The following is part of an essay that was composed in response to an article titled “The Question of G. de Purucker,” published at blavatskytheosophy.com. The full essay can be found here.
Let it be clear from the outset that we are not here to defend a particular person. Nor are we here to debate or discuss “successorship,” “leadership” or the “occult status” of any individual. It is to be understood that this reply is not the result of parroting G. de Purucker, but simply the result of long independent study, besides the fact that the conceptual understanding of theosophical teachings is always open to interpretation and thus open to misunderstanding by any student.
In the above mentioned article, following a dissertation on the person of G. de Purucker, the article moves on to select a handful of ideas drawn from his writings. In doing so, it is suggested that these ideas are “entirely at odds with the teaching in ‘The Secret Doctrine’.” We find this to be an incorrect conclusion, and believe it could mislead students of Theosophy into believing a priori, without sufficient evidence or argument, that Purucker’s ideas entirely oppose those of H.P. Blavatsky (HPB) and her teachers. We will, therefore, address each of these ideas in turn, providing references to Purucker’s writings and those of The Secret Doctrine (SD) and other writings of HPB. This, we believe, will illustrate that the ten points of criticism in the article are generally mistaken and not actually in opposition to what the authors refer to as “genuine theosophy.”
Point #5: Parabrahma vs. Brahma
The fifth point of contention is:
His teaching that Brahman and Parabrahman are not one and the same thing but that Parabrahman is higher than Brahman and means “Beyond Brahman.” In fact it means “Beyond Brahmā” and also “Supreme Brahman,” not implying that there is a supreme Brahman and a less supreme Brahman, but that Brahman IS the Supreme. Brahman and Parabrahm (or Parabrahman) are synonymous terms belonging to Hindu philosophy and are used by HPB and the Masters in the same sense in which Hinduism uses them, which was apparently misunderstood or disagreed with by de Purucker.
First, let us begin with a few notes on the Sanskrit use of these terms. Both terms, brahmā and brahma, come from the same undeclined word, brahman. When declined in the nominative neuter, it is brahma. When declined in the nominative masculine, it is brahmā. There are two ways we find “parabrahma” in Sanskrit, 1. the term parabrahma, and 2. the phrase param brahma. Neither of these use the nominative masculine. Thus, if we understand para to mean “beyond,” then parabrahma would necessarily mean “beyond brahma (neuter).” However, the term para is, in these cases, understood by some modern scholars to indicate simply “supreme” or “highest,” and thus, to them, in the Sanskrit and exoteric hindu philosophy, parabrahma does, as the article claims, indicate “the supreme brahma.” It is thus therein used rather synonymously with brahma (neuter).
Thus, strictly speaking, and according to these Sanskrit scholars, “parabrahma” would not mean “beyond brahma” but neither would it mean “beyond brahmā.” This latter definition is what appears in the Theosophical Glossary, but let us remember that HPB was not alive to give a final proof-run through this book before it was finalized. In Judge’s rendition of the Bhagavad Gita, he uses “the supreme” or “supreme brahma” or “supreme spirit” when translating brahma or parabrahma. Only once does he indicate the idea of “beyond brahma”—in the first footnote of chapter 10—and when he does he uses “brahma” not “brahmā.” However, there is a lack of consistency in Judge’s use of the “a” or “ā” in his rendition, as originally printed, and there are obvious errors in his usage (at least, in a strictly linguistic sense). Though valuable in many ways, neither of these sources (the Glossary or Judge’s Gita) can be solely relied upon to give entirely accurate definitions of parabrahma, neither from a common exoteric point of view nor as used in theosophy.
Now, in searching for the meaning of Sanskrit terms it is often helpful to look to the roots involved, and when one searches for “para” (पर ) one will certainly find the idea of “beyond” as an acceptable meaning. See, for instance, the definitions given by Monier-Williams, Apte and McDonnell in their Sanskrit-English Dictionaries. Here’s a taste of their definitions (underlining is ours for emphasis):
“पर : far , distant , remote (in space) , opposite , ulterior , farther than , beyond , on the other or farther side of , extreme.”—Monier-Williams
“पर : 1 Other, different, another; -2 Distant, removed, remote; -3 Beyond, further, on the other side of; -4 Subsequent, following, next to, future, after (usually with abl.); -5 Higher, superior; etc.”—Apte
“पर pár-a [leading beyond: √2. pri], 1. of place: farther, than ; remoter, ulterior; opposite (shore); next (life); 2. of time: past, previous; future, subsequent; following (ab.); latest, extreme (age), high (time); 3. of amount: exceeding, more than ; remaining over; 4. of sequence: following, coming next after ; repeated: each successive; 5. of degree: superior, higher, better, worse, than ; supreme, pre-eminent, best; utmost, deepest, greatest; 6. of range: transcending ; etc.”—McDonnell
We can see that the idea of “beyond” does have its place, and can thus be a completely acceptable meaning in some compound Sanskrit terms beginning with “para.” While this may not be the common interpretation of its use in the term parabrahma, we may accept it in the theosophical philosophy for the same reason we may accept uniquely theosophical definitions of other Sanskrit terms: i.e. we must look to the philosophy itself for the meaning and try to discover if “beyond” makes more sense philosophically and theosophically than “supreme”.
Now that we have a grasp on the common use of the terms in Sanskrit and exoteric hinduism, let’s hear how Purucker defines the terms. Here is Purucker on the distinction between parabrahman and brahman (neuter):
Atman is also sometimes used of the universal self or spirit which is called in the Sanskrit writings Brahman (neuter), and the Brahman or universal spirit is also called the Paramatman, a compound Sanskrit term meaning the “highest” or most universal atman. . . . Beyond Brahman is the Parabrahman: para is a Sanskrit word meaning “beyond.” Note the deep philosophical meaning of this: there is no attempt here to limit the Illimitable, the Ineffable, by adjectives; it simply means “beyond the Brahman.” In the Sanskrit Vedas and in the works deriving therefrom and belonging to the Vedic literary cycle, this beyond is called That, as this world of manifestation is called This. (Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy)
This may not match the common exoteric use of the terms in Hinduism, or the common understanding of some modern Sanskrit scholars, but we must disagree with the conclusion in the article that “HPB and the Masters [used these terms] in the same sense in which Hinduism uses them.” Like most terms, HPB and the Masters used them in a specifically theosophical sense, which may or may not match exactly the exoteric use in the systems from which the terms were borrowed. Furthermore, HPB makes it clear (SD 1:20) that these terms are not the ones used in the genuine esoteric philosophy, but are used in the SD simply because they are more well known to students. They are substitute terms—terms drawn from exoteric philosophy and utilized to explain esoteric philosophy, and thus it is not outrageous to expect them to be given a particularly theosophical twist or to have certain distinctions that may not be easily apparent in exoteric works. The same general rule applies to HPB’s use of many terms from many systems of thought (take the “Logos,” for example): we cannot make the assumption that she is using such terms exactly as the exoteric systems use them. Instead, we must be careful to consider when such terms are being used in uniquely theosophical ways. And this, we believe, is the case with parabrahma and brahma (neuter), as we intend to demonstrate.
Now, throughout the SD, the terms parabrahma and brahma (neuter) can and are at times used almost interchangeably or synonymously. Many terms from various traditions are also used in nearly synonymous ways in some instances while in other instances important distinctions are made. Philosophic terms in the SD are often used in such a variety of ways as to leave the (lower) mind altogether uncertain of their exact meaning. HPB seems to have loved this kind of flexibility with words, and likely for very good reason. But there is an important distinction to be made, generally, between the ideas represented by terms parabrahman and brahma (neuter) in the Secret Doctrine.
So let’s explore this idea of Parabrahman, Brahma and Brahmā. First, three quotes from the Secret Doctrine:
1. Parabrahm is not ‘God,’ because It is not a God. ‘It is that which is supreme, and not supreme (paravara),’ explains Mandukya Upanishad (2.28). IT is ‘Supreme’ as CAUSE, not supreme as effect. Parabrahm is simply, as a ‘Secondless Reality,’ the all-inclusive Kosmos—or, rather, the infinite Cosmic Space—in the highest spiritual sense, of course.
2. “Brahma (neuter) being the unchanging, pure, free, undecaying supreme Root, ‘the ONE true Existence, Paramarthika,’ and the absolute Chit and Chaitanya (intelligence, consciousness) cannot be a cognize, ‘for THAT can have no subject of cognition.’
3. In the sense and perceptions of finite ‘Beings,’ THAT is Non-’being,’ in the sense that it is the one BE-NESS; for, in this ALL lies concealed its coeternal and coeval emanation or inherent radiation, which, upon becoming periodically Brahmâ (the male-female Potency) becomes or expands itself into the manifested Universe. (SD 1:6-7)
So we have here the three terms, first, Parabrahma, the “secondless reality,” the “all-inclusive Kosmos”; second, Brahma (neuter), the undecaying supreme Root; and third brahmā, the male-female Potency.
What is the relation between Parabrahma, Brahma (neuter), and Brahmā?
Parabraham is not this or that, it is not even consciousness, as it cannot be related to matter or anything conditioned. It is not Ego nor is it Non-ego, not even Atma, but verily the one source of all manifestations and modes of existence. (SD 1:130 fn)
Parabrahm (the One Reality, the Absolute) is the field of Absolute Consciousness, i.e., that Essence which is out of all relation to conditioned existence, and of which conscious existence is a conditioned symbol. (SD 1:15)
Parabrahm, being the “Supreme all,” the ever invisible spirit and Soul of Nature, changeless and eternal, can have no attributes; absoluteness very naturally precluding any idea of the finite or conditioned from being connected with it. (SD 1:7)
Yet in the SD it is clearly stated that brahmā is the vehicle of brahma (neuter) (see the explanations of kala-hamsa and hamsa-vahana). That is: there is a direct relation/connection between the manifested, hence “conditioned” brahmā and the unmanifested brahma (neuter)—for both are the Logos, one unmanifested, one manifested. But there cannot be a relation between the conditioned brahmā and parabrahma, which must place parabrahma per se beyond even the unmanifested logos, brahma (neuter). If the manifested Brahmā is a manifestation from Brahma (neuter) and the Absolute per se does not put forward anything and is not related to or connected to anything manifested, then there has to be a distinction between parabrahma and brahma (neuter).
To clarify this distinction between Parabrahma and Brahma (neuter), consider the following:
. . . if we turn to the Hindu cosmogonies, we find that Parabrahm is not even mentioned therein, but only Mulaprakriti. The latter is, so to speak, the lining or aspect of Parabrahm in the invisible universe. Mulaprakriti means the Root of Nature or Matter. But Parabrahm cannot be called the “Root,” for it is the absolute Rootless Root of all. (Transactions, p. 2)
So Brahman (neuter) is the “undecaying supreme Root,” but Parabrahm “cannot be called the root.” In regards to this terminology we have a very important commentary on the Asvattha Tree from HPB that clarifies greatly the distinctions between the “rootless root” and the “root,” including a translation by her of a critical verse from the Bhagavad Gita:
“. . . in the beginning of their joint existence as a glyph of Immortal Being, the Tree and Serpent were divine imagery, truly. The tree was reversed, and its roots were generated in Heaven and grew out of the Rootless Root of all-being. Its trunk grew and developed, crossing the planes of Pleroma, it shot out crossways its luxuriant branches, first on the plane of hardly differentiated matter, and then downward till they touched the terrestrial plane. Thus, the Asvattha, tree of Life and Being, whose destruction alone leads to immortality, is said in the Bhagavatgita to grow with its roots above and its branches below (ch. xv.). The roots represent the Supreme Being, or First Cause, the LOGOS; but one has to go beyond those roots to unite oneself with Krishna, who, says Arjuna (XI.), is “greater than Brahman, and First Cause . . . the indestructible, that which is, that which is not, and what is beyond them.” Its boughs are Hiranyagharba (Brahmâ or Brahman in his highest manifestations, say Sridhara and Madhusudana), the highest Dhyan Chohans or Devas.” (SD 1:406)
So here we find a direct description of the “first cause” as the “roots” of the tree, which grew out of the rootless root, that which is beyond those roots, that which is “greater than brahman.” There is thus: 1. the rootless root, 2. the roots (first cause, brahma (neuter)) and 3. the boughs (brahmā) or even “brahman in his highest manifestations.”
Again, using the Secret Doctrine, let’s explore the very important distinction between the “causeless cause” and the “first cause”:
Herbert Spencer has of late so far modified his Agnosticism, as to assert that the nature of the “First Cause,”* which the Occultist more logically derives from the “Causeless Cause,” the “Eternal,” and the “ Unknowable,” may be essentially the same as that of the Consciousness which wells up within us: in short, that the impersonal reality pervading the Kosmos is the pure noumenon of thought. This advance on his part brings him very near to the esoteric and Vedantin tenet.
* The “first” presupposes necessarily something which is the “first brought forth, the first in time, space, and rank”—and therefore finite and conditioned. The “first” cannot be the absolute, for it is a manifestation. Therefore, Eastern Occultism calls the Abstract All the “Causeless One Cause,” the “Rootless Root,” and limits the “First Cause” to the Logos, in the sense that Plato gives to this term. (SD 1:14-15 & fn*)
Again the “first cause” “is not Parabrahm, for the latter is the ALL CAUSE, and cannot be referred to as the “First Cause,”” (SD 2:108)
The Absolute is again, in this case, the Rootless Root. Brahma (neuter) is this first cause (or Logos), the Root (of all manifestation). We’ll return to this in a moment.
Again, the distinction between brahma (neuter) and brahmā:
The Universe lives in, proceeds from, and will return to, Brahma (Brahmâ)”: for Brahma (neuter), the unmanifested, is that Universe in abscondito, and Brahmâ, the manifested, is the Logos, made male-female in the symbolical orthodox dogmas. (SD 1:8-9)
Brahmā is the “Logos made male-female,” i.e. “made manifest,” i.e. the third logos, the manifested universe, while the “unmanifested” is the Logos prior to being made male-female, or the first Logos. This is the all-important distinction between brahma (neuter) and brahmā: both are the Logos: one unmanifested, the other manifested. Beyond the Logos, whether unmanifested or manifested, is Parabrahman. Keep in mind here these terms “the unmanifested” and “the manifested.” We’ll return to this in a moment.
One may also look to the term “Brahma” in the Theosophical Glossary, which seems to be a sound definition:
Brahma (Sk.). The student must distinguish between Brahma the neuter, and Brahmâ, the male creator of the Indian Pantheon. The former, Brahma or Brahman, is the impersonal, supreme and uncognizable Principle of the Universe from the essence of which all emanates, and into which all returns, which is incorporeal, immaterial, unborn, eternal, beginningless and endless. It is all-pervading, animating the highest god as well as the smallest mineral atom. Brahmâ on the other hand, the male and the alleged Creator, exists periodically in his manifestation only, and then again goes into pralaya, i.e., disappears and is annihilated. (p. 62)
Here “Brahma or Brahman, is the impersonal, supreme and uncognizable Principle of the Universe”; it is that from which all emanates, not that which is out of all connection to manifestation—not the Absolute but the principle (the “first” or “chief”) of the universe to which the Absolute has absolutely no relation, as it represents both being and non-being (SD 1:16). Thus Brahman is the First Logos (and sometimes also the Second).
Neither brahma or brahmā can be perfectly synonymous with parabrahman in the theosophical philosophy, because of “the impossibility of accepting on philosophical grounds the idea of the absolute ALL creating or even evolving the ‘Golden Egg,’ into which it is said to enter in order to transform itself into Brahmâ” (SD 1:8), while this is exactly what brahma (neuter) does. When differentiation occurs, it (Brahma, not the Absolute) manifests as Brahmā. Parabrahma must therefore always be “beyond” both brahma (neuter), as the “first cause,” and brahmā (male-female) as the effect, because it is both cause and effect—as the Gita says, both “that which is, that which is not,” (SD 1:406), i.e. “both Absolute Being and Non-Being” (SD 1:16), or in other words, Parabrahm is “Be-ness” (SD 1:14).
Q. But surely “Be-ness” has some connection with the word “to be”?
A. Yes; but “Be-ness” is not being, for it is equally non-being. We cannot conceive it, for our intellects are finite and our language far more limited and conditioned even than our minds. How, therefore, can we express that which we can only conceive of by a series of negatives?” (Transactions, p. 17)
The following summary will afford a clearer idea to the reader.
(1.) The ABSOLUTE; the Parabrahm of the Vedantins or the one Reality, SAT, which is, as Hegel says, both Absolute Being and Non-Being.
(2.) The first manifestation, the impersonal, and, in philosophy, unmanifested Logos, the precursor of the “manifested.” This is the “First Cause,” the “Unconscious” of European Pantheists. [brahma (neuter), non-being]
(3.) Spirit-matter, LIFE; the “Spirit of the Universe,” the Purusha and Prakriti, or the second Logos. [brahmā (male-female potency), being]
(4.) Cosmic Ideation, MAHAT or Intelligence, the Universal World-Soul; the Cosmic Noumenon of Matter, the basis of the intelligent operations in and of Nature, also called MAHA-BUDDHI. [brahmā (male and female), conditioned being]
The ONE REALITY; its dual aspects in the conditioned Universe. (SD 1:16)
To summarize this threefold distinction we might say, generally speaking:
Parabrahma = both being and non-being
Brahma = non-being but not being
Brahmā = being but not non-being
The following ought to make this distinction “absolutely” clear:
True enough, Ain-Soph, the ABSOLUTE ENDLESS NO-THING, uses also the form of the ONE, the manifested “Heavenly man” (the FIRST CAUSE) as its chariot (Mercabah, in Hebrew; Vahan, in Sanskrit) or vehicle to descend into, and manifest through, in the phenomenal world. But the Kabalists neither make it plain how the ABSOLUTE can use anything, or exercise any attribute whatever, since, as the Absolute, it is devoid of attributes; nor do they explain that in reality it is the First Cause (Plato’s Logos) the original and eternal IDEA, that manifests through Adam Kadmon, the Second Logos, so to speak. In the “Book of Numbers” it is explained that EN (or Ain, Aior) is the only self-existent, whereas its “Depth” (Bythos or Buthon of the Gnostics, called Propator) is only periodical. The latter is Brahmâ as differentiated from Brahma or Parabrahm. It is the Depth, the Source of Light, or Propator, which is the unmanifested Logos or the abstract Idea, and not Ain-Soph, whose ray uses Adam-Kadmon or the manifested Logos (the objective Universe) “male and female”—as a chariot through which to manifest. (SD 1:214)
The distinction here between 1. Ain-Soph, 2. the unmanifested Logos, and 3. the manifested Logos, is the very same distinction as between 1. Parabrahma, 2. Brahma (neuter), and 3. Brahmā (male-female).
There is a cyclical process by which the manifested arises from the unmanifested and then returns to it, and thus there is an ever-eternal relation between the two. The One Logos is, during manifestation, threefold: the first, second and third Logos. The first logos is brahma (neuter) proper; the second may be viewed as both brahma (neuter) and brahmā, from certain points of view, as it first gives rise to duality in the sense of subject-object, or spirit-matter; the third is the truly manifested logos (brahmā as the conditioned universe, as divided into male and female). The latter (the second and third) return into the former, so to speak, when manvantara passes to pralaya. The Logos then is once more one. During pralaya, then, the One Logos is indistinguishable from the Absolute from the point of view of finite intelligence, and this is the case when we may view the terms brahma (neuter) and parabrahman as more-or-less synonymous. But during manvantara there are important distinctions to be made here, as HPB shows in her summary given above. Parabrahman per se is not the Logos. It is neither brahma (neuter) nor brahmā (male-female), neither the unmanifested nor the manifested, though it is also both, or rather, both are in IT. So Parabrahman per se represents that which is beyond even that unmanifested brahma—beyond the whole cyclic scheme, beyond the Logos itself—the “Rootless Root” and “Causeless Cause.”
The approach by HPB is to keep us from becoming static on a particular term, to help us understand the meaning and “process” behind the literal sense. Sometimes, for instance, the Monad is the Pythagorean Monas Monadum, then singularly Atma, then Atma-Buddhi, then Atma-Buddhi-Manas, then mind, then a Dhyan Chohan, and even an elemental. Idem ditto for the Universal Mind, which she refers to as the Absolute and in another place as just Mahat, the cosmic manifested mind; or again, see the indifferent use of the Absolute vs Absoluteness, etc., for all of which one can find references in the SD or Transactions. Therefore the teachings of Theosophy can be looked upon as a contextual philosophy. This flexibility must always be kept in mind when studying any theosophical material.
There is no cause in the manifested universe without its adequate effects, whether in space or time; nor can there be an effect without its primal cause, which itself owes its existence to a still higher one—the final and absolute cause having to remain to man for ever an incomprehensible CAUSELESS CAUSE. But even this is no solution, and must be viewed, if at all, from the highest philosophical and metaphysical standpoints, otherwise the problem had better be left unapproached. It is an abstraction, on the verge of which human reason—however trained to metaphysical subtleties—trembles, threatening to collapse. (SD 1:569-570)
If our mind is not trembling and ready to collapse from the effort, we are likely not even close to a solution to the problems at hand, and we must be ever careful not to concretize or materialize or simplify these incredibly abstract conceptions.
Let us wrap up this particularly lengthy reply with the following, which is the complete definition given by G de Purucker, and which, while it may not match the exoteric definitions of various schools of eastern thought, we believe to be quite philosophically sound. The all-important distinction between the “Absolute” as the summit or apex or hierach of a hierarchy and the Absolute per se is directly given here.
Parabrahman (Sanskrit) Parabrahman [from para beyond + brahman (neuter) universal self or spirit] That which is beyond Brahman; the self-enduring, eternal, self-sufficient cause of all, the one essence of everything in the kosmos. It is before all things in the kosmos, and is the one sole limitless life-consciousness-substance from which starts into existence a center of force which may be called the Logos. In the Vedic cycle of writing it is referred to as tat (that) as opposed to the world of manifestation called idam (this).
Parabrahman is intimately connected with Mulaprakriti. Their interaction and intermingling cause the first nebulous thrilling, if the words will pass, of the Universal Life when spiritual desire first arose in it in the beginnings of things. . . . Parabrahman is no entity, is no individual, or individualized being. It is a convenient technical word with conveniently vague philosophical significancy, implying whatever is beyond the Absolute or Brahman of any hierarchy. Just as Brahman is the summit of a kosmic Hierarchy, so, following the same line of thought, the Parabrahman is ‘whatever is beyond Brahman’. (Occult Glossary).
Parabrahman is identical with the ’eyn-soph [ain soph] of the Chaldean Qabbalah (Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary, Parabrahman)