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Theosophical Tenets: The Absolute

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    ModeratorTN
    Keymaster

    The Absolute

    The concept of the Absolute is related to the concepts of Truth and Deity in Theosophical Philosophy.  There is no concept of a personal extra-cosmic God in Theosophy.  Instead, the concept of the Absolute in some manner suggests the ALL, the ONE and the Sourceless Source of all life.  The Absolute receives no prayer-requests and plays no favorites but instead is the groundless ground, so to speak, from which all life can be traced. The Absolute is the source of Law and Life in the universe and represents the ultimate reality.

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Theosophical Tenets: The Absolute


  • ModeratorTN
    Keymaster
    ModeratorTN

    “The Secret Doctrine establishes … An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought — in the words of Mandukya, “unthinkable and unspeakable.”

    To render these ideas clearer to the general reader, let him set out with the postulate that there is one absolute Reality which antecedes all manifested, conditioned, being. This Infinite and Eternal Cause — dimly formulated in the “Unconscious” and “Unknowable” of current European philosophy — is the rootless root of “all that was, is, or ever shall be.” It is of course devoid of all attributes and is essentially without any relation to manifested, finite Being. It is “Be-ness” rather than Being (in Sanskrit, Sat), and is beyond all thought or speculation.

    This “Be-ness” is symbolised in the Secret Doctrine under two aspects. On the one hand, absolute abstract Space, representing bare subjectivity, the one thing which no human mind can either exclude from any conception, or conceive of by itself. On the other, absolute Abstract Motion representing Unconditioned Consciousness. Even our Western thinkers have shown that Consciousness is inconceivable to us apart from change, and motion best symbolises change, its essential characteristic. This latter aspect of the one Reality, is also symbolised by the term “The Great Breath,” a symbol sufficiently graphic to need no further elucidation. Thus, then, the first fundamental axiom of the Secret Doctrine is this metaphysical ONE ABSOLUTE — BE-NESS — symbolised by finite intelligence as the theological Trinity.” (Secret Doctrine, I:14, Proem)


  • ModeratorTN
    Keymaster
    ModeratorTN

    “The ever unknowable and incognizable Karana alone, the Causeless Cause of all causes, should have its shrine and altar on the holy and ever untrodden ground of our heart—invisible, intangible, unmentioned, save through “the still small voice” of our spiritual consciousness. Those who worship before it, ought to do so in the silence and the sanctified solitude of their Souls; making their spirit the sole mediator between them and the Universal Spirit, their good actions the only priests, and their sinful intentions the only visible and objective sacrificial victims to the Presence.” (Secret Doctrine, I:280)


  • ModeratorTN
    Keymaster
    ModeratorTN

    “… 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.” Key To Theosophy, Section 5.


  • Grace Cunningham
    Participant
    Grace Cunningham

    How do we discuss That which is beyond thought?


    • Pierre Wouters
      Moderator
      Pierre Wouters

      SD II:81
      “To some extent, it is admitted that even the esoteric teaching is allegorical. To make the latter comprehensible to the average intelligence, requires the use of symbols cast in an intelligible form. Hence the allegorical and semi-mythical narratives in the exoteric, and the (only) semi-metaphysical and objective representations in the esoteric teachings. For the purely and transcendentally spiritual conceptions are adapted only to the perceptions of those who “see without eyes, hear without ears, and sense without organs,” according to the graphic expression of the Commentary.”

      SD I:167
      “”Lead the life necessary for the acquisition of such knowledge and powers, and Wisdom will come to you naturally. Whenever your are able to attune your consciousness to any of the seven chords of ‘Universal Consciousness,’ those chords that run along the sounding-board of Kosmos, vibrating from one Eternity to another; when you have studied thoroughly ‘the music of the Spheres,’ then only will you become quite free to share your knowledge with those with whom it is safe to do so. Meanwhile, be prudent. Do not give out the great Truths that are the inheritance of the future Races, to our present generation. Do not attempt to unveil the secret of being and non-being to those unable to see the hidden meaning of Apollo’s HEPTACHORD — the lyre of the radiant god, in each of the seven strings of which dwelleth the Spirit, Soul and Astral body of the Kosmos, whose shell only has now fallen into the hands of Modern Science. . . . . . Be prudent, we say, prudent and wise, and above all take care what those who learn from you believe in; lest by deceiving themselves they deceive others . . . . . for such is the fate of every truth with which men are, as yet, unfamiliar. . . .”


      • James
        Participant
        James

        It would appear some expanding on the seven chords of “Universal Consciousness” and the “music of the Spheres” would be of great help here to understand the Absolute. By tracing involution back along these seven chords of all life we should arrive at the source. This, as I understand it, is the principle of Occult meditation, ‘Involution in Reverse’


    • Gerry Kiffe
      Moderator
      Gerry Kiffe

      It might be more important to establish a mental posture of reverence for the idea of the Absolute than to seek to define it once and for all. The first is the act of the lower mind shifting its focus upwards, the second is all too often an act of the lower mind grasping.


  • ModeratorTN
    Keymaster
    ModeratorTN

    All that the human consciousness is authorized to postulate is that Parabrahman, ‘Beyond Brahman’ or the Absolute, is exactly what we see around us, as far as our human physical sense-apparatus can translate it to us, but limitlessly so. Parabrahman, therefore, is not an entity; it is not a being; as a term it is a descriptive adjective turned into a noun, and means simply ‘Beyond Brahman.’ “As above, so below” — and there is no fundamental essential difference between the ‘above’ and the ‘below.’ Every atom has its home in a molecule; every molecule has its home in a cell; every cell has its home in a body; every body has its home in a greater body; the greater body, in this case our Earth, has its habitat or dwelling or home in the solar ether; the solar system has its home in the Galaxy; the Galaxy has its home in what we humans call the Universe — our telescopes carry us no farther; the Universe has its home in one still more vast; and so on, as Occidentals say, ad infinitum; and that ad infinitum is exactly the Occidental’s way of saying what the Oriental means when he says Parabrahman — ‘Beyond Brahman,’ with this profound and radical difference, however, that the root-idea in the mind of the Oriental is the inner, invisible, spiritual worlds, which the modern Occidental almost universally ignores.

    Studies in Occult Philosophy by G. de Purucker


    • David Reigle
      Participant
      David Reigle

      There are many mistakes in our Theosophical writings. The word brahman in Hinduism refers to the absolute reality. So there is nothing beyond brahman. When the Oriental says parabrahman he does not mean “beyond brahman.” He is merely adding a descriptive term to brahman, saying the “supreme brahman,” like when a poet says the “green grass” rather than just the “grass.”


      • James
        Participant
        James

        Hi David,
        Here’s another look to understand the Universe and the Absolute from HPB’s work;

        The Universe consists of Seven Great Planes of Being, beyond which are innumerable formless worlds and planes of Non-Being where no form can exist, the highest Dhyani-Chohans know nothing of these realms, for us named The Absolute.

        Quote; How can there be planes of non-being? HPB; There are, but it is too long to explain now SDC 206

        With every new Mahamanvantara the first or highest of these Great Planes of Being moves up a plane, therefore the lowest plane of Non-Being becomes the highest Great Plane of Being.

        The Seven Planes of our little Solar System sit within the lowest or seventh of these Great Planes of Being, with our physical plane being on the lowest sub-plane of this Great Plane along with the innumerable other systems visible to the human eye.


        • David Reigle
          Participant
          David Reigle

          Thanks, James, for this helpful material from HPB. No doubt what is beyond anything we can know of goes on and on without end, so that there is always something beyond. However, this is not what the Sanskrit term “parabrahman” means; “beyond brahman” is not what Indians understand by this compound term. This is a simple mistake, based on taking the individual words wrongly. The term “parabrahman” means the “supreme brahman,” not “beyond brahman.”

          The word “brahman” is the normal and usual word for the absolute in the Sanskrit texts of the Hindu tradition in which it is found; namely, the Upanishads and the treatises on Vedanta. As such, it includes everything known and unknown, i.e., including the unknown beyond the known. On the rare occasions where we find “parabrahman,” or more likely, “param brahma,” it may be paired with “aparam brahma,” contrasting the “higher brahman” with the “lower brahman” (e.g., Prasna Upanisad 5.2). This is merely making the distinction between the nirguna brahman, “brahman without qualities,” i.e., brahman per se, with saguna brahman, “brahman with qualities,” i.e., with the qualities that our finite minds conventionally but ultimately incorrectly attribute to it.

          As explained by Sankaracharya in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya 4.3.14, brahman is only referred to as higher (param) and lower (aparam) brahman when we attribute to it upadhi-s, “limiting adjuncts,” of name and form, due to ignorance. The Upanisads themselves may and do attribute such names and forms to brahman for the sake of imparting kinds of meditation on brahman. Because of this, there may be times when it is useful to distinguish brahman as parabrahman, the “supreme brahman,” from brahman to which names and forms are figuratively attributed.


          • James
            Participant
            James

            Thanks David, very helpful.

            Originally I was going to add in another post, the Spiritual Monad of the Universe and ask if this was ever referred to as a lesser Brahman. However decided that was another direction.


  • Pierre Wouters
    Moderator
    Pierre Wouters

    That there are mistakes (“many” is of course a relative concept) being made in the theosophical literature, has certainly been acknowledged by HPB, since she points out that nothing in the manifested world is perfect, especially not when viewed from an illusory perspective, let alone the physical plane.
    If this be true, then that concept is equally applicable to ALL religions and philosophies, especially when HPB makes a sharp distinction between the esoteric and the exoteric approach, different Hindu schools also having different perceptions on the same doctrine. The concept for Brahman is not the same within Advaita and Dvaita, so, which philosophy has the right perception with regard to any subject, not to mention Buddhist and other approaches that “try” to define what is absolute?

    We can obviously make a distinction between understanding something that is absolute as being the apex of any given quality, system or potential, and THAT which goes beyond that apex, since “perfection” is always relative to the material at hand – in this case prakriti. To think that homogeneous substance is the same throughout the manifested and even the unmanifested universe would be a big mistake. Yes, it is the same, in principle (mulaprakriti), as the noumenon of prakriti, but not the same for every system or universe, otherwise HPB would not refer to the 7 prakritis of OUR system. The absolute, perceived then as the apex of a universe, is the perfection allowed for by the extend to which consciousness – as being infinite potentiality – has exhausted the possibilities of that particular prakriti in which it manifests, and that is Brahman. It is thus substance or prakriti that becomes the limiting factor, not the “consciousness of Brahman” that radiates into it.

    But then, there is THAT which is ALWAYS beyond. This does not imply that there are 2 absolutes, as the reference to absolute in the sense of an apex is just a conceptual understanding and recognition of what is the highest possible achievement within any given realm, whereas the Absolute per se, is beyond ANY description, terminology or conceptualization. Anyone paying attention can perceive this distinction being made within the theosophical literature. Therefore HPB even makes this offhand remark in The Secret Doctrine Dialogues, p. 214 that: “I refer to absolute non-being from the standpoint of our finite and relative intellects. This is what I do, but not at all what it would be, because that which is for us absoluteness, perhaps if you go on the plane higher, it will be something relative for those on the plane above.” Which clearly goes to show that Brahman is “absolute non-being”, and not the Absolute per se, which, as HPB acknowledges in the words of Hegel as saying: “is,both Absolute Being and Non-Being”.

    As to the statement “if you go on the plane higher”, is clearly defined in the Transactions, p. 111, in answer to the question if the planes of non-being are also septenary, to which HPB answers: “Most undeniably. That which in the Secret Doctrine is referred to as the unmanifested planes, are unmanifested or planes of non-being only from the point of view of the finite intellect; to higher intelligences they would be manifested planes and so on to infinity, analogy always holding good.”

    In fact Brahman is – among many other definitions – the First Logos on the arupa planes, being the First cause, but not the Causeless Cause, since Brahman is even in Hinduism (again depending on the school) seen as the sole binding unity behind the differentiating universe. It is the ultimate potentiality that exists within any given system or universe and thus the cause of the manifested universe, not the Causeless Cause, which is devoid of ANY qualification.
    In HPBs Glossary it is defined as: “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.” A clear indication that we are dealing with the First Logos, if not including the Second, the third being Brahmā, the creator of the differentiated illusory universe. Obviously Brahman, the First Logos and cause is – as infinite potentiality – incorporeal, immaterial, unborn, eternal, beginningless and endless, as the potential white point in the circle is part and parcel of, and becomes a ray from the Absolute per se (the black circle or absolute darkness) as the First Cause of manifestation in ANY given universe. Yet, even HPB does not always draw the distinction between Brahman and the Absolute per se, as she wants students to figure things out for themselves, from the context in which her teaching is explained.

    From the foregoing it becomes kinda irrelevant whether Parabrahm is defined “beyond” Brahma or “beyond” Brahmā, unless we want to go into the ridiculous reductio ad absurdum and call it Para-Parabrahm, and on the plane higher Parapara-Parabrahm, and so on, which nevertheless some have suggested 🙂

    That doesn’t take away that the view from which certain Indian schools approach the connotation Parabrahm, has to be respected, but that doesn’t mean their perception necessarily coincides with the theosophical perspective.


    • David Reigle
      Participant
      David Reigle

      Thanks, Pierre, for your thoughtful reply. As with James’ reply, I do appreciate and agree with what you are saying. The reason that I replied in the first place, however, was to correct an error. The idea that parabrahman means “beyond brahman” is now readily available on the web in places like the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary. I have also seen it quoted in other online places, both Theosophical and non-Theosophical. G. de Purucker did not say in the quote from Studies in Occult Philosophy that this is the Theosophical understanding of parabrahman; he said that this is “what the Oriental means when he says Parabrahman — ‘Beyond Brahman’.” This is not what the oriental means when he says parabrahman. In whatever Hindu school, parabrahman means the highest or supreme brahman.

      Theosophists would regard Theosophy being defined as “Wisdom of God” rather than “Divine Wisdom” as a serious misrepresentation (see Key to Theosophy, p. 1). They would not wish to have this definition spread around the web, where unsuspecting readers might accept it as what Theosophy really means. Likewise, for Hindus and parabrahman. Unsuspecting readers might accept “beyond brahman” as what Hindus really mean by parabrahman. No one, Hindus or Theosophists, appreciates having their sacred terms misrepresented.


      • Jon Fergus
        Moderator
        Jon Fergus

        David, with due and deserving respect, I must disagree with your point of view on terminology. You say “This is not what the oriental means when he says parabrahman”, whereas I would edit this to say: “This is not what the exoteric oriental means when he says parabrahman”. HPB is clear that these terms aren’t the ones used in the actual occult philosophy, but are borrowed from systems of thought that were born from it because these terms are more recognizable to modern ears (likely this gives us an easier initial foothold in our studies than if all terms were 100% foreign to us). She then goes on, repeatedly and in regards to every tradition, to give theosophical interpretations of the meaning of the ideas represented by said terms in the occult system. The idea represented by the term parabrahman in that system is distinct from the idea represented by the term brahman. Those two ideas are not the same, and from my point of view the difference is critical to an understanding of the system itself.

        “This is not what the oriental means when he says parabrahman. In whatever Hindu school, parabrahman means the highest or supreme brahman.” “No one, Hindus or Theosophists, appreciates having their sacred terms misrepresented.”

        When you say this, I cannot help but read something akin to: “I believe that the traditional exoteric interpretation of the hindu scriptures is the absolutely correct interpretation, and thus all other interpretations are factually incorrect and said interpreters are not only mistaken and in error but also are disrespecting the sacredness of that interpretation which I deem to be the correct one.” Apologies for the harshness, but the way you responded seemed to me to lean, even if only very slightly, towards the idea of claiming blasphemy for not falling in line with established thinking.

        One of the most important points that HPB, Subba Row, etc. were trying to make public is that there is an exoteric and an esoteric interpretation for all major traditions of the world. Further than this, they hinted, as just one notable example, that we may not even have the actual original works or commentaries of Sankaracharya but rather purposeful blinds!, the main point being that there is a potentially huge divide between the exoteric and esoteric! Now, whether one believes that kind of claim or not is up to each to personally decide, but that is the kind of proposition made by the founders of the system we have all decided to study together, and personally I’m willing to take it as a working hypothesis. It is not blasphemy nor a violation of “sacredness” to give an alternate interpretation of a term from any system of thought, and it is not in accordance with the theosophical spirit of independent inquiry to shy away from doing so merely because the exoteric interpretation may be well established by the clergy of this or that religion or by the linguistic scholars of modern day. There is no requirement for a student of theosophy to respect what some person or group deems to be the “sacredness” of any term.

        Besides all this, as you know “para” certainly indicates the concept of “beyond” in many places in the hindu texts and is translated as such by modern scholars (also in the Sanskrit dictionaries: “पर: far, distant, remote (in space), opposite, ulterior, farther than, beyond, on the other or farther side of, extreme.”—Monier-Williams). It also certainly indicates the concept of “highest” or “supreme” in many places. And in many cases, it could be interpreted either way, depending on how one interprets the context etc., or it could be interpreted as a combination of those two english concepts (i.e. on an infinite string with infinite knots, the “highest” is also “ever-beyond” and it is possible to have a single concept that encompasses both those ideas). For example: one’s paramguru is not the supreme or highest guru, but rather is the guru of one’s guru (who likely had his own guru and so on and so on), thus paramguru is the “guru beyond“. What is to stop one from applying the same logic of terminology to parabrahman, other than traditional interpretations that have been set in stone by exoteric brahmanical clergy?

        I, along with another student, went through this subject in depth a while back. We break it down and give our explanation of the important distinction between these terms. Here’s the link for any students interested:

        Parabrahma vs. Brahma

        Now, all that aside… the most important thing in my view is to try to study theosophy in such a way that the specific terminology ceases to really matter. A well-studied theosophist should be able to couch the philosophy in the terminology of several systems of thought, or use his own terms, and still get the point across. What matters more than the traditional interpretation of any term from any system are the ideas that we’re trying to uncover. And, when we are discussing the structure of being as explored in the Secret Doctrine, we must learn to make a distinction between the idea represented by brahman and the idea represented by parabrahman. We must learn to distinguish between the Absolute and the First Logos. This is a critical distinction and is why HPB harped on the point so strongly in the Proem and the first fundamental proposition, and then again and again in Transactions and the full discussions found in the Secret Doctrine Dialogues. It is a distinction that Purucker also harped on over and over again. It is the distinction between the Absolute per se and the Absolute as the apex of any given system. HPB says in numerous places that what we deem to be absolute is not “absolutely absolute” so to speak, but only relatively so from our perspective (as expressed in the quotes shared above by Pierre). We can only ever see from our perspective, whether it is that of a simple man or that of the highest dhyan chohan, and thus we are always limited to “mistaking” the Apex-Absolute for the Absolute per se. Or to put it another way: we are always in a position where we are apt to fail to recognize the distinction between brahman and parabrahman. Exoteric interpretations don’t distinguish between these. Judaic/Christian exotericism doesn’t distinguish between Elohim and Jahova either, but an esoteric Kabalist certainly does, and so did HPB. Was she “mistaken” about the ideas she was expressing from the occult philosophy using these terms because Christians don’t see a difference between them in their religious system?

        In my view, a student of theosophy must grasp the infinite relativity of the system, i.e. that in truth there is an endless series of planes ever “upwards” and “downwards” (or “inwards” and “outwards” or however we wish to express it), that there is an algebraic formula (see SD 1:20) applied endlessly in either direction to “tie knots on that string” such that individual systems manifest in series’ of 3 or 7 or 10 or 12 planes (which is numbers are just a matter of perspective and usefulness), but that there is always, always a beyond past the apex of any given system, endlessly. The “brahman” (neuter) (not just the brahmā) of any of these series’ is one with yet distinct from the “parabrahman” of the whole infinite series itself, as the First Logos stands to the Absolute per se, which is, naturally following the concept of infinitude: ever beyond.

        In any case… where you see “mistakes” and “errors” I see potential cracks in the exoteric veil, through which we may just find a deeper understanding of the whole system.


        • David Reigle
          Participant
          David Reigle

          Thanks, Jon, for your nice explanation of why a Theosophist might wish to distinguish parabrahman from brahman. Certainly there is a distinction to be made when speaking of absolutes, and Theosophists are free to adopt any terms they wish to for making this distinction. My posts, however, were entirely concerned with correctly representing what Hindus mean by their terms. It was not at all my intention to say or imply anything about the rightness or wrongness of the Hindu understanding of the term parabrahman. It was only to say that, contra G. de Purucker’s statement, “Beyond Brahman” is not “what the Oriental means when he says Parabrahman.” To use the example I gave, a Theosophist (at least one who has read The Key to Theosophy) would likely regard the following statement as a mistake, an error that should be corrected: “The ‘Wisdom of God’ is what the Theosophist means when he says Theosophy.” All along, I was only talking about what a word means as used within a tradition by that tradition, and the desirability of not misrepresenting that meaning.


          • Jon Fergus
            Moderator
            Jon Fergus

            Thanks David for your clarification. I feel this is an area where it can become difficult to bridge the gap between theosophy/theosophists and the various traditions of the world and their adherents, and one of the reasons the latter tend to dismiss or disparage the former. To my view it all hinges on that exoteric vs. esoteric notion. This is particularly difficult when it comes to the eastern traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism, as you know, where the adherents of the traditions themselves will almost entirely deny any existence of an esoteric doctrine or interpretation of the texts. This is not so strongly the case in the west, in my experience, where in Judiasm and even Christianity and Islam there is generally more willingness to recognize that there are layers, so to speak, of exoteric and esoteric (i.e. Jews in general freely acknowledge that there is an outer interpretation and a kabalistic one known only by a few). (p.s. my wife is a native Hebrew speaker, and I’ve faced the issue where I know a certain term from kabalistic study and she knows it from common usage, and then we discover that the two meanings are very different).

            When it comes to the Hindus (let’s focus on Vedanta for now), there is generally the approach among adherents that the interpretations, definitions, etc. found in, say, the writings of Sankara (among a few others) are to be viewed as essentially the correct interpretation, and the system of thought as it is most widely held is based strongly on those interpretations. But for theosophists, we may need to take a second critical look. If one turns to the writings of Subba Row (who was acknowledged as a Vedantin by his contemporaries), one will find terms like parabrahma being used in ways that a typical Vedantin would not necessarily use it. As most theosophists know, Subba row was considered to be an esoteric Vedantin by HPB and the Mahatmas (and seemingly by other Brahmin theosophists of the time), and the claim was made by them that he was sharing something of the esoteric Vedanta doctrine which naturally differed in some ways from the exoteric one. This distinction is not generally one that would be acknowledged by modern Vedanta adherents, and his use of terms like Parabrahma would be considered by them to be in err.

            So what is a theosophist to think of this matter? We could say, as you have, that “this is not what the Oriental means when he says such and such a term”? But then we do have an Oriental (Subba Row) using terms in non-traditional ways (see also the Mahatmas in their letters to Sinnett using terms in various ways that differ from mainstream use, etc.). This is why I think we ought not to cast too wide a net to lump together (all) “hindus” to say that they use such and such term in only one or two specific ways. If we as theosophists are open to the idea that there is or may be an esoteric side to these outwardly available traditions, then perhaps we are better off to focus on that distinction (instead of oriental vs. non-oriental), which is why I felt the need to insert the term “exoteric” into the statement: “this is not what the exoteric oriental means etc.” As you say, ‘supreme or highest brahma’ is certainly what the exoteric vedantins/brahmins do mean. But that may not be all that term means, even in that system, if there is an esoteric side that neither we nor they are readily exposed to.

            We theosophists may not find wide acceptance for this practice of insisting on the possibility of an esoteric doctrine, but it seems to me to be quite central and foundational to the claims made by HPB and her teachers. I do very greatly appreciate you (and other students) who really help us understand how the eastern schools tend to view certain sanskrit, tibetan, etc. terms; it is always helpful. I just want us to be careful not to dismiss a theosophical interpretation because it doesn’t match how a tradition has come to use said term, and to avoid using terms like “mistaken” or “errors” too liberally without allowing for each student to really dive in for themselves and determine which interpretation seems most fitting to them. This is why I feel Pierre’s type of contribution (exemplified above) is so important: justification for the meaning based primarily on philosophical reasoning brought out by long study seems to me to be of utmost importance for theosophists.

            So the questions would then be… why has the interpretation of “supreme/highest brahma” become the standard, i.e. upon what philosophic reasoning is that interpretation founded? And, why, i.e. upon what philosophic reasoning might we favor the “beyond brahma” interpretation? And then… is there a way that both may be partially correct, does context matter, etc.? Is the latter interpretation more fitting within the theosophical approach but fails in the exoteric vedanta system? Does the Vedanta approach have application within the theosophical system? And so on. Where might the common understanding of either system be in need of adjustment? And so on. I think going down that road is would serve us better than falling to claims of “mistakes” or “errors” on either side.


            • David Reigle
              Participant
              David Reigle

              May I ask if you would regard the “Wisdom of God” for the meaning of Theosophy as a mistake, an error that should be corrected? I do, because this is not what a Theosophist means by Theosophy, even if it is what others may think Theosophy means. But if you don’t regard this as a mistake, an error that should be corrected, then I can better understand a possible basis for differing opinions here. Thanks.


              • Pierre Wouters
                Moderator
                Pierre Wouters

                Hi David,
                here’s the definition by HPB in The Key to Theosophy p. 1. I’m leaving out the Greek terms here and use the equivalent English terms – you can look them up in the book)

                ENQUIRER. Theosophy and its doctrines are often referred to as a new-fangled religion. Is it a religion?
                THEOSOPHIST. It is not. Theosophy is Divine Knowledge or Science.
                ENQUIRER. What is the real meaning of the term?
                THEOSOPHIST. “Divine Wisdom,” (Theosophia) or Wisdom of the gods, as (theogonia), genealogy of the gods. The word (Theos) means a god in Greek, one of the divine beings, certainly not “God” in the sense attached in our day to the term. Therefore, it is not ” Wisdom of God,” as translated by some, but Divine Wisdom such as that possessed by the gods. The term is many thousand years old.


              • Gerry Kiffe
                Moderator
                Gerry Kiffe

                I have been attending meetings and participating in group discussions in Theosophical circles for over 40 years now (a couple of seconds of the cosmic clock) and in terms of “mistakes” in conceptions concerning metaphysical and philosophical ideas I have heard or held myself (and here I agree with David) there are many. And I know we are talking about the literature here and not just some one’s comments fresh “off the street”. But the point is the same none the less. Until we reach the apex of Knowledge our perceptions fall short, they cannot pass the known horizon and falter in the attempt. It is by challenging and expanding our current notions that we scale the mountain. A good deal of group meeting activity is correcting false impressions of the philosophy. But I find it is not so much a matter of right or wrong but more a matter of richer and deeper vs. poor and shallow.

                Theosophy as The Wisdom of God is not so much wrong as it is misleading. What is the God we are talking about? So one question leads to another and the process of discovery continues on. So how harsh need we be with each other when our conceptions fall short of the goal? I think the theosophical way is to put one’s arm on the shoulder of our fellow man and say, “Dear Friend, let us look a bit deeper, lets climb up this hill so we can see farther…. together.”


              • Jon Fergus
                Moderator
                Jon Fergus

                May I ask if you would regard the “Wisdom of God” for the meaning of Theosophy as a mistake, an error that should be corrected?

                It all depends on what that specific student means by “God”. We would need to have a discussion about that (heck, we could start by asking: by “God” do you mean brahmā, brahma or parabrahma? 😉 Besides the term God we’d need to have a discussion of what we understand “wisdom” or “sophia” to mean. I don’t believe it is so simple as to say “you’re wrong” because you said “wisdom of God” instead of “wisdom of the gods” or “wisdom of a god” or “divine wisdom”, etc. All are perfectly reasonable translations of “theos” depending on how we’re approaching the subject and the point of view we’re taking (theosophy is in my opinion highly contextual that way), just as “highest” “supreme” “beyond” etc. are all reasonable translations of “para” depending on many factors. A theosophist who believes in a monotheistic framework, whose focus of understanding is on that point of view, is perfectly reasonable to say “wisdom of God”. Take Jacob Boehme, for example.

                Besides, it is not so clear to me that even deep students of theosophy have really considered the implications of statements from HPB like, for instance, that the ruler of a planetary system is self-conscious! What does it mean (harking to another discussion on Nexus right now) that Isvara is a “particular purusha”, or that he is a collective of dhyan chohans? Does being a collective necessarily eliminate the possibility of individual self-consciousness as well? Or can both conditions exist simultaneously? Are polytheism and monotheism truly mutually exclusive? Or is there a way we might see both as true simultaneously? If there are infinitely greater and greater planes and systems, and each system is presided over by a self-conscious being, can we not say that no matter how high we will go we will find an ever-greater self-conscious being? What term might we use for said abstract “highest” being? God?

                Now, what do we mean by “wisdom” in the term theosophy? Who’s wisdom? Does wisdom exist without a being to contain it? What is the extent of wisdom possible for beings of our planetary or solar system, and could we say that such wisdom is known by the self-conscious ruler of said system? Is that our “theosophy”? As we go higher and higher in the scale of self-conscious beings without ever reaching a final one, could we perhaps say that theosophy is the abstract wisdom of the whole series contained by the abstract collective of beings? Is that collective also an abstract individual? This goes back to what we mean by “highest” when considering an endless string with infinite knots on it? So perhaps we could draw the distinction and say: “there is always a higher self-conscious being, no matter how high we go, but beyond that whole series there is the Absolute per se.” We could say “wisdom of God”, using “God” as a term for that (abstract) “highest being” in whom said wisdom is contained, while simultaneously realizing that “wisdom” cannot be applied to the Absolute per se (and nor can any finite attributes such as “self-consciousness”). Thus again our all-important distinction.

                I think it’s important to dive deep into the problems with the idea of an “omnipresent/omniscient yet personal god”, because philosophically I can see major problems in that approach (problems HPB highlights again and again), which is why I harp on and on about the brahma vs. parabrahma distinction, but does that mean that because a theosophist uses the term “wisdom of God” we can assume that said student is simply mistaken and assume that our understanding is greater than theirs and we should thus correct them? Do we assume that when said student says “God” the concept they have in mind is the personal God of the Christians? (that seems to be what HPB was assuming in the quote Pierre shared above, but is that always a fair assumption? 125+ years later, does the same assumption hold up?)

                I’m with Gerry that our ideas about reality are all partial and flawed, and the question is perhaps more about deeper vs. shallower (even if not so much in comparison between one another, but in comparison to our own past, present and future), which goes inline with the idea of exoteric vs. esoteric. So if someone says to me “theosophy is ‘wisdom of God'” am I better off to say to them “you’re wrong” or am I better off to say: “can you tell me what you mean by God?” and then have a conversation? If someone says: “parabrahma means ‘beyond brahma'” am I better off to say “you’re wrong”, or am I better off to inquire deeper into the ideas with that student? And even if I do think they’re wrong, should I be content to rest that feeling on the notion that they are wrong because others think differently or that there is a tradition of others who think differently, or would I be better to try to deeply source why I think they’re wrong based on philosophic reasoning? This is the point I’m trying to get across.


                • David Reigle
                  Participant
                  David Reigle

                  I am hearing many good and constructive thoughts about interacting on philosophical subjects, bringing in esoteric interpretations, valuing other points of view, etc. I agree with these all. But they miss the point that I made at the beginning and have maintained all along. The replies have been as if I said that G. de Purucker’s statement that parabrahman means “beyond brahman” is a mistake. This is not what I said. I said that G. de Purucker’s statement that this is “what the Oriental means when he says Parabrahman — ‘Beyond Brahman’,” is a mistake. If someone uses a name for something, e.g., parabrahman for the “supreme brahman,” then that is what they mean by that name. To say that they mean something else by that name, e.g., “beyond brahman,” is simply wrong, a misrepresentation. It makes no difference whether or not we agree with the appropriateness of using that name for that thing, or whether that name can mean other things to other people, or whether we can interpret that name esoterically. When Americans refer to “the big apple,” they mean New York City. They do not mean a kind of fruit. If an Indian says that a kind of fruit is what Americans mean when they say “the big apple,” he/she is simply wrong. The question is not whether a city should be referred to by the name of a fruit. The question is about misrepresenting what someone means by the name that they use for it.


                  • Jon Fergus
                    Moderator
                    Jon Fergus

                    Thanks for fully clarifying your position, David. My replies were partly prompted by what you said in your reply to James here, where you seemed (to me) to be providing your own justifications based on eastern texts and Sanskrit definitions as to why the interpretation “beyond brahman” is incorrect. For instance, you say:

                    . . . this is not what the Sanskrit term “parabrahman” means; “beyond brahman” is not what Indians understand by this compound term. This is a simple mistake, based on taking the individual words wrongly. The term “parabrahman” means the “supreme brahman,” not “beyond brahman.” . . . On the rare occasions where we find “parabrahman,” or more likely, “param brahma,” it may be paired with “aparam brahma,” contrasting the “higher brahman” with the “lower brahman” (e.g., Prasna Upanisad 5.2). This is merely making the distinction between the nirguna brahman, “brahman without qualities,” i.e., brahman per se, with saguna brahman, “brahman with qualities,” i.e., with the qualities that our finite minds conventionally but ultimately incorrectly attribute to it.

                    Later to Pierre you said: “The reason that I replied in the first place, however, was to correct an error” and I took that to mean that you were indicating your own belief that we were making an error in our interpretation of parabrahman, and not that the sole error is in attributing said interpretation to traditional schools of thought. My apologies for misunderstanding.

                    In any case, while we’re here and on the subject, you mention above that parabrahman is more likely to be found in the form “param brahma”, and these two terms are often if not always taken as a compound to form “parabrahma” even though it is not necessarily a proper compound in the Sanskrit. I’ve seen others make the argument that using the idea of “beyond” just isn’t what is meant by “para” in such cases, but then I come across verses such as the following, from Katha Upanishad:

                    indriyebhyaḥ parā hyarthā arthebhyaśca paraṃ manaḥ /
                    manasastu parā buddhirbuddherātmā mahānparaḥ // 3.10 //
                    mahataḥ paramavyaktamavyaktātpuruṣaḥ paraḥ /
                    puruśānna paraṃ kiṃcitsā kāṣṭhā sā parā gatiḥ // 3.11 //

                    Translation by Radhakrishnan:

                    Beyond the senses are the objects (of the senses) and beyond the objects of the senses is the mind; beyond the mind is the understanding and beyond the understanding is the great self. // 3.10 //
                    Beyond the great self is the unmanifest; beyond the unmanifest is the spirit. Beyond the spirit there is nothing. That is the end (of the journey), that is the final goal. // 3.11 //

                    So here we have “para” used multiple times, but it is used to indicate “beyond”, seemingly in the sense of a hierarchy or rising ladder of principles, and none of the instances are brought together into a compound.

                    What I’m wondering is how Sanskrit scholars and/or traditional Vedantins account for why “para” would be used in this way here, but combined into a compound when the other term is “brahma”. We don’t find them translating “supreme mind”, “supreme senses”, “supreme unmanifest”, “supreme spirit (purusa)”, etc. Is it just context and interpretation that marks the difference, or is it primarily by reference to later commentaries that “param brahma” is approached differently than other uses of “para” with other technical terms?

                    The other interesting thing with this verse (as a bit of an aside that will circle back around) is we find here that “purusa” is given the highest place, “beyond avyakta”, where, at least according to Subba Row in his Lectures on the Gita, this is where we ought to find parabrahman (Subba Row specifically notes that parabrahman is “beyond avyakta”). Samkhya philosophy begins with avyakta/mulaprakriti (see Tattva Samasa 1, or Samkya Karika 3), and in the Yoga Sutras (as per another discussion on Nexus right now), purusa is made to be directly related to isvara (see Yoga Sutras 1:24), which Subba Row interprets as the Logos and then places below or after avyakta/mulaprakriti. So: “purusa -> avyakta -> mahat etc.” in this Katha verse, but “parabrahma -> avyakta -> isvara [purusa]” by Subba Row combined with Patanjali.

                    Now, to circle us back around, you mention Prasna 5:2, where we find “para” and “apara” brahma given as distinct, but in Prasna itself this isn’t explained as nirguna and saguna brahman (does that interpretation solely originate from Sankara’s commentary?). In Prasna itself “param brahma” is related directly to “param purusam” (read up to Prasna 5:5), and is connected there with the three syllables of A-U-M, with surya and with brahmaloka; the general meaning of the verses culminates in Prasna 5:6 and seems to be that there are three levels, and to reach the third (top) is thus connected with both “param brahma” (from 5:2) and “param purusa” (from 5:5). It would seem to me that this Prasna verse connects well with the Katha verses and their hierarchy of principles, culminating with “param purusa” (or “param brahma”), and perhaps this is not quite the same as the interpretation that follows the nirguna/saguna line of thinking…?

                    From my own personal studies I am beginning to suspect that there may be a (potentially large) gap between what is said in the oldest texts (oldest Upanishads, Manu, etc., and especially the Rig Veda) and what has been codified by the kinds of commentaries and later texts that we have available (most notably by Sankara and the Advaita tradition). Often when I find myself going to the original texts and then to these later commentaries or explanations, and I can’t help but feel like they are often taking rather large liberties with the originals and that they have developed their own system which isn’t necessarily 100% grounded in the original intended meanings. Not to mention, as HPB points out: “most of the philosophical terms used in the systems of the India of the post-Mahabharatan period are not found in the Vedas, nor are they to be met with in the original Stanzas, but only their equivalents.” (SD 1:20) There seems to perhaps be a “post Krishna” deviation from those originals, so I keep trying to get myself past the terminology to the heart of the ideas behind them. For this reason I may currently be a little overly skeptical of the traditional interpretations of meaning.


                    • David Reigle
                      Participant
                      David Reigle

                      Thanks, Jon. In reply to your question about how Sanskrit scholars and/or traditional Vedantins account for why “para” would be used in this way here (Katha Upanishad):

                      indriyebhyaḥ parā hy arthā arthebhyaś ca paraṃ manaḥ /
                      manasas tu parā buddhir buddher ātmā mahān paraḥ // 3.10 //
                      mahataḥ param avyaktam avyaktāt puruṣaḥ paraḥ /
                      puruśān na paraṃ kiṃcit sā kāṣṭhā sā parā gatiḥ // 3.11 //

                      Beyond the senses are the objects (of the senses) and beyond the objects of the senses is the mind; beyond the mind is the understanding and beyond the understanding is the great self. // 3.10 //
                      Beyond the great self is the unmanifest; beyond the unmanifest is the spirit. Beyond the spirit there is nothing. That is the end (of the journey), that is the final goal. // 3.11 // (Radhakrishnan translation)

                      (I have added more spaces between the Sanskrit words to show where they separate.)
                      You will see that in each phrase using “beyond” for para (whether neuter = param, feminine = parā, or masculine = paraḥ), the preceding word that it goes with is in the ablative case (indriyebhyaḥ, arthebhyaś/ḥ, manasas/ḥ, buddher/ḥ, mahataḥ, avyaktāt, puruśān/t). This is how para in the meaning “beyond” is expressed in Sanskrit. It is really the more basic meaning of para as “higher” along with an ablative, “than.” So “higher than the senses” = “beyond the senses.”

                      Regarding compounds, it is possible to make virtually any phrase expressing a case relation (such as indriyebhyaḥ parāḥ “higher than the senses”) into a compound. In these case-relation compounds (tatpuruṣa), the case ending on the first word is dropped, and this word is joined with the following word that it goes with. The word order must be maintained for this to work. So we can, in theory, make indriyebhyaḥ parāḥ into the compound indriya-parāḥ. With the word para, however, this is almost never done, because para at the end of a compound would normally cause that compound to be understood as a bahuvrīhi (possessive) compound rather than a tatpuruṣa compound. That is, rather than “higher than the senses,” it would normally be understood as “he for whom the senses are the highest.” We see an example of this in the first verse of the Praśna Upaniṣad: brahma-parāḥ, “he for whom brahman is the highest,” translated by Radhakrishnan as “devoted to Brahman.”

                      The phrase param brahma can also be made into a compound, parabrahma (undeclined form = parabrahman). Here in this phrase the two words are found declined in the same case (neuter nominative or accusative singular), so they cannot make a case-relation compound (tatpuruṣa). They make an adjective-noun compound (karmadhāraya), and retain the same word order. This phrase is also found in the first verse of the Praśna Upaniṣad, param brahma, where it is in the accusative case as the object of the present participle anveṣamāṇa, translated by Radhakrishnan as “seeking the highest Brahman.” Then in verse 5.2 of the Praśna Upaniṣad comes param brahma contrasted with aparam brahman, the “higher” and the “lower” brahman. At the end of the Praśna Upaniṣad is one more occurrence of the phrase param brahma, followed by: na ataḥ param asti, translated by Radhakrishnan as “There is naught higher than that.” This is an old and authoritative text, and how param brahma is used in it certainly influenced or conditioned how it was understood in the Vedānta tradition down through the ages, including in the compound parabrahma.

                      There is another very common meaning of para, besides “higher,” namely, “other” (or “another”). In this meaning, para can occur as the first word of a case-relation compound (tatpuruṣa), where it is generally understood as being in the genitive case, “of another.” Examples are para-dāra, the “wife of another,” para-vitta, the “wealth of another,” para-cintā, “thinking of another,” etc. Of the five columns of compounds beginning with para given in Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English dictionary, the vast majority of them are this kind of compound (tatpuruṣa) having this meaning of para. Only a few are adjective-noun compounds (karmadhāraya) having the meaning “higher,” like para-brahman. Of course, to say “the brahman of another” makes no sense; and even if we did not have the full declined phrase, param brahma, para-brahman would never have been understood as this kind of a compound by Indians. I am only giving this grammatical information to be complete.


                    • Jon Fergus
                      Moderator
                      Jon Fergus

                      Thanks for this clarification, David. This is very helpful!


                  • Peter
                    Moderator
                    Peter

                    I don’t see anything controversial in what David has stated. I agree with what he says about the meaning of parabrahm for ‘the oriental’. It means the supreme brahman. The prefix para is used in the same way as in parameswara or paramatman or paramaguru, meaning supreme lord, supreme spirit, supreme guru respectively. Below is an extract from Grimes on the definition of Brahman:

                    ‘Brahman – the ultimate Reality; the ground of the universe; the Absolute; the Divine: “great” (from the root bri = “to expand, greater than the greatest”). Vedantic term for the Absolute Reality. The Absolute or all-pervasive supreme principle of the universe. The nature of Brahman is described in the Upanishads and in Vedantic philosophy as sat (Existence absolute), cit (Consciousness absolute), and anānda (Bliss absolute). Advaita Vedanta says it is not possible to explain Brahman in words. It transcends all concepts and ideas and is therefore nirvana – beyond conceptualisations.’ (A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy)

                    To define something as ‘the ultimate Reality’ is to maintain there is nothing higher or beyond the thing defined. Hence the use of the prefix ‘para’ to indicate it is supreme when calling it parabrahmam.

                    In her Note 4 in the appendix to Subba Row’s article ‘The Sevenfold Principle in Man,’ HPB explains that the Brahman of the Upanishads referred to by Subba Row is the Absolute or Parabraham, and not to be confused with Brahmâ or Iśwara:

                    ‘To our European readers: Deceived by the phonetic similarity, it must not be thought that the name “Brahman” is identical in this connection with Brahmâ or Iśwara —the personal God. The Upanishads the Vedanta Scriptures—mention no such God and, one would vainly seek in them any allusions to a conscious deity. The Brahman, or Parabrahm, the ABSOLUTE of the Vedantins, is neuter and unconscious, and has no connection with the masculine Brahma of the Hindu Triad, or Trimurti. Some Orientalists rightly believe the name derived from the verb “brih,” to grow or increase, and to be, in this sense, the universal expansive force of nature, the vivifying and spiritual principle, or power, spread throughout the universe and which in its collectivity is the one Absoluteness, the one Life and the only Reality.’ (Collected Writings, vol 3, p424)

                    Noe the phrase ‘the only Reality’ in relation to the term Brahman (parabrahm or Absolute). We might also note the words of Mahatma KH in relation to HPB’s last sentence in the above:

                    ‘We are not Adwaitees, but our teaching respecting the one life is identical with that of the Adwaitee with regard to Parabrahm.’ (Mahatma Letters to Sinnett, no 10, Barker Edition.)

                    ~~


                    • Peter
                      Moderator
                      Peter

                      Spelling correction needed in my post above:

                      ‘…Advaita Vedanta says it is not possible to explain Brahman in words. It transcends all concepts and ideas and is therefore nirvana – beyond conceptualisations.’ (A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy)

                      should say..

                      ‘…Advaita Vedanta says it is not possible to explain Brahman in words. It transcends all concepts and ideas and is therefore nirguna – beyond conceptualisations.’ (A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy)


              • Peter
                Moderator
                Peter

                Is it a mistake to say that Theosophy means ‘Wisdom of God’ rather than Wisdom of the Gods? Yes. The fact that HPB raises the issue of translation and definition of theosophia on page one of the Key to Theosophy suggests it does matter to her that the student properly appreciates the distinction.

                Here are some extracts from pages 274-6, volume 1, relating to ‘the Gods.’ One particular particular passage may be relevant to our parallel conversation on purushas and ‘a particular purusha’ in the other group discussion, namely:

                ‘none of these Beings, high or low, have either individuality or personality as separate Entities . . . Individuality is the characteristic of their respective hierarchies, not of their units; and these characteristics vary only with the degree of the plane to which those hierarchies belong: the nearer to the region of Homogeneity and the One Divine, the purer and the less accentuated that individuality in the Hierarchy.’ (SD I 275, bold emphasis added)

                (6.) The Universe is worked and guided from within outwards. . .
                . . . The whole Kosmos is guided, controlled, and animated by almost endless series of Hierarchies of sentient Beings, each having a mission to perform, and who – whether we give to them one name or another, and call them Dhyan-Chohans or Angels – are “messengers” in the sense only that they are the agents of Karmic and Cosmic Laws. They vary infinitely in their respective degrees of consciousness and intelligence…each of these Beings either was, or prepares to become, a man, if not in the present, then in a past or a coming cycle (Manvantara). They are perfected, when not incipient, men.
                . . . none of these Beings, high or low, have either individuality or personality as separate Entities, i.e., they have no individuality in the sense in which a man says, “I am myself and no one else;” in other words, they are conscious of no such distinct separateness as men and things have on earth. Individuality is the characteristic of their respective hierarchies, not of their units; and these characteristics vary only with the degree of the plane to which those hierarchies belong: the nearer to the region of Homogeneity and the One Divine, the purer and the less accentuated that individuality in the Hierarchy. They are finite, in all respects, with the exception of their higher principles-the immortal sparks reflecting the universal divine flame – individualized and separated only on the spheres of Illusion by a differentiation as illusive as the rest. They are “Living Ones,” because they are the streams projected on the Kosmic screen of illusion from the ABSOLUTE LIFE; beings in whom life cannot become extinct, before the fire of ignorance is extinct in those who sense these “Lives.”
                . . . [B]y paralyzing his lower personality, and arriving thereby at the full knowledge of the non-separateness of his higher SELF from the One absolute SELF, man can, even during his terrestrial life, become as ” One of Us.” Thus it is, by eating of the fruit of knowledge which dispels ignorance, that man becomes like one of the Elohim or the Dhyanis; and once on their plane the Spirit of Solidarity and perfect Harmony, which reigns in every Hierarchy, must extend over him and protect him in every particular.

                (SD I 274-6)

                ~~


            • Pierre Wouters
              Moderator
              Pierre Wouters

              Terminology aside, including distinctions such as nirguna and saguna, Jon raises some interesting questions as to where esoteric and exoteric might meet:

              “is there a way that both may be partially correct, does context matter, etc.? Is the latter interpretation more fitting within the theosophical approach but fails in the exoteric vedanta system? Does the Vedanta approach have application within the theosophical system? And so on. Where might the common understanding of either system be in need of adjustment? And so on.”

              If Brahma may be considered infinite potential, the power to “create, √ बृह् bṛh ‘to grow, expand'”, etc., everything, and to which nothing can be added or subtracted, then it stands to reason that when we posit the possibility of ever higher planes (“and so on to infinity” as HPB points out), that even on a higher plane, we’re still talking about the same Brahma, since nothing in terms of capacity goes by definition beyond infinite potentiality.

              This same Brahma on any plane can thus on the plane referred to by exoteric Hinduism be indeed considered as to be supreme in an absolute sense (THE Absolute) since it is singularly infinite potentiality, and can at the same time be considered as only the apex of a system as far as esotericists are concerned. If one likes to call this supreme aspect of Brahma then Parabrahm, by all means go ahead, but it does not exclude the possibility of there being an infinite gradation of prakritis wherein this same supreme Brahma can manifest its potential.

              This perceived extension to higher (or lower) prakritic planes of infinite potential can then equally by esotericists be defined as beyond Brahma (not Brahmā!) and thus designated THE Absolute.

              This would then satisfy the esotericists as well, and then there is no point of contention as to what Brahma per se represent in both perspectives.

              The limiting factor on any plane as to what is possible in terms of evolution, must thus be sought for in that aspect of Brahma (an aspect of itself by the way) into which that infinite potential manifests, and to which we usually refer to as prakriti. Thus, prakriti itself represents the infinite manifested potential to become qualified and differentiated (by means of the gunas or qualities of matter, i.e. substance), into which the infinite potential of Brahma as “consciousness” manifests. The extent of the limit to which a given universe can be developed is thus dependent on the gunaic quality of the vehicles in a multiplicity of degrees that come into being within a particular level of prakriti, but Brahma on whatever plane remains that same potentiality “to become, to perceive, to progress, to learn, to grow, etc.” in infinite ways.


  • ModeratorTN
    Keymaster
    ModeratorTN

    “From the beginning of man’s inheritance, from the first appearance of the architects of the globe he lives in, the unrevealed Deity was recognised and considered under its only philosophical aspect — universal motion, the thrill of the creative Breath in Nature. Occultism sums up the “One Existence” thus: “Deity is an arcane, living (or moving) FIRE, and the eternal witnesses to this unseen Presence are Light, Heat, Moisture,” — this trinity including, and being the cause of, every phenomenon in Nature. Intra-Cosmic motion is eternal and ceaseless; cosmic motion (the visible, or that which is subject to perception) is finite and periodical. As an eternal abstraction it is the EVER-PRESENT; as a manifestation, it is finite both in the coming direction and the opposite, the two being the alpha and omega of successive reconstructions.” — Secret Doctrine, Volume 1, Proem, page 2-3


  • barbara
    Participant
    barbara

    Isn’t this all a matter of perspective? Both are right depending on the standpoint

    From the Hindu perspective, theosophist (or HPB) understanding of the word Parabrahman is wrong.
    From the theosophist perspective, the Hindu’s understanding is only the outer layer.


  • Peter
    Moderator
    Peter

    Nice post, Pierre (your #6821). Very interesting, as always. Speaking for myself, I don’t see this as essentially a distinction between esoteric and exoteric viewpoints. These are simply students’ differing views as to the meanings of terms and how those terms are used. It’s not difficult to find definitions of Brahman in Hindu literature that are identical to definitions of Parabrahm in the HPB’s works, especially in the case of Advaita Vedanta. I think the question is whether HPB uses the term Brahman in a different way to the Hindu or Vedantin in her works and whether she regards it as something other than Parabrahm, which would lead us to think that Parabrahm is beyond Brahman rather than simply meaning the supreme Brahman. Likewise, does HPB occasionally add the word ‘neuter’ to brahma calling it ‘brahma (neuter)’ to distinguish it from parabrahman or is it simply to distinguish it from the male brahmâ? It’s possible that she means it both ways, but for now I lean towards the latter interpretation given that on a number of occasions she feels the need to warn the reader that the very similar words brahma and brahmâ have different meanings.

    I think it’s valuable to consider, as you and Jon have, that brahma(n) could be seen as the unmanifested or first logos. But I wonder why HPB doesn’t just say this, if that is the case? A related question would be, is Parabrahm beyond the first logos? Or, are they essentially the same? We could ask the same question of Atman.

    I can partly see what you are getting out in your recent post with prakriti planes reaching higher and higher to infinity. The Vedantin would say that Brahman is the ultimate ground for all the planes (upadhis) on the basis that Brahman (Parabrahm) is the Totality, while to the sentient beings of those planes the creative force of Brahman appears to them as Iswara – the Iswara of a succeeding cycle of perfection being superior to the preceding one. How might your example fit if we look at it not from the point of view of planes reaching ever higher to infinity, but rather from the point of view of the Universe coming into being from within-outwards? Would that alter anything?

    I think you and Jon have raised some really interesting and valuable points in your article on Parabrahm vs Brahma. Etymology is a guide to the origin of words, but it doesn’t on its own tell us what a particular tradition actually means by using that word. You’ve brought together some good passages from HPB’s works in a way that suggests a difference between Parabrahm and Brahman. For completeness I think it would have been valuable to have included more of those passages which suggest Parabrahm and Brahman are identical. This would give the interested reader an opportunity to better weigh up the pros and cons of the argument. I’ve put together some examples throughout HPB’s works which suggest Brahma(n) and Parabrahm are seen by her as the same. Like all passages from HPB’s works we need to look out for caveats and qualifications in the surrounding text. To relate them to the relevant passages in your article would involve too much writing and energy for me at present. Apologies. I trust you will recognise for yourselves where they relate to your article. I’m not putting them because I oppose your point of view. I just feel there is more that needs reflecting upon before coming to a conclusion.

    I’ve put them in a separate message to keep the posts to at least some form of reasonable length.

    (Jon and Pierre’s article: https://nexus.universaltheosophy.com/articles/parabrahma-vs-brahma/ )

    ~~


    • Peter
      Moderator
      Peter

      continues from post #6837:

      PASSAGES WHERE BRAHMA AND PARABRAHM REFERRED TO AS THE SAME:

      In the ” Book of Numbers” it is explained that EN (or Ain, Aiôr) 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. (SD I 214)

      The Brahman, or Parabrahm, the ABSOLUTE of the Vedantins, is neuter and unconscious, and has no connection with the masculine Brahmâ of the Hindu Triad, or Trimûrti. (CW 3, 424)
      (Note: the term ‘neuter’ applies to parabrahm not just to brahman, which HPB uses on occasion)

      Kalahansa or Hamsa (Sk.). A mystic title given to Brahma (or Parabrahman); means “the swan in and out of time”. Brahmâ (male) is called Hansa-Vahan, the vehicle of the “Swan”.
      Theosophical Glossary

      Parabrahm (Sk.). “Beyond Brahmâ”, literally. The Supreme Infinite Brahma, “Absolute”–the attributeless, the secondless reality. The impersonal and nameless universal Principle.
      Theosophical Glossary

      RELATING TO ABSOLUTE CONSCIOUSNESS:

      the Vedantic conception of Brahma, who in the Upanishads is represented as “without life, without mind, pure,” unconscious, for—Brahma is “Absolute Consciousness.” (CW 2 91)

      “There is naught beyond consciousness,” a Vedantin and a Theosophist would say, because Absolute Consciousness is infinite and limitless, and there is nothing that can be said to be “beyond” that which is ALL, the self-container, containing all. (CW 9 139)

      (NOTE: the implication of the above two passage is that there’s nothing beyond Brahma, thus parabrahm used as supreme rather than beyond when referring to brahma.)

      Parabrahm (the One Reality, the Absolute) is the field of Absolute Consciousness (SD I 15)

      RELATING TO THE ONE LIFE:

      Brahman or Parabrahman, the ABSOLUTE . . . the one Life and only Reality (CW 3 424)

      The “One Life” or “Parabrahma” is the primum mobile of every atom and is nonexistent apart from it. (CW 4 423)

      There is but one eternal infinite uncreated Law—the ‘One Life’ of the Buddhist Arhats, or the Parabrahm of the Vedantins—Advaitas.” (CW 4 291)

      The pair which we refer to as the One Life, the Root of All, and  Akāśa in its pre-differentiating period answers to the Brahma (neuter) and Aditi of some Hindus, and stands in the same relation as the Parabrahman and Mūlaprakriti of the Vedāntins. (CW 12 611)
      (Note: This is not a metaphysical correspondence but a comparison of terms between the Vedas and Vedanta. See, for example, ’The Mulaprakriti of the Vedantins is the Aditi of the Vedas.’ in CW 10; 305; from Transactions of Blavatsky Lodge.)

      RELATING TO MULAPRAKRITI AS A VEIL OF BRAHMAN and PARABRAHM

      ‘Now see the Hindu cosmogony. There you find that Parabrahman is not mentioned; but only Mûlaprakriti: there is Parabrahman and there is Mûlaprakriti which the latter is the lining so to say or the aspect of Parabrahman in the invisible universe. Mûlaprakriti means the root of matter, but Parabrahman cannot be called the “root,” for it is the rootless root of all that is. Therefore you must begin with Mûlaprakriti the veil of Brahman as they call it.’ (SD Commentaries, p2)

      ‘Mulaprakiti (the veil of Parabrahmam)’) (SD I 130)

      MULAPRAKRITI AS ONE WITH BRAHMAN or PARABRAHM:

      Mulaprakriti, the noumenon, is self-existing and without any origin is, in short, parentless, Anupadaka (as one with Brahmam) SD I 62

      Parabrahm and Mulaprakriti are one in essence. (SD I 337)

      the One Principle under its two aspects of Parabrahmam and Mulaprakriti (SD I 18; SD I 46)
      ____________________

      RELATING TO BRAHMA AND PARABRAHM HAVING NO RELATIONS TO THE UNIVERSE:

      in Vedanta, we find Brahma the Absolute God, unconscious of the Universe, and remaining ever independent of all direct relation to it. (CW 13 pp30-311)

      the “One and Changeless”—Parabrahman—the Absolute All and One, cannot be conceived as standing in any relation to things finite and conditioned, (CW 15 212)
      ____________________

      RELATING TO CAUSE:

      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. 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 cogniser, ”for THAT can have no subject of cognition.“
      (SD I 6)

      ‘[Parabrahm] is the root of all, the causeless cause, the root of everything.’ SD Commentaries, p74)

      (Note: While it is possible in passage SD I 6 to view Parabrahm ‘as a “Secondless Reality” to be different to Brahma (neuter) keep in mind the passage from CW 12 611, in ‘Relating to the One Life’ above. Also there is the following passage where Parabrahm / Brahma is the Secondless Reality. This would suggest that HPB is referring to Parabrahm and Brahma (neuter) as one and the same thing in SD I 6:

      Parabrahm (Sk.). “Beyond Brahmâ”, literally. The Supreme Infinite Brahma, “Absolute”–the attributeless, the secondless reality. The impersonal and nameless universal Principle.
      Theosophical Glossary

      RELATING TO KALAHANSA:

      Kalahansa or Hamsa (Sk.). A mystic title given to Brahma (or Parabrahman); means “the swan in and out of time”. Brahmâ (male) is called Hansa-Vahan, the vehicle of the “Swan”. (Theosophical Glossary)

      It is incorrect in this case, to speak of Darkness “moving.” Absolute Darkness, or the Eternal Unknown, cannot be active, and moving is action. Even in Genesis it is stated that Darkness was upon the face of the deep, but that which moved upon the face of the waters, was the “Spirit of God.” This means esoterically that in the beginning, when the Infinitude was without form, and Chaos, or the outer Space, was still void, Darkness (i.e., Kalahansa Parabrahm) alone was. (Transactions of Blavatsky Lodge; Meeting no. 8)

      ~~


      • Peter
        Moderator
        Peter

        Correction:

        RELATING TO BRAHMA AND PARABRAHM HAVING NO RELATIONS TO THE UNIVERSE:

        in Vedanta, we find Brahma the Absolute God, unconscious of the Universe, and remaining ever independent of all direct relation to it. (CW 13 pp30-311)

        This should be CW 13, 310 (CW = Collected Writings of HPB)


        • Pierre Wouters
          Moderator
          Pierre Wouters

          Thanks for your excellent reply Peter, and the many good refs as to Brahma and Parabrahm.

          My response was primarily related to Jon’s question. As to whether these distinctions are those of esotericists per se, or “simply students’ differing views as to the meanings of terms and how those terms are used” is something I’m unable to answer. I offered it from the perspective of students making that distinction – which I unfortunately neglected to mention, since there are students adamant about maintaining that – for instance – the top plane of the diagram in SDI:200 is the end of all evolution, and then we start over again, just as there are buddhist (students most likely) who think nirvana is the end all and that’s it.

          The distinction between exoteric and esoteric after all being a relative concept anyway, as there is no exoteric vs esoteric perspective per se, just as there is no spirit or matter per se, they are relative to one another and exist only in the perception of minds, what is “esoteric” to me, is not esoteric to an adept for instance, but I’m sure you know that 🙂

          You make a good point as to “I wonder why HPB doesn’t just say this, if that is the case?”, hahaha, yeah, I’ve asked myself exactly the same question, but after many years of study and not immediately realizing the importance of the statement – I’m paraphrasing – that “an adept becomes, but is not made”, we can equally ask why so many of the other few thousands of concepts have not been “explained” in detail?

          It seems that a lot of work and effort is required of the student to figure things out for him/herself, so as to leave no residue behind – when reaching the goal – of any “hearsay”, so to speak, and he/she truly knows for him/herself. On the other hand, even Master KH in a letter to Sinnett complained that HPB often neglected to explain the things she was writing in her books. So I guess it has to come from both sides, with the emphasis on our side 🙂

          Just as as thought, it may very well be that a reference to Brahma (neuter) is referring to nirguna Brahman (The Absolute per se so to speak) and the Vedantin Parabram, and not to Brahma as the 1st logos or saguna Brahman. The word logos being of Greek origin anyway.
          Many “qualifications” can be found as to what Brahma, the Root (not Brahmâ) represents, whereas HPB is quite adamant that of the Absolute per se, the Rootless Root, nothing can be predicated, as it has no relation to manifested existence, which is not the case for Brahma in the sense of the First logos or the Root (see footnote SDI:14 in the 1st Fundamental)

          I think the graphic and symbolic representation of the “potential white point” within the “dark background” or circle may be helpful here:

          “Its place [Divine thought] is found in the old primitive Symbolic charts, in which, as shown in the text, it is represented by a boundless darkness, on the ground of which appears the first central point in white — thus symbolising coeval and co-eternal SPIRIT-MATTER making its appearance in the phenomenal world, before its first differentiation.” – SDI:327

          “Q. What is the Ray in this connection?
           A. I will recapitulate. We have the plane of the circle, the face being black, the point in the circle being potentially white, and this is the first possible conception in our minds of the invisible Logos. “Ever-Darkness” is eternal, the Ray periodical. Having flashed out from this central point and thrilled through the Germ, the Ray is withdrawn again within this point and the Germ develops into the Second Logos, the triangle within the Mundane Egg.” – Transactions pp. 83-84

          When there is a Maha-pralaya, the potential white point (potentially white is being black as the black circle!) is coeval with the Absolute per se, as there can be no circle – black or otherwise – without a central point, and from that perspective, the potential of the 1st logos (the potential white point) is identical with the Absolute per se (Brahman neuter?) during the maha-pralaya, but once the Ray “radiates” to become the white point or 1st Logos, a distinction can be drawn between the Absolute per se and the 1st Logos, and perhaps nirguna and saguna Brahman. Although I’m sure that from the Hindu and Vedantic perceptions a different perspective may ensue.

          The problem of perception and understanding for the student is muddled by HPB using the word Absolute over a range of possible perceptions between the Absolute per se and the unmanifested aspect of Mahat (the 3rd Logos). It sometimes seems that anything beyond the rupa planes can be thus designated, but then the intuition (not infallible!) has to be exercised.

          I think you can see for yourself that the references you mentioned – and there are many more – do not necessarily “jive” perfectly with one another and that in terms of terminology used there are discrepancies, which I for one see as rather positive and undogmatic, rather than potential mistakes that could be pointed out from an academic perspective.

          So – at least from my perspective – I find the arguing over terminology rather superfluous, as I’m more interested in the mental “processes” that make up the distinctions, rather than the terminology, but of course I agree with David that terminology from an academic perspective and relative to certain schools of thought have to be respected. But then again, HPB did not speak from an academic perspective even if she did use footnotes in her writings 🙂

          As to planes ever reaching higher vs “from within-outwards”, no, I don’t see that as altering anything to my mind. To me the use of ‘planes’ in diagrams puts the emphasis more on the hierarchical structure, vs the ‘within-outwards’, puts the emphasis more on the change of condition as in the expression “in co-adunition” vs consubstantiality. As mentioned in the Secret doctine:

          “The expansion “from within without” of the Mother, called elsewhere the “Waters of Space,” “Universal Matrix,” etc., does not allude to an expansion from a small centre or focus, but, without reference to size or limitation or area, means the development of limitless subjectivity into as limitless objectivity. “The ever (to us) invisible and immaterial Substance present in eternity, threw its periodical shadow from its own plane into the lap of Maya.” It implies that this expansion, not being an increase in size — for infinite extension admits of no enlargement — was a change of condition.” – SDI:62-63

          On a side note, as I keep on ‘digging’, I find more and more statements – unfortunately I didn’t make a list – where the opposite is being said in one place of what is said somewhere else, both by HPB as also by WQJ, and it doesn’t bother me in the least, since we are immersed in duality and something can be said for both sides 🙂 Although I find terminology very important, and stretch the importance of including research into etymology as part of theosophical study, perhaps being flexible of mind is more important than being factual in terminology.

          And, btw, I also agree with your point of view that more reflecting upon these subjects is imperative before coming to ANY conclusion IF any at all. All we can do is offer ideas for consideration, not for swallowing whole. I suspect that the ‘final’ conclusion will not be found on our level of manifested mind and consciousness anyway, but we can “try, ever keep trying” 🙂


          • Jon Fergus
            Moderator
            Jon Fergus

            Thanks Peter and Pierre for these outstanding replies. Peter, I think you’re right on the money, one of the flaws in our article is that we perhaps swayed too far in the direction of evidence supporting the points we were attempting to demonstrate as counter-arguments and thus failed to provide a balanced set of quotations on the subject (early drafts of the article were much longer and were trimmed down to the essential points, but perhaps we trimmed too much).

            In pondering over the distinctions we face in regards to the Absolute per se vs. first logos, causeless cause vs. first cause, etc. I am wondering if perhaps there is an angle that can solve the main contradictions or issues: that is, perhaps with the term parabrahman (from a Vedantin point of view) the idea represented encompasses both the Absolute and first logos in the sense that, as Pierre says, during maha-pralaya the distinction vanishes. In the theosophical philosophy we are put in a position where (from my perspective) when we begin to grapple with some of the deeper questions of cosmogenesis it becomes quite paramount to mark that distinction, but I suppose one of the problems (for us students) is that the real esoteric terminology isn’t given by HPB or anyone else, so we’re left with concepts and distinctions that may not have 100% appropriate replacement terms in the exoteric traditions of the world.

            I notice that Subba Row, in his Bhagavad Gita lectures, uses the term “First Cause” when discussing Parabrahman. He begins there and gradually moves “downwards” through the primary principles of cosmogenesis (avyakta, mulaprakriti, etc. etc.). In the SD, HPB makes a point to differentiate between the First Cause and the Causeless Cause, and spends a decent amount of time on and around the subject in the Proem and then later in the Transactions. Her somewhat flexible use of the term Parabrahman would seem in many cases to include both the concept of the First Cause and the concept of the Causeless Cause at one and the same time. If we were to strictly follow Subba Row’s explanation, we would indeed have HPB making the case for a principle (causeless cause) beyond that First Cause which Subba Row equates with Parabrahman. So…. perhaps the Vedanta philosophy as we have it available just didn’t (at least not exoterically) mark that distinction so carefully, but covered the full ideas under one umbrella term?

            This may be similar to the Samkhya system, which traditionally begins with avyakta/mulaprakriti, and I think we may correctly imagine that in the exoteric version of that system, avyakta/mulaprakriti were used as umbrella terms for a compound idea that (for deeper students) included Parabrahman hidden behind the “veil” of mulaprakriti. That is to say, they do not seem to have named any such principle of which mulaprakriti is a veil, but simply began there. I suppose this would be equivalent in some sense, to beginning a system of cosmogenesis with the Second Logos.

            Perhaps each such approach may be brought together by the theosophical approach if we take the perspective that one thing HPB was doing was taking the cosmogenesis system one step further into the abstract than the extant Vedanta system, which itself goes a step or half-step further than the Samkhya.


            • Peter
              Moderator
              Peter

              Thanks for you kind comments, Jon and Pierre.

              Jon – yes, that’s probably a good way to look at it – swaying too far in one direction. That said, it can be valuable and thought provoking to put a strong case for one side of an argument. I wonder, though, if you and Pierre had made the aim of your article to explore whether or not Brahman is the first logos, would that have given you more to work with? The overall aim of establishing that Parabrahm means ‘beyond Brahman’ seemed to get in the way quite often of that good line of inquiry – at least to me.

              There are lots of passages and terms in HPB’s works that can be interpreted in different ways. The same problems also exists throughout Plato’s dialogues and many other similar texts. In HPB’s works we know it is wise to check the context in which a term is used when determining the particular meaning of a passage. However, when looking to establish the general definition of the term itself we probably need to bring all the relevant passages together and examine them before making a decision. Some may be very clear as to the meaning; some will lean more one way than another; other passages will be 50/50 as to which way to view them. Taking them as a whole, we can ask if there is one definition that ties all three groups together? If there is – good. If not, we need to be cautious about presenting one side of the argument only.

              If we are going to put a strong case for a particular point of view we need also to double check translations of texts we use, for example, the passage from the SD which referenced Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Again, it was one you used mainly to emphasise ‘greater than’ or ‘beyond’ Brahman in keeping with your theme of ‘Parabrahm vs Brahman.’ This is the passage:

              ‘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 (Brahma or Brahman in his highest manifestations, say Sridhara and Madhusudana), the highest Dhyan Chohans or Devas. The Vedas are its leaves. He only who goes beyond the roots shall never return, i.e., shall reincarnate no more durIng this “age” of Brahma.’ (SD I 406)

              However, the usual translation of verse XI: 37 from the Bhagavad Gita normally refers to Brahmā, not Brahman (neuter), taking the term ‘brahmano’ in the verse as the genitive case of brahmā (or so I understand). It also refers to Krishna as ‘the First’. Typical translations are as follows:

              ‘greater than all, since Thou are the Primal Cause even of Brahmā’ (trans. Nikhiananda)
              ‘greater than brahmā, the first original creator’ (trans. Radhkrishnan)
              ‘Greater (than all else), the Primal Cause even of Brahmā’ (trans. Chinmayananda)

              Gambhirananda’s translation into English of Madhusudana’s annotation to the Bhagavad Gita (see HPB’s passage above) also gives the verse and annotation as those above:

              ‘greater (than all) and who are the first Creator even of Brahmā’ (XI; 37)

              [Annotation]: O, infinite One, who are devoid of limitations, O Lord of the gods, who are controller of even such gods as Hiranyagarbha and others; O Abode of the Universe, the Refuge of all . . . greater even than Brahmā, (and) who are the first Creator, the Father even of Brahmā… [etc]’ ( ‘Bhagavad Gita, with the Annotation’, Madhusudana Sarasvati, trans, Gambhirananda,)

              More thoughts on ‘Cause and causation’ and other good points another time.

              ~~


              • Peter
                Moderator
                Peter

                I should have put the complete verse from the Bhagavad Gita in the above post, for the reader unfamiliar with the text. It is Arjuna’s homage to Sri Krishna:

                11.37. Or why should they not bow down to You, O exalted One, who are greater even than Brahmā and are the first Creator! O infinite One, the Lord of the Gods, Abode of the Universe, You are the real and the unreal, as also the Imperishable which is transcendental to those (two). (trans, Gambhirananda)

                (Note: ‘the first’ applies to Krishna not to Brahmā. Verse 38 in all the translations carries on this theme.)

                11.38 You are the Primal Deity, the Pervader, the unborn One: You are the ultimate Repository of this Universe. You are the knower as also the Knowable, and the supreme Abode. O You who are indivisible in Your true nature, (this) Universe is pervaded by You.

                ~~


              • David Reigle
                Participant
                David Reigle

                Following up on your post here, Peter, the Bhagavad-gita verse 11.37 found at S.D. 1.406, “greater than Brahman, and First Cause . . . the indestructible, that which is, that which is not, and what is beyond them,” is taken from Kashinath Trimbak Telang’s 1882 translation. Back then, he and other translators that I have seen simply used Brahman for either the neuter or the masculine. These Hindus apparently had no difficulty in distinguishing them by way of context, as must often be done in the Sanskrit texts. So they had not yet gotten into the habit of distinguishing them by writing them differently in their translations, as did the later translations that you helpfully cited.


                • Peter
                  Moderator
                  Peter

                  That’s interesting, David. I didn’t know that. So, for the Hindu, if Parabrahm means the Supreme Brahman and if Krishna is being portrayed as that very Brahman in verse 11; 37, then the term ‘brahmano’ in the text would necessarily refer to the male brahma (brahmā)) otherwise the text would simply be saying that Krishna, as the primal cause of all, was greater than or beyond himself. Would that be the way the Hindu would look at it and why later translations use brahmā?

                  So that we don’t neglect an alternative view – does the context-led-meaning of the term brahman leave an opening in the translation to support Jon and Pierre’s interpretation that the meaning of the text is that Krishna is greater than or beyond the First Cause (i.e taking the first cause in the verse to refer to brahman – neuter or male)? This doesn’t seem to be supported by the standard translations nor by the following verse which repeats the theme that Krishna is that First Cause, but could it be a valid way to translate this particular verse?

                  Just to add a further thought, in general. Perhaps we have to keep in mind that while the Vedantin may have no problems regarding Krishna as Parabrahm, the theosophical perspective would be that Krishna is the Logos (even the triple logos)*. From a theosophical perspective it’s difficult to see the verse as saying that Krishna is beyond or greater than Brahman (i.e. taking Brahman to mean first Logos or First Cause) because Krishna, in the aspect of Paramātman (the unmanifested Logos), is that First Cause or an aspect of it.

                  * ‘In the Bhagavatgita we find Krishna calling himself indifferently Atman, the abstract Spirit, Kshetragna, the Higher or reincarnating Ego, and the Universal SELF, all names which, when transferred from the Universe to man, answer to Atma, Buddhi and Manas.’ (Key to Theosophy, p67)

                  ~~


                  • David Reigle
                    Participant
                    David Reigle

                    Peter: “So, for the Hindu, if Parabrahm means the Supreme Brahman and if Krishna is being portrayed as that very Brahman in verse 11; 37, then the term ‘brahmano’ in the text would necessarily refer to the male brahma (brahmā)) otherwise the text would simply be saying that Krishna, as the primal cause of all, was greater than or beyond himself. Would that be the way the Hindu would look at it and why later translations use brahmā?”

                    David: Yes, exactly. The word brahmaṇo, or brahmaṇaḥ without sandhi, is in the ablative case, which is the same in masculine or neuter. So for the reason you said, they take this as masculine here.

                    The usage of brahman in the Upanisads is much like what is here in the Bhagavad-gita. In the same breath, they can call Krishna greater than brahmā, and then proceed to call him the “first maker”, and the “first god”, epithets of brahmā, to say nothing of referring to Krishna as the absolute. For this reason, Sankaracarya in his Brahma-sutra-bhasya on 4.3.7-14 distinguishes the higher (para) brahman from the lower (apara) brahman. He says that in many passages of the Upanisads the lower brahman is meant, i.e., brahmā. It is only the passages that speak of the higher brahman that are to be taken as ultimate truth, and it is these that form the basis of his Advaita Vedanta.

                    He does speak of the first cause, but not as brahman, whether higher or lower. In his Pañcīkaraṇam he calls it avyākṛta, the “undifferentiated,” and his disciple Sureśvara in his vārttika commentary thereon adds avyakta, the “unmanifested.” Śaṅkarācārya, too, uses avyakta for it in his Viveka-cūḍāmaṇi, verse 108 or 109 or 110, depending on edition. The Pañcīkaraṇam is an authentic work of the original Śaṅkarācārya, according to the otherwise lost Bṛhat-śaṅkara-vijaya of Citsukhācārya as reported by Narayana Sastri. The reason that we do not find much talk about the first cause in Advaita Vedanta is that most Advaita Vedantins regard cosmogony as an illusion. The Pañcīkaraṇam is an exception.


                    • Jon Fergus
                      Moderator
                      Jon Fergus

                      It seems to me that Krishna is being identified as what we theosophists would call the Logos, in a way that encompasses the first, second and third Logos. He is all three at once, though we can mark the distinctions in various ways; sometimes we can speak of him as the first logos, sometimes as the second or third depending on our intention and context etc. So considering all we’ve been discussing here, it seems to me that Vedanta philosophy (as laid out by Sankara at least) is marking the important distinction between the third logos (using brahmā) and the first logos (using brahma or parabrahma). This matches with Subba Row’s use of parabrahma as the “First Cause” and with many of HPB’s statements (as Peter has shared). But then of course, this would leave an absence philosophically, as there wouldn’t seem to be an obvious term in Vedanta philosophy for the “Causeless Cause” or “Absolute per se”, if not parabrahma.

                      I am curious about the role of the term avyakta. In Samkhya it seems to be equated almost 1-to-1 with mulaprakriti (see commentaries on Tattva Samasa, and Samkya-karika), and I think we can in many ways approach this philosophically as indicating at least the “substantive” aspect of the first logos (it may be that avyakta can indicate the subjective side and mulaprakriti the objective side, but that may be too tying down those terms too tightly). But again, with Vedanta, we are left with a cosmogony that seems (to my mind at least) to begin with the First Cause and not necessarily with the Causeless Cause or Absolute per se. Unless, as I suggested above, the Vedantins simply weren’t marking the distinction between Absolute and First Cause/Logos, and so using the term parabrahma to indicate both at once (which seems to be a reasonable approach, anyway). Or they were focused on the Absolute as the hierarch or apex of a system (which is the First Cause), and thus using parabrahma moreso for this than for the Absolute per se. But then we would (philosophically) be in need of a para-parabrahma, to indicate the Absolute per se which is “beyond” the Absolute of any particular system.

                      This muddling can in a way lead naturally to theosophists (like Purucker) finding some necessity in indicating that there is something “beyond” that first cause, and like Pierre and I have done at times, utilizing a threefold brahmā, brahma and parabrahma as a way to accomplish this. Problem there, as you (Peter and David) have pointed out, is that we end up creating a divide between the way we use said terms and the way the traditions are accustomed to using them. I’m not opposed to using terms in uniquely theosophical ways, of course, but then as David has pointed out, it becomes incumbent upon us to clarify that we are using it uniquely.

                      All that said, my main problem with viewing parabrahma as the First Cause and equivalent to brahma (neuter) is that such an approach fails to sufficiently distinguish the fundamental principles of cosmogenesis. Perhaps the clearest overview of said principles is on page 16 of the Proem of the Secret Doctrine, where HPB lays out principles 1-4 as such:

                      (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.
                      (3.) Spirit-matter, LIFE; the “Spirit of the Universe,” the Purusha and Prakriti, or the second Logos.
                      (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.

                      and in this instance HPB decided to use parabrahm for the Absolute per se, not for the First Cause. Perhaps it is significant that in this listing, only point #2 is left without an eastern term associated with it. It is also perhaps philosophically significant that HPB says of point #1 (the Absolute) that it is “both Absolute Being and Non-Being”, since we can, I believe, also say that point #2 (the First Cause) is itself “Non-Being”. Point #1, from a certain perspective, includes both point #1 and point #2, but point #2 doesn’t include point #1. When we speak of the Absolute, we can’t help but be simultaneously speaking of the First Cause, but when we speak of the First Cause we must (philosophically) be clear that we are not speaking of the Absolute. This is in the same sense that when speaking of Parabrahma we are necessarily also speaking of Mulaprakriti, since we cannot really speak of Parabrahma without its substantial aspect (the veil drawn over it, as Subba Row pointed out, is all even the Logos itself can “see”), but we can speak of Mulaprakriti in such a way that we are clear that we are not indicating Parabrahma, but only the veil. Vedanta philosophy may, thus, have left it up to the student to understand this important distinction without specifically exploring it (at least in the texts we have at our disposal).

                      Some of these distinctions might seem nitpicky, but I believe such distinctions to be all-important when dealing with the subtler aspects of the cosmogenesis system laid out by HPB in the SD. Whichever terms we decide to use, I believe those 4 points HPB laid out form a foundation for us from which we can philosophically dig at the esoteric system, and the distinctions made there are key.


  • Pierre Wouters
    Moderator
    Pierre Wouters

    Interesting tidbit: Bhagavad Gita Ch. 10, p. 71-72 (Judge rendition)

    (71)”ARJUNA:
    “Thou art Parabrahm!* the supreme abode, the great Purification; thou art the Eternal Presence, the divine Being, before all other Gods, holy, primeval, all-pervading, without beginning! Thus thou art declared by all the Sages – by Narada, Asita, Devala,(72) Vyasa, and thou thyself now doth say the same. I firmly believe all that thou, O Keshava, sayest unto me; for neither Gods nor demons comprehend thy manifestations. Thou alone knowest thyself by thy Self, Supreme Spirit, Creator and Master of all that lives, God of Gods, and Lord of all the universe!”
    *Beyond Brahma.”

    Mr. Judge either didn’t bother adding the diacritic on the last “a”, or perhaps kept it open for interpretation. I’ve seen other parts of Judge texts where he does the same, but in most places however, it clearly refers to Brahmâ from the context.

    Winthrop Sargeant translates Parabrahm as Supreme Brahman:
    paraṁ brahma paraṁ dhāma
    the Supreme Brahman, the supreme abode,


    • Peter
      Moderator
      Peter

      Hi Pierre,

      Yes, I think that’s exactly how the Hindu would look at Krishna – the Supreme Brahman (Parabrahm). Even the Vishistadvaitin regards his/her Personal God as Parabrahm. I think the question with regards to this particular verse is whether or not the phrase ‘first cause’ or ‘primal cause’ refers to brahmā (brahma) rather than Krishna. In the Vedanta, Parabrahm is the First Cause of the Universe. If time and energy allows I’ll share some thoughts that, hopefully, show the way they conceive this is not so different to our First Fundamental Proposition.

      In the meantime here is a passage from the Collected Writings which shows a definite reference to Brahma (neuter) as the first unmanifested Logos. The strength of this passage is that we know Brahmā, from a theosophical perspective, is regarded as the third or even second logos, never the first. So we don’t need to concern ourselves about diacritical marks or which way a verse should be translated.

      ‘Whence the dual meaning of the First-born, the Lamb, the Unborn, and the Eternal—all relating to the Logos or Christos? We say from the Sanskrit Aja, a word the meanings of which are: (a) the Ram, or the Lamb, the first sign of the Zodiac, called in astronomy Mesha; (b) the Unborn, a title of the first Logos, or Brahma, the self-existent cause of all, described and so referred to in the Upanishads.’ (CW 7, 257)

      HPB doesn’t state where or how often the term Brahma is equivalent to the first Logos in the Upanishads. It may be that we should take it as having this meaning when linked to the term Aja. Either way, she clearly links the meaning of the two terms, Logos (from greek philosophy) and Brahma (from the Hindu).

      Rather than focusing on whether or not parabrahm mean beyond-brahma (neuter) which is problematic (though not so if claiming greater than brahmā) why not come at it from a different angle – brahman as the great breath, for example?

      ~~


      • Pierre Wouters
        Moderator
        Pierre Wouters

        Hi Peter,

        re: “Rather than focusing on whether or not parabrahm mean beyond-brahma (neuter) which is problematic (though not so if claiming greater than brahmā) why not come at it from a different angle – brahman as the great breath, for example?”

        I don’t know if I understand your last question within the right context, so please correct me if that’s not the case.

        I don’t understand what the difference would be, since Brahman as the great breath would be equivalent to Atma, to which she refers to as the Great Breath or Pre-cosmic ideation in the First fundamental. If that’s the case, then Atma as a ray from the Absolute – as HPB defines it – would be the root, not the rootless root. What she calls Absolute Abstract Motion in the 1st Fundamental of the SDI:14 is defined as “This latter aspect of the one Reality, is also symbolised by the term “The Great Breath,” a symbol sufficiently graphic to need no further elucidation.” Although it needs at least more elucidation for me 🙂

        But if I understand it correctly, then Atman being related to Brahman, would then in turn become the first logos, and that still leaves us with the Absolute per se, of which Atma is a ray. Of course, I’m referring to this not in the Hindu or Advaita sense – of which I know very little – but from a theosophical perspective. HPB does not always use Hindu terms in the context of what they mean within the confines of that philosophy and most likely idem ditto for other philosophies, she is not teaching us Hindu or Advaita philosophy – except for pointing out where they do or don’t differ from theosophy – and often gives terminologies and processes from other philosophies a twist for which you may not find a definition within that specific philosophy. As she refers to 6 schools of philosophy in India, the 7th being the Trans-Himalayan of which theosophy is for all intents and purposes the exoteric version, I would imagine that there are some discrepancies or different formulations for the same terminology and processes.

        After all, except for the word theosophy, there is not a single term used in theosophy that is theosophical! 🙂 Maybe an exception can be made for Fohat, but even there I’m doubtful, she also gives some equivalents for it in other philosophies.

        That leaves HPB and her Mahatmas with having to use existing terminologies and applying them from time to time in a specific theosophical context.

        So, correct me if I misunderstood your question.


        • Peter
          Moderator
          Peter

          Hi Pierre,

          I’m rather slow at responding at the moment – my apologies. When I said that it’s problematic to treat the term Parabrahm as meaning ‘beyond Brahman’ as a way of showing that Brahma is the First Logos, I meant that it is ‘problematic’ from the point of view of our theosophical texts. I’ve already provided a number of passages from HPB to illustrate that, and we’ve also looked closer at the passage from the Bhagavad Gita in the SD which casts a doubt on that assertion. It’s not so problematic to treat Parabrahm as meaning ‘beyond Brahmā’ in theosophical texts (even if this literal translation is wrong) because we have many such definitions in those texts.

          Relating the Great Breath and Brahman with Atman was just what I had in mind as a starting point since both the Theosophist and the Advaitee would not dispute that Atman is non other than Brahman. So, yes, we may well end up in the same place i.e. putting the possibility that Brahman be treated as the First Cause or First Logos in Theosophy. The difference (since you asked what that might be) is in how we get to that place. We don’t need to arrive there by the rather problematic route of trying to prove the Parabrahm means ‘beyond Brahman.’ Let’s say we put a good case for linking Brahman with the Great Breath, would we say that Parabrahm is beyond the Great Breath?

          I do think there is something to be explored around the terms Brahman and the First Logos, but at the present time I’m just not sure that Brahman (from a theosophical perspective) fits quite so neatly with the First Logos in the way that you and Jon suggest. Based on all the related passages I’m left with the feeling that there’s something there to explore but it’s not quite that simple, and that might just be the reason why HPB does not spell it out as clearly and consistently as we might like.

          I agree, it is the case that HPB does not always use Hindu terms in the same way they may be used in their respective traditions – the same goes for other traditions. Yet, there are many, possibly far more, cases where both HPB and the Mahatmas do use them in the way they are used in their respective traditions. The Mahatma’s statement with regards to our topic of Parabrahm is a pertinent example.

          ‘We are not Adwaitees, but our teaching respecting the one life is identical with that of the Adwaitee with regard to Parabrahm.’ (Mahatma Letters to Sinnett, no.10, Barker ed.)

          So, if we had an understanding of what is the Advaita teaching regarding Parabrahm, we might also gain an understanding of the Absolute, or One Life, from the perspective of the Trans-Himalayan school, to which the Mahatmas belong. I suspect this is the case with regards to many other terms used, unless HPB or the Mahatmas’ have made a point of saying how they are using that term differently from the tradition to which it belongs.

          A last thought – surely it can’t be for nothing that the Founders made the Second Object of the TS:

          “To promote the study of Aryan and other Scriptures, of the World’s religion and sciences, and to vindicate the importance of Asiatic literature, namely, of Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian philosophies.”

          ’To promote the study’ and ’to vindicate the importance’ are quite definite and powerful phrases urging action. I find it hard to believe the Founders would suggest either of these if such study only led students down an exoteric dead end path.

          ~~


          • Pierre Wouters
            Moderator
            Pierre Wouters

            Slow on the uptake as well here.

            “’To promote the study’ and ’to vindicate the importance’ are quite definite and powerful phrases urging action. I find it hard to believe the Founders would suggest either of these if such study only led students down an exoteric dead end path.”

            Yes I agree Peter, on the other hand HPB is also quick enough, if not repeating herself frequently, that the esoteric is never truly written down, that the Brahmans have removed – without necessarily changing what is left – many sections originally belonging to their writings which could possibly reveal much more. Idem ditto for other cultures. One thus wonders how the 2nd Object of the TS has to be interpreted. I guess it goes without saying that whether exoteric or esoteric, this job needs to be done if one wants to acquire a completer picture of both exoteric, and perhaps derive some hints with regard to the esoteric understanding. If we hadn’t any literature at all, there would be nothing to study 🙂

            I’ve come to the conclusion – at least for myself – that apart from the outline of general principles, not that many “concepts” are explained in detail. Whatever conclusion can be derived from anything HPB (and Judge as well) has written down, most of the answers end up requiring new questions again 🙂 “The adept becomes and is not made” comes to mind, so that in the end we are left to our own devices and intuitions.

            The subject of time and space you referred to is also an interesting one, again never explained in detail. Where does space and time begin relative to both the unmanifested and manifested planes? In one place it seems to start with the 1st Logos, in other places with the 3rd. If there are infinite planes beyond (and below) the diagram of SDI:200, would space and time then only be confined to our few limited manifested planes – which I find doubtful? it may well be that space and time represent something entirely different if they would apply to unmanifested planes as well. Since I don’t have an answer I guess I have to mull it over for some time to come 🙂


            • Peter
              Moderator
              Peter

              “Whatever conclusion can be derived from anything HPB (and Judge as well) has written down, most of the answers end up requiring new questions again.”

              Those are wise words, Pierre, and I’ve often found your contributions to the study have raised good new questions for me to reflect upon.

              With regards the Second Object, I don’t think it requires much interpretation. “To promote the study of Aryan [and] to vindicate the importance of old Asiatic literature” is a clear and straightforward aim. It appears to be one that the Founders saw as important even with the caveats from HPB, which you rightly mention. Picking up on your theme of “The adept becomes and is not made” and thus having to do the work ourselves, perhaps the following passage from HPB is also relevant.

              ‘It is but the Occultist, the Eastern Adept, who stands a Free Man, omnipotent through his own Divine Spirit as much as man can be on earth. He has rid himself of all human conceptions and religious side issues. He is at one and the same time a Chaldaean Sage, a Persian Magi, a Greek Theurgist, an Egyptian Hermetist, a Buddhist Rahat, and an Indian Yogi. He has collected into one bundle all the separate fractions of Truth widely scattered over the nations, and holds in his hands the One Truth, a torch of light which no adverse wind can bend, blow out or even cause to waver. (CW 3, 267)

              Perhaps, too, we can see the hope behind the Founders’ aim for the TS in HPB’s reference to the Eclectic Theosophists of the 3rd century, AD.

              ‘It was the aim and purpose of Ammonius to reconcile all sects, peoples and nations under one common faith—a belief in one Supreme, Eternal, Unknown, and Unnamed Power, governing the Universe by immutable and eternal laws. His object was to prove a primitive system of Theosophy, which at the beginning was essentially alike in all countries; to induce all men to lay aside their strives and quarrels, and unite in purpose and thought as the children of one common mother; to purify the ancient religions, by degrees corrupted and obscured, from all dross of human element, by uniting and expounding them upon pure philosophical principles. Hence, the Buddhistic, Vedantic and Magian, or Zoroastrian, systems were taught in the Eclectic Theosophical School along with all the philosophies of Greece.’
              (From HPB’s Collected Writings, vol. 2; ‘What is Theosophy?’)

              ~~


              • Pierre Wouters
                Moderator
                Pierre Wouters

                Thanks Peter, love the quote from CW 3, 267.
                To your last ref. on aim and purpose we may well add what HPB already mentioned in Isis, II:143

                “Thus, whether we say that Kabalism and Gnosticism proceeded from Masdeanism or Zoroastrianism, it is all the same, unless we meant the exoteric worship — which we do not. Likewise, and in this sense, we may echo King, the author of the Gnostics, and several other archæologists, and maintain that both the former proceeded from Buddhism, at once the simplest and most satisfying of philosophies, and which resulted in one of the purest religions of the world. It is only a matter of chronology to decide which of these religions, differing but in external form, is the oldest, therefore the least adulterated. But even this bears but very indirectly, if at all, on the subject we treat of. Already some time before our era, the adepts, except in India, had ceased to congregate in large communities; but whether among the Essenes, or the Neo-platonists, or, again, among the innumerable struggling sects born but to die, the same doctrines, identical in substance and spirit, if not always in form, are encountered. By Buddhism, therefore, we mean that religion signifying literally the doctrine of wisdom, and which by many ages antedates the metaphysical philosophy of Siddhârtha Sakyamuni.”

                At the same time another example of HPB not always being congruent in determining her terminology, since in other articles and in the Secret Doctrine, she makes it a point of emphasizing that she’s referring to “Budh”-ism, not Buddhism 🙂


    • David Reigle
      Participant
      David Reigle

      Very interesting, Pierre, that Mr. Judge gives “Beyond Brahma” as the meaning of Parabrahm in a footnote to his translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, p. 71. I would assume that he intended the masculine Brahmā (or Brahmâ, as it was then written), following Blavatsky who had just given this three times. The preface or introduction to his translation, “Antecedent Words,” is dated Oct. 1890. Blavatsky had said in January 1889 that “The IT is, in the Hindu philosophy, Parabrahm, that which is beyond Brahmâ,” in Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, p. 4. This was published in 1890 both in London and by W. Q. Judge in New York. Blavatsky also said this in the Sep. 15, 1889, issue of Lucifer, vol. 5, p. 83, “Parabrahm means ‘beyond Brahmâ’,” in a footnote to “The Theosophist’s Right to His God.” She again said this in the Glossary that was added to the second edition of The Key to Theosophy published in 1890 both in London and by W. Q. Judge in New York: “Parabrahm (Sans.) A Vedantin term meaning ‘beyond Brahmâ’.” So it seems likely to me that he intended to repeat what Blavatsky said, rather than to change it.

      The higher (para) brahman is no doubt beyond the lower (apara) brahman, also called brahmā, but this is not what the term parabrahman means. It cannot mean this grammatically, and no Hindu would take it as such. The Glossary to Five Years of Theosophy correctly gives “Parabrahm, the supreme principle in Nature; the universal spirit,” with no mention of “beyond Brahmâ.” There is no statement of who edited this book in the 1885 first edition, but in the “Preface to the Second and Revised Edition,” 1894, G.R.S.M. wrote that “The original edition of this book was edited by M. M. C.” That is, George Robert Stow Mead wrote that the original edition was edited by Mohini Mohun Chatterji. We may assume, then, that Chatterji is responsible for the Glossary, and we see that he gives the Hindu understanding of the meaning of Parabrahm. I have not so far been able to trace where the supposed meaning “beyond Brahmā” comes from, as found in the Glossary to The Key to Theosophy, in The Theosophical Glossary (“Parabrahm (Sk.), ‘Beyond Brahmâ’, literally.”), etc.

      In Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge Blavatsky also says, p. 5: “Mulaprakriti means the Root of Nature or Matter.” This is also found in The Theosophical Glossary by Blavatsky: “Literally, ‘the root of Nature’ (Prakriti) or Matter.” No doubt mūla-prakṛti is the root of prakṛti as we know it, i.e., the lower (apara) prakṛti, but this is not what the term mūla-prakṛti means. It cannot mean this grammatically, and no Hindu would take it as such. To mean the root of prakṛti the compound would have to be prakṛti-mūla, not mūla-prakṛti. The compound mūla-prakṛti is a special kind of karmadhāraya compound, where instead of adjective-noun we have noun-noun. It is therefore understood to mean “that prakṛti which is the root” (mūlaṃ ca asau prakṛtiś ca iti mūla-prakṛtiḥ, from Sāṃkhya-tattva-kaumudī 1.3). That is, it is both prakṛti and the root. This, of course, is the higher (para) prakṛti. This compound can be translated as “root-matter,” but not as “the root of matter.” The Glossary in Five Years of Theosophy correctly gives “Mula-prakriti, undifferentiated cosmic matter; the unmanifested cause and substance of all being,” with no mention of “the root of matter.”

      These erroneous definitions of fundamental Hindu philosophical terms, spread across the web in various glossaries, do not help the cause of Theosophy to “arrest the attention of the highest minds” as the Mahatmas intended.


      • Pierre Wouters
        Moderator
        Pierre Wouters

        Thanks David for all your elucidations of the terminology in Hindu and Advaita philosophy, as I learn a lot from it, idem ditto for Peter’s explanations.

        My question to you – within the context of your explanations – (or anyone else who’d like to chime in) would be:

        How would you understand HPB’s comment in the Transactions pp. 107 and 111, when she says:
        (107)
        “In using the term “planes of non-being” it is necessary to remember that these planes are only to us spheres of non-being, but those of being and matter to higher intelligences than ourselves. The highest Dhyan-Chohans of the Solar System can have no conception of that which exists in higher systems, i.e., on the second “septenary” Kosmic plane, which to the Beings of the ever invisible Universe is entirely subjective.”

        and:
        (111)
        “That which in the Secret Doctrine is referred to as the unmanifested planes, are unmanifested or planes of non-being only from the point of view of the finite intellect; to higher intelligences they would be manifested planes and so on to infinity, analogy always holding good.”

        What kind of terminology would you use in defining these concepts within the Hindu and/or Advaita philosophy?


        • David Reigle
          Participant
          David Reigle

          A good question, Pierre. I suppose they would simply use terms like “unthinkable and unspeakable.” As you know, Blavatsky quoted these terms from the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad (from Gough’s translation in The Philosophy of the Upanishads, 1882, p. 71) to describe the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine. I regard unmanifested planes or planes of non-being as included in the Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable Principle. Likewise, I would regard these planes as included in brahman when it is described as “unthinkable and unspeakable.” We do find both the words “being” (sat) and “non-being” (asat) used to describe brahman in the Upaniṣads.


  • Gerry Kiffe
    Moderator
    Gerry Kiffe

    There is a practical side to every spiritual teaching. What practical application can be derived from the teaching on the Absolute? How might it help us in the conduct of our lives?


    • Jon Fergus
      Moderator
      Jon Fergus

      Personally, one of the major effects my understanding of the Absolute has had on my practical life is that it has helped me ground the sense of “oneness” with all beings in a deeply philosophical sense. Realizing that no matter how differentiated manifestation becomes it is still One, is an idea that I have found useful daily. For instance, we may all disagree on political ideas, moral ideas; we may rub each other the wrong way, bicker and argue and even go so far as to battle each other, but we will always share more in common than we differ, we are always bound together as One, and I think with some practice we can begin to treat each other in the moment truly as “siblings” of the universe.


    • Pierre Wouters
      Moderator
      Pierre Wouters

      To add to Jon’s application, if it be true that man’s fundamental essence is identical with the Absolute, and with “God in Nature”, we may have to come up with a stronger platitude than “the sky is the limit”! If we truly are the monad or that infinite potential, then it opens up infinite possibilities of expression, even though the capacity of our present mind to imagine those possibilities might be severely lacking (and that’s putting it mildly). In an infinite universe must of necessity be infinite possibilities, and notwithstanding the illusory nature of the manifested universe, it’s nevertheless the theater where the expressions and the actions of that potential take place. So, as one humanity, we better tune down the bickering and start working on making that unity a reality.

      Just imagine what even a limited understanding of such an idea could do for many psychological disturbances, especially depression, if this idea in its proper perspective would truly take root in people’s minds, to be finally freed from limiting ourselves to our personal idiosyncrasies and, in the words of William Blake:
      To see a World in a grain of sand,
      And a Heaven in a wild flower,
      Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
      And Eternity in an hour.


  • ModeratorTN
    Keymaster
    ModeratorTN

    It is wrong and unjust to regard the Buddhists and Advaitee Occultists as atheists. If not all of them philosophers, they are, at any rate, all logicians, their objections and arguments being based on strict reasoning. Indeed, if the Parabrahmam of the Hindus may be taken as a representative of the hidden and nameless deities of other nations, this absolute Principle will be found to be the prototype from which all the others were copied. 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. 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 cogniser, “for THAT can have no subject of cognition.” Can the flame be called the essence of Fire? This Essence is “the LIFE and LIGHT of the Universe, the visible fire and flame are destruction, death, and evil.” “Fire and Flame destroy the body of an Arhat, their essence makes him immortal.” (Bodhi-mur, Book II.) “The knowledge of the absolute Spirit, like the effulgence of the sun, or like heat in fire, is naught else than the absolute Essence itself,” says Sankaracharya. IT — is “the Spirit of the Fire,” not fire itself; therefore, “the attributes of the latter, heat or flame, are not the attributes of the Spirit, but of that of which that Spirit is the unconscious cause.”” — Secret Doctrine, Volume 1, Proem, pages 4 & 6


  • Jon Fergus
    Moderator
    Jon Fergus

    I want to add a portion of a discussion between HPB and her students from the Secret Doctrine Dialogues. It’s a bit long for a forum, but I really think it tackles the philosophical issues around Parabrahma quite well. The discussion arises because the students are trying to wrap their mind around what Parabrahma is, and you’ll notice them also working their way through the “ever-beyond” idea, even going so far as to use “para-parabrahma” in their attempt. The distinction between First Cause and Causeless Cause takes center stage here.

    Secret Doctrine Dialogues, p. 69 etc.:

    Mr. Gardner: What portion of the machine is Parabrahman?

    Mme. Blavatsky: What! Put him to bed! Please give him a pillow! Mr. Gardner, my dear man! Shame him, if you please, let him blush—Parabrahman, why, it is all. If there is one mathematical point in the universe where Parabrahman is not, then you had better go to bed, because it does not exist. It is not the present it is eternal. Oh! Do explain, somebody else, will you, please? Tell him some verses from the Veda to refresh him—anything you like.

    Mr. A. Keightley: Supposing you take your conception of a machine. If ultimately you work out your conception of the universe, you bring yourself back to plain, simple, centrifugal and centripetal forces.

    Mme. Blavatsky: With intelligence, plus intelligence; that will be another kind of “machine.”

    Mr. A. Keightley: Very well, call that the primary differentiation and get that back to Parabrahman.

    Mme. Blavatsky: Why should it get back to Parabrahman? It will get back to Parabrahman when the universe has finished its Age of Brahmâ its cycle.

    Mr. A. Keightley: Very well, then, you get your primary differentiation and you postulate then that you must have a cause, the great first cause, the Absolute.

    Mme. Blavatsky: No, I beg your pardon. The great First Cause is not the Absolute, never call it that; the great First Cause is the unconscious radiation or emanation. Call it what you like, you know English better than I do. That which manifests itself as light.

    Mr. B. Keightley: The unmanifested Logos, in fact.

    Mme. Blavatsky: Yes, the unmanifested Logos, if you like, but never Parabrahman. It is the causeless cause of all, and Absoluteness cannot be a cause. That is the great difficulty.

    Mr. B. Keightley: Look at the paradox. You will say on the one hand that Absoluteness cannot be a cause, and you call it in the same breath a causeless cause.

    Mme. Blavatsky: Because, in the first place the English language is very poor, and in the second place, human language is almost as poor. And then, with our finite language, our finite brains, our finite conception, it is impossible to put in form that which is formless. How can you go, and presume to put it in language? Look at Herbert Spencer, he also calls it the First Cause, and he mixes it up with Absoluteness. Why, this is a very great philosophical mistake, at least in the eyes of the Vedântins. Certainly it is the greatest mistake.

    Mr. A. Keightley: What I am getting towards is this, that you get back to your unmanifested Logos, and behind that, whatever attribute you chose to apply, you have Parabrahman.

    Mr. B. Keightley: As the root.

    Mme. Blavatsky: Look here, if you want to have the Vedântin theory, there is Parabrahm and Mûlaprakriti. They are the same only Mûlaprakriti is an attribute—it is a primordial, undifferentiated matter. We can conceive of such a thing, knowing there is such a thing, if we take it a little limited, that is of limited size or space; but we cannot conceive of that which is beyond that matter, that is to say, which is not even spirit, which is meta-spirit, and is a thing inconceivable to the human intellect, and we can only barely sense it in our conceptions. We cannot put it in any definite words. This is the thing I want to impress upon you. Now Mr. Gardner thought Parabrahman was something; Parabrahman is no thing. Not nothing, it is Ain-Soph, the Endless. It is not a thing which is all and nothing, for it is Be-ness, and not non-being. Now try to understand this philosophically.

    Mr. Kingsland: But it is still the First Cause, isn’t it?

    Mme. Blavatsky: It is the root of all, the causeless cause, the root of everything. And the First Cause, the unmanifested Logos, is that which will be the cause of everything in the universe.

    Mr. Kingsland: You don’t use the term “causeless” in the sense of cause-that-is-not-a-cause for anything else, but you use it in the sense of a cause that has not a cause behind it.

    Mme. Blavatsky: It is a universal potentiality of that which will become potency. That is to say, if there is a difference in the English language between potentiality and potency. Is there?

    Mr. B. Keightley: Certainly there is, distinctly.

    Mr. Kingsland: That overcomes your objection then.

    Mr. B. Keightley: Yes, I only put it as a paradox of expression.

    Mme. Blavatsky: They call it the rootless root; that is to say, it has no root because it is causality itself—causation.

    Mr. Kingsland: It has no root, but it is the root of everything.

    Mme. Blavatsky: It is the spiritual basis of all cause, which Mûlaprakriti certainly is not. They say Âkâsa has only one attribute, and it is sound, in the Vishnu Purâna. What is sound? It is Logos that is to say, the sensuous representation of something. You see, it is very difficult for me to tell you. I speak English like a Spanish cow, and I am very sorry for it, but I cannot speak better, though I try to explain it as well as I can.

    Mr. A. Keightley: Is it possible, as a speculation, as an entirely speculative thing, to conceive that after the universe has gone back into the Parabrahmanic condition, that there should be to that Parabrahmanic condition a ParaParabrahmanic.

    Mme. Blavatsky: It is what they say—ParaParabrahmanic, that is the expression they use in philosophy. Don’t they?

    Mr. Hall: It is the old story about veil behind veil.

    Mme. Blavatsky: No, it is not that. It is {that} nothing is behind the veil but nothingness—the root of all.

    Mr. A. Keightley: Otherwise, you don’t get back to infinity.

    Mme. Blavatsky: Well, infinity is Sat, and Sat is Parabrahman, and Parabrahman is Absoluteness; it is immutability.

    Mr. B. Keightley: You see, you can’t have the fallacy of an endless chain of the hen from the egg, and the egg from the hen and so on backwards. You must come to a stopping point somewhere.

    Mr. A. Keightley: Must you? That is the question.

    Mme. Blavatsky: You can conceive of it. If you train your intellect to be always aspiring and striving after the beginning of things, then you can.

    Mr. B. Keightley: Can you go back?

    Mme. Blavatsky: If you take the Aristotelian method you cannot go on, and you will be lost in a maze of all kinds of speculations which will be fruitless. But if you begin with the universals, taking the method of Plato, then I think you can, because then having once traveled on that road you can far more easily backtrack, and beginning from the particulars ascend to the universals. Then your method will be splendid; not quite on the lines of the men of science, but still it is good for something.

    Mr. B. Keightley: But what I understand Arch was putting was this: behind that cause you have one cause, and behind that another cause, behind that another, and so on ad infinitium.

    Mme. Blavatsky: Is it so, Arch?

    Mr. A. Keightley: It is partly that. Well it is this: the subject seems to me so big that you can’t get the right expression.

    Mme. Blavatsky: But “causeless cause” puts a stop to it, because that means there is no cause behind it and that it had no cause, because it is cause itself. Why, for instance, do we say that the Absolute cannot think, nor can it desire, nor can it have attributes? Why, I have been saying to you a thousand times it has no consciousness. It has no desire because it is absolute desire; “IT” being the Absoluteness. How can you have the smallest thing that is not in IT? But we can’t say that anything is an attribute of IT.

    Mr. B. Keightley: Certainly not.

    Mme. Blavatsky: Because an attribute is something finite, and this is infinite. So a stop is put to your speculations, by these words: “causeless cause” and “rootless root.” And I think it is the most remarkable, suggestive and graphic expression I ever saw.


    • Peter
      Moderator
      Peter

      Hi Jon,

      Just some thoughts on those helpful passages you’ve shared.

      It must be right to use the term ‘beyond’ in a general sense in relation to the Absolute as (to us) it transcends all realms of manifestation and relativity. That said, do we need to keep in mind that ‘the rootless root’ is still some kind of root, and ‘the causeless cause’ is still some kind of causation? So, there need not be a contradiction of meaning when HPB says:

      ‘[Parabrahm] is the root of all, the causeless cause, the root of everything.’ (SD Commentaries, p74)

      Or that…

      ‘“Brahma (neuter) being the unchanging, pure, free, undecaying supreme Root, ‘the ONE true Existence, Paramarthika,’ (SD I 6)

      (The term Paramarthika means the Absolute, the absolutely real, the Absolute truth & so on – from Grimes Sanskrit dictionary).

      Is Parabrahm, as the ‘All Cause’, completely unrelated to our Universe or manifesting? We need to take the following passages from HPB and Subba Row into account:

      “Parabrahm is not the cause, but the causality, or the propelling but not volitional power, in every manifesting Cause” (CW X 336; Trans of Blavatsky Lodge, Meeting 3)

      “Parabrahm…acts as the one energy through the Logos . . . Parabrahm radiates from the Logos and manifests itself as the light and energy of the Logos. . . Matter acquires all its attributes and all its powers…by the action of the this light.’ (Subba Row. Notes on the B.G. Lecture 1)

      ‘The Occultist or Esoteric standpoint . . . says that matter in all its phases being merely a vehicle for the manifestation through it of LIFE—the Parabrahmic Breath—in its physically pantheistic aspect (as Dr. Richardson would say, we suppose) it is a super-sensuous state of matter, itself the vehicle of the ONE LIFE, the unconscious purposiveness of Parabrahm.’ (CW 9, 80)

      Drawing together the above three passages we find that Parabrahm is the propelling power, the one energy acting through the Logos, the unconsciousness purposiveness expressing itself through super-sensuous matter.

      It’s not unusual in philosophy to find the term First Cause is used to refer to that which is the basis of all existence. To put it slightly differently, to refer to THAT without which nothing else could possibly exist. It’s taken for granted that the First Cause means that which has no cause of its own – hence the first. Plato does the same and calls the First Cause ‘the motion that moves itself’ and that which is ‘first in ancestry as well as in power.’ (Laws 894-896) He describes it similarly as the propelling power as used in the above passages. Perhaps this is why Subba Row is happy to refer to Parabrahm as the First Cause in his Lectures on the Bhagavad Gita (see Lectures 1 and 3).

      HPB provides a different meaning for the term ‘the First’ as meaning First in time and space and having a cause of its own, therefore rejecting the notion that the Absolute can be First Cause:

      ‘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.’ (SD I 14)

      However, this explanation doesn’t quite fit with her description of the First Logos, which she says is outside of time and space:

      ‘When the first Logos appears, there is neither time nor space. Duration is always; it is eternal; but there is neither time nor space; it is outside time and space. This last or seventh vibration means just the same as if it was said: the first Logos radiated.’ (SD Commentaries/Dialogues 6. Meeting February 14, 1889)

      So, there’s plenty to think about and unravel.

      ~~


      • Jon Fergus
        Moderator
        Jon Fergus

        Thanks Peter. I really appreciate your contributions here. You say:

        “That said, do we need to keep in mind that ‘the rootless root’ is still some kind of root, and ‘the causeless cause’ is still some kind of causation?”

        From my perspective, these and other terms or phrases we use for “The Absolute” are essentially but symbols or figurative phrases for that which is beyond what we are capable of conceiving. I don’t think it’s quite correct to say that the “rootless root” is still some kind of root, except in the sense that the term is symbolic of such. I think we could say something like this: the “rootless root” symbolizes an abstract infinitude of “roots” arrayed in an infinite hierarchy, such that there is no actual single highest or lowest root. If we say that the “rootless root” is a root that doesn’t have a root before/above it, or that the causeless cause is a cause that doesn’t have a cause behind it, I believe we’d only be accurate symbolically or figuratively. My perspective is: thee “rootless root” is not a root of any kind, but is a symbol for an infinitude of roots; the causeless cause it not a cause of any kind, but is a symbol for an infinitude of causes.

        But we have to speak of these ideas in some way with our language, so we stumble around with terms like “rootless root” etc.

        “Mme. Blavatsky: They call it the rootless root; that is to say, it has no root because it is causality itself—causation.
        Mr. Kingsland: It has no root, but it is the root of everything.
        Mme. Blavatsky: It is the spiritual basis of all cause…”

        “Mr. A. Keightley: It is partly that. Well it is this: the subject seems to me so big that you can’t get the right expression.
        [italics added]

        As I read through the Secret Doctrine Dialogues, it’s apparent that HPB is trying to guide the students beyond the terminology, and often expresses her own frustration of the limitations of communicating the ideas. She says that such terms (causeless cause, etc.) “put a stop to your speculations”, which is true in the sense that such terms may stand as a signpost for that which is beyond any possibility of our direct understanding, but not (I believe) in the sense that we then arrive at one thing which is at the top of all tops, so to speak.

        One of the problems I see with envisioning the “rootless root”/”causeless cause” as “some kind of root” is that philosophically we must then naturally end up with a singular God, whether or not we anthropomorphize it. I feel it’s not quite philosophically sounds to say that the “Absolute (to us) transcends all realms of manifestation and relativity“; I’d rather say that it transcends all manifestation, transcends both “being” and “non-being”, but only symbolically transcends relativity. To my view, the Absolute is relativity itself, in a manner of speaking. To not end up with a singular God at the pinnacle, we must have relativity throughout: so we have the Absolute to us, which is the apex of our hierarchy, but this is only one “Absolute” (and a relative one at that!), among an infinitude of other relative Absolutes, which we can represent symbolically by saying “the Absolute per se” or better yet “Absoluteness”. But the moment we conceive it as “some kind of root” is the moment we make of Parabrahma a singular God, with all the contradictions and philosophical difficulties that come along with that conception. This is my view, at least.

        “we find that Parabrahm is the propelling power, the one energy acting through the Logos…”

        But Parabrahm cannot act. And there’s the difficulty, which is solved, I think, once we mark the distinction between Absolute per se and Absolute as apex, and once we recognize that even “The Absolute” (to us) is relative. The Absolute which is the apex of any given hierarchy can be said to “act”, but the Absolute per se (or Absoluteness) cannot.

        I recognize that this approach to “Absolutes” and relativity is likely not one that is shared by many theosophists, but I do believe it solves many of the seeming contradictions and confusions that commonly arise.

        In any case… I agree, there’s certainly a lot to try to unravel!


        • Peter
          Moderator
          Peter

          I can sort-of see your line of thinking, Jon. Interesting thoughts.

          For myself I am simply aiming to stay with the terminology and language that HPB is using. This message is going to be a bit repetitive in places, but I can’t think of a clearer way to clarify what I’ve said. My weakness, so my apologies. The following terms are some of the descriptions we’ve noted that HPB uses for Parabrahm, the Absolute. Given that we’ve already provided the references for these terms I won’t repeat those references here. HPB says that Parabrahm is:

          ‘the rootless root’; ‘the causeless cause’; ‘the root of all’; ‘the root of everything’.

          The qualifier ‘rootless’ or ‘causeless’ is used to indicate that there is no prior cause or prior root upon which Parabrahm is dependent. However, staying with HPB’s terminology, just because Parabrahm is described as rootless that doesn’t mean it is not some kind of root, because the qualifier ‘rootless’ is simply used to tell us something about the term ‘root’.

          I deliberately say “some kind” of root because we must not take the description literally, as you rightly point out. We could take it figuratively, symbolically, or metaphorically. All of these will fall short of reality because any descriptive terms for the Absolute are only indicative aids for our finite understanding. That said, the imagery of Parabrahm as ‘the root of all’ or ‘the root of everything’ indicates there is but the One Source which is the basis or ground for the non-separateness of all life. As the Mahatma KH writes:

          ‘We are not Adwaitees, but our teaching respecting the one life is identical with that of the Adwaitee with regard
          to Parabrahm. And no true philosophically brained Adwaitee will ever call himself an agnostic, for he knows that he
          is Parabrahm and identical in every respect with the universal life and soul.’ (Letters to Sinnett; no.10)

          We might also note in passing that the imagery of ‘the Root’ is an important one in the Stanzas themselves in the Secret Doctrine, for example, when referring to Oeaohoo and the Root of Life in Stanza III; the Root Races and Root-Manus & so on.

          Further, in the four descriptions of Parabrahm, above, there is no reason to think that the terms ‘the root of all’ or ‘the root of everything’ refers to something different to ‘the rootless root’, just because the qualifier ’rootless’ is not used in every description. All three descriptions are used by HPB to refer to Parabrahm. For the same reason there is no cause for us to think that ‘the root of all’ or ‘the root of everything’ is something different to ‘the causeless cause.’ Hence, we find the two types of terms in HPB’s definition of Parabrahm:

          ‘[Parabrahm] is the root of all, the causeless cause, the root of everything.’ (SD Commentaries, p74)

          Likewise, just because the qualifier ‘rootless’ is not used in the definition of Brahma (neuter) below, we should not automatically assume ’the undecaying supreme Root’ is something different to ‘the root of all’, ‘the root of everything’ or the ‘causeless cause’ in the above definition of Parabrahm, especially as HPB also refers to Brahma and Parabrahm as being neuter and synonymous with the Absolute.

          ‘“Brahma (neuter) being the unchanging, pure, free, undecaying supreme Root, ‘the ONE true Existence, Paramarthika,’ (SD I 6)

          ‘The Brahman, or Parabrahm, the ABSOLUTE of the Vedantins, is neuter and unconscious, and has no connection with the masculine Brahma of the Hindu Triad, or Trimurti’ (CW 3, 424)

          There are not two absolutes in the above definition, nor one Absolute and one Absoluteness. Brahman, Parabrahm, the ABSOLUTE are all terms referring to one and the same thing which ‘is neuter and unconscious’ etc.

          ~~


        • Peter
          Moderator
          Peter

          Jon, you say: “My perspective is: the “rootless root” is not a root of any kind, but is a symbol for an infinitude of roots; the causeless cause it not a cause of any kind, but is a symbol for an infinitude of causes.”

          I’m not sure this view does anything to resolve the metaphysical problem of the origin of causes and/or roots? How and from where do all those roots and causes arise? Are they independent from each other or is there some underlying unifying principle which is their source or basis? If the latter, what is that underlying principle? If there is no underlying principle which is their source or basis, are we saying that the Absolute is simply a name given to an infinite number of finite things? Some schools of philosophy would make that claim, but is this the Absolute of Theosophy?

          You go on to say: “One of the problems I see with envisioning the “rootless root”/”causeless cause” as “some kind of root” is that philosophically we must then naturally end up with a singular God, whether or not we anthropomorphize it. . . [T]he moment we conceive it as “some kind of root” is the moment we make of Parabrahma a singular God,”

          According to Theosophy, Parabrahm (the rootless root or causeless cause) is:

          ‘An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless and Immutable Principle’ (SD I 14).

          There’s no sense in which it is presented as a singular God. I’m not sure how you arrive at this conclusion.

          You refer to the the causation of Parabrahm, from the passages I quoted from HPB and Subba Row, which I put again below, for clarity:

          “Parabrahm is not the cause, but the causality, or the propelling but not volitional power, in every manifesting Cause” (CW X 336; Trans of Blavatsky Lodge, Meeting 3)

          “Parabrahm…acts as the one energy through the Logos . . . Parabrahm radiates from the Logos and manifests itself as the light and energy of the Logos. . . Matter acquires all its attributes and all its powers…by the action of the this light.’ (Subba Row. Notes on the B.G. Lecture 1)

          ‘The Occultist or Esoteric standpoint . . . says that matter in all its phases being merely a vehicle for the manifestation through it of LIFE—the Parabrahmic Breath—in its physically pantheistic aspect (as Dr. Richardson would say, we suppose) it is a super-sensuous state of matter, itself the vehicle of the ONE LIFE, the unconscious purposiveness of Parabrahm.’ (CW 9, 80)

          You write in response: “But Parabrahm cannot act. And there’s the difficulty,”

          I think the clue to solving the difficulty is in the first quote above, namely, that Parabrahm is the propelling power but not the volitional power in every manifesting Cause. The volitional power in manifestation is derived from the various intelligences, sentient beings, Dhyanis, Logoi & so on. But they don’t create the underlying power or energy out of nowhere. The propelling power, ‘the unconscious purposiveness of Parabrahm’ is pre-existing, doesn’t stop during manifestation and endures through the mahapralaya. Otherwise, how does the First Cause (First Logos) even get to ‘appear’ at the dawn of a ‘new’ Universe? Might we say this propelling power is the absolute Abstract Motion of the First Fundamental Proposition of the SD I 14, symbolised as ’The Great Breath’?

          Looking at that third quote above, we might conceive of ‘the unconscious purposiveness of Parabrahm’ as the Law of Karma or say, at least, that the Law of Karma is an aspect of that unconscious purposiveness. It is our volitional acts that create so called ‘good’ or ‘bad’ karma affecting this life, the incarnations to come, but we don’t create that unconscious purposiveness which is the Law of Karma and which ever seeks to restore universal harmony & so on.

          You say, the difficulty that Parabrahm doesn’t act can be solved “once we mark the distinction between Absolute per se and Absolute as apex, and once we recognize that even “The Absolute” (to us) is relative. The Absolute which is the apex of any given hierarchy can be said to “act”, but the Absolute per se (or Absoluteness) cannot.”

          With all due respect I can’t see how this explanation does any more than call the First Cause (First Logos) and Parabrahm by different names – the Absolute and the Absoluteness. (Presumably to support the proposal that Brahman is the First Cause?) It doesn’t explain any of the three quotes from HPB and Subba Row above, nor does it explain how a First Cause, call it by any name, ever arises from a Causeless Cause.

          ~~


          • Peter
            Moderator
            Peter

            I say in the above previous post: ‘Looking at that third quote above, we might conceive of ‘the unconscious purposiveness of Parabrahm’ as the Law of Karma..’ Just to clarify: I wasn’t suggesting that the quote itself was talking about the Law of Karma, I only meant to say we might conceive of ‘the unconscious purposiveness of Parabrahm’ mentioned in HPB’s quote as ‘the law of Karma. I just didn’t put it clearly.

            A passage from the Key to Theosophy lends support to the above view:

            ‘Neither Atma nor Buddhi are ever reached by Karma, because the former is the highest aspect of Karma, its working agent of ITSELF in one aspect, and the other is unconscious on this plane.’ (Key to Theosophy, p135; original edition)

            In the first quote from the above post HPB refers to Parabrahm as the propelling power, but not the volitional power.

            “Parabrahm is not the cause, but the causality, or the propelling but not volitional power, in every manifesting Cause” (CW X 336; Trans of Blavatsky Lodge, Meeting 3)

            In our everyday world, electricity could be thought of as a propelling power while the person who flicks the switch to turn the light on exercises volitional power. Electricity doesn’t decide that light is needed and, of itself, it doesn’t enters into any relations with the agents. It is an impersonal propelling power or force. The person who designs the circuitry, creates the bulb etc, would also be exercising volitional power. This is not a great example in relation to Parabrahm, but it may help to indicate the difference between the two types of power or causation.

            ~~


  • ModeratorTN
    Keymaster
    ModeratorTN

    “ABSOLUTE Deity, having to be unconditioned and unrelated, cannot be thought of at the same time as an active, creating, one living god, without immediate degradation of the ideal. A Deity that manifests in Space and Time— these two being simply the forms of THAT which is the Absolute ALL — can be but a fractional part of the whole. And since that “all” cannot be divided in its absoluteness, therefore that sensed creator (we say Creators) can be at best but the mere aspect thereof.” — Secret Doctrine, Volume 2, pages 158-59


  • Jon Fergus
    Moderator
    Jon Fergus

    I’ve been enjoying reading the Secret Doctrine Dialogues recently, and can’t help but share a couple more quotes that made me chuckle and wonder what kind of quips or chastisations HPB would hurl upon us during this discussion. 😉

    On the Hindu systems (I’ve underlined one sentence which I think is particularly relevant to us here):

    Mme. Blavatsky: If you speak to a Hindu you will find what a Vedântin calls Mûlaprakriti is called Aditi in the Vedas. The Vedânta philosophy means, literally speaking, “the end of all knowledge.” The great difficulty in studying the Hindu systems esoterically is that in India alone there are six schools of philosophy. Now if you analyse these you will find that they agree perfectly in substance. Fundamentally they are identical; but there is such a wealth of names, such a quantity of side issues, of all kinds of details and ornamentations; of sons being their own fathers, and fathers born from their own daughters, that you become lost in all this, as in a jungle. State anything you will from the esoteric standpoint to a Hindu, and if he only wants to he can contradict and prove you in the wrong, from the standpoint of his own particular sectarian view, or the philosophy he accepts. Each of the six schools of India has its own views and its own (to it) peculiar terms. So that, unless you hold strictly to some one school and say so, your special terminology is sure to be misunderstood. It is nothing but splitting hairs, and quarreling about things that have no importance in reality.

    And, in relation to the terms used and the attempt to nail them down, and re: Vedanta/Samhkya vs. the Esoteric Philosophy/Occultism:

    Mr. B. Keightley: I only want to get as clear as we can the sense in which the term is used in The Secret Doctrine. [speaking of Fohat and other terms]
    Mme. Blavatsky: I use it in many senses in The Secret Doctrine. If you ask me such a thing I cannot remember in what sense I use it in such and such a page, but I can tell you in general what it means.
    Mr. A. Keightley: Question 3. Can you give us the equivalents of these terms (Father, Mother and Son) in (a) the Vedântic and (b) in the Sankhya phraseology?
    Mme. Blavatsky: No, Sir, I do not teach you the Vedânta, or the Sankhya. It will only confuse you, and make matters worse. Let us hold to the esoteric philosophy, without mixing up the Sankhya and other philosophies with it. There many things which are identical, but now, since we learn Occultism, I do not see why I should go and speak on it. …


  • Jon Fergus
    Moderator
    Jon Fergus

    I’ve been enjoying reading the Secret Doctrine Dialogues recently, and can’t help but share a couple more quotes that made me chuckle and wonder what kind of quips or chastisations HPB would hurl upon us during this discussion. 😉

    On the Hindu systems (I’ve underlined one sentence which I think is particularly relevant to us here):

    Mme. Blavatsky: If you speak to a Hindu you will find what a Vedântin calls Mûlaprakriti is called Aditi in the Vedas. The Vedânta philosophy means, literally speaking, “the end of all knowledge.” The great difficulty in studying the Hindu systems esoterically is that in India alone there are six schools of philosophy. Now if you analyse these you will find that they agree perfectly in substance. Fundamentally they are identical; but there is such a wealth of names, such a quantity of side issues, of all kinds of details and ornamentations; of sons being their own fathers, and fathers born from their own daughters, that you become lost in all this, as in a jungle. State anything you will from the esoteric standpoint to a Hindu, and if he only wants to he can contradict and prove you in the wrong, from the standpoint of his own particular sectarian view, or the philosophy he accepts. Each of the six schools of India has its own views and its own (to it) peculiar terms. So that, unless you hold strictly to some one school and say so, your special terminology is sure to be misunderstood. It is nothing but splitting hairs, and quarreling about things that have no importance in reality.

    And, in relation to the terms used and the attempt to nail them down, and re: Vedanta/Samhkya vs. the Esoteric Philosophy/Occultism:

    Mr. B. Keightley: I only want to get as clear as we can the sense in which the term is used in The Secret Doctrine. [speaking of Fohat and other terms]
    Mme. Blavatsky: I use it in many senses in The Secret Doctrine. If you ask me such a thing I cannot remember in what sense I use it in such and such a page, but I can tell you in general what it means.
    Mr. A. Keightley: Question 3. Can you give us the equivalents of these terms (Father, Mother and Son) in (a) the Vedântic and (b) in the Sankhya phraseology?
    Mme. Blavatsky: No, Sir, I do not teach you the Vedânta, or the Sankhya. It will only confuse you, and make matters worse. Let us hold to the esoteric philosophy, without mixing up the Sankhya and other philosophies with it. There many things which are identical, but now, since we learn Occultism, I do not see why I should go and speak on it. …


  • Gerry Kiffe
    Moderator
    Gerry Kiffe

    Divine Wisdom, Theosophy, we are told, teaches a principle of unity in all life. This is a central principle within the system. It seems to me that you cannot uphold this idea of radical unity without the building block concept of the Absolute. The constant and recurring tendency to divide one thing from another, to create separations is mitigated by a larger underlying concept of the Absolute. So independent of any other considerations a thorough grasp of the concept of the Absolute enables us to preserve and enrich a notion of unity so crucial in the pursuit of universal brotherhood. When we look around us we see many people, we see the broad vistas of nature and we see life and all its processes. Theosophy teaches us that all of what we witness, and all that we do not, is all really within us. We are looking at our Self, albeit a reflection or mirroring of the great SELF. So the notion of the Absolute can keep us honest so to speak. It forces us to accept that all of life is part of one SELF, one LIFE, and the reason that there are no exceptions is because the Absolute precedes all Life.


  • Peter
    Moderator
    Peter

    For those who may not be familiar with this idea; causes can be understood in different ways. For example, Aristotle discusses four types of cause: the material, the formal, the efficient and the final. Aristotle saw these four causes as answering the basic questions as to why something is the way that it is. This lead some philosophers to refer to these as ‘the four becauses.’

    ‘The material cause’ is what constitutes an object, i.e. what it is made of. The material cause of a gold necklace is the gold. If the necklace is melted down and changed into a bracelet, it is the gold that is transformed.

    ‘The formal cause’ has to do with form, shape or pattern that the object is to be. The gold necklace isn’t a necklace simply by virtue of its substance, it is a necklace also by virtue of the form or pattern imposed on it.

    ‘The efficient cause’ is what brings about the transformation. We might think of this as the jeweller in the case of the necklace or the potter in the case of a clay pot. However, Aristotle does something interesting here, he says that it is knowledge which is the key factor in the efficient cause. The artisan merely manifests that knowledge in the production of the object.

    ‘The final cause’ is for ‘the sake of which’ the formal and efficient causes are carried out. It is the end (telos) in mind.

    The Hindu philosophy also talks about material causation, of which two types are – vivartha and parināma. Vivartha is where the material cause does not undergo a change of substance. For example, the clay of the clay pot, or the gold in the gold necklace. Parināma is where the material cause does undergo a change of substance, like when milk is transformed into cheese. In the Sankhya philosophy with its two ontological realities of purusha and prakriti, prakriti undergoes a real transformation of substance (parināma).

    Advaitees maintain that Brahman is both the material and efficient cause of the world (see Taittirīya Upanishad and The Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Sankara). Drawing upon the theory of vivartha (apparent change) Advaitees say that Brahman does not undergo any change of substance. There is only a change of appearance. Diversity appears, due to Maya and Avidya, where in truth there is only Brahman. Using the example of the clay pot, the pot is merely a ‘name and form’ superimposed on clay. Pot is not other than clay and has no independent existence apart from the clay. So, likewise, the Advaitee would say that the world is the appearance of name and form only, it is not other than Brahman and has no independent existence apart from Brahman. Realisation comes about as the result of the removal of ignorance as to the nature of the self and of the world.

    It might seem odd for the Advaitee to claim that Brahman is both the material and efficient cause, but we might bear in mind that the Absolute (Parabrahm) of the Secret Doctrine also has these two similar aspects. See, for example, the First Fundamental Proposition of the SD where these two aspects are described as ‘The Great Breath’ and ‘Mulaprakriti’. The former assuming the character of pre-Cosmic Ideation, the latter pre-Cosmic Substance. (See SD I 14-15)

    If we also keep in mind Aristotle’s view that the key component of the efficient cause is not the artisan but Knowledge itself, this provides the link to the Great Breath as ‘pre-cosmic Ideation’ wherein also dwells the Formal Cause (the Divine Plan) of the Universe to be. (The artisans, the Dhyan chohans and other intelligences come later in the SD’s cosmogony.) The following passage from the SD links the above with our other theme in the forum posts – Parabrahm (the rootless-root). It was the link with the Root pure Knowledge (see below) that brougt the two to mind, for me:

    STANZA III. — Continued.
    5. THE ROOT REMAINS. THE LIGHT REMAINS, THE CURDS REMAIN, AND STILL OEAOHOO (a) IS ONE (b).
    (a) […]
    (b) This refers to the Non-Separateness of all that lives and has its being, whether in active or passive state. In one sense, Oeaohoo is the “Rootless Root of All”; hence, one with Parabrahmam ; in another sense it is a name for the manifested one life, the Eternal living Unity. The “Root” means, as already explained, pure knowledge ( Sattva ), eternal ( Nitya ) unconditioned reality or sat ( Satya ), whether we call it Parabrahmam or Mulaprakriti, for these are the two aspects of the one.
    (SD I 68)

    ~~


    • Peter
      Moderator
      Peter

      The following passage from HPB might supplement the above post (#6932) on the four types of causes and repeats what is found in various places in Vedanta. Keep in mind that the term ‘Rootless Root’ refers to Parabrahm:

      ‘Let us put aside such human conceptions as a personal God, and hold to the purely divine, to that which underlies all and everything in boundless Nature. It is called by its Sanskrit esoteric name in the Vedas TAD (or THAT), a term for the unknowable Rootless Root. If we do so, we may answer these seven questions of the Esoteric Catechism thus:
      (1) Q.––What is the Eternal Absolute? A.––THAT.
      (2) Q.––How came Kosmos into being? A.––Through THAT.
      (3) Q.––How, or what will it be when it falls back into Pralaya? A.––In THAT.
      (4) Q.––Whence all the animate, and suppositionally, the “inanimate” nature?––A. From THAT.
      (5) Q.––What is the Substance and Essence of which the Universe
      is formed? A.–– THAT.
      (6) Q.––Into what has it been and will be again and again resolved? A.––Into THAT.
      (7) Q.––Is THAT then both the instrumental and material cause of
      the Universe? A.––What else is it or can it be than THAT?

      (CW 12, 525)

      The universal, unknowable Essence (Parahrahm) has no name in the Vedas but is referred to generally as Tad, “That”.
      (Theosophical Glossary)

      Before the radiant god Dyaus (the sky) attracted the notice of man, there was the Vedic Tad (“that”) which, to the Initiate and philosopher, would have no definite name, and which was the absolute Darkness that underlies every manifested radiancy.
      (CW 11, 67)


  • Peter
    Moderator
    Peter

    Here are some quotes on the theme of Parabrahm, Cause(s), the Great Breath, Ideation & so on. I hope members find them useful to reflect upon. I do.

    The Secret Doctrine establishes three fundamental propositions [the first being]:
    (a) An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable Principle on which all speculation is impossible . . . [T]here is one absolute Reality which antecedes all manifested, conditioned, being. This Infinite and Eternal Cause …is the rootless root of “all that was, is, or ever shall be.” (SD I 14)

    The fundamental Law [in the Wisdom Religion] is the One homogeneous divine Substance-Principle, the one radical cause. . . It is called “ Substance-Principle,” for it becomes “substance” on the plane of the manifested Universe, an illusion, while it remains a “ principle ” in the beginningless and endless abstract, visible and invisible Space. It is the omnipresent Reality: impersonal, because it contains all and everything. Its impersonality is the fundamental conception of the System. It is latent in every atom in the Universe, and is the Universe itself. (SD I 273)
    (Note: consider the previous post on Causes, and how a material cause can appear as the illusory diversity without undergoing any change of substance, or change of its own nature. We might consider a similar example here in relation to the Monad where HPB writes: “It stands to reason that a Monad cannot either progress or develop, or even be affected by the changes of states it passes through.” SD I 174)

    The Universe is the periodical manifestation of this unknown Absolute Essence. To call it “essence,” however, is to sin against the very spirit of the philosophy. For though the noun may be derived in this case from the verb esse, “to be,” yet It cannot be identified with a being of any kind, that can be conceived by human intellect. It is best described as neither Spirit nor matter, but both. “Parabrahmam and Mulaprakriti” are One, in reality, yet two in the Universal conception of the manifested. (SD I 273)

    Spirit (or Consciousness) and Matter are…regarded, not as independent realities, but as the two facets or aspects of the Absolute (Parabrahm), which constitute the basis of conditioned Being whether subjective or objective. Considering this metaphysical triad as the Root from which proceeds all manifestation, the great Breath assumes the character of precosmic Ideation. It is the fons et origo of force and of all individual consciousness, and supplies the guiding intelligence in the vast scheme of cosmic Evolution. On the other hand, precosmic root-substance (Mulaprakriti ) is that aspect of the Absolute which underlies all the objective planes of Nature. (SD I 15)

    The appearance and disappearance of the Universe are pictured as an outbreathing and inbreathing of “the Great Breath,” which is eternal, and which, being Motion, is one of the three aspects of the Absolute…When the “Great Breath” is projected, it is called the Divine Breath, and is regarded as the breathing of the Unknowable Deity — the One Existence — which breathes out a thought, as it were, which becomes the Kosmos… So also is it when the Divine Breath is inspired again the Universe disappears into the bosom of “the Great Mother,” who then sleeps “wrapped in her invisible robes.” (SD I 43)

    The Universe was evolved out of its ideal plan, upheld through Eternity in the unconsciousness of that which the Vedantins call Parabrahm. (SD I 281)

    [Parabrahm] is the root of all, the causeless cause, the root of everything. (SD Commentaries, p74)

    The active Power, the “Perpetual motion of the great Breath ” only awakens Kosmos at the dawn of every new Period, setting it into motion by means of the two contrary Forces,* and thus causing it to become objective on the plane of Illusion. In other words, that dual motion transfers Kosmos from the plane of the Eternal Ideal into that of finite manifestation, or from the Noumenal to the phenomenal plane.
    * The centripetal and the centrifugal forces, which are male and female, positive and negative, physical and spiritual, the two being the one Primordial Force. (SD I 282)
    (Note: the active Power does not create, it only awakens Kosmos and sets it into motion.)

    Parabrahm is not the cause, but the causality, or the propelling but not volitional power, in every manifesting Cause. (CW X 336; Trans of Blavatsky Lodge, Meeting 3)

    The Occultist or Esoteric standpoint . . . says that matter in all its phases being merely a vehicle for the manifestation through it of LIFE—the Parabrahmic Breath—in its physically pantheistic aspect (as Dr. Richardson would say, we suppose) it is a super-sensuous state of matter, itself the vehicle of the ONE LIFE, the unconscious purposiveness of Parabrahm. (CW 9, 80)

    The Occultists…assert that all the so-called Forces of Nature, Electricity, Magnetism, Light, Heat, etc., etc., far from being modes of motion of material particles, are in esse, i.e., in their ultimate constitution, the differentiated aspects of that Universal Motion which is discussed and explained in the first pages of this volume (See Proem). (SD I 147)
    (Note: ‘Universal Motion’ a reference to the Great Breath, one of the aspects of Parabrahm. See SD I 14-15)

    “Parabrahm…acts as the one energy through the Logos . . . Parabrahm radiates from the Logos and manifests itself as the light and energy of the Logos. . . Matter acquires all its attributes and all its powers…by the action of the this light.’ (Subba Row. Notes on the B.G. Lecture 1)

    ‘The Great Breath spoken of in Volume I of The Secret Doctrine is ATMAN, the etymology of which is “eternal motion.”’ (CW 12, 615)

    ‘Neither Atma nor Buddhi are ever reached by Karma, because the former is the highest aspect of Karma, its working agent of ITSELF in one aspect, and the other is unconscious on this plane.’ (Key to Theosophy, p135; original edition)

    (Note: Atman is the highest aspect of Karma, not the other way round. See, passages on the ‘unconscious purposiveness of Parabrahm’ in previous posts.)

    ~~

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