Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy — G. de Purucker

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Degeneration and Closing of the Schools of the Mysteries. Neopythagorean and Neoplatonic Systems: Main Sources of Christian Theology. Esoteric and Exoteric Teachings: Symbolism.

There never was, nor can there be more than one universal religion; for there can be but one truth concerning God. Like an immense chain whose upper end, the alpha, remains invisibly emanating from a Deity — in statu abscondito with every primitive theology — it encircles our globe in every direction; it leaves not even the darkest corner unvisited, before the other end, the omega, turns back on its way to be again received where it first emanated. On this divine chain was strung the exoteric symbology of every people. Their variety of form is powerless to affect their substance, and under their diverse ideal types of the universe of matter, symbolizing its vivifying principles, the uncorrupted immaterial image of the spirit of being guiding them is the same. . . .

Thus is it that all the religious monuments of old, in whatever land or under whatever climate, are the expression of the same identical thoughts, the key to which is in the esoteric doctrine. — Isis Unveiled, I, 560-61

The inference to be drawn from all this is, that the made-up and dogmatic Christianity of the Constantinian period is simply an offspring of the numerous conflicting sects, half-castes themselves, born of Pagan parents. — Ibid., II, 334

But to assert that Christianity communicated to man moral truths previously unknown, argues, on the part of the assertor, either gross ignorance or else wilful fraud. — H. T. Buckle, History of Civilization in England, I, 129

PROBABLY there are few things that human beings are so irritable about as the various issues involved in questioning an accepted religion. Outside of the fact that everyone knows that religious wars have always been the bloodiest and bitterest in history, even in ordinary life, if a man's religious beliefs, or even his vague religious views, are touched upon adversely, there is aroused in him a feeling of antagonism. In well-bred men and women this antagonism does not go far, because they are willing to concede to another a view different from their own; but, sadly enough, it would seem that there is very little good breeding in matters of religious feeling. No man likes to feel that his religion is subject to derision or mockery, because of course to him his religion is the "true religion." It has always been so among the adherents of any religion. It is only the wiser ones who are willing to see a view which a fellow man sees, and to consider that view honestly, desirous of arriving at some knowledge of what the critic or the speaker himself believes, or sees.

Especially is this so in all the various branches of Occidental religious thought, derived, as we know, from Christianity and Judaism. The old religions, the religions of the ancient world, had their popular mythologies which the people believed in; and some of these old religions are still extant today in the Orient and elsewhere. But even among those who were not initiated into the Mysteries, which gave men a wider vision of truth and a deeper knowledge of human nature, even among those who had nothing to live by except the various mythologies, and who today have nothing to live by except the various mythologies, in all these religions, excepting the Christian, there is a feeling among their adherents that the other man may know something of value too. I have often wondered how much in the Theosophical Movement this spirit of Christian and quasi-Jewish antagonism against another man's belief actually exists among ourselves.

This spirit of religious bigotry, of course, has resulted, as we all know, in the various religious persecutions, in the various torturings — physical or other — and inquisitorial actions of the bigots in temporary power. You find nothing like that in any of the ancient religions of the globe, neither in present nor in past times. Why should it have been and even yet be in the religion of the Occident? As said before, it must certainly lie in the fact that the adherents thereof have lost the key to the inner knowledge of their own religious beliefs; and this dates very far back. We find Gregory Nazianzen, canonized as one of the saints of the Christian Church, writing to Jerome, another saint of the Church, his friend and confidant, about the way doctrines should be taught, and this is what he says:

Nothing imposes better on people than verbiage, for the less they understand the more they admire. Our Fathers and teachers often have taught, not what they thought, but that which necessity and circumstance obliged them to say.

If we compare this with the spirit which motivated the great religions of past times, we realize that among the initiates of the latter the very expression of a thought which they felt contrary to truth was uttered to the prejudice of a man's own soul; that living as "whited sepulchres," to use the Christian symbol, i.e., living as hypocrites, living a living lie, was considered the one thing that most effectively shriveled the soul of a man, that ate out the core of his being, and rendered him utterly unfit, not merely for an appreciation of the deeper mysteries which lie within nature and within man himself, but likewise utterly unfit to undergo the least of the tests preceding the actual trials of the initiation ceremonies.

Even at the time when the Christian religion is supposed first to have begun its career, although the Mysteries, the initiation systems, had greatly degenerated, they still retained more or less of the ancient spiritual fire and of the ancient truths. So that a Roman emperor, Nero, master of the Western world, was told to his face that he was unfit to pass through the rites at Eleusis, and he dared not go there for that purpose. And Nero was by no means as bad a man as his Christian critics have tried to make him out to have been. We have no wish to whitewash a black character, but he was by no means, and we repeat it, as black in his life or in the things he did, as some men who pass muster as near-canonized saints in the hagiological lists of Christendom.

For one thousand years, beginning from the time of Pythagoras and ending about the time of Justinian, the night of an incoming dark cycle was beginning to settle upon the world; and this period is cut in twain at just about the time when the birth of Jesus is supposed to have occurred. Pythagoras lived in the sixth century before the reputed beginning of our era, i.e., the present era that is accepted by Occidental peoples; and Justinian lived in the sixth century after the beginning of that era; and it was in his age, and by his order, that the last of the Mystery Schools was closed at Athens, and seven men fled at peril of their lives to Khosru the Great, King of Persia, and lived there in peace and dignity and honor at his court until, due to the whirl of the wheel of circumstance, Khosru, victor in his war against Justinian, as one condition of the peace which Justinian purchased with money, laid it down that these seven philosophers were to be allowed to return to their own country in peace and to live in peace, and to die in peace; and so it was.

Compare that noble spirit with the spirit manifest on the other side, and you have a slight vision of the inspiration which dwelt in what was called the ancient initiatory life, and of the spirit which has hovered over the Western world ever since that year one of our era, so named, the Christian era.

This does not mean that the slightest aspersion is hereby cast upon the character of the so-called Jesus. Not one word would a true theosophist ever say against the character of that great and noble man, or against the teachings supposed to emanate from him personally. But it is probable that the theosophic effort which Jesus attempted to initiate did not endure for fifty years after his death. Almost immediately after his passing, his disciples, all half-instructed, and in some cases almost illiterate, men — when I say "half-instructed" I mean having very little knowledge of the teachings which their great Master attempted to give them — foisted upon the world of their time the forms and beliefs of early Christianity; and had there been nothing but these, that religious system had not lived another fifty years. But what happened? During the oncoming of the dark cycle after Jesus (which began as before said about the time of Pythagoras), the last few rays from the setting sun of the ancient light shone feebly in the minds of certain of these Christian Fathers, Clement of Alexandria for one, and Origen of Alexandria for another, and in one or two more like these, who had been initiated at least in the lowest of some of the then degenerate pagan Mysteries; and these men entered into the Christian Church and introduced some poor modicum of that light, some poor rays of it, as it were, which they still cherished; and these rays they derived mainly from the Neopythagorean and the Neoplatonic systems.

People speak of Christianity as if it were wholly derived from Judaism. Very little of it is. It is, in its theology, almost wholly derived from misunderstood Greek thought, mainly, as said, from the Neopythagorean and Neoplatonic systems; and this is obvious to anyone who reads the writings of those who are called the great doctors of Christian theology, such as Dionysius, the so-called Areopagite, whose system is, in essentials, entirely taken from the Neoplatonic philosophy. Mainly derived from him, again, are the present standard theological works of the Church of Rome: I mean the works of Thomas Aquinas. These are today the standard by which the theology of Rome is directed and settled when disputed points are to be adjudicated. And yet, while this is so, and while much of that which was taken over by the early Christian Fathers still remains as factors and words in the Christian theology, it has utterly forgotten the spirit of these early pagan thoughts; and that religion today stands reduced to a system of forms and ceremonies, mostly.

Now this is the situation that we are facing in the Occident, and above everything else it is our duty to bring back the old spiritual life, the old spiritual fire, the holy fire of the ancient days, to our fellow men: not to make the world pagan again — if we can use that term pagan in the sense of reintroducing the old Greek or Roman mythology, not at all; nor to make it Buddhist in the sense of introducing the present Buddhist religion; nor Brahmanical; nor Zoroastrian; because all these in their turn are more or less degenerate — but to bring back the essence of true religion, the living truths, which all the great Masters of the world from immemorial time have taught.

The Christians say that the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs, is the "seed of the Church." Let us so live that our lives shall be the seed of the great church or fellowship of the future. Ethics lie at the root of it all; ethics, in the heart and mind of man, are the spiritual light shining through his intellect. They are a guide, a light unto our feet when honestly practiced, unfailing, giving infinite peace to the human heart. When we say ethics and morals we do not mean merely conventional systems of right conduct, though those may be good also. We mean the cultivation of the understanding, of the instinct living in the soul of man, of his intuitional perception, that right is right and wrong is wrong, outside of any conventional systems whatsoever, and that if a man errs, he works, not only to his own undoing, but to the undoing of others with whom he is inseparably linked.

We have been studying at our last few meetings the theme of Gods, Monads, and Atoms, and we have seen that these are related to and causative of the evolution of the kosmos by their interworking in the lokas and talas — and we have seen that these lokas and talas comprise the structure, the framework, the carpentry, of the universe; that they infill space, and in fact are space itself. There is not, in the absolute sense, a void point anywhere. All being is infilled with swarming multitudes of entities in the various and manifold degrees of development in which they find themselves. But all follow certain general rules of order, certain fundamental operations of the kosmos, which are called in popular parlance, natural laws. We have seen that the energy-consciousness side is the side of the principles; and that the matter-prakriti side, or the element-side, is the side of the talas, as the former — the principles — are of the lokas. And yet these are inseparable, these lokas and talas, each involved with each, the two highest together and the two lowest together, and those between in similar manner, two by two, as inseparable as the two poles of a magnet (you cannot have a magnet with only one pole); as inseparable also as good and evil, as are light and darkness. In fact, these lokas and talas are an expression kosmically of what we call the system of opposites, of contraries, which is another way of expressing duality in nature. They are interlinked from the uppermost or highest down to the lowest; and it is by passing through these principles and elements, through these lokas and talas, that the life-waves, the streams of beings, undergo their evolution, acquire their experience. There are no separations or voids between the hosts of the various hierarchies in the kosmos, which is another way of expressing the same thing. They blend into each other, let us say, if you like; at least as a first suggestion for understanding. They blend together by and through their atmospheres, the outermost atmosphere of one interpenetrating and interblending more particularly with the outermost atmosphere of its superior or of its inferior loka or tala, as the case may be; and the thought here is of "atmospheres" or auras within each other, inwardly, not mere mechanical junctions of atmospheres on any one plane.

These innumerable hosts, these swarming multitudes of beings, which infill space and are space itself, work downwards along the arc of the shadows in their so-called descent into matter; and then, when they have reached the bottom of the grand cycle in any manvantara, they turn because, having reached the lowest point possible as regards that hierarchy, they cannot go farther down in it. This is a question which we must go into more fully in the future. Please accept it for the moment as a proposition. Thus, having reached that bottom point, that utmost point of materiality, for that particular cycle of evolution of matter and involution of spirit, they turn and begin the homeward course, "ascending" through the lokas and talas as they "came down" through them, and this ascent is the involution of matter and the evolution of spirit or, to put it in other words, matter resolves itself again into the spirit which it fundamentally is.

There is no difference in occultism between force and matter, except in degree of materiality or grossness; there is no difference of kind at all. There is no difference between spirit and substance, except in degree, no difference in kind at all. Both are fundamentally one; and both, when the long ages of the manvantaric cycle shall have ended, shall sink back again into the infinite womb of the great Void, the maha-sunyata, that is to say, back into the illimitable kosmos of the spiritual realms, which is "void" to our lower natures, but actually an ineffable pleroma or Fullness to the divine eye within us.

It is through the working and interaction respectively of the gods and the monads and the souls and the atoms that the various globes of our planetary chain, and of any other planetary chain, and the various lokas and talas pertaining thereto, come into being. These latter are the vehicles of the former: their garments of light, if you like, on the higher planes, and their bodies so called on the lower planes. They are projected, out-thrown, cast forth, emanated, from these gods, monads, souls, and atoms. Please remember that when we say atom we do not mean the chemical atom of modern scientific thought. That atom is, as said before, rather an aggregate of atomic elements. We mean by the term a vital-astral entity. At the heart of it is its monad. At the heart of that monad is its god, and that god is but a ray of the supreme summit of the hierarchy to which it belongs.

Now, any such hierarchy is but one of an endless multitude of others similar to it; yea, there are others so much greater than it, be it as great as your imagination can make it, that it itself seems by comparison but as a grain of sand on the shores of an infinite sea. It is so, even in the outer spaces of astronomy which the instruments of the astronomers can, or at least attempt to, penetrate. There are kosmoi, kosmoses, so much greater than our own universal kosmos (which comprises everything within the zone of the Milky Way) beyond our universe, that our entire universal kosmos could be placed in one of them and lost; and, on the other hand, there is an actual universe at the core of every one of the tiniest atoms of our physical makeup, an actual universe infilled with its own hierarchies, infilled with its own endless hosts of beings.

Remember, please, that bulk, volume, size, have nothing whatsoever to do with consciousness, or with force. And greater than that thought is this: that the worlds we see, the universe we see, are but the rind, the shell, the husk of the greater part which lies within. We see these things around us; they are repeated by reflection from what is within: "As above, so below; as below, so above."

We were speaking of initiations and Mysteries a few moments agone, and perhaps some may have wondered: Are there no records left of these? There are many; but, alas, people do not know how to find them. The ordinary scholar takes such statements as he finds them in his books as simply examples, samples, rather, of what he calls the "unexampled superstition of past ages." He knows everything! Our little mental world of 100 or 150 or 200 years is the summum bonum, the ne plus ultra, to such minds; everything that preceded that short period was ignorance and superstition; but there are some men and women who have intellects greater than those, intuitions livelier than those, and they have felt and seen at least somewhat of the truth in reading these records of bygone times.

I have personally seen statements in such old records which are amazingly bold and open. For instance, I make mention of things found in articles or poems written by Professor Kenneth Morris, in these cases taken from some of the old Welsh writings, and I have marveled that such things were left open, simply marveled at it; but when you read a little more you find that the allusion is so masterly interwoven with cognate subjects, true but having no direct bearing upon that blazing star of light that springs forth to the eye here and there, that these other cognate subjects actually hide the esoteric star of light, and our modern reader simply reads in such case as he would a fine modern poem, and he sees nothing more.

I will take another instance. Professor Osvald Siren, in a very interesting lecture he gave on Chinese Buddhist art a few days ago, twice or thrice, perhaps, mentioned two things which are extremely interesting, and they were placed in direct conjunction. You remember he told us in his description of the various postures of these statues of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, that the bodhisattvas wore what he called "crowns"; and he called attention to the headgear, as represented in these statues of the buddhas, and he called it the ushnisha. This is a Sanskrit word, and it comes from the Sanskrit root ush, which means "to be warm," "to be hot," "to be flaming," or "fiery." Ushnisha is also used in the sense of "turban," because this particular headgear somewhat resembles a turban. It is of spiral conical form, somewhat like the spiral shell of some snails.

One of the most interesting and instructive aspects of ancient thought — and it should be of our studies likewise — is that of symbology. It has been very truly said that once an esoteric thought has been vocally expressed or printed, it is exoteric. Of course that is true. That is a fact. But let us not lose sight of another fact, that while a thing, an esoteric truth, may be proclaimed from the housetops, unless it is understood it still remains esoteric, although in form, formally, it is exoteric.

I think it was Aristotle who first used these words "esoteric" and "exoteric," meaning that which is inward, and that which is outward and formal. Of course, that distinction is a true one; yet if you examine the literatures, the symbology of the ancient literatures, philosophies, and sciences, with the understanding given to us by the esoteric teachings, you will find that while the symbolism is exoteric because it has been published, it still remains esoteric because it is unexplained, its meaning is still hid.

Now will you please recall to your minds that two years ago, I think it was, we spoke of the fact that practically the entire life of the ancient world in all its branches, religious, scientific, philosophic, social, political, whatnot, was ultimately based on knowledge derived from the Mysteries. This fact is so true and goes so far in reach that, for an example, even the dread crucifixion-punishment of the Persians, Carthaginians, and Romans, a punishment to which only criminals or foreigners were ever subjected, in early times, as a form, arose in the initiatory ceremonies.

To return more directly to the subject of the "crown" and the ushnisha on the buddhas' heads: the crown, you will remember, was the symbolic sign of one who had passed a certain degree in initiation. He who was "crowned" was an initiate of a certain grade; and this was expressed by saying that he wore a crown. This wearing of crowns has passed into our own European life. The monarchs are crowned, and at their coronations they ignorantly repeat a very, very ancient ceremony, meaning then a great deal, meaning now nothing. And the wearing or use of crowns, at least as a decoration on rings or letter paper, is still retained by European nobility in the form of coronets. Originally it meant that the one so entitled to use the one or the other of these various crowns had passed a certain grade of initiation, and in some cases a high initiation too, if you please. The bodhisattvas were those who were crowned with the buddhic fire, which was symbolized by the wearing of a diadem or a crown, or something similar. The crown, actually, if you examine its earliest forms in iconography, you will see evidently originated in two ideas, one of which was the sun, used as a symbol, with its spreading rays — so much so that some of the late studies or artworks of the very last age of the ancient times, that of the Romans, show one or more of the emperors, for instance, with a halo or a nimbus at the back of his head from which spikes spread out, making a crown or representing the solar rays. The solar rite, if you like to call it that, was thus symbolized; and the halo or nimbus back of the heads of the buddha statues, a fact-symbol copied by the Christians likewise, originated from a fact well known to the ancients, and even spoken of in the exoteric literature as it has come down to us. This fact — and this is the second idea or truth mentioned — is that a saint, as the Christians would say, a holy man, as we may say, i.e., one who is in the state of deep samadhi, has his head surrounded with these auric streams, these rays from the vital inner fire, which form a glory around his head, and sometimes even around the entire body. They stream upwards from the back of the head, often symbolically represented in the buddha-iconography as one single, lambent flame soaring upwards from and over the top of the skull. In this case you may perhaps find that the ushnisha is missing, its place being taken by this flame issuing from the top of the head, a symbolic representation of the fire of the spirit and of the aroused and active buddhic faculty in which the man is at the time.

You see how beautiful these thoughts are, how much there is merely in studying the outward symbology of these old beliefs. How often have I heard this very ushnisha mocked at by Occidentals, derided with more or less gentle sarcasm. Such mockery comes from a lack of understanding. It pays — even to put it on the personal, selfish plane — it pays to understand and study symbology! There is one more explanation of the ushnisha, the most secret of all, which we mention but pass over at present. It refers to the popular belief that the ushnisha is an excrescence or protuberance of the skull itself.

Now, there are a few more things which we ought to inaugurate tonight as a prelude and introduction to the beginning of our study when we next meet. Let me first read from The Secret Doctrine, volume I, page 569, the following extract:

. . . the ancient Initiates, who were followed more or less closely by all profane antiquity, meant by the term "atom," a Soul, a Genius or Angel, the first-born of the ever-concealed CAUSE of all causes; and in this sense their teachings become comprehensible. They claimed, as do their successors, the existence of Gods and Genii, angels or "demons," not outside, or independent of, the Universal Plenum, but within it. Only this Plenum, during the life-cycles, is infinite.

We have soon to close our study this evening, but let us again point out that in our use of the term atom, as H. P. Blavatsky always used it, we employ it as, and give it the same general meaning that, the ancient Greek philosophers did from whom we derive the word. If you remember, it means "that which cannot be divided"; so, then, it was the ultimate particle of substance; and this indivisible atom did not at all mean the atom in our modern, scientific, chemical sense. It meant rather what we called the monad, which was the name given to the spiritual One by Pythagoras, and meant exactly the same thing that atom originally did, the word used by the old Greek Atomists, such as Democritus, Leucippus, Epicurus, and Lucretius of Italy, and by such as they, albeit the Atomistic sense was more materialistic than ours. Furthermore, this word atom is used by us in a general sense, frequently. We have spoken of the sun as an atom, and we have spoken of the earth as an atom, and we have called attention to the fact that the ancient Hindus in their writings called Brahma (the third hypostasis, so to say, of the divine Brahman) the kosmic atom. The idea is that this kosmic atom is "Brahma's Egg," from which the universe shall spring into manifested being, as from the egg the chick comes forth, in its turn to lay another egg. Each of these kosmic eggs or universes gives birth, after its rest period has ended, to its own offspring, each of the former derived in similar manner from its own former manvantaric egg.

And a common doctrine among the ancients all over the world, in Hindustan or in Greece or Rome, wherever it may have been, was, as so beautifully expressed in a poem by Cleanthes, the Stoic: "Zeus is all that is. Whate'er you see or know or sense or feel is Zeus. Zeus is all within and all without." Therefore not an atom but is Zeus, as also every potentiality of the infinite kosmos, as of all kosmoi; for every universe or kosmos is but one of the vast and incomputable swarms of living entities which fill the spaces of endless and beginningless SPACE.

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