The Theosophical Forum – August 1939

THE RELATION OF THE FINITE AND THE INFINITE (1) — G. de Purucker

Question: What is the relation between the infinite mind and the finite mind according to Theosophy? The trouble is if you say the finite mind is a part of the infinite mind, you must also ascribe to the infinite mind the vices of the finite. But if you say it is not a part of the infinite mind, then the infinite cannot be infinite.

Answer: The gentleman has asked a question which has been debated in all ages, among all races of men. It is the same problem which has vexed and harassed theologians, for it is obvious from the standpoint of theology, if God is infinite, and is nevertheless a creator, then everything that infinity creates must be infinite; but we see ourselves surrounded by an infinitude of finite things. How comes this? This is the same problem in theology that you, my dear sir, have spoken of as existing in philosophy. Now I don't know anything that can answer this question except the god-wisdom which today we call Theosophy, and you will understand it is not so easy to answer, because one must be trained in esoteric thought before complete conviction comes of the full adequacy of the answer. Yet I will try to state the facts in simple language.

I have always looked upon the idea that the infinite is an actor as utterly wrong, for infinitude cannot be an actor, because an actor is a limited entity. Infinitude does not act as a being, for a being is a limited entity. We can only say therefore that infinity is action per se, life per se, not a life; that is limitation, that is finity. You take me as a man, you as a man: a celestial body like the sun or a planet or a beast, a plant, what not, any limited entity: this limited entity, a finite being, in its physical expression lives and moves and has its existence in infinitude; it cannot be outside of it because infinitude has no frontiers, no boundaries, and no beyond. Therefore, that finite entity somewhere, somehow, in some part of it, has its roots in infinity, infinity washes it through, so to speak, as the sea washes through all that its waves encompass, although of course infinity is a frontierless sea, so to speak.

Thus I, as a man, have my roots in the Divine, that Divine surrounds me everywhere, and permeates me throughout, in all my parts, in all my being. I cannot ever leave it. Therefore am I a child of it. Yet here am I, a man, in a weak, small, limited, physical body, with a weak, small, physical, limited brain as compared with the gods, a weak, small life, with a heart as we say, an ethical instinct, and what not. Yet I am a man. I have divine thoughts, I feel my unity with all that is. How? Why? Oh, that is the problem.

I will now hint at what esoteric Theosophy says on this point. There is an infinity of finites, a strange paradox. In other words, these entities or beings which we call finite are infinite in number. I wonder if you catch that point. Thus the atoms of boundless space are bound by no frontiers, each one is a finite entity, and yet they exist in infinite numbers. We can conceive no end because if our thought once says, there infinity ends, this is a limitation of the Infinitude which has produced finites here, and we say, with perfect justice, why should, how could, infinity limit itself in any way? This thought is repellant, we cannot accept it. It is the infinite whispering of Infinitude within me which enables my consciousness to catch this thread of understanding; this limited brain finds difficulty in holding within its small bounds an infinite idea. But I get an intuition, something within whispers, that is so. That is the Infinitude breathing through me, washing through me.

Thus, there is an infinitude of finite entities, gathered together in distinct aggregated masses, whatever they may be: men, planets, suns, stars, stones, or what not — call them atoms, because all these things are formed of atoms, or things smaller than atoms like electrons and protons, etc., etc. Indeed, all cosmic phenomena in the great or in the small follow the same general cosmic rule or pattern; and these are the phenomena of the universe as contrasted with the hid noumena or secret causes.

Now, we see thus that Occidental philosophy has made a capital mistake, a capital error, in its philosophical researches in saying that infinity is around us, but that the finite is radically or essentially different from it. Strange paradox! Just because the finities are limitless, infinite numerically, therefore collectively as an infinitude they are a part of Infinitude, indeed, in a sense the garments of Infinity. They are it. In other words, we must change our outlook on the universe before we can understand why the infinite breathes in time as it does, in what we men call boundless space. There is a manner in which even a human thought is infinite because it is one of an infinite number of thoughts, energies, living in the heart of nature, and never able to leave infinitude.

If you catch this very subtil, difficult thought, you will have precisely what the esoteric philosophy teaches, as also, for instance, the Vedanta, the Adwaita-Vedanta of India. What does it as well as the sage of the Vedas teach its disciples? This: Tat twam asi. That, the Boundless, thou art. Because if That, thou, are different, then the thou is outside infinity, which is absurd, and infinity immediately becomes finite because there is something beyond it, which means that it is bounded, therefore limited, therefore non-infinite. Therefore that limited entity, that finity in this wondrous way is washed through with infinity, because in its heart, in its essence, it is of the substance of infinity.

Now turning to theology, this is just the reason why we Theosophists cannot accept Christian theology, although we accept the teachings of the Avatara Jesus. We look upon him as one of the greatest of Theosophists; but the theology of Christianity was built up by smaller men later in time who had lost the secret of the teachings of their great Master. And when Christian theology says that God is a creator, that "He" created the world out of nothing at a certain time in infinity, we say that is impossible, that limits "God." Infinity is no creator, it is not a maker, not a demiurge, to use the philosophical term, demiourgos of the Greeks; just as the sage of the Vedas, as the Adwaita-Vedanta of India and as the Esoteric Philosophy say, it is THAT. We give to it no concrete name, for such a name implies limitation. We simply say it is nameless, THAT. "THAT" is not a title, it is not a name; it is just an attempt of the human mind not to label Infinity, or to give it a name, or to put a ticket on it, but just to use this term That as a means of reference in conversation.

And lastly, the Esoteric Philosophy teaches therefore, following these lines of subtil thinking, that even what we call the physical universe is infinite because composed of an infinite number of units, finities, strange paradox! And it is so from eternity — never had a beginning, never will have an ending. Because infinity has no beginning, has no ending. Infinity does not create and produce these finities. Therefore they are always from infinite past to infinite future, and are parts of Infinitude. Strange philosophical paradox. Marvelous intuitions of the archaic sages!

I sometimes think that while it is noble of us to investigate these recondite and difficult thoughts, because they raise us to higher levels of thinking and enlarge our minds, I sometimes think that I must agree with the ancient sage who said that the answer, the realest answer, the most real answer, to such problems is found in the Silence. Oh, how true that is. It is words that mislead us, words which entangle us and lead our thoughts astray. And yet we must use words to communicate with each other. If this gentleman is a professor or teacher in one of the Universities I sympathize with him, because I know the difficulty he has in giving thought so subtil sometimes to other minds. And yet he does so, teachers do so, because they know there is something in the learners, in the pupils, which can grasp at least an intuition of reality.

Friends, I trust you will forgive me if I speak with perfect frankness about your branch of teaching. I sometimes think that Western philosophy has lived under great disadvantages. It has suffered under a heavy handicap, and it is this, that Western philosophical thought has not had a real opportunity to develop and free itself from theological dogmatism. Of course, I know this perhaps is a ticklish subject to touch upon, but yet it is one of outstanding importance for the freedom of human thought. Philosophy in the Orient has not been laboring for thousands of years under this handicap. The thoughts of Oriental philosophers and of the archaic Mystery Schools have had the freedom to grow and to develop; and I will now show you just what I mean.

In the Esoteric wisdom, as likewise in the philosophical and religious thought of the Orient — a direct descendant and child of Occultism, of Theosophy — the Infinite or Boundless or That is not good, nor is it bad. These are human limitations, and can apply only by contrasts to limited beings. It is a man or an angel or a god or a deva who is good or bad. A spirit of Good and a spirit of Evil? This is a blind intuition which Christian theology has had. What actually is, is that in the bosom of Infinity, out of it as from an eternal womb, come pouring forth hierarchies of lives, of monads as Leibniz would say, all spiritual beings in various grades and degrees of what we today call evolutionary unfoldment; so that for instance we have the highest of the highest of the highest gods, and beneath them the highest of the highest, and beneath them the highest, and then the gods, and then the Dhyani-Chohans, and then beings below them, until we reach us men, and then beings below us men on other ranges of hierarchies of entities, like the beasts and the plants and the elementals, all marching upward on their evolutionary way, higher and higher. Indeed, it is in this world in which we live that we find good and evil, and we see how beautiful good is, for it is harmony and love and peace and progress and development, evolution, expanding, in growth. And we likewise see what evil is, restriction, constriction, suffering, pain, inadequacies, ignorance, in other words imperfection in development often involving retrogressions or going downwards towards larger imperfections, until the lesson is learned by habit, and the entity begins the upward march. This is what the evil man does. He is going downwards and backwards for the time being, for the duration of his evil doing. So it is in the manifested things of the universe that we find beauteous good and the best, and horrid evil and the worst. This entire series of thoughts involving the productions of the hosts of hierarchies of finite beings and things was called in ancient philosophy the doctrine of Emanations, which Christian theology has condemned and scorned and mocked at, and which Western philosophy has never had a chance to understand because its teachers have been crippled. They have not been truly free, for they have not had the chance that the philosophers of the Orient have. I know. I have been through it.

So we cannot say that the Infinite is good, because that is a limited term belonging solely to beings of emanated hierarchies; and when in the lower grades of these, we find them with less of the divine light. Then, as the Gnostics said — one School of ancient philosophy in early Christian times — they live in darkness, they are limited, they cannot see clearly, and that is evil, what we call evil, limitation.

So it is all wrong to talk about Infinitude as being good, because if Infinitude is good, how are we going to explain evil in the world? And there is lots of it! No, good and evil belong to the vast range of hierarchies existing in Infinity, coming forth into manifestation in one great Life-wave in some part of the Universe, living their times, advancing and progressing; and when they have reached the culmination or highest point of their growth in that time-period, then returning into the bosom of the Divine for rest, at some future time to come forth again on higher planes, in loftier spheres: a process that we see in Nature all around us, like the tree coming forth in the spring, bringing forth its leaves and shedding them in the autumn; just as we see men, for instance, reimbody, part in the divine world and part in the physical, life after life, up and down the swing of the pendulum which is Nature's law. We see it around us. There is the great book which we should study: Nature, the things that are. And when I say Nature, I don't mean physical nature alone, but all nature in the esoteric sense, in the theosophical sense, the nature of the divine, the nature of the spiritual, the nature of the intellectual worlds, the nature of the physical worlds, the nature of the worlds beneath the physical. Who can, who dare, set bounds to the life in Infinity and of it?

I think in conclusion, Mr. Chairman, in regard to this question, that the esoteric philosophy, more than anything else I know, fills the heart with reverence, reverence for truth.

The gist of the answer to the question asked is, therefore, the following: Every unit of the limitless number of finite beings, or of things living in and of infinitude, every such unit, I say, is in its highest, in its essence or fundamental substance, an identity with the substance of Infinitude; but these points of infinite substance or monadic centers in their several expressions as cosmic phenomena are, or become, or appear, or show themselves forth, as the finite units spoken of in the question. Thus, every unit is in its essential substance of the very stuff of Infinity, but all in their manifestations or emanated expressions are, or become, the discrete or "separated" units in their countless armies or hierarchies.

FOOTNOTE:

1. The above question was asked of the Leader by a Professor of Philosophy at the University of ______, Sweden, at a public meeting held at Malmo, Sweden, September 15, 1937, and answered then by G. de P. (return to text)


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