The Theosophical Forum – May 1949

QUESTIONS OF KING MILINDA — Marion O. French

Milinda was Menander, Indo-Greek King of northern India. He was a capable soldier who extended his territory very widely by conquest. His capital was Sakala in the Punjab. He died in 160 b.c. The orthodox Buddhist bhikkhu who converted him was Nagasena. The "Questions" constitute a commentary on the psychology of the Thera Vada (Doctrine of the Elders) midway between the Nikayas and the fifth century. Some fifty pages are purely psychological and fifty more are concerned with psychic-philosophical dialogue concerning the soul. Seven types of chitta (states of consciousness) are described. They pertain to the seven principles of man. Progressively they expand the group consciousness from the small circle of selfhood to the illimitable expanse of selflessness that merges with the cosmic consciousness. Then, the mind as manas has become a completely flexible and "omni-scient" instrument. It should be noted, however, that even the omniscient mentality requires time for self-conscious cognition. Herein is the difference between the Consciousness that knows itself not, because it possesses no self, and that which can say I know. All selves are limited within the illimitable, and the limitation imposed upon them is the time of their existence. In that sense, time is life or prana.

Great stress is laid upon mental culture that leads to the evolution of high intelligence. Evil is presented as stemming from ignorance or the inertia of matter as mulaprakriti. However, human intellect is indicated as being uniformly of one distinctive type from the lowest to the highest. Specifically, that type is stated to be an aggregate, or group, of closely associated components that serve to combine various aspects into one concept. Definitely, it is stated that "there exists no permanent entity." The distinctive difference between human and animal cognition is "insight," or intuition, as contrasted with empirical or reasoned thinking from cause to effect. Eight "attainments" are requisite for "applied insight." Analogically, they correspond to the four ventricles of the brain as operative in complete conjunction and accord with the two ventricles and two auricles of the heart, which form the octahedron of the solar "forces," or intellection.

The relationship between the individual entity and the solar collectivity may be comprehended most readily through music. Man, as perfected, will have six senses synthesized within the seventh of his spiritual essence. The ratio of his six perceptive powers to the superior eightfold "pure apperception" or complete octave of Surya is 6:8, which is the same as 3:4. This is the ratio of harmony between the three degrees or intervals and the four terms of sounds in the tetrachord that correspond to the upper triad and the lower quaternary of man's "principles." As noted by H. P. Blavatsky, S. D., II, 600, the 4:3 "is a diatesseron in sesquitertia." In music, the size of the steps in the scale has varied, but the octave has not. In it, the eighth note is the first in a new pitch as indicative of evolution to a new plane of consciousness upon attaining at-one-ment with the Divine.

Milinda is informed that the three "intervals" of the upper triad are consciousness (vinnana), insight (panna) and the soul (jiva). Also, that "Awareness, Sire, is the mark of consciousness, and discernment, of insight; there does not exist a soul in beings." Here the integration of the soul in Be-ness is implied and awareness is identified with vayu (contact), and surya (collectivity of self-consciousness). In regard to the soul, it is explained that "The life [principle] (jiva) within, which sees through the eye, hears through the ear . . . and cognizes phenomena through mind," can in effect "see through" any one of the five senses now operative. Milinda inquires whether the senses could not be dispensed with and the answer is that the "eye-aperture" does not see better with the eye removed. In other words, the senses should be utilized to perceive the universe in such a manner that the individual may participate in the architectural task of improving it. Sensation, then, becomes self-conscious perception as jiva causes the vehicle to "glow" like "fire in hot iron." Withal, purusha, as consciousness per se, that knows itself not remains quiescent, impassive, separate, and indivisible.

Stress is laid upon the orderly operation of the senses as acting in coordination (mano-consciousness). Essentially, this action in conjunction represents logical thinking in conformity to mathematical laws. They may be summarized in the four operations of arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) that are continuous even when unrecognized. The sequence is asserted by Nagasena to take place through "inclination, existing structure, habitual process, and practice." As such, it is vayu or contact in all four quadrants of the circle of consciousness. In the process, volition is actively energic "conation" that is fourfold as "being made to think, effort, fixing, and arranging." In the Abidhamma-Pitaka this is called "the solid grip of the burden." It involves the repeated pulsations of attention-inattention that must be sustained. Thus, the "fixing" entails constant "effort" as "mindfulness or sati." Seventeen ways in which it arises are enumerated, two of which are subjective as "association by way of similarity or contrast." This brings "mindfulness" into the category of "reminiscence" as the memory of past lives is termed by H. P. Blavatsky. It is a far more comprehensive concept than the "association of ideas" in occidental psychology. In the "orderliness" of perception throughout, the repetitive pulsation, or mind-heart beat, is rhythmic if "harmony" is to ensue.

The dialogue discusses the three operations of mnemonics: remembrance of recent events, recollections of more distant ones, and reminiscence of antecedent life experiences. In the latter the trained intuition utilizes its "super-knowledge," or contact with cosmic consciousness. Likewise, the theory of dreams is brought into question. This involves the four states of consciousness referred to by H. P. Blavatsky as waking, waking-dreaming, sleeping-dreaming, and sleeping. In Sanskrit they are Jagrat, Svapna, Sushupti, and Turiya-samadhi The contact with the "collective unconscious" of C. G. Jung is effected in the two dreaming states. Then as Job states, xxxiii, 14-16, "God speaketh once, yea twice . . . and sealeth their instruction." In general, this summary adheres to that given in Buddhist Psychology by Mrs. C. A. F. Rhys Davids. Of principal import is the consideration that the Thera Vada consists of psychological commentaries upon the scriptural texts of the four Vedas. Consequently, we may conclude that all religious doctrines deal primarily with psychology, or the study of consciousness as a "Holy" (synonymous with healing) system of therapeutics for the redemption of mankind. In view of which, H. P. Blavatsky stated that "Theosophy is the exact science of psychology."


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