The Theosophical Forum – October 1938


The Status of the "Mahabharata" and the "Ramayana"

I am taking up the study of the Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, with my class, and would like to be able to tell them more about the correspondences of many of the characters with the various Cosmic Planes and Principles. It seems evident, for example, that the five Pandava princes in the Mahabharata have a special symbology, and also, in the Ramayana, Rama and Sita and their friends and enemies. Could you throw more light on the subject? — J. T.

G. de P. — Answering your questions about the relative places of the five Pandava princes, supposed to have correspondences with the Cosmic Planes, Elements, etc.: If I were you I would not bother my head about any such thing. Let us look at the situation exactly as it is. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the two great epic poems of India, just as the Iliad and the Odyssey were and still are the two great epic poems of Greece, or the Greater and the Less Edda we may call the two great epic poems of Scandinavia; and there are similar epics, one or two or three, belonging to other countries.

Now then, let us turn to and keep in mind the Indian epics only. These are not wholly and solely mystical or occult works. Let us keep that idea perfectly clear. No more so than is the Jewish Bible, no more so than are the Iliad and the Odyssey, etc. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana are fundamentally ancient Indian history and legend, with all the mists and glamor of antiquity veiling them, and they contain in addition a great many beautiful, truly mystical and occult, teachings; and a few really splendid minor episodes, like the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Anugita, which have been interspersed in the epic-story, for this is according to Hindu tastes.

Thus, really, the Ramayana, for instance, is essentially the struggle of Rama against his enemies, mostly of the south, in Lanka, the Rakshasas, etc., which is but a modern Aryanized legendary version of the history of the struggle of the early Fifth Race in its Indian branch with the Aryanized Atlanteans of Lanka, an island-continent now sunken except its northern headland, which is Ceylon.

Similarly, the Mahabharata, as I remember it, is a legendary epic telling in poetic, and occasionally almost fairy-tale, style, the struggles of early Aryan settlements in India, Aryans themselves fighting amongst each other, and also fighting against the aboriginal, so called, inhabitants of the great peninsula.

Now, there you have in a thumb-nail sketch just what the Mahabharata and Ramayana are, and actually also just what the Iliad and the Odyssey are when applied to Greek legendary story or history. These great epics are part history, part legend, and part religious instruction. When I say religious, I mean philosophical, and mystical, and occult, also.

Now it is quite possible for a clever writer to extract from so generally glamorous and mystical a work as the Mahabharata or Ramayana, correspondences between the five Pandava princes on the one hand, or between Rama and Sita on the one hand, and something or somebody else on the other hand, correspondences perhaps with Cosmic Planes or Principles. In the early days of the T. S. this was a favorite pastime or relaxation of Theosophical writers. This finding of correspondences, however, could be applied with good reason to these episodes taken from the Mahabharata like the Bhagavad-Gita, or the Anugita, because these episodes are not so much the historical part, or the legendary part, but are deliberately written, semi-occult, religio-philosophical treatises, interspersed here and there in the legendary, historical material, because this way of doing things is beloved of the Hindu mind.

Now I wonder if you get the picture. If I were you I would not bother my head about these things, and I would tell your class the plain reason why. It is something like trying to do the same thing with the Hebrew Testament, or the Christian New Testament. One who is clever in finding, or thinking he finds, occult correspondences, can find lots of correspondences, real or imaginary, between the patriarchs, for instance, of the Old Testament, and the Planes or Principles of Nature, or between Jesus and his disciples and the Planes or Principles of Nature. But such correspondences, while having some reason, are always shaky, and are pleasant rather as a pastime than actual, solid esoteric study.

Therefore I repeat, if I were you I would not bother my head about any such correspondences between the five Pandava princes and something in Nature; and you can get a picture of what I am here writing, and get this picture clear-cut in your mind, and then when you are asked questions from people who do not know what the Mahabharata and Ramayana are, you can just explain it to them, pointing out that not any one in any country of these great epics, whether of Asia or ancient Europe, or ancient America, is a thoroughly, or typically, exclusively occult treatise on esoteric correspondences, etc. But all of them are legendary history based on facts now lost in the night of time, but seen through the distorting glass of legend by much later writers who are correct in their facts, but like all legendary writers deliberately embroider their theme, and introduce perfectly sound, religious teaching, as in the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Anugita, in the Hindu epic.

The Meaning of AUM

Will you explain the meaning of the passage in The Voice of the Silence (p. 8, Point Loma Ed. foot-note to AUM) — referring to Kala-Hansa: "The syllable A is considered to be its (the bird Hansa's) right wing, U, its left, M, its tail, and the Ardha-Matra (half metre) is said to be its head." It is the Ardha-Matra (half metre) which puzzles me. — J. T.

G. de P. — Here again you have picked out one of the less important things, which I dare say you realize yourself. Just as in all religions there is always a certain class who are seeing wonderful mystic meaning in this or that or some minor detail, which may be quite interesting and important in a small way, but it does not rank among the fundamental, or topnotch, or through-and-through important, things — such is the case with the simply reams of stuff that have been written not only by Hindus through centuries, but even by Europeans, about the so-called sacred syllable Om or Aum. It is simply amazing how this one word has exercised the ingenuity and mystical feelings of literally centuries and centuries of generations of Hindus belonging to almost all Schools.

The word is a sacred name on account of its vibrational quality, and used to be used in ceremonial magic, pronounced aloud, although in most secret privacy. And from this one fact, connected with which is the reverence that used to be paid to the Hebrew and Christian Amen, arose all this vast literature of guessing and mystical and semi-mystical writing.

Now all this talk that H. P. B. has in The Secret Doctrine, The Voice of the Silence, and elsewhere, is merely a kind of appeal to those interested in this kind of thing, in order to attract them to her really deep teachings. That is why she made so much of them.

However, now, here comes the point: Kala-Hansa, of course, is the Bird of Time, which means the bird of cycles, and the bird stands as a symbol for the Reincarnating Ego taking its flight across time and space, mostly time. The same can be applied to the Universes and the Cosmic Logos which in the Universe is, so to speak, the Reimbodying Ego.

Now then, of course today Hindus consider this word so sacred, whether Om or Aum, that they themselves rarely or never pronounce it above a whisper, and mostly merely pronounce it in the head as it were, without voicing it. So much for that point.

Thus Aum stands for the Kala-Hansa; and from this mystical thought, the mystical saying runs that A stands for one wing, the U stands for the other wing, and the M stands for its tail, and the Ardha-Matra, or short half-syllable, stands for its head. The Ardha-Matra really here does not mean a syllable, or a half-syllable rather, but that connexion between the sounds A U, and again between U M, which gives inner direction and one-pointedness to the whole pronunciation of the word, and for that reason is called its head, the head of a bird being the first part of it, and guiding its flight. I wonder if I make my meaning clear. The bird takes its flight on its wings, which support it. The tail serves as a guide to the direction, and the head leads the way. The Ardha-Matra then is the so-called half-syllable, lying in the sound between A U on the one hand, and U M on the other hand, and forming the middle of the body of the bird ending in the head. I wonder if I make this funny thought clear — and that is really all there is to it!

Now the mystics say in connexion with this word that it is the symbol, the Ardha-Matra, of the consciousness guiding the pronunciation; or, changing the figure of speech, the Ardha-Matra or half-syllable is the consciousness guiding the karmic forward progress of the mystic flight of the Ego or Bird, as it is the consciousness which gives the tone to the pronunciation of the syllable. Thus a singer singing a song not merely changes from note to note, but it is just in that change between any two notes that there is a kind of consciousness-sound wherein the singer's ability to make an impression, what might be called his vitality, or his individuality, expresses itself. It is called a half-syllable because it is so short. And yet as it is the point where the consciousness enters in, shifting over from note to note, and therefore guiding the sound, it is called the head of the bird. I hope all this is clear. You will see that out of such a little thing has grown all this big literature about the Hindu sacred word.

The Word "Paramita"

Will you kindly point out the derivation of the word Paramita?G. R.

G. de P. — This is a Sanskrit word, and is a compound, formed of param, which means "the other shore," in the technical sense of this word, in the beautiful Buddhist way of speaking, which means the other shore, or over the river of life, instead of this shore which is the material existence where sorrow and pain and all the rest of it exist. Thus "the other shore" means attaining perfect enlightenment because one's consciousness has passed over all the illusions of the material world to the other shore of spiritual glory and peace and freedom and wisdom and love.

The other part of the compound paramita is ita, which comes from a Sanskrit verb meaning "to go," and is the past participle of this verb; and hence in English can be translated "gone': go, gone; and ita is this Sanskrit past participle, meaning "gone." Then this past participle is turned into a noun, and this makes it ita; and hence, as a noun, the meaning is, by paraphrasing it, "successful going," or "successful reaching."

Thus the whole compound means "the successful reaching of the other shore."

Please note also — and this will make the matter a little clearer to you — paramita means "one who has successfully reached the other shore," whereas, as said above, paramita is the compound noun describing this, and therefore is to be translated as "the successful reaching of the other shore."

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