The Theosophical Forum – March 1937


Friends: H. P. B. quoted in The Secret Doctrine those familiar words, "Knowledge dwells in heads replete with thoughts of other men, Wisdom in minds attentive to their own"; and an early Christian writer remarked that the business of Wisdom is to discern first that which is true and then to be able to discern that which is false. Now Theosophy — the Wisdom of the Ages — points out the fundamental duality, as it were, that runs throughout the manifested Universe: that while the whole of manifested nature is rooted in an indissoluble unity, which it is the business of Wisdom to discover so that we can realize it in our own consciousness, nevertheless, directly we pass in thought from that boundless, infinite unity which in this philosophy we call Parabrahman, the Absolute, then we come down in thought necessarily to the contrast in nature between Spirit and Matter, subject and object, and so forth.

This, applied to man, immediately shows us that we have a spiritual pole to our being, as well as a material one; and in Isis Unveiled, the first book of Mme. Blavatsky, she pointed out that there is indwelling within the external form of man and of the Universe a connecting link between Spirit and Matter, which in the human entity she calls "the Real Man." Now it is the whole purpose of Wisdom, I venture to suggest, to show how this inner Real Entity in man, which is the thinking, human, striving soul, the Personal Ego, the Astral Monad, the Manas — call it what you will — it is this Entity, as it were, fixed, crucified, in Space between heaven above and the earth beneath, which has to tread the Golgotha of life, which is a pilgrim marching literally through eternity, from age to age, but which is not unconditionally immortal.

Wherever there is a spark of the Boundless All, there you have all the sevenfold principles of life in embryo. It is purely a question of degree of unfoldment: the consciousness is latent in the life of an atom as it is in the highest God that your mind can rise to: therefore it will not come as a shock, the idea that this intermediate principle in man, striving towards Wisdom on the one hand, and pulled down towards matter on the other, is a being that has to win immortality; and the process by which he mounts the ladder of life, the stairway of evolution, is the seven rungs of his own being. Occultism is the process; as T. Subba Row said in the early days of this Movement: "It is the process by which man learns to transfer his individual consciousness from his mortal, material body, up the stairway of his being to the incorruptible world of non-being represented by his seventh principle." So Wisdom is that state of consciousness which is achieved when the human entity has learned how to merge itself into an indissoluble unity with its own Divine part, its Higher Self, the Higher Ego — what in Theosophical terminology is called Manas indissolubly united to Buddhi.

All men have this higher nature. It is, if we did but know it, a god not in embryo but in actuality, dwelling in full power, omniscient almost, one with the Universal World-Soul. And it is because this Higher Nature of ours is part of that indissoluble unity of the Supreme Soul itself, that we have an aspect of our being which is of the nature of Truth. Half our task is but to open ourselves, open a certain door of our being, that we may enter into the inspiration, the light, the knowledge, which is actually inherent in that part of our being.

I dared to call this lecture "The Dual Aspect of Wisdom," and while I do not want to concentrate attention too much upon the lower side, the lower aspect of wisdom, nevertheless it must be evident to all of us, as was shown so perfectly by St. James in the New Testament, that there is a terrestrial, psychic, and devilish Wisdom, if it may be so called, as well as the Divine nature. I think that if you will permit me I will just read you the passage, because it shows the Wisdom that is to be found scattered throughout the New Testament. In the third Chapter (11-17), you find these words, and here is shown very beautifully the contrast between these two poles of man's being:

Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

You will remember that H. P. B. in the early days of the Movement in a mood of protest at the lives of certain Theosophists, pointed out that pure water could not be given to the world out of a foul bucket, and that the lower nature of men must be cleansed.

Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries, either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

I ask you to note that phrase:

This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

There you get in the New Testament the statement — one of the statements — of the dual aspect of Wisdom; and H. P. B. has a remarkable article dealing with the subject in one of the early volumes of Lucifer (her own magazine) where she pointed out how often Theosophists are taken to task because they believe in the Wisdom of the Ancients: they uphold it, they stand for it, they believe in it; while the disciples of modern knowledge, so to speak, think and believe that modern scientists, modern inventions and thought and psychology and so-called philosophy, are in every way equal, if not superior, to the Wisdom of old. The question is, "Is that so?" H. P. B. challenges the whole position very, very strongly, and her words are so suggestive, so pregnant with illuminating ideas, as well as rather amusing, that I should like to read you some of the passages that she has in this article. She is replying to somebody who has put the point of view that modern wisdom is superior to the Ancient. She says:

. . . Our correspondent is welcome to his own views, but so are we to ours. Let him imagine that the Eiffel Tower dwarfs the Pyramid of Ghizeh into a mole-hill, and the Crystal Palace grounds transform the hanging gardens of Semiramis into a kitchen garden — if he likes. But if we are seriously "challenged" by him to show "in what respect our age of hourly progress and gigantic thought" — a progress a trifle marred, however, by our Huxleys being denounced by our Spurgeons, and the University ladies, senior classics and wranglers, by the "hallelujah lasses" — is inferior to the ages of, say, a hen-pecked "Socrates and a cross-legged Buddha," then we will answer him, giving him, of course, our own personal opinion.

Our age, we say, is inferior in wisdom to any other, because it professes, more visibly every day, contempt for truth and justice, without which there can be no wisdom. Because our civilization, built up of shams and appearances, is at best like a beautiful green morass, a bog, spread over a deadly quagmire. Because this century of culture and worship of matter, while offering prizes and premiums for every "best thing" under the sun, from the biggest baby and the largest orchid down to the strongest pugilist and the fattest pig, has no encouragement to offer to morality, no prize to give for any moral virtue. . . . (2)

(She is wonderful in the language she chooses, is H. P. B.!)

I think that none of us can question the truth of this challenge that she throws down; and some of you who have read that book called The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett will remember that one of the Masters there states that Wisdom will ever be denied but to those who seek it for its own sake without any secondary motive of turning it to personal profit and gain. The whole of the Theosophical Movement rests upon that high endeavor.

You will find the lower side of the dual aspect of Wisdom rampant in the world today. Go out and look, for example, at the advertisements in some present-day magazines, and there you will find every kind of psychism and claptrap and exploitation of human beings, where money is asked for initiation into so-called Rosicrucian rites; where the "secrets," so-called, of the Ancient Wisdom are offered to be sold for money in the market places of commerce. You will find every kind of medium, spiritualistic performance, and goodness knows what. Now all these things are expressions of this lower, psychic, terrestrial aspect of wisdom. It is not that the psychic and the so-called clairvoyant who take your money and offer to tell you something about yourself do not tell you a good deal that you may find very interesting and true, and that may give you all sorts of pleasant dreams about the future, which often also are true. But the main point is that true Wisdom cannot be obtained where there are any motives of self-seeking of whatever kind; and anything in the nature of personal gain or taking of money in the realm of the occult is fatal to Wisdom; yet it is everywhere rampant at the present time, in this crisis in the world's history, when the earth is passing through one of the critical points of her great cycle. Men and women are looking at each other, examining themselves, not knowing quite what is going to happen; and it is at such times as these that the soothsayers and the clairvoyants and the like burst forth in a great crescendo of psychic activity — the terrestrial lower wisdom, if you like to call it so.

There is another aspect that we have to deal with. It is, briefly, that if there is a true Wisdom in the world, there is also a spurious wisdom, shown forth by this manifestation that I have been speaking about; and I must not fail to mention that it is pre-eminently shown forth in that flood of literature that may be termed pseudo-occult, pseudo-theosophic, which again diverts men's minds from the true Wisdom, fills them up with a lot of psychic junk. The seeds of thought that are in these books sink deep into the psychic nature of the individual, and bring forth but evil fruit. That is another manifestation; and further, one should mention here the fact that there is such a thing as wisdom in evil, where there are self-conscious human beings who have made evil their God, and who have a knowledge of all the laws of the universe, and can turn them to their own evil ends — in one word, sorcery.

These are some illustrations of the lower aspect of Wisdom. You can work them out in a thousand different ways; but I should like to dwell upon the higher aspect by referring to what are called in certain parts of Theosophical literature, and the literature of the Ancients, the seven Jewels of Wisdom, which have relation exclusively to True Wisdom or Magic: those seven Golden Keys or key-doctrines around which The Secret Doctrine of Blavatsky was actually written. Test this statement for yourselves. Those seven doctrines I have no doubt you are absolutely familiar with, but may I just enumerate them for you? The first is the doctrine of Reincarnation; the second Karma, the law of cause and effect; the third the doctrine of Hierarchies, which means that everything in the universe is interlinked and interblended with everything else, which it really interpenetrates in its essential nature. You will see how everything in The Secret Doctrine can be related to one of these seven Jewels, and therefore they are worth remembering. The fourth is the doctrine of what in Sanskrit is called Swabhava, which is the essential characteristic of a thing, of a being, of a Monad. This, interpreted, means that a man is in his outward nature but a reflexion of what he is in his inward nature, and that everything in the universe is different, although rooted in unity; that there are not two beings in the universe alike, any more than there are any two atoms, or two grains of sand, or two flowers, or two trees, or two beasts, alike. Every single thing in the universe has its essential characteristic, its Swabhava, its keynote. You and I, we all, have our characteristic spiritual tone, our note, that we try to show forth; and in the great drama of life we learn to bring forth from within ourselves, that is from within that seed-root of Divinity, that Monad, the germ from which all our lower being springs, which is its Father in Heaven. It is this which provides our characteristic, essential true Self. It is the eternal "I" which never perishes.

The fifth key is the doctrine of Evolution; and the sixth is related to something that I was saying just now: it is the doctrine of what in Sanskrit — if you will forgive me for quoting a Sanskrit term again — is called the Amrita-Yana and the Pratyeka-Yana, which means the right-hand Path and the left-hand Path, the Path that leads to Wisdom, and the path that leads downwards — the Path of Wisdom and the path of self. There again you see the contrast of the two aspects of Wisdom — the sixth of the keys around which The Secret Doctrine is written. And the last — Atma-Vidya, the knowledge of the Self and of the marvelous teachings concerning how the One becomes the Many.

I asked you to allow me to mention those seven keys to you for a particular purpose. There are certain formulae in the Theosophical system of thought that as a student I have found immensely helpful — things that one can make a part of one's being, and apply to any problem of life in meditation. Whenever one has a quiet moment one can revert to the statement of fundamental principles that is given in the twelfth chapter of Volume II of Isis Unveiled. There are ten of them. You can turn to that formula and to the three Fundamental Propositions in the Proem to The Secret Doctrine, and find the basis on which the whole philosophy is said to rest: these seven Jewels that I have just referred to, and the seven and ten Paramitas that are given in The Voice of the Silence.

Now the last thought that I want to leave with you is the correspondence between the order of the seven Paramitas, the Buddha's virtues which the disciple makes his code of ethical conduct, and the order of the Seven Jewels. The Paramitas are so beautiful that I will read them to you, and I want to try to show that this correspondence is most suggestive.

The first of these keys: Dana, "the key of charity and love immortal." At first sight does this connect with the first Jewel — the doctrine of Reincarnation? I believe you will find that it does if you think deeply enough about it, for reincarnation means regeneration. Reincarnation or reimbodiment takes place in a human being when the indwelling consciousness has grown to that point where the existing form no longer serves it; and then there is a death of a certain part of the being, a regeneration and a rebirth into a higher state, into the higher part of the nature, and it is here and by this process that all love comes into a man's life. He cannot live or express Wisdom or Charity immortal unless this regenerative process is going on.

The second Paramita - — Sila, "the key of harmony in word and act, the key that counterbalances the cause and the effect and leaves no further room for Karmic action." I think that it is sufficiently obvious that the second Jewel, the doctrine of Karma, exactly corresponds to the second Paramita.

The third is not so obvious but contains an inspiring thought — Kshanti, "patience sweet, that nought can ruffle." How does this relate to the third of the Jewels, the doctrine of Hierarchies? I suggest that there is no more perfect example of that patience sweet that the disciple is called upon to show forth in his life than the Silent Watcher, who in The Secret Doctrine, you remember, is shown as sitting at the threshold of darkness which he will not quit until the weary, sore-footed pilgrims of humanity have each passed into the great Nirvana before him. That is the picture of the great summit, the Heaven of the spiritual, psychological Hierarchy of Adepts — the Silent Watcher of our world or Universe.

The fourth Paramita — Viraga, "indifference to pleasure and to pain, illusion conquered, truth alone perceived." I suggest that there is a very direct correspondence between that and the doctrine of Swabhava, the essential characteristic of a nature, for which you will have to go to the very root and core of a man's being. When the consciousness is rooted in the higher part of the man's being, then only is it possible for it to show forth his perfect spiritual keynote or tone, and that balanced indifference to pleasure and pain.

Then Virya, "the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal TRUTH, out of the mire of lies terrestrial." What better illustration can you have of evolution than that Paramita? It depicts the whole struggle out of the corruption of matter to the incorruptible world of the Spirit. That is Virya, the dauntless energy and courage that we are called upon to develop.

The sixth Paramita — Dhyana, "whose gate once opened leads the Naljor towards the realm of Sat eternal and its ceaseless contemplation." This, being interpreted, means meditation; and meditation, as you will agree, I believe and hope, is intimately related to the sixth of the seven Jewels, that which is concerned with the Amrita-Yana, the Immortal vehicle, the right-hand Path; but there is no treading of this Path except by the practice of the Paramita called Dhyana or Meditation.

And the last — Prajna, "the key to which makes of a man a god, creating him a Bodhisattva, son of the Dhyanis." That relates to the last and final Jewel, Atma-Vidya, knowledge of the Self, the means by which the One, the Supreme, the Infinite, became the many in all this marvelous manifested Universe.


Question — To which, if any, of the different keys would you relate the law of cycles?

A. T. B. — I should relate it to the law of Reincarnation or Reimbodiment, which is a manifestation of the law of Cycles; but you must remember that all these Jewels in the Doctrines of Theosophy are interblended with each other. You cannot understand one without the other. You cannot understand the law of Karma, the law of the rhythmic flow of cause and effect, which is also intimately related with the doctrine of Cycles, unless you understand the doctrine of ebb and flow as it expresses itself in the law of Reincarnation and Reimbodiment; for this is the rhythmic pulse of Nature that goes through the life-cycle of the tiniest infusoria: even a mosquito, a butterfly, any of these creatures exhibits the law of cycles — it reimbodies itself. Then, too, it is shown forth in the attraction of the tides; in the phases of the moon; in the pilgrimage of the planets in their orbit around the sun; in the birth and death of worlds, of solar systems: for worlds are born and die just as man, only in infinitely longer cycles of time. I think you can relate it to the first, and if you wish, to the second of the Jewels. I hope that this is responsive to the question.

Question — Is it correct to say that the left-hand Path is incomplete wisdom because mastery of the lower self has not been obtained? In other words, incomplete because inhibited by the personal?

A.T.B. — In a certain sense that is perfectly true, for we all of us fail to tread the highest Path in any moment that we act from a consciousness centered in our personality. It is the personality which enshrouds our spiritual vision and prevents our seeing the Light, and therefore prevents our seeing the right-hand Path. Do you remember the definition of these two Paths given by Master Koot Hoomi in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, where on a certain, left-hand page — I have forgotten the number, but a certain left-hand page (3) — he gave a definition of the Amrita-Yana and the Pratyeka-Yana, and he shows that these are simply another way of stating the doctrines relating to the individuality and the personality, and the Personal Ego and its identity with the Astral Monad? Now the Personal Ego is that, you remember, which goes to Devachan; and what is the Personal Ego? The Personal Ego, he says, is a combination of the five lower principles; and the Immortal vehicle: Amrita-Yana, the Higher Ego, is, of course, the combination of Higher Manas united to Buddhi.

Question — Re the lower and distorted aspects of wisdom such as one finds in modern science and even psychism: do not they conform with the unity of Evolution, since in the Cosmic economy there can be no such thing as waste, and there may conceivably be people who need the left-hand Path to find the Right?

A. T. B. — I would interpret this in a slightly different sense, that is to say, what is called the descending arc and the ascending arc: the Path of forth-going, as it is called, and the Path of ascent, or return — the Path of Involution into matter, and Evolution out of it. I personally am a little in doubt about this idea that men need an evil path. I do not think that this is what is meant; but they do have to descend into matter, and they do have to evolve out of it; and there is another interesting point from a student's point of view here. You know the doctrine of a Planetary Chain, and you know that this Planetary Chain is represented symbolically as a ring of circles, and it goes down on the left side and goes up on the right side. The side on the left is the descending, and on the right the ascending arc. Has it ever occurred to you what is the correspondence in our lives of that idea? It is this: that when we live in the higher part of our being we express the spiritual qualities: we are identifying ourselves in consciousness with the superior qualities of the Planetary Chain, and what in Buddhist — or rather Brahmanistic — terminology is called the Lokas; but when we live in the lower part of our being we are concerning ourselves with the descending arc and with the talas — a stimulating thought: that we can live in the lokas, or in the talas: in the higher spiritual part of the being, or be buried in the personal.

Question — Does not a study of technical Theosophy tempt one towards becoming merely an arm-chair philosopher? In other words, do you not think that the appeal of The Secret Doctrine is more to the intellect than to the heart?

A. T. B. — Those who have studied H. P. B.'s teachings realize that there is some truth in what the questioner has suggested: that it is possible to study these teachings and become a mere arm-chair philosopher. In other words, they can be studied from a purely intellectual point of view. You may become acquainted with a great deal of her teachings, and do nothing whatever about it, merely remain sitting on the fence or in your arm-chair, and entirely fail to lead the life, as she stressed in The Secret Doctrine, which is the necessary pre-requisite to an obtaining of any measure of Wisdom at all.

The Theosophist has a perfectly complete answer to the charge of the complexity of the doctrines hiding the essential life of the spirit — which is another way, I take it, of saying what the questioner meant. All I can say is that if any individual finds there to be such a doctrine, all he has to do is to concentrate upon the ethical aspects of the teaching, as found, for example, in The Voice of the Silence, in the seven Paramitas I read to you. I venture to think if he sets to work to practise the seven Paramitas of perfection, he will have his hands full; and if our brother will give himself that exercise I think he won't have much to complain about, because he will understand a very great deal by the time he has finished that exercise.

I imagine the Masters of Wisdom had a very good reason for casting their philosophy and message to the Western world in the way they did; and one must come to the conclusion that since the characteristic of our present age is an endeavor to develop the thinking principle — a characteristic of our Western people is that they want reasons for everything — in the Theosophical philosophy they get a closely reasoned explanation for almost everything in the Universe. I think that is sufficient: if you want an explanation of the Universe there is the philosophy to satisfy you; and if you want to live the life, you have the Sermon on the Mount; you have the teachings of Buddha; you have the ethical principles of all the great religions, as well as the precepts to be found in The Voice of the Silence. It is only that the Theosophical system is infinitely rich not only in ethical ideas but in philosophy as well. There is food for the spirit, there is food for the heart, and satisfaction for the intellectual part of the man, in the whole system. At least that is how I understand it.


1. Address given by the President of the English Section T. S. (Point Loma) at a meeting of the Phoenix Lodge (Adyar T. S.), London, November 20, 1936. (return to text)

2. The Dual Aspect of Wisdom" (Lucifer, Vol. VII, London, Sept. I5, 1890). (return to text)

3. Page 114. — Eds. (return to text)

The Theosophical Forum