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 #7: The Meaning of AUM
The seventh point of contention is:
His teaching that there is nothing inherently sacred or special whatsoever about OM or AUM, despite HPB’s teachings and also the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism regarding it as the Sacred Word.
The section being referred to here is no doubt from Studies in Occult Philosophy, a section titled “The Meaning of Aum.” Here is a selection:
Will you explain the meaning of the passage in THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE referring to Kala-Hansa: The syllable A is considered to be its (the bird Hansa’s) right wing, U, its left, M, its tail, and the Ardha-Matra (half metre) is said to be its head. It is the Ardha-Matra (half metre) which puzzles me.
Here again you have picked out one of the less important things, which I dare say you realize yourself. Just as in all religions there is always a certain class who are seeing wonderful mystic meaning in this or that or some minor detail, which may be quite interesting and important in a small way, but it does not rank among the fundamental, or topnotch, or through-and-through important, things—such is the case with the simply reams of stuff that have been written not only by Hindus through centuries, but even by Europeans, about the so-called sacred syllable Om or Aum. It is simply amazing how this one word has exercised the ingenuity and mystical feelings of literally centuries and centuries of generations of Hindus belonging to almost all Schools.
The “less important thing” is clearly that the student is missing the grander teachings of the Voice of the Silence in favor of looking into minute teachings on the “half meter,”—missing the forest for the trees, so to say—and it is clear that Purucker is more specifically dismissing the “reams of stuff that have been written” on Aum over the centuries, rather than Aum itself. But yes, perhaps we do find here a relatively low opinion of the importance of Aum. Yet, immediately following this statement Purucker adds:
The word is a sacred name on account of its vibrational quality, and used to be used in ceremonial magic, pronounced aloud, although in most secret privacy.
Further, in Fundmentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, he explains that:
Om is a word considered very holy in the Brahmanical literature. It is a syllable of invocation, and its general usage—as elucidated in the literature treating of it, which is rather voluminous for this word Om has attained to almost divinity—is that it should never be uttered aloud, or in the presence of an outsider, a foreigner, or a non-initiate, but it should be uttered in the silence of one’s heart. We also have reason to believe, however, that it was uttered, and uttered aloud in a monotone by the disciples in the presence of their teacher. This word is always placed at the beginning of any scripture that is considered of unusual sanctity. The teaching is, that prolonging the uttering of this word, both of the O and the M, with the mouth closed, it re-echoes in and arouses vibration in the skull, and affects, if the aspirations be pure, the different nervous centers of the body for great good.
What does HPB say about Aum? From the Theosophical Glossary:
Om or Aum (Sk.). A mystic syllable, the most solemn of all words in India. It is “an invocation, a benediction, an affirmation and a promise”; and it is so sacred, as to be indeed the word at low breath of occult, primitive masonry. No one must be near when the syllable is pronounced for a purpose.
Now consider the following:
There [Fargard XI] are given various words to employ for different acts of cleansing. But the WORD, the one most potent—the Name which, so says Proclus in his treatise upon the Chaldean Oracles—“rushes into the infinite worlds,” is not written there. Though properly the WORD or the NAME is neither a word nor a name, in the sense in which we use either expression. Nor can it be written, nor is it ever pronounced above the breath, nor, indeed, is its nature known except to the highest initiates. The efficacy of all words used as charms and spells lies in what the Aryans call the Vach, a certain latent power resident in Akasa. Physically, we may describe it as the power to set up certain measured vibrations, not in the grosser atmospheric particles whose undulations beget light, sound, heat and electricity, but in the latent spiritual principle or Force—about the nature of which modern Science knows scarcely anything. No words whatever have the slightest efficacy unless uttered by one who is perfectly free from all weakening doubt or hesitancy, who is for the moment wholly absorbed in the thought of uttering them, and has a cultivated power of will which makes him send out from himself a conquering impulse.—Col. Olcott, “The Spirit of the Zoroastrian Religion,” from a Lecture given in Bombay, 1882. [note: the text of this speech and its later publication were, it seems, largely supplied by HPB (see CW 3:449)]
There is no evidence so far that the “word” is identical with AUM, certainly not with what the world at large calls “AUM” or “OM,” which may well be the substitute HPB refers to in the following quotes (See ref. to Isis 2:388 below). Consider that if the “word” cannot be written, nor is it really even a “word” in the common meaning, and yet AUM is written at the beginning of nearly every Indian text—surely that written word is but a substitute. If the “word” is never pronounced above the breath, and if “no one must be near when the syllable is pronounced for a purpose,” and the real nature of this “word” is only known to the high initiates, then certainly this cannot be the “OM” regularly and flippantly chanted by millions all over the world? Although it goes without saying that even the substitute has its own meaning and application, it is quite surely not the real “word” and thus, as Purucker says, may not be all that important in and of itself.
In the following quotes we have further evidence that the “word” known to the world is but a substitute.
On account of its being known that he [Rabbi Simeon Ben-Iochaï] was in possession of this knowledge, and of the Mercaba, which insured the reception of the “Word,” his very life was endangered, and he had to fly to the wilderness, where he lived in a cave for twelve years, surrounded by faithful disciples, and finally died there amid signs and wonders. (Isis 2:348)
Therefore, without the final initiation into the Mercaba the study of the Kabala will be ever incomplete, and the Mercaba can be taught only in “darkness, in a deserted place, and after many and terrific trials.” Since the death of Simeon Ben-Iochai this hidden doctrine has remained an inviolate secret for the outside world. Delivered only as a mystery, it was communicated to the candidate orally, “face to face and mouth to ear.”
This Masonic commandment, “mouth to ear, and the word at low breath,” is an inheritance from the Tanaim and the old Pagan Mysteries. Its modern use must certainly be due to the indiscretion of some renegade kabalist, though the “word” itself is but a “substitute” for the “lost word,” [see SD 1:408] and is a comparatively modern invention, as we will further show. The real sentence has remained forever in the sole possession of the adepts of various countries of the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Only a limited number among the chiefs of the Templars, and some Rosicrucians of the seventeenth century, always in close relations with Arabian alchemists and initiates, could really boast of its possession. From the seventh to the fifteenth centuries there was no one who could claim it in Europe; and although there had been alchemists before the days of Paracelsus, he was the first who had passed through the true initiation, that last ceremony which conferred on the adept the power of travelling toward the “burning bush” over the holy ground, and to “burn the golden calf in the fire, grind it to powder, and strow it upon the water.” Verily, then, this magic water, and the “lost word,” resuscitated more than one of the pre-Mosaic Adonirams, Gedaliahs, and Hiram Abiffs. The real word now substituted by Mac Benac and Mah was used ages before its pseudo-magical effect was tried on the “widow’s sons” of the last two centuries. (Isis 2:349)
‘Those of the Fourth World (race) lost AUM’—say the Commentaries. (SD 1:408)
And when we find the “one like unto the Son of man” saying (chap. ii. 17): “To him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a WHITE STONE, and in the stone a new name written”—the word—which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it, what Master Mason can doubt but it refers to the last head-line of this chapter? (Isis 2:351)
The potency contained in the Mantras and the Vâch of the Brahmans is as much believed in at this day as it was in the early Vedic period. The “Ineffable Name” of every country and religion relates to that which the Masons affirm to be the mysterious characters emblematic of the nine names or attributes by which the Deity was known to the initiates. The Omnific Word traced by Enoch on the two deltas of purest gold, on which he engraved two of the mysterious characters, is perhaps better known to the poor, uneducated “heathen” than to the highly accomplished Grand High Priests and Grand Z.’s of the Supreme Chapters of Europe and America. Only why the companions of the Royal Arch should so bitterly and constantly lament its loss, is more than we can understand. This word of M. M. is, as they will tell themselves, entirely composed of consonants. Hence, we doubt whether any of them could ever have mastered its pronunciation, had it even been “brought to light from the secret vault,” instead of its several corruptions. However, it is to the land of Mizraim that the grandson of Ham is credited with having carried the sacred delta of the Patriarch Enoch. Therefore, it is in Egypt, and in the East alone that the mysterious “Word” must be sought. (Isis 2:371)
Such also is the case in the Blue Lodge, where the Master, representing King Solomon, agrees with King Hiram that the Word * * * “shall be used as a substitute for the Master’s word, until wiser ages shall discover the true one.” What Senior Deacon, of all the thousands who have assisted in bringing candidates from darkness to light; or what Master who has whispered this mystic “word” into the ears of supposititious Hiram Abiffs, while holding them on the five points of fellowship, has suspected the real meaning of even this substitute, which they impart “at low breath”? (Isis 2:388)
Such is the respect of the Brahmans for the sacrificial mysteries, that they hold that the world itself sprang into creation as a consequence of a “sacrificial word” pronounced by the First Cause. This word is the “Ineffable name” of the kabalists, fully discussed in the last chapter. [VIII] (Isis 2:409)
Perhaps we may summarize thus:
1. AUM is the “word at low breath” of “occult primitive masonry” that should not be spoken aloud, etc.
2. The “word” is but a substitute these days.
3. The AUM (whatever it really is) was lost by the fourth race (SD 1:408).
4. “The real sentence has remained forever in the sole possession of the adepts of various countries of the Eastern and Western hemispheres.”
The view (whether or not it was held by Purucker) that there is nothing inherently sacred in the word AUM may have a firm foundation, then, from a certain point of view. As a symbol, it is no doubt a valuable one, as is any triple-symbol, giving us a gateway to understand the basics of the idea of the “trinity.” As a vibratory quality it may also have some deeper meaning and use. But, it may also be but a substitute, or a blind, for the real “word” or sentence that represents the real power. The voluminous writings on AUM may, then, be somewhat as Purucker says, distractions from the higher and more important teachings. It is true that W. Q. Judge wrote about AUM/OM and gave many interesting thoughts about its significance, along with his opinion that the word is highly significant. HPB, however, left the term relatively untouched. In the Secret Doctrine, AUM or OM plays almost no role whatsoever, even though there is mention repeatedly of one, three and seven vowelled terms, or terms like Oeaohoo, with its specific pronunciation, and so on. This in itself is rather interesting.
In any case, we do not feel that this criticism of Purucker is warranted, nor is it particularly meaningful. There is room, even among very learned theosophists, even among chelas it would seem, for a wide variety of opinions on such matters.