Copyright © 1979 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
. . . neither the collective Host (Demiurgos), nor any of the working powers individually, are proper subjects for divine honours or worship. All are entitled to the grateful reverence of Humanity, however, and man ought to be ever striving to help the divine evolution of Ideas, by becoming to the best of his ability a co-worker with nature in the cyclic task. 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. Those who worship before it, ought to do so in the silence and the sanctified solitude of their Souls; making their spirit the sole mediator between them and the Universal Spirit, their good actions the only priests, and their sinful intentions the only visible and objective sacrificial victims to the Presence. — H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, I, 280
WE SHOULD all feel deeply and gratefully sensible of the occasion which is here given to us to approach along the paths of thought the doctrines which from immemorial time have enlightened the intellect of our fellow students, have given courage to strong hearts under persecution, and have directed the forces of the world along the lines which men hold dearest — the lines of religion and the ethical principles which govern human conduct.
Personally I am deeply sensible of the responsibility which Katherine Tingley has put upon me, to say words which shall be simple, condensed, clear, helpful. Her instructions are to take the literary masterpiece of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's life, her Secret Doctrine, and from beginning to end of it touch, if possible, upon every main doctrine therein contained, and produce a record and interpretation of its teachings which all minds can understand and which will be helpful to all members of the School both here and throughout the world.
The subject is a great one: great in scope, great in possibilities. I approach the duty given me with a true awe, with my heart filled with reverence for these venerable doctrines which from times so far back that "the mind of man runneth not to the contrary" of them have provided the world with its religions, its philosophies, its sciences, its arts, its ethics, and therefore its governments.
The Secret Doctrine is accurately named. It is the teaching which in all times has been held secret and esoteric. The world religions of the past and present may be proved to have sprung from it; the great religious philosophies of the Indian Peninsula, most easily so. The teachings of pre-Spanish America, of Europe in pagan times so called; the legends, the myths, the fairy tales in all the countries of the world, which we may exemplify by the teachings in the Scandinavian Eddas and the Anglo-Saxon Epics — these great works which so many people think to be only sagas or stories — are sprung in their origin from the secret wisdom which H. P. Blavatsky has imbodied and outlined in her masterly work.
These things are important to remember. The human mind has never produced in any part of the world merely wild and unbased, unfounded or merely mythical statements of religion. Religion, like everything else, begins with ideas and ends with dogmas and myths. In all dogmas may be found the seed of the esoteric root from which they sprang. In the Christian religion — whose dogmas have been man-made and have been christened God-made — its dogmas too are founded to a large extent upon the ancient pagan teachings, and therefore ultimately upon the esoteric truths imbodied in this vast collection of teachings which H. P. Blavatsky has called The Secret Doctrine. In it she has attempted to bring back in outline only, rarely in detail, some fundamental principles of this archaic doctrine, the same all over the world, the same in all times; interpreted variously by various men in various nations.
H. P. Blavatsky opens her work by enouncing three fundamental propositions, three basic facts. It seems to me that a correct understanding of these postulates would eliminate the many misunderstandings that exist today among men regarding the basic truths in religious thought. They unify, they separate never.
First, is her enunciation of an inscrutable Principle; the second postulate in the proem of The Secret Doctrine is that the universe is the playground, as it were, the field, the arena, the scene, of incessant, eternal, never-ceasing periodicity: that is to say, cyclical movement, the manifesting of the eternal life in the cyclical appearance and disappearance of worlds — stars, planets, and the other celestial bodies in the cosmic container which men so vaguely and inaccurately call space. She tells us, voicing the teaching of the ancient wisdom, that these worlds come and go like sparks, mystically called the "sparks of eternity." The life cycle of each of the greater bodies is of necessity of immense duration; and when we speak of time, human understanding demands that we shall have some measure by which we can understand what we mean by time, and by common consent the period of the earth's revolution around the sun, which we call one year, has been taken as an arbitrary measure.
The third postulate — by no means the least in importance, that which is easiest to understand and which for us perhaps is most pregnant with truth — is that the universe and all in it are one immense, eternal organism. Let us be careful here lest we fall into the doctrine called monism which teaches, briefly, that everything in the universe is ultimately derived from one material cause. Equally must we avoid falling into the erroneous doctrine of monotheism, or the teaching that the universe and all in it are the creation by the fiat and caprice of an infinite and eternal personal God. The former doctrine is simply materialism; the latter almost equally materialistic.
This third fundamental proposition tells us not merely that the universe is one with all that is in it, but more particularly that the being of man — his body, his bodies; his soul, his souls; and his spirit — is but the offspring, the fruitage of forces. Here we come upon one of the teachings most necessary for us to understand in the magnificent sweep of theosophical philosophy, that of hierarchies; that is to say, that the kosmos, the universe, while one organism, is nevertheless formed of steps or gradations of beings, consciousnesses or intellects, of all various kinds, in which the universal life manifests, and that these are interrelated, correlated and coordinated, and work together in one unity towards one common object and end.
We see thus that we are not merely children of earth, beings like butterflies, born of a day; but verily sparks of the heart of being, of the central fire of the universal life. If we could feel this wonderful truth in our hearts, and if we could carry our feeling into our daily lives, no force would be greater to govern our conduct than it; nothing could better mold our destinies or put us upon a nobler path of achievement and service.
Realizing that we are one unity with all that is; that universal brotherhood is a fact of being, rooted in the very heart of things, unescapable, not to be avoided; and that our acts and thoughts act and react with inevitable consequence in all that we think and do — not only upon ourselves, the thinkers and actors, but on all other beings everywhere — how different might the lives of men be! Here, more than in the first two fundamental propositions, do we find the true religious, scientific, and philosophical basis of morals. No man can work unto himself; inevitably, inviolably he works unto others likewise. What he does affects others. These teachings are realities, real things.
Let us have the knowledge of it, let us realize that every thought is a thing which eventuates now or at some later day in an action; that the accumulation of thoughts along any one line shall produce its proper effect or effects; that in the chain of being one thing leads to another, and that our moral and physical responsibility is precisely something that we can never escape. When man realizes that he is responsible and inevitably will be called to an accounting, and that at any instant selfishness of motive or godlike love and compassion direct his acts, then we shall have every right to look for a regenerated mankind.
In resuming our talk of last week, in which we considered the three fundamental postulates of the esoteric philosophy which H. P. Blavatsky outlined in the first pages of The Secret Doctrine, we must remember that we are dealing with subjects so abstract, so abstruse, that to attain to a simplification of them is a task beset with many difficulties, surrounded as it is with the forces of prejudice, and demanding also the use of such words that all minds will understand at least the main thought imbodied in our talks.
With regard to this question of words, no science or philosophy, no religious thought, can attempt to interpret itself to the world without having its own complete technical vocabulary; otherwise it is faced with misconstruction, misunderstanding, frequent needless opposition. For this reason certain words have been used, largely drawn from the Oriental religions, because there and there only, as regards religions which still live, do we find thoughts and the proper treatment of them which also exist in the ancient wisdom, today called theosophy. Scarcely one of these terms, however, has been properly interpreted or understood, precisely because they are for the most part Sanskrit words — not merely words from that language, but words which have also received color and meaning and application in religions which still use them. Even English terms have meanings varying according to the places where we find them. Hence, as said before, it will be necessary in studying The Secret Doctrine carefully to set forth the meaning in which these words are used — a meaning philosophic, a meaning religious, and a meaning current in the popular walks of life. But first it would seem good to quote from H. P. Blavatsky the paragraph occurring at the bottom of page 13, preceding her treatment of these fundamental propositions:
Before the reader proceeds to the consideration of the Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan which form the basis of the present work, it is absolutely necessary that he should be made acquainted with the few fundamental conceptions which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought to which his attention is invited. These basic ideas are few in number, and on their clear apprehension depends the understanding of all that follows; therefore no apology is required for asking the reader to make himself familiar with them first, before entering on the perusal of the work itself.
These three propositions may be called a synopsis of the entire system of esoteric philosophy. They are an epitome of the religious and philosophic reasoning of the human soul from times vanishing into unknown antiquity. Necessarily, therefore, are they very difficult to understand, and in some of their reaches they cannot be understood fully by the human mind. For instance, while we cannot say with reference to this first proposition what this Principle is, nevertheless we can talk about it, talk around it, say what it is not, as H. P. Blavatsky herself does when, after saying that in the words of the Upanishad it is "unthinkable and unspeakable," she proceeds to speak of it and to give the ancient teaching about it as it was understood by the greatest minds of olden times.
This first proposition is expressed by her as follows:
An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought — in the words of Mandukya [Upanishad] "unthinkable and unspeakable."
What do we mean by principle, as a word? It has many meanings: it may mean a rule of conduct; it may be used in the sense of cause; or in its etymological meaning as beginning. The word prince is from the same Latin root, meaning the head of the men of his state, the beginning of justice, the fountain of law and order.
Now what does H. P. Blavatsky mean in choosing the word principle? Are we to understand that it is used in the sense of a pure abstraction, as when one says six or long? Six what? Or what is it which is long? Words so used are pure abstractions; they have no application and no meaning unless connected with some object. In other words, they signify nothing in especial; and therefore if we choose to understand H. P. Blavatsky's use of this word principle, in the sense of a pure abstraction without application to any subject of thought or thing, then we must conclude that the Principle of which she speaks is pure nothingness — not no thing, but nothing in the ordinary sense. When she speaks of a Principle, however, she uses it with a purpose and a meaning; hence Principle does not mean nothingness. Yet we cannot call this All, this Mystery, this Space — which are other words that she gives it — by the name of any thing. On the other hand, it is not a being, it is not an entity, it is nothing limited, no matter how great or how apparently boundless.
Properly to understand why and how ancient thinkers used words such as this, we introduce here a key to ancient wisdom, and it is this: the thought of ancient times the world over was anthropocentric, not as defined in dictionaries today, meaning that man is the highest goal of creation in the ordinary Christian sense, or that the universe revolves around man as the most important thing in creation. This sense is by usage a permissible one, but it is not the sense in which the word is used when we apply it to this ancient key. Here is the meaning, difficult to understand, but very important for the proper interpretation of the wisdom set forth in The Secret Doctrine. A man thinks. He thinks with his own thoughts from what is in himself. He cannot think in the mind of another man. Perforce, by the necessities of his own being, his thoughts follow the cast or bent of his own nature: spring from within him, as from a fountain, and this, as applied to the religious and philosophic thought of the ancients is the meaning of the word anthropocentric, as we shall use it.
The word itself is from the Greek, anthropos, "man" in the general sense, like the German word Mensch, not man in the individual sense. It means that the ancients looked upon their religious philosophy and their philosophic systems as springing from within man himself, hence they were anthropocentric. Similar to this was their treatment of the phenomena of nature, which was based on the phenomenal fact that the earth was the apparent center of the solar system. So is any other planet. We have remnants of this system in our own languages today, when we speak of the "rising" and the "setting" of the sun, and so forth.
Now, then, treating the ancient wisdom from the anthropocentric position, the ancient thinkers realized that to render forth the thoughts which sprang up within them they must use human language, human similes, human metaphors. Only in this fashion could they receive some degree of the attentive consideration which they, as teachers of this ancient wisdom, merited. Hence we find the application of the anthropocentric idea to this word principle — a word which can be used both as an abstraction or in a concrete material sense.
Obviously H. P. Blavatsky did not use principle in a material sense. What, then, did she mean to convey? That this Principle beyond the reach of human thought must be all that which passes human understanding and which for that reason we can only call the All — a word simply expressing our ignorance, it is true; but it does express the fact that this ineffable Principle is All. Ultimately from it we sprang, back to it we are journeying through the aeons of illimitable time. All thoughts ultimately came from it, but by no fiat of a thinking mind, however great. The ancient philosophy tells us that we may liken the first stirrings of being in this All to the life germ in an egg. How marvelous it is that a thing which, when chemically analyzed, consists of but a few elements of matter, yet if not disturbed or destroyed, under proper conditions, brings forth a living being!
Many are the religions which have treated of this Principle in varying ways. Let us first take the Hebrew in illustration of the thought, because from it, largely, sprang the Christian doctrines. Since most of us were born in Christian countries, the doctrines which that church has had are most familiar to us, and this, perhaps, is a sufficient excuse for choosing it as our first illustration. "In the beginning," that is to say, "In the Principle," and so translated in the Greek Septuagint, "God made the world and the world was without form and void, and the Spirit of God moved upon the waters." Now here is a wonderful thing. The thought in those lines is by no means well expressed philosophically, but it does contain the esoteric teaching as we have it here in The Secret Doctrine: "In the beginning" — "In the Principle" — "In the All." The next statement is that "God" (the original Hebrew is Elohim) made the earth and the earth was formless and void. What does void mean? Let me remind you that the word here means more than "empty"; it means properly, in this application, intangible, immaterial, as we would say, an astral world, a spiritual world, even.
"And the spirit of Elohim moved upon the waters." What waters? Where were the waters upon which "Elohim" or the "Gods" moved? Why should they move upon the "waters"? Water is a term used in the ancient religions as signifying space, the waters of space. We have here a treatment of an immaterial world, brought forth from the All by powers, by gods if you like — the word matters nothing — and of the spirit, the force of these beings, moving over or within this intangible and immaterial globe or world.
Turning to the Farther Orient and taking up the Sanskrit teachings as expressed in the Veda — the most ancient and highly revered religious and philosophical works of Hindustan — we find in the translation of Colebrooke the following:
Nor Aught nor Naught existed; . . .
Think of the thought in this. Neither some thing nor no thing existed.
. . . yon bright sky / Was not, nor heaven's broad roof outstretched above. / What covered all? what sheltered? what concealed? / Was it the water's fathomless abyss? /
Again the reference to the waters of space.
There was not death — yet there was naught immortal, / There was no confine betwixt day and night; / The only One breathed breathless by itself, / Other than It there nothing since has been. / Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled / In gloom profound — an ocean without light — / The germ that still lay covered in the husk / Burst forth, one nature, from the fervent heat.
See the marvelous attempt to render into ordinary human language, into commonplace figures of speech, however beautiful, thoughts whose subtility and profundity the human mind can reach towards, grasp for, attempt to reach — and yet must largely fail. And nevertheless we sense, we feel, as it were by an inner consciousness, the existence, the reality, the actuality, of that which we know is, and fail to tell.
Here we have a statement that "no thing" was and "not no thing" was. To this, by reason of our anthropocentric understanding, we can give no human name; yet, as the mind works analogically, the Veda tells us that the germ of life arose in It as It then was. So is It now, nothing less, nothing gone, nothing added; always the same so far as we can see, and yet changing ever. Utter immobility is death. In It death exists not. Motion, as we understand it, is life, and yet in It such life in reality exists not. It is in reality neither in motion nor motionless. All we can liken It to, following the anthropocentric rule, is utter space, containing unending motion as we understand it, in infinity, in eternity — and all these are but words, an open confession of the inability of the human mind to reach it. Yet how noble, how proud, a statement it is of the mighty forces of the human spirit which can reach up, and even get some intimation of the unutterable.
On page two of the first volume of her work, H. P. Blavatsky says: "It is the ONE LIFE, eternal, invisible, yet Omnipresent, without beginning or end, yet periodical in its regular manifestations, . . ."
Is it possible inwardly to conceive the immensity of this spacial All and our kosmos, our universe, as hanging from It by a thread of spirit — our universe, not alone our dust speck of earth, but the universe comprised within the encircling zone of the Milky Way — and the numberless other universes hanging from It? So, when we read "Periodical in its regular manifestations," we inevitably follow the anthropocentric law of our being and reason as men.
The All itself never manifests; It is the Unmanifest; but it is true nevertheless that from It manifestation proceeds. To what can we liken It then? What were the pictures, the metaphors, by which the ancients explained the manifest proceeding from the unmanifest — the material from the immaterial, life from not-life, personality from nonpersonality, being, entity, from nonbeing and nonentity? Here is one figure: the world-principle is the sun. The sun sends forth innumerable rays of light; we may assume that the sending forth is eternal and in all directions; and that the rays of light are part of that which sends them forth. Thus did the ancients liken the sun to this All. The sun itself in their philosophy was but the material manifestation on this plane of a hierarchic series which had its roots again inmeshed in something still higher than itself, and so forth. How did they describe this Principle, this Unspeakable, in the Vedas? Silence and darkness surrounded the thought and they simply called it Tat; the English translation is "that" — not even "God," not even "the Shining One"; it was limited by no adjective, simply That.
Another figure was the World Tree, even more universal than that of the sun, found in the Hindu scriptures, in the ancient American Maya, Inca, Toltec symbols, found also in ancient Europe and preserved to this day in the Scandinavian Eddas. The World Tree — how is it imagined? It was figured as growing from above downwards, its roots rooted in That, and its trunk, its manifold branches, and its twigs, and its leaves, and its flowers, stretching downwards in all directions and representing the manifesting and manifested life, the incalculable things into which this cosmic river, this spiritual flood of being, runs.
Suppose a tip at the end of the lowest, utmost branch, the tip of a leaf: it draws its life from the leaf, the leaf from the twig, the twig from the branch, the branch from a larger branch, the larger branch from a larger one still, it from the trunk, the trunk from the roots, the roots — why proceed further? We can continue indefinitely. But the ancients, with their deep religious faith, simply said That when referring to that which transcends human power of conception. Thus, when H.P.B. says here, "yet periodical in its regular manifestations," so must we understand it. It is her own teaching that It manifests never, but from It springs all life. "Between which periods runs the dark mystery of non-Being" — what is this state? Is it dark per se? Is it an unsolvable mystery? Is it nothingness? What right have we to think so, so to conceive it? These are words used of necessity anthropocentrically, following the ancient rule, knowing that man can use no terms understandable by himself and his fellows except those which follow the psychological laws of his own being. Therefore, and we quote further:
. . . between which periods reigns the dark mystery of [to us] non-Being; unconscious [to us], yet absolute Consciousness; unrealisable [by us], yet the one self-existing reality; truly, "a chaos to the sense, a Kosmos to the reason." Its one absolute attribute, which is ITSELF, eternal, ceaseless Motion [to us], is called in esoteric parlance the "Great Breath," which is the perpetual motion of the universe, in the sense of limitless, ever-present SPACE.
In our last two meetings we studied the three fundamental postulates in H. P. Blavatsky' Secret Doctrine. Therein we are taught that there exists in man a link with the Unutterable, a cord, a communication, that extends from It to the inner consciousness; and that link — such is the teaching as it has come down to us — is the very heart of being. It arises in that supersensory Principle, that unutterable Mystery which H. P. Blavatsky defines in the first fundamental proposition as above human mind. Becoming one with that link, we can transcend the powers of ordinary human intellect, and reach (even if it be by striving out, upward, towards) that Unutterable, which is, we know — though it is beyond human power to express it in words, or beyond human thought — the concealed of the concealed, the life of life, truth of truth, the ALL.
Here is the thought, it seems to me, which illustrates so well Katherine Tingley's words in this regard. They struck me as very beautiful, profoundly suggestive. She said:
Thinking towards the unthinkable is a wonderful, spiritualizing force; one cannot think toward it without a disposition either to think more or feel more — without opening up the inner consciousness of man. And when that inner consciousness is awakened, the soul finds itself closer to the infinite laws, closer to THAT, or that Great Center that no words can express.
By striving towards this inwards, towards the Inmost, we can attain to some conception, if not understanding, of the infinite Principle of all that is. From It, in the course of endless duration, there spring into manifestation at the end of the great universal or cosmic pralaya, the beginnings of things. These beginnings eventuate in the forms of life and being described in the second and third fundamental propositions.
This inmost link with the Unutterable was called in ancient India by the term self, which has been often mistranslated "soul." The Sanskrit word is atman, and applies, in psychology, to the human entity. The upper end of the link, so to speak, was called paramatman or the "supreme self," the permanent self — words which describe neatly and clearly to those who have studied this wonderful philosophy somewhat of the nature and essence of the thing which man is, and the source from which, in that beginningless and endless duration, he sprang. Child of earth and child of heaven, he contains both in himself.
We pass now from considering the first proposition to the second and the third. And in order that we may understand what we mean when we use certain words, it will be useful to illustrate our usages of such words. Let us take up the remarkably well-translated book entitled The Song Celestial, the work of Sir Edwin Arnold. It is a translation into English verse of the Bhagavad-Gita. That work is an episode or an interlude found in the sixth book of the Mahabarata, the greater of the two great Hindu epics; and in the style of the Hindu writings it comprises a dissertation on religious, philosophical, and mystical subjects. Sir Edwin's Song Celestial, in book the second, has the following:
. . .The soul which is not moved, / The soul that with a strong and constant calm / Takes sorrow and takes joy indifferently, / Lives in the life undying! That which is / Can never cease to be; that which is not / Will not exist. To see this truth of both / Is theirs who part essence from accident, / Substance from shadow. Indestructible, / Learn thou! the Life is, spreading life through all; / It cannot anywhere, by any means, / Be anywise diminished, stayed, or changed. / But for these fleeting frames which it informs / With spirit deathless, endless, infinite, / They perish. . . .
Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never; / Never was time it was not; End and Beginning are dreams! / Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever; / Death hath not touched it at all, dead though the house of it seems!
Now these words are exquisitely beautiful. They nevertheless contain a mistranslation, a misrendering of the text of this wonderful little work. In the first place, Sir Edwin translates the Sanskrit word tat, first by the word "soul" and next by the word "spirit." Of course, analogically, it has a reference to the soul and the spirit of man; but the Sanskrit of it does not point particularly to the soul of man. I will read a translation in prose of these same verses, made with no attempt at poetic thought, no attempt to use beautiful language, but simply to express the thought:
The man whom these do not lead astray, O Bull among men! who is the same in pain and pleasure, and of steady soul, he partakes of immortality.
There is no existence for the unreal; there is no nonexistence for the Real. Moreover, the ultimate characteristic of both these is seen by those who perceive true principles.
Know That to be indestructible by which this whole universe was woven.
The Sanskrit word for "That" is tat, as already explained. The figure is that of the weaving of a web.
The destruction of this Imperishable, none is able to bring about.
These mortal bodies are said to be of the imbodied Eternal, Indestructible, Immeasurable One. . . .
He who knows It as the slayer, and he who thinks It to be the slain: both of them understand not. It slays not, nor is it slain.
It is not born, nor does it ever die; It was not produced, nor shall it ever be produced.
It is unborn, constant, everlasting, primeval. It is unhurt when the body is slain.
The application that the writer in the Bhagavad-Gita makes is to the link which we have spoken of, the deathless, undying principle within us, and he describes it by the word That, and contrasts it with the manifested universe which, following the ancient teachings of India, was invariably spoken of as This — the Sanskrit word is idam.
The sages of olden times left on record the inner teaching of the religions of the peoples among whom they lived. This inner teaching was the esoteric philosophy, the theosophy of the period. In Hindustan this theosophy is found in the Upanishads, a part of the Vedic literary cycle. The word itself implies "secret doctrine" or "secret teachings." From the Upanishads and from other parts of the Vedic literature, the ancient sages of India produced what is called today the Vedanta — a compound Sanskrit word meaning "the end (or completion) of the Veda" — that is to say, instruction in the final and most perfect exposition of the meaning of the Vedic tenets.
In ancient Greece there were various schools and various Mysteries, and the theosophy of ancient Greece was held very secret; it was taught in the Mysteries and it was taught by different teachers to select bodies of their disciples. One of such great teachers was Pythagoras; another was Plato; and this theosophy was more or less clearly outlined and imbodied, after the fall of the so-called pagan religions, in what is today called the Neoplatonic philosophy. It represents actually the inner teachings of Pythagoras, Plato, and the inner sense of those mystical doctrines which passed current in Greece under the name of the Orphic poems.
Of the theosophy of Egypt we have but scanty remainings, such as exist in what is called "The Book of the Dead." Of the theosophy of ancient America, of the Incan, the Mayan, empires we have next to nothing. The theosophy of ancient Europe has passed away. All that remains to us is a certain number of mystical writings such as the Scandinavian Eddas, and the Germanic books, which are represented, for instance, in the sagas found written in the old High German and in the Anglo-Saxon tongues.
A study of the doctrines contained in the Upanishads, in "The Book of the Dead," in the Neoplatonic philosophy, in the Scandinavian Eddas, and elsewhere, shows that they had one common basis, one foundation, one common truth. Various men in various ages taught the same truth, using different words and different figures, different metaphors; but underneath always was the ancient doctrine, the secret wisdom.
The theosophy of the Jews was imbodied in what was later called the Qabbalah, from a Hebrew word meaning "to receive"; that is to say, it was the traditional doctrine handed down or received (according to the statements of the Qabbalah itself) through the prophets and the sages of Jewry, and was said to have been first taught by "God Almighty to a select company of angels in Heaven."
We must remember, when we approach the teachings of the ancient wisdom, that the ancient teachers spoke and thought and taught anthropocentrically; that is, that they all insisted on following the psychological laws of the human mind and therefore taught in human figures of speech, often using quaint metaphors, very odd, and yet so instructive as figures of speech. How wise that was, because thus they were able to carry on the teachings, and did so in such fashion that least of all did this anthropocentric system encourage the dogmatic rulings that have most truly blasted all that was best in the teachings of the Christian Church. These tropes, these metaphors, were so quaint that the mind understood almost instantly that they were but the vehicle imbodying the truth. Let us remember this, and our work becomes immensely more easy.
Now let us take the Qabbalah as a sample of the manner in which one theosophy — the Jewish — approaches the mystery of how the Unmanifest produces the manifest, how from that which is endless and beginningless duration sprang forth matter, space in the sense of material extension, and time.
But first let me quote from another Sanskrit work, the Kena-Upanishad. Speaking of this unutterable Mystery, it says:
The eye reacheth it not, language reacheth it not, nor does thought reach to it at all; verily, we know not nor can we say how one should teach it; it is different from the known, it is beyond the unknown. Thus have we heard from the men of olden times, for they taught it to us. — 1, 3-4
The great Sankaracharya, perhaps the most famous of Indian commentators on the Upanishads and the marvelously beautiful system of philosophy drawn from them called the Vedanta, says, commenting on the Aitareya-Upanishad:
There is the One, sole, alone, apart from all duality, in which there appear not the multitudinous illusory presentments of unreal bodies and conditions of this universe of merely apparent reality; passionless, unmoving, pure, in utter peace; knowable only by the lack of every adjective epithet; unreachable by word or by thought.
The Qabbalah, the traditionary teaching of the sages among the Jews, is a wonderful teaching; it contains in outline or in epitome every fundamental tenet or teaching that the Secret Doctrine contains. The teachings of the Qabbalah are often couched in very quaint and sometimes amusing language; sometimes its language rises to the height of sublimity. What does the Zohar, the second of the great books that remain of the Qabbalah (the word Zohar itself meaning "splendor"), have to say of the manner in which the Jewish religious books should be studied? It says this (iii, 152a):
Woe be to the son of man who says that the Torah [the Hebrew Bible, especially the Pentateuch, or rather the first four books of the Bible excluding Deuteronomy, the fifth] contains common sayings and ordinary narratives. If this were the case we might in the present day compose a code of doctrines from profane writings which would excite greater respect. If the Law contains ordinary matter, then there are nobler sentiments in profane codes. Let us go and make a selection from them and we shall be able to compile a far superior code. No! Every word of the Law has a sublime sense and a heavenly mystery. . . . As the spiritual angels had to put on earthly garments when they descended to this earth, and as they could neither have remained nor be understood on the earth without putting on such a garment, so it is with the Law. When it descended on earth, the Law had to put on an earthly garment, in order to be understood by us, and the narratives are its garment. . . . Those who have understanding do not look at the garment but at the body [the esoteric meaning] beneath; whilst the wisest, the servants of the heavenly King, those who dwell on Mount Sinai, look at nothing but the soul —
i.e., at the ultimate secret doctrine or sacred wisdom hid under the "body," under the exoteric narratives or stories of the Bible.
In these days, when modernists and fundamentalists quarrel — quarrel unnecessarily about exoteric superficialities, about things which arise out of the egoism of men, about the dogmatic teachings of the Christian Church, every one of them probably based on ancient pagan esoteric philosophy — it is an immense pity that they do not know and understand that this teaching of the Qabbalah as expressed in the Zohar is a true one; for under every garment is the life. As Jesus taught in parables, so the Bible was written in figures of speech, in metaphors.
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