Expanding Horizons — James A. Long

Three Pillars of Ancient Tradition

Question — For some years now the various world religions have been receiving increasing attention in popular books and magazines, and the basic tenets are often outlined in comparison with our Christian scriptures. However, I find it somewhat confusing. It is simple enough to see the similarity in the ethics of the different faiths, the Golden Rule, for example; but in all this welter of beliefs, rituals and legends I hardly know what I believe now.

Comment — Does your thought come down to this: is there any touchstone by which we can test the validity of any belief, whatever its source?

Question — Yes. How can we judge what is true, and what isn't?

Comment — This desire to understand the religious roots of others is one of the most encouraging signposts of the century, yet our very eagerness to reach out and embrace every concept and ideology, just because it is different from our own, poses a real danger. In fact, you have put your finger on both the strength and the weakness of the present awakening interest in the beliefs of others, for one of the greatest obstacles to solid growth is the tendency to accept this or that person, or this or that presentation, as authoritative. The last word has not been said, either in philosophy or religion, and certainly not in science. Nor could it be said, else there would be no chance for individual progress. There is no definitive statement on truth. But that does not mean that truth does not exist, nor that we human beings are unable to discover it.

What is truth? It is like the horizon that ever eludes us but is always before us. When we want to know what is beyond the horizon, we travel the road that leads toward it. But when we arrive, the horizon has moved on; and it will always move on. Just so with truth: we shall never reach the "last horizon," because there will always be another and another.

Ever since man became self-conscious, he has been searching for that Something that would yield him a clearer glimpse of reality. Call it the Holy Grail, the Philosopher's Stone or the Golden Fleece — always this hunger has kept alive his will to search. That is why the great religions have persisted, some of them for thousands of years, because no matter what form they have taken, underlying nearly every dogma and ritual is a vein of truth. The deeper we go into the roots of the different faiths, the more surely do we recognize their common ground.

Why would that be? The closer we penetrate to their origins the simpler and purer the teachings, and the more similar they are to each other. The farther back we delve into prehistory, the nearer we approach certain spiritual principles which have been handed down through the ages as a sacred tradition. There is good reason to believe, therefore, that at a very early period great Ideas were implanted in the consciousness of infant humanity, which later were universally broadcast among all peoples of the earth. But so heavy have been the credal trappings that it is difficult to uncover the original ancient tradition. Nevertheless, every great religion has drawn from it both for content and inspiration. It was the foundation too of the instruction and training of the old Mystery-schools of Greece and Asia Minor, Egypt and of India. It has likewise been called the wisdom-religion of antiquity.

Question — In order to find the oneness of all these faiths, wouldn't we have to do a tremendous amount of study and research?

Comment — Not necessarily. While the principles of this tradition may seem rather abstruse and verging on high philosophy, yet when analyzed we discover they are very near to our own daily experience, and thus quite understandable.

Who of us, for example, has not pondered on the mystery of how God's influence can penetrate everywhere at one and the same time? When we look up into the stars and see the Milky Way with its dark patches and its brilliant clusters, is it not the greatest of mysteries? Our scientists are pushing space farther and farther into infinity, as they discover more and more universes similar to our own. The inevitable question comes: what is Space? And the answer: it is endless, and it is beginningless. Then when we consider what the scientists call novae as proto-stars, by which they describe stars which apparently are disappearing and the new stellar matter which is becoming stars, we cannot help but realize that everywhere there is an eternal rhythm and movement.

Let me try now to give in simple outline the three fundamental postulates as presented by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, and upon which this ancient theosophia or wisdom-religion rests. We can discuss them afterwards. The first is:

That behind everything in the universe there is the Unknowable, the vast abyss of Space, Reality. Impossible to describe, we call it simply Infinity, without beginning, without end, because it is without attributes or finite qualities. Many names have been given in an attempt to describe the Boundless, but man cannot define the Indefinable. The Old Testament writers spoke of it as "without form and void," and as the "Darkness upon the face of the deep." The Buddhists also called it the Void or Emptiness, because nothing as yet had taken form. In the Icelandic Eddas, the old Norse bards named it the "Yawning Gap"; while in the Zohar the Kabbalists used the term Ein Soph, meaning "without limits" or the "boundless."

From this seeming No-thing-ness — which was not nothingness at all, but a condition of latency vibrant with expectant life, the seed-essences of divinity — the second basic concept follows:

That motion, rhythm, or the periodic appearance of a niverse from the Darkness of the Boundless into the Light, is the action of Deity as it bursts through into manifestation — a word which implies a period of activity as contrasted with the condition of quiescence in which it had been during its period of rest. As an ancient stanza has it: like the ebb and flux of the tides, numberless universes called "sparks of Eternity" come and go, appear and disappear, with all that is contained therein. We are familiar with this law of periodicity, for the rhythm of nature's cycles is seen in the alternation of day and night, birth and death, waking and sleeping, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the cycle of the four seasons.

Question — Are we, as human beings, then bound by this law of ebb and flux? Where does our free will come in? It looks as though we have to come out of Darkness into active life when a universe does; and if so, how does our own individual evolution fit into the greater picture?

Comment — We are all bound by the laws of nature, fortunately, insofar as our general growth and progress are concerned. As a part of the Whole, naturally we must follow the over-all pattern of that Whole; though how we weave our individual pattern within the greater is our responsibility. But before we go further, let me outline briefly the third principle because it touches on the very points you bring up.

Following upon the first and second principles — that of Darkness upon the face of the deep, and the bursting forth into Light of universes-to-be — the third asserts: "the fundamental identity of all souls with the Universal Over-soul," to use Emerson's term. This simply means that every aspect of a universe, from galaxies to man and on down through the lower kingdoms, is identic in essence with Deity or the Universal Divine Intelligence.

Question — You mean we are identic because we all partake of God?

Comment — Identic in essence, yes; but not in expression, because we are all individual god-sparks of the One Intelligence. But there is more to this third principle:

When the universe is breathed forth out of its latent condition, out of Darkness, it and all the potential seeds of life within it feel the impelling force to start another cycle of active growth. Therefore each entity, by the very force of the evolutionary urge, has to pass through every phase of experience, including mineral, plant, and animal forms, until the human kingdom is reached. From then on, these god-sparks must by their own efforts unfold their essential divinity, so that in time they will have earned the right to become truly self-conscious gods.

It is a long pilgrimage, sometimes called the "Cycle of Necessity" because it suggests that the entire process of evolution takes in the necessity to grow, to evolve, to benefit by all that nature throughout her kingdoms has to offer. As "sparks of Eternity" we have had to enrich our store of experience by using mineral, plant, and animal bodies — but only as temporary media of expression. God does not become the stone or the vegetable, but an aspect of the Divine is the focal center of every stone or plant or animal. just as we cannot say that our inner god is a human being, but only uses our human vehicle as its present means of self-expression, so we cannot say that we as human beings were ever minerals, plants or animals. This is a most important distinction to make.

Question — I was able to follow you for the most part, but it would be helpful if you could give a brief summary.

Comment — This whole picture is so vast and, while the principles are simple in their essentials, their ramifications can become exceedingly complex. Let me try again.

First, there is the great Void, Darkness upon the deep, before the "creation" of Heaven and Earth — only Infinity, boundless, frontierless, Space, the Unknowable, without at tributes or qualities. Then, like the surging of a Great Breath, Divinity stirs, the "spirit of God" moves on the face of the waters, and a universe comes into being. Third, all the gradations of living entities within the encompassing field of a universe, from the farthest star to the lowliest atom, are individual expressions of Deity; and thus every facet of that universe, bearing the stamp of godhood, now has not only the opportunity but the duty to become in time self-consciously godlike. And so every god-spark enters upon its long evolutionary journey through all of nature's kingdoms, and finally, as a fully-developed god it, with the universe, ends its period of activity and is indrawn into a period of rest.

Question — That is wonderful. But where does God fit into this scheme?

Comment — It depends on your concept of God. I don't suppose any two of us think of God in quite the same way.

Question — I don't believe in God as a Person with supreme totalitarian power, able to grant every wish. I really don't know what I do think about God. It is so difficult to express these things, because we have been taught consistently since childhood to conceive of God as a kind of Being, and no matter how enlarged our concept He still is more or less a Person. I like the idea of everything being an aspect of God, but could you place God in relation to all that you have been saying?

Comment — We shouldn't try too hard to get all these ideas systematically arranged in our minds, with God here, Space over there, and matter somewhere else. This question of God varies so greatly in the different faiths and philosophies that it is sometimes difficult to make a relation between one concept of God and another.

Everything is in God, and God is in everything, yet it is not any thing. Nowhere in the Christian scriptures, properly interpreted, do we find God mentioned in a limiting personal sense. The scriptures speak of Gods, Elohim, but not of God. At no time did the Old Testament writers name Deity; they mention some seventy-seven different names of God, which they frankly recognize as seventy-seven different attributes, but they never define what God is. They go all around the subject to draw out the spiritual force of what they felt God was, but they never name him. The truth of the matter is that they did not want to, because they knew they could never confine the spirit of the Illimitable within the boundary of a name.

Other peoples following other lines of spiritual development have used different terminology. Sir James Jeans in one of his most popular books, The Mysterious Universe, conceived of God as a great mathematician, suggesting that all manifestation was an expression of a great thought.

One of our difficulties stems from the misapplication of our birthright: although Genesis specifically says that the Lord God made man in his image, we have reversed the procedure and given God human qualities, only trying to make them God-size!

Let us get away from all such limiting concepts, and consider God as the Divine Intelligence which is the root and origin of all that lives and moves. At the heart of a tree is God, but God is not the tree; at the core of every tiniest atom throughout the fields of space God is, but God is not the atom. So with man. God is not a human being, but a human being could not exist were he not rooted in God. So you and I, as "aspects of God," portions of this Divine Intelligence, are truly parts of God, and one day will realize this in fullness.

Question — What, then, is the relation between God and the Unknowable, or this first principle that you also called the Boundless?

Comment — When we speak of the Unknowable, we have to try to reach out with our imagination to Infinity — an impossibility of course, nevertheless only by so doing will we even come close to an understanding of just what the Unknowable is. It is the Void, but it is also, as the ancient Greeks called it, the Pleroma, the "Fullness" — and literally that, because it is pregnant with the seeds of universes-to-be.

Question — Earlier you used the phrase, "vibrant with expectant life." Is that what you mean here?

Comment — Exactly. What is the relation then between God and the Unknowable? We might say that the Boundless, the Unknowable, is God quiescent (at least from our viewpoint), while the moment activity is conceived and manifestation begins, the once sleeping god-sparks stir into life. Thus as soon as the first quiver of vitality is felt, trillions of these god-sparks, like a great outrushing of the Breath of Divinity, burst through from latency into activity, from Darkness into Light. Thereafter, all the various types of these god-sparks begin their evolutionary trek, impelled by necessity or karma as they pass through nature's kingdoms. Once the human kingdom is reached, and self-consciousness is acquired, then slowly these god-sparks must work their way through the university of life and graduate as gods.

Question — It looks as though we have an awfully long pull ahead of us before we come anywhere near to becoming godlike! How much free will do we have, or are we compelled to follow this "Cycle of Necessity"?

Comment — Of course we have the power of choice and freedom of will, within the broad limits of universal law. While it is true that during the period when the god-sparks were using mineral bodies, and later plant and animal forms, they gained their experience more or less automatically, because carried along by the great impulsion of the forward moving stream of life; still, once they manifested in human bodies, another factor entered the picture — the lighting of the fires of Mind in infant humanity. This is one of the most beautiful episodes in the spiritual history of man. Whatever name we care to give those "Light-bringers," every world scripture has preserved knowledge of their sacred function, though this has through centuries of limited and personalized interpretation taken on an entirely false significance. Far from being a serpent of evil, the Fallen Angel or Lucifer was truly a "Light-bringer" — a Prometheus whose daring brought the flaming ember from the gods in order that self-conscious contact with our sleeping god-spark might bring to man awareness of his innate godhood. This is the real meaning of the story of Genesis. It is all there.

If we remember nothing else, let us keep in mind this one grand idea: that even the most minute element is an expression of the Divine Intelligence, a differentiation of the essence of the Unknowable, and that through the long cycles of experience the opportunity will be given for each god-essence to return again unto its Father, enriched by its sojourn through all the kingdoms of nature, both below the human and above. In a very real sense, this is the parable of the Prodigal Son, who after manifold experiences in the spheres of matter finally yearns for the things of his Father. Returning then to his Home, great is the rejoicing, for one more god-spark has overcome the pull of matter and earned conscious reunion with his abiding Divinity.

It is a wondrous picture, and once we grasp these three principles or fundamentals of the wisdom-religion, we realize that they do indeed form a touchstone upon which we can test the many conflicting concepts of the peoples of every faith.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition