Forum Replies Created
Peter August 12, 2018 at 11:48 am #7308
Some questions on recent quotes:
A) Will creates intelligently; Desire blindly and unconsciously. — Aquarian Axioms
Is this the case? For example, is the desire to help others and work for humanity blind and unconscious? Is will always intelligent and for good?
B) God dwells wherever we let him in. — Hasidic Saying
How should a student of theosophy make sense of this when the Mahatma KH writes,“Neither our philosophy nor ourselves believe in a God, least of all in one whose pronoun necessitates a capital H.” (Mahatma Letters to Sinnett no.10, Barker Ed.). Is there a place in the universe where ‘Atman’ (the ‘God’ in us) is not present?
C) The main requisite for acquiring self-knowledge is pure love. — H. P. BLAVATSKY
Is this an actual quote from HPB? Is there a reference?
In a small article attributed to her HPB does say the following about self-knowledge:
The first necessity for obtaining self-knowledge is to become profoundly conscious of ignorance; to feel with every fibre of the heart that one is ceaselessly self-deceived.
The second requisite is the still deeper conviction that such knowledge—such intuitive and certain knowledge—can be obtained by effort.
The third and most important is an indomitable determination to obtain and face that knowledge.
(From Collected Writings vol 8, p108)
Peter June 10, 2018 at 8:16 pm #7188
‘Theosophy, as already said, is the WISDOM-RELIGION.’
(The Key to Theosophy, p 13)
Theosophy, we say, is not a Religion.
Theosophy, we say, is not a Religion. Yet there are, as every one knows, certain beliefs, philosophical, religious and scientific, which have become so closely associated in recent years with the word “Theosophy” that they have come to be taken by the general public for theosophy itself. Moreover, we shall be told these beliefs have been put forward, explained and defended by these very Founders who have declared that Theosophy is not a Religion. What is then the explanation of this apparent contradiction? How can a certain body of beliefs and teachings, an elaborate doctrine, in fact, be labelled “Theosophy” and be tacitly accepted as “Theosophical” by nine tenths of the members of the T. S., if Theosophy is not a Religion? —we are asked.
To explain this is the purpose of the present protest.
It is perhaps necessary, first of all, to say, that the assertion that “Theosophy is not a Religion,” by no means excludes the fact that “Theosophy is Religion” itself. A Religion in the true and only correct sense, is a bond uniting men together—not a particular set of dogmas and beliefs. Now Religion, per se, in its widest meaning is that which binds not only all MEN, but also all BEINGS and all things in the entire Universe into one grand whole. This is our theosophical definition of religion
(Collected Writings vol X, p161; ‘Is Theosophy a Religion?’)
Peter February 27, 2018 at 5:32 pm #6935
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.)
Peter February 25, 2018 at 4:47 pm #6932
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).
(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 March 18, 2018 at 12:27 pm #6975
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”.
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 January 26, 2018 at 3:26 pm #6837
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 January 26, 2018 at 3:39 pm #6838
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”.
Parabrahm (Sk.). “Beyond Brahmâ”, literally. The Supreme Infinite Brahma, “Absolute”–the attributeless, the secondless reality. The impersonal and nameless universal Principle.
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.
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 January 27, 2018 at 9:18 am #6839
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)
Peter January 13, 2018 at 2:41 pm #6782
(Apologies to members if you receive this twice. I had trouble getting this message to post, and I also didn’t receive a copy myself, so I thought it best to repost.)
That’s a useful direction to begin reflecting upon this. My own view is that with regards to the Iswara conceived as the unity of the collective consciousnesses of the Host of Dhyan Chohans we need to be a bit cautious should we find ourselves conceiving of Iswara as a spiritual entity in its own right, independent of those ‘manifested living Spirits’ (the Dhyan Chohans) in the passage you’ve given from the SD.
Taimni presents the view that Iswara is an independent Spirit in its own right that holds ‘the Office’ of Lord and Supreme Ruler of the Solar System. He writes: ‘It is in His Consciousness that the Solar System lives, moves and has its being. The different planes of the Solar System are His bodies and the powers working the machinery of the Solar System are His powers. In short, He is the Reality whom we generally refer to as God.’ (Commentary on 1:24 Yoga Sutras.)
Contrast Taimni’s view above with the words of the Mahatma KH:
‘Neither our philosophy nor ourselves believe in a God, least of all in one whose pronoun necessitates a capital H. . . . You were told that our knowledge was limited to this our solar system: ergo as philosophers who desired to remain worthy of the name we could not either deny or affirm the existence of what you termed a supreme, omnipotent, intelligent being of some sort beyond the limits of that solar system. But if such an existence is not absolutely impossible, yet unless the uniformity of nature’s law breaks at those limits we maintain that it is highly improbable. Nevertheless we deny most emphatically the position of agnosticism in this direction, and as regards the solar system. Our doctrine knows no compromises. It either affirms or denies, for it never teaches but that which it knows to be the truth. Therefore, we deny God both as philosophers and as Buddhists. We know there are planetary and other spiritual lives, and we know there is in our system no such thing as God, either personal or impersonal. Parabrahm is not a God, but absolute immutable law, and Iswar is the effect of Avidya and Maya, ignorance based upon the great delusion. . . . The idea of God is not an innate but an acquired notion.’
(Mahamatma Letters to Sinnett, no 10; Barker ed. bold emphasis added)
In HPB’s writings and in the Mahatma Letters to Sinnett, Iswara is more often than not treated as the creative power of the collective dhyan chohans when explained from the perspective of Occultism or Theosophy. It is not portrayed as the Self, a God or God, nor a Being of any kind as the following two quoted passages indicate.
‘It is on the right comprehension of this tenet in the Brâhmanas and Purânas that hangs, we believe, the apple of discord between the three Vedantin Sects : the Advaita, Dwaita, and the Visishtadvaitas. The first arguing rightly that Parabrahman, having no relation, as the absolute all, to the manifested world — the Infinite having no connection with the finite — can neither will nor create ; that, therefore, Brahmâ, Mahat, Iswara, or whatever name the creative power may be known by, creative gods and all, are simply an illusive aspect of Parabrahmam in the conception of the conceivers ; while the other sects identify the impersonal Cause with the Creator, or Iswara.’ (SD I 451)
It’s worth noting in passing that HPB presents of the view of Vedantins in her works without always clarifying which one of the three sects above she is referring to. So, the above passage is a good one to keep in mind in general. The difference between those Vedantin sects along with the views of Occultism or Theosophy can be seen in the following passage, which comes just before the quote you have already given, Jon. For ease of reading I’ve quoted the whole passage:
‘The Logos, or both the unmanifested and the manifested Word, is called by the Hindus, Iswara, “the Lord,” though the Occultists give it another name. Iswara, say the Vedantins, is the highest consciousness in nature. “ This highest consciousness,” answer the Occultists, “is only a synthetic unit in the world of the manifested Logos — or on the plane of illusion; for it is the sum total of Dhyan-Chohanic consciousnesses.” “Oh, wise man, remove the conception that not-Spirit is Spirit,” says Sankarâchârya. Atma is not-Spirit in its final Parabrahmic state, Iswara or Logos is Spirit ; or, as Occultism explains, it is a compound unity of manifested living Spirits, the parent-source and nursery of all the mundane and terrestrial monads, plus their divine reflection, which emanate from, and return into, the Logos, each in the culmination of its time. (SD I 573)
The definition of Iswara is expressed clearly and succinctly in ‘The Key..’:
‘Iswara is the collective consciousness of the manifested deity, Brahma, i. e., the collective consciousness of the Host of Dhyan Chohans . . . and Pragna is their individual wisdom.’ (Key to Theosophy, 189, original edition)
Peter January 2, 2018 at 7:41 pm #6732
Here are just a few thoughts on Eros (Love) in Plato’s Symposium. Something interesting is going on there, particularly in the section where Socrates recalls the time when the woman Diotima treated him to the kind of dialectical exchange that Socrates is well known for in his dialogues with his own interlocutors. Diotima means ‘honoured by Zeus.’ There are only a few occasions throughout Plato’s dialogues when Socrates is taught something by a woman and this is a woman who goes on to outline to Socrates the steps in the Mysteries which leads to the apprehension of the Beauty. So, she is clearly an important figure, whether or not she is historically real.
It is normal to think of Eros as a God. The early Greek tradition as in the Theogany of Hesiod has him coming into being at the origin of the Universe. Later traditions during Plato’s time viewed Eros as the son of Aphrodite. Plato takes a different course as Diomita gets Socrates to agree that Eros (Love) is neither a god nor human. She explains that Love is an intermediary guiding spirit (a daemon) of which there are many. The daemons are the intermediary spirits that interpret and carry things to the gods from human beings and likewise interpret and carry things from the gods to humans. Love is the intermediary between the two, par excellence, hence connected with all kinds of divination.
Diomita explains that Love was born on Aphrodite’s birthday, hence his affinity to Beauty; that his mother was Penia (Poverty) and his father was Poros (Resource). Born of Poverty, homeless and having nothing of its own, Love is yet tough and seeks in a resourceful way for that in which it is deficient. For love is always a ‘love of’ – a love or desire for that which it lacks or is in need. Love is not good nor beautiful, which is why it seeks beauty and the good.
Love is neither immortal nor mortal, she goes on to say. Love comes into being at one moment and may die the very same day. Yet being his father’s son, he keeps coming back to life. But what ever he finds slips away which is why Love is never without resources but also never rich (203c). Likewise, Love is between Wisdom and Ignorance. The gods do not love wisdom for they are already wise. Nor do the ignorant who are happy with their ignorance love wisdom, for they do not recognise their lack or feel in no need of it.
At this point Socrates asks Diotima, ‘who exactly are the people who love wisdom, if they are neither wise nor ignorant?’ To which she replies:
‘Those who love wisdom fall between the two extremes. And Love is one of them, because he is in love with what is beautiful, and wisdom is extremely beautiful. It follows that Love must be a lover of Wisdom.’ (204b)
In the above passage, Diomita appears to be describing Love as the Philosopher. Her fuller description of Love in the text would certainly fit Socrates himself.
There’s also an interesting link around this part of the dialogue to ‘true opinion’, the intermediary between wisdom and ignorance. Some students of theosophy scoff at the notion of opinion, perhaps without realising that Plato distinguishes between true and false opinion. Plato stresses in a number of places that true opinion is an essential stepping stone towards knowledge proper (noesis). The ignorant who are happy with their ignorance and have no need of wisdom would be among those who suffer from false opinion.
(To be continued…)
Peter January 4, 2018 at 12:44 pm #6735
Continued from post #6732
A recurring theme in Plato’s dialogues is the idea that all people seek the good and happiness. No one deliberately seeks that which is bad and that which brings them unhappiness and misery. People only seek that which eventually brings them unhappiness and misery out of the ignorance. (A good example of this argument can be found in the Meno, around the stephanus numbering 77-78). This is something the Dalai Lama often repeats, and so do Advaitin sages such as Ramana Maharshi. So, it’s no surprise that we find this theme arises in the Symposium. When the question is raised, ‘what is the point of loving beautiful things?’ the answer comes from Diotima that Love takes many forms and through it people seek happiness. Essentially what people love is ‘the good’ and they seek to possess the good forever. Wanting to possess the good forever is desire for a certain kind of immortality. In fact, Love desires immortality and seeks that through reproduction and birth in beauty, says Diomita. (206e)
Diotima goes on to explain that sexual reproduction is what mortals have in place of immortality. She also gives quite a long discussion as to how the same thing remains the same over time throughout many different changes, which is too long to put here. Essentially just as poet seeks to give birth in beauty through producing a work of poetry, so the Lover, seeking immortality, also seeks to bring the beautiful to birth. We each find different ways of leaving something of ourselves behind after death: a loving couple leave children; the heroes leave honour and fame; the poet leaves her poems; the great lawmaker leave laws, order and justice behind & so on.
Importantly, we are all pregnant in body and soul, says Diotima. Those more pregnant in body pursue love with the opposite sex and reproduce through childbirth. Those more pregnant in soul bring into being that which is fitting for a soul to bear, namely Wisdom and virtue. In keeping with her earlier assertion that Love (Eros) desires Beauty and the Good most of all, Diotima goes on to outline the steps in the Ladder of Love (see 210a-211d).
The lover begins by devoting himself to one beautiful body ‘begetting beautiful ideas there.’ Then he should realise that the beauty of any one body is akin to the beauty of any other, so it would be foolish to pursue the one rather than recognise and love the beauty that is in them all. Then the lover must realise that the soul’s beauty is more valuable than that of bodies; that someone may be beautiful of soul even though not of body. Then the lover learns to look upon the beauty that is within laws and activities that are akin to his own soul and further realise that the beauty of bodies is a trivial thing of no significance. Then the lover comes to realise the beauty of the various sciences and types of knowledge, and having turned toward that great sea of beauty the lover gives birth to beautiful and wonderful ideas and speeches. Eventually, strengthened there by an unfailing love of Wisdom he perceives at last a certain special Wisdom and Knowledge of BEAUTY, which is the goal of all Love.
This BEAUTY always IS. It does not come to be, nor pass away; it neither waxes nor wanes. It is not beautiful in one way, ugly in another; nor beautiful at one time and ugly at another. It is not beautiful by comparison to any other thing. It does not appear in the guise of anything that belongs to the body. Nor does it appear as one idea or one kind of knowledge. It is not anywhere in some one or another thing whether on earth or in heaven. It IS, alone and by itself and within itself. It is always one in form. All other beautiful things that share in it do so in such a way that it neither becomes more nor less. Nor is it in any way affected by them when they come to perish.
The above two posts are a mere summary of Diotima’s exchange with Socrates. Any one interested should read the proper text rather than my summary.
More thoughts to come, but please feel free to comment and share any thoughts of your own – anybody. There may well be plenty of value in the passages from Symposion in these two posts relating to Gerry’s original question as to the relationship between love and meditation.
Peter December 28, 2017 at 3:21 pm #6710
Judge’s renditions of the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita were based on the very few english translations of those texts available at the time. He didn’t translate them himself, as far as we know.
The term devotion is also used to mean dedication or loyalty in addition to all the other good suggestions made in previous posts. The term dedication is sometimes interchangeable with the term love. For example, dedication might have a relevance to the philosophers of Plato’s times, known as lovers of truth. Interestingly, it’s very difficult to love something (in the usual sense of that word) when you do not yet know what that something is, but we can be dedicated to the discovery of it.
In terms of Patanjali’s Sutras and phrases such as ‘devotion to Isvara therein – would it be useful to look into what is meant by the term Isvara? Some commentators render it as the Self; some as God. They may be other ways to interpret it, at least as suggested by verse 1:24 in Patanjali:
Isvara is a particular purusha, who is untouched by the afflictions of life,
actions and the results and impressions produced by these actions.
(I:24; trans. Taimni)
The key phrase in the above verse is ‘a particular purusha’. Various translations give this as ‘a particular soul’, ‘a special soul’ , ‘a distinct purusha’ & so on. So, this verse doesn’t appear to point to Isvara as ‘the Self’, God, or Atman.
Does the Secret Doctrine offer any clues as to what a ‘particular purusha’ could refer to? The following passages might:
‘The Endowers of man with his conscious, immortal ego, are the “ Solar Angels ” — whether so regarded metaphorically or literally. The mysteries of the Conscious ego or human Soul are great. The esoteric name of these “ Solar Angels ” is, literally, the “ Lords ” ( Nath ) of “persevering ceaseless devotion” ( pranidhâna ). Therefore they of the fifth principle ( Manas ) seem to be connected with, or to have originated the system of the Yogis who make of pranidhâna their fifth observance (see Yoga Shastra, II., 32.) It has already been explained why the trans-Himalayan Occultists regard them as evidently identical with those who in India are termed Kumâras, Agnishwattas, and the Barhishads.
‘How precise and true is Plato’s expression, how profound and philosophical his remark on the (human) soul or ego, when he defined it as “ a compound of the same and the other.” And yet how little this hint has been understood, since the world took it to mean that the soul was the breath of God, of Jehovah. It is “ the same and the other,” as the great Initiate-Philosopher said ; for the ego (the “ Higher Self ” when merged with and in the Divine Monad) is Man, and yet the same as the “ other,” the Angel in him incarnated, as the same with the universal Mahat.’
SD II 88
‘When, moved by the law of Evolution, the Lords of Wisdom infused into him the spark of consciousness, the first feeling it awoke to life and activity was a sense of solidarity, of one-ness with his spiritual creators. As the child’s first feeling is for its mother and nurse, so the first aspirations of the awakening consciousness in primitive man were for those whose element he felt within himself, and who yet were outside, and independent of him. DEVOTION arose out of that feeling, and became the first and foremost motor in his nature ; for it is the only one which is natural in our heart, which is innate in us, and which we find alike in human babe and the young of the animal. This feeling of irrepressible, instinctive aspiration in primitive man is beautifully, and one may say intuitionally, described by Carlyle. “ The great antique heart,” he exclaims, “ how like a child’s in its simplicity, like a man’s in its earnest solemnity and depth ! heaven lies over him wheresoever he goes or stands on the earth ; making all the earth a mystic temple to him, the earth’s business all a kind of worship…”’
SD II 210
Peter December 29, 2017 at 11:25 am #6713
Apologies for all the italics in the previous post. The software keep added more italics than I had selected when formatting the text. The online version is correct. The email version gets sent before there is time to edit the post.
Below is a passage from Plato’s Republic, which may be relevant to our topic.
Socrates: One trait in the philosopher’s character we can assume is his love of any branch of learning that reveals eternal reality, the realm unaffected by the vicissitudes of change and decay… He is in love with the whole of that reality, and will not willingly be deprived even of the most insignificant fragment of it… He will never willingly tolerate an untruth, but will hate it, just as he loves truth – just like lovers and men of ambition we described earlier on… it is an absolute necessary characteristic of the lover that he should be devoted to everything closely connected with the object of his love. (The Republic 485a-c)
Peter August 20, 2017 at 12:27 pm #6170
Almost all areas of our lives and our development from childhood to adulthood involve some form of training and education of the mind. Might it be worth clarifying what kind of mind training we are referring to here, and why it might be important to undertake it?
Peter June 14, 2017 at 8:59 pm #5829
Hello Ram – yes, what you’ve understood was not my intended meaning. I obviously didn’t put it very well. To put it slightly differently (I hope!!) – I said that the Soul in Plato has the capacity for two kinds of understanding – one as embodied soul in the sensible realm, as Plato calls it; the other on its own plane where it has its roots in the Divine Mind. The former type of understanding is called dianoia or discursive thought and is time bound, limited and fallible; the latter is noesis, the truth grasped as a whole and all at once on, and is infallible. While we refer to them both as understanding or intellection they are very distinct from one another.
Noetic simply means relating to the intellect. In theosophical language we would accept that there is the rational intellect employed by what we call the lower mind, and there is the spiritual intellect we attribute to the higher mind (buddhi-manas). They are both noetic, using the normal meaning of that term, but obviously they are very, very different from each other.
I was going to wait and share the following thoughts in a later post, but since you’ve raised it already…. In the universe envisioned by Plato discursive thought (dianoia) has a very important place. We only have to look at the dialogues of Socrates and read Plotinus’ own system of reasoning in The Enneads to see that. Here, discursive thought means uncovering the truth of something or coming to a conclusion through the use of reasoning. When applied to philosophy it is sometimes called ‘the dialectic’. It is used as analytical reasoning to dispel ignorance and uncover underlying principles or truths which become the stepping stones to further truths & so on.
Just as the climber methodically makes her way, step by step, stage by stage to the mountain peak and there rests to take in the surrounding vista all at once and as a whole, so discursive thought when used properly can lead the earnest enquirer onwards to a loftier plane of contemplation where it too must rest at last in order to allow Wisdom to speak for itself to the Soul. Whether or not it does, discursive thought cannot guarantee and has not control. It may be that many and repeated steps up the mountain slope are needed before we arrive one day to find the mist and clouds have lifted and reveal the surrounding panorama. A different analogy gives something of a flavour of this predicament which is, we can do our part in tidying the room and opening the window but the sunlight comes in on its own.
Does any of the above remove your misgivings on what I’ve shared, Ram, or are there areas that still need working on and/or better understanding on my part?
“Believe me, there comes a moment in the life of an adept, when the hardships he has passed through are a thousandfold rewarded. In order to acquire further knowledge, he has no more to go through a minute and slow process of investigation and comparison of various objects, but is accorded an instantaneous, implicit insight into every first truth. . . . the adept sees and feels and lives in the very source of all fundamental truths – the Universal Spiritual Essence of Nature, SHIVA the Creator, the Destroyer, and the Regenerator.”
(The Mahatma KH to A.P.Sinnett, letter no. 31, Barker edition)
Peter May 24, 2017 at 11:31 am #5721
The scientific method. Just a few more thoughts on background, as I understand it. (Not sure where to add this post, so put it in new thread.)
The scientific method, so called, emerged in Europe around 1200ce and reached fruition in the late 1600s with Isaac Newton. Up until this time, what counted as knowledge and truth throughout those lands was largely determined by the Church of Rome and based largely on revelation. The Scholastics and medieval universities at that time were dominated by the christian priests and monks who had managed to integrate much of Aristotle’s teachings into christian dogma. Aristotle’s notion of the earth being the centre of a closed system in which the planets and stars rotated around the earth was a central part of christian theology. To question Aristotle’s teachings risked being labelled a heretic (Galileo was imprisoned by the Pope in Rome for steadfastly holding to the view that the earth circled the sun, not vice versa.) The problem became that claims of knowledge and truth based on authority and revelation didn’t seem to be supported by empirical evidence, which is what Corpernicus, Galileo and many others were discovering.
The scientific method and what came a little later and is referred to now as the Age of Enlightenment grew out of this dissatisfaction with truth based solely on authority. That said, it was as much a dissatisfaction with the teachings of Aristotle as it was a questioning of the authority of the christian church. The search for knowledge based on reasoning and evidence began to replace the acceptance of knowledge based on authority and revelation. Out of this age of questioning arose people like Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, John Locke, Kant & many others. Students of the Secret Doctrine will also be familiar with such names.
Kant’s call to arms was “Sapere aude!” – latin for “Dare to know!”, from the opening paragraph to his article ‘What is Enlightenment’ (1784):
‘Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! “Have courage to use your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment.’
Peter April 2, 2017 at 1:47 pm #5316
Hello James – If you had said to Ram that you did not think that was his intention i would not have made a comment. It sounds like that is what you meant and it just didn’t come across that way.
If we take HPB’s answer to Kingsland’s question about coining new terms as an authoritative statement, one which expresses an instruction for her english students to follow, then I suppose we might end up viewing anyone who has a different view to HPB as someone who thinks they know better than her. For myself, I wouldn’t take that view and I also find it hard to interpret her comment as ‘an instruction’ for reasons already stated. Not only is her revised comment in Transactions put very tentatively it’s also altered to be inclusive rather than appearing as advice or an instruction given to someone else.
“It would, perhaps, if possible, be best to invent for ourselves a new nomenclature. Owing, however, to the poverty of European languages, especially English, in philosophical terms, the undertaking would be somewhat difficult.’ (SD Commentary/Dialogues p5; Bold added.)
This inclusive reference of ‘for ourselves’ in the above passage makes sense if we consider that the only person who could have realistically coined new terms for the theosophical teaching that HPB was given out to the world at that time would have been HPB herself. Who else would have known with any certainty if the new terms and their meanings referred to the existing terms and their meanings as used by herself?
I think you are right to point out that there are problems with the consistency of the terminology. Whether it would have been solved by coining new english terms during HPB’s time (or even now) I really don’t know. One question would have been how to apply the new english terminology to the sanskrit terms in already published works of HPB as well as to the literature cited from all the other spiritual traditions.
It’s not unusual for us modern day students to end up disagreeing about the meanings of many terms that we regard as ‘definitive’. Thus, I’m not sure to what extent replacing a sanskrit term with a newly coined english term would help. It may simply be that we find ourselves disagreeing about the meaning of an english term rather than a sanskrit term!
I wasn’t sure what you were getting at with regards the term ‘etheric body.’ As far as I know ‘etheric body’ or ‘etheric double’ are not terms that HPB uses, but I’m happy to learn otherwise. The term ‘etheric body’ does appear in the index to HPB’s Collected Writings, put there by the compiler of her works. But it doesn’t seem to appear in the work itself, unless I have missed something. The term ‘etheric double’ appears once in a fragment attributed to HPB and posthumously published by Annie Besant in 1948 (CW XIII 362)
I appreciate the general line of frustration (apologies if this is the wrong word) in the rest of your post. We should look beyond the surface meaning – you are quite right. It’s very rewarding when members here can bring out new insights and ways of looking at things. You are one of the people who regularly attempts to do just that. Whether in that exploration we are actually turning the esoteric keys in their seven turns is another question.
With regards to whether Mars is a sacred planet or not and similar issues – if you or I were to state something that appeared to contradict what HPB or the Mahatmas have said we should expect people here to challenge us and point out where she says the opposite. If we have good reasons for what we propose we shouldn’t be put off by that but press on providing our reasons and the insights behind our proposals. Even if other people still can’t see what we see, which leads us to stop sharing that particular line of enquiry, we shouldn’t give up following that thread in our own way, perhaps privately, if we believe we are onto something important.
- This reply was modified 2 years, 2 months ago by Peter.
Peter April 1, 2017 at 5:40 pm #5310
James, I invariably find your contributions to be both thoughtful and food for further thought. On this occasion I can’t help but feel that your remarks to Ramprakash are unfair and unwarranted. There is nothing in Ramprakash’s post (#5298) to suggest he was taking up a position of authority above HPB. In addition, having followed all of Ramprakash’s contributions to Nexus since he first posted to this forum some years ago I can’t think of anyone less likely for such a thought to cross his/her mind.
I think you are reading too much into HPB’s comment in that question and answer passage that you have quoted from the SD Commentaries (a record of meetings with HPB between January and June 1889) i.e. “I think the best thing you could do would be to coin new English words.”
In those passages the original idea to coin new terms comes from Mr. Kingsland following the realisation and/or appreciation among some members of HPB’s group that the Sanskrit and esoteric terms used by HPB (e.g. Buddhi) have a different surface meaning to that traditionally ascribed to them by the various schools of Indian philosophy, each ascribing its own particular meaning to such terms. Hence Kingsland wonders should they have their own terms?
In the revised version of that very conversation with HPB and published as Transactions of Blavatsky Lodge (revised and edited by HPB, herself), HPB puts her answer more tentatively:
“It would, perhaps, if possible, be best to invent for ourselves a new nomenclature. Owing, however, to the poverty of European languages, especially English, in philosophical terms, the undertaking would be somewhat difficult.’
Perhaps, it was her deep appreciation of just how difficult it would be to coin new terminology for theosophical ideas that HPB took upon herself the task of rendering that terminology and those ideas more clearly by bringing out a further work. Hence she announces later on during those meetings between January and June 1889 that she has just begun a new work to do just that – ’The Key to Theosophy’. This work was published later that same year.
It’s no surprise, then, that many of the questions along with the issues about lack of consistent terminology raised in the meetings above are directly brought up and answered by HPB a number of places in The Key to Theosophy. It’s in ‘The Key’ that HPB sets out definite words for definite things and suggests that people use that same terminology from that time onwards.
So, I think it’s not for lack of coining new terms that divisions in the understanding of Theosophy arose in the years following HPB’s passing. In part, it may well have had more to do with a lack of familiarity with the core teachings, particularly as set out as clearly as HPB could make it in The Key to Theosophy.
- This reply was modified 2 years, 2 months ago by Peter.
Peter March 19, 2017 at 5:41 pm #5207
Ram, just to support your view on the origins of the term – In the Oxford Dictionary of World Religion under the term Nirvana we find ‘According to S.K. Belvalkar, the term [nirvana] originated in the Kāla philosophy before the advent of Buddhism.’ The entry goes on cite references in Mahabharata, the Anugita and Bhagavad Gita.
As I understand it, the terms nirvana and moksha appear to be interchangeable when used by a Hindu, though Moksha appears to be the more common term. Each tradition (Buddhism and Hinduism) appears to have a preference for using one term over the other. The term ‘nirvana’ (from the verb root vā = ‘to blow’ + nir = ‘out’) perhaps has a closer meaning to buddhist philosophy than moksha (from the root moksh = to liberate)*.
Perhaps the most significant thing is that whichever term is used, the Buddhist understanding as to what constitutes nirvana/moksha is different to that of the Hindu. That’s because their respective understandings of the nature of Reality and the nature of ‘the Self’ differ quite radically.
Even within Hinduism what actually constitutes nirvana/moksha varies according to different views held by various traditions as to god and the ultimate nature of the self. For example, liberation for the Advaitee involves the direct recognition that s/he is not other than Brahman, while Liberation for the Dwaitee is a state of release in which the individual jivatman remains separate Brahman; and from the Samkhya perspective Liberation arises when as a result of discrimination the individual purusha realises its nature as pure consciousness separate from matter (prakriti) – the latter including buddhi, manas, the organs of cognition and action & so on.
As mentioned before, when referring to the path and goal of individual liberation the two terms are interchangeable in Theosophy.
*note: translation from Grimes ‘A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy.’)
- This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by Peter.
Peter March 17, 2017 at 11:53 am #5186
James – thanks for sharing that passage from Isis Unveiled. As you say, some obvious symbolism is contained therein. There’s no doubt the cave is a potent symbol used in many different ways to that of Plato. Sometimes it is associated with the feminine symbol of the womb. Another obvious association is with the tomb e.g., the pharaoh’s tomb and sacred chamber in the pyramid, the place of death and rebirth. The garden tomb of Jesus where he ‘resurrection’ could have been a small cave, which might also link with your original email and Christ’s birth/initiation. We also have the many references to the cave in the heart & so on. The are plenty of pointers in all of these to meditation and/or initiation, all of which supports the underlying theme of your initial post, of course.
The passage you’ve just shared above reminded me of a passage quoted in Henri Corbin’s, ‘Man of Light in Iranian Sufism’ which I include below:
“When I wished to bring to light the science of the mystery and modality of creation, I came upon a subterranean vault filled with darkness and winds. I saw nothing because of the darkness, nor could I keep it alight because of the violence of the winds. Lo and behold, a person then appeared before me in my sleep in a form of the greatest beauty. He said to me: “Take a lamp and place it under a glass to shield it from the winds: then it will give thee light in spite of the winds. Then go into the underground chamber; dig in its center and from there bring forth a certain God-made image, designed according to the rules of Art. As soon as you have drawn at this image, the winds will cease to blow through the underground chamber. Then dig in its four corners and you will bring to light the knowledge of the mysteries of creation, the causes of Nature, the origins and modalities of things.” At that I said: “Who then art thou?” He answered “I am thy Perfect Nature. If thou wishest to see me, call me by name.”
(From The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism’ by Henri Corbin; an excerpt from ‘The Goal of the Sage’ by Al-Majriti.)
Peter March 16, 2017 at 2:55 pm #5165
“Is it possible love another individual unconditionally yet still not become attached?”
Perhaps we can only start with small steps in our own lives and practice before we are able to answer this question in a meaningful way. A good start might be to learn to extend positive-regard to people and beings outside of our usual circle of loved ones, friends and those who share similar views to our own. To care about and feel concern for the welfare of other beings who are not in our usual circle is a further step. To care enough to want to do something to help is yet another. There may well be many stages of development in our caring for others, and we may yet still feel drawn more towards some beings than others as the circle of caring expands.
I worry a bit that strong definitions of terms like ‘unconditional love’, ’attachment’ and ‘impersonal’ might sometimes just box us in and get in the way of exploring what it actually means to care for another being or beings. We can say that attachment binds us, of course, but doesn’t love also bind, as does loyalty, a pledge or vow? If we truly care about other beings their welfare matters to us, whether it be that of one or of many. The extent of our caring is often reflected in the what we postpone, give up or go without to help another. The outcomes of our actions in caring for other beings also matter to us.
Some attachments and identifications might be very important for our development, particularly those related to high ideals or universal brotherhood. The transition from our identification and attachment to ‘me and mine’ towards one that is ‘us and all’ may well be a long a gradual one.
Below is a passage from the Mahatma KH in his letter to Sinnett which throws some light on this subject:
‘I hope that at least you will understand that we (or most of us) are far from being the heartless, morally dried up mummies some would fancy us to be. “Mejnoor” is very well, where he is – as an ideal character of a thrilling -– in many respects truthful story. Yet, believe me, few of us would care to play the part in life of a dessicated pansy between the leaves of a volume of solemn poetry. We may not be quite the “boys” – to quote Olcott’s irreverent expression when speaking of us – yet none of our degree are like the stern hero of Bulwer’s romance. While the facilities of observation secured to some of us by our condition certainly give a greater breadth of view, a more pronounced and impartial, as a more widely spread humaneness – for answering Addison, we might justly maintain that it is . . . “the business of ‘magic’ to humanise our natures with compassion” for the whole mankind as all living beings, instead of concentrating and limiting our affections to one predilected race – yet few of us (except such as have attained the final negation of Moksha) can so far enfranchise ourselves from the influence of our earthly connection as to be insusceptible in various degrees to the higher pleasures, emotions, and interests of the common run of humanity.
‘Until final emancipation reabsorbs the Ego , it must be conscious of the purest sympathies called out by the esthetic effects of high art, its tenderest cords respond to the call of the holier and nobler human attachments. Of course, the greater the progress towards deliverance, the less this will be the case, until, to crown all, human and purely individual personal feelings – blood-ties and friendship, patriotism and race predilection – all will give away, to become blended into one universal feeling, the only true and holy, the only unselfish and Eternal one – Love, an Immense Love for humanity – as a Whole ! For it is “Humanity” which is the great Orphan, the only disinherited one upon this earth, my friend. And it is the duty of every man who is capable of an unselfish impulse, to do something, however little, for its welfare. Poor, poor humanity! It reminds me of the old fable of the war between the Body and its members: here too, each limb of this huge “Orphan” – fatherless and motherless -– selfishly cares but for itself. The body uncared for suffers eternally, whether the limbs are at war or at rest. Its suffering and agony never cease. . . . And who can blame it – as your materialistic philosophers do – if, in this everlasting isolation and neglect it has evolved gods, unto whom “it ever cries for help but is not heard!” . . . Thus –
“Since there is hope for man only in man
I would not let one cry whom I could save! . . .”
‘Yet I confess that I, individually, am not yet exempt from some of the terrestrial attachments. I am still attracted toward some men more than toward others, and philanthropy as preached by our Great Patron – “the Saviour of the World – the Teacher of Nirvana and the Law . . . .” has never killed in me either individual preferences of friendship, love – for my next of kin, or the ardent feeling of patriotism for the country – in which I was last materially individualized.’
Mahatma Letters no. 8; Barker edition. (All one paragraph in original, but made into parts here for ease of reading.)
Peter March 6, 2017 at 11:17 am #5077
Grace asks: Is there a sense in which we, as students, with the understanding that the Absolute cannot be contained or conceived of, but despite this recognition, we should still try to place the mind on the idea of the Absolute, as an exercise?
Grace, This is how I understand it. If the universe and everything in it, including ourselves, is an entire illusion while the Absolute is something either outside of, or beyond, this universe then there’s probably about as much value trying to place our mind on the idea of the Absolute as there is in trying to place our mind on the idea of a planet which may or may not exist in some distant part of the universe that we will never be able to reach.
If the the idea of the Absolute is that there is, indeed, an underlying Reality which is the support, base or true nature of the manifested ALL, then to place our mind on the nature of the Absolute is, at the very least, to wonder ‘what is our true nature and the underlying reality of the world around us?’ In the same breath we are also asking ‘what is the true nature of this being who asks the question and seeks to know Reality?’
The Mahatma KH writes to A.P.Sinnett:
‘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…’
(Mahatma Letter to Sinnett; no. 10)
Or, put slightly differently in The Secret Doctrine:
“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…’
(SD I 280)
Peter March 2, 2017 at 7:08 pm #5057
Pierre – thanks. Just how many amazing passages are there in the Secret Doctrine!
Here’s another view about ‘experience’ which might also give another perspective on illusion and reality for members to consider.
In the Advaita Vedanta tradition ‘experience’ is normally said to belong to the three states of Waking (sthulopadhi), Dream (Sukshmopadi) and Deep-Sleep (Karanopadhi), but not to the non-dual Atman (Turiya). While these are often referred to as the four states, if we include Atman, we sometimes find the Advaita sages maintaining that, strictly speaking, Turiya (Atman) should not be referred to as a state, for it is not a realm of experience. Each of the three is seen as a upadhi of Atman, while at the same time Atman is also said to be the substratum, the underlying ground of reality to all of these. Reality according to Advaita is in the name: a-dwaita, which means not-two.
However, if the reality of the world is ‘not-two’ the issue is how to explain a) the experience of duality and separateness and b) how can there be two things – a non-dual Reality and a world of illusion? The Advaitee says there was, is and only ever will be the non-dual Atman-Brahman. Two analogies are used to indicate how this might be so.
The first is one that members have already referred to in previous posts, i.e. the snake and the rope. In a half light (symbolising ignorance) we mistake a rope for a snake. We may have all kinds of reactions to the threat of the snake, however, when ignorance is removed we discover that there only ever was a rope. There never was a snake.
In the same way, according to the Advaitee, while we perceive duality and separateness all about us, and perceive the world as ‘other’ to ourselves, that perception of duality is regarded as the result of ignorance. In truth everything is non other than Atman (Brahman). Reality is not somewhere else, on a different plane etc, that we have to get to. What we need to do is remove ignorance (avidya) to discover the real nature of ourselves and the world. When avidya is removed Knowing is non other than Being that underlying Reality.
The other analogy used by the Advaitee is that of the pot and the clay. First there was only the clay. The pot is merely a form of clay. The pot form and has no existence of its own, independent of the clay. If we break up the pot-form the clay, the substance of the pot, remains.
The Pot is just a name and form (nama-rupa) superimposed on the clay. The analogy is that likewise the world is just name and form superimposed upon Atman-Brahman which is the underlying substance, substratum, of the world. While there appear to be many ‘forms’ existing as if they have an independence of their own, the truth is that none of them are anything other than that underlying reality, the substratum of all, which is Atman-Brahman.
The world cannot be said to be unreal, because we experience it. Try stepping into the road to ascertain whether a moving car is unreal or not. But neither can it be said to be real in the sense that it has an existence of its own independent of the underlying reality (such as the pot).
SAT, is the term for that which truly exists across the three times (past, present and future). In other words, Atman or Brahman.
ASAT, is the term for that which has no existence at all at any time (examples for given for things which don’t exist at all the horns of a rabbit or the son of a barren woman. There are probably better examples but give an idea of what is meant.)
MITHYĀ, refers to that which is indeterminable, i.e. is neither SAT nor ASAT. For example, we can’t say the pot (world) doesn’t exist at all – Asat. But neither is it any thing other than the clay (SAT; Atman).
The great sage, Ramana Maharshi, regarded as a jivanmukti by many, wrote the following in his ‘Forty Verses on Reality’:
The world is real both to the non-knower and to the knower of the Real.
He that lacks knowledge of the Real believes the Real to be coextensive with the world.
To the knower, the Real shines as the formless One, the basic substance of the world,
Great indeed is the difference between the knower of That and the non-knower.
Just some thoughts to add to the pot.
- This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by Peter.
Peter March 1, 2017 at 2:48 pm #5046
Kirk, I keep meaning to say this is a really good passage you’ve shared from the SD on illusion and reality. It raises some important questions as to just what it is that counts as an illusion. Here’s an initial few that come to mind that a philosophical inquirer might consider and which group members might also wonder about. There are plenty of other questions, of course.
HPB states that everything extraneous to the Absolute must be an illusion. We also find ‘the Absolute’ is referred to at times throughout HPB’s works as the Infinite Totality or the Unknown Totality. This naturally raises the question as to how there could be anything extraneous to the Absolute. If there can be two ‘things’ – the Absolute and something which is outside of it which exists in some illusory way – in what sense is the Absolute actually Absolute or the Totality? Or, looked at from the other side, if the Absolute is the Totality how should we understand the nature of any illusion that is said to arise in that Totality? In other words, is there any room for illusion in a reality which is the Absolute ALL?
It seems to me the above are the kind of issues that Kristan’s recent reflections pointed towards.
HPB goes on to say that everything “in the experience of any plane is an actuality for the percipient”. What does this tell us? For example – two friends take a walk in the evening twilight and one mistakes a post in the distance for a person while her friend simply sees the post as a post. While their experiences are different – one correct (real) the other mistaken (illusory) – we would not deny that for each person their experience is an actuality for them.
At one level this tells us that our experience can be both reliable and unreliable as a guide to the world we live in. When exploring the notion of illusion and reality, perhaps we sometimes forget just how much our senses help us navigate the world from one moment to the next throughout our lives even though they can be mistaken at times.
At another level HPB says that from a metaphysical standpoint all of our experiences (correct or mistaken) may be conceived to have no reality at all. If so, we would need to explore what to that make of that statement. How can an experience which is ‘actual’ have no reality at all?
Does this also imply that the apprehension of Reality can never be an experience?
Peter February 28, 2017 at 4:30 pm #5027
Pavel writes: May it be assumed that the “flickering shadows” on the wall of the cave are how we experience the world through our senses, while the True Reality is more related to the life of the Mind (united with the Heart)?
I would say that is just what Plato is suggesting, Pavel. I agree.
In order to appreciate the analogy of Plato’s Cave in part seven of The Republic we probably need to see it in the context of the preceding sections.
Previously, Socrates seeks to explain to Glaucon the difference between the Ideal and the Actual i.e.
– the Intelligible realm of the Perfect Forms & Knowledge (the noumenal world)
…in contrast to
– the Visible realm of phenomena and Opinion (the empirical wold of sense experience and beliefs).
Socrates also argues that just as the sun in the visible world is the cause of all growth, makes all things visible and grants the power of seeing to the eye; in a similar way, the Form of the Good is the cause of all the Forms existence, the Being of being, and for granting the power of Knowing to the mind.
The world of the cave is the empirical realm of the senses, our day to day experiences, where we do not know reality directly but form many beliefs and opinions about it. Leaving the cave, moving towards the ‘natural’ light, symbolises developing the mind and understanding to apprehend more directly real existence. Only through the mind and proper reasoning can the Intelligible realm be known. Socrates says that should the individual persist, as s/he grows accustomed to the light of the upper world outside of the cave (Intelligible realm of Forms) eventually the individual may turn towards the Sun itself (’The Form of the Good’), this symbolising the highest knowledge attainable – seeing ‘truth as it is.‘
Plato doesn’t have a lot to say about ‘the heart’, as such, at least not in the sense you refer to it in your question. That said, for Plato true Understanding requires love – love of the Truth – so, perhaps that may be the link to your intuitive sense of ‘Mind united with Heart’.
I can’t see any reason why the Mind and Heart and/or the Will and the Heart should not be an aspect of Plato’s analogy of the Cave, we just need to be clear what the Cave symbolises in Plato’s story and that it might not be the same as used in other traditions. We talk about the Self in the cave of the heart when drawing upon the symbology of some traditions, thus those perspectives it is through the heart that we enter the Cave and into ‘the light’. In Plato’s analogy, humans grow up in the cave and are so accustomed to living in the shadows where ignorance reigns (even winning honours for it) that they often need to be dragged by the heels out of the cave and into the Light.
Peter February 27, 2017 at 8:44 am #5015
The allegory of the cave from Plato’s ‘The Republic’, Book VII (Edited)
(Note: while reading Socrates description of the Cave it may help to look at the picture provided above in our Theme for Contemplation.)
Socrates: And now, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
Glaucon: I see.
Socrates: And do you see men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
Glaucon: You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
Socrates: Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?
Glaucon: True, how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
Socrates: And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?
Socrates: And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
Glaucon: Very true.
Socrates: And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
Glaucon: No question.
Socrates: To them the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
Glaucon: That is certain.
Socrates: And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
Glaucon: Far truer.
Socrates: And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
Socrates: And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he ‘s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
Glaucon: Not all in a moment.
Socrates: He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?
Socrates: Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.
Socrates: He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?
Glaucon: Clearly. He would first see the sun and then reason about him.
Socrates: And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?
Glaucon: Certainly, he would.
Socrates: And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, ‘Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?’
Glaucon: Yes. I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.
Socrates: Imagine once more such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?
Glaucon: To be sure.
Socrates: And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.
Glaucon: No question.
Socrates: This entire allegory, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.
Glaucon: I agree, as far as I am able to understand you.
Socrates: Moreover, you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell; which desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be trusted.
Glaucon: Yes, very natural.
Socrates: And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of images of justice, and is endeavouring to meet the conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice? **
Glaucon: Anything but surprising..
Socrates: Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter light, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.
(** Note: The reference to having to fight in the courts of law may well be a reference to Socrates himself, as he was awaiting trial in the courts for his views.)
Peter February 24, 2017 at 4:28 pm #4971
– By definition, the “illusion” is something that cannot be defined- as it is absolutely fiction in its nature, appearance, quality etc
– Is illusion a concept born from the separative mind regarding the inability to detect specific occurrences and fundamental laws?
Hi Kristan, these are very interesting thoughts and questions. So often we just repeat passages from the literature about the nature of reality and illusion without any attempt to reflect upon it deeply. It’s really valuable to ‘think it through’.
I think we can say a few things about illusion, which might contribute towards a definition of it.
An illusion is an error in the cognitions of sentient beings. (By cognition we normally mean the process of gaining knowledge and understanding of the world through our thoughts, senses and experience.)
In other words, ‘illusion’ is not something that exists in the world. Illusion exists only in the mind of the beholder (i.e. In the cognitions of sentient beings). Is this the kind of understanding your own thoughts were pointing to?
An important issue is how we might distinguish between valid and invalid cognitions.
- This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Peter.
Peter February 9, 2017 at 4:37 pm #4844
The term transcendent has more than one meaning and use.
Sometimes it is used to refer to that which is beyond the phenomenal world or beyond the realm of duality. Transcendental experience as, say, a form of mystic experience would then refer to an experience of the noumenal realm or non-duality, just as transcendental wisdom would be the direct cognition of noumenon or non-duality & so on. Plato’s Ideal world and the knowledge of it by the Soul might well fit in with this definition.
On the other hand, sometimes the term transcendent is used to refer to that which can never be experienced or known. This is how Kant, for example, used the term. This is how Theosophy refers to The Absolute, and further states that the Absolute can have no relationship to that which is finite or relative. This also raises the question as to whether something can be both transcendent (in this meaning of the term) and immanent.
Peter November 27, 2016 at 5:26 pm #3882
On the subject of desire (cont):
When the Buddha gave his teachings on the Four Noble Truths he referred to a particular kind of desire which is usually translated as craving. He saw this as the origin of suffering which is the second Noble Truth.
’It is this craving that leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.’
In the teachings which expand on the above – the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination – the Buddha says that such craving turns into grasping (an even stronger attachment to the object of craving), which in turn leads to existence. By craving and grasping leading to existence, the Buddha appears to mean that craving and grasping generate the kind of consciousness (imprinted with karmic afflictions) that becomes the basis for a renewed round of birth, old age and death in the realm of samsara. Sometimes this ‘craving’ is called tanha, the craving or thirst for sentient existence.
The Mahatma KH made a point of translating these verses on “Dependent Origination’ for A.P. Sinnett. Here, the Mahatma translates it as “thirst from which comes attachment”. (See Mahatma Letters to A.P.Sinnett, no.10, Barker edition.)
In a further letter, the Mahatma defines Tanha as ‘the thirst or desire to sentiently live – the proximate force or energy, the resultant of human (or animal) action, which, out of the old Skandhas produce the new group that form the new being and control the nature of the birth itself.’ (Letter 16.) The problem implicit in this process is that so long as our lives are governed by craving and grasping, then so long are we re-born with personalities (the five aggregates, skandhas) that are largely constituted of that very craving and thus subject to the ongoing cycle of grasping at pleasure and the consequent experience of suffering that follows in its wake.
To free ourselves from that ‘thirst for pleasure and existence’, to free ourselves from our ignorance, craving and grasping (i.e. the primary causes of suffering as outlined in the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination) is to become liberated from the cycle of samsara, according to Buddhism. That liberation or cessation of those causes is referred to as peace or nirvana.
The Dalai Lama points out that there is still a great difference in development between the realisation of an arhat, who has achieved this first stage of liberation, and the Buddha, whose realisations and.accomplishments allow him to continue helping all sentient beings. (see ‘From Here to Enlightenment’) The desire or motivation for a person on the Bodhisattva path of development is to achieve the kind of liberation and realisations that results in Buddhahood in order to be able to help and liberate all beings.
Peter November 27, 2016 at 5:10 pm #3881
On the subject of ‘desire.’
Is the problem we attribute to desire due to the nature of desire or has it to do with the object of desire?
If the problem is the nature of desire itself then whatever the object of that desire (good or bad, material or spiritual) then the inherent problematic nature of desire will simply remain regardless of which direction we ‘point’ that desire.
Is desire in itself a neutral force which we say becomes ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending upon the object of desire – for example, the desire to harm others being seen as morally bad, while the desire to help and do good for others is regarded as morally good?
One person may aspire to have material wealth or power over others. Another person may desire to lead a life serving and helping others. In these examples it is the object of our desires or aspirations which appears to set the tone, not the terminology.
Or, perhaps the word ‘desire’ is simply a generic term under whichmany different kinds of desires or wanting may be listed? In which case, do we need to clarify what we mean by the term desire whenever we use it?
Peter November 9, 2016 at 2:11 pm #3768
The topic is the Two Paths, however, unless I have missed some posts (apologies if that is the case) I’m not sure we have actually clarified what is meant by ‘the Two Paths’. Some posts appear to suggest it is a choice between good and evil, some appear to suggest it refers to the choice between seeking liberation for oneself or seeking liberation for all beings. Both types are surely important choices.
With regards to the second view, the Voice of the Silence says:
“The PATH is one, Disciple, yet in the end, twofold… At one end – bliss immediate, and at the other – bliss deferred. Both are of merit the reward: the choice is thine.’ (p41, original edition)
Peter October 10, 2016 at 10:06 am #3579
Love and Compassion
The term compassion normally means to have a feeling of concern or deep sympathy for the plight of others i.e. for the unfortunate situation they find themselves in, their suffering & so on.
Love is a term that has many shades of meaning such as devotion to another or others, strong affection, a deep feeling of connection with other beings & so on. I suspect we could each find many different ways to describe the love we have felt for others or experienced from others towards ourselves.
Are love and compassion identical? Ultimately I don’t know, and poetic quotes from other people probably won’t help me decide. It may simply depend our own direct exploration and experience. Recently I felt a strong sense of compassion towards a person convicted of murder and sexual crimes. This feeling arose as I reflected upon the karma and future conditions (future lives of ‘retribution’) this person has been creating for themselves as a result of their terrible actions. I’ve also experienced a similar feeling of compassion towards terrorists and others who perpetrate dreadful suffering upon others. However, while the feeling of compassion was strong in each, I could not say I loved any of those perpetrators of suffering upon other people.
Peter September 20, 2016 at 5:04 pm #3462
Samantha asks, ‘what is the nature of the “free will” we exercise according to Theosophy?’ (post 3449) The posts were getting a bit squeezed in the original thread so I’ve posted this at the beginning of a new one. Apologies if this is confusing.
One view of human free will as found in theosophy would be that it is intimately connected to the ability to make moral choices and actions. Moral choice and actions require a moral agent, a Mind endowed with self consciousness (Individuality) and which is capable of self directed action along with the ability to consider the consequences of such actions on the needs and welfare of other beings. The choices of moral agents leads to a range of possible actions. This range extends from acting out of self interest to acting selflessly in the interests of all beings. The exercise of choice within that range is an exercise in free will. When we feel prevented from acting in the manner of our choosing, we often say our free will has been impeded. This suggests that for many of us free will is not only about choosing, it also needs to include turning our choices into actions or outcomes of some kind.
When we look at the nature of free will, we not only need to inquire just what kind of willing or volition are we talking about, we also need to ask ‘what does the ‘free’ in free will actually stand for?’ Freedom from what? Our will is always subject to the laws of nature – physical and spiritual – as Pierre points out. As humanity evolves we find ways to cooperate with nature’s laws in order to achieve the ideas and plans that we will should happen. The law of gravity has in the past prevented human beings from flying and still poses difficult problems for people who choose to jump off rocks 1000ft high and then change their minds. Through our ingenuity and will we eventually found other laws to work with (aerodynamics etc) that overcame the restriction of aerial movement that the law of gravity normally imposes on us. So, we could say that the extent to which we are able to fully express our free will is dependent upon our knowledge of nature’s laws – physical and spiritual. However, is lack of knowledge all that restricts our freedom of will?
Let’s take Pierre’s helpful example of someone jumping off a 1000ft high rock. Let’s say it is a super hero who jumps from the rock and through her super powers can change her mind half way down and fly back up to the top again. Let’s also say this super hero is invincible – able to overcome all beings and utilise the forces and laws of nature which many of us do not even suspect exist. For all of that, there is still one important sense in which our super hero may still not be free in the exercise of her will, namely, she may still be driven by her own personal wants and desires.
From a theosophical point of view, it is just this freedom from our desire nature which allows our free will to operate. HPB says that kama-manas is the psychic element that we have in common with animals (see CW XII 352). That’s a sobering thought if we care to reflect on it fully. Free will comes into play as we learn to disassociate the mind from kama (the desire principle) or as HPB puts it:
This “Mind” is manas, or rather its lower reflection, which whenever it disconnects itself, for the time being, with kama, becomes the guide of the highest mental faculties, and is the organ of the free will in physical man. (CW XII 358: ‘Psychic and Noetic Action)
The lower manas, recall, is a projection or ray of the Higher Manas. The Higher is the source of self-consciousness in Man. Therefore, it appears to be the case that that self-consciousness, in the form of the lower manas during the lifetime, is the moral agent within the personality.
The other aspect of free will in theosophy can be found in the Third Fundamental Proposition of the Secret Doctrine. In giving an overview of the journey of the Soul throughout evolution there comes a stage where the Soul’s progress requires ‘self-induced and self-devised efforts (checked by its Karma). Self induced and self devised efforts requires free will in some form or another and we discover from the SD that this is directly related to the awakening of Manas in humanity in the 3rd Root race of this evolutionary round..
- This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by Peter.
Peter August 17, 2016 at 11:58 am #2352
Various meanings of the term ‘karma’.
When reflecting on the teachings on Karma I’ve noticed that the term karma is often used without qualification in the literature with the result that the various shades of meaning are not immediately obvious without some further reflection on behalf of the student. For my own understanding I’ve found it useful to distinguish several ways in which the term karma is meant or used in the teachings, such as:
– Karma as action
– Karma as the ongoing stream or chain of cause and effect
– Karma as ‘the Law of Karma’ or ‘Law of ethical causation’
– Karma as karmic residue or the latent effects awaiting manifesting
Sometimes I’ve thought perhaps the differences are just superficial rather than real, but as time has gone by I’ve come to see the differences as subtle yet significant. See what you think. These are just my thoughts and understanding so please feel free to add, correct, improve upon them or simply reject them. They certainly need more refining. I’ve broken this post into parts for easier reading.
A.1 In one sense the sanskrit term karma simply means action. Hence, in hinduism, the organs (indriyas) of action (karma) – i.e. the mouth, the generative organs, hands, feet, and excretory organs – are termed the karmendriyas.
Action can be of many kinds. For example, the Karma-khānda is that portion of the Veda which deals with action as religious rites and rituals. When advaitee sages claim that karma may lead to heavenly states but does not lead to final liberation (moksha) it is often the karma (rites and rituals) of the Veda that they are referring to.
A.2 All action of any kind is part of an ongoing chain of cause and effect. Action in its dual aspect of cause and effect is also referred to as karma. As far as we know nothing happens or exists without a prior cause. It’s certainly hard, if not impossible, to conceive of such a thing. Our universe and all our existences constitute a vast and complex interrelated network of causes and effects which is ever ongoing in its rise and fall. Accidents are those acts of events which are not intended or planned for. They, in turn, may cause something to happen that wasn’t intended by Karmic Law or prevent something happening that was. A random act or event will also have its causes but is one that doesn’t appear to fit in with any plan or pattern – at least none that is known to us at this point in time.
The only time we talk in terms of a causeless cause is when we discuss the nature of the Absolute or First Principle.
B. The term karma is also used to refer to ‘the Law of Karma’ or ‘Law of Ethical Causation’. This refers to more than just action or mere cause and effect. In Theosophy it refers to that Universal Law which restores over time (sometimes huge periods of time) all generated effects back to equilibrium and universal harmony. Hence the Law of Karma is intimately connected with Reincarnation and is also regarded as a moral law – the Law of Ethical Causation. As a moral law its operation restores all effects arising from the actions of morally responsible beings back to their producer.
As a moral agent in the world, the effects on other people directly arising from my actions today may take any amount of time to unfold. It may also require one or more lifetimes before Karmic Law draws all those beings involved back together in a setting where the accumulated effects directly arising from my action can be resolved and harmony restored. ‘The Law of Karma’ is, then, more than simply the immediate chain of ‘cause and effect’ which, confusingly, is also called karma. However, we need to keep in mind HPB says that the moral aspect of this Law is its esoteric meaning, while karma as simply action or cause and effect is the exoteric meaning (see SD I 634).
The man who robs a bank today, harming others while doing so, may enjoy the effects of his robbery for the rest of this lifetime believing his understanding of cause and effect has worked out very well indeed. At the level of ethical causation, there are latent moral effects still awaiting the adjustment of Karmic Law which will return to him in a future incarnation. Thus his actions in this life create the general conditions in which he will find himself placed in the next, ready to receive the effects of causes he himself generated.
In the passage below, HPB appears to distinguish between the above meanings of the term karma as described in ‘A’ and ‘B’ above, i.e. karma as the straight forward chain of cause & effect and Karmic Law which resolves those effects back to their originating cause – the moral agent responsible:
“Karma thus, is simply action, a concatenation of causes and effects. That which adjusts each effect to its direct cause; that which guides invisibly and as unerringly these effects to choose, as the field of their operation, the right person in the right place, is what we call Karmic Law.” (CW VI 145)
Peter August 17, 2016 at 12:11 pm #2377
B. The term karma as ‘the Law of Karma’ or ‘Law of Ethical Causation’ (…continued)
The Law of Karma is said to be the Law of Laws, the fount and origin of all the laws of nature – physical, mental and spiritual. From this and our earlier passages we can infer the following:
a) nothing in the complex chain of causes and effects on any plane of existence can happen outside of the Law of Karma. While the Law of Karma is the source of all other laws, the various laws of cause and effect (e.g. physics, chemistry) operating on each plane are not themselves identical to the Law of Karma.
b) not all causes/actions generated by sentient beings incur moral karmic effects. For example, the child under the age of 6 or 7yrs acts and generates causes and effects which are governed by natural laws, which in turn are governed by the Law of Karma. At the same time, the child is deemed not to be karmically responsible for its acts on the basis that it does not become morally responsible until the spiritual ego has made a proper connection to the physical form around the ages of 6 and 7. As such, the child is said not to generate Karma, even though its actions are followed by effects etc. Mental health illness or brain injury may also render a person incapable of moral responsibility. As HPB writes:
“The law of Karma is a moral law, and where no moral responsibility exists, there can be no application of the law of Karma; but the law of cause and effect applies to all departments of nature.” (CW VI 237)
The above distinction is clearly an important one for us to keep in mind. As manasic entities with free will and hence moral responsibility, we incur what is called ‘reward and punishment’ or ‘merit and demerit’ through the application of the law of Karma as the Law of Ethical Causation. But all life and all kingdoms of nature, with or without moral responsibility, are subject to the general law(s) of cause and effect. The term karma is often used without any qualification, therefore when we read or talk about karma in general we need to keep in mind the important distinction made by HPB above in order to better understand which meaning is to be applied to the particular text or teaching. Otherwise, to quote HPB again:
“The error often committed, is to mistake the general law of cause and effect for the law of merit and demerit.” (CW VI 236)
C. We also find the term Karma is used to refer to the accumulated store of latent effects an individual creates by his/her actions and which are awaiting ’adjustment’, so to speak, by the Law of Karma. This latent store is sometimes referred to as the karmic residue of our actions. This is spoken of in three different ways.
Sanchita karma is the total store of latent accumulated effects generated by our actions in previous lifetimes.
Prarabdha karma is that portion of the total store which is due to manifest in our current lifetime.
Agama karma refers to those effects or residue we add to the total store resulting from our acts in this current life i.e. this is ‘new’ karma we create from moment to moment.
When we find reference to ‘my karma’, ‘your karma’ or ‘our karma’, it is often this meaning of the term that is in use and refers to either sanchita, prarabdha or agama karma.
That only a portion of the total store of Karma comes into active effect in any lifetime indicates that it may take many lifetimes to work through ‘our karma’, all the while generating new karma which adds to that store.
Coming back to our earlier question on accidents and karma: accidents, random events or the free will of other sentient beings may interfere with prarabdha karma i.e. that portion of the total so far that is due to manifest in our current lifetime. Such actions may either prevent what was due from happening or introduce effects that were not intended or merited. Either way, the Law of Karma adjusts, so to speak, the residue ensuring that which was due will eventually happen and that which was unmerited will get its compensation.
This is the last part. As mentioned at the beginning, please feel free to add, correct, improve etc. or even ignore.
Peter August 8, 2016 at 11:03 am #1852
Bearing in mind the figurative language, what sort of experiences and conditions are referred to in the literature we it discusses reward and punishment? For example, at a basic level we might see suffering in the next incarnation as punishment and happiness as reward, but might that turn out to be too simplistic when we explore further? What other kinds of conditions and experiences in our lives would we actually see as reward and which as punishment for previous life actions/causes?
Also, what kind of present actions would we see as leading to one or the other of those negative or positive outcomes in future lives?
Peter August 8, 2016 at 10:53 am #1843
To my mind, if we wish to deepen our understanding of the Law of Karma we need to reflect more and more on the nature of its impersonality. Perhaps we should also keep in mind that the term ‘karma’ means action while the term ‘Law of Karma’ refers to the Law which adjusts all action so as to restore equilibrium and harmony in the universe on any plane – physically, psychically, mentally and morally, and spiritual.
All action (karma) produces a chain of causes and effects. We, as actors in the world, are the moral agents who set in motion that chain of cause and effect – a chain which ripples out from us in all directions and across time, affecting other sentient beings for good or ill. The Law of Karma is that law which governs the way that concatenation of causes and effects plays out.
Is the Law of Karma an intelligent law? To say so would be to ascribe to it some kind of agency, making of Karmic Law an actor on the stage of life that records, judges, rewards and punishes. It is our actions (karma) that are the causes which eventually return to us in equal measure as effects at some point in the future. The Law of Karma doesn’t actively choose to respond in the way it does, any more than the laws of physics chooses to return to us the ball we bounce at the wall.
Below are some passages from the literature which suggest the above is a valid way to look Karma.
“[The Law of] Karma neither punishes nor rewards; it is simply the one Universal LAW which guides unerringly and, so to say, blindly, all other laws productive of certain effects along the grooves of their respective causations.” (Theosophical Glossary)
“Teach the people to see that life on this earth, even the happiest, is but a burden and an illusion, that it is but our own Karma, the cause producing the effect, that is our own judge, our saviour in future lives—and the great struggle for life will soon lose its intensity.” (From The Maha Chohan’s letter)
“Karma thus, is simply action, a concatenation of causes and effects. That which adjusts each effect to its direct cause; that which guides invisibly and as unerringly these effects to choose, as the field of their operation, the right person in the right place, is what we call Karmic Law.” (CW VI 145)
“…in the active laws of Karma — absolute Equity — based on the Universal Harmony, there is neither foresight nor desire…it is our own actions, thoughts, and deeds which guide that law, instead of being guided by it.” (CW VI 145)
In her Blavatsky Lodge meetings, HPB is asked if Karmic Law acts intelligently. She replies:
“It does not act. It is our actions that act, and that awaken into all kinds of influences. Look here, if you say that Karma acts and you say it has intelligence, immediately you suggest the idea of a personal god. It is not so, because Karma does not see and Karma does not watch, and does not repent as the Lord God repented. Karma is a universal law, immutable and changeless. . . Karma does not act any more than water drowns you. . . You drown yourselves in the water. Don’t go into the water and you won’t get drowned.”
When asked in that same meeting if ignorance is the cause of Karma, HPB replies:
“It is, but Karma does not take stock of it, does not concern itself whether you do it from ignorance or from too much learning. It is simply if you do a certain thing, so the effect will be on a similar line. For instance, you will strike one note, and you know perfectly well what will be the consequence of that note… Certainly we must say that it acts; but, I want you at the same time to understand that in saying it acts, we use the same expression as if we said the sun is setting. The sun does not set at all.” (From The Secret Doctrine Dialogues: Meeting June 6 1889; emphasis added)
Note the last two sentences in the above quote – a warning to us not to take figurative language literally.
Peter June 12, 2019 at 9:53 pm #7942
One of the key characteristics of twilight is that we experience the light of the sun in the world while the sun itself is below (or ‘beyond’) our horizon. We sense it’s light while the source of that light is yet beyond our sight. It’s the period of time in the morning from first light until the sun rises over the horizon. And its the period of time in the evening from when the sun dips below the horizon, still lighting up the sky, until darkness itself arrives and night begins.
Perhaps one way to look at that passage from ‘The Voice’ is that we have the potential in our earthly life to feel, sense, be aware of an illumination that ever comes from ‘within’ while, as yet, not knowing directly the source of that illumination. If we consider enlightenment to be an awakening then the analogy of first light and then eventually the sun rising over the horizon in the morning is quite fitting.
Of course, we know, or we should know only too well that it is not the sun that rises over the horizon but the earth which turns towards the sun. No doubt this is what we must learn to do in our daily lives (‘the dismal entrance’) as we become of aware of those first faint glimpses of illumination. We must discover how to turn towards the source of that light:
‘that light which no wind can extinguish, that light which burns without a wick or fuel.’
Might we say this period of first light up until final illumination or awakening is analogous to the path we have to travel, the bridge of illumination between the world of shadows and the realm of light, the bridge that we ourselves have to forge and which HPB calls the ‘antahkarana’ – the bridge between the lower and higher manas (Mind)? This would suggest that we are ourselves the path we have to travel and that paradoxically the source of that illumination is also an intrinsic part of what we truly are. The final passage in this section of ‘The Voice’ appears to suggest this is the case:
‘Thou art THYSELF the object of thy search’
Peter May 10, 2019 at 9:58 am #7842
Hi Mark, Thanks. And we could also add to your helpful list the following six primary powers (saktis) that HPB refers to in the Secret Doctrine when quoting from Subba Row’s article ‘The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac.’:
…there are six primary forces in Nature (synthesized by the Seventh) . . . These Sakti stand as follows :—
(1.) Parasakti. Literally the great or Supreme Force or power. It means and includes the powers of light and heat.
(2.) Jnanasakti. . . . The power of intellect, of real Wisdom or Knowledge. It has two aspects:
The following are some of its manifestations when placed under the influence or control of material conditions. (a) The power of the mind in interpreting our sensations. (b) Its power in recalling past ideas (memory) and raising future expectation. (c) Its power as exhibited in what are called by modern psychologists “ the laws of association,” which enables it to form persisting connections between various groups of sensations and possibilities of sensations, and thus generate the notion or idea of an external object. (d) Its power in connecting our ideas together by the mysterious link of memory, and thus generating the notion of self or individuality ; some of its manifestations when liberated from the bonds of matter are — (a) Clairvoyance, (b) Psychometry.
(3.) Itchasakti — the power of the Will. Its most ordinary manifestation is the generation of certain nerve currents which set in motion such muscles as are required for the accomplishment of the desired object.
(4.) Kriyasakti. The mysterious power of thought which enables it to produce external, perceptible, phenomenal results by its own inherent energy. The ancients held that any idea will manifest itself externally if one’s attention is deeply concentrated upon it. Similarly an intense volition will be followed by the desired result.
A Yogi generally performs his wonders by means of Itchasakti and Kriyasakti.
(5.) Kundalini Sakti. The power or Force which moves in a curved path. It is the Universal life-Principle manifesting everywhere in nature. This force includes the two great forces of attraction and repulsion. Electricity and magnetism are but manifestations of it. This is the power which brings about that “ continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations ” which is the essence of life according to Herbert Spencer, and that “ continuous adjustment of external relations to internal relations ” which is the basis of transmigration of souls, punar janman (re-birth) in the doctrines of the ancient Hindu philosophers. A Yogi must thoroughly subjugate this power before he can attain Moksham. . . .
(6.) Mantrika-sakti. The force or power of letters, speech or music. The Mantra Shastra has for its subject-matter this force in all its manifestations. . . . . The influence of melody is one of its ordinary manifestations. The power of the ineffable name is the crown of this Sakti.
Modern Science has but partly investigated the first, second and fifth of the forces above named, but is altogether in the dark as regards the remaining powers. The six forces are in their unity represented by the “ Daiviprakriti ” (the Seventh, the light of the Logos).
The above is quoted to show the real Hindu ideas on the same. It is all esoteric, though not covering the tenth part of what might be said.
(Secret Doctrine vol I 292-293)
Peter January 31, 2019 at 8:15 pm #7659
I believe the term Plato uses is anamnesis which is rendered as recollection in the English translation. It first arises in the Meno which is an inquiry into how virtue arises, i.e. is it something which is teachable, acquired practice or by nature or by some other means. One of the views put forward in the Meno is that recollection is bring to light latent knowledge resulting from the soul’s immortality. Socrates puts it as follows:
‘Since the soul is both immortal and has been born many times, and has seen both what is here and what is in Hades, and in fact all things, there is nothing it has not learned. And so it is no matter for wonder that it is possible for the soul to recollect both about virtue and about other things, given that it knew them previously. For since all nature is akin and the soul has learned everything, there is no reason why someone who has recollected only one thing – which is what people call learning – should not discover something else, as long as one is brave and does not give up on the search. For seeking and learning turn out to be wholly recollection.’ (Meno; 81c-81d)
In the Meno recollection is something that may occur when we come face to face with an interlocutor (as Socrates was to the slave boy in the example he gives). Knowledge that is latent within us is brought to conscious awareness through the questioning method of the dialectic.
In the Phaedo recollection is described slightly differently but still pointing to knowledge that is latent in the immortal soul. Hear recollection is described as occurring when by seeing one thing we are reminded of another as, for example, when sensory information reminds us of the Forms such as Beauty, Virtue, the Just, Piety and so on. (see Phaedo 74c-75d). Here the subtle difference of emphasis appears to point to the nature of the Soul partaking of the realm of the Forms. So, it could well be that the use of analogy applied to certain fields of knowledge ‘reminds us’ or awakens latent knowledge in the Soul.
Peter January 29, 2019 at 6:37 pm #7649
I don’t see any real difference between morality and ethics, in essence. Probably, today, the term ethics has a much wider use than the term morality. For example, we find various professions (medical, psychological, financial etc) have specific codes of ethical practice which are more complex in their detail than the general moral codes we might find in religions such as christianity, buddhism & so on. Yet the essential aim of both is similar as a code of practice which aims towards justice and the good. How we decide what constitutes justice and what constitutes the good is the issue, and Anatolii brings out a good point that there may be important differences between secular and religious systems in this regard.
HPB writes in The Key to Theosophy that the main aims of Theosophy are “to lead to the relief of human suffering under any or every form, moral as well as physical. And we believe the former to be far more important than the latter. Theosophy has to inculcate ethics; it has to purify the soul, if it would relieve the physical body, whose ailments, save cases of accidents, are all hereditary.” ( p19)
In the above passage HPB appears to use those two terms – moral and ethical – interchangeably. And earlier in that same work, speaking of the Alexandrian theosophical system of Ammonius Saccas, she writes:
‘The chief aim of the Founder of the Eclectic Theosophical School was one of the three objects of its modern successor, the Theosophical Society, namely, to reconcile all religions, sects and nations under a common system of ethics, based on eternal verities.’ (Key to Theo., p3)
With regards to whether a moral person is necessarily a spiritual person, I think I would put it slightly differently and say a moral person is not necessarily someone who belongs to a formal religion. Further, people who belong to a religion or ‘spiritual’ movement/organisation aren’t necessarily spiritual or even moral.
If we accept the teaching that within each person there is that something (call it soul, higher mind or whatever) which links us to a higher wisdom and a universal essence in which we all partake and which is our true nature, then it’s not too strange an idea to consider that it is not the outward circumstances or traditional labels that determine whether a person is spiritual or not. As Ram very nicely put it in an earlier post, “Plato says Justice subsists in the soul. Which means it is the Law of our Being, not outside of us.”
So each of us has the potential to respond (consciously or unconsciously) to those promptings that come from within and which lead us to question what is truly good and just in the world.
Peter January 22, 2019 at 4:41 pm #7628
That’s an interesting question, Barbara. It lead me to wonder ‘can there be harmony where there is no differentiation or manifestation?’ To put it slightly differently, is diversity a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for the existence of harmony?
Peter January 20, 2019 at 2:00 pm #7619
Perhaps we could add that the Law of Karma is not presented to us as a law which judges our moral acts, motives and intentions as either good or bad. It is simply the Law of Harmony and Equilibrium. It is through our own volitions that we create the chain of causes and effects which stretch before us. The Law of Karma does not punish us because we stray from the path of altruism any more than the Law of gravity punishes us when we stray from the path uphill, lose our footing and fall to the ground below. HPB even goes so far as to say that Karma does not act, as found in this interesting dialogue with her students:
Mr. B. Keightley: It is true to say it [Karma] acts with intelligence
Mme. Blavatsky: It does not act. It is our actions that act, and that awaken into all kinds of influences. Look here, if you say that Karma acts and you say it has intelligence, immediately you suggest the idea of a personal god. It is not so, because Karma does not see and Karma does not watch, and does not repent as the Lord God repented. Karma is a universal law, immutable and changeless.
Mr. B. Keightley: But you cannot conceive of a law which does not act.
Mme. Blavatsky: Well, I say it does not act. In my conception, it does not act. Well, Karma does not act any more than water drowns you.
Mr. B. Keightley: But water does drown you.
Mme. Blavatsky: Water does not drown you. You drown yourselves in the water. Don’t go into the water and you won’t get drowned.
(SD Dialogues/Commentaries; Meeting June 6th 1889)
Peter January 20, 2019 at 1:25 pm #7618
Gerry, I suspect the truth is that beyond generalities we know very little about Karma. It may be useful to look at how HPB describes it in the Secret Doctrine:
‘Karma is a word of many meanings, and has a special term for almost every one of its aspects. It means, as a synonym of sin, the performance of some action for the attainment of an object of worldly, hence selfish, desire, which cannot fail to be hurtful to somebody else. Karman is action, the Cause; and Karma again is “the law of ethical causation”; the effect of an act produced egotistically, when the great law of harmony depends on altruism.’
(SD II 302 fn)
The last line in the above passage gives us a clue as to the nature of Karma. It is the ‘great law of harmony.’ Interestingly, in the Mahatma Letters to Sinnett, the Mahatma states, “we recognise but one law in the Universe, the law of harmony, of perfect EQUILIBRIUM.” (Letter no. 22, Barker ed.). So, Karma appears to be the Law of laws whether these be spiritual (metaphysical) or material (physical) laws.
The implication in the passage from the SD, above, is that our intentions and motives act as causes on their own level or plane, so to speak. And these produce effects on that level or plane reaching beyond the immediate results that follow from our actions. HPB gives an example in the Key to Theosophy along the lines of when a stone is dropped in a pond, equilibrium is only restored when the energy set in motion finally all converges back onto the originating point. Whether or not this is a fact it creates a picture of how we might think of Karma as the law of ethical causation. Sooner or later the disturbance to the harmony of the whole created by our moral acts and intentions will return back to us for resolution. This is why it is said that through our motives and intentions we are now creating the conditions (positive or negative) for future incarnation as well as reaping the karmic effects (positive or negative) from past lives.
I don’t think we need to say that Karma is a metaphysical law because it is a spiritual law. It depends on how we are using the term ’spiritual’. I just happen to be using it that way in my writing to refer to those laws immediately related to first principles and the Absolute Unity which is the ground of all existence and being(s).
Peter January 17, 2019 at 3:01 pm #7610
Here are some opening thoughts, Gerry. Other people may want to add to or improve on them.
When we talk about Ethics we are, in large part, referring to judgements we make about human actions concerning our treatment of others (human, animal or nature in general). We don’t tend to raise ethical questions with regards to how other kingdoms of nature treat each other. Ethical judgements consist of values: ‘good and bad’, moral and immoral, just and unjust.
We don’t have to look far around the world or back in history to see examples where what is termed ‘morally good’ and ‘morally bad’ varies according to country/culture as well as varying across time. I’m sure the reader can find her or his own examples in this respect. This has lead people over the centuries to debate whether this moral code is something created and adapted by human beings in the form of traditions, social and cultural norms etc, or, whether it is something that exists in nature in its own right? Theists, in turn, argue that the basis of all moral codes rests upon God’s will (i.e. commandments) or as outlined in various religious scriptures said to convey God’s word. The which is good is what God wills according to this view. Atheists, who seem just as able to live by a moral code as do theists, may well argue that humans beings are able to act rationally and morally by determining values of good and bad, just and unjust, without the need to believe in a God.
A persistent question in ethical philosophy is whether a moral code, at least one of unchanging core values, exists in the universe in its own right independent of the differing views and judgements on what is ethical or unethical of human beings? After all, some people might say, the laws of nature consist of predictable physical causes and effects, not moral rights and wrongs.
Theosophy looks beyond the physical laws of nature, socio-cultural norms and the idiosyncrasies of a so called Creator. It proposes a meta-physical reality underpinning all life, namely, that the universe and everything in it are one with the Absolute Unity or deific essence (Plato called this deific essence, the Good). Theosophy asserts that there are spiritual laws in Nature, not just physical laws, one of the most significant being the Law of Karma. These laws reflect and uphold the harmony which has its source in the Absolute Unity of All. Ethical action is action that is in harmony with those spiritual (metaphysical) laws.
Peter January 7, 2019 at 6:49 pm #7583
That’s an interesting question, Gerry. I’m not sure there is an obstacle to thinking analogically given that people use it in almost every sphere of life and field of knowledge. Perhaps the obstacle arises when it comes to what areas of study that analogical thinking should be applied. For example, someone who doubts the reality of any metaphysical truths is unlikely to see the value of ‘as above, so below’, yet they may well use analogy on an everyday basis to understand or explain, say, scientific ideas and principles.
Yes, we could say that analogy is an aid to intuition. It’s also an aid to rational thought. In a way, it allows rational thought and intuition to work together and supplement each other. In some cases, for example, we may not be able to make use of analogy and correspondence until we have at least a reasonable mental grasp of the subject matter under study. As HPB wrote in her Preface to The Key to Theosophy, ‘To the mentally lazy or obtuse, Theosophy must remain a riddle.’ At the same time, the use of analogy and correspondence can lift rational thought out of the merely linear mode of thinking and logic by providing a depth and breadth to our endeavours at understanding.
Peter January 7, 2019 at 11:09 am #7577
Happy New Year to you and all.
Om Tat Sat is a mantra which, when translated, expresses something along the lines of ’That’ (Tat) is the highest reality. The interpretations vary according to the text and tradition in which it is used.
‘Thou are That’ is the meaning/translation of one of the four major mahavakyas ‘Tat tvam asi’ associated with the Chandokya Upanishad.
Peter August 14, 2018 at 4:53 pm #7317
Hello James – I see it differently to your good self, namely that that particular passage from the Mahatma Letters refers to much more than the god of the churches who forgives us our sins. The interested reader might care to read Mahatma Letter no. 10 in full alongside Subba Row’s article ‘Personal and Impersonal God’ (in ‘Five Years of Theosophy) to appreciate the underlying metaphysical basis in Theosophy and the Arhat tradition that Mahatma KH seeks to explain. The Mahatma rejects the existence of either a personal or an impersonal god. But even if that quote from the ML referred only to a personal god who forgives our sins it would still be relevant to our passage from Hassidic Judaism posted by Moderator. As far as I know, the Hassidic Jew does not view the male God that s/he prays to and worships as referring to the Monad, Atman or an impersonal god & so on.. Ramprakash raises a good point when saying we need to know what is meant by the term ‘God’ whenever it is used, and this reflects the aim of my initial question.
Whether we should take the Iswara of the Yoga Sutras or even the Divine Monad (Atma-Buddhi) to be God is yet another question and is still in the realm of the exoteric, I would say. The Mahatma writes in the above mentioned letter that “Iswara is the effect of Avidya and Maya, ignorance based upon the great delusion.’ This is congruent with what we find in the Secret Doctrine, which states:
‘The Logos, or both the unmanifested and the manifested Word, is called by the Hindus, Iswara, “the Lord,” though the Occultists give it another name. Iswara, say the Vedantins, is the highest consciousness in nature. “This highest consciousness,” answer the Occultists, “is only a synthetic unit in the world of the manifested Logos — or on the plane of illusion; for it is the sum total of Dhyan-Chohanic consciousnesses.” “Oh, wise man, remove the conception that not-Spirit is Spirit,” says Sankarâchârya. Atma is not-Spirit in its final Parabrahmic state, Iswara or Logos is Spirit; or, as Occultism explains, it is a compound unity of manifested living Spirits, the parent-source and nursery of all the mundane and terrestrial monads, plus their divine reflection, which emanate from, and return into, the Logos, each in the culmination of its time.’ (SD I 573)
We might see a relationship between the Samkhya philosophy (of which the Yoga Sutras appears to be a systemisation of its tenets and practices) and the Occult view expressed above. The Samkhya philosophy advocates Reality as a form of metaphysical dualism made up of Purusha and Prakriti (spirit and matter). Purusha is not to be seen as a single entity but as a plurality of purushas. Perhaps, as in the passage above from the SD, we could call it a compound unity of living spirits or monads or dhyanis. In the Yoga Sutras Isvara is described, not as God, but as ‘a special kind of purusha’ (I.iv). The interested student may wish to explore whether this special kind of purusha might be related to the Star-Angel or Dhyani-Buddha mentioned in the Secret Doctrine:
‘The star under which a human Entity is born, says the Occult teaching, will remain for ever its star, throughout the whole cycle of its incarnations in one Manvantara. But this is not his astrological star. The latter is concerned and connected with the personality, the former with the INDIVIDUALITY. The ‘Angel’ of that Star, or the Dhyani-Buddha will be either the guiding or simply the presiding “Angel” so to say, in every new rebirth of the monad, which is part of his own essence, though his vehicle, man, may remain forever ignorant of this fact. The adepts have each their Dhyani-Buddha, their elder “twin Soul,” and they know it, calling it “Father-Soul,” and “Father-Fire”. It is only at the last and supreme initiation, however, that they learn it when placed face to face with the bright “Image.”’ (SD I 572-573)
There’s a lot to unravel here, of course. To my mind the term ‘God’ hinders rather than helps. But coming back to where we started, with that hassidic quote, perhaps we could reframe it as ‘inner guidance dwells where we let it in’.
Peter July 24, 2018 at 10:00 pm #7275
I’m not sure I’ve put it very well and the above may not be clear.
The ratio between 27 and 9 is the same as the ratio between 9 and 3 because the ratio is 3 in each case. This is just an example showing how the ratio between two sets of numbers can be the same. It’s not the divine proportion.
In the divine proportion the ratio is always 1.618, represented by the greek letter phi ‘φ’ .
In the line ‘a + b’ (see previous post) where a + b = 100 the only way to divide the line into two segments that reflect the divine proportion is when:
a = 61.8
b = 38.2
The ratio of 100 to 61.8 = 1.618*
The ratio of 61.8 to 38.2 = 1.618
(*Actually, to get 100 rather than 99.99 you need to multiply 61.8 by the full number of phi which is 1.6180339887498948….)
To put it slightly differently: in a divided line where ‘a’ is the longer (greater) part and ‘b’ is the smaller (lesser) part then divine proportion is said to occur when the relationship between the whole and the greater is the same ratio as that between the greater and the lesser.
Peter July 24, 2018 at 2:48 pm #7273
I’ve inserted a couple of small pictures in my post below but I’m not sure how well they will come out. The may not display properly in messages sent from the list and only appear properly (if at all!) in the online post. Here goes:
The ‘divine proportion’ is also referred to in mathematics as the the golden mean or golden ratio. The use of the term proportion refers to the ratio between two sets of numbers, or lines, or areas etc. For example: the ratio between 27 and 9 is the same as the ratio between 9 and 3.
Here’s what it means in words without the numbers: take a line divided into two parts, a long part ‘a’ and a short part ‘b’. We have at least two ratios to consider. The ratio of the long part ‘a’ to the short part ‘b’ and the ratio of the total length of the line (i.e. ‘a+b’) to the long part ‘a’. In the golden mean the ratio of total length of the line (‘a+b’) to ‘a’ is the same as the ratio of ‘a’ to ‘b’.
This can be expressed as a+b/a = a/b.
For the golden mean that ratio number turns out to be 1.618 represented by the greek letter phi. (It’s actually has a infinite number of numbers after the decimal point eg. 1.6180339887498948….)
If ‘a+b’ = 100 then:
‘a’ = 61.8
‘b’ = 38.2
When a rectangle (say a picture frame or size of a building) is made up of, say, the size 100 to 61.8 (width and height or vice versa) then that reflects the divine proportion or golden mean. Obviously, the actual lengths of height and width can vary so long as the proportion between them of 1.618 remains.
Peter February 26, 2018 at 2:55 pm #6934
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.
Peter February 24, 2018 at 11:58 pm #6931
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 February 24, 2018 at 11:52 pm #6930
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 February 19, 2018 at 1:00 pm #6914
“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?’)
Peter February 14, 2018 at 5:02 pm #6903
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)
‘“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.
Peter February 14, 2018 at 2:15 pm #6902
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.
Peter February 2, 2018 at 2:31 pm #6861
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?
Peter February 1, 2018 at 11:44 am #6856
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)
Peter January 31, 2018 at 6:56 pm #6854
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.
Peter January 31, 2018 at 12:06 pm #6853
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 January 19, 2018 at 8:11 am #6825
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)
‘…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 January 18, 2018 at 6:37 pm #6820
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)
Peter January 18, 2018 at 5:48 pm #6819
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 January 10, 2018 at 3:05 pm #6764
Hi Barbara – yes, good point. What we see around us are people, including ourselves, largely propelled and motivated by selfishness. It’s clear from the dialogues he wrote that Plato also saw the same kind of thing around him in ancient Athens and further afield. So what was he getting at?
Plato appears to seriously believe that even when people desire ‘the bad’ – those things that will sooner or later bring them harm and misery – they do so believing those things will bring them benefit (the good) and happiness. Is Plato saying anything different here that we don’t find in, say, buddhism, I wonder. Buddhism tells us that out of ignorance we crave and grasp after things we believe will bring us happiness but it just leads to suffering and rebirth? In the Symposium, Plato seems to suggest that beneath all our longings is a desire or love for that which is truly Beauty, but mostly (perhaps even always), due to ignorance we look for it in the wrong place, namely in the every changing and impermanent empirical realm of the senses. Plato wants us to realise the ‘good’ qualities the empirical realm appears to possess are simply reflections of the Forms in the Ideal Realm. He is clearly an Idealist from that point of view.
To put it slightly differently Plato appears to say that the objects of our desire are merely symbols of something deeper or higher belonging the Soul’s yearning. The notion in the Symposium that Poverty is the mother of Love and Love is therefore alway poor suggests, perhaps, that we need to become lovers, not possessors. For example, we need to love learning rather than desire to acquire knowledge. That Resource is the father of Love suggests, perhaps, that we have the resources within us to take up Love’s search for that which is true and everlasting.
In the Symposium Plato draws our attention away from our rather romanticised ideas of love as a universal force that will save us and pull us out of the hole we are in. We have to give birth to Love within ourselves for ourselves before we can place even one foot on the Ladder leading to the highest mysteries.
Peter January 10, 2018 at 1:19 pm #6762
A bit of a late response, James – apologies. Your link between the birth of Love on Aphrodite’s birthday (in Plato’s Symposium) and the birth of 3rd root race born under Venus, when the Solar angels awakened the spark of mind in animal man is interesting. For we find in the Secret Doctrine the suggestion that both Manas and Kama were brought into being in the human constitution by the Solar Angels. As HPB writes:
‘For, to complete the septenary man, to add to his three lower principles and cement them with the spiritual Monad which could never dwell in such a form otherwise than in an absolutely latent state – two connecting principles are needed: Manas and Kama, This requires a living spiritual Fire of the middle principle from the fifth and third states of Pleroma. But this fire is the possession of the Triangles, not of the (perfect) Cubes, which symbolize the Angelic Beings..’ (SD II 79)
Later on in the work we find it stated again that Kama, the vehicle of desire evolved only in the 3rd Root Race (SD II 116) What was the first manifestation of that desire, presumable still yet pure as the 3rd root race humanity were at that time still ‘free from sin’? Perhaps one answer is in the passage I already quoted in my earlier post, one worth giving again, at least in part:
‘When, moved by the law of Evolution, the Lords of Wisdom infused into him the spark of consciousness, the first feeling it awoke to life and activity was a sense of solidarity, of one-ness with his spiritual creators. As the child’s first feeling is for its mother and nurse, so the first aspirations of the awakening consciousness in primitive man were for those whose element he felt within himself, and who yet were outside, and independent of him. DEVOTION arose out of that feeling, and became the first and foremost motor in his nature..’ (SD II 210)
The other passage from the SD I quoted earlier made a connection between the Solar Angels, pranidhana (devotion) and the Yoga Sutras attributed to Patanjali:
‘The esoteric name of these “ Solar Angels ” is, literally, the “ Lords ” ( Nath ) of “persevering ceaseless devotion” ( pranidhâna ). Therefore they of the fifth principle ( Manas ) seem to be connected with, or to have originated the system of the Yogis who make of pranidhâna their fifth observance (see Yoga Shastra, II., 32.)’ (SD II 88)
The initial question I raised is how might we understand the notion of ‘Devotion to Iswara’ in Patanjali’s Sutras. Does it simply refer to God as many commentators suggest or might there be another meaning? One of the traditional views as to the origin of the Yoga Sutras of Patantajali is that they were meant as a systemisation of the teaching within the Samkhya Philosophy. The Samkhya Philosophy of Kapila does not appear to speculate upon the existence of God or of no God. The two-fold ultimate reality in Samkhya consists of Purusha and Prakriti. Even Purusha appears to be a multiplicity of individual purushas, similar to our multiplicity of individual monads in Theosophy. The Theistic element was added to the Samkhya philosophy much later, just as it was added later in Advaita Vedanta. So, keeping the original teachings of Samkhya philosophy in mind, when Patanjali says that Isvara is a special or particular kind of purusha, what might that mean?
‘Isvara is a particular purusha, who is untouched by the afflictions of life,
actions and the results and impressions produced by these actions.’
(I:24; trans. Taimni)
Might we see a link here with the passages above from the Secret Doctrine? And how might it link with the daimon on tutelary spirit (Love) of which Diotima says there are many in Plato’s Symposium? These are just a few of the questions on devotion, love and desire that come to mind as I reflect on this topic of love and contemplation.
Peter November 30, 2017 at 4:14 pm #6611
Hi Gerry – that’s an interesing question. One of the recurring themes we find in Advaita and in Shankaracharya’s commentaries is that karma (action) does not bring about Liberation or Moksha. The fundamental tenet of Advaita is that the supreme Brahman (Parabrahm) or One Reality is non-dual, hence the term advaita (‘not two’). Separateness, duality, subject and object, individual soul as distinct from Brahman & so on may be the way things appear but they are not the way things truly are. All is Brahman. The Self or Atman is not other than Brahman; there is no ‘other’. Hence the phrase often used to refer to Atman/Brahman – ‘there is nothing for it to know and no one to know it.’ Awakening to Reality comes from the removal of Ignorance. Knowledge ( jnana ) alone destroys ignorance. Karma, works such as those described in the passage you quoted, is important for purifying the mind (citta-suddhi) but only Jnana leads to realisation of the Self as Brahman, according to Advaita tradition.
Karma is about cause and effect and involves ‘a doer’ (separate ego). For as long as we identify with being a ‘doer’ we are still clouded by ignorance. Karma, even good karma, produces a chain of cause and effect and thus birth in future cycles, reincarnations, for the doer. According to Advaita, as a result of following the scriptures, sacrificing to the gods, worshipping divinities etc etc one may spend many aeons in bliss in the higher realms, but this isn’t liberation. Once the ‘energy’ of that karma has run its course the ‘ego’ is drawn back into cycle of birth and death once again. In other words “Even though” these may be good acts etc etc.
The paradox appears to be that we already are what we seek. Jnana reveals it. The advaitee may well assert that Liberation is non other than the Self (Atman). It is our true nature; it is not something we produce, get, acquire or become. Action and works (karma) don’t affect it, lead to it or produce it.
HPB implies something similar in her article ‘On the Mystery of the Buddha’ when she says that nothing goes into Nirvana that isn’t there already (It’s in CW XIV but I can’t put my finger on the exact reference page at present).
The buddhists of the mahayana school have a prayer which also appears to resonates with the above:
‘Here there is nothing to remove and nothing to add;
the one who realises the truth of this is liberated.’
There’s also a statement about Karma and the Monad in the Key to Theosophy that appears to accord with the Advaita doctrine:
‘Neither Atma nor Buddhi are ever reached by Karma..’ (Key to Theo, p135 original ed)
Peter September 21, 2017 at 11:43 am #6327
I was responding to what you said earlier, namely, that the English language in particular is based upon commerce and material things. What you are saying above has a different emphasis, namely that the English language has a rich history of poetry, prose and literature, but many people are not aware of that aspect of the language. That may or may not be true. I’m not sure how we can determine what people might be aware of just on the basis of their using English for commercial purposes. I don’t personally know a single person who only uses English for its commercial use, so my experience is necessarily limited.
Just as a by-the-way, English is used as the lingua franca (common language) across the globe in science, medicine, technology, health, academics, politics and education. So, if we also take into account the growing amount of literature (including poetry, spiritual and ancient philosophy & so on) from around the world that is translated into English we might think it’s not doing too bad, despite the obvious limitations. 🙂
Peter September 20, 2017 at 1:50 pm #6321
“Does speech create reality or represent reality?”
That’s a very interesting question, Pavel – one deserving of more attention. The term ‘reality’ and all that it implies might make it a difficult question to answer. Perhaps a preliminary question could be, ‘To what extent does speech (language) create the world of our experience or simply represent it?’
Peter September 20, 2017 at 1:47 pm #6320
English is sometimes referred to as the language of commerce and trade not because that’s all it’s good for or because it is a language built upon commerce, but largely because english has become a global language. Today it is taught as a second language in many countries around the world providing a common means of communication between peoples of many different languages and cultures. This has allowed a rich cross cultural exchange beyond just trade and commerce – one only has to consider the extent of spiritual and classical literature, ancient and modern, from around the world available today in english, despite the difficulties involved in translating specialised terminology between any two languages.
Yes, of course english, like spanish, italian, french etc etc has its limitations. All language appears to be limited when it comes to exploring the nature of spirituality and metaphysics. No doubt this applied to what we now call ‘ancient’ languages. As the Taitreya Upanishad says, ‘words turn back along with the mind’ when approaching the bliss of Brahman (II-ix-1).
Our primary limitation may have more to do with our lack of understanding and unwillingness to explore rather than whatever language we speak.
Peter August 28, 2017 at 2:45 pm #6221
Barbara – yes, the context of terms and of quotes is everything. As students of theosophy we know this is particularly important when studying HPB’s works, as the meaning of identical terms used by her often varies according to context. Yet we tend not to do this when looking at quotes drawn from different traditions.
Your beautiful quote from Shenxui is a good example of yet another meaning applied to the term mind. Shenxui provided this quote in response to Grand-Master Hung-jen (Hongren) who asked his disciples (of which Shenxui was one) to look into the nature of their own mind and present a verse which showed they understood its true nature. Hung-jen was the fifth Grand Master and he had announced that he would pass on the robe of succession (dharma robe) to which ever of his disciples showed they had really understood their own true nature.
In the Chan tradition Mind can also refer to Buddha-nature – the real nature of our individual mind. All beings already have enlightenment or Buddha-nature within them, which would reveal itself if only we removed that which obscures its nature, just as the mirror’s nature is to illuminate and does so if no dust is allowed to cling to it. At least this was the purport of Shenxiu’s verse, which it seems was left in view of the other disciples after it was viewed by Hung-jen, who thought that Shenxiu’s verse showed that while his understanding was very good, he still did not fully grasp the essential nature.
According to the story, Hui-neng (another disciple of the Grandmaster) came across Shenxiu’s verse one night and asked for a verse of his own to be placed next to it:
There is no Body-tree,
Nor stand of mirror-bright,
Since all is void,
Where can the dust alight?
According to tradition, at least as told by the followers of Hui-neng, Hung-jen passed the robe of Dharma onto to Hui-neng. Historically it seems that after the fifth Grandmaster, Chan split into two major schools. The Northern school under Shenxui, the Southern under Hui-neng.
The crux of these seemingly different approaches shows that Mind according to Chan can also refers to the underlying principle or essence of everything. Hui-neng’s view is that since everything arises from Mind or Buddha nature, which is essentially pure and undefiled, why is there the need to change or brush off what arises from it? To think there is something other than buddha-nature is to fall into a grip of dualism, subject and object & so on. Hui-neng’s approach appears to rest on the third line of his verse – ‘since all is void’, but that’s another story which those interested might want to explore further on their own as this post as already got too long!
Peter August 28, 2017 at 12:29 pm #6220
Yes, it did sound somewhat rhetorical, Gerry. That wasn’t the aim. Sometimes I simply try to raise some questions that might be worth considering when we consider these kind of claims and metaphysical propositions in general. I hope other people might also want to reflect on those questions and add their own.
My own view is that if right deeds, thoughts and actions automatically results in magnetising the elementals and spiritualising our vestures, ‘giving them the capacity to ‘transmit influences from higher spheres’, then don’t worry about whether we should or shouldn’t self-magnetise. Just focus on right deeds, thoughts and actions and let what automatically follows unfold in its own way.
Peter August 26, 2017 at 2:39 pm #6209
I think for the purposes of these versus it’s just a very general use of the term, Barbara, to present the view that we are primarily responsible for our own suffering or happiness. We could link it directly back to the Four Noble Truths where the Buddha indicates the causes of suffering (such as craving for sensual delights & so on) and the causes of freedom from suffering (2nd and 3rd Noble Truths). In other words, the origin of suffering and liberation from suffering is within us and not in any external factors.
So, in the Dhammapada verses under discussion we find this stated in the various correct translations (references already given in previous post):
– ‘Mental phenomena are preceded by mind and have mind as a master’
– ‘Fore-run by mind are mental states, ruled by mind made of mind’
– ‘All phenomena of existence have mind as their precursor, mind as their supreme leader, of mind they are made’
– ‘All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind’
Of course, the notion that the origin of suffering and liberation is within the mind and not in external factors also needed to be put into the context of karma and reincarnation. These three factors were brought together in the teachings on the Twelve Nidanas (links of causation) which provide the overview of how ignorance and craving lead to suffering, death and further births and so on.
Common sense shows us that one thought follows another, certain mental states lead to happiness and others lead to suffering. But nobody believes an alcoholic becomes the drink she constantly thinks about and craves, or that a man becomes the large amounts of money that preoccupies his daily thoughts.
Buddhist theories of mind are fairly complex. In the Abhidharmakosa, for example, we find that there are main minds and secondary minds; six perceptual main minds (5 sensory and 1 mental) and one conceptual main mind. There are fifty one mental factors in six different groups. Mental states or mental phenomena are products or aspects of the main mind in conjunction with mental factors. Presumably this is why in the translations above we find it stated that ‘mental phenomena have mind as their master’, or, ‘fore-run by mind are mental states’. Main minds are neutral and uncoloured, but that neutral nature of mind can be obscured by mental states.
In the Mahayana schools this neutral state of Mind is described more positively, namely ‘Clear and Knowing’ – these being the two aspects of the minds nature which cannot be destroyed. The knowing aspect of mind is obvious; the clarity aspect refers to the space like unobstructed nature of consciousness.
Peter August 26, 2017 at 11:12 am #6208
Hello Pavel – yes, it certainly requires a multifaceted and systematic approach, as you rightly say.
On a very minor point, remembering isn’t a practice in the Platonic tradition. It’s really used as a rational argument for the soul’s prior existence to this life.
Peter August 26, 2017 at 10:19 am #6207
Can you say a bit more, Gerry? ‘Yes’ on its own doesn’t really explain why you think it’s so.
The underlying thoughts behind my own question are along the following lines: do we not strive to do the right thing (whether in thought, feeling or action) because it’s the right thing to do and not because of the side effect it will have produce in us? In other words, should I help my fellow beings because its the right thing to do, or, because helping them is a means of self magnetising the elementals and ultimately receiving influences from higher spheres?
Peter August 25, 2017 at 5:05 pm #6202
“To self-magnetize, which is an occult art, is to choose wisely those thoughts, those feelings, those actions which will spiritualize our vestures giving them the capacity to transmit influences from higher spheres.”
Perhaps what’s missing in the above and about self-magnetisation is choosing and cultivating right thought, right feeling and right action for their own sake. Do we seek to develop an altruistic approach to life in order to spiritualise our vestures and receive influences from higher spheres? If so, is our intention still altruistic?
Peter August 25, 2017 at 12:09 pm #6201
Gerry, sorry to contradict. I don’t think that’s quite what the Dhammapada is saying. ‘What we think is what we become’ or ‘you are what you think’ with its slight variations is a popular phrase used by theosophists and spiritual seekers. I wonder, how does this fit along side that other statement, ’you are not your thoughts’, which is equally well used?
The source for ‘you are what you think’ etc is often given as the Buddha’s teaching in the first two verses of the Dhammapada just as you have done. Teachers such as Eknath Easwaran and Osho render the first verse of the Dhammada in that way as does the Theosophy Company translation:
‘Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves. (Easwaran)
‘We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts [etc..]’ (Osho)
‘1. All that we are is the result of what we have thought: all that we are is founded on our thoughts and formed of our thoughts [etc…]’ (Theosophy Company)
But do the above renderings of the Dhammapada accurately convey what the Buddha is recorded as saying and meaning in the original scripture?
Translations of the Dhammapada by buddhists and pali scholars show a different meaning, namely, the Buddha is saying that our experience (suffering and happiness in particular) is fundamentally determined by the mind. That’s quite different from saying we are or become what we think, a phrase that does not appear in the original scripture. For example:
‘All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind. Speak or act with a corrupted mind and suffering follows as the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox. All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind. Speak or act with a peaceful mind and happiness follows like a never departing shadow.’ (Fronsdal)
‘Mental phenomena (are) preceded by mind, (have) mind as a master, (are) produced by mind. If (one) speaks or acts with a corrupted mind then suffering follows him [etc…] Mental phenomena (are) preceded by mind, (have) mind as a master, (are) produced by mind. If (one) speaks or acts with a a virtuous mind then happiness follows [etc…]’
(from K.T.S Sarao translation with word for word transliteration of the original Pali. See also H. Kaviratna’s almost identical translation in link provided by Gerry.)
‘Fore-run by mind are mental states, ruled by mind, made by mind [etc…]’ (Roebuck)
Peter August 24, 2017 at 10:46 am #6198
Pavel – that’s partly why I raised the question re clarification. Since there are so many components of training and development in common across many areas of our lives or in simply achieving our material wants like sports cars and lots of money (to use your example) , what is it that actually constitutes the education and training that makes for spiritual practice? Are the means the same but we simply choose different goals or develop different wants?
Peter July 18, 2017 at 5:52 pm #6043
Gerry – yes, it makes sense to look at other ways of expressing the dichotomy of good and evil.
Perhaps part of the problem here is that terms like Good and Evil tend to reflect moral judgements with regards to the actions or motives of sentient beings, whereas terms such as Spirit and Matter, Form and Formless etc are descriptions of the constitutional make up of entities and ‘the universe’. Such descriptions, in themselves, are morally neutral. A further explanation is required to link the constitutional make up of entities and universe in general to the arising of good and evil.
The challenge for spiritual traditions particularly is to explain the origin of good and evil, especially the latter. Different traditions tackle that in different ways depending on their metaphysical underpinnings e.g. a creator God; a fundamental Divine Principle; beginning less Samsara & so on.
Traditions such as buddhism, which postulate a beginningless Samsara and no eternal changeless principle, have an easier job explaining good and evil in terms of ignorance and grasping, for example. Spiritual traditions which propose an underlying Divine Principle or Source whose nature is Goodness, Harmony, Absolute Wisdom & so on, have a more difficult task in explaining how Evil or any form of disharmony might arise either from or within an Absolute Good or Absolute Harmony harmony. Some explanations succeed better than others, but all have problems to resolve.
Peter July 14, 2017 at 9:10 am #6011
“I was just trying to drive this point home.” – Sure – no problem, Pavel. I just wondered if you might have been questioning a suggestion somewhere along the thread that there was Absolute Evil in Theosophy.
Agreed – your questions re the claims of Neo-Platonism are exactly the kinds of questions that the metaphysical system of every religion including Theosophy has to provide an answer for. In every religion and spiritual tradition there’s an obvious tension between metaphysical claims about Reality and our everyday experience of the world.
I was exploring some of these ‘typical questions that arise’ with some friends recently – for example:
If everything is One and the One (or God) is Good, how does such a metaphysical claim account for the evil and wickedness we actually observe/experience in the world; how does it account for the suffering that is simply a part of everyday life? (Does a hierarchical system of hypostases or levels of manifestation fully explain the existence of evil or wickedness, or does it just raise further difficult questions, which in turn require an explanation & so on?**(see note below)
If the Ultimate Reality is Absolute Wisdom and Non-Dual how does ignorance, illusion and diversity ever arise in it in the first place? In a metaphysical system claiming non-duality the effect can never be different from the cause, or if it can this creates a problem that needs to be addressed in some way, for this immediately introduces duality where non is claimed to exist.
If the claim is that all sentient beings are already one with the Source and this is the true underlying nature of each being, and if the claim is that every thing eventually is withdrawn back into that Source then what is the purpose of the spiritual path? Does it make any difference to each sentient being or to the underlying Reality (with which we are already said to be at-one) whether we tread that path or not? How would that particular tradition with those views explain this?
There’s a long list of questions – all of them valid – one could ask varying with each type of metaphysical claim. Among my friends we noted that we can ask such questions cynically with the underlying aim to devalue a spiritual tradition which is not our own, or, we can ask such questions sympathetically and in the spirit of generosity with a genuine desire to fully grasp the tenets of that system and the underlying Reality it affirms exsts.
Just as a related BTW, I read recently in one of the Dalai Lamas’ books, ‘Becoming Enlightened’, that we shouldn’t place our faith in any system of belief that cannot withstand analysis. He was commentating on Tsong Khapa’s work, the Lam Rim, where Tsong Khapa extols the virtue of analysis in meditation and ‘faith based on reasoning’ as a prerequisite to a serious endeavour on Buddhist Path.
(**Note: for example, as students of theosophy, hinduism or buddhism we might accept the Law of Karma and Reincarnation as an necessary part of the explanation of suffering in this life, while a non believer in these might see Karma and Reincarnation not so much as explanations but simply further metaphysical claims that require proof before they can even be considered as explanations. )
Peter July 13, 2017 at 2:07 pm #6004
Hi Pavel – I don’t believe HPB or Theosophy does advocate a notion of Absolute Evil. What are you thinking of here?
I’m not sure that Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists are saying that ‘ultimately, everything is Good,’ though the The One is both the source and support for everything. If we take Plotinus’ view, we have the Three Hypostases and Matter. The three hypostases are ‘the One (the Good)’, ‘the Intellect’, and ‘the Soul’. For Plotinus the One is also the Good because he believed perfect Unity was also perfect Goodness. That Unity becomes less perfect during each ‘step down’ through the levels or hypostases.
Imperfect things and embodied souls are good or just to the extent that they participate in The Good or The Just (or whatever Form supplies their nature). The lack of perfection or the lack of Good is primarily what constitutes Evil, for Plotinus. That lack always shows up in contrast to The Good, it’s not something in its own right. Here are some interesting passages from towards the end of Ennead One, the section on Evil:
‘To deny Evil a place among realities is necessarily to do away with the Good as well, and even to deny the existence of anything desirable; it is to deny desire, avoidance and all intellectual act; for desire has Good for its object, aversion looks to Evil, all intellectual act, all Wisdom, deals with Good and Bad, and is itself one of the things that are good.
‘There must then be The Good – good unmixed – and the Mingled Good and Bad, and the Rather Bad than Good, this last ending with the Utterly Bad..’
‘Evil is not alone: by virtue of the nature of Good, the power of Good, it is not Evil only: it appears, necessarily, bound around with bonds of Beauty, like some captive bound in fetters of gold; and beneath these it is hidden so that, while it must exits, it may not be seen by the gods, and that men need not always have evil before their eyes, but that when it comes before them they may still be not destitute of Images of Good and Beautiful for their Remembrance.’
Peter July 12, 2017 at 12:13 pm #5979
Hello Barbara – just some thoughts on your fist question (#5975). It’s not unusual in Hindu philosophy to find that manas proceeds from ahamkara. In the Samkhya philosophical system, for example, they have the two fundamental principles of Spirit (Purusha) and Matter (Prakriti). From Prakriti evolve all the other principles, the first being Mahat from which comes Ahamkara, from which comes Manas along with the organs of sense and action; the subtle and gross elements. There are some variations in the literature but the order of Ahamkara followed by Manas is constant.
In the Secret Doctrine, HPB argues that this is the correct order when quoting Medhātithi, a commentator on the Laws of Manu correcting the following mis-translation of the latter by orientalist:
(14.) “ From Self (âtmanah) he created mind, (1) which is and is not ; (2) and from mind, Ego-ism (Self-Consciousness) the ruler ; (3) the Lord.”
‘The mind is Manas, Medhâtithi, the commentator, justly observes here that it is the reverse of this and shows already interpolation and rearranging ; for it is Manas that springs from Ahamkara or (Universal) Self-Consciousness, as Manas in the microcosm springs from Mahat, or Maha-Buddhi (Buddhi, in man). For Manas is dual, and as shown and translated by Colebrooke, “ is serving both for sense and action, is an organ by affinity, being cognate with the rest.” “ The rest ” means, here, that Manas, our fifth principle (the fifth, because the body was named the first, which is the reverse of the true philosophical order)* is in affinity both with Atma-Buddhi and with the lower four principles. Hence, our teaching : namely, that Manas follows Atma- Buddhi to Devachan, and that the lower (dregs, the residue of) Manas remains with Kama rupa, in Limbus, or Kama-loka, the abode of the “ Shells.”’
(SD I 333-4)
Ahamakara or Ego-ism is often seen as something negative, associated with ignorance and personal selfishness. This is particularly the case when we consider the nature of manas linked with kama (kama-manas), which we associated with self interest, personal desire and egoism. However, the order of the principles outlined above and HPB’s definition of Ahamkara as (Universal) Self-Consciousness suggests that there is a spiritual aspect as well as a materialistic aspect of ahamkara depending on whether Manas tends towards Atma-Buddhi or the lower principles. In fact, in a footnote on the following page in the SD, HPB says that Ahamara has a triple nature:
‘Ahamkara, as universal Self-Consciousness, has a triple aspect, as also Manas. For this conception of “ I,” or one’s Ego, is either sattwa, “ pure quietude,” or appears as rajas, “ active,” or remains tamas, “ stagnant,” in darkness. It belongs to Heaven and Earth, and assumes the properties of either.’ (SD I 335)
This makes sense when we consider that from a theosophical perspective we speak of the personal ego (kama-manas) and the Spiritual Ego (Buddhi Manas). Ahamkara is defined as essentially a feeling of ‘I am-ness’ or ‘self-consciousness. Thus, the nature of the ego we create (form) for ourselves depends on whether it is heaven aspiring or of the earth earthy. Without self-consciousness how could we learn to be moral agents, to consciously work as co-workers with nature. Is it possible for the Realisation of ’That I am’ (Tat twam asi) without the initial awareness of ‘I am’? The process of ‘identification’ of consciousness, of the feeling of ‘I am’, perhaps plays an important part in this – is it with the part or with the Whole?
Peter July 3, 2017 at 12:20 pm #5934
I’m not familiar enough with Zoroastrian philosophy to make a useful comment on that score. As a general reply on good and evil, below is an extract from a post I made to one of our discussion groups here a few years ago when the topic arose. The questioner asked, “….could you give an example of an evil prototype in nature? Do you see these prototypes of good and evil as independent realities of duality or as the two sides of the same coin? Or would evil just be the misinterpretation of the good and thus have no side on the coin?” Below is the reply made at the time.
First, I would want to highlight the phrase ‘so called good and so called evil’ as I am sure these must be relative terms only. Secondly, the universe is said to be ‘worked and guided from within outwards . . . as above, so below, as in heaven so on earth’ (SD I 274) . So whatever happens on ‘earth’ must have a correspondence in ‘heaven’ in some form. Therefore, our acts of love and hate, creation and destruction, would necessarily have their roots in some more primal source or essence. That’s not to say the outward acts are identical to the primal source, nor simply reflections, rather that they are derived in some way from them. I believe there is support for this in the SD and Collected Writings. I’ve put just a couple of the passages below so that you and other members might judge for yourselves.
‘…if the homogeneous One and Absolute is no mere figure of speech, and if heterogeneity in its dualistic aspect, is its offspring – its bifurcous shadow or reflection – then even that divine Homogeneity must contain in itself the essence of both good and evil. If “God” is Absolute, Infinite, and the Universal Root of all and everything in Nature and its universe, whence comes Evil or D’Evil if not from the same “Golden Womb” of the absolute? Thus we are forced either to accept the emanation of good and evil, of Agathodæmon and Kakodæmon as offshoots from the same trunk of the Tree of Being, or to resign ourselves to the absurdity of believing in two eternal Absolutes!’ (SD I 411)
‘Nature is dual; there is a physical and material side, as there is a spiritual and moral side to it; and, there both good and evil in it, the latter the necessary shadow to its light. To force oneself upon the current of immortality, or rather to secure for oneself an endless series of rebirths as conscious individualities—says the Book of Khiu-ti, Volume XXXI, one must become a co-worker with nature, either for good or for bad, in her work of creation and reproduction, or in that of destruction.’ (CW III 297; bold emphasis was an underline in the original passage.)
‘Nature is as good a mother to the cruel bird of prey as she is to the harmless dove. Mother nature will punish her child, but since he has become her co-worker for destruction she cannot eject him. There are thoroughly wicked and depraved men, yet as highly intellectual and acutely spiritual for evil, as those who are spiritual for good.’ The Egos of these may escape the law of final destruction or annihilation for ages to come. That is what Éliphas Lévi means by becoming “immortal in evil,” ‘ (CW III 298)
The two references above are to adepts of both the right hand and left hand paths.
Peter June 26, 2017 at 8:56 pm #5894
Great passages, Pierre (your #5892) I’ve added some more for good measure.
‘Everything that is, was, and will be, eternally IS, even the countless forms, which are finite and perishable only in their objective, not in their ideal Form. They existed as Ideas, in the Eternity, and, when they pass away, will exist as reflections. Neither the form of man, nor that of any animal, plant or stone has ever been created, and it is only on this plane of ours that it commenced “ becoming,” i.e., objectivising into its present materiality, or expanding from within outwards, from the most sublimated and supersensuous essence into its grossest appearance.’ (SD I 282)
‘In the ABSOLUTE or Divine Thought everything exists and there has been no time when it did not so exist; but Divine Ideation is limited by the Universal Manvantaras.’ (Transactions of Blavatsky Lodge; February 14th, 1889)
‘The prototypes or ideas of things exist first on the plane of Divine eternal Consciousness and thence become reflected and reversed in the Astral Light, which also reflects on its lower individual plane the life of our Earth, recording it on its “tablets.” Therefore, is the Astral Light called illusion. It is from this that we, in our turn, get our prototypes. Consequently unless the Clairvoyant or SEER can get beyond this plane of illusion, he can never see the Truth, but will be drowned in an ocean of self-deception and hallucinations.’ (Transactions of Blavatsky Lodge; February 14th, 1889)
‘the Lotus plant exists not only as a miniature embryo in its seed (a physical characteristic), but its prototype is present in an ideal form in the Astral Light from “ Dawn ” to “ Night ” during the Manvantaric period, like everything else, as a matter of fact, in this objective Universe ; from man down to mite, from giant trees down to the tiniest blades of grass. All this, teaches the hidden Science, is but the temporary reflection, the shadow of the eternal ideal prototype in Divine Thought.’ (SD I 63)
Peter June 25, 2017 at 6:30 am #5889
Hi Pavel (your #5881) – yes, morphe also means form. What I was saying was that the terms Eidos and idéa (Form and Idea) together with their much broader and interlinked meanings which include species, kind, seeing, to know & so on may well have suited Plato’s metaphysical notions of the Intelligible Realm.
Socrates gives us a clue as to how we might begin to understand the universal Forms in the Intelligible realm and their many particular instances in the Sensible realm in Book X of The Republic. He says, ‘we customarily hypothesize a single Form in connection with each of the many things to which we apply that same name.” Socrates goes on to provide an everyday example – ‘there are many beds and tables but only two forms of such furniture, one of bed and one of table.’
The implication seems to be that general terms, such as dog, man, tree, mountain, etc are the names of, or at least refer to, Forms in the Ideal Realm. The same would apply to general terms such as triangle, round, equal, and of Beauty, Justice, Courage, Love & so on. In the sensible world we ‘see’ imperfect varieties, particulars, instances, images of the ‘underlying’ Form.
It’s unclear, though, whether it is literally the case that there is a Form for everything. For example, in ‘Parmenides’ the young Socrates denies there are Forms for such things as mud, dirt or hair and says he’s not sure if there are Forms for ‘man’, fire and water. Parmenides says of the young Socrates, he still has things to learn. But in the Dialogues overall, Socrates is very definite about Forms for Beautiful, Good, Justice & so on. The ‘Parmenides’ dialogue is unusual and raises some key questions about the theory of Forms.
Peter June 21, 2017 at 11:20 am #5868
Hi Pavel – a belated response, again! Re your #5850 on the meaning of Form and Ideas
It appears this was the original use of the words by Plato. According to scholars the Greek terms for Form and Idea are eidos and idéa respectively and have their roots in idein ‘to see’ and are related to eidenai ‘to know’ or see literally. The way they interlink in meaning may have suited Plato very well in what he want to convey, both about the Forms and about intuitive seeing or vision.
Nowadays we would most likely think of the term “form” as equivalent to “shape”. I think at the time of Plato and Aristotle that term meant something more like species or kind. For Aristotle, the Form of ‘Man’ included the essential kinds of things that defines a human being including its functions. A piece of clay can be made into the shape of a human being, but lacks all the other defining characteristics.
I think the scientifically trained mind is valuable. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t look for epistemological grounds in our immediate experience from Plato’s point of view, at least as far as I understand his thought. If we accept that the Ideas/Forms constitute the Archetypal realm on which the visible (sensory, sensible) world is based then it follows that the sensible realm and experience of it has the potentiality to provide us with intimations of its underlying ground of Being. It may only be a question of how we approach that experience. Add to this that Plato, through Socrates’ dialogues, points out in a number of places that all learning is recollection of things forgotten – hinting at reincarnation and also the Soul’s communication with the Forms on its own plane. Our sensory or immediate experience can act, therefore, as a prompt for ‘Recollection’ or ‘Re-cognition’ of the realm of Form or Essence.
Such prompts can be seen in some descriptions of mystical experience and what evoked it. On the other side the potentiality for Recognition, always present, may also be the basis of certain kinds of ‘intuitive knowing’ that may come (seemingly) out of the blue, prompted by experience, study, reflection, stillness & so on. While these might not be the full noēsis we’ve discussed earlier in relation to Plato’s scheme, I wouldn’t regard these forms of intuition as psychic.
Just some thoughts.
Peter June 16, 2017 at 9:28 am #5842
(I’ve posted this again, partly because I noticed some small but important mistakes/ommisions in the typing and partly because I find it frustrating that whenever we edit a post here on Nexus it moves it from where it was placed under the message we are replying to and sticks it out of order at the bottom of the page.)
Hello again, Ram – I had a chance last night to read your thoughts over again and I have a better understanding them now. I do see what you are getting at via Thomas Taylor. Where I see it differently is that I understand the dialectic to be a method which uses discursive reasoning as a stepping stone(s) to finally arrive at a direct apprehension (intuition, noēsis) of metaphysical truths – the Forms and the Good . There are various forms or types of dialectical activity throughout Plato’s works all subservient to an overall methodology or dialectic that Socrates describes to Glaucon in The Republic as ‘the only procedure which proceeds by the destruction of assumptions to the very first principle’ (see 533d)
Socrates goes on to tell Glaucon that the dialectic gently pulls the mind up out of ignorance with the help of various branches of knowledge already outlined in an earlier part of their conversation when explaining the Divided Line. These branches are:
A. noesis (intuition, immediate and pure knowledge)
B. dianoia (discursive thought, reason)
C. pistis (belief or confidence)
D. eikasia (image, conjecture, illusion)
Socrates explains that together, pistis and eikasia are classed together as Opinion and relate to the Sensible or Visible realm. While the first two, noēsis and dianoia, are classed together as Knowledge and belong to the Intelligible realm. (see 534a).
There’s a passage from Plotinus which may throw some light on the above and on the dual nature of dianoia (discursive thought, reasoning).
“The scientific notions that the soul forms of sense-objects, by discursive reason, and which should rather be called opinions, are posterior to the objects (they deal with); and consequently, are no more than images of them. But true scientific notions received from intelligence [Intellect, Divine Mind or Nous] by discursive reason do not contain any sense-conceptions. So far as they are scientific notions, they are the very things of which they are the conceptions; they reveal the intimate union of intelligence and thought.” (V.9.7)
Here Plotinus seems to be saying that the scientific notions arising as a result of reasoning from sense objects (i.e. empirical knowledge gained dependent on the senses) give rise to mere opinions – images, not realities. But when discursive reasoning, not relying on the senses and objects of sense, turns towards and is receptive of Intelligence (Nous), the notions (truths) that arise are intimately connected to the things in themselves (the Forms).
Socrates, in a passage leading up to his conversation with Glaucon, above, could very well be explaining Plotinus’s thought, if only the latter was not many hundreds of years later! Relating the method of the dialectic to the Cave Analogy, Socrates says:
“It [the dialectic] is of course an intellectual theme, but can be represented in terms of vision, as we said, by the progress of sight from shadows to the real creatures themselves, and then to the stars themselves, and finally to the sun. So, when one tries to get at what each thing is in itself by the exercise of dialectic, relying on reason [dianoia] without any aid of the senses, and refuses to give up until one has grasped by pure thought [noesis] what the good is in itself, one is at the summit of the intellectual realm, as the man who looked at the sun was of the visual realm.” (532a)
Anyway, this is just how understand it and draw the material together. Thanks again for making me think about it more fully, though still a work in progress.
Peter June 15, 2017 at 2:13 pm #5836
Hello Ram – thanks for your thoughts. Yes, I do disagree with some of what you’ve stated, but I’m not in a position to respond today. I’ll try to share a some thoughts tomorrow. In the meantime I have one question for you. You say,
“Taylor cautions us against misconstruing Platonic Dialectic with vulgar dialectic.The latter dialectic may be called discursive thought.”
Does Taylor say the vulgar dialectic is the same as discursive thought or is this what you are adding to Taylor’s views?
Peter June 14, 2017 at 5:52 pm #5826
Pavel – just briefly and I may be misinterpreting what you mean by ‘probability.’ Apologies, if so.
It is the other way around for Plato and Plotinus. The Forms (Ideas) existing in the Divine Mind (Intellect or Nous) are Actualities not probabilities. Plotinus follows Aristotle in this respect who argues that Actuality comes before Potentiality. Only something that already IS can bring forth or be the agency for something which has the potential to exist. Plotinus refers to this as ‘the Principle of Prior Possession.’ Thus the Forms are the Actualities, the already existing and perfect ‘things in themselves’, or put another way – what each thing really is. Each Form is a unity and together they are a unity in the Divine Mind. Each Form is the cause, or the Being, of everything of its own kind in the sensible realm. In theosophy we would no doubt link these to gods – the Dhyanis.
The Intellectual realm or Divine Mind is the realm of Being – the reality underlying the phenomenal realm of appearance only, of image. When the Soul on its own plane contemplates any of the Forms it is cognisant of the realm of Being and Unity which is also its own nature.
The Intellectual Realm of true Being comes forth from ‘the One’ or ‘the Good’, which is described as beyond Being and is therefore sometimes referred to as ‘non-being’.
Peter June 14, 2017 at 11:41 am #5823
Pavel – really interesting thoughts and questions. Thanks. I agree with you that the kind of Intellectual vision (noēsis) that Plato and Plotinus taught has largely been lost sight of in Western society, maybe also in the world at large.
I understand it in the following way. The Intellect proper of both Plato and Plotinus is the Divine Mind. This is a universal principle characterised by unity. The individual Soul (or Mind) has its non-corporeal roots in the Divine Mind and also experiences embodiment in the sensible realm of time and differentiation in space. The Soul’s understanding (intellection) is therefore of two kinds.
a) In the sensible realm of differentiation where all things can only approximate to the perfect Forms in the Divine Mind, the understanding of the ‘embodied soul’ operates as discursive thought (dianoia). The differentiation of the sensible realm applies not just to objects and entities but to time itself. We have one moment followed by the next & so on – past, present and future. Discursive thought operates in time. Understanding, knowledge is ‘formed’ over time. While the knowledge gained by dianoia is always imperfect and thus fallible, the extent to which that understanding participates in and approximates to the knowledge that is in the Divine Realm, the more illumined we might say that mind is.
b) When the Soul, freed of the limitations of its embodiment partakes solely in its own nature – which is one with the Divine Mind itself – its understanding of the objects of contemplation (the divine forms) is grasped all at once and is infallible. This is what Plato and Plotinus mean by noēsis. It is true Intuition or spiritual intellect. However, just as the objects and entities of the sensible realm can only approximate their Forms in the Divine Mind and always suffer an imperfection of some kind, so the understanding of the Soul in contemplation (noēsis) when expressed in time and space by the discursive (embodied) mind can only ever approximate the Truth and always falls short of the Reality apprehended directly by the Soul.
I think you’re right, Pavel, about different levels of intuition. I also think we use the term rather loosely and probably only rarely mean by it the kind of intuition (noēsis) that Plato refers to. I’ll share a few more thoughts and questions of my own on this in another post. I’m a bit slow at the moment.
Peter June 11, 2017 at 3:45 pm #5789
“It’s too easy to keep finding a lack in our various fields of knowledge whether of psychology, science or philosophy. In any process of change we have to start from where we are.”
ps: Gerry – the above wasn’t meant for you personally, but for my theosophical friends in general.
Peter June 11, 2017 at 3:22 pm #5788
Gerry, I think your definition greatly limits the role of psychology.
Psychology is very broad field of knowledge and inquiry with a good number of ‘departments’ and specialisms within the overall field. A general definition of psychology that embraces all those different areas of inquiry would be something like:
Psychology is the study of the mind and its functions along with its influence on behaviour.
The term ‘noetic’ simply means ‘pertaining to the mind or intellect’, thus it comes within our definition of the field of psychological study. Plato and Plotinus viewed the Intellect as that part of our nature or Soul which is capable of grasping the truth of it’s objects all at once – a process of understanding (noēsis) in contrast to propositional or discursive thought (dianoia). Of course, dianoia is also a part of Plato’s Intelligible Ream and plays an important role in removing false ideas and ignorance. When Socrates says ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ he is referring to the important role of dianoia in examining the validity of our beliefs.
In the days of Plato and Plotinus, psychology, science, ethics, politics, education & so on were all aspects of Philosophy and not separate areas of study. Over the centuries, as various aspects of philosophical inquiry became more developed and specialised they developed into the separate fields of knowledge that we have now.
There was an opportunity at the beginning of the 20th Century for western psychology to embrace the spiritual dimension, notably via the works of the psychiatrist Richard M. Bucke and psychologist William James. (Bucke published his book ‘Cosmic Consciousness’ in 1901 and psychologist William James’ ‘The Variety of Religious Experience’ in 1902.) Both did a very good, though preliminary, job in defining some of the characteristics of mystical experience. Bucke defined four stages of consciousness which psychologists at the time would have done well to explore further: 1) Perceptual Mind 2) Receptual Mind 3) Conceptual Mind and 4) Intuitional or Cosmic Consciousness. However, it was the materialist theories of Freud’s model of Psychoanalysis along with Watson’s and Skinner’s Behaviourism that won the day and became the main areas of psychology at the beginning of the century.
As the 20th century progressed psychologists looked for a wider and deeper understanding of consciousness and human potential. Humanistic psychology, then Transpersonal psychology developed. The former rightly viewed the positive nature of human potential and what makes for ‘well being’ as an important aspect of any psychological model; the latter recognised that there are experiences and unitive states of consciousness, transcendence, altruism, love and compassion that transcend the boundaries of the personal ego. Hence the term ‘trans’ in transpersonal psychology – a psychology that embraces the heights and depths of human experience, eastern and western models of psychology.
Psychology as a profession needs to embrace the heights and depths of our nature, the universal and the particular. They are not mutually exclusive. There’s a lot more that needs to be done. Importantly, each of us acts as psychologist and philosopher in our daily lives to the extent that we try to understand other people, the world around us, and reflect upon our own states of mind and behaviour. It’s not that profession, that body of knowledge or group of people ‘out there’ who have to develop a broader, deeper view of mind and consciousness. It is ourselves – each one of us. It’s too easy to keep finding a lack in our various fields of knowledge whether of psychology, science or philosophy. In any process of change we have to start from where we are.
Peter May 28, 2017 at 3:01 pm #5744
Thanks, Pavel (your #5726) – apologies for the delay in responding. I know all too well what you mean by the lack of mastery of subjects that we feel we intuitively understand. I have a long list of my own.
I think part of the difficulty is that in our general usage of the term deduction we simply mean an explanation arrived at after considering ‘all the facts’. Even though we invariably call this deduction, the method is actually one of induction i.e an explanation or theory generated out of the evidence gathered and previous knowledge available to us. This is exactly what Sherlock Holmes does. Much of how we live our daily lives is based on the inductive method and inductive logic.
People often use Plato’s approach as a clear example of deductive logic – reasoning from universals (general theory or principle) to particulars. But it isn’t that straight forward when we look at Plato’s theory as developed through the dialogues of Socrates, which is largely our only means for knowing Plato’s thought directly. It is certainly the case that Plato draws a dividing line between the visible realm we perceive through the senses and the Intelligible realm we apprehend with the mind or soul. For Plato, truth lies in the Intelligible realm of the Forms (the abstract ideal realm). The objects in the visible realm of the sense, while not a complete illusion, reveal only a shadow or partial version of the ideal Forms in the Intelligible Realm. Things in the visible realm are said to reveal things in the Ideal realm the closer they approximate to or partake in them.
How, though, does Plato establish his theory of the existence of an Ideal Realm of the Forms? Mainly by the inductive method. For example, see ‘The Republic’ where Socrates and his interlocutors try to work out what is Justice. Remember that Socrates forever reminds us that he is ignorant, but at least he knows that he doesn’t know. Thus whatever the truth of any matter, it must be determined through analysis and reasoning, out of which the truth (definition or general principles) will hopefully arise. In the dialogue that follows Socrates uses the empirical method and Induction. Many examples and instances of what might constitute justice or exhibit its qualities are examined along with innumerable analogies in order to discover what they have in common. Here they are looking for a pattern or underlying theme with the eventual aim of generating an overall theory and definition of Justice.
(Argument by analogy is also a form of inductive logic. We take what we know of one thing and infer – hypothesize – that it will be true of another thing with which is has something in common.)
After looking at many examples relating to individuals, Socrates suggests that perhaps if they looked at examples of Justice in the perfect State that might give them a clue as to what qualities the individual would need to live a just life. (If they can do that it might provide a chance to reason from the general to the particular – the deductive method). Once again the empirical method and inductive reasoning are used to build up a view of the Ideal state.
After analysing Justice in the State, his companions doubt that such an ideal state could ever be realised. But Socrates points out that when they started out on their investigation, it was the ideal pattern of Justice they were seeking for, along with knowing what would the perfect individual be like who would act justly. While we in the world are not perfect, the closer we approximate to the Ideal the more we share its nature, even though in the visible world we may never be able to achieve it fully. It is with this notion of an ideal and perfect form of Justice and our approximation to it in the empirical world that Socrates (and thereby Plato) lays the theoretical basis for the two realms of things – the Ideal and the actual, or, the Intelligible and the visible. The next part of the book, explores that more fully. The method of getting to this point in the work has been mainly through the empirical method and induction, something we find a lot in Plato’s works via the Socratic Dialogues.
Apologies for the length of the post and the detail. I just wanted offer the group some more food for thought in relation to Induction and Deduction. We may well use the former in our search for understanding and spiritual practice more than we realise.
ps: apologies also for the mis-spelling, wrong words and missing words that I won’t notice until after it’s too late to edit this post. 🙂
Peter May 24, 2017 at 4:21 pm #5724
A lot of the time in Sherlock Holmes’ stories he is operating in the field of Inductive Research i.e. he gathers observations and facts together to see how they connect (pattern recognition). From this he generates a tentative hypothesis (often one he doesn’t share with Watson or the reader) which finally leads to a definite theory as to ‘who-dunnit’.
There may also be times when having formulated a theory out of his observations Holmes seeks to test it in some way, perhaps by setting up an experimental situation, perhaps a lure or trap of some kind, to see whether what happens next confirms his theory. In this instance he is then using research based Deduction to prove his case.
Peter May 24, 2017 at 3:16 pm #5722
Deduction and induction can be used in research or in logical reasoning.
1. Deductive method starts with a general theory from which an hypothesis is formed which will be used in the research to test the general theory. Experiment or observation follows, which either confirms or contradicts the hypothesis.
The process goes from the general to the particular via the following steps; general theory (or principles) – hypothesis – observation – confirmation (or not).
2. Inductive method starts with observation and looks to identify, for example, any particular patterns in the data. If there are, then a tentative hypothesis is formed which may eventually (after more research?) lead to a general theory.
The process goes from the particular to the general via the following steps: observation – patten recognition – tentative hypothesis – general theory.
The key difference between deductive logic and inductive logic is that in a valid deductive argument if the premises are true then it is impossible for the conclusion to be false. In an inductive argument, if the premises are true the conclusion is probably true, but there is always the possibility that it could be false.
1. Deduction (a well know argument).
Premise 1 All humans are mortal,
Premise 2 Socrates is a human,
Conclusion Therefore Socrates is mortal.
If it is true that all humans are mortal and that Socrates is a human, the conclusion cannot be false.
Jane reasons to herself that:
Premise: Over the last five years, whenever I have left my house in the morning at 7.00am I have always caught the train to work and arrived on time.
Conclusion: If tomorrow l leave my house with at 7.00am I will arrive at work on time.
Having repeated this method successfully over the last five years there is a high probability that Jane will arrive at work on time. There is also a probability that she may not. Something may hold her up on the way to the station; the train may be cancelled & so on.
Peter May 19, 2017 at 5:51 pm #5678
Kirk – hello again. What you say makes a lot of sense. I think there are two issues underlying our discussion which may be getting mixed up. The first is, ‘what is the scientific method?’ This is the initial question to which I offered an answer for consideration. It is also the scientific method (as far as it can be used by modern science) that I was referring to when I said we students of theosophy need to be realistic in our expectations as to how and where it can be applied.
The other issue or question, which you quite rightly raise, is ‘What are the main aims of modern science? Are they broad enough? Shouldn’t they encompass other aspects of nature, especially the moral and spiritual dimensions of life and being & so on?” To which the answer is, yes, the aim of science should be as broad and as encompassing as possible to include those other important dimensions of life.
The scientific method is one thing; the current aims of modern science is another. The fact that the whole of the scientific community does not share our theosophical beliefs and aims does not lessen the value of the method. That said, even if it the majority of the scientific community did share our beliefs it would still be problematic when it comes to applying the scientific method to the areas of life (inner planes, consciousness, the soul, reincarnation, moral laws & so on) deemed important to theosophists and spiritual practitioners in general.
There are scientists who do seek to include those dimensions of life and who wish to explore ways to apply research to those areas. See, for example, just one community of scientists that I know of personally, based here in the UK – The Scientific and Medical Network – https://explore.scimednet.org
There’s also progress being made in the field of psychology.
I worked in the field of transpersonal psychology and psychotherapy for around 30years. I know of a good number of people in the USA, UK and Europe working in the field of psychology and science who are conducting research into consciousness, mystical experience, spirituality, compassion in relation to health and healing & so on. The British Psychological Society (the professional body for psychologists in the UK) even has a section dedicated to Transpersonal Psychology. ( see: http://www.bps.org.uk/networks-and-communities/member-microsite/transpersonal-psychology-section).
Quite often the people working in all these areas of research have beliefs and/or experiences that go beyond the modest aims of their organisation, sections or fields of inquiry. That’s because the scientific method is not simply about what you believe, it’s also about what you can actually research, test and verify.
So, I would say that while science and research in general still has a very long way to go let’s not give up hope. I would also ask that we students of theosophy refrain from making such bleak and damning sweeping generalisations of everybody working in that field of endeavour. It just creates an air of negativity. It adds nothing positive to the debate. It doesn’t help the people of similar minds to ourselves who are working in the field.
Peter May 18, 2017 at 5:25 pm #5663
Those are important points, Kirk (#5646). Thanks.
In relation to your points ‘a’ and ‘b’ we might simply say that while the field of research and the means by which such research is conducted differ greatly, the overall ’scientific method’ of both modern science and occultism* is similar. (At least as HPB describes the occult scientific method in our quote from SD I 272.)
With regards to your point ‘c’: How would science investigate the law of karma, given that it is said to encompass many lifetimes? For example, how might it test and verify the claim that causes in previous life time are the bases for the effects that in this lifetime constitute a person’s make up (skandhas), circumstances and life incidents? How would it conduct research into the claim (hypothesis) that compassion is ‘the law of laws’?
Just because science is largely ‘materialistic’ that doesn’t mean it is devoid of compassion. There are areas of science where people do work to benefit humanity e.g., through medicine, health, environmental concerns, technology, agriculture & so on. Of course, there are areas of science that are based on self interest, showing no real concern for the welfare of others, but that’s true of all areas of life, even in spiritual and religious endeavours.
While we, as students of theosophy, will likely feel frustrated by the vision and limitations of modern science perhaps we just have to be realistic as to what the science of our present day humanity is able to achieve while still holding to the scientific method. That doesn’t mean we should not seek to broaden the areas of scientific endeavour, of course.
Peter May 17, 2017 at 4:55 pm #5644
“What then is the scientific method and how does it differ from the methods of Occult science ?” (#5638)
It is a system for acquiring and/or validating knowledge through systematic observation, measurement, experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.
The hypothesis that is to be tested can be arrived at through any number of means such as current knowledge; previous research or experiments; experience or observation in general; analysis using induction or deduction; intuition, imagination, dreams or simply a hunch.
Importantly, hypotheses need to be falsifiable. In other words, there must be a way to test a hypothesis in order to see if it is possible to prove it false.
Research and/or experimental findings need to be repeatable. In other words, it should be possible for other people to repeat the same research or experimental methodology and yield exactly the same results. Knowledge can’t simply be a matter of somebody claiming something is true that no one else can verify. Ideally this leads to an ever growing, albeit adaptive body of knowledge that can be shared by and with society at large.
While the scope, range and vision of modern science may be limited, such a methodology may not be too different to that carried out by Adepts in the inner realms, as yet unaccessible to science. See the following from the Secret Doctrine, for example:
‘It is useless to say that the system in question is no fancy of one or several isolated individuals. That it is the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of Seers whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed orally by one early race to another, of the teachings of higher and exalted beings, who watched over the childhood of Humanity. That for long ages, the “ Wise Men ” of the Fifth Race, of the stock saved and rescued from the last cataclysm and shifting of continents, had passed their lives in learning, not teaching. How did they do so ? It is answered : by checking, testing, and verifying in every department of nature the traditions of old by the independent visions of great adepts ; i.e., men who have developed and perfected their physical, mental, psychic, and spiritual organisations to the utmost possible degree. No vision of one adept was accepted till it was checked and confirmed by the visions — so obtained as to stand as independent evidence — of other adepts, and by centuries of experiences.’
(SD I 272)
Peter May 16, 2017 at 5:02 pm #5630
These are good questions, Barbara (#5613). They can all be used in one context or another. Another way to approach it is by asking ‘what do we mean when we say that something is real?’
When we say that a thing, entity or being is real are we doing anything more than simply asserting that this thing, entity or being exists in some way? Reality and existence appear to go together. Can a non-existent thing be real?
Perhaps we also need to ask what do we mean when we assert that something exists? What sort of claim – consciously or unconsciously – are we making about that thing?
For example, does it exist in the way that it appears? Does it exist by way of its own power, completely independent of causes and conditions, or, does it depend for its existence entirely on causes and conditions? Is there any existing thing, entity or being that does not depend on causes and conditions for its existence? If so, what kind of existence might that be?
Of course, the other aspect of this question is, ‘how do we know?’ Importantly, how can we be certain about our knowing?
Reality, existence and knowing all seem to be interrelated.
Peter May 5, 2017 at 4:43 pm #5578
Just by way of information. I notice in our recent discussions over the last weeks that when we quote the first object of the TS we repeatedly use the phrase ‘to form a nucleus….’ The original object is stated slightly differently and repeated by HPB many times in her writings. It may well be an important difference.
(1) To form the nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity, without
distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color. (emphasis added)
Peter April 29, 2017 at 12:37 pm #5546
Thank you. Looking into it a little further: L. Adams Beck is a pseudonym for Elizabeth Louisa Moresby (1862 – 1931) who, in her later years became a prolific novelist and writer. Many of her novels were set in Asia. The passage above is from her rendering of the Buddha’s life in her book, ’The Splendour of Asia.’ (1926).
As Jon says, this passage appears also in “Cultural and Religious Heritage of India: Buddhism” by Suresh K. Sharma, Usha Sharma (2004) . The article in Sharma’s book containing this passage is a reprint of G.F. Maine’s Introduction to ‘The Life of the Buddha,’ (1939) which, in turn, is a reprint of ‘The Splendour of Asia’ with a new title. Hence the identical quote.
Some more information on L. Beck (Moresby) here:
Sounds like she was a really interesting lady.
Peter April 24, 2017 at 8:52 am #5529
The kingdom of heaven is within you.
Look inward, and see it, and be glad.
I’m wondering if that’s something the Buddha actually said or whether its a rendering of an original passage by someone from a christian background.
Is there a reference for the quote?
Peter April 23, 2017 at 11:12 am #5520
Good thoughts, Pavel. Whether they are all reflect what the verses intend I’m not sure, but either way that doesn’t lessen their value.
Yes, ‘to develop all aspects of ourselves’ in harmony would appear to be more in line with Verse 9 where it states that to develop one aspect alone leads to darkness & so on. So, if for arguments sake we take vidya to mean ‘intellectual knowledge’ then the verses would be suggesting there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such knowledge providing it was not developed in isolation. The same for any other quality we might attribute to the term vidya.
Just to add to your thoughts on vidya. Vidya (knowledge) is a very general term and needs to be qualified according to context. There are many types of knowledge (practical, science, scripture, occult & so on) as well as different sources for knowledge whether material or spiritual, exoteric or esoteric. We can be knowledgeable in one field of knowledge, ignorant in another. In relation to the verse 9 in the upanishad we would need to ask what kind of knowledge is the author referring to. Knowledge of what? Ignorance of what?
A Vedantin would say that Atma Vidya (direct knowledge of Atman, the Self or Brahman) is the highest form of knowledge. Sankara would add that to know Atman is to be Atman, for it is never an object of knowledge. Atma-vidya would correspond to Satya – the highest truth (paramārtha) or absolute knowledge. The many varieties of knowledge (including those of the subtle and spiritual planes) pertaining to the manifested realms would correspond to samvritti-satya (relative truth).
Even in the realm of manifestation or samvritti-satya there is right knowledge (vidya) and wrong knowledge/ignorance (avidya). However, even the right or certain knowledge of the manifested realms is still ‘ignorance’ in relation to Atma-Vidya (absolute or transcendental knowledge).
In terms of the importance of context when interpreting the text – for Sankara the most obvious context for this Iśa Upanishad is the Yajur Veda to which it belongs. The Vedas are very likely to have pervaded the religious and social life of many at the time of Sankara. In his introduction to the Iśa Upanishad, Sankara explains that while the aim of the Vedic ritual practices (karma kanda) leads the brahmin to ‘glories’ either during incarnation or in the heavenly (asura) realms after death, only knowledge of the Self, as indicated in the upanishad, leads to final liberation.
When seeking to explain what kind of knowledge and ignorance (vidya and avidya) the upanishadic verse is actually talking about, Sankara relates these back to the Veda to which the upanishad belongs. As early as his commentaries on verses 2 and 3 he explains why the term avidya of the upanishad verses pertains to karma kanda (ritual action) and in later verse explains why the term vidya refers to the knowledge of the deities or celestial beings worshiped in the Veda. Both of these operate within the field of samsara and samvritti-satya and can lead to relative immortality and joyful states in the deva realm after death when combined. They are not the transcendental truth of the Atman or Self. The aim of the upanishad is to explain just this, according to Sankara.
Other tradition, especially those that advocate ritual worship, will have different views to Sankara. The above is just offered as food for thought, especially as Sankara is spoken of so highly by HPB.
Peter April 20, 2017 at 5:34 pm #5497
Hi Ram (re #5475) – thanks for your summary of those chapters from the Vishnu Purana. Good to read and very interesting, and as you say they do seem to have a resonance with those verses in the Isa Upanishad in a helpful way. Perhaps where it doesn’t accord entirely is where the Isa Upanishad states that each of those two paths – in this case it would be ‘actions with heart joined to renunciation and/or Tatva Jnana – leads to darkness, though it’s easier to appreciate how Tatva Jnana may well do so without the former.
Sankara obviously saw the problem of contradiction (rather than confusion, I would say) in those verses if we assume the usual meanings of the terms avidya and vidya (intellectual or spiritual) are used, which is why he glosses them in this case with ritual worship in both its aspect as karma and as knowledge of the deity worship. But his explanation feels somewhat forced, at least to me. I can appreciate why he does so, because, he argues, what is the core of ignorance (avidya) if it not br the notion of ‘I am the doer’, the basis of karma (action). Anyway,the main thing is the important of context when looking at verses from the Upanishads or anywhere else.
Peter April 18, 2017 at 9:25 am #5472
Hello Ram and Pavel,
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. What you both say about vidya and avidya in general makes a great deal of sense. By the way, the passage I quoted from Ramana Maharshi is also about vidya and avidya in general from the Vedanta perspective. It was not meant as an interpretation of that particular verse in question from the Isa upanishad.
I’m not making any claim as to which of the views examined so far (yours or Sankara’s or Aurobindo’s etc) is the right or wrong way to interpret that verse. I’m simply suggesting that when that verse is looked at in its context, the meaning may be more complex than at first appears.
Lets say that avidya (nescience) is wrong knowledge or ignorance of any kind. Let’s also say that the term vidya in this verse refers to (mere) intellectual knowledge. Verse 9 says that when each of these is worshiped alone each leads to darkness, the latter (mere intellectual knowledge) leading to an even greater darkness than the former. If this is the case then a couple of questions arise. Why then does verse 11 say that they should be pursued together rather than separately? How might it be that while each of these leads to either darkness or to an even greater darkness, yet when combined together they lead to the overcoming of death and attainment of immortality?
‘He who is aware that both knowledge and ignorance should be pursued together, overcomes death through ignorance and obtains immortality through knowledge’  (trans. Nikhilananda)
‘He who simultaneously knows both Vidya and Avidya gets over death by Avidya and attains immortality by Vidya.’  (trans. S. Sitarama Sastri)
Another way to look at the term Vidya in verse 9 is to take it as referring to true knowledge i.e the direct apprehension or realisation of Reality (referred to as knowledge of Atman). In which case, we might ask why should one combine Vidya (knowledge of Reality) with Avidya (ignorance) as suggested in verse 11. Can the direct realisation of Reality be compatible with a state of ignorance? An earlier verse in this upanishad say they cannot:
‘To the seer, all things have verily become the Self: what delusion, what sorrow, can there be for him who beholds that oneness?’ 
The above is why I wonder that our original verse might be more complex than first appears.
Peter April 17, 2017 at 5:04 pm #5450
Just to add a further thought to vidya and avidya (knowledge and ignorance). From the perspective of Vedanta teachings all knowledge arising in the realm of duality is not really separate from ignorance, because such knowledge, no matter how great or refined is not the direct knowledge of the Self or Atman. Hence it pertains only to the illusory world of samsara. As Ramana Maharshi puts it:
Knowledge is never and nowhere in the world separate from ignorance; neither is ignorance at any time and for anyone separate from knowledge; true knowledge is Awareness of the original Self, which becomes manifested by the Quest ‘Who is this I to whom belong both of these,’ nothing else. 
How can knowledge of objects arising in relative existence, to one that knows not the truth of (himself) the knower, be true knowledge? If one rightly knows (the truth of) him in whom both knowledge and its opposite subsist, then along with ignorance (relative) knowledge also will cease once for all. 
Know that that alone is true knowledge in which there is neither knowledge nor ignorance: the (so called) knowledge of objects, understand, is not at all true knowledge. The Real Self shine always alone, with neither things for Him to know, nor persons to know HIM; therefore He is only Consciousness; do not think that He is non-being. 
The Self, (here) declared to be Consciousness, is alone real, without a second; all knowledge which is manifold is only ignorance: this ignorance –– which (being a negation) is non-existent –– has no existence apart from the Self who is Consciousness. Say, do the unreal jewels exist apart from the gold which (alone) exists? 
(From ‘Revelation’ : a sanskrit version of the Ulladu Narpadu (Forty Verses on Existence) of Sri Ramana Maharshi.)
Peter April 17, 2017 at 4:43 pm #5447
“Those who worship nescience enter into the regions of darkness.
But those who worship knowledge enter into a still deeper darkness.”
I think its quite hard to appreciate what this verse from the Isa Upanishad is getting out without seeing it in context. Even in context there appear to be many layers of understanding to it. Also, the word ‘alone’ is normally included as part of the translation for one or both of the sentences in the verse above – see, for example:
‘They who workship Avidya alone fall into blind darkness; and they who worship Vidya alone fall into even greater darkness.  (trans. S. Sitarama Sastri)
‘Into blind darkness they enter who are devoted to ignorance (rituals); but into a greater darkness they enter who engage in knowledge alone.’  (trans. Nikhilananda)
The following verse 10 indicates that separate results accrue from following either of these two worships alone, while verse 11 indicates that really they should be pursued together:
‘He who is aware that both knowledge and ignorance should be pursued together, overcomes death through ignorance and obtains immortality through knowledge’  (trans. Nikhilananda)
The next verses 12 to 14 follow on the theme – the worship of the unborn prakriti leads into darkness and the worship of Hiranyagarbha leads into a greater darkness. Form the worship of each alone particular results acrue. However, worshipping them both together leads to the attainment of supernatural powers (siddhis) and immortality.
Sankara explains that the immortality acquired when combining each of the above pairs is only a ‘relative immortality.’ Combining the avidya and vidya of verse 9 leads to immortality as a deity in the deva realms which lasts until the positive effects of that worship are exhausted.* For Sankara, avidya in this verse refers to ritual worship (karma) while vidya refers to the occult knowledge of the deity associated with a ritual worship. (Sankara also goes to some lengths to justify this interpretation in his commentary to the closing verse to this upanishad, verse 18.)
As for the following verses (12-14) combining the worship of the unborn prakriti and that of Hiranyagarbha leads to immortality through the absorption of the individual into the unborn Prakriti. According to Sankara, this is the highest stage of freedom, absorption and immortality that can be attained within the realm of samsara. It is not the liberation and immortality that comes from renunciation and knowledge of the Self (Atman).
Aurobindu explains it differently, as do some other traditions in hinduism, viewing the vidya and avidya of verse 9 as knowledge of multiplicity and knowledge of the One, and that true enlightenment requires a merging of the two which is his understanding of verse 11.
*Note: Subba Row points out the dangers of deity worship in one of his esoteric teachings, stressing the dangers of the ego being absorbed into a deity or god.
PS: I’ve not that if we edit a post it removes it from it’s original place under the original reply and places it as a new post at end of the messages. Apologies if you receive this post twice in your inbox as a result of replacing under the original post replied to.
Peter April 11, 2017 at 11:13 am #5395
re #5365: A friend helped me find the statement about the Maha-Chohan. I hadn’t remembered the correct words. It should have been:
“I came to you not alone of my own accord and wish, but also by order of the Maha Chohan, to whose insight the future lies like an open page.”
K.H. to Olcott. “Letters from the Masters of Wisdom 1st series”: Letter no. 16
Peter April 7, 2017 at 1:22 pm #5365
That’s an interesting question, Pierre. I’m sorry to say I have only a few poor thoughts to offer.
Normally a cycle of any kind has a period of arising up until it reaches its peak, followed by a period of decline. The periods of arising and decline could be the two figures you mention of 2500 years each. It may be that it is only after its peak i,e, in the second or declining phase that there is a clear enough picture as to how the causes set in motion during that overall cycle (in this case of 5000yrs) will play out in the next cycle. When talking about individual karma in Mahayana buddhism, they claim that the strongest karma generated in this life plays out in the beginning of the next life. In addition, the state of mind (tendencies/skandhas & so on) present at the end of a life have a strong influence for the beginning of the next life.
So, it’s possible that towards the second half of any cycle it is possible or easier for ‘those who know’ to foresee how karmic events will play out over the next cycle for both the individual and/or the world at large. It’s often said in Mahayana Buddhism that only Buddhas can fully perceive the operation of karmic causes and effects, in which case I would imagine the Buddhas and high Chohans are the source for the information which finds it way into such books as HPB mentions.
I’m sure there is a passage in Mahatma Letters where it’s said that the future is an open book to the Maha-Chohan, but I’m can’t put my finger on it at the moment so I could be quite wrong about that.
Peter April 4, 2017 at 12:33 pm #5336
James (re #5325) – with respect to whether the monadic evolution on Mars is ‘ahead’ of or ‘behind’ our earth chain:
As you know, the planet Mars that we see on the same plane as our own is said to be in obscuration, which means the Egos passing through that sevenfold chain are either resting or passing through one of the other of its seven globes. I believe Purucker says that Mars has not yet reach the fourth round. However, Judge states that Mars could be in obscuration either because the Egos have finished their fourth round or because it has not yet commenced (see Echoes of the Orient vol.1 370).
Interestingly, Judge, refers the reader to a statement of the Master, quoted in The Secret Doctrine, which reminds us that there is mystery connected to Mars’ relationship to our Earth which pertains to the highest Initiation:
‘As to Mars, Mercury, and the “four other planets,” they bear a relation to Earth of which no master or high Occultist will ever speak, much less explain the nature.’ (SD I 163; see also footnote on the same page.)
So, as to the question, is Mars a sacred planet? It’s a valid question which still remains a question for me.
Peter April 4, 2017 at 11:44 am #5335
Hi James (your #5325) – I see your having lots of responses to manage at the moment(!), so no hurry to respond to mine.
I’m not familiar with the web sites you’ve mentioned. My own view is that it’s not wise to judge something as theosophical or not based solely on the terminology used. What matters is what the term refers to. This seems to be your view too.
Yes, I think you’ve raised a valid question about whether Mars is a sacred planet. It is the case that there are a number of places in her writings that HPB repeatedly includes Mars as one of the sacred planets, while saying that the Sun and Moon were blinds. However, the passages in the first paragraph of SD I 575 might give us pause for thought. The first being:
‘It is then the “Seven Sons of Light ” — called after their planets and (by the rabble) often identified with them — namely Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, Venus,”
As you point out, the phrase ‘by the rabble’ indicates the above may be exoteric only. HPB then goes on to state:
‘Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus, the four exoteric planets, and the three others, which must remain unnamed, were the heavenly bodies in direct astral and psychic communication with the Earth, its Guides, and Watchers — morally and physically ; the visible orbs furnishing our Humanity with its outward and inward characteristics, and their “ Regents ” or Rectors with our Monads and spiritual faculties.’
In the SD Commentaries/Dialogues, HPB seems to suggest that what makes a planet a ‘sacred planet’ is it occult influence over our planet earth. This criterion appears to apply in the above passage. However, unlike her earlier statements, Mars is now very definitely left out as one of the exoteric sacred planets in the above passage – planets that were ‘in direct astral and psychic communication with the Earth [etc].’ That she now makes a point of describing these as exoteric planets suggests we might also need to look deeper at them too. Of course, she may just mean she is not referring to the physical planets so named. She then goes on to add:
‘In order to avoid creating new misconceptions, let it be stated that among the three secret orbs (or star angels) neither Uranus nor Neptune entered ; not only because they were unknown under these names to the ancient Sages, but because they, as all other planets, however many there may be, are the gods and guardians of other septenary chains of globes within our systems.’
So, it seems that while we have that definite question mark over Mars, along with more to think about with regards ‘the four exoteric planets’, the one thing HPB does appear to be definite about, both exoterically and esoterically, is that neither Uranus nor Neptune are sacred planets in relation to our septenary earth chain – ‘because they…are the gods and guardians of other septenary chains of globes within our systems.’
Yes, I take your point about the energy of Mars, at least as we normally refer to it. However, there might be another side to the Mars energy just at there is another side to Kama, which is normally associated only with our lower nature or lower manas (kama-manas). By another, perhaps ‘higher’, side, to Kama, I’m referring here to the passage in The Secret Doctrine, where it states that it was the Agnishvattas (the holy Kumaras or Manasaputras) who provided the humanity of the 3rd Root Race with both Manas AND Kama (our 5th and 4th principles), making the human being a septenary at that time (see SD II 79). We also have a passage from the Mahatma Letters in which the Mahatma states:
‘The whole individuality is centred in the three middle or 3rd, 4th and 5th principles. During earthly life it is all in the fourth the centre of energy, volition – will. Mr. Hume has perfectly defined the difference between personality and individuality. The former hardly survives – the latter, to run successfully its seven-fold downward and upward course has to assimilate to itself the eternal life-power residing but in the seventh and then blend the three (fourth, fifth and seventh) into one – the sixth. Those who succeed in doing so become Buddhs, Dyan Chohans, etc. The chief object of our struggles and initiations is to achieve this union while yet on this earth.’
(Mahatma Letters to Sinnett, no.13, note 7. Barker edition. Bold emphasis added)
That there may well be another side to Kama is not meant to diminish the importance of you question mark of Mars – just further food, potentially, for thought.
Peter April 4, 2017 at 10:05 am #5332
Kristan – thanks for sharing a little more about your ‘real life’ idea (#5320). The meaningful contact and conversations you describe with others in your diverse community come across as very rich, indeed. If I have understood you correctly, you are saying such conversations are the main substance of your ‘philosophical’ meetings with others in your daily life. On a day to day basis, you don’t find yourself in the company of students of theosophy or people looking further afield to other religious texts and philosophies.
I agree – we don’t need to use theosophical terminology when exploring spiritual matters with others, especially if they have never heard of theosophy, nor express an interest in it. At the same time, there may be no harm in introducing it if, when, and where appropriate to do so. It’s a judgement at the time, isn’t it.
In my own life journey I’ve found it helpful to have studied other religions and philosophies as it enables me to ‘meet’ people on their own ground, so to speak. That said, I’ve also met and explored with many individuals who belong to no tradition at all and who know very little of any particular religion or philosophy – they just have a profound sense that there is an underlying reality and purpose to life and what to explore what that means or where it might lead. When I carried out qualitative research into ‘mystical experience’ for a Masters Programme many years ago I found it interesting to see, when looking at other studies, a) just how many people had had an experience they would describe as ‘spiritual’ or ‘mystical’ and b) that in a good number of studies the majority of people who reported such experience did not belong to a religion.
To my mind, we all partake of a ‘spiritual’ nature irrespective of what we believe or whether we have no beliefs at all, and there are many ways in which we can make a connection to explore that nature with others. If we happen to be students of Theosophy it may well be important for us to find others who share that same vision – people who share a common language and who are also trying to deepen their understanding of teachings that are meaningful to them just as they are to us; people who can support us and challenge us in our shared endeavour. For me, it’s yet another meeting point in the journey with others which is just as ‘real life’ as the other meeting points mentioned above. But I’m using the term ‘real life’ in a difference sense than you are, I would think, hence my question to you.
Anyway, just some thoughts and observations of my own to add to your own.
Peter April 2, 2017 at 5:17 pm #5319
Always good to hear your thoughts.
I’m wondering why you feel that what you are saying is steering away from what HPB suggests.
I’m also wondering why you don’t include the exchanges and explorations here on Nexus as a part of ‘real life.’ Im assuming, perhaps foolishly, that the rest of you actually do exist and that you share thoughts and questions that matter to you.
I’m not a supporter of creating a new vocabulary. I’ve no reason to think that those who do are any less interested than myself in the underlying concepts and how to communicate these to others. But perhaps I am missing your point when you refer to this?
Peter March 18, 2017 at 6:49 pm #5200
Barbara, the general meaning of nirvana and moksha is the same in so far as both terms refer to liberation or freedom from samsara along with the removal of ignorance with regards to the nature of Reality of the world and of the self.
As you know, the term nirvana tends to be used in Buddhist traditions while Hindu traditions tend to refer liberation as moksha. However, the exact meaning of the term moksha varies with the many different traditions in Hinduism, and even in Buddhism the understanding of nirvana may differ between Hinayana and Mahayana schools.
In theosophy the two terms appear to be used interchangeably when referring to the goal of ‘individual Liberation’.
Peter March 18, 2017 at 5:08 pm #5193
Barbara (re #5177) – that’s a very interesting and important question. Just to check that I properly understand you – are you talking about two conditions above: one where we experience ourselves as an individual that is a part of the whole; the other where we are conscious of the ‘One Life’ and the sense of individuality is attenuated?
One might also ask is separateness a fact in life, or is it ‘merely’ a state of mind, cognition or belief? If it is latter in some form, once that ‘cognition/belief’ is corrected is it then a possible to retain a sense of individuality that is non-separate from the whole?
Peter March 17, 2017 at 2:42 pm #5190
Grace – yes, it is important for us to recognise we are not alone in pondering these questions, as you rightly say. To my mind, these questions are universal in nature; if we are not reflecting on them we probably need to ask, ‘why not?’
Following the teachings of Tsong Khapa, the Dalai Lama says that when practising the development of Impartiality, Love and Compassion (normally in that 3 stage order) it is better to start with individuals and then, over time, expand that to include more and more beings. If we practice generating these attitudes towards ‘all-beings’ to start with, we may feel we have developed these attitudes but find ourselves unable to actualise them when faced with the individuals in our lives. I’ve certainly experienced that in my own life – it sometimes feels easier to ‘love’ humanity as a whole than that ‘difficult’ individual I may meet every day.
Peter March 17, 2017 at 1:04 pm #5189
That’s a really nice way of putting it, Odin:
‘Compassion…must have individual and universal roots. . . we work from both ends to the middle, ideally, the central point which is “everywhere,” of a circle whose circumference is “nowhere.”’
I think you’ve given us another way to appreciate the Middle Way of the Buddha, avoiding the extremes of either individualism or universalism.
Peter March 6, 2017 at 11:50 am #5078
I enjoy a pleasant conversation too, Pavel. Thanks. I’ll look out for the Cornford translation; it’s always nice to get a recommendation. Cornford also wrote ‘Plato’s Cosmology’, a commentary on ‘The Timaeus’. Good for reference, but would need quite a bit of time to study end to end.
Yes, I take your point about the middle ages and Plato.
Peter March 2, 2017 at 4:59 pm #5056
Thank you for telling it in your own words, Peter!
You’re welcome, Pavel. Do I understand from your statement that the intended meaning in Plato’s dialogues isn’t as clear as it might be!? The thing with Plato’s dialogues is that he builds on ideas that he makes Socrates share over many different dialogues both in and prior to ‘The Republic’. The analogy of the Cave particularly brings together in pictorial form many of the ideas already debated much earlier in ‘The Republic’. These include the nature of morality, Justice, the three classes of human beings, the tripartite nature of the individual (which, incidentally, is very similar to what you outlined in The Fourth Way), who is fit to rule in the State, the Philosopher as ruler, the realm of Forms, the Good as the ultimate Object of Knowledge, the Divided line (Intelligible and Visible realms) & so on.
There’s a lot of context to take into account in any of the symbolism found in Plato, but it’s spread out over all his works, so much so, that some people have even claimed there is no underlying philosophy in Plato’s works, since many of the dialogues of Socrates explore important issues but appear to come to no conclusion at all. Clearly Plato’s followers didn’t hold this view.
Did you mean to say that Plato’s heritage had been one of the most respectable for the last 2400yrs, rather than 400yrs? Plato’s birth is given as 384BC. The Academy he founded lasted around 800-900 years. When a student enrols in a course on Western Philosophy she will no doubt be told somewhere near the commencement of her studies that Western Philosophy is merely series of footnotes to Plato (adapting a quote from A.N.Whitehead).
Yes, we do seem to be living in a divided world – perhaps much like Plato’s ‘Divided Line’? – and collectively our inner life gets little nourishment.
Peter February 28, 2017 at 4:35 pm #5028
James – thanks. I understand. I wasn’t referring to your analogy. If you read again what I wrote you will see that I was referring to the many pictures found “on the internet and purposefully meant to symbolise the analogy of the Cave used by Plato.” This is our current Theme for Contemplation, as Gerry notified us the other day, hence the use of one of those pictures to accompany our topic, presumably.
What’s often missing in these pictures is not the physical sun, as such. but the image of the sun in the upper world outside of the cave, which for Socrates/Plato symbolises the Form of the Good – the source from which all Wisdom and Knowledge arises.
Peter February 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm #5026
Pavel – I liked your two variants. This position reminded be a little bit of Pascal’s Wager. Roughly put, he argued that if you could neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, you may as well believe in God and act accordingly. If God did exist you were in for an infinite reward, if God didn’t exist it you hadn’t lost anything.
Peter February 27, 2017 at 12:01 pm #5016
That’s very interesting, James. I’m not familiar with that story. We also have the saptaparna cave associated with the Buddha’s teachings, which is sometimes referred to as a place of initiation and, as mentioned above, we have the Cave of Brahman which resided in the heart from the Upanishads & so on. The symbol of the cave appears to have been an important one in many spiritual traditions.
Symbols, metaphors and analogies can be used in different ways, and along with pithy quotes and ‘one liners’ it’s often very necessary, at least to my mind, to see them in their context before we can begin to appreciate what the author/teacher meant by their use.
The picture of The Cave, given above, is one of many similar ones found on the internet and purposefully meant to symbolise the analogy of the Cave used by Plato. What I find interesting is how so many of such pictures omit to include the Sun in the Upper World (the world outside and above the cave), which is an absolutely crucial part of the Plato’s analogy. This represents the Form of ’The Good’ – that which illuminates everything in the Intelligible Word (the upper world) just as the physical sun (symbolised by the fire in the analogy) illuminates everything in the visible world (the flickering shadows on the wall).
Peter February 26, 2017 at 6:58 pm #5012
Yes, it is, Gerry. But we need to be careful not to mix up the various metaphors/analogies of ‘The Cave’.
For Plato, the cave was where the person experienced illusion (the shadows on the wall), while reality, symbolised by sun, could only be experienced on ‘escaping’ from the cave. The transition is from darkness into light, ignorance to wisdom.
In the Upanishads the metaphor of the cave is used in a different way. The luminous Brahman dwells in the cave of the Heart and can be experienced there. The transition from ignorance (darkness) to wisdom (light) is here achieved through withdrawing the mind from the external world of ‘illusion’ and the senses into the Heart wherein dwells the highest reality.
In Plato’s analogy, the student needs to find the exit from the cave, not the entrance into it. Whereas the quote from the Almanac appears to say the student needs to find the entrance into the cave, suggesting a different use of the analogy. In other words, the quote and picture don’t really seem to support each other.
Peter February 13, 2017 at 10:56 am #4878
Hello Ram, thanks for your warm response. Yes, I guess my posts have been infrequent for a quite a while – largely due to poor health. That said, it’s only been a few weeks since my last contribution. I probably haven’t said anything for a while that’s noteworthy enough for you to notice!
Yes, I think a lot revolves around what we mean by the term ‘fittest’ when we talk about ‘the survival of the fittest’. It conjures up images of competition and conflict in which only the strongest or most selfish survive. To be fair to Darwin that’s not what he meant by the term. The phrase itself was coined by Herbert Spencer around 1864. Darwin had originally talked in terms of ’natural selection’ to describe his theory of evolution, but as he felt this didn’t quite do justice to what he was trying to describe he adopted Spencer’s phrase.
By ‘the fittest’ Darwin meant those species whose characteristics were most suited (i.e. adapted or fitted) to their immediate or local environment. Such species (fauna as well as animals) tended to live longer, grow healthier, and have more time to reproduce than those species less well adapted to their environment. Further, they pass on those characteristics to their offspring which ensures their survival, so the cycle continues.
For example – birds with a beak size and shape suited to the local food source are more likely to live longer and reproduce than birds whose beak shape and size are less suited to the local food source. Peacock females pick their mate according to the male’s tail. The ones with the largest and brightest tails mate more often which means that the males without bright tail feathers have become very rare. Species of trees that are efficient at dispersing their seeds are more likely to survive in certain environments than those that don’t. Thus, according to Darwinian theory, over the long time periods required for evolution, species less well adapted to their environment died out, while those better adapted survived and became the species that Darwin and we see around us today.
Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution formed a great challenge to the creationist beliefs of religion. The creationist view (especially in Darwin’s time) would be, for example, that the zebra’s stripes, the size and shape of bird beaks and claws, the way trees disperse their seeds, the long neck of a giraffe etc etc – all these are they way they are because God created them that way.
But Darwin’s theory did not require a creator nor any kind of intelligent design. It’s a materialistic world in which nature is essentially blind and devoid of any plan – all depends on best fit and the opportinuties for reproduction in a changing and complex inter-related natural world, hence this always leads to further adaption and refinement.
The notion that nature is blind is what really sets Darwin’s theory of evolution at odds with Theosophy, but perhaps more of that another time as this post has got a bit too long.
Peter February 10, 2017 at 10:13 am #4853
I’m not sure about this ‘survival of the fittest’ question. I’d be interested to see what HPB says in the conversation you refer to. HPB has this to say on the topic in one article in Collected Writings:
“In his letter of December 7th, Colonel Olcott very appropriately illustrates his subject
of potential immortality by citing the admitted physical law of the survival of the fittest.
The rule applies to the greatest as to the smallest things—to the planet equally with the
plant. It applies to man.”
(CW 1 297 “Views of the Theosophists’)
Wouldn’t we say that this applies to the spiritual aspect of our nature too? Perhaps it depends on what we mean by ‘the fittest’ or what it is, exactly, that is fit to survive? For example, only the spiritual aspects of the personality in this or any lifetime will survive, be assimilated and thus ‘immortalised’ by the Higher Ego (Buddhi-Manas) in Devachan. Isn’t the extent to which a human being is able to achieve this union also a crucial aspect of what the Mahatma refers to in His letter to Sinnett?
‘…matter ground over in the workshop of nature proceeds soulless back to its Mother Fount; while the Egos purified of their dross are enabled to resume their progress once more onward. It is here, then, that the laggard Egos perish by the millions. It is the solemn moment of the “survival of the fittest,” the annihilation of those unfit. It is but matter (or material man) which is compelled by its own weight to descend to the very bottom of the “circle of necessity” to there assume animal form; as to the winner of that race throughout the worlds — the Spiritual Ego, he will ascend from star to star, from one world to another, circling onward to rebecome the once pure planetary Spirit, then higher still, to finally reach its first starting point, and from thence — to merge into MYSTERY.’
(Mahatma Letter to Sinnett, letter 9; Barker Edition)
We see another similar reference in Letter 13, note 6, where the Mahatma talks about the destruction of egos in the fifth Round.
Peter January 27, 2017 at 9:34 pm #4747
“All polarities are not problems to be solved.”
That’s a very wise statement, Nancy. You may already know that the psychologist, Carl Jung, wrote about what he called the transcendent function with polarities in mind. He believed this arose as a mediating force within the individual when the individual is able to bear the tension of the opposites within the psyche. Such a union of the opposites can result in a new attitude towards oneself and life at large – a deeper connection between the rational aspects of the mind and deeper ‘non-rational’ aspects of our being.
Peter January 27, 2017 at 2:43 pm #4743
Pavel – that’s a sound suggestion. Why not hear the doctrine from one who so obviously practices it? In addition, one might consider buying “A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night’ – a commentary by the Dalai Lama on Shatideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.’ This would allow people to reflect upon the notion of the Bodhisattva ideal and come to their own conclusions about its value.
The doctrines on Compassion and Emptiness go together, don’t they. If the doctrine of Emptiness was merely nihilistic there would be no one to feel compassion towards.
Peter January 27, 2017 at 2:29 pm #4742
Irfan wrote: ‘what you said here Peter … signifies the eternal gulf or gap between us Vedantins (the universal majoritarian mainstream Perennial Philosophy) and the Mahayanist movement that sort of broke off and went its own way
The Vedanta and the Mahayana are both great spiritual traditions. While they have their differences what they have in common is the desire to lift the veil of ignorance from human beings so that liberation from the wheel of suffering may be achieved. That they both share such a noble aim might be considered reason enough for respect and goodwill to exist between them. Studying them both has deepened my understanding of Theosophy.
Peter January 26, 2017 at 8:43 pm #4713
Irfan (#4694) – re HPB’s passage on Yogacharya and Prasangika schools. It is irrelevant what the esoteric doctrines of those schools might be. In order to find support for your ongoing disparagement of Madhymaka / Prasangika doctrines you have found a passage where HPB appears to criticise and dismiss them. However, it’s clear from other passages written by HPB that its not that straight forward – she doesn’t dismiss this school but respects both its exoteric and esoteric teachings. That was the point of posting that passage from Collected Writings.
That Nargajuna and Asanga had rival views means very little on its own. It’s not unusual to find rival views in the same spiritual tradition.
What comes across most clearly in your posts is that you have a deep disdain for Tibetan Buddhism and its Madyamaka /Prasangika philosophy in particular. This shows itself clearly in the very negative way your referred to Shantideva and in the way you dismiss anything shared with you in relation the Bodhisattva Ideal associated with those schools or linked to Theosophy.
I can appreciate from your earlier messages (prior to the discussion of Shantideva and the ‘Heirs of Nalanda’) that these teachings do not accord with the strong beliefs you hold and which are obviously dear to your heart. So, keeping within the context of our discussion topics why not spend a little more time sharing your understanding of those teachings which truly resonate with you rather than arguing over the ones that don’t.
Peter January 26, 2017 at 2:02 pm #4693
Here is something else HPB wrote:
‘The Tibetan sect of the Ngo-vo-nyid-med par Mraba (“they who deny existence,” or “regard nature as Māyā”) can never be contrasted for one moment with some of the nihilistic or materialistic schools of India, such as the Chārvāka. They are pure Vedāntins — if anything — in their views. And if the Yoga-charyās may be compared with, or called the Tibetan Vishishadvaitīs, the Prasanga School is surely the Advaita Philosophy of the land. It was divided into two: one was originally founded by Bhāvaviveka, the Svātantrika Mādhyamika School, and the other by Buddhapālita; both have their exoteric and esoteric divisions. It is necessary to belong to the latter to know anything of the esoteric doctrines of that sect, the most metaphysical and philosophical of all.
(CW XIV 438; from ‘A Few More Misconceptions Corrected.’ )
Peter January 26, 2017 at 1:31 pm #4692
Irfan – I get the impression that you are more interested in dismissing the Bodhisattva Ideal (and perhaps Buddhism in general) than in trying to understand it. Your initial claim was that it was an idea concocted by the overheated imagination of Shantideva. The historical evidence shows this claim is false.
The validity of the Bodhisattva Ideal is not going to depend on the number of Bodhisattvas you or I have personally met. Perhaps there are only a relatively few in our age, just as there seem to be only a few enlightened beings from any spiritual tradition compared to the number of sentient beings as whole. Should we dismiss spiritual enlightenment as a false ideal because the universe does not appear to be overflowing with Jnanis?
In Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhisattva ideal is something that each and any of us may choose to aspire to. It is a path with many stages of development thus it contains beginners as well as proficients. Hopefully, as humanity develops there will come a time when there there are more people working for the good of the All than there are people working for their own selfish ends; hopefully there will come a time when there are more enlightened beings than those suffering through ignorance. In the meantime, the Bodhisattva ideal signifies an intention, as aspiration, to help our fellow Man and not give up that aspiration until everyone is freed from ignorance and suffering.
Such an aspiration forms part of the cornerstone of all theosophical endeavour. As one of HPB’s Teachers wrote:
‘The term “Universal Brotherhood” is no idle phrase. Humanity in the mass has a paramount claim upon us… It is the only secure foundation for universal morality. If it be a dream, it is at least a noble one for mankind and it is the aspiration of the true adept.’
(Mahatma Letters to Sinnett; no 28)
Peter January 26, 2017 at 11:20 am #4690
To add a further thought to Samantha’s good point – if the underlying Reality is boundless, eternal and infinite then the potentiality for all life to unfold and develop can also be infinite and without limit. The one does not contradict the other. From this point of view we might envisage an unending field of manifestation Absolute Relativity coeval with an ungraspable Ultimate and Infinite Reality – the ‘two’ in fact being two aspects of THE ONE and portrayed as the ceaseless motion of ‘The Great Breath’ in the Secret Doctrine, the inbreathing and out breathing of Kosmos.
Peter January 26, 2017 at 11:15 am #4689
Good point, Gerry. The Bodhisattva Ideal is not ultimately about metaphysics. Somehow the discussion on metaphysics, the nature of the Infinite, is getting in the way of understanding this aspiration and ideal when, actually, the two support each other.
If we believe in the unity of all life as a fact in nature then the Bodhisattva Ideal would appear to be in harmony with our belief.
If we believe in the One-ness of all life, why would we not want to help other beings?
If the suffering of sentient beings is largely due to ignorance and our misapprehension of the nature of Reality, why wouldn’t those Wise Beings who have overcome that illusion seek to be of aid to those still caught in the delusion? And why would we not strive to become wise and compassionate in that same way if we claim to feel any sense of unity with other beings?
Peter January 25, 2017 at 4:24 pm #4664
Hello Irfan ( re your post 4638 and Shantideva and question about the Bodhisattva ideal)
It’s not correct to say that the bodhisattva ideal was concocted by Shantideva (circa 700ce).
Yes, the bodhisattva ideal is normally associated mainly with the Mahayana tradition in Buddhism with its strong emphasis on attaining enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. However, it is not absent from the earlier schools of Buddhism; see, for example, Walpola Rahula writings, where he seeks to show that the Bodhisattva Ideal was present in the early teachings of Buddhism. The Buddha refers to his former lifetimes as a Bodhisattva.
Nagarjuna writing around 500 years ealier than Shantideva writes about the Bodhisattva ideal in his Precious Garland (a famous Mahayana text). Nor is the bodhisattva ideal limited only to Madhyamikas in Tibetan Buddhism. The Madhymaka tradition, dating back to the time of Nagarjuna, is a philosophical school centred around views of emptiness. Aryasanga (circa 300ce), regarded as the founder of the Yogacarya school with the Mahayana, also wrote about the Bodhisattva ideal in his ‘The Bodhisattva Path to Unsurpassed Enlightenment’.
The Bodhisattva ideal is ofter referred to simply as ‘the spirit of enlightenment’. It distinguishes between those who seek enlightenment and liberation for the sake of other beings and those who seek liberation for their own sake alone. The latter are regarded as following the lower vehicle(s) to liberation (the Hinayana), and who seek to free themselves from the endless circle of rebirths in samsara. The following passages give some pointers as to what developing the spirit of enlightenment, or Bodhisattva ideal, involves.
‘Once you have abandoned forever the two lower vehicles,
Which possess no power to provide the welfare of the world,
Enter the vehicle which the Conquerer Sakyamuni compassionately taught ––
This consists only of helping others
When people see that joy and unhappiness are like a dream
And that beings degenerate due to the faults of delusion,
Why would they strive for their own welfare,
Forsaking dealing in the excellent deeds of altruism.
Why wouldn’t anyone who is in the Conquerer’s lineage and
Who works for the welfare of the world
Have compassion for those stumbling with their eyes of wisdom closed
And joyously persevere so as to clear away such confusion.
(from Āryasura’s – ‘Compendium of the Perfections’, quoted in the Lamrim Chemno of Tsongkapa, book 2)
The Bodhisattva path, as explained by Tsongkhapa, includes the development of both Wisdom and Compassion. Quoting Maitreya :
Through knowledge you do not abide in cyclic existence [samsara].
Through compassion you do not abide in peace [nirvana].
In other words, the Bodhisattva frees him/herself from the ongoing cycle of suffering (samsara – i.e. the cycle of birth and death resulting from ignorance and its resulting karma). Yet the Bodhisattva does not seek to be free of rebirth entirely, such as would happen by dwelling in nirvana alone. The Bodhisattva stays within the realm of cyclic existence as a result of his/her altruistic intention to help suffering beings.
Peter January 23, 2017 at 2:55 pm #4642
Irfan and Kristan,
It’s completely accurate for you to say that neither the Theosophical Society (or any other theosophical group) nor HPB’s book are THE Secret Doctrine that she asserts underlies all the great spiritual traditions.
I’m only wishing to add to your good thoughts when I say that, of course, HPB never made either of those claims in the passages I cited. That said, she did claim that her book, ‘The Secret Doctrine’, revealed a few fundamental truths from the Secret Doctrine of the Archaic Ages. It’s on that basis that we might study it, acknowledging that those ‘few fundamental truths’ are by no means the complete picture nor the last word on esoteric Wisdom. I mention this just in case people less familiar with her writings form a misunderstanding as to what HPB claimed about her work and the role of the Society she helped form.
Peter January 23, 2017 at 12:06 pm #4641
Pierre, that’s such a good synopsis of the overall vision of evolution which we could apply to all three spiritual streams that the SD discusses: spiritual, mental and physical. Great post and really helpful passages from the literature for us to reflect upon.
Another passage you could have quoted, one that I know you are already very familiar with is, is below. Referring to the ‘time’ when everything will have re-entered the Great Breath. i.e. Paranirnava, HPB writes:
‘…re-absorption is by no means such a “ dreamless sleep,” but, on the contrary, absolute existence, an unconditioned unity, or a state, to describe which human language is absolutely and hopelessly inadequate. . . . Nor is the individuality — nor even the essence of the personality , if any be left behind — lost, because re-absorbed. For, however limitless — from a human standpoint — the paranirvanic state, it has yet a limit in Eternity. Once reached, the same monad will re-emerge therefrom, as a still higher being, on a far higher plane, to recommence its cycle of perfected activity. The human mind cannot in its present stage of development transcend, scarcely reach this plane of thought. It totters here, on the brink of incomprehensible Absoluteness and Eternity.’
(SD I 266)
A few thoughts come to mind when reflecting upon your post and the passage from HPB, above. Firstly, from a theosophical perspective it does not appear to be enough to describe the goal of the spiritual path solely in terms of becoming one with the Divine / Absolute or similar such phrases. These passages point to a much larger process of Becoming –– one on a Kosmic scale that we cannot begin to imagine. To awaken to the underlying Reality of our existence is only a part of our journey it seems. Hence, awakened Beings still toil and work with Nature in our current cycle, just as they too will have to embark on still higher rungs of the Kosmic ladder in future Maha-manvantaras, according to the Secret Doctrine.
Secondly, if absolute perfection is absolute as far the capacity for becoming (or perfection) in any one great cycle (Maha-manvantara) is concerned, and yet it is still relative in terms of Absoluteness, then we may need to be a bit more cautious and reflective when we use the term Absolute. Even the notion of Parabrahm may need more investigation, especially as we find the terms Parabrahm and Para-parabrahm used in the Mahatma letters (see letter 13, Barker edition).
Is there a symbol that might hint at the distinction between Absolute Perfection and an ‘incomprehensible Absolutenes? The symbol of the immaculate white disk within a dull black ground as found on the first page of the PROEM in the Secret Doctrine might serve.
‘The once circle is divine Unity, from which all proceeds, whither all returns. Its circumference –– a forcibly limited symbol, in view of the limitation of the human mind –– indicates the abstract ever incognisance PRESENCE and its plane, the Universal Soul, although the two are one. Only the face of the Disk being white and the ground all around black, shows clearly that its plane is the only knowledge, dim and hazy though it still is, that is attainable by man.’ (SD I 1)
The ‘absolute’ perfection of any grand cycle (maha-manvantara) may well correlate with the symbol of the face of the Disk – the ONLY knowledge which is attainable in this particular grand cycle and which is still dim and hazy to us at this stage of our development. The ever incognisance PRESENCE, incomprehensible Absoluteness is symbolised by the dull black ground.
Just some thoughts. Thoughts which may already be obvious (or obviously incorrect) to others, of course.
Peter January 22, 2017 at 2:03 pm #4602
‘Theosophy is not a religion, but a philosophy at once religious and scientific; and that the chief work, so far, of the Theosophical Society has been to revive in each religion its own animating spirit, by encouraging and helping enquiry into the true significance of its doctrines and observances. Theosophists know that the deeper one penetrates into the meaning of the dogmas and ceremonies of all religions, the greater becomes their apparent underlying similarity, until finally a perception of their fundamental unity is reached. This common ground is no other than Theosophy—the Secret Doctrine of the ages..’ (CW VIII 268)
Therefore, the student of theosophy may come from any background in life and may be a follower of any of the great religions or of none. From a study of their writings we discover that the aim of HPB and her Teachers was not to present the multitudes around the world with a method of spiritual practice that could and should be applied by all. A twofold general aim is apparent from their writings: 1) to assert a fundamental unity or source underlying all religions and 2) to assert the fundamental unity of all life as a fact in nature.
In terms of spiritual practice Theosophy upholds the ethical and moral values found in all the worlds great religions. It adds to this that the ideal aim of the aspirant on the spiritual path is to work for the benefit of the whole, not for his or her own welfare alone. How each person manages this path will depend on the temperament and developmental stage of each person along with circumstances in life (karma etc) in which they find themselves. Many students may already belong to a spiritual tradition with its own practices.
It appears that the aim of HPB and her Teachers was to point towards a fundamental unity of Truth and of Humanity rather than proclaim a uniform method that all should follow towards the realisation of that Truth. As one of her teachers wrote:
‘As the course of the river depends upon the nature of its basin, so the channel for communication of Knowledge must conform itself to surrounding circumstances. The Egyptian Hierophant, the Chaldean Mage, the Arhat, and the Rishi, were bound in days of yore on the same voyage of discovery and ultimately arrived at the same goal though by different tracks. There are even at the present moment three centres of the Occult Brotherhood in existence, widely separated geographically, and as widely exoterically –– the true esoteric doctrine being identical in substance though differing in terms; all aiming at the same grand object, but no two agreeing seemingly in the details of procedure. It is an every day occurrence to find students belonging to different schools of occult thought sitting side by side at the feet of the same Guru. Upasika (Madam B.) and Subba Row, though pupils of the same Master, have not followed the same Philosophy –– the one is Buddhist and the other an Adwaitee.’ (Mahatma Letter no. 85)
HPB seems to endorse some approaches to the spiritual path more than others. Her work, ‘The Voice of the Silence’ has inspired many but its study is by no means a requirement for a student. We each have to take stock of ourselves, examine what it is that we aspire towards, consider our strengths and weakness along with what we have and what we lack and start from there.
Peter December 19, 2016 at 7:20 pm #4038
Hi Gerry – yes, I guess we are more fashioners of the ‘material’ that we find around us (external or internal), rather than ‘creators’. We fashion, design and ‘create’ conditions based on the possibilities (potentialities) we ‘see’ in things – all the time working within the limits of natural law.
Peter December 17, 2016 at 3:54 pm #4019
Gerry, the Orthodox Christian use of the term creation often has to do with creatio ex nihilo. In other words, God created the world and everything in it out of nothing. Even matter was created by God and did not exist prior to that creation.
The problem from the Orthodox Christian perspective is that if matter existed prior to the Creation and God simply fashioned it then there would be two eternals – God and matter – something Christianity rejects. Thus, creatio ex materia (fashioning the world out of already existing matter) is rejected from this standpoint. However, the question remains how can something come from nothing?
Creatio ex deo is an alternative that some christians have put forward faced with the philosophical problems that the above alternatives pose. God issued the universe out of his own substance – in other words, the world is an emanation from God, who is the source. However, that raises the question, if God is Perfect and the world and all the beings in it issued from God, how come the world and all its beings are far from perfect? Can a world that came from God really be different from God?
Theosophy doesn’t reject the notion of creation per se, as I understand it. It depends on what is meant by the term ‘creation’ and to whom the creative act is attributed to.
Peter December 5, 2016 at 4:29 pm #3964
More interesting thoughts, Barbara – thanks. Yes, how to make that transition ‘from a dense to a more receptive state’? It seems to me that we usually need reasons to make a significant change of any kind. Reasons tend to arise out of reflection on experience and on whatever ‘wisdom’ (inner and outer) that is available to us at the time. Ideas shape our beliefs and our beliefs, in turn, shape our desires. Perhaps ‘ideas do rule the world’ as Plato says (or at least is attributed to him). If so, this would be a fertile field in which to labour and help each other.
(ps: apologies for delay in replying)
Peter November 29, 2016 at 11:11 am #3899
Good thoughts, Barbara. I was thinking out loud, so to speak, and starting from a more general place in wondering about ‘desire.’ I’m not quite sure we can say that desire evolves into aspiration. Isn’t an aspiration simply ‘a strong desire, longing, or ambition’? Aspirations can be material as well as spiritual. That said, you and James are obviously right to point out there is a process in which we may lift our focus from a ‘lower’ to a ‘higher’ object of desire. That’s why I think James is also right when he says that the injunction “To Kill out Desire” needs looking into and shouldn’t be taken at face value.
Let’s say that desire is a neutral force and it is the object chosen that determines whether this neutral force is regarded as a material or a spiritual desire. (Your view is more complex than this, of course). The difficulty here is that many of our objects of desire are also neutral in themselves – particularly material objects and possessions? The golden necklace, the cash of coins, a naked body, the fast car, the large house & so on – in themselves they are just objects in the world not objects of desire. The same object may be desired by one person, loathed by another, while yet another person feels indifferent towards it.
Is the problem, then, not to do with desire per se, nor with the objects in themselves, but more to do with our views about ourselves, others and the world around us? I think this is why the great teachers such as the Buddha, Tsongkhapa, and Sankaracarya say that Liberation relies on the removal of ignorance. We have a false view of ourselves and of the world and this is the root of all suffering and bondage.
In the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, for example, the Buddha places Ignorance first and traces how it leads to the cycle of suffering. The craving and grasping referred to here are as much about wrong views as they are about desires. In short, it is an ignorance about the nature of Reality which causes us to grasp at a self (the aggregates or personality) that inherently exists and is separate from others, a self that we crave to satisfy through the delights of sentient existence. In the Eight Fold path leading to the cessation of that craving, grasping and consequent suffering, Right View is placed as the first step. (Nirvana in this context refers to the cessation or blowing out of all that craving and grasping at a false sense of self.)
One of the important aspects of the teachings which these great sages point out is that unless we remove ignorance about the nature of the self and the world, then our spiritual desires or aspirations will just take on a more subtler form of craving and grasping – still centred around the notion of a false idea of a inherently existing separate self.
Anyway, just some thoughts and wonderings.
Peter November 10, 2016 at 9:18 pm #3798
Thanks Kristan – lovely passages. My own comment was more mundane. I was suggesting we hadn’t actually clarified what we meant by The Two Paths. Is it Left and Right Hand Path; direct or gradual; individual liberation rather than seeking liberation for all beings; head or heart & so on?
Peter November 10, 2016 at 9:00 pm #3796
“Is the Eye Doctrine to be connected with Bliss Immediate and the Heart Doctrine with Bliss deferred? Or is that going the wrong way with the correlations?”
Good question, Gerry. I don’t think we can quite correlate them in this way. HPB tends to use the term ‘Eye Doctrine’ to refer to exoteric teachings – whether of the Buddha or other religions, while the Heart Doctrine usually refers to the esoteric teachings.
The exoteric teachings of the buddhist Mahayana tradition contain extensive teachings on both the path that leads to bliss / liberation for oneself and on the bodhisattva path which seeks liberation for all beings (liberation deferred). So, we can’t easily divide these into exoteric and esoteric.
Peter November 9, 2016 at 2:45 pm #3770
“Is it a choice that we make at one time or is it a choice that we must make over and over again, or perhaps both?”
Interesting question, Grace. Perhaps any choice which involves a major transformation of our outlook and way of life is one that we inevitably end up coming back to and affirming, time and time again until through steadfastness of will, application and the necessary build up of energy and motivation we finally cross a threshold beyond which no more choice and willing is necessary.
We must necessarily make many, many choices throughout our life and over many lifetimes. While looked at as a whole these may be varied and perhaps even contradictory at one time compared to another (thus seeming to cancel out each other). Yet our day to day choosing does seem to leave an imprint on our nature, which becomes our disposition or latent propensity to act in one way rather than another when future choices arise.
It may well be that it is in events of our day to day choosing – even though these be relatively minor choices compared to those that aspirants more advanced than ourselves have to take – that adds to, builds up and strengthens that underlying disposition or latent propensity towards goodness, goodwill and altruistic action. Who knows – perhaps with steady regular effect such a point is reached whereby our disposition and latent propensity towards ‘the good’ is so strong that to choose otherwise is no longer an option.
Peter November 9, 2016 at 10:31 am #3766
Also, we find it stated: “Nature geometries universally in all her manifestations.” See passage below from The Secret Doctrine:
(b) Next we see Cosmic matter scattering and forming itself into elements ; grouped into the mystic four within the fifth element — Ether, the lining of Akasa, the Anima Mundi or Mother of Kosmos. “ Dots, Lines, Triangles, Cubes, Circles ” and finally “ Spheres ” — why or how ? Because, says the Commentary, such is the first law of Nature, and because Nature geometrizes universally in all her manifestations. There is an inherent law — not only in the primordial, but also in the manifested matter of our phenomenal plane — by which Nature correlates her geometrical forms, and later, also, her compound elements ; and in which there is no place for accident or chance.
(SD I 97; emphasis added)
Peter October 14, 2016 at 1:21 pm #3618
Hi Kate – I’m quite slow in catching up with posts at the moment. Apologies for the delay in replying. Yes, I see what you are getting at in your example with regards to whether or not Karma always waits until the next life to operate.
As I see it, there are a number of factors we have to take into account in relation to karma. Our actions and their effects on others generate not only the karmic conditions into which we will be born in a future life, they also generate the type of characteristics and tendencies (i.e. the skandhas) that will make up the personality in the next life. In other words, our character traits, our moral strengths and weaknesses, our tendencies and inclinations are all carried forward as part of the karmic stream of cause and effect that make up our moment to moment experience – the mental continuum which underpins our personal nature. Thus, our current personal make up is just as much ‘our karma’ as are the surroundings and conditions we are born into and the people we find ourselves born among.
How might the above apply to someone in this life who, let’s say, is consumed with work and who consequently doesn’t make any time for her friends, the result of which leads her friends to desert her, which in turn leads to her to experience great loneliness and isolation?
Well, it could be karma not waiting till the next life to fulfil itself in another life – instant karma, so to speak. Alternatively, it might be the effects of previous life causes maturing in this life. For example, if the personal characteristics we have in this life are the continuation of characteristics in our previous life, it’s possible that this person acted in a similar way in the previous life. Since we also create the karmic conditions we find ourselves born into, it could be the case that this person finds herself in this life living among people who, in one way or another, will cause her to realise the painful consequences of this behaviour. This comes to a peak in her own experiences of loneliness and isolation along with insight, at some point, into the process.
The truth is, we don’t know for sure how karma is working itself out at any moment in our lives. While it can appear that the events of our lives can be explained by present life causes and conditions, it may well be the case that these present day causes and effects are merely a part of the drama being acted out on a larger stage of life directed by our overall Karma and that of other people. For example, what did the friends who deserted her also need to experience and learn in this life based on their karma generated in the past? The law of Karma is far reaching in its time scale and far reaching in the complexity of causal links, influences and possibilities that it brings together in any one lifetime. We may have our intuitions but mainly we find ourselves speculating and inferring from general principles – not knowing if we are correct or not.
Peter October 12, 2016 at 5:10 pm #3598
Kate, Pierre and Jon – really good thoughts.
I have a slightly different understanding to yourself, Pierre, of that passage on Kama Deva from ‘The Glossary’. Love and compassion are aspects or qualities of Kamadeva, as you say, just as mercy, kindness, the desire for universal good are also aspects of Kamadeva as described in that passage. That doesn’t necessarily mean that any one aspect or quality is identical to any other aspect or all other aspects. For example, mercy implies that kindness is present at the time of mercy, yet mercy isn’t identical to kindness. It’s possible to be kind when mercy isn’t present or even relevant.
If we take the view that love and compassion are identical, or take Kate’s view that compassion is active love, then it follows that it is not possible to feel compassion towards beings we do not love or to feel it when love is not present or active in us. From this we might deduce that what we mistake for compassion is actually another feeling such as pity or sympathy or concern or sorrow for another being’s plight – in other words, not real compassion. Yet, when we ask, ‘what is compassion?’ we find ourselves describing it as a feeling of, say, pity, sympathy, concern or sorrow for the suffering / situation of another being or beings etc. These being the very feelings we say the person is mistaking for compassion.
If we were to say that compassion is another word for the love for another being, or beings in general, then we would miss some of the essential properties that make compassion what it is. Compassion may be a manifestation of love in action. It may also be a manifestation of justice in action. It could also be a manifestation of understanding in action. This latter aspect of understanding might be related to Pierre’s idea of different levels of compassion depending upon our evolutionary development.
In my example of feeling compassion for the serious criminal or terrorist, this feeling arose out of my understanding of karma and reincarnation – limited as that understanding is. For it was in reflecting upon the future karmic ramifications for those people that my feelings of concern and sorrow arose – contemplating not just the ‘retribution’ which at some time must necessarily follow, but how the future skandhas of those people might likely lead to even more crimes of a similar nature, thus the potential for the negative cycle to repeat itself on and on before it is eventually broken – if, indeed, it ever does get broken.
Perhaps as our understanding of universal law grows, and as deeper more direct realisations ensue, our capacity for compassion grows accordingly. Indeed, once the flame of compassion is awakened our desire to form an understanding of life and its laws may also increase. Thus the compassion of a Initiate, Adept or Buddha is immeasurably deeper than our own due to their Wisdom. And along with an ever deepening realisation of universal brotherhood as a fact, not just an idea, the intensity and sweep of compassion increases to a level far beyond our current level of comprehension. Wisdom and Compassion – hand in hand.
Could we imagine having compassion without any understanding of how another being might feel in the circumstances they find themselves in? Could I feel pity for the suffering of other human beings, as the Buddhas of Compassion are said to feel for us, if I had no understanding of what those beings are experiencing and going through? In her love for the child a mother feels a level of compassion the child is, as yet, unable to feel for her. This may be connected to Jon’s good point and question about compassion for the ‘other’. It appears that Compassion is always ‘for’ some being or beings. Even in our passage on Kama Deva, ‘the other’ is implied right from the beginning with the emergence of that ray from the Absolute :
“Kama is the first conscious, all embracing desire for universal good, love, and for all that lives and feels, needs help and kindness, the first feeling of infinite tender compassion and mercy that arose in the consciousness of the creative ONE Force, as soon as it came into life and being as a ray from the ABSOLUTE…’ (emphasis added.)
- This reply was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by Peter.
Peter September 20, 2016 at 4:45 pm #3461
The theory of the three gunas in the Bhagavad Gita suggest our actions are involuntary, urged on by ‘the qualities which spring form nature (prakriti).’ This fits in to some extent with our experience choosing. We may well feel free in the moment of our choosing or decision making, while our friends and family see our choices as highly predictable. It’s what they would have expected of us from the qualities of our nature they have come to know over time.
On the other hand, one of the issues that the theory of the three gunas raises is, if all our actions are involuntary being no more than the qualities (gunas) which spring from nature (prakriti), in what sense can the individual be held morally responsible for her actions? I think this is a key part of Jon’s original question regarding the motive for action. To put it another way, if the law of Karma acts on the basis of absolute justice, how could it be just to ‘punish’ or ‘reward’ someone for acts they could not help doing because their actions were involuntary?
Peter September 19, 2016 at 2:28 pm #3434
Jon, to explore your first question we probably need to take into account that the system of the Bhagavad Gita is not identical to that in Theosophy. It’s a blend of the Samkhya system, Yoga, Bhakti and even lends itself to the Advaita system of the Non-Dual Brahman. Essentially, in these systems, to discriminate Self from not-Self is to distinguish between the Atman and non-Atman. From this perspective Atman is the Self (Spirit, Purusha or Consciousness) and all its vehicles are are non-Self, i.e. Prakriti (insentient matter with its inherent energy). The vehicles (upadhis) of the Self are Buddhi, ahankara , manas, citta, the senses of cognition and senses of action & so on. All these vehicles are various aspects of Prakriti. Since Prakriti is said to have three essential inherent qualities or gunas (sativa, rajas and tamas) then each of these vehicles is said to be constituted of one or more of these three qualities of Prakriti and acts according to its nature or qualities.
Atman is said to be the Witness Consciousness (pure Consciousness and Knowledge), it does not act. All action comes from Prakriti. The ‘me’ which acts is made up of Prakriti, namely, the Intellect (buddhi), Ego (ahamkara), mind (manas) and citta (sometimes referred to as memory). This fourfold aspect of the ‘me’ is often referred to as the antakharana. It is the latter which provides the continuity from one incarnation to the next.
This ‘me’ is said to be the Self veiled by ignorance of its own nature and through identification with its own vehicles, or put slightly differently – consciousness identified with form. Depending on our previous thoughts, desires and actions, the antakarana and the physical form becomes constituted by matter of a kind which reflects those very thoughts and actions. Such matter is a combination the three gunas – often one more dominant than the rest. Put simplistically, depending on these qualities so we act – the pure of thought act purely, the slothful act slothfully, the restless act restlessly – they can’t help themselves but act according to their ‘nature’. Thus, whenever this ‘me’ acts it acts under the influence of ‘the qualities which spring from nature (prakriti)’ – because it is largely made up of Prakriti.
Discrimination of Self and not-Self is going to involve at least reflecting on what is the source of that consciousness that wells up as ‘I’ or ‘me’ in relation to matter and form.
The theosophical view is more complex and takes into account various levels of consciousness and being, identifying the moral agent as Manas, along with rejecting the idea that there is anything insentient in nature.
Peter September 18, 2016 at 1:15 pm #3419
Barbara, I wonder if that passage from Patanjali relates more to lower manas? If we recall from our earlier studies, lower Manas is described as a ray of Higher Manas. In itself it is pure but gets mixed up with kama and the energies of the psyche forming what we call the personality and kama-manasic mind. Using Patanjali’s terms we might say it becomes modified by the various vrittis which ‘colour’ the mind. When these vrittis are stilled, the mind becomes clear and transparent again. It is like the crystal which when held near a red cloth becomes red & so on. The underlying notion seems to be that this mind, in itself, is capable of taking on the form of any object brought before it (mental or otherwise), but first the modifications of the mind (the vrittis) need to be still. These are the first steps in samadhi – the mind become one with its object of meditation.
Perhaps the most similar connection between the clear light nature of the mental stream in Mahayana Buddhism which remains for ever pure and Theosophy is the that of the Monad itself in its aspect as the sutratman:
“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)
There are other reasons to connect these two but that would require more posts which would take us even further from our original topic.
Peter September 15, 2016 at 2:57 pm #3403
Thanks for your ‘just a thought’, Pierre. I didn’t think you saw the All-thought as an aggregate of all our lower thoughts. I certainly wasn’t suggesting this was HPB’s belief – if nothing else was clear in my post, I hope that at least this should have been.
What I am wondering about in my post is whether, by introducing the notion of All-Thought rather than One Thought, the Voice of the Silence is pointing towards a different quality or movement of being than mentioned hitherto. Up to this point we’ve had mention of the transition from the many sounds to the One sound; the many senses to the One sense, so, it would have been quite congruent to continue with the transition from many thoughts to the One Thought. Instead we are asked to give up the many thoughts for the All-Thought.
The rest of my post is simply an attempt to uncover what ‘The Voice of the Silence’ might mean by ‘All-Thought’. Interestingly, the one thought which underpins all of those many thoughts of ours which prevents us to ‘feel All-Thought’ is the belief in the separateness of the soul from the Universal Soul.
It may be relevant that in the Collected Writings, HPB describes the All-Thought in relation to Spinoza’s concept of the One Substance (the Parabrahm of the Advaitee) and not in terms of Leibniz’ monads, defined as infinite points without extension in space (is this the reference you had in mind?) For Leibniz, the Universe is ‘an infinitude of Beings, from, and in, the One’ – a Unity of units. For Spinoza there is only ever the One Substance – there is no Unity of units or Ocean made up of drops. The student of Theosophy has to combine both views into a whole, according to HPB – they are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps, in terms of our passage in ‘The Voice of the Silence’, when the disciple is instructed to ‘feel ALL-THOUGHT’ she is being reminded of the Unity from Spinoza side of the coin, so to speak.
I’m not saying the above is right or better than your own good views, I’m just exploring and feeling my way through, as it were.
Peter September 13, 2016 at 10:33 am #3386
I’m not sure if the ALL-THOUGHT is quite the same as One Thought. I wonder if there is a different kind of movement or quality here than we find, for example, in the instruction to ‘merge all thy senses into the one sense’. The instruction here is to exile all thoughts rather than merge them all into one, and in the next verse we read that ‘so must all earthly thoughts fall dead before the fane.’ (Fragment 3, p61) Perhaps this links to the very first page of Fragment 1 of The Voice of The Silence, where we read that the disciple must seek out and destroy the rajah of the senses, the Thought- Producer, he who awakes illusion.
What is the illusion that the Thought-Producer awakes, and what are these earthly thoughts which the disciple has to exile? They are probably legion, yet the one thought or central belief which feeds them all is referred to on p8 of Fragment 1, namely, ‘the delusion called “Great Heresy.”’ This is explained in the Glossary to The VOICE as ‘the heresy of the belief in Soul or rather the separateness of Soul or Self from the One Universal, infinite Self.’ (p74)
Having explained in Fragment 3 the path up to the stage of Dhyan Mârga (the sixth of the seven Portals or Gates) the disciple is told that before s/he can ever reach that stage the hardest task is still yet to be carried out, namely:
’thou hast to feel thyself ALL-THOUGHT, and yet exile all thoughts from out thy Soul.’
That this is something the disciple has to feel suggests this is a movement of the heart. The disciple has been given a similar instruction earlier, in Fragment 1:
‘Silence thy thoughts and fix thy whole attention on thy Master whom yet thou dost not see, but whom thou feelest.’
What does the term ‘Master’ refer to in this instruction? We find the answer to this back in Fragment 3 amidst our verses on the Seven Portals or Gates and that of the ALL-THOUGHT:
‘Of teachers there are many; the MASTER – SOUL is one, Alaya, the Universal Soul. Live in that MASTER as ITS ray in thee. Live in thy fellows as they live in IT.’ (p50)
How, then, with this above in mind, should we understand the reference to ‘feel thyself ALL-THOUGHT’? A clue to this is in HPB’s response to an article, ‘The God Idea’, originally in the Theosophist 1883:
‘For us there is no over-soul or under-soul; but only ONE—substance: the last word being used in the sense Spinoza attached to it; calling it the ONE Existence, we cannot limit its significance and dwarf it to the qualification “over”; but we apply it to the universal, ubiquitous Presence, rejecting the word ‘Being,’ and replacing it with “All-Being.” Our Deity as the “God” of Spinoza and of the true Adwaitee—neither thinks, nor creates, for it is All-thought and All-creation. We say with Spinoza—who repeated in another key but what the Esoteric doctrine of the Upanishads teaches: ‘Extension is visible Thought; Thought is invisible Extension.’ For Theosophists of our school the Deity is a UNITY in which all other units in their infinite variety merge and from which they are indistinguishable…The individual drops of the curling waves of the universal Ocean have no independent existence.’ (The Collected Writings, vol 6, p10; bold emphasis added)
The All-Thought appears, then, to be Alaya, the Universal Soul. Unless the disciple can feel herself All-Thought, to live in IT and in her fellows as IT lives in them and her, then it will not be possible to enter even the first of the Severn Portals or Gates described in The Voice of the Silence. In fact, this was stated immediately after the Seven Portals were outlined a few pages earlier in Fragment 3:
‘Before thou canst approach the foremost gate thou hast to learn to part thy body from thy mind, to dissipate the shadow, and to live in the eternal. For this, thou hast to live and breathe in all, as all that thou perceivest breathes in thee; to feel thyself abiding in all things, all things in SELF.’ (p48)
(All page references to the Voice of the Silence are the original edition. How nice it would be if this original edition was reprinted once more – in facsimile form.)
- This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by Peter.
Peter September 12, 2016 at 7:07 pm #3380
Gerry, while agreeing with your general point, well made, we shouldn’t assume that ‘the mind’ in Mahayana buddhism frequently means the lower mind or kama-manas of Theosophy. The teachings on mind and consciousness in those teaching are quite complex and many different types of mind and mental factors are referred to and explained. The essential teaching on the nature of mind itself is that it is clear light. The clear or clarity nature of mind is sometimes related to space in that in itself it is unbounded, without form and without obstruction. The light aspect of mind relates to luminosity, in the sense of knowing – it is the source of all knowing, whether mundane or direct spiritual cognition. Hence the mind is sometimes referred as clear light or clear and knowing. Transient mental states may arise and pass away within the field of mind, but its essential and pure nature ever remains, even though obscured by ignorance and the gross mental factors.
This mind, which is clear and knowing, is sometimes described as a mental stream ever renewing itself from moment to moment – this is in line with the teachings on annica (change) in buddhism. While the notion of an independent self or ego existing by way of its own power is rejected in buddhism, it is the continuity of this stream of pure consciousness which is seen as linking all our lives together. For any one person the mind stream underpinning their existence is always that stream and never any other. The Dalai Lama states that there is nothing that can stop this continuum going forward nor undermine its essential nature (see ‘From Here to Enlightenment’) It is the potentiality within this mental stream that enables a person to become a Buddha. What needs to be removed or destroyed are the adventitious stains, which are the mental states of grasping, ignorance and the like, not the mind itself. Indeed, as the Dalai Lama explains, this cannot be removed.
In the Key to Theosophy HPB quotes a passage from Olcott’s work on ‘Buddhism’ to explain the difference between the Individuality or Reincarnating Ego (Buddhi-Manas) and the personality. The links with the above are obvious.
“The successive appearances upon the earth, or ‘descents into generation,’ of the tanhaically coherent parts (Skandhas) of a certain being, are a succession of personalities. In each birth the PERSONALITY differs from that of a previous or next succeeding birth. Karma, the DEUS EX MACHINA, masks (or shall we say reflects?) itself now in the personality of a sage, again as an artisan, and so on throughout the string of births. But though personalities ever shift, the one line of life along which they are strung, like beads, runs unbroken; it is ever that particular line, never any other. It is therefore individual, an individual vital undulation, which began in Nirvana . . .and leads through many cyclic changes back to Nirvana. Mr. Rhys-Davids calls that which passes from personality to personality along the individual chain ‘character,’ or ‘doing.’ Since ‘character’ is not a mere metaphysical abstraction, but the sum of one’s mental qualities and moral propensities, would it not help to dispel what Mr. Rhys-Davids calls ‘the desperate expedient of a mystery’ (Buddhism, p. 101) if we regarded the life-undulation as individuality, and each of its series of natal manifestations as a separate personality?” (The Key to Theosophy, p134, emphasis added)
Peter September 6, 2016 at 4:05 pm #3322
Great passage, Pierre. Thanks very much. It just goes to emphasise that our thoughts, feelings and desires are also ‘actions’ which have effects even if we don’t physically act them out. We may well generate as much or even more karma from our thoughts alone than from our thoughts linked with deeds. A sobering thought.
Peter September 5, 2016 at 11:52 am #3315
“nice research btw” –
Thanks again, Mark. It’s often more a question of knowing one has previously read something in HPB’s writings and then wondering how on earth to find it again! There is some excellent material in HPB’s Collected Writings. If students find it hard or too expensive to obtain all fourteen volumes, plus the index, they are available on line. Definitely worth the study, as you know.
That’s an interesting passage from Chatterji & Holloway’s ‘Man, Fragments of a Forgotten History.’ They say, “The physical Karma would be the act itself.” Would it be correct to say “the act itself” is always and only the physical action, while the psychic or mental aspect is always only the intentional or motive side of the act? In other words, might it be the case that our thoughts, feelings and desires are also acts (even ‘the act itself’) as well as being intentions and motives. (This links with Jon’s recent question on ‘That which ye sow, ye reap.) Further, such psychical or mental acts generate a string of causes and effects whether or not they are expressed physically or bodily? For example, one might consider to what extent our thoughts, feelings and desires impact the inner planes (e.g. the astral light) and how these influence directly or indirectly other beings – locally or in the larger collective.
Peter September 5, 2016 at 10:28 am #3314
Thanks, Mark. Yes, the doctrine regarding the Lipika would certainly be important. I just wanted to expand on the different uses of the term Karma while at the same time provide a general outline, as far as I understood it. Your chart brings out very well the difference between Karma as a moral law and Karma as the general law of cause and effect. While HPB does, in places, state that the Law of Karma is a moral law, we do find across the literature -theosophical and otherwise- that the same term is used for both the moral and general law cause and effect. Thus, the student needs to be sensitive to context. Of course, this is the case with all theosophical terminology.
Peter August 31, 2016 at 1:52 pm #3189
Yes Gerry, that makes sense and HPB does say this is the case. See quotes in previous posts.
It’s also worth us keeping in mind that ‘accidents’ can be of many kind and not simply or human origin. For example, those intelligences and forces behind the scenes of our material world, through which universal laws operate, are themselves imperfect. Hence not everything goes to plan. As HPB writes:
‘Now the collective Mind — the Universal — composed of various and numberless Hosts of Creative Powers, however infinite in manifested Time, is still finite when contrasted with the unborn and undecaying Space in its supreme essential aspect. That which is finite cannot be perfect.’ SD II 487
Referring to the aggregate of Dhyan Chohans which constitute the Logos, HPB says:
“They are dual in their character; being composed of (a) the irrational brute energy, inherent in matter, and (b) the intelligent soul or cosmic consciousness which directs and guides that energy, and which is the Dhyan-Chohanic thought reflecting the ideation of the Universal mind. This results in a perpetual series of physical manifestations and moral effects on Earth, during manvantaric periods, the whole being subservient to Karma. As that process is not always perfect; and since, however many proofs it may exhibit of a guiding intelligence behind the veil, it still shows gaps and flaws, and even results very often in evident failures..’ SD I 280
Peter August 30, 2016 at 7:51 pm #3166
The imagery of the Tree reminded me of what the Secret Doctrine states about the Sons of Wisdom who incarnated in the early part of our 3rd Root Race in this round. The Sons of Wisdom produced by Kriyasakti a progeny call ‘the Sons of the Firemist.’ This is what HPB says about it:
“It was not a Race, this progeny. It was at first a wondrous Being, called the “ Initiator,” and after him a group of semi-divine and semi-human beings. . .
“The “ Being ” just referred to, which has to remain nameless, is the Tree from which, in subsequent ages, all the great historically known Sages and Hierophants, such as the Rishi Kapila, Hermes, Enoch, Orpheus, etc., etc., have branched off. . . .
“And it is he again who holds spiritual sway over the initiated Adepts throughout the whole world. He is, as said, the “ Nameless One ” who has so many names, and yet whose names and whose very nature are unknown. He is the “ Initiator,” called the “ great sacrifice.” For, sitting at the threshold of light, he looks into it from within the circle of Darkness, which he will not cross ; nor will he quit his post till the last day of this life-cycle. Why does the solitary Watcher remain at his self-chosen post ? Why does he sit by the fountain of primeval Wisdom, of which he drinks no longer, as he has naught to learn which he does not know — aye, neither on this Earth, nor in its heaven ? Because the lonely, sore-footed pilgrims on their way back to their home are never sure to the last moment of not losing their way in this limitless desert of illusion and matter called Earth- Life. Because he would fain show the way to that region of freedom and light, from which he is a voluntary exile himself, to every prisoner who has succeeded in liberating himself from the bonds of flesh and illusion. Because, in short, he has sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind, though but a few Elect may profit by the great sacrifice.
“It is under the direct, silent guidance of this Maha — (great) — Guru that all the other less divine Teachers and instructors of mankind became, from the first awakening of human consciousness, the guides of early Humanity. It is through these “ Sons of God ” that infant humanity got its first notions of all the arts and sciences, as well as of spiritual knowledge ; and it is they who have laid the first foundation-stone of those ancient civilizations that puzzle so sorely our modern generation of students and scholars.”
(SD I 207-208)
Peter August 30, 2016 at 7:25 pm #3097
Just to say a bit more…It might be seen as a preliminary requirement or a step in the right direction if we already had the welfare of others in mind. Isn’t it possible that we often treat others the way we want to be treated, not for their sakes but for our own?
Glaucon raises an interesting question in Plato’s republic. He recounts the story of Gyges of Lydia, a shepherd who found a magical ring which gave him the power of invisibility. Gyges used the power of the ring to seduce the queen, murder the king and become king himself. Glaucon asks, if we had the Ring of Gyges and we could act without being seen, caught and punished, would we still act ethically? He doubts it. He suggests that our ethical codes and laws are merely forms of mutual agreement. We’ve learned that while our overt selfishness and the wrong we do to others may benefit us, the pain which comes when others treat us in the same way just undoes the benefits we may have achieved. Since we don’t want others to do wrong to us, we don’t do wrong to them. Likewise we treat others well so that they treat us the same way.
It would appear from this that a lot rests upon our motives and intentions.
Peter August 30, 2016 at 4:00 pm #3083
Those are good points, Tom. I think HPB was getting at the same thing when she says that Karma doesn’t act, it is we who act – as she put it, water doesn’t drown us, we drown ourselves when we go in the water. Through our actions (mind, speech and body) we bring ourselves into association with various universal laws and influences (moral and physical & so on) from which consequences follow according to the operation of those laws. When we slip and fall from the cliff face, gravity doesn’t punish us by making us fall to the ground and hurt us. If we believed it did we might also believe gravity punished us more for falling from a great height than falling from a lesser one, which would be absurd.
Peter August 30, 2016 at 3:15 pm #3076
Perhaps there is another question about the intellect that is worth considering, namely, is the intellect merely the marshalling or memorising of facts; a sequence of connected ideas?
The intellect is normally defined as the faculty of reasoning and understanding. We certainly need to gather information and ideas as part of the process, but wouldn’t we normally say this is just an initial stage. If we stopped at the gathering stage, our understanding would likely be very superficial.
When we gather information and ideas but don’t reflect upon them deeply and apply our power of reasoning to them, the danger is we may simply end up marshalling so called facts and ideas that fit in with our pre-existing beliefs while ignoring or reject those which upset them. A mind able to reason and reflect and which values truth over falsity isn’t afraid of ideas or facts that contradict existing beliefs. In themselves, the facts are always friendly.
What do we mean by imagination? Perhaps, when we talk about imagination we mean the power of using images rather than concepts i.e. we see intellect as merely dealing with concepts in contrast to, say, art which is an imaginative and visual process.
Is imagination something separate from the intellect? Can we conceptually understand the relevance of Pythagorus’ theorem without first being able to imaging a right angled triangle? Or, what about calculating how a spaceship might be launched from earth and eventually circle around Jupiter when it arrives in a few years time? Can we do that without using the imagination?
When we talk about imagination in contrast to intellect do we just mean imaginal thinking in contrast to logical thinking? Are both of these aspects or faculties of the Intellect or different aspects of mind altogether?
Peter August 30, 2016 at 10:31 am #3068
The golden rule generally means to treat others as we would wish them to treat us, or put negatively – don’t do to others what you wouldn’t wish them to do to you.
I wonder why this would constitute ‘incontrovertible evidence that all of the world’s religious traditions come from the same Parent Doctrine’? Even children and non-religious people can work out that fairness in relationships requires equal treatment of one another. Our laws often embody these principles without any religious connotation behind them, for example, we agree not to steal from one another and embody that in a law. Equality, human rights, animal rights & so on reflect this attitude towards other beings without the need for recourse to a religious tradition.
It would be hard to claim any kind of altruism in our attitude and behaviour towards others if we didn’t feel it mattered how we treated other people. But does treating others the way we would like to be treated in return necessarily form a sound basis for altruism?
Peter August 15, 2016 at 3:00 pm #2151
Hello Barbara – I see now that a wiser response on my part to your question would have been to first ask you what you mean by the term ‘accident.’ You say that for you an ‘accident means something random and arbitrary, something outside of the chain of causation or natural laws [which therefore] . . undermines the whole “logic” of the law of karma.’
Yes, it can appear that way. We can also say that an accident refers to an act or event that is unplanned or unintended. Either way, all accidents are the result of causes and in their turn act as causes for further effects (some undesirable, some not) – hence they are all part of the overall ongoing stream of cause and effect and natural law and it appears that Karmic Law takes them all into account in the long run.
I think that when we find the term accident used in relation to karma in theosophical literature, we are likely to be looking at those actions or events which interrupt the Karma due to (i.e. intended for) a person or group in the current lifetime. Given the complex and inter-related nature of the chain of cause and effects, which we are all a part of and add to moment by moment, it would be reasonable to expect more than a few accidents in each person’s life which interfere with the karma due (intended). As HPB writes:
‘,,,we are taught that it so happens sometimes that the Karma of a personality is not fully worked out in the birth that follows. Life is made up of accidents, and the personality that becomes, may be hindered by circumstances from receiving the full due its Karma is entitled to, whether for good or for bad. But the Law of Retribution will never allow itself to be cheated by blind chance. There is then a provision to be made, and the accounts that could not be settled in one birth will be squared in the succeeding one. The portion of the sum total which could not be summed up on one column is carried forward to the following.’ (CW IV 572)
We can also envisage that as a result of accidents and/or the free will of other beings (who create fresh causes) we experience events that were not intended for us as part of the karma due to us in this lifetime. HPB also refers to this in a number of places, for example, when asked if there were such a thing as unmerited suffering she replied:
HPB: If you suffer from causes you produce, it is merited; but very often you have sufferings through causes generated by other persons, of which you are not guilty at all.
Q: For instance, national Karma.
HPB: Very often you suffer for things you have never committed, but you simply happen to fall under this current, and there you are. You suffer tremendously, and you suffer that which is not merited, and then you have to have an adequate bliss and reward for it. ( SD Commentaries; 600)
My own understanding is that while there is not a single thing that happens to us that is not the result of one or more causes in the long and complex chain of cause and effect, not everything that happens to us is due (i.e. intended) as a result of our morally responsible acts committed in past life times. (Whether we can tell the difference is another question as Pierre has put it so well.) My understanding is based in part on the notion that we need to distinguish between the various meanings of the term ‘Karma’, of which I will share my thoughts in another post. Well, that’s my intention!
Are there particular kinds of accident you have in mind in your question, or is it the notion of accident in general?
Peter August 9, 2016 at 6:17 pm #1881
Yes, that’s an interesting point, Barbara. It’s also said that some karma that is due to work itself out in a particular life may not actually occur, in which case it remains a ‘pending effect’ which will manifest in a future incarnation.
I wonder if it would help us if we broadened the scope of this question?
If everything that happens to us happens only and solely as the result (effects) of past causes then we would need to ask, ‘is there any room in such a process for the notion of free will?’
To put it another way, if everything that happens to us happens only and solely as the result (effects) of past causes then all my actions (in thought, word and deed) towards other people must already be pre-determined by the past, as theirs will be to me. After all, a significant amount of our past karma is worked out through our relationships with each other, wouldn’t you think?
However, if we have free will then other factors are introduced into the process. For it is our ‘free will’ that creates new causes. These will, of course, have to be worked through under the law of Karma, but for that moment of free will the new cause and new effects are not solely the ‘old’ karma at work. A new cause may bring something new into a situation (‘good’ or ‘bad’) which affects the flow of karmic compensation. The underlying force of our past karma in relation to a certain situation, if very strong, may greatly hinder the new causes set in motion or it may assist them for good or ill. If the underlying force is weak, the new causes may operate more freely, perhaps, having a diminutive effect on the existing karma.
If the above is the case, then it would appear that our lives are always a mix of the old causes working themselves out and the new causes we create in every moment of choice. The resultant web of karma that we weave around ourselves must surely be full of knots and ties! So, I guess we need to find a way to meet our existing karma as gracefully as we can so that it can be worked through rather than perpetuating it. At the same time we need to generate in the present those causes whose effects will bring about more positive conditions for ourselves and others, which will contribute to the welfare of humanity as a whole.
These are just my thoughts, of course, and may not have fully answered your question, but they are aimed in the direction of an answer.
Peter August 6, 2016 at 6:32 pm #1615
Thanks, Barbara – the point as ‘gateway’ is very valuable. Examples would be between ‘unmanifest and manifest’, ’noumenon and phenomenon’. It reminds me of the description of the first un-manifested Logos being a white point within the black face of the circle and then later the third Logos as the black point within the white face of the circle – see Transactions of Blavatsky Lodge, p84 and SD I 1, respectively (thanks to Pierre for highlighting this important distinction some time ago).
Perhaps there’s a connection here with what HPB called Laya Centres upon which the worlds are built or placed. HPB says calls a laya centre “a zero point’ and describes it as a “condition, not a mathematical point.” (SD I 145) This might link with your comment about dimensions and states of consciousness.
Peter August 6, 2016 at 6:26 pm #1607
Hi Barbara – great to continue exploring with you on the new forum.
“What is the nature of space?” If we consider a point of awareness to be a dimensionless point in space (a presence which may be felt but which is essentially formless and ungraspable in its essence) then the kind of space associated with this might be related to that which is described in the Secret Doctrine as ‘bare subjectivity’. For example:
‘This “Be-ness” is symbolised in the Secret Doctrine under two aspects. On the one hand, absolute abstract Space, representing bare subjectivity. . . On the other, absolute Abstract Motion, representing Unconditioned Consciousness.’ (SD I 14)
In other words, might it be reasonable to think that pure awareness (a dimensionless point in space) is of the same nature as (or corresponds in some way to) that Be-ness which is both bare subjectivity and unconditioned consciousness? This is just a question, of course – a line of enquiry emerging from the germ of an idea (another point).
Later in the SD, HPB draws on a quote:
“ Pythagoras considered a point to correspond in proportion to unity… and he defined a point as a Monad having position, and the beginning of all things” (SD I 616)
Its fair to say that we weave our own futures out of our own existence.
Peter August 6, 2016 at 1:09 pm #1596
Yes, good questions are important and do shape the subsequent enquiry. Perhaps any questions which arise out of our own curiosity to understand and test the propositions encountered are enough to get us started, it’s what we do next that matters. Ideally, through our own desire to understand we become active participants in uncovering the meaning behind the words rather than passive recipients of information which remains undigested.
When I talk to friends, colleagues and groups about Karma I find I rarely use the terms reward and punishment as such terms are too tied up with orthodox religion and a God or supreme Power that does the rewarding and the punishing. I find it’s often enough to talk about cause and effect – the notion that our own acts (thoughts, words and deeds) are the causes which create the conditions for our next incarnation, including the characteristics of our mind and body. The manifestation of those effects/conditions i.e. the how and the when, are also reliant on Karmic Law. It’s complex, isn’t it, because between us we are co-creators of our shared futures.
However, when studying theosophical texts it’s hard to get beyond those terms because they are used so often by HPB, Judge et al. Through the use of those terms even their writings can create the impression that there is a karmic agency of some kind, though not a God, which monitors what we do and rewards and punishes us accordingly in our next life.
So, coming back to our original question about asking questions – one such question might be, ‘Should we take those descriptions by HPB, Judge and others literally or figuratively?’
- This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by Peter.
Peter August 4, 2016 at 8:10 pm #1578
In geometry a point has a place in space while at the same time it is essentially without dimension. Perhaps our awareness or centre of consciousness is just like that – dimensionless and hence ungraspable, yet a presence in both space and time.
A follow up question to the above might be – if the above is the case is the nature of the point in space (the centre of awareness) the same as the nature of space itself?
Peter August 4, 2016 at 7:20 pm #1574
I’m not sure if it’s outside of space and time, Gerry. It probably depends on how we use that term. We can refer to a point on the horizon and mean that tree or that building over there. We can refer to a point in time and mean a day last week, that day we were born or when we met a loved one etc. The term point can also refer to a particular stage of change or transformation e.g. boiling point (physical and psychological!).
In geometry a point has a place in space while at the same time it is essentially without dimension. Perhaps our awareness or centre of consciousness is just like that – dimensionless and hence ungraspable, yet a presence in both space and time.
Peter August 4, 2016 at 6:17 pm #1572
How might the public notion of karma as retribution be overtaken by a more impersonal one as you suggest?
Gerry, I think we need to encourage a serious study of the doctrines with the aim of each one of us developing our own understanding of the doctrines in question and their underlying implications. If Theosophy is the Wisdom Religion it must at least be a body of knowledge with which we have to engage, delve into and go beyond the written word and surface meaning. It’s not enough for us just to able to read and quote from the literature, though that is important in terms of clarifying what is and isn’t taught therein. As HPB says in her Preface to the Key to Theosophy:
‘That it should succeed in making Theosophy intelligible without mental effort on the part of the reader, would be too much to expect; but it is hoped that the obscurity still left is of the thought not of the language, is due to depth not to confusion. To the mentally lazy or obtuse, Theosophy must remain a riddle; for in the world mental as in the world spiritual each man must progress by his own efforts. The writer cannot do the reader’s thinking for him…’
Peter July 31, 2016 at 5:25 pm #1487
Perhaps it would be wise not to think of Karma in terms of reward and punishment at all. Karma is the law of cause and effect. Like all laws it is impersonal. That it is sometimes referred to as a moral law does not make it a law which judges peoples’ actions as good or bad and which therefore rewards or punishes individuals. It simply means that the underlying process of cause and effect also operates at the level of mind and across lifetimes.
It is we who create the causes in the present which manifest as the effects and conditions in future lives. Likewise, the conditions and effects which manifest (or not) in our current life are largely the result of causes set in motion in previous lives. This is one of the reasons the Buddha taught, ‘Cease to do evil; learn to do good.’ For it is our negative states of mind and actions which are said to create negative conditions i.e suffering in future lives, while virtuous states of mind and actions create positive conditions in our future lives. Positive conditions being those conditions where there are opportunities to hear about and practice the dharma, the spiritual path. Negative conditions are those of suffering as a result of ignorance and grasping and lack of opportunity to practice the dharma & so on.
In one sense it could be said that we are our Karma, for it is we who act and who experience, sooner or later, the results of our actions.
Karma may be said to restore universal harmony, but there may be more than one type of harmony – for example, when things are at rest and when things are in motion. When the stone drops into the still pond all the ripples from that action are said to finally re-converge back to that single spot (or so it is said) at which point all the forces set in motion return to rest as equilibrium is restored. This is one way we might envisage the consequences of the causes we set in motion through our own thought and action.
There is another type of harmony which is harmony in action – for example, in music when all the musicians playing their different parts nevertheless work in unison to create and produce a unified whole. Perhaps, by analogy, we can envisage creating those causes in our current life that will create a future for ourselves and all beings which is not so much about avoiding suffering or minimising the karma we create (i.e. restoring the equilibrium as in the pond example, which seems almost impossible at our level of development) but one which will provide the positive conditions for ourselves and others to better lead lives of goodness and spiritual endeavour.
If the teachings on Karma are to be of any value to us, it must include honestly reflecting on our current life style, the way we lead it and an honest look at the possible effects of the causes we create moment by moment, day by day.