The Theosophical Forum – October 1941


H. P. Blavatsky's Contribution to Astronomy. Part II

The "Expansion of the Universe" and the "Great Breath"

In our last article we considered the rhythmic or periodic appearances and disappearances of worlds and universes and the tentative approach that science is making to this important fundamental in Theosophical cosmogony. A casual reference was made to the "Expansion of the Universe," a remarkable and ingenious hypothesis devised to explain the affection of light called the "red shift" of the lines of the spectrum, the rainbow band of color into which light is analysed by the spectroscope. The apparent movement of the lines is very clearly marked in the light coming from the far distant galaxies of stars beyond our Milky Way system. In the majority of cases the lines are displaced toward the red end of the spectrum, which is taken as evidence that nearly all of the host of galaxies scattered all over the firmament are moving away from us; the greater the displacement the faster the motion. We cannot give the full particulars here but they can be found in any modern textbook of astronomy.

In regard to the velocity of recession a curious effect has been observed which has called forth the hypothesis that what is commonly called "the Universe" (rather a vague term as used by astronomers in this connexion) has been expanding from a central and small nucleus for billions of years. While the nearer galaxies appear to move away from us comparatively slowly, the more remote ones seem to travel more rapidly and the farther away they are the faster they go until the farthest yet discovered reach almost incredible velocities. By employing these observations and calculating backward to the time when the galaxies were starting out in all directions from the supposed central nucleus, the approximate date of the beginning of the explosion has been estimated. But unfortunately this does not give nearly enough time to cover the generally accepted life-history or probable evolution of suns and systems. Yet if the expansion hypothesis is discarded science must look for some other explanation of the red shift. No satisfactory one is in sight, though several have been considered. One is that the red shift effects are produced by a process akin to "fatigue" as light travels through enormous distances in space. Another is that "the" universe of galaxies is expanding in some parts and contracting in others, and that immense regions are stationary. Dr. Herbert Dingle, distinguished British physicist, after suggesting other solutions of the expansion and other problems of space, says "or again, our universe may be of a character at present unconceived. . . . We leave off where we began: the universe eludes our apprehension. But we shall continue to pursue it."

The fact that the "Expansion of the Universe" is being seriously discussed by the scientists is of considerable significance to Theosophists, for it implies contraction as well as expansion and, probably, an endless succession of rhythmic activities on a cosmic scale as the logical deduction. The physical or material aspect of Expansion may be abandoned, but the general principle is very important for it points directly to one of the grandest teachings of the Ancient Wisdom — the Law of Periodicity or Rhythm which rules in the smallest manifestation of life-matter as well as in the greatest galaxies of stars. It is the framework within which evolution proceeds. In the Cosmos it appears as alternations of manifestation in form and matter and of withdrawal into the invisible and subjective, poetically but graphically called in Hindu philosophy the Outbreathing and Inbreathing of Brahma, a name derived from the Sanskrit "brih," to expand, to grow.

There is one marked difference, however, between the modern Expansion hypothesis and the Archaic Teaching. Both convey the idea of rhythmic pulsation, but the "Outbreathing" metaphor represents the re-appearance of life and consciousness into forms and compounds from the invisible ultimate Essence into objective existence, and the "Inbreathing" stands for the dissolution of all into the original state. Neither is external. The modern "Expansion" is supposed to be a purely physical phenomenon, if it exists at all. It should not be overlooked, however, that neither the scientific hypothesis (or its modifications) nor the archaic Teaching excludes the other; they are not incompatible.

As we pointed out in the last article there is strong evidence that some tremendous cosmic change or so-called "catastrophe" did take place not very long ago, astronomically speaking, and the question arises: has cosmic evolution proceeded in our part of space more rapidly than seemed probable and may this catastrophe have been a minor though enormous cataclysm and reconstruction within vastly greater periodic cycles? Have any celestial bodies survived from a previous minor cycle through a reconstruction which would occur after a partial contraction — one of a series? This remarkable suggestion is being seriously considered by astronomers, as it would explain many difficulties.

As a help to the understanding of the Archaic Doctrine of Periodicity and its bearing on modern speculations the following passages from H. P. Blavatsky's works will be found convenient for reference:

The esoteric doctrine teaches, like Buddhism and Brahmanism, and even the Kabala, that the one infinite and unknown Essence exists from all eternity, and in regular and harmonious successions is either passive or active. In the poetical phraseology of Manu these conditions are called the "Days" and the "Nights" of Brahma. The latter is either "awake" or "asleep." . . . Upon inaugurating an active period, says the Secret Doctrine, an expansion of this Divine essence from without inwardly and from within outwardly, occurs in obedience to eternal and immutable law, and the phenomenal or visible universe is the ultimate result of the long chain of cosmical forces thus progressively set in motion. . . . an out-breathing of the "unknown essence" produces the world; and an inhalation causes it to disappear. This process has been going on from all eternity, and our present universe is but one of an infinite series, which had no beginning and will have no end. — See The Secret Doctrine, I, 3-4

The appearance and disappearance of the Universe are pictured as an out-breathing and inbreathing of "the Great Breath," which is eternal, and which, being Motion, is one of the three aspects of the Absolute. . . . When the "Great Breath" is projected, it is called the Divine Breath, and is regarded as the breathing of the Unknowable Deity — the One Existence — which breathes out a thought, as it were, which becomes the Kosmos. — Op. cit., I, 43.

Intra-Cosmic motion is eternal and ceaseless; cosmic motion (the visible or that which is subject to perception) is finite and periodical. — Op. cit., I, 3

The former [the inbreathing] represents a certain period of cosmic activity, the latter [the outbreathing] an equal one of cosmical repose. In the one, worlds are being evolved, and passing through their allotted four ages of existence; in the latter the "inbreathing" of Brahma reverses the tendency of the natural forces; everything visible becomes gradually dispersed; chaos comes; and a long night of repose reinvigorates the cosmos for its next term of evolution. In the morning of one of these "days" the formative processes are gradually reaching their climax of activity; in the evening imperceptibly diminishing the same until the pralaya arrives, and with it "night." . . . and it was a "day of Brahma" that the kabalistic author of Genesis had in mind each time when he said: "And the evening and the morning were the first (or fifth or sixth, or any other) day." — 1sis Unveiled, II, 421-2

In the first book of Manu, we read: "Know that the sum of 1,000 divine ages, composes the totality of one day of Brahma; and one night is equal to that day." One thousand divine ages is equal to 4,320,000,000 of human years, in the Brahmanical calculations. — Op. cit., II, 272

He alone, the Unconceivable, is unchangeable (ever latent), but the Creative Force, though also eternal, as it has been in the former from "no beginning," yet must be subject to periodical cycles of activity and rest; as it had a beginning in one of its aspects, when it first emanated, therefore must also have an end. Thus, the evening succeeds the day, and the night of the deity approaches. Brahma is gradually falling asleep. In one of the books of Sohar [a Kabbalistic work of great antiquity, at least in part], we read the following: "As Moses was keeping a vigil on Mount Sinai, in company with the Deity, who was concealed from his sight by a cloud, he felt a great fear overcome him and suddenly asked: "Lord, where art Thou . . . sleepest thou, O Lord?" And the Spirit answered him: "I never sleep; were I to fall asleep for a moment before my time, all the Creation would crumble into dissolution in one instant.'" — Op. cit., II, 273

How the Sun keeps its "Fires" burning

When H. P. Blavatsky brought the Archaic Wisdom to the West the method by which the sun pours out an apparently endless volume of light and other forms of energy was unanswered. To quote Dr. Harlow Shapley of Harvard Observatory, in a recent announcement:

It has long been a serious problem to explain why the sun exists at present, and why it radiates at apparently the same rate as it did in Palaeozoic times. The ancient plants and animals apparently lived under conditions similar to our own — two hundred million years ago.

When H. P. Blavatsky's Teachers challenged certain astronomical theories more than sixty years ago the problem of the sun's supply of energy was becoming acute. The most favored hypothesis was that of combustion — burning — in which compounds are formed by the chemical combination of free atoms or molecules. For instance, when the carbon in a piece of coal "burns" it unites with oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide, and as this goes on a certain amount of energy in the form of heat and light is given off. When this principle was found inadequate (1), mechanical processes, such as the gravitational contraction of the sun or bombardment by meteors were tried, also without success. When radium was discovered it seemed promising, but it failed to stand the test, and the problem remained unsolved till recently. It was unanimously agreed, however, that the sun could not be very old — only a comparatively few million years — and that its energies must be rapidly declining, astronomically speaking. With its approaching "heat-death" the planets would freeze to death and, as Balfour said, human life, "a rather discreditable episode on one of the meanest of the planets," would come to an inglorious end! It need hardly be said that this was not the view of the Adepts, the exponents of the Ancient Wisdom.

But the geologists and biologists were thoroughly dissatisfied with the limited time allowed by physics and astronomy, because the evidence of geology and of the evolution of life on earth demanded a far longer period. No solution seemed possible until the New Physics revealed the enormous energies locked up in the atom and the possibility of liberating them under conditions existing in the sun and the stars, and which can now be reproduced on a small scale in the laboratory. Chemical combinations need no longer be considered. A remarkable process of transmutation of certain elements — the dream of the alchemist — has been found to explain the sun's vast energy production, and, (with a little help from the solar contraction), its uninterrupted pouring forth for the billions of years required by science and, of course, Theosophy. The sun, then, is ceaselessly transmuting certain elements into others and liberating its stores of energy — Life-Energy we call it — as a "by-product," a very important one for us, however. The vital fact is now scientifically established that the sun has sufficient resources within itself to be independent of any outside help for untold billions of years, time enough to cover any reasonable scheme of human evolution on the physical plane. It can bountifully sustain its planetary family and ask no support in return. (2)

Although Sir Arthur Eddington said a few years ago that "the sun contains within it the energy which is to last the rest of its life," the modus operandi was not then worked out; but he unwittingly repeated what the Theosophical Teachers had openly declared from their own researches nearly sixty years ago. The problem was finally worked out by Dr. Hans Bethe, now of Cornell University, who in 1938 provided a solution which has received an enthusiastic reception and which has been further developed by Dr. George Gamow and others. It depends upon the demonstrated principle that when a lighter element is transmuted into a heavier one — in this case hydrogen into helium — an enormously greater quantity of energy in the form of light, heat, etc., is released than that produced by the most intense chemical combustion as mentioned above. The process is a long and complicated series of atomic transmutations which remind us of the extraordinary and complicated series of physical transformations called mitosis that nature adopts to produce the cells of our bodies. A brief description will give some notion of the process of the suns.

The process of atomic transmutation which liberates the required amount of solar radiation is composed of four elements (and some isotopes of three of them). These are carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, as already mentioned. The helium which appears at the close of the cycle is only the transformed residue of the hydrogen, the "ashes" as it has been called. The fact that the four elements are essential to the work is of primary importance to us in view of their special significance in occult science. We refer the reader to The Secret Doctrine II, pp. 592 and later, which should be carefully read by students of chemistry. Here she shows that the four elements are the basic factors in physical organic life, and defines their parallelism with the four lower "principles" of man. Once we recognise their importance in terrestrial affairs as described in The Secret Doctrine, the complicated and laborious series of transmutations of these particular elements no longer seems so extraordinary, even though we cannot yet penetrate further into the mystery.

The elements which appear in the chain or series of atomic transmutations that liberate the sun's life-energies are Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen and Hydrogen in one form or another. The process begins when an atom of carbon is struck by the nucleus of a hydrogen atom and is transmuted into a special type of nitrogen (an "isotope'). More hydrogen comes along from time to time, and other changes take place during which the original carbon atom is transmuted into normal or isotopic forms of oxygen or nitrogen. Finally, it is restored to its original condition as a normal carbon atom, ready to start the whole cycle over again when another hydrogen proton attacks it. The last phase of the process is marked by a surprising and "magical" change, as one scientist calls it. The hydrogen that came in during the transmutations has disappeared as hydrogen but has been in part transmuted into the heavier element helium and in part into the liberated energy which constitutes the solar radiation that makes life possible on earth. Fortunately for us hydrogen is abundant in the sun, and though millions of tons are transmuted every second many billions of years will elapse before it is all used up, and even then other possibilities of energy supply are suspected which could carry on for a good while longer.

How the carbon, hydrogen and all the other elements in the sun originally were formed is a problem unanswered by modern science, but we may be sure that no attempted explanation can be more than superficial which ignores the Cosmic consciousness and intelligent control over the ceaseless and universal activities of the One Life that is behind all phenomena.

It is interesting to learn that the sun, structurally, possesses an unfailing and automatic regulating system which controls the output of energy and prevents any dangerous fluctuation in the steady flow until, like everything else in nature, its time has come to withdraw from active life on this plane.

In regard to the sun's ability to support itself and shine with undiminished brilliance without external assistance for the enormous time required for the Seven Rounds of human evolution at the very least, it is clear from the following quotations written about sixty years ago that the Masters of Wisdom possessed knowledge of natural phenomena quite unknown to Western scientists. In an authoritative series of articles published by Madame Blavatsky in 1883 and called by her "the true occult teaching" (See S. D. I, 528, footnote) because they were written by the Masters and their advanced disciples, we read:

. . . [the sun] is quite as self-dependent as he is self-luminous; and for the maintenance of this heat requires no help, no foreign accession of vital energy, for he is the heart of his system, a heart that will not cease its throbbing until its hour of rest shall come. Were the sun "a cooling mass," our great life-giver would have indeed grown dim with age by this time, and found some trouble to keep his watch-fires burning for the future races to accomplish their cycles. . . . There would remain no hope for evoluting humanity. . . . — The Theosophist, Vol. IV, Sept., 1883. Also Five Years of Theosophy, pp. 251-2

The "cooling mass" mentioned by the Master of course relates to the general belief that the sun was like a coal fire burning by the ordinary process of chemical combustion and rapidly running down to extinction. He knew, however, that the sun sustained the steady output of heat and light it had been giving off for untold ages by some far more effective process — one that the contemporary scientists never suspected. The Master continues:

The "Adepts," who are thus forced to demolish before they can reconstruct, deny most emphatically (a) that the Sun is in combustion in any ordinary sense of the word; or (b) that he is incandescent or even burning, though he is glowing; . . . — Ibid.

Notice the words "in any ordinary sense of the word," because the sun's activities may be accurately called a very extraordinary kind of "combustion," a "combustion" of atoms, which would indeed have seemed incredible in 1883, but which is comprehensible in 1941 when our scientists have discovered atomic disintegration and transmutation. Again:

The Solar substance is immaterial. In the sense, of course, of matter existing in states unknown to science [in 1888, of course]. — The Secret Doctrine, I, 499

This statement, as we all know, has been amply verified by the new atomic discoveries which have proved that "matter" can exist in states that were utterly undreamed of in 1883. We must not forget, also, that the great discoveries in atomic physics were largely made possible by the technical researches of Sir William Crookes, a member of the Theosophical Society, and one who was in touch with the Mahatmans through H. P. Blavatsky. In future articles on modern scientific rediscovery of the Archaic Teaching we hope to discuss new and remarkable discoveries about the sun, the stars and the planets, and conclusions reached by astronomers which either positively confirm the teachings or show how closely science is approaching them.


1. According to the combustion theory, we are told that even if the sun were made of pure carbon burning in pure oxygen it probably could not be much more than 6,000 years old! But chemical compounds subjected to the enormous forces raging in the sun would be broken up into their elements and combustion could not begin. For instance, if carbon dioxide happened to get into the sun it would instantly be "unburned," as it were. The carbon and oxygen atoms in that combination would be torn apart and even perhaps disrupted within themselves by the radiations which are enough to melt a 40-foot shell of ice completely covering the sun in one minute. (return to text)

2. The Mahatman K. H. says in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, written in 1882: "For indeed, there is but one thing — radiant energy which is inexhaustible and knows neither increase nor decrease and will go on with its self-generating work to the end of the Solar manvantara [period of life or physical manifestation], . . . Yes; call it "Radiant Energy" if you will: we call it Life — all-pervading, omnipresent life, ever at work in its great laboratory — the Sun." — p. 168 (return to text)

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