Chapter 6 – Comparative Cosmology and Soul Evolution
This is one of the more all-encompassing chapters in Isis where you have this sprawling overview of the main Theosophical concepts, cosmology, spiritual evolution, human evolution, cycles and reincarnation. Moreover, she devotes more space to the notion of Avatar, but, alas, few people seem to have paid attention to this aspect of her writings, preferring to develop variant extrapolations.
She also continues her analysis of early Christianity, moving to the fourth century, with a pointed critique of the Nicean Council of 325 CE. Although the documents she uses are less accepted as authentic nowadays, in general, she points to that event as the unhappy turning points towards religious dogmatism. As Michael Gaddis states in his 2005 work, this was the beginning of the practice of using secular power to establish doctrinal orthodoxy within Christianity, an example followed by all later Christian emperors, which led to a circle of Christian violence, and of Christian resistance couched in terms of martyrdom (There is no crime for those who have Christ; religious violence in the Roman Empire. University of California Press 2005. page 340)
1- Development of Christianity in the fourth Century (251)
Nicean Council 251 /
WE must not forget that the Christian Church owes its present canonical Gospels, and hence its whole religious dogmatism, to the Sortes Sanctorum. Unable to agree as to which were the most divinely-inspired of the numerous gospels extant in its time, the mysterious Council of Nicea concluded to leave the decision of the puzzling question to miraculous intervention. This Nicean Council may well be called mysterious. There was a mystery, first, in the mystical number of its 318 bishops, on which Barnabas (viii. 11, 12, 13) lays such a stress; added to this, there is no agreement among ancient writers as to the time and place of its assembly, nor even as to the bishop who presided. Notwithstanding the grandiloquent eulogium of Constantine,* Sabinus, the Bishop of Heraclea, affirms that “except Constantine, the emperor, and Eusebius Pamphilus, these bishops were a set of illiterate, simple creatures, that understood nothing”; which is equivalent to saying that they were a set of fools. Such was apparently the opinion entertained of them by Pappus, who tells us of the bit of magic resorted to to decide which were the true gospels. In his Synodicon to that Council Pappus says, having “promiscuously put all the books that were referred to the Council for determination under a communion-table in a church, they (the bishops) besought the Lord that the inspired writings might get upon the table, while the spurious ones remained underneath, and it happened accordingly.” But we are not told who kept the keys of the council chamber over night! 251
Hypatia 252 /
It is more than curious that Cave, the author of the Lives of the Fathers, should find it incredible that Cyril sanctioned her murder on account of his “general character.” A saint who will sell the gold and silver vessels of his church, and then, after spending the money, lie at his trial, as he did, may well be suspected of anything. Besides, in this case, the Church had to fight for her life, to say nothing of her future supremacy. Alone, the hated and erudite Pagan scholars, and the no less learned Gnostics, held in their doctrines the hitherto concealed wires of all these theological marionettes. Once the curtain should be lifted, the connection between the old Pagan and the new Christian religions would be exposed; and then, what would have become of the Mysteries into which it is sin and blasphemy to pry? With such a coincidence of the astronomical allegories of various Pagan myths with the dates adopted by Christianity for the nativity, crucifixion, and resurrection, and such an identity of rites and ceremonies, what would have been the fate of the new religion, had not the Church, under the pretext of serving Christ, got rid of the too-well-informed philosophers? To guess what, if the coup d‘etat had then failed, might have been the prevailing religion in our own century would indeed, be a hard task. But, in all probability, the state of things which made of the middle ages a period of intellectual darkness, which degraded the nations of the Occident, and lowered the European of those days almost to the level of a Papuan savage — could not have occurred. 253
Symbolism of the Cross 255 /
According to King and other numismatists and archaeologists, the cross was placed there as the symbol of eternal life. Such a Tau, or Egyptian cross, was used in the Bacchic and Eleusinian Mysteries. Symbol of the dual generative power, it was laid upon the breast of the initiate, after his “new birth” was accomplished, and the Mystae had returned from their baptism in the sea. It was a mystic sign that his spiritual birth had regenerated and united his astral soul with his divine spirit, and that he was ready to ascend in spirit to the blessed abodes of light and glory — the Eleusinia. The Tau was a magic talisman at the same time as a religious emblem. It was adopted by the Christians through the Gnostics and kabalists, who used it largely, as their numerous gems testify, and who had the Tau (or handled cross) from the Egyptians, and the Latin cross from the Buddhist missionaries, who brought it from India, where it can be found until now, two or three centuries B.C. The Assyrians, Egyptians, ancient Americans, Hindus, and Romans had it in various, but very slight modifications of shape. Till very late in the mediaeval ages, it was considered a potent spell against epilepsy and demoniacal possession; and the “signet of the living God,” brought down in St. John’s vision by the angel ascending from the east to “seal the servants of our God in their foreheads,” was but the same mystic Tau — the Egyptian cross. In the painted glass of St. Dionysus (France), this angel is represented as stamping this sign on the forehead of the elect; the legend reads, SIGNVM TAY. In King’s Gnostics, the author reminds us that “this mark is commonly borne by St. Anthony, an Egyptian recluse.”** What the real meaning of the Tau was, is explained to us by the Christian St. John, the Egyptian Hermes, and the Hindu Brahmans. It is but too evident that, with the apostle, at least, it meant the “Ineffable Name,” as he calls this “signet of the living God,” a few chapters further on,*** the “Father‘s name written in their foreheads.”
Fish Symbolism 256
Joshua, son of Nun, or Nave (Navis), could have with perfect propriety adopted the image of a ship, or even of a fish, for Joshua means Jesus, son of the fish-god; but it was really too hazardous to connect the emblems of Venus, Astarte, and all the Hindu goddesses — the argha, dove, and fish — with the “immaculate” birth of their god! This looks very much as if in the early days of Christianity but little difference was made between Christ, Bacchus, Apollo, and the Hindu Christna, the incarnation of Vishnu, with whose first avatar this symbol of the fish originated.
In the Hari-purana, in the Bagaved-gitta, as well as in several other books, the god Vishnu is shown as having assumed the form of a fish with a human head, in order to reclaim the Vedas lost during the deluge. Having enabled Visvamitra to escape with all his tribe in the ark, Vishnu, pitying weak and ignorant humanity, remained with them for some time. It was this god who taught them to build houses, cultivate the land, and to thank the unknown Deity whom he represented, by building temples and instituting a regular worship; and, as he remained half-fish, half-man, all the time, at every sunset he used to return to the ocean, wherein he passed the night.
“It is he,” says the sacred book, “who taught men, after the diluvium, all that was necessary for their happiness.
“One day he plunged into the water and returned no more, for the earth had covered itself again with vegetation, fruit, and cattle.
“But he had taught the Brahmas the secret of all things” (Hari-purana).
So far, we see in this narrative the double of the story given by the Babylonian Berosus about Oannes, the fish-man, who is no other than Vishnu — unless, indeed, we have to believe that it was Chaldea which civilized India! 257
2- Comparative Ancient Cosmology (260)
Hindu and Near Eastern Creation Myths and Darwin 260 /
We would ask this French scholar, who seems so familiar with every sloka of the books of Manu, and other Vedic writers, the meaning of this sentence so well known to him:
“Plants and vegetation reveal a multitude of forms because of their precedent actions; they are surrounded by darkness, but are nevertheless endowed with an interior soul, and feel equally pleasure and pain” (Manu, book i.).
If the Hindu philosophy teach the presence of a degree of soul in the lowest forms of vegetable life, and even in every atom in space, how is it possible that it should deny the same immortal principle to man? And if it once admit the immortal spirit in man, how can it logically deny the existence of the parent source — I will not say the first, but the eternal Cause? Neither rationalists nor sensualists, who do not comprehend Indian metaphysics, should estimate the ignorance of Hindu metaphysicians by their own.
Spiritual Evolution 263 /
The grand cycle, as we have heretofore remarked, includes the progress of mankind from its germ in the primordial man of spiritual form to the deepest depth of degradation he can reach — each successive step in the descent being accompanied by a greater strength and grossness of the physical form than its precursor — and ends with the Flood. But while the grand cycle, or age, is running its course, seven minor cycles are passed, each marking the evolution of a new race out of the preceding one, on a new world. And each of these races, or grand types of humanity, breaks up into subdivisions of families, and they again into nations and tribes, as we see the earth’s inhabitants subdivided to-day into Mongols, Caucasians, Indians, etc.
Before proceeding to show by diagrams the close resemblance between the esoteric philosophies of all the ancient peoples, however geographically remote from each other, it will be useful to briefly explain the real ideas which underlie all those symbols and allegorical representations and have hitherto so puzzled the uninitiated commentators. Better than anything, it may show that religion and science were closer knit than twins in days of old; that they were one in two and two in one from the very moment of their conception. With mutually convertible attributes, science was spiritual and religion was scientific. Like the androgyne man of the first chapter of Genesis — “male and female,” passive and active; created in the image of the Elohim. Omniscience developed omnipotency, the latter called for the exercise of the former, and thus the giant had dominion given him over all the four kingdoms of the world. But, like the second Adam, these androgynes were doomed to “fall and lose their powers” as soon as the two halves of the duality separated. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge gives death without the fruit of the Tree of Life. Man must know himself before he can hope to know the ultimate genesis even of beings and powers less developed in their inner nature than himself. So with religion and science; united two in one they were infallible, for the spiritual intuition was there to supply the limitations of physical senses. Separated, exact science rejects the help of the inner voice, while religion becomes merely dogmatic theology — each is but a corpse without a soul. 263-64
Chart of Hindu and Kabbalah Cosmology 265
The Space Around the Upper Triangle.
Having done with the unrevealed triad, and the first triad of the Sephiroth, called the “intellectual world,” little remains to be said. In the great geometrical figure which has the double triangle in it, the central circle represents the world within the universe. The double triangle belongs to one of the most important, if it is not in itself the most important, of the mystic figures in India. It is the emblem of the Trimurti three in one. The triangle with its apex upward indicates the male principle, downward the female; the two typifying, at the same time, spirit and matter. This world within the infinite universe is the microcosm within the macrocosm, as in the Jewish Kabala. It is the symbol of the womb of the universe, the terrestrial egg, whose archetype is the golden mundane egg. It is from within this spiritual bosom of mother nature that proceed all the great saviours of the universe — the avatars of the invisible Deity.
Thus is it that we can prove that, while the Jewish kabalists, in common with their initiated masters, the Chaldeans and the Hindus, adored the Supreme and Unknown God, in the sacred silence of their sanctuaries, the ignorant masses of every nation were left to adore something which was certainly less than the Eternal Substance of the Buddhists, the so-called Atheists. As Brahma, the deity manifested in the mythical Manu, or the first man (born of Swayambhuva, or the Self-existent), is finite, so Jehovah, embodied in Adam and Eve, is but a human god. He is the symbol of humanity, a mixture of good with a portion of unavoidable evil; of spirit fallen into matter. In worshipping Jehovah, we simply worship nature, as embodied in man, half-spiritual and half-material, at best: we are Pantheists, when not fetich worshippers, like the idolatrous Jews, who sacrificed on high places, in groves, to the personified male and female principle, ignorant of IAO, the Supreme “Secret Name” of the Mysteries.
3- Eastern Doctrine of Cycles and Evolution (272)
Hindu Cycles 272 /
When the cycle of creation is run down, the energy of the manifested word is weakening. He alone, the Unconceivable, is unchangeable (ever latent), but the Creative Force, though also eternal, as it has been in the former from “no beginning,” yet must be subject to periodical cycles of activity and rest; as it had a beginning in one of its aspects, when it first emanated, therefore must also have an end. Thus, the evening succeeds the day, and the night of the deity approaches. Brahma is gradually falling asleep. In one of the books of Sohar, we read the following:
“As Moses was keeping a vigil on Mount Sinai, in company with the Deity, who was concealed from his sight by a cloud, he felt a great fear overcome him and suddenly asked: ‘Lord, where art Thou . . . sleepest thou, O Lord?’ And the Spirit answered him: ‘I never sleep; were I to fall asleep for a moment before my time, all the Creation would crumble into dissolution in one instant.’ ” And Vamadeva-Modely describes the “Night of Brahma,” or the second period of the Divine Unknown existence, thus:
“Strange noises are heard, proceeding from every point. . . . These are the precursors of the Night of Brahma; dusk rises at the horizon and the Sun passes away behind the thirtieth degree of Macara (sign of the zodiac), and will reach no more the sign of the Minas (zodiacal pisces, or fish). The gurus of the pagodas appointed to watch the ras-chakr (Zodiac), may now break their circle and instruments, for they are henceforth useless. 273
Avatars of Vishnu and evolution 274 /
If we now examine the ten mythical avatars of Vishnu, we find them recorded in the following progression:
Matsya-Avatar: as a fish. It will also be his tenth and last avatar, at the end of the Kali-yug. 2. Kurm-Avatar: as a tortoise. 3. Varaha: as a boar. 4. Nara-Sing: as a man-lion; last animal stage. 5. Vamuna: as a dwarf; first step toward the human form. 6. Parasu-Rama: as a hero, but yet an imperfect man. 7. Rama-Chandra: as the hero of Ramayana. Physically a perfect man; his next of kin, friend and ally Hanouma, the monkey-god. The monkey endowed with speech.** 8. Christna-Avatar: the Son of the Virgin Devanaguy (or Devaki) one formed by God, or rather by the manifested Deity Vishnu, who is identical with Adam Kadmon.*** Christna is also called Kaneya, the Son of the Virgin. 9. Gautama-Buddha, Siddhartha, or Sakya-muni. (The Buddhists reject this doctrine of their Buddha being an incarnation of Vishnu.) 10. This avatar has not yet occurred. It is expected in the future, like the Christian Advent, the idea of which was undoubtedly copied from the Hindu. When Vishnu appears for the last time he will come as a “Saviour.” According to the opinion of some Brahmans he will appear himself under the form of the horse Kalki. Others maintain that he will be mounting it. This horse is the envelope of the spirit of evil, and Vishnu will mount it, invisible to all, till he has conquered it for the last time. The “Kalki-Avataram,” or the last incarnation, divides Brahmanism into two sects. That of the Vaihnava refuses to recognize the incarnations of their god Vishnu in animal forms literally. They claim that these must be understood as allegorical. 274
In this diagram of avatars we see traced the gradual evolution and transformation of all species out of the ante-Silurian mud of Darwin and the ilus of Sanchoniathon and Berosus. Beginning with the Azoic time, corresponding to the ilus in which Brahma implants the creative germ, we pass through the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic times, covered by the first and second incarnations as the fish and tortoise; and the Cenozoic, which is embraced by the incarnations in the animal and semi-human forms of the boar and man-lion; and we come to the fifth and crowning geological period, designated as the “era of mind, or age of man,” whose symbol in the Hindu mythology is the dwarf — the first attempt of nature at the creation of man. In this diagram we should follow the main idea, not judge the degree of knowledge of the ancient philosophers by the literal acceptance of the popular form in which it is presented to us in the grand epical poem of Maha-Bharata and its chapter the Bagaved-gitta. 275
Evolution of the ape family 278
He would, perhaps, learn — were the Brahman to judge him worthy of an explanation — that the Hindu sees in the ape but what Manu desired he should: the transformation of species most directly connected with that of the human family — a bastard branch engrafted on their own stock before the final perfection of the latter.*** He might learn, further, that in the eyes of the educated “heathen” the spiritual or inner man is one thing, and his terrestrial, physical casket another. That physical nature, the great combination of physical correlations of forces ever creeping on toward perfection, has to avail herself of the material at hand; she models and remodels as she proceeds, and finishing her crowning work in man, presents him alone as a fit tabernacle for the overshadowing of the Divine spirit. But the latter circumstance does not give man the right of life and death over the animals lower than himself in the scale of nature, or the right to torture them. Quite the reverse. Besides being endowed with a soul — of which every animal, and even plant, is more or less possessed — man has his immortal rational soul, or nous, which ought to make him at least equal in magnanimity to the elephant, who treads so carefully, lest he should crush weaker creatures than himself. It is this feeling which prompts Brahman and Buddhist alike to construct hospitals for sick animals, and even insects, and to prepare refuges wherein they may finish their days.278-79
4- The Evolution of the Soul in Ancient Greece and Buddhism (279)
Transmigration of Souls – Body, Soul and Spirit in ancient Greece 279 /
Plato, Anaxagoras, Pythagoras, the Eleatic schools of Greece, as well as the old Chaldean sacerdotal colleges, all taught the doctrine of the dual evolution; the doctrine of the transmigration of souls referring only to the progress of man from world to world, after death here. Every philosophy worthy of the name, taught that the spirit of man, if not the soul, was preexistent. “The Essenes,” says Josephus, “believed that the souls were immortal, and that they descended from the ethereal spaces to be chained to bodies.”* In his turn, Philo Judaeus says, the “air is full of them (of souls); those which are nearest the earth, descending to be tied to mortal bodies, [[palindromousin authis]], return to other bodies, being desirous to live in them.”** In the Sohar, the soul is made to plead her freedom before God: “Lord of the Universe! I am happy in this world, and do not wish to go into another world, where I shall be a handmaid, and be exposed to all kinds of pollutions.”*** The doctrine of fatal necessity, the everlasting immutable Law, is asserted in the answer of the Deity: “Against thy will thou becomest an embryo, and against thy will thou art born.”**** Light would be incomprehensible without darkness, to make it manifest by contrast; good would be no good without evil, to show the priceless nature of the boon; and so, personal virtue could claim no merit, unless it had passed through the furnace of temptation. Nothing is eternal and unchangeable, save the Concealed Deity. Nothing that is finite — whether because it had a beginning, or must have an end — can remain stationary. It must either progress or recede; and a soul which thirsts after a reunion with its spirit, which alone confers upon it immortality, must purify itself through cyclic transmigrations, onward toward the only Land of Bliss and Eternal Rest, called in the Sohar, “The Palace of Love,” ; in the Hindu religion, “Moksha”; among the Gnostics, the “Pleroma of eternal Light”; and by the Buddhists, Nirvana. The Christian calls it the “Kingdom of Heaven,” and claims to have alone found the truth, whereas he has but invented a new name for a doctrine which is coeval with man. 279
Transmigration of Souls in Buddhism 286
It is the philosophy of Siddhartha-Buddha again that Pythagoras expounded, when asserting that the ego ([[nous]]) was eternal with God, and that the soul only passed through various stages (Hindu Rupa-locas) to arrive at the divine excellence; meanwhile the thumos returned to the earth, and even the phren was eliminated. Thus the metempsychosis was only a succession of disciplines through refuge-heavens (called by the Buddhists Zion),** to work off the exterior mind, to rid the nous of the phren, or soul, the Buddhist “Winyanaskandaya,” that principle that lives from Karma and the Skandhas (groups). It is the latter, the metaphysical personations of the “deeds” of man, whether good or bad, which, after the death of his body, incarnate themselves, so to say, and form their many invisible but never-dying compounds into a new body, or rather into an ethereal being, the double of what man was morally. It is the astral body of the kabalist and the “incarnated deeds” which form the new sentient self as his Ahancara (the ego, self-consciousness), given to him by the sovereign Master (the breath of God) can never perish, for it is immortal per se as a spirit; hence the sufferings of the newly-born self till he rids himself of every earthly thought, desire, and passion. 286