Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy — G. de Purucker

Chapter Ten

The Doctrine of Swabhava — Self-Becoming — Characteristic Individuality. Man, Self-Evolved, His Own Creator. "Monadologie" of Leibniz Contrasted with Teachings of the Esoteric Philosophy.

The MONAD emerges from its state of spiritual and intellectual unconsciousness; and, skipping the first two planes — too near the ABSOLUTE to permit of any correlation with anything on a lower plane — it gets direct into the plane of Mentality. But there is no plane in the whole universe with a wider margin, or a wider field of action in its almost endless gradations of perceptive and apperceptive qualities, than this plane, which has in its turn an appropriate smaller plane for every "form," from the "mineral" monad up to the time when that monad blossoms forth by evolution into the DIVINE MONAD. But all the time it is still one and the same Monad, differing only in its incarnations, throughout its ever succeeding cycles of partial or total obscuration of spirit, or the partial or total obscuration of matter — two polar antitheses — as it ascends into the realms of mental spirituality, or descends into the depths of materiality. — The Secret Doctrine, I, 175

In other words, no purely spiritual Buddhi (divine Soul) can have an independent (conscious) existence before the spark which issued from the pure Essence of the Universal Sixth principle, — or the OVER-SOUL, — has (a) passed through every elemental form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara, and (b) acquired individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts (checked by its Karma), thus ascending through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas, from mineral and plant, up to the holiest archangel (Dhyani-Buddha). The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations. — Ibid., I, 17

The general text of our study this evening is found in The Secret Doctrine, volume I, page 83, stanza 3, verse 10:


(a) In the Mandukya (Mundaka) Upanishad it is written, "As a spider throws out and retracts its web, as herbs spring up in the ground . . . so is the Universe derived from the undecaying one" (I. 1. 7). Brahma, as "the germ of unknown Darkness," is the material from which all evolves and develops "as the web from the spider, as foam from the water," etc. This is only graphic and true, if Brahma the "creator" is, as a term, derived from the root brih, to increase or expand. Brahma "expands" and becomes the Universe woven out of his own substance.

The same idea has been beautifully expressed by Goethe, who says:

"Thus at the roaring loom of Time I ply, /And weave for God the garment thou see'st Him by."

In the course of our studies we have been advancing stage by stage, step by step, from general principles, and our course has been always towards that point of emanation and evolution which finds itself at the dawn of manifestation, or the opening of manvantara. We have touched upon many subjects but lightly, because the intricacy of the theme did not at the time permit us to go into and to follow side-avenues of thought, however attractive and important they might be; but these avenues we shall have to explore as time and opportunity bring once more before us, in the course of our study, the portals which we have passed and perhaps have merely glanced into.

We have brought to the attention of those who will read these studies certain fundamental natural principles, as fundamental and important in their respective bearings as the two foundation stones of popular theosophy today, called reincarnation and karma. One of these principles is the doctrine of hierarchies, upon which much more could be said, and will be said in due time.

Another such fundamental principle or doctrine — a true key opening the very heart of being and, besides other things, reaching into the root-meaning of the so-called origin of evil and of the inner urge towards right and righteousness, which man calls his moral sense — is that which flows forth from the philosophical conceptions behind the word swabhava, meaning, generally, the essential characteristic of anything. The medieval scholastics spoke of this essentiality of things as their quidditas, or quiddity — the "whatness" of anything: that which is its heart, its essential nature, its characteristic essentiality. The word swabhava (a noun) itself is derived from the Sanskrit root bhu, meaning "to become," or "to be," and the prefix sva (or swa) is also Sanskrit and means "self." The word thus translated means "self-becomingness," a technical term, a key word, in which philosophical conceptions of immense and wide-reaching import inhere. We shall develop some of these more fully as we proceed with our studies.

In the quotation from the stanzas which we have read this evening, you will have noticed the word swabhavat, from the same elements as is swabhava, from the same Sanskrit root. Swabhavat is the present participle of the verb bhu, meaning "that which becomes itself," or develops from within outwardly its essential self by emanation, evolution; in other words, that which by self-urge develops the potencies latent in its nature, in its self, in its being of being. We have often spoken of the Inmost of the Inmost as implying that inmost link or root by which we (and all other things) flow forth from the very essence of the heart of things, which is our UTTER SELF, and we have spoken of it sometimes with the hand placed upon the breast; but we must be exceedingly careful not to think that this Inmost of the Inmost is in the physical body. Let me explain just what I mean. The Qabbalists divide the planes of nature into which the ten Sephiroth became — queer English this, but very accurately and correctly expressing the thought — into four during manifestation, and they were called the four `olam, a word having originally the meaning of "concealed" or "hid" or "secret," but also used for "time," likewise used almost exactly in the sense of the Gnostic teaching of "aions" (aeons) as spheres, lokas in Sanskrit. The highest of the Qabbalistic `olams, or spheres, was `olam atsiloth, meaning the "aeon" or "age" or the "loka" of "condensation." The second was called `olam hab-beriah, meaning the aeon or age or loka of "creation." The third in descent and increasing materiality was called `olam ha-yetsirah or loka of "form." The fourth, last, most material and grossest, was called `olam ha-'asiah, meaning the aeon or world of "action" or "causes." This last plane or sphere or world is the lowest of the four, and is sometimes called the world of matter or, again, of "shells," man (and other physical entities) sometimes being considered a shell in the sense of being the garment or the vehicle or corpus of the indwelling spirit.

Now psychologically these four spheres were considered as being copied, or reflected, or as having a locus (place) in the human body; and in order to correspond with the four basic principles into which the Jewish Qabbalistic philosophers divided man, neshamah (or spirit) was supposed to have its locus in the head, or rather hovering thereover; the second, ruahh (or soul), was supposed to have its locus or center in the breast or chest; the third, the lowest of the active principles, called nephesh (or the animal-astral soul), was supposed to have its locus or center in the abdomen. The fourth vehicle was guph, or the inclosing shell of the physical body. The neshamah, the highest of all, from which the others emanated stage by stage — the ruahh from neshamah, the nephesh from ruahh, and the guph from nephesh (the guph actually is the linga-sarira, esoterically, and secretes the human physical body) — should not be considered so much in the head as overshadowing, as it were, the head and body. It may be likened to a solar ray, or to an electric ray, or again to the so-called Golden Chain of the great Greek poet Homer and the far later Neoplatonic philosophers, which connects Zeus and all lower entities; or to the chain of beings in a hierarchy linked by their hyparxis with the lowest plane of the next higher hierarchy.

This Inmost of the Inmost is in that part of us which overshadows us, which is above us physically, rather than in us. And it really is our spiritual monad. Therefore, before we can know what we mean by swabhava, and the wonderful doctrine fundamentally emanating therefrom, we must understand what we mean by monad and the sense in which the word monad is used. Those who were students of H. P. Blavatsky while she was alive with us, and who have studied under W. Q. Judge and Katherine Tingley, will realize the necessity of making our sense clear by choosing words which shall convey clearly and sensibly, and without possibility of misconception, the thoughts which lie behind the words. In European philosophy, monad, as a philosophical word, seems to have been first employed by the great Italian philosopher, the noted Giordano Bruno, in thought a Neoplatonist, who derived his inspiration from the philosophy of Greece now called Neoplatonism. A more modern use of the word monad, in a spiritual-philosophical sense, was that of the Slavic-German philosopher, Leibniz. Monadism formed the heart of all his teachings, and he said that the universe was composed, built up, of monads: that is to say, he conceived them to be spiritual centers having no extension, but having an inner and inherent energy of development, the respective hosts of monads being of various degrees and each one achieving its own development by an innate characteristic nature (or swabhava). The essential meaning of this, as it is at once seen, is characteristic individuality, which is self, pursuing its own unfoldment and growing by stages higher and higher through self-unfolding or self-becoming (or swabhava). Leibniz taught that these monads were connected, spiritually, psychically, and physically, by a "law of harmony," as he expressed it, which is our swabhavat — the "Self-Existent," developing during manifestation into the hosts of monads, or monadic centers.

Leibniz seems to have taken (at least in part) the main philosophical conception as regards his monads, as developed in his philosophy — in his Monadologie — from the Flemish mystic, Van Helmont. This man Van Helmont, however, took it from Bruno or, perhaps, directly, as Bruno did, from the Neoplatonic philosophers. As far as the basic ideas of Bruno, Van Helmont, and Leibniz go, they very much resemble each other; they resemble also the teaching on this subject of the esoteric wisdom, esoteric theosophy, but only in so far as we consider manifestation, because the monads themselves, in their ultimate, enter into the "silence and darkness," as Pythagoras would have put it, when the great maha-pralaya or cosmical dissolution begins. A monad in the ancient teachings now called theosophy — remember that "theosophy" really means the wisdom which the gods or divine beings study, a truly divine thing — means a spiritual atom (we are compelled here to use popular language), and a spiritual atom is equivalent to saying pure individuality, the selfness of the self, the essential nature or characteristic or swabhavic core of every spiritual being, the self of itself. This esoteric wisdom derives this self — not its ego, which is an entirely different and lower and inferior thing — it derives this divine monad, this divine substance-consciousness, from the Paramatman, the so-called supreme self, not that this supreme self is God in the curiously contradictory Christian sense, but supreme in the sense of absolute, unconditioned, and all-pervading universality for and in a single cosmical aggregation of hierarchies, for it is the summit, acme, pinnacle, and source thereof.

If we remember what we have studied in this connection, and the conceptions that we figurated on the blackboard by means of diagrams, we shall recollect that we represented the highest that we could intellectually conceive of as a triangle, figuring it thus in our minds. Not that this highest actually is a triangle, which would be ludicrous, but we represented it diagrammatically to ourselves in that fashion; and the highest sphere — in the mathematical sense of being without physical extension as we conceive of such — from which all the succeeding ten steps, planes, degrees of any hierarchy radiated, we called the Boundless, the Without Bounds, the Eyn Soph as the Qabbalists said; and the two aspects of the Boundless formed, so to speak, the two sides of this divine triangle, one of these two aspects being Parabrahman (beyond Brahman), and the other being Mulaprakriti (or root-nature). It must be remembered, in this connection, that any diagrammatic representation may and often does figurate different conceptions when the premises differ. And next, that from this divine triangle there was a reflection, as it were, an emanation, into the lower shadow, into the substance or matter below, the rays of the upper sun shining into the lower atmosphere, so to say, and illuminating it, and that this lower illuminated atmosphere or substance was called the lower monad, and the upper was called the higher monad; and that, as the energy or life-waves swept downwards through the second monad or the lower monad, the square or manifested nature came into being as the third stage of evolution. With the premises before stated, therefore, this upper triangle, which may be considered as one, or a trinity in unity, is the upper monad, or the Inmost of the Inmost, the self of the self; and the lower triangle is its emanation, its three lines representing Father, Mother, and Son. The Father, again, may be considered as the primal point of the second or lower triangle, that is to say, the point forming the apex of the triangle, which is a laya-center through which stream down into our sphere the manifesting forces which themselves become the universe.

diagram: circle, line, triangles, square

Herein we may see an example of the philosophical value of the hierarchical system considered as a representation of nature's symmetrical architecture, because each stage of the downward progress, each step or plane downwards, is informed, insouled, by the upper parts which remain above; while the lower planes or parts are spiritually and ethereally and physically secreted and excreted step by step, plane after plane, and cast forth like foam on the substratal waves of life. The physical nature as we see it even on this our own plane is, so to speak, concreted divinity, and it actually is concreted light, because light is ethereal matter or substance.

Some day we shall have to study this question of spirit and substance, force and matter, and their relations and interactions, more thoroughly than we have been able to do thus far in our lectures.

Now, from the highest of the highest, from what is to us the unknown of the unknown, the Inmost of the Inmost, through all these planes, there streams down, as it were, the divine ray, passing from one hierarchy to another hierarchy below it, and then to another still lower, and then to a third yet more material, and so on till the limit of the cosmical aggregate is reached, when it begins to ascend along the stupendous round, returning towards its primal source. Note carefully that as it descends it evolves these various hierarchies from itself; and on its ascending round draws them back into itself again. Surrounding this immense spiritual aggregate, we are taught to conceive an aura, as it were, taking the shape of an egg, which we can call, following the example of the Qabbalists, the Shechinah, a Hebrew word meaning "dwelling" or "vehicle," or what the esoteric philosophy calls the auric egg in the case of man, and representing in this paradigmatic scheme the universe which we see around us in its highest aspects, for this aura is the very outgrowth of Mulaprakriti; while this mystical line which we draw in the figure as running down through all the various grades of the hierarchy is the stream of the self, the Unconditioned Consciousness, welling up in the inmost of everything.

To come back to the word swabhavat, the "self-becoming," the "self-existing": it is, in the superspiritual, following the above paradigm, the second divine monad or second divine Logos; or, looking at it in another and lower way, it is the first cosmic monad, the reflection of the primeval or primal divine monad above it, and is the first manifestation or quiver of cosmic life when, the end of universal pralaya having come, the cry goes forth, so to say, on the watchtower of eternity, "Let there be manifestation and light!"

The Elohim in a former stage were monads; and you remember that we made our own translation of verses 26, 27, and 28 of the first chapter of Genesis, and we saw that these Elohim said, "Let us make man in our own shadow or phantom (in our own shadow-selves or matter-selves), and in our own pattern," that is, they made man by becoming him; stated in other words, humanity is the lower principles of the Elohim themselves as monads.

So the monad is the inmost of ourselves, not as a soul, as a "gift of God," but as the highest part of ourselves; and our very bodies are concreted spirit, which is on this plane the lowest, the shadowy end, the matter-end, of the self-hierarchy which each one of us is.

Let us remember again that each hierarchy has its swabhava or specific characteristic. To exemplify it by colors, one hierarchy is predominantly blue, another is predominantly red, another green, another yellow or golden, and so on; but each one has its own forty-nine roots or divisions, forty-nine aspects of the one underlying root-substance common to all, so that of necessity each one of these forty-nine in its turn develops one of the other colors. So that, if we could perceive it spiritually, we should see all nature around us everywhere flashing and coruscating in a most marvelous interplay of colors — a wonderful picture! This is sheer fact, not a metaphor. And, furthermore, there is for every kosmos a cosmic hierarchy which includes all the lesser hierarchies thereof, and each hierarchy, large or small, is linked on, above and below (or outward and inward), to other hierarchies, higher and lower, and each separate, individual hierarchy consists of nine (or ten) planes or degrees. Seven of these are, throughout, on the manifesting planes. Hence, a hierarchy, strictly speaking, consists of ten planes housing ten states of matter and ten forces, but seven thereof are manifesting forces; the seven in manifestation run from the arupa (or formless) to the rupa (or form) worlds, and they are all linked together, coordinated together, combined together, beyond present human conception or understanding.

It is along these lines of spiritual thought that the dogmatic religious or scientific system quarrels, if we may use this expression, with the esoteric philosophy, because that system is based — at least as regards the scientific view — upon purely mechanical and materialistic hypotheses invented by the scientists of the last century concerning the nature and action of what is called matter and force, as if there could in reason be a true definition or explanation of these two on a basis of fortuitous mechanicalism arising out of utterly lifeless "matter."

Let us say now, although it is departing a little from our main theme, that force is simply matter on a higher plane — ethereal matter, if you will; and that physical matter is simply force on our plane. Matter actually is naught but concreted force; or, to reverse the idea, force is nothing but sublimated or etherealized matter, because the two, matter and spirit, are one. It is best and truest to say that matter is concreted or compacted force, just as nature (matter as we know it) is equilibrated spirit.

We may once more return to this wonderful teaching of swabhava, after this rather long but necessary explanation or introduction. The monad is our inmost self; each man has his own, or rather is his own, monad. Each being of whatever degree or kind has its particular characteristic nature — not merely the outer or vehicular characteristics that change from incarnation to incarnation, and from manvantara to manvantara — but every entity, high or low, has, so to say, a keynote of its being. This is its swabhava: the selfhood of the self, the essential characteristic of the self, by the urge of which the self becomes the many selves, producing and manifesting the hosts of varied qualities and types and degrees. Now note carefully: the urge behind evolution or development is not external to the evolving entity but within itself; and the future results to be achieved in evolution — that which the evolving entity becomes — lie in germ or seed in itself; both this urge and this germ or seed arise out of one thing, and THIS IS ITS SWABHAVA.

Remember what we said in our former study about the nature and evolution of the universe. What is a — or any — universe? It is a self-contained and self-sustained and self-sufficient entity in manifestation, but is merely one of countless hosts of other universes, all children of the Boundless. There is, for instance, an atomic universe, and a terrestrial or planetary universe, and a human universe, and a solar universe, and so on indefinitely; yet all hang together, interpenetrate each other, and form any cosmical aggregate. And how and why? Because each universe, great or small, is a hierarchy, and each hierarchy represents and is the development of and is a part of the spiritual urge and evolving germ arising out of the self thereof, of the self of each, each developing and evolving its own particular essential characteristic; and all these forces taken together are the swabhava of any entity. Swabhava, in short, may be called the essential individuality of any monad, expressing its own characteristics, qualities, and type, by self-urged evolution.

We should note also in passing that perhaps the most mystic school in Buddhism, which H. P. Blavatsky says has practically kept most faithfully to this one of the esoteric teachings of Gautama Buddha, is a school still extant in Nepal, which is called the Swabhavika school, a Sanskrit adjective derived from the noun swabhava; this school comprises those who follow the doctrine of swabhava, or the doctrine which teaches the becoming or unfolding of the self by inner impulse — the self-becoming. We do not, according to it, become "through the grace of a God." We become whatever we are or are to be through our own selves; we make ourselves, derive ourselves from ourselves, become our own children; have always done so, and will forever do so. This applies not only to man, but to all beings everywhere. Herein we see the root, the force, the meaning, of morals. Responsible for every act we do, for every thought we think, responsible to the uttermost farthing, never anything "forgiven," never anything "wiped out," except when we ourselves turn the evil we have done into good. We shall have to discuss more fully, some time, the question of the origin of evil which is involved herein. We may note in passing that this school is called "atheistic" and "materialistic," simply because of two reasons: first, the profound thought of this doctrine is misinterpreted by Occidental scholars; second, many of its followers have, in fact, degenerated.

You see immediately the ethical force of such a doctrine as this of swabhava, when it is properly understood. We become what we are in germ in our inmost essence; we also follow and make a part of, likewise, the type and the course of evolution of the particular planetary chain to which we belong by affinity. We first follow along the shadowy arc down into matter, and when we have reached the lowest point of that arc, then, through the inner impulses of our nature, through self-directed evolution — which is the very heart of this doctrine of swabhava, one of the most fundamental doctrines in the esoteric philosophy — when we have reached the bottom, I repeat, then the same inner impulse carries us (provided that we have passed the danger point of being attracted into the lower sphere of matter) up the luminous arc, up and back into the higher spiritual spheres, but beyond the point of departure whence we first started downward on our cyclical journey into material experience for that manvantara.

We make our own bodies, we make our own lives, we make our own destinies, and we are responsible for it all, spiritually, morally, intellectually, psychically, and even physically. It is a manly doctrine; there is no room in it for moral cowardice, no room in it for casting our responsibility upon the shoulders of another — God, angel, man, or demon. We can become gods, because we are gods in the germ even now, inwardly. We start upon our evolutionary journey as an unself-conscious god-spark, and we return to our primal source of being, following the great cycle of the maha-manvantara, a self-conscious god.

Let us say here that we have come at this point to what is a great puzzle for most of our Occidental orientalists. They cannot understand the distinctions that the wonderful old philosophers of the Orient make as regards the various classes of the devas. They say, in substance: "What funny contradictions there are in these teachings, which in many respects are profound and seem so wonderful. Some of these devas (or divine beings) are said to be less than man; some of these writings even say that a good man is nobler than any god. And yet other parts of these teachings declare that there are gods higher even than the devas, and yet are called devas. What does this mean?"

The devas or divine beings, one class of them, are the unself-conscious sparks of divinity, cycling down into matter in order to bring out from within themselves and to unfold or evolve self-consciousness, the swabhava of divinity within. They begin their reascent always on the luminous arc, which never ends, in a sense; and they are gods, self-conscious gods, henceforth, taking a definite and divine part in the "great work," as the mystics have said, of being builders, evolvers, leaders, of hierarchies; in other words, they are monads which have become their own innermost selves; which have passed the Ring-pass-not separating the spiritual from the divine. Remember and reflect upon these old sayings in our books — every one of them is pregnant with meaning, full of thought.

This, therefore, is the doctrine of swabhava: the doctrine of inner development, of bringing out that particular essential characteristic or individuality which is within, of self-directed evolution; and you must perforce see the immense reach that it has in the moral world, in the theological world, in the philosophical world, yea, even in the scientific world as regards the knotty problems of evolution, such as the evolution of species, inheritance, development of root types, and many more.

We shall one day have to study more carefully than the mere sketch we have given here these divine, very divine, doctrines, especially in their bearing on questions of human psychology; for upon these doctrines depends the further (and a better) comprehension of the very tenets which we have outlined this evening and at former meetings. We cannot understand the universe or the working and interplay of the forces therein until we have mastered at least to some degree, and followed out, the injunction of the Delphic Oracle, "Man, Know Thyself!" A man who knows himself truly, knows all, because he is, fundamentally, all. He is every hierarchy; he is gods and demons and worlds and spheres and forces, and matter and consciousness and spirit — everything is in him. He is in one sense built of the roots of everything, and he is the fruit of everything; he has endless time behind him and endless time before him. What a gospel of hope, what a gospel of wonder, is this; how it raises the human soul; how the inmost part of us aspires when we reflect upon this teaching! No wonder that it is called the "teaching (or wisdom) of the gods," theosophia — that is to say, the teaching which the gods themselves study. How does a man become a mahatman or "great self"? Through self-directed evolution, through becoming that which he is in himself, in his innermost. This is the doctrine of swabhava.

And here we should at least allude to the mystery of individuality. Remember that personality is the "mask" (persona, as the Latins said) or reflection in matter of the individuality; but being a material thing it can lead us downward, although it is in essence a reflection of the highest. It is an old saying that those things are most dangerous which have reality or truth in them; not those things which are truly unreal or false, because they of themselves fall to pieces and evanish away in time.

Monads, psychologically (we have the four monads, the divine, intellectual, psychical, and astral, corresponding to the four basic planes of matter, but all four monads deriving from the highest) from the standpoint of generalization, are spiritual atoms, buddhic atoms, being universal principles so far as are concerned the planes below, the buddhi being perhaps the most mysterious of the seven principles of man and, from our present viewpoint, the most important. But the human monad as contrasted with the divine monad above it, the potentially immortal man, comprises the three principles, atman, buddhi, and the higher manas. These three principles are required in order to make a self-conscious god. Atman and buddhi alone cannot make a self-conscious god; they are a god-spark, an undeveloped or unevolved god-spark. We have to use in this connection human terms; we have not the terms in English or in any other European language properly to express these subtil thoughts.

In conclusion, let us remember that while each man has the Christ within himself, and can be "saved" only by that Christ, he can be saved by that inner Christ only when he chooses to save himself; the initiative must come from below, from himself. And while some people, through misunderstanding of this wonderful doctrine of swabhava, may speak of fatalism, we can do no more this evening than to say emphatically that this doctrine is not fatalism. It is absolutely the contrary of the fatalistic hypothesis, which asserts that there is a blind or unknown or conscious or unconscious force outside of man, directing him, driving him, in his choice, acts, and evolution, to annihilation or heaven or hell. That is not the doctrine of swabhava and it is not taught in the esoteric philosophy.

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