A Small Universe

By I. M. Oderberg
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! — Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2:2

How very remote this comment seems from modern views of human nature, especially after the appalling events of this century. But despite the cruelties and inhumanity of groups of human beings, we need to remember that we are much more than a physical body in a state of evolution. We resemble our cosmic parents, made of the stuff of the universe in which we live, from which we draw our life energy, out of which our many "selves" emerge and grow to maturity. In the long process of expressing ever more of the elements that compose us, the interaction between our higher aspects and our lower qualities will surely refine the latter, however long it may take.

How has the complexity of human nature been expressed in various strains of our heritage? A Jewish tradition ancillary to the written Torah (Law), at one time known as the "Oral Law" (Hochmah Nistorah), was transmitted through the generations of sages initiated into a sacred (i.e., secret) tradition. Its leading exponents were known as Tannaim, some of the "Prophets" being among them. From this root eventually emerged what is known today as the Qabbalah, a term which also refers to a secret "tradition." The concept of man that the Qabbalah presents derives from the Elohim or divine potencies considered as cosmic intelligences and energies. In the so-called Sephirothal Tree or Tree of Life, each individual member of the hierarchy of Elohim or Sephiroth emanates its quality in order to form the universe which in turn is reflected in the complete human being. (See Sunrise, Nov 1976 and Jan 1981 for a more in-depth explanation of this tradition.) Thus we have their human counterparts in us, though we have barely begun to express them. The road ahead is long indeed!

Turning to the Christian tradition, the gnostic Paul describes us as consisting of body, soul, and spirit. Soul and spirit are not mere synonyms, for Hebrews 4:12 states that the "Word (logos) of God" could insert a two-edged sword between the soul (psyche) and spirit (pneuma). The Greek words show the marked difference between the concepts they represent. Perhaps the sword was described as "two-edged" because in old traditions the mind is dual: one aspect drawn to material elements, the other to those of a spiritual kind.

Egyptian theology has reached us from ancient days colored by its filtration through the vision of modern "experts." The accompanying diagram suggests the causal or potential human being according to the Egyptians, the left column listing the cosmic entities which correspond to their human counterparts, while on the right are the Sanskrit equivalents for the human elements (these are only approximate comparisons). The diagram also incorporates hieroglyphic figures, such as the open arms here representing the "model" or astral body, which preserves the "shape" of the physical body during the ongoing, continuous exchange of particles between it and the environment. When the upheld arms are colored, usually red, they depict the life-energy or prana.

Other traditions classify the elements that compose us in sundry ways: fourfold, sevenfold, or more, some dealing with the vestures or "bodies" through which the qualities express themselves, others with the respective essences. But they all refer to the same processes of human unfoldment of faculties from within. The originating divine spark — monad, from the Greek monos, one; Sanskrit atman, self —sends a ray of itself through the various spectra of materializing substance until it reaches the realm that we perceive as matter. Represented by the vertical line in the diagram, this divine energy emanates centers of consciousness and vehicles of appropriate kind. And these cosmic manifestations all have their human counterparts. (Cf. "Egyptian Teachings in the Light of Theosophy," L. Whellams and I. M. Oderberg, The Theosophical Forum, Dec 1941.)

The important feature of this comparison of cosmic and human qualities is that there is no separation between the small and the large. The microcosm embodies and develops step by step with its parent, the macrocosm.

What Egyptologists have termed "Gods" were called the Neter in ancient Egypt. This word has been translated by R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz as "Principles," referring to the guiding intelligences/energies that compose the cosmic milieu. (The Sacred Science: The King of Pharaonic Theocracy (English translation) New York, 1982.) According to de Lubicz "the sacred science" embraces the concept that "the spiritual ascent of man is the path to be realized" in ourselves.

The diagram indicates the emergence of the human essence from the vast cosmos that is not only the parent but also the sustainer and generous provider of life itself. On the left we have Ra (or Re), not the sun, but the "Lord" or essence of the sun that animates and is greater than the globe with which we have grown familiar. The circle on the axial line represents Ra, and the Paramatman: the Sanskrit word for "beyond atman." The hub or center of the circle is the divine spark termed in Egyptian Ren, the "secret name" known only to our innermost Essence — perchance even It does not know, because it is in a continuous state of evolving the potential from within. Osiris and Atman stand for the first emergence from the Individuality, and in the human is Aakhu (or Khu). Osiris expressed cosmic powers through Isis, as Atman does through Buddhi or spirit. The term Khaibit, meaning "shadow," occurs on all planes where essences operate; in other words, the Khaibit apparently was not limited to "shadow" or personality, as suggested in modern texts.

The emanation called Ba, usually translated "soul," is actually the higher Mind, the Nous of Plato and other Greek writers. Its reflection in the human being is called the Ab, the "mirror-image" of the Ba, and is hierographically represented by a bowl (or a heart). The rectangle with the sloping side on the left is the "Level" upon which Thoth (or Tehuti) stands in some depictions of Judgment Scenes where the heart is weighed in the balance against the feather of Truth. Thoth, as the mind of Atum or the "Godhead," stands for cosmic mind, the Logos of the opening verses of the Gospel of John. We need to remember also that Set does not correspond to the Western notion of evil or Satan for, as the opposite of Osiris, Set stood for matter, whether inert, or infertile as the Sahara desert is. Set also represented desire, or emotion, Sanskrit Kama.

The upper part of the diagram forms a triangle or trinity, while the figures below form a square with the upheld arms indicating the "model body" of the physical vehicle or vessel of the whole ensemble. Our physical body was Khat in the Egyptian system, symbolized by a fish stranded on the shore: a glyph for the idea that what we are most familiar with is precipitated out of finer substance than the matter our senses reveal. At the level of the "model body" is the Neter Anubis Anpu: "Opener of Ways" to divinity. In recent years, the most baffling of the Egyptian texts has been translated as The Ancient Egyptian Book of Two Ways, a doctoral thesis by Leonard H. Lesko. (Reviewed in Sunrise, April/May 1985.) There exists a vignette showing a human body with two heads facing away from each other: one is of the hawk-headed Horus, the other of the animal-headed Set, representing the spiritual and material poles in us all. The Ankh was the hieroglyph for our stage of life-manifestation: the upper circle, sometimes tear-shaped ("tears of Isis") and the Tau to which it was attached, the material vehicle.

All these remarks form the gist of what the diagram illustrates. How much more complex are we than modern psychology claims —going far beyond the vibrations of our personal self portrayed as "moods" and other manifestations of our interaction with daily events! The latter are like the waves of the sea: surface movements that do not expose to view the deeps of the ocean. Our own inmost depths are profound indeed, reaching to the very root of the cosmos.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1994; copyright © 1994 Theosophical University Press)


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This universe is a life organized, effective, complex, all-comprehensive, displaying an unfathomable wisdom. — Plotinus, Enneads