This instalment of H. P. Blavatsky's brilliant article concludes the series which was begun last July. In this issue, starting with the profoundest metaphysics and an exposition of the "God Nothing," the Unnamable Deity, and pointing to the Truth which is behind all religions, she brings her series to a close by an almost prophetic vision of the times in which we now live. What role does the Theosophical Society play in this tremendous drama? Her paragraphs in answer to this question show the importance of the Movement with which all true Theosophists have linked their destinies. Originally published in the French magazine, La Revue Theosophique, 1889, under the title "Le Phare de L'Inconnu," the article first appeared serially in translation in The Theosophist, Volume X.
We hope that we have by this time sufficiently refuted in these pages several grave misconceptions of our doctrine and beliefs; that amongst others which insists in regarding Theosophists — those at least who have founded the Society — as polytheists or atheists. We are neither the one nor the other, any more than certain Gnostics were, who, while believing in the existence of planetary, solar and lunar gods, offered no prayers to them nor dedicated any altars. Not believing in a personal god, outside of man who is the temple thereof according to Paul and other Initiates, we believe in an impersonal and absolute Principle (1) so far beyond human conception, that we see nothing less than a blasphemer and presumptuous madman in anyone who tries to define that great universal Mystery. All that has been taught us about this eternal and unique Spirit, is that it is neither spirit nor matter nor substance, nor thought, but is the container of all these things, the absolute container. In a word, it is the "God nothing" of Basilides, so little understood even by the learned and ingenious annalists of the Musee Guimet (Vol. XIV), who define the term somewhat satirically as this "god nothing, who has ordained and foreseen everything, although he has neither reason nor will."
Yes, truly, and this "god nothing," being identical with the Parabrahm of the Vedantins — the grandest as well as the most philosophical of conceptions — is identical also with the Ain-Soph of the Jewish Kabalists. The latter is also "the god who is not," "Ain" signifying non-being or: the Absolute, the Nothing or Τὸ οὐδὲν ἕν of Basilides: that is to say, the human intelligence, being limited on this material plane, cannot conceive anything that is, which does not exist under any form. Since our idea of a being is limited to something which exists, either in substance — actual or potential — or in the nature of things, or only in our ideas, that which cannot be perceived by the senses, or conceived by our intellect which conditions everything, does not exist for us.
"Where, then, do you locate Nirvana, O great Arhat?" asked a king of a venerable Buddhist ascetic whom he was questioning about the Good Law.
"Nowhere, O great king," was the reply.
"Nirvana, then, does not exist?" said the king.
"Nirvana, is, but does not exist," answered the ascetic. The same is true of the God "who is not," a faulty literal translation, for one ought to read esoterically "the god who does not exist but who is." For the masculine of οὐδέν is οὐδ-είς and means "and not somebody," which signifies that that which is spoken of is not a person or any thing, but a negative of both (οὐδέν, neuter, is employed as an adverb; "in nothing"). Therefore the to ouden hen of Basilides is absolutely identical with the En or "Ain-Soph" of the Kabalists. In the religious metaphysics of the Hebrews, the Absolute is an abstraction, "without form or existence," "without any likeness to anything else" (Franck, Le Kabbale, p. 153, 596). "God therefore is NOTHING, nameless, and without qualities; that is why it is called AIN-SOPH, for the word AIN signifies nothing." (Ibid.)
It is not from this immutable and absolute principle, which is only in posse (2) that the gods, or active principles of the manifested universe emanate. The Absolute neither having, nor being able to have, any relation with the conditioned or the limited, that from which the emanations proceed is the "God that speaks" of Basilides: that is to say, the Logos, which Philo calls "the second God," and the creator of forms. "The second God is the Wisdom of God One" (Quaest. et Solut.). "But is this Logos, this "Wisdom," always an emanation?" it will be asked, "for to make something emanate from Nothing is an absurdity." Not in the least. In the first place, this "nothing" is a nothing because it is the Absolute, and consequently the Whole. In the next place, this "second God" is no more an emanation than the shadow that our body casts upon a white wall is an emanation of that body. At all events this God is not the effect of a cause or an act that is reasoned, or of conscious and deliberate will. It is the periodical effect (3) of an eternal and immutable law, independent of time and space, and of which the Logos or creative intelligence is the shadow or the reflexion.
"But that idea is ridiculous!" we fancy we hear the believers of a personal and anthropomorphic God declare. "Of the two — man and his shadow — it is the latter which is nothing, an optical illusion; and the man who projects it is the intelligence, although passive in this case!"
Quite so, but that is true only upon our plane, where all is but illusion; where everything is reversed, like things seen in a mirror. For, since the domain of the real is for us, whose perceptions are falsified by matter, the unreal; and, since, from the point of view of the Absolute Reality, the universe with all its conscious and intelligent inhabitants is but a poor phantasmagoria, it follows that it is a shadow of the Real, upon the plane of this latter, that is endowed with intelligence and attributes; while the Absolute, from our point of view, is deprived of all conditioned qualities, by the very fact that it is the absolute. One need not be versed in Oriental metaphysics to understand all that; and it is not necessary to be a distinguished palaeographer or palaeologist to see that the system of Basilides is that of the Vedantins, however twisted and disfigured it may be by the author of Philosophumena. That it is so is conclusively proved even by the fragmentary resume of the Gnostic systems which that work gives us. It is only the esoteric doctrine that can explain what is incomprehensible and chaotic in the little understood system of Basilides, as it has been transmitted to us by the Fathers of the Church, those executioners of Heresies. The Pater innatus or God not begotten, the great Archon, and the two Demiurgoi, even the three hundred and sixty-five heavens, the number contained in the name of Abraxas, their ruler — all this was derived from the Indian systems. But this is denied by our pessimistic century, in which everything goes by steam, even human life; in which nothing that is abstract — which only is eternal — interests anyone but a handful of eccentrics; and in which man dies without having lived for one moment in the presence of his own soul — swept away as he is by the whirlwind of egoistic and mundane affairs.
Apart from metaphysics, however, each person who enters the Theosophical Society can find therein a science and an occupation to his taste. An astronomer could make more scientific discoveries by studying the allegories and symbols relating to each star (4) in the old Sanskrit books, than he could ever make by the aid only of Academies. A doctor who had intuition would learn more from the works of Charaka, (5) translated into Arabic in the 8th century, or in the dusty manuscripts to be found in the Adyar Library — not understood like all the rest — than in modern works on physiology. Theosophists interested in medicine, or the art of healing, might do worse than consult the legends and symbols revealed and explained through Asclepios or Aesculapius. For just as Hippocrates consulted the votive tablets at the temple of Epidaurus (surnamed the Tholos) at Cos, (6) so could they find therein prescriptions for compounding remedies unknown to the modern pharmacopeia. (7) From thenceforth they might perhaps cure, instead of killing.
Let us repeat for the hundredth time: The Truth is one! but the moment it is presented, not under all its aspects, but according to the thousand and one opinions which its servants form about it, it is no longer the divine Truth, but the confused echo of human voices. Where can one look for it as a whole, even approximately? Is it among the Christian Kabalists, or the modern European Occultists? Or among the Spiritists of today, or the early spiritualists?
A friend said to me one day, "In France there are as many systems as there are Kabalists. Here they all pretend to be Christians. There are some of them who are all for the Pope, to the point of dreaming about a universal crown for him — that of a Pontiff Caesar. Others are against the papacy, but in favor of a Christ, not indeed the historical Christ, but one created by their imagination, an intriguing and anti-Caesarian Christ, and so forth. Every Kabalist believes that he has rediscovered the lost Truth. It is always his own science that is the eternal Truth, and every other nothing but a mirage; and he is always ready to support or defend it with the point of his pen."
"But the Jewish Kabalists," I asked, "are they also in favor of Christ?"
"Well, they have their own Messiah. It is only a question of dates."
There can, indeed, be no anachronisms in Eternity. The only thing is, that since all these variations of terms and systems, all these contradictory teachings, cannot contain the true Truth, I do not see how our friends, the French Kabalists, can pretend to a knowledge of the Occult Sciences. They have the Kabala of Moses de Leon, (8) compiled in the 13th century; but his Zohar, compared with the "Book of Numbers" of the Chaldeans, represents the work of the Rabbi Simeon Ben Iochai, about as much as the Pimander of the Greek Christians represents the true Egyptian Book of Thoth. The ease with which the Kabal of Rosenroth and its medieval Latin Manuscripts, when read by the system of Notation, transform themselves into Christian and Trinitarian texts, is like an effect in a fairy scene. Between the Marquis de Mirville and his friend the Chevalier Drach, a converted Rabbi, the "good Kabala" has become a catechism of the Church of Rome. The Kabalists may be satisfied therewith if they like; we prefer to stick to the Kabal of the Chaldeans, the "Book of Numbers."
Whoever is satisfied with the dead letter, may wrap himself up in the mantle of the Tanaim (the ancient initiates of Israel); in the eyes of the experienced occultist he will never be anything but the wolf disguised in the nightcap of Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother. But the wolf will not gobble up occultism as he does Little Red Riding Hood, symbol of the profane outsider athirst after mysticism. It is the "wolf" more likely who will perish, by falling into his own trap.
Like the Bible, the Kabalistic books have their dead letter, the exoteric sense, and their true or esoteric meaning. The key to the true symbolism, which is that also of the Hindu systems, is hidden to-day beyond the gigantic peaks of the Himalayas. No other key can open the sepulchres where, interred thousands of years ago, lie the intellectual treasures which were deposited there by the primitive interpreters of the divine Wisdom. But the great cycle, the first of the Kali Yuga, is at an end; the day of resurrection for all these dead cannot be far away. The great Swedish seer, Emmanuel Swedenborg, said "Look for the lost word among the hierophants of Great Tartary and Tibet."
However much appearances may be against the Theosophical Society, however unpopular it may be among those who hold all innovation in horror, one thing is certain. That which our enemies look upon as an invention of the 19th century, is as old as the world.
Our Society is the tree of Brotherhood sprung from a seed planted in the world by the angel of Charity and of Justice, on the day when the first Cain killed the first Abel. During the long centuries of the slavery of woman and the misery of the poor, this seed was watered by all the bitter tears shed by the weak and the oppressed. Blessed hands have replanted the seed in one corner of the earth and another, and in different climes, and at epochs far apart. "Do not to another the thing thou wouldst not he should do to thee," said Confucius to his disciples. "Love one another, and love every living creature," preached the Lord Buddha to his Arhats. "Love one another," was repeated like a faithful echo in the streets of Jerusalem. To the Christian nation belongs the honor of having obeyed this supreme commandment of their master, in a particularly paradoxical fashion! Caligula, the pagan, wished that mankind had only one head that he might cut it off with a single blow. The Christian powers have improved upon this idea, which remained only in theory, by seeking for, and at last finding a means to put it in practice. Let them make ready to cut each other's throats; let them continue to exterminate in one day in their wars more men than the Caesars killed in a year; let them depopulate whole countries and provinces in the name of their paradoxical religion, and let those who kill with the sword perish by the sword themselves. What have we to do with all that?
Theosophists are powerless to stop them. Be it so. But it is their business to save as many of the survivors as possible. As a nucleus of true Brotherhood, it depends upon them to make their Society a bridge destined in the near future to carry the humanity of the new cycle beyond the muddy waters of the deluge of hopeless materialism. These waters rise continuously, and at this moment are inundating all civilized countries. Shall we leave the good to perish with the bad, terrified by the clamor and mocking cries of the latter, whether against the Theosophical Society or ourselves? Shall we watch them perish one after the other — this one of lassitude, that one unable to obtain a ray of the sun that shines for everyone — without stretching to them a plank of safety? Never!
It may be that the beautiful Utopia, the dream of the philanthropist who sees as in a vision the accomplishment of the triple desire of the Theosophical Society, may be far off. Full and entire liberty of conscience allowed to all, fraternity reigning between the rich and the poor, equality recognised in theory and practice between the aristocrat and the plebeian — are still so many castles in the air and for a good reason. All this must come about naturally and voluntarily on both sides, but the time has not yet arrived for the lion and the lamb to lie down together. The great reform must take place without any social shocks, without a drop of blood being spilled; which can happen in no other way than by the recognition of the axiomatic truth of Oriental Philosophy, which teaches us that the great diversity of fortune, of social rank and of intellect, is due but to the personal Karma of each human being. We reap only what we have sown. If the personality of each physical man differs from that of every other, the immortal individuality, or immaterial being in him, emanated from the same divine essence as does that of his neighbors. He who is thoroughly impressed with the philosophic truth that every Ego begins and ends by being the indivisible Whole, cannot love his neighbor less than he does himself. But, until this becomes a religious truth, no such reform can take place. The egoistical proverb: "Charity begins at home," or that other one: "Everyone for himself and God for us all," will always impel "superior" and Christian races to oppose the practical realization of this beautiful pagan saying: "The poor man is the son of the rich one," and still more that which tells us, "Give to eat first to him that is hungry, and take that which remains for thyself."
But the time is coming when this "barbarian" wisdom of the "inferior" races will be better appreciated. What we must try to do in the meantime is to bring a little peace into the world, in the hearts of those who suffer, by raising for them a corner of the veil which hides the divine truth. Let those who are strongest show the road to those who are weaker, and help them to climb the steep hill of life; and let them teach these to fix their eyes on the Beacon which shines on the horizon like a new star of Bethlehem beyond the mysterious and unknown sea of the Theosophical Sciences — and let the disinherited ones of life recover hope.
1. This belief only concerns those who think as I do. Every Fellow has the right to believe what he likes, and how he likes. As we have said elsewhere, the Theosophical Society is "the Republic of the Conscience." (return to text)
2. "Qui n'est qu'en puissance d'etre." (return to text)
3. For him at least who believes in an uninterrupted succession of "creations" which we call "the days and nights of Brahma," or the Manvantaras and the Pralayas (dissolutions). (return to text)
4. Every god or goddess of the 333,000,000 that compose the Hindu Pantheon is represented by a star. As the number of the stars and constellations known to astronomers hardly reach that figure, one might suspect that the ancient Hindus knew more stars than the moderns. (return to text)
5. Charaka was a physician of the Vedic period. A legend represents him as the incarnation of the Serpent of Vishnu, under the name of Secha, who reigned in Patala (the infernal regions) (return to text)
6. Strabo, XIV, 2, 19. See also Pausan., II, 27. (return to text)
7. It is known that those who were cured in the Asclepicia left pious memorials in the temples; that they had the names of their maladies and of the medicines that cured them engraved upon plates. A number of these tablets have lately been dug up in the Acropolis. See L'Asdepicion d'Athens, M. P. Girard, Paris, Thorin, 1881. (return to text)
8. The same who compiled the Zohar of Simeon ben Iochai, the originals dating from the first centuries having been lost. He has been falsely accused of inventing what he has written. He collated all he could find, but he supplemented from his own resources where passages were wanting, with the help of the Christian Gnostics of Chaldea and Syria. (return to text)
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