We continue our study of cycles and periodicity with the first section of Chapter 14 of William Quan Judge'sOcean of Theosophy:

Chapter 14: Cycles

The doctrine of Cycles is one of the most important in the whole theosophical system, though the least known and of all the one most infrequently referred to. Western investigators have for some centuries suspected that events move in cycles, and a few of the writers in the field of European literature have dealt with the subject, but all in a very incomplete fashion. This incompleteness and want of accurate knowledge have been due to the lack of belief in spiritual things and the desire to square everything with materialistic science. Nor do I pretend to give the cyclic law in full, for it is one that is not given out in detail by the Masters of Wisdom. But enough has been divulged, and enough was for a long time known to the Ancients to add considerably to our knowledge.

A cycle is a ring or turning, as the derivation of the word indicates. The corresponding words in the Sanskrit are Yuga, Kalpa, Manvantara, but of these yuga comes nearest to cycle, as it is lesser in duration than the others. The beginning of a cycle must be a moment, that added to other moments makes a day, and those added together constitute months, years, decades, and centuries. Beyond this the West hardly goes. It recognizes the moon cycle and the great sidereal one, but looks at both and upon the others merely as periods of time. If we are to consider them as but lengths of time there is no profit except to the dry student or to the astronomer. And in this way today they are regarded by European and American thinkers, who say cycles exist but have no very great bearing on human life and certainly no bearing on the actual recurrence of events or the reappearance on the stage of life of persons who once lived in the world. The theosophical theory is distinctly otherwise, as it must be if it carries out the doctrine of reincarnation to which in preceding pages a good deal of attention has been given. Not only are the cycles named actual physical facts in respect to time, but they and other periods have a very great effect on human life and the evolution of the globe with all the forms of life thereon. Starting with the moment and proceeding through a day, this theory erects the cycle into a comprehensive ring which includes all in its limits. The moment being the basis, the question to be settled in respect to the great cycles is, When did the first moment come? This cannot be answered, but it can be said that the truth is held by the ancient theosophists to be that at the first moments of the solidification of this globe the mass of matter involved attained a certain and definite rate of vibration which will hold through all variations in any part of it until its hour for dissolution comes. These rates of vibration are what determine the different cycles, and, contrary to the ideas of western science, the doctrine is that the solar system and the globe we are now on will come to an end when the force behind the whole mass of seen and unseen matter has reached its limit of duration under cyclic law. Here our doctrine is again different from both the religious and scientific one. We do not admit that the ending of the force is the withdrawal by a God of his protection, nor the sudden propulsion by him of another force against the globe, but that the force at work and determining the great cycle is that of man himself considered as a spiritual being; when he is done using the globe he leaves it, and then with him goes out the force holding all together; the consequence is dissolution by fire or water or what not, these phenomena being simply effects and not causes. The ordinary scientific speculations on this head are that the earth may fall into the sun, or that a comet of density may destroy the globe, or that we may collide with a greater planet known or unknown. These dreams are idle for the present.


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What does this picture of the cycles governing our solar system tell us about the human condition?


The human condition, the solar system as part of manvantara are both impermanent, so the the meditation for this is "From the Unreal(Impermanent) lead me to the Real (Permanent)


What is involved in the initiation of a cycle for growth as an individual?  How do we establish a rhythm to our "self-induced and self-devised efforts."?


I propose that one way we can establish a rhythm to our own efforts is to consciously align our personal cycles with larger cycles, thus bringing our activities into harmony with the world around us and the cosmos as a whole. Examples:

  • Daily: Greet the sun each morning
  • Monthly: Start new endeavors at the New Moon, bring things to a close at the Full Moon
  • Yearly: Initiate projects in the Spring, ramp up to full activity in Summer, reap the fruits of the work in Autumn and use Winter for reflection and rest.


This is an extremely interesting reference you make here.  Can you say more about this and why this period of time  is particularly important  to spiritual endeavors?


Thank you kindly.  These posts are wonderfully helpful.


I agree. I've found that simply by observation of myself over years cyclic patterns become apparent. And it has definitely proved beneficial to sync myself, as much as possible, with the seasons (which has really amounted to simply accepting their reality, as opposed to 'making them happen'.

Likewise, it's seemed beneficial in practice, to model each day (24 hour period) along the ideas presented about the process of reincarnation/rounds/etc.. Specifically, to be mindful of our last thoughts of the day, end it in silence, relaxed, review the previous day, plan the next, etc.. Wake with a quick review of the outline for the day, work upwards towards mid-day, then into the maturity of the day, etc.. The Dalai Lama says that the first mental effort of his day is in working out his motivations, which seems like a good practice. I'm sure there are many variations.

Ultimately, if all cycles are analogous to others, with specific correspondences, then it would seem that aligning our days, months, years, lifetime with the basic cyclic 'blueprint' that we learn of in our studies, would be beneficial, and would help with life-rhythm.


I came across something today I wanted to share here. This comes from an article in The Path, November 1886, titled "Teachings from the Master":

"Wait in the morning for inspiration, at noon for guidance, and in the evening for a full understanding of the road thou hast travelled."

This seems applicable to the question above and perhaps gives some insights into how we might align ourselves with the daily cycle.


The first step is to know that we are not this body, nor this conditioned mind, and to reach up to the Buddhic (Budhic) principle - That part of our bodies that is our divine essence. I am endeavouring to meditate each day, for 10 minutes at least, giving my life in service for others. This basic desire/request is essential to being on the path of spiritual Evolution ( Master M.) 

This morning I was tired as,(Kiwi saying) and my meditation was sloppy at best, open about my meagre efforts in attempting to raise the standard of my behaviours/service, and very short. Since then I have somehow been most energetic in some usually procrastinating-worthy tasks - quite stunned at the "help" I have been given in my mindset. 

So I see that the seasons of meditation, hold bliss sometimes, for the spiritual joy we place in our hearts for others, and at the other extreme can be as I was this morning, dissolute in my physical and mental state. Spring to winter in two days, but both with a beautiful sense of being heard, and determinedly offering myself regardless of anything. This meditation discipline is new to me, and I rely on it to assist me, hopefully refining my personality desires to not say sharp comments, feel jealousy, greed, envy etc. In myself I cannot do what is needed to be done, I am too affected by past traumas, so my hope is in those who can help. It is the inner life that will become  richer.


Concerning this part of the passage:

These rates of vibration are what determine the different cycles, and, contrary to the ideas of western science, the doctrine is that the solar system and the globe we are now on will come to an end when the force behind the whole mass of seen and unseen matter has reached its limit of duration under cyclic law.


What corrolaries to life at the human level does this provide?


One question I want to ask about cycles is this: What are the key elements of any cycle?

If we look at various cycles, such as rounds, reincarnation, planetary chains, day-night, seasons of the year, etc., can we derive from these a basic outline of one prototypal cycle underlying them all? And what elements or aspects would compose that cycle?

Jon I've been wanting to do same project for over a year. However everytime I get started I end up in a state of confusion, but if we put a few heads together on this, we might be able to get it done. My idea for a starting point are the Stanzas since they can be applied "mutatis mutandis" to all evolution (SD1:20). There also may be some hints in the correspondences between globes and planets.

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Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on October 20, 2012 at 4:53pm

HPB's diagram on page 153 is also wonderful for the purpose of comparison between man and globes, and from this comes the comparison of reincarnation to rounds.

I think this method of reaching to the prototypes underlying the various manifestations is very worthwhile. If the premise of the SD is true, then it should stand to reason that all cycles essentially exhibit the same general blueprint or outline (as you mention in your reference to the SD), each varying but in details, and the more I study the more this does seem to come to light.

Perhaps we ought to begin with an overview of various cycles. How about a few of us (whoever wants to volunteer) each pick an example of a cycle and give a brief account of how it seems to work in our view? Then we can begin to correspond one to another.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on October 20, 2012 at 7:21pm

Alright, to get us started on illustrations of various cycles, and without going into too many details, here's a basic idea of the cycle of Reincarnation (from one student's perspective):

The bottom of the cycle is the Ego locked into a physical body and identified therein, coming to material maturity. When physical death occurs, the Ego begins to withdraw, shedding all that is tied to the material worlds, on each plane as it rises. That which is shed lives for a time as a composite entity (kama-rupa), and the Ego moves upwards through Devachan, returning to its native plane. After a time on the planes of Devachan (after it passes the 'top' of the cycle) the Ego begins to be drawn back (by its karma) downward through the planes, gathering to itself the remnants of what it formerly shed (its skandhas), building for itself new vehicles on the planes it passes through until it once more comes to assemble a physical body on this our material plane, locking the Ego back into material identification for a time.

Each time the process is repeated the Ego gains from its previous experience, thus it progresses in its evolution.

Who wants to volunteer the next illustration? :)

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on October 20, 2012 at 10:46pm
Your reincarnation example reminded me of a cycle I experienced over and over during my Army days. This story is called:

"The Life of an Infantry Battalion"

1. Guidance from higher command to conduct field operations. 
2. Gather equipment, weapons, vehicles, soldiers, etc.
3. Movement to area of operations. 
4. Conduct and complete field operations. 
6. Go back to base camp, turn in equipment, weapons, vehicles, etc. / After action review (debriefing)
7. Rest and relaxation 

1. Repeat cycle (and keep repeating cycle)
Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on October 23, 2012 at 12:10pm

Another example I can offer is the flow of linens where I work:

Linens are delivered, for example, to the local hotels and nursing homes. They are then "deployed" by the workers wherever they end up, perhaps used to make beds or something else depending on the item in question. They are used until they are considered to be dirty and are gathered in nylon sacks that we provide.

Whenever a driver delivers an order of linens, he also picks up whatever dirty linens the customer has on hand and brings them back to us. Wagons full of dirty linens are delivered to the Sorting department, where they are sorted into various wagons by type, weighed up and divided into 50kg loads, and washed in large centrifuges using the appropriate program. Once they're clean, the loads are emptied on the opposite side of the centrifuge and dried in huge dryers. The dryers deposit the loads into wagons, and the contents of the wagons are processed by workers in the Packing department, where the linens are folded either by hand or by machine. At the opposite end of Packing, folded linens are organized into wagons needed for outgoing orders, and the cycle continues on and on.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on October 24, 2012 at 1:58pm

Another example: Photosynthesis.

Water 'densifies' from gaseous to liquid, becoming visible and falling to the earth. It lands and mixes with the mud and dirt and begins to flow within the contours of the Earth's physical substance, and as it does it brings sustenance to all sorts of lives. It reaches low points and gathers as lakes and oceans. From there is begins to evaporate, rarefying from liquid into gas and rising upwards into the atmosphere, where it will gather as clouds of gas, until it begins to densify again and on goes the cycle.

During the cycle the water helps shape the Earth, moves substance, mixes with it, and causes it to settle at the bottom of the lakes and oceans. When it evaporates it is purified of that substance, which remains on Earth.

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on October 23, 2012 at 12:14pm

So what similarities can we see thus far using the examples we've collected?

It appears that each cycle has points that can be considered a "zenith" and a "nadir." As others in this section of the study have mentioned, these are like polar opposites. Some cycles seem to be characterized or dominated by one definitive set of poles, while others may have two sets or more. An example of the latter that comes to mind is the typical cycle of four seasons, in which Winter and Summer are opposites, but which is also punctuated by Autumn and Spring, also opposites.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on October 24, 2012 at 2:00pm

You make a good point here about the "four corners" of any cycle - thus we have the cross inscribed within a circle, with each cycle following the circumference.

Here's another interpretation of the general outline of cyclic progression around a circle, drawn from the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda's guru.

So what similarities can we see thus far using the examples we've collected?

I think we can see that the cycles all involve a "withdrawal" and then a "going out" until another withdrawal. The going out involves the use of something in the world, the withdrawing involves not only a temporary completion of that use, but a subsequent 'purifying' or 'cleaning' and a 'rest'.

Let's throw out some more examples and build on this...

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on October 20, 2012 at 5:48pm
The planetary division on pg 153 corresponds with the "Eastern Gupta Vidya" Diagram on pg 200. I used the traditional Kabbalistic planetary corresondances and worked out the following:

On the involutionary arc: Globe A - Mars, Globe B - Mercury, Globe C - Moon, Globe D - Earth

On the evolutionary arc: Globe D - Earth, Globe E - Venus, Globe F - Sun, Globe G - Jupiter

At first glance this looks like it might hold good since we know that the Moon Chain preceded Earth and Venus/Lucifer is known as the Earth's Higher Self (ours too!) Maybe someone with a knowledge of esoteric astrology can refine or add to this.
Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on October 20, 2012 at 7:16pm

We need to be extra careful with these correspondences though. While there are analogies to be drawn between the globes and the seven sacred planets and so on, we must not fall into the trap of imagining the visible planets we see as being the globes of our chain (they are all just globe Ds of their own respective plantery chains). The globes of any one planetary chain are in coadunition (i.e. they share the same space) - they are the same spherical mass - though they are not in consubstantiality, thus composed of matter of various etherealities.

However, by correspondence we could perhaps say that as the globes are to a planetary chain, the planetary chains are to the solar system. Perhaps ;)

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on October 20, 2012 at 7:44pm
I concur. I just superimposed the Kabbalistic correspondences over Gupta Vidya diagram. After taking a closer look, I can see some problems with it. Too esoteric for my taste. I'll try to think of something that's a little more down to earth. :)
Permalink Reply by Peter on December 29, 2013 at 11:31am

Very interesting, Nicholas.  I enjoyed reading about the different ways the cycles have been calculated with attempts to fit them into known historical points.

Permalink Reply by Peter on December 29, 2013 at 12:06pm

Me too - I found that quite heartening.