere and compassionate desire to see them not suffer—but perhaps that very suffering is imperative in the overall growth and evolution of their true Self. With greater wisdom, perhaps one would see the situation differently and the prayer might change, or cease.

I'm reminded of a story a friend told me (I may have some details wrong):

A monk and his disciple were wandering and came upon the home of an extremely wealthy man. They asked for shelter, but were denied. Upon leaving the monk said to the wealthy man: "may your wealth grow tenfold."

They then came to the home of an extremely poor man and asked for shelter. The man welcomed them in, gave them milk from his only cow, and let them sleep on the hay-floor of his home. Upon leaving the next morning the monk said to the man: "May your cow die."

The disciple couldn't make sense of this and finally asked his master why he made these two comments, so seemingly out of place. The master said: "If the rich man gets more wealth, he may come to realize that it is not fulfilling and turn his attention back to his Self. And the poor man... that cow is the only attachment keeping him imprisoned in his personal self."

So... in one sense, even if we pray for another, if we do so without true wisdom, perhaps it can still be said to be 'selfish' (or at the very least, limited to the personal selves involved).

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Your story prompted the following thoughts, Jon.

While we normally think selfishness is related to motive, it could be that acting out of ignorance of the true situation can also be a kind of self-ish action.  By this I mean seeking to bring about a result (an effect) in the manifest world based on our personal view of what the desired outcome should be rather than based on what is actually needed or is according to Law.  At our current stage of development and wisdom it may be hard for us to act in any other way in our daily lives.  However, is this a high enough standard when it comes to “occult processes” and using our “Will-Power to bring about “physical results”?

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If we believe in the Laws of Nature, then do we need or want to pray to alter any situation?  If physical life is a training ground, then isn’t every challenge a valuable lesson or a hidden blessing?  Doesn’t prayer, no matter how selfless, go against the saying – not my will, but thine? 

I believe when adapts use their will power to bring about physical results, most likely it is done with the intent to demonstrate certain occult laws and not with the intent to change any physical outcomes for they understand they cannot interfere with the Law of karma.     

     

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Barbara - that's quite a challenge for us, isn't it - to see life as a training ground,  'every challenge a valuable lesson or a hidden blessing.'   Is this connected with the Philosopher's Stone, do you think - that which transmutes lead into pure gold?

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Yes, I agree, it is very difficult to maintain this perspective. I am not sure what is connected with the Philsopher's Stone but, in terms of praying for what we want, given that we are so limited in our understanding, most of the time it is we that needs changing and not the external conditions.

I am reminded how some devotees see everything in life – the good, the bad, and the ugly - as a reminder of the divine.  Similarly, aspirants view everything in life as a lesson to be learned.  The seekers of truth learn to cultivate dispassion to the pair of opposites in their life, in order to pierce through the surface of things.

 

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Barbara wrote:  'given that we are so limited in our understanding, most of the time it is we that needs changing and not the external conditions.'

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Haha! - yes, well put!  

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they understand they cannot interfere with the Law of karma.

It is an interesting thought. I wonder, though, if there is a difference between interfering with the law of karma and making small adjustments to the flow of events or to the details of the manifestation of karma. For instance, there's this statement in one of the Mahatma letters:

"Be it as it may, we are content to live as we do — unknown and undisturbed by a civilization which rests so exclusively upon intellect. Nor do we feel in any way concerned about the revival of our ancient arts and high civilization, for these are as sure to come back in their time ... We have the weakness to believe in ever recurrent cycles and hope to quicken the resurrection of what is past and gone. We could not impede it even if we would. The "new civilization" will be but the child of the old one, and we have but to leave the eternal law to take its own course to have our dead ones come out of their graves; yet, we are certainly anxious to hasten the welcome event."—Letter 28

What is interesting to me is the idea that they can 'quicken' and 'hasten' the coming of events. This would seem to imply that there is the ability to make adjustments that would, in a way, alter the flow of karmic events or at least modify the way in which karma is manifest. Not avoid it, but perhaps lessen the harshness?

Any thoughts on this?

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Jon, yes that is very interesting. I think that whenever we bring ourselves within the influence of those who are 'awakened' this has the effect of quickening the potentiality for both good andbad that lies within us.  Both of these potentialities are intimately connected with Karma - ours and those with whom we have connections in this current life.  Therefore the overall effect can have ripples that spread out a long way - for good or ill. So, it's also very possible that wherever the adepts give their attention or focus their presence in the world that quickening process takes place and karma also ripens more quickly than it would otherwise.

Since the Adepts are said to work with universal law this would mean they can't just use their knowledge and power to do whatever they like.  However, given that the quickening process evokes both the good and bad within us, and given our general selfishness and the potentiality for bad and evil that still lies within us all, this may well be the biggest factor by far that limits the spiritual help they can give to the world.

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Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on May 17, 2013 at 9:52am
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Very good points Peter. Thanks for this.

I actually just finished reading something that was explaining this very reason why the adepts can't be out in the world, and it was related to Jesus' saying that he came not to bring peace, but the sword. The idea is just as you say, their presence naturally evokes and quickens both the good and the bad in us, and so the open presence of the adepts in our world today would be disastrous, as it would be sure to draw out so much latent evil that is just below the surface.

We can certainly see from the records of great adepts in history that there was always both the helpful awakening of some and the awakening of ardent opposition and all kinds of evil in others. I know I've seen glimpses of the same process within myself in response to the making of ardent vows. The vow itself seems to act as this kind of quickening process. And perhaps this process of vow-taking is similar to the process of prayer (or perhaps a vow is a kind of "unselfish" prayer).

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on June 10, 2013 at 7:44pm
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Jon and Peter;  I  think most of our actions come out of limited knowledge, that is unless we are enlightened.  Since that is a very high state I don't think we have the luxury of waiting around for it before we act on resolving the needs of others.  Granted a great deal of damage is done in the name of "doing good".  So I will give you that point.  But aren't we required to do our duty to the best lights that we have?

Our best judgement, when adequately considered is all we really have and will have to suffice until more wisdom is obtained.

Permalink Reply by Peter on June 10, 2013 at 10:55pm
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Gerry - yes, of course that is the case in the normal course of our daily lives.  The question we are looking is, 'is our everyday standard good enough when it comes to working with occult processes and using the Will to bring about physical results?'  This is in relation to HPB's last paragraph in our study text for this section:

ENQUIRER. Do you mean to say that prayer is an occult process bringing about physical results?

THEOSOPHIST. I do. Will-Power becomes a living power. But woe unto those Occultists and Theosophists, who, instead of crushing out the desires of the lower personal ego or physical man, and saying, addressing their Higher Spiritual EGO immersed in Atma-Buddhic light, “Thy will be done, not mine,” etc., send up waves of will-power for selfish or unholy purposes! For this is black magic, abomination, and spiritual sorcery. 

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on June 11, 2013 at 9:40am
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Are you saying that we ought not to meddle in occult matters until certain ethical and self-control issues are met?

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on May 13, 2013 at 9:57pm
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Does praying for oneself necessarily produce negative results? Something in me says no. If every individual is a part of the whole, then surely the individual shouldn't leave himself out of the equation when it comes to praying. Perhaps it's ok to pray for what is needful rather than what is desired.
Permalink Reply by Peter on May 14, 2013 at 10:33am
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Jimmy - how would you see that in relation to HPB's definition of prayer i.e. an occult process bringing about physical results? . . . and the warning that goes with it?

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on May 14, 2013 at 6:06pm
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That's the definition that I had in mind in my previous post. Ultimately it's a private matter between the lower self and the higher self.
Permalink Reply by Peter on May 15, 2013 at 2:46am
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Jimmy, I’m sure that has to be the case.  This fits with the passage in the Bible that HPB references:

‘But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret . . ’

Matthew, Ch.6, 6.  (St James Bibile edition)

Speaking generally it would be quite reasonable and understandable for the individual to turn inwards towards that deeper part of themselves for the strength, patience, and wisdom to meet the trials and demands of life.

As for the particulars, perhaps all we can do in a discussion like this is reflect upon the underlying occult principles that might be involved in the light of universal law.

ON THE SOURCE OF THE HUMAN SOUL.   

In the previous sub sections HPB explained that the Wisdom Religion (Theosophy) does not accept the notion of a personal God that creates the universe or the human soul. 

ENQUIRER. How, then, do you account for man being endowed with a Spirit and Soul? Whence these?

THEOSOPHIST. From the Universal Soul. Certainly not bestowed by a personal God. Whence the moist element in the jelly-fish? From the Ocean which surrounds it, in which it lives and breathes and has its being, and whither it returns when dissolved.

ENQUIRER. So you reject the teaching that Soul is given, or breathed into man, by God?

THEOSOPHIST. We are obliged to. The “Soul” spoken of in ch. ii. of Genesis (v. 7) is, as therein stated, the “living Soul” or Nephesh (the vital, animal soul) with which God (we say “nature” and immutable law) endows man like every animal. Is not at all the thinking soul or mind; least of all is it the immortal Spirit.

ENQUIRER. Well, let us put it otherwise: is it God who endows man with a human rational Soul and immortal Spirit?

THEOSOPHIST. Again, in the way you put the question, we must object to it. Since we believe in no personal God, how can we believe that he endows man with anything? But granting, for the sake of argument, a God who takes upon himself the risk of creating a new Soul for every new-born baby, all that can be said is that such a God can hardly be regarded as himself endowed with any wisdom or prevision. Certain other difficulties and the impossibility of reconciling this with the claims made for the mercy, justice, equity and omniscience of that God, are so many deadly reefs on which this theological dogma is daily and hourly broken.

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What is HPB wanting us to consider when she says that a God who takes upon himself the risk of creating a new Soul for every new-born baby can hardly be regarded as himself endowed with any wisdom or prevision?

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One of the problems with the belief in a God who creates a new soul for each person born has to do with the inequality in the world.  Each soul, newly created by God, has had no hand at all in the circumstances of life in which it immediately finds itself thrust by God.  How could a wise, just and merciful God create some souls and place them in the most appalling conditions of life, while creating and placing others in some of the most favourable and pleasant of circumstances?   

Perhaps the inequalities in earthly life would be of less concern if the final reward for all souls - whatever the circumstances they were created into - was everlasting and eternal happiness after death.  Yet we are told this is not the case.  For this same God judges all souls according to the kind of life they have led while on earth and punishes and rewards them according to whether or not they have lived a life based on God’s laws and so on.

It hardly seems fair and just that the soul created to live a life among hardened criminals and murderers in a harsh and god-less society, lacking in both economic and spiritual resources, having learned nothing beyond this is judged unworthy of heaven at the end of its life and punished with eternal damnation.  Nor does there seem be much deserved merit for the new soul placed in the ideal circumstances, surrounded by morally upright and spiritual people and all the necessary resources a soul might need to the kind of life God commands.  

It is a far from an equal playing field in which this God creates and thrusts each soul.  Where is the wisdom, justice and mercy in such a scenario?

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What is the relationship between the personal God idea and materialism?

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Maybe an antagonistic relationship; or perhaps you're asking if these two positions have something in common?
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This is a interesting question.  The wisdom part of the question makes more sense to me. Because this "new" soul runs the risk of floundering entering a fresh new system with no past antecedents. What happens to this soul, what circumstances it finds itself in, what body it occupies would all be up to the whim of this personal God.  But why prevision?  What is she saying there?

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If we allow the traditional attributes of God to stand, e.g. Righteous, Just and Loving, it's difficult to understand how such a God can have foreknowledge since this would basically amount to WILLFULLY creating new souls who are destined for eternal punishment. It just doesn't compute.
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It doesn't, Jimmy. You're right.  HPB gives an example of her own drawn from a debate between a Buddhist priest and a Padri.  This illustrates another aspect of the incoherence of this specific belief.

‘. . . the Buddhist priest premised by asking the padri whether his God had given commandments to Moses only for men to keep, but to be broken by God himself. The missionary denied the supposition indignantly. Well, said his opponent, “you tell us that God makes no exceptions to this rule, and that no Soul can be born without his will. Now God forbids adultery, among other things, and yet you say in the same breath that it is he who creates every baby born, and he who endows it with a Soul. Are we then to understand that the millions of children born in crime and adultery are your God's work? That your God forbids and punishes the breaking of his laws; and that, nevertheless, he creates daily and hourly souls for just such children? According to the simplest logic, your God is an accomplice in the crime; since, but for his help and interference, no such children of lust could be born. Where is the justice of punishing not only the guilty parents but even the innocent babe for that which is done by that very God, whom yet you exonerate from any guilt himself?” The missionary looked at his watch and suddenly found it was getting too late for further discussion.’  (The Key, pp 76-77)

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Yes, reason and religion aren't a good mix. I think the wisest course a dogmatist can take is to give up reason altogether and stand upon his dogma. Many do, and I respect them for it.
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There are some important points to highlight in our study passage before we move on to the next section.

ENQUIRER. How, then, do you account for man being endowed with a Spirit and Soul? Whence these?

THEOSOPHIST. From the Universal Soul. Certainly not bestowed by a personal God. Whence the moist element in the jelly-fish? From the Ocean which surrounds it, in which it lives and breathes and has its being, and whither it returns when dissolved.

Comment:  the term “Universal Soul” varies in its definition throughout HPB’s work, depending on context in which it is used. We can find this term used for each of the three logoi and even, in some places, for Parabrahm itself.  

Perhaps the most important point about it in relation to our current study is that it is the One Life, it is that in which we live, breath and have our being.  No matter how lowly an entity might be on the vast evolutionary scale envisaged by Theosophy, no matter how high in its spiritual progression, the essence of each and all is that One Life.

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Peter I'm glad you mentioned the One Life. In what sense is the word Life to be understood? Is it Life considered abstractly such as when scientists speculate about the origins of 'life' on earth? Or is it the life of a being, or the life-time of a being?
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Really good questions, Jimmy. Thanks.  The following is only as I have come to understand it. Other people may have a completely different views, which it would also be good to hear.

As we explore the nature of our own existence, perhaps in order to discover the source of that point of awareness and being which we refer to as ‘I’, it seems to be that the source is found to be consciousness itself, and that consciousness IS Life - an unfathomable stream of Presence, forever unfolding.  

Of course, for much of the time we identify ourselves with the body hence our experience of the world around tends to be that of perceiving and encountering other bodies of one form or another.  Yet, from time to time, that sense of identification may just loosen enough for consciousness to briefly shine through unhindered.  And in those moments we might just discover that it shines through every so called thing.More than that - that every so called thing is a modification, an expression of that illuminating consciousness.  

So, it seems to me that the One Life and this unfathomable stream of Presence are intimately related, if not one in essence.  Inexhaustible - it is the origin of all entities and things past, present and future.  The origin of life - whether it be of the universe, the earth, or the human being - is not in the past but in each living moment of this Presence.  The life-time of a being is a measure of time, not a measure of Life, which is immeasurable.  Since each being is an expression of that Life, the ultimate worth of each being is also immeasurable and incalculable.

Just my 2c’s worth.

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Thanks Peter. That was worth more than two cents! :)

I seem to have unconsciously acquired a 'theosophical vocabulary' that includes some terms that I don't have a definitive understanding of; the 'One Life' falls into that category. Your comments are illuminating.

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Permalink Reply by Peter on May 31, 2013 at 9:30am
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Hi Jimmy,

I have a similar ‘theosophical vocabulary’ and I must admit that the list of terms for which I don’t have a definitive understanding seems to grow rather than decrease with each year of study.  :-)

Just when we think we have finally cracked the definition of some metaphysical term, then on turning to another page in HPB’s and the Mahatma’s writings we are shifted out of our momentary comfort zone as we are made to realise the issue is far deeper, far more complex than we had been able to grasp by thought alone.  There’s also the factor that a number of the key definitions do alter somewhat depending on the context.  At a superficial level of study these may seem to be contradictions.

I was speaking along similar lines with a fellow student about this just recently so there be some value in repeating some of that conversation.

It seemed to us that if we can just persist in the study, stay with the apparent contradictions and frustrations, tolerate not having an intellectual solution to the puzzle then there is the possibility that a deeper understanding - perhaps merely a germ of understanding - is evoked by it all, one that we might never be able to properly put into words.  There's that lovely quote that HPB puts in the SD, taken from Esoteric Buddhism, and which it is likely that the Mahatma KH told to Sinnett:

“It is impossible, when the complicated facts of an entirely unfamiliar science are being presented to untrained minds for the first time, to put them forward with all their appropriate qualifications ... and abnormal developments. . .. We must be content to take the broad rules first and deal with the exceptions afterwards, and especially is this the case with study, in connection with which the traditional methods of teaching, generally followed, aim at impressing every fresh idea on the memory by provoking the perplexity it at last relieves.”  

SD I  162 (bold emphasis added)

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on June 3, 2013 at 7:14pm
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"It seemed to us that if we can just persist in the study, stay with the apparent contradictions and frustrations, tolerate not having an intellectual solution to the puzzle then there is the possibility that a deeper understanding - perhaps merely a germ of understanding - is evoked by it all, one that we might never be able to properly put into words."

I've made a similar discovery regarding spiritual study. If I carry a concept with me by letting it ride just beneath the surface as I go about my daily activities, and give it just a few minutes of undivided attention each day, insight does come, and sometimes in ways that are beyond words. Perhaps this is the Spirit's way.
Permalink Reply by barbaram on May 31, 2013 at 7:05pm
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Thanks, Peter,  your message is very insightful.  Adding to it, In some theosophical literature, it defines the One Life as Jiva, that vital principle which animates the being. It is present everywhere, within all forms, as well as without. 

In the SD pg 591, HPB wrote - the occultists maintain that all the "Forces" of the scientists have their origin in the Vital Principle, the One Life collectively of our Solar system - that "life" being a portion, or rather one of the aspects of the One Universal Life.