Theosophical University Press Online Edition
The Absolute and the Infinite
(The following is a stenographic report of an informal gathering at Point Loma, in which a discussion arose regarding the use of the term, 'Absolute,' in Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy by G. de Purucker.)
G. de P. — It is the philosophic One, the originant, which is the Absolute: from the One comes the two; from the two the triad; from the triad the tetrad, etc. The point is this: the philosophic One or the cosmic One is the cosmic Absolute; but it is not the zero, representing Infinitude; consequently the zero, Infinitude, holds an infinite number of such Ones or Monads, whether cosmic or not.
O. L. — I understand the way you use the word 'Absolute' in FUNDAMENTALS OF THE ESOTERIC PHILOSOPHY: you there define it, so that it is quite clear; but what is the real reason for your emphasizing that meaning of it, which is of course in the etymological derivation of the word? It is different from the usual meaning carried by the word 'Absolute' in philosophy here in the West.
G. de P. — That is true. I so use it, first for purposes of accuracy; second, because it is a wonderful philosophical key: every Absolute being the Hierarch of its Hierarchy, the One from which all series thereafter outflow — one, two, three, etc. — to the end of the Hierarchy; and each such One is an Absolute or Mukta, Jivan-Mukta, absolutus, signifying 'free,' 'set free,' — free from servitude to all the lower planes and master thereof.
O. L. — I have understood that; but still, could not that fact be said and explained without using the word ABSOLUTE for it?
G. de P. — It could, but it seemed inadvisable. You see that the word 'Absolute,' derived from the Latin, is an exact equivalent of the Sanskrit word Moksha or Mukti of Brahmanism; and I deliberately chose that word and tried to point out the inaccuracy of the use of this phrase 'The Absolute' in the West in order to signify 'Boundless Infinitude.' This is not only an etymological, but a logical, fault, and I desired to point this out. The word as I used it is a true key to great things.
O. L. — It will arouse criticism; and people will say: "Of course, your etymology is true; but what is the use of it? The word 'Absolute' has acquired this specific meaning in our Western languages, in all philosophies: what therefore is the use of your change? Why make use of it with a different meaning?" It only mixes things up for ordinary people studying philosophy, and therefore arouses criticism.
G. de P. — Many people will doubtless say just that; but I do not object to criticism. It arouses comment and thought. My use, outside of anything else, has the virtue of being accurate, of being philosophically exact, of employing a word in its proper, original, exact, etymological sense; and best of all, it is a wonderful key to greater things. It is perfectly indifferent to me if the entire Occident uses a word wrongly, because I am going to use it aright, if by that use I can strike a new keynote of thought, point out a pathway of consciousness, and give a key to a wonderful doctrine. Do you now see? If it arouse comment and criticism, as in fact I knew it would, all the better!
O. T. — I think that the way you use the term in FUNDAMENTALS OF THE ESOTERIC PHILOSOPHY is one of the most wonderful parts of the whole book.
G. de P. — Once that you miscall Infinity by the word 'the Absolute,' it becomes a being, therefore limited, therefore finite. It is impossible in true philosophy to predicate absoluteness of Infinity. It is neither absolute nor non-absolute; absolute is a definite adjective, having certain logical attributes. Infinitude has no such attributes; Infinitude is neither conscious nor unconscious; it is neither alive nor dead; because consciousness and unconsciousness and life and death belong to manifested and therefore limited and therefore to non-infinite beings and things.
O. L. — All those things Occidental philosophers say about the Absolute; they give that meaning to 'Absolute.'
G. de P. — That is just what they should not do; and that is just what I am challenging; my use therefore is a challenge.
O. L. — It is a challenge; but even apart from what the word itself means etymologically, if we investigate that, there are many such words. They have acquired a different meaning in the language; and they are used with this meaning different from the words in the language, apart from how the words themselves originated.
G. de P. — That is perfectly true, my Friend, but remember that a mere fact, however common, is no proper plea in extenuation of a fault.
O. L. — One cannot say that such a word is wrongly used in this way.
G. de P. — True, in a way; but the word nevertheless is wrongly used; and it has obtained currency. Let me illustrate my meaning: In English there is a most extraordinary grammatical, or rather ungrammatical, expression, which has obtained universal currency in the English tongue, and it is wrong. This expression is, "I am mistaken." The current meaning is, "I am wrong: I have expressed an erroneous view." But the real meaning of the words is, "I am misunderstood," and this was the original meaning of the phrase, "I am mistaken."
I have heard your argument time and time again. People say: "Why do you bother your head about it? Everybody knows what you mean by the common usage. Why not employ it because it is a common usage?" Yes, I answer, but it is a wrong usage and foolish logically, historically, and grammatically. Among my many other faults, as some people say, I try to make people think. Why not correct an obvious error? "I am mistaken" means literally, "I am taken amiss: I am misunderstood." But when a modern Englishman says, "I am mistaken," he means, "I have misunderstood." He uses an entirely wrong grammatical form.
O. L. — You will never succeed in changing that usage; because it is universally common, and everybody understands it.
G. de P. — Assuredly so, my Friend, nor am I trying to change this particular phrase. But as regards the Absolute, here is a case of a specific philosophical doctrine of the first importance; and I desire to challenge thought by challenging a crystallized and hoary error — so far as Europeans are concerned. This misuse arose out of the psychology in all European philosophers' minds of the Christian theological scheme, which they could not shake off: the personal god, the infinite person, the Absolute. They pursued a logical train of thinking arising in a proper conception; but the term used to express this fundamental conception is absolutely wrong; for this term 'Absolute' does not mean infinity. A person cannot be infinite: this is a contradiction in terms. But there can be an absolute person, a Hierarch, the summit of a Hierarchy; and this Hierarch is only one of an infinite number of other Hierarchs, of other Hierarchies — an infinite number of such Ones; but the Infinite, without number, attribute, qualification, or form, is therefore non-absolute. 'Absolutus' means 'freed,' and can apply only to a limited entity, however grand and sublime. I want to make people think! I am furthermore striking at the roots of old theological superstitions, and old philosophical superstitions. If my use arouses argument, if it arouses attack, and if this makes people think, it does not much matter to me personally. They can charge me with trying to introduce new things, or with any other foolish motive. The charges being untrue, I don't care particularly about them.
O. L. — In that way of thinking your use might be well worth something.
E. L. — It is breaking the molds of mind.
G. de P. — If Occidental people had only studied, or studied a little more carefully, even the elements of some of the greater Oriental philosophical systems, they would see the difference between the Jivan-Mukta, which is an Absolute, a Freed One — and Tat: THAT.
H. P. B. does use the word 'Absolute' apparently in the usual Occidental way; but if you examine carefully every instance where this occurs you will find that actually she is referring to some great or super-great cosmos — in every instance. 'Absolute' is a relative term. There are no 'Absolutes' in the sense of 'Infinitudes.' Everything that is, no matter how great, how vast, is relative — related to something else and to all else.
The critics seem to think that I mean by 'Absolute' an 'Infinite Being,' because they have such a vague, nebulous, undefined, and cloudy idea in their own minds. They are tangled in a web of words. This very word 'Infinity' is but a human word, and it acknowledges that human imbecility of intellect, as compared with frontierless time and space, can find no better word to describe it than 'Infinitude,' which means 'Non-finitude.'
I would like to tell you something more. You know that Sanskrit is probably the most perfect language for the expression of philosophical human thoughts that is known. It is, nevertheless, an offspring of human consciousness; and even the great Sages and Seers at times find themselves hard put to it to express the children of their consciousness in human words, i.e., to express their thoughts adequately.
Now, as an illustration of what I mean, there is absolutely no such sphere of esse or consciousness as what the Occidental calls the 'Infinite' — really a word with which he cheats his mind, an abstract term. The Occidental, when he says 'Infinitude' and 'Eternity,' means by these terms endless extension and duration, which is as far as he can go intellectually — which is merely another way of saying: 'Things as they are now, more or less changing continuously, but lasting endlessly'; and as regards the former word especially, 'Infinitude,' the average Occidental's mind becomes a blank when he uses it. He sees, or thinks he mentally sees, non-understandable, frontierless Space. That to him is Infinity. But really it is a cheating of his consciousness.
In the Sanskrit, Infinity is not commonly expressed by a negation, such as 'Non-finity,' but by the words Parabrahman and Mulaprakriti — two sides or elements to the one fundamental conception. What does Parabrahman mean? Brahman stands for the Absolute, the Hierarch of a Universe, a Cosmos. Para means 'beyond.' Do you now begin to get the thought? Infinitude thus is simply that which is beyond the loftiest reach of human consciousness. Human consciousness does not pretend to limit it by saying anything about it; it does not qualify it with any adjective; no operation of human consciousness can reach it. Parabrahman is confessedly a mere term: 'Beyond Brahman,' and Brahman is the Absolute.
Mulaprakriti: Prakriti means 'Nature'; Mula means 'root'; therefore Mulaprakriti signifies 'elemental,' or 'originant' Nature. Parabrahman therefore is but a word: 'Beyond Brahman'; 'Originant Nature,' Mulaprakriti; and thus you get a different conception from the vague, Occidental mental abstraction signified by a negation — 'Non-finite.' The Oriental conception accepts the manifested universe and points to endlessness beyond it, and says 'Parabrahman' or 'Mulaprakriti.' The Occidental also accepts the manifested universe, but does not point beyond it, and simply uses a term signifying 'something different from the manifested universe'; and this latter conception is philosophically and fundamentally erroneous, for it makes a distinction in esse between the This and the Beyond.
The Orientals, and likewise the Ancient Wisdom, never use the word 'Eternity.' This is a conception which is rejected, because it is merely like a mental cloud in any human mind to speak of 'Eternity.' The best way in which Occidentals can express this conception is by saying 'Endless Duration' — not 'Endless Time,' because 'time' is a human limited conception but 'endless enduring' — that which endures for aye.
All that the human consciousness is authorized to postulate is that Parabrahman, 'Beyond Brahman' or the Absolute, is exactly what we see around us, as far as our human physical sense-apparatus can translate it to us, but limitlessly so. Parabrahman, therefore, is not an entity; it is not a being; as a term it is a descriptive adjective turned into a noun, and means simply 'Beyond Brahman.' "As above, so below" — and there is no fundamental essential difference between the 'above' and the 'below.' Every atom has its home in a molecule; every molecule has its home in a cell; every cell has its home in a body; every body has its home in a greater body; the greater body, in this case our Earth, has its habitat or dwelling or home in the solar ether; the solar system has its home in the Galaxy; the Galaxy has its home in what we humans call the Universe — our telescopes carry us no farther; the Universe has its home in one still more vast; and so on, as Occidentals say, ad infinitum; and that ad infinitum is exactly the Occidental's way of saying what the Oriental means when he says Parabrahman — 'Beyond Brahman,' with this profound and radical difference, however, that the root-idea in the mind of the Oriental is the inner, invisible, spiritual worlds, which the modern Occidental almost universally ignores.
Everything exists in something else greater than itself, and contains hosts of beings inferior to itself; and Parabrahman simply means 'beyond our Absolute,' 'beyond our Brahman.' Brahman is the Absolute; and Parabrahman H. P. Blavatsky has called 'SPACE' — not meaning 'emptiness,' but using here just a descriptive word, a descriptive noun, just as when she says 'Duration.' Duration is filled with time, moments, time-instants. Space, similarly, is filled with manifested Monads, and Absolutes which are Monads of a far advanced type; and these Absolutes contain armies and hosts of evolving inferior Monads.
This, then, is all that Parabrahman means, and Mulaprakriti is but its other side — the side of expansion and change, — so to speak. You can say that Parabrahman is the consciousness-side of it, and that Mulaprakriti is the space-side of it. It hurts me sometimes to hear Theosophists talk about Parabrahman as if it were a kind of god. It is simply Space. It does not mean anything in particular, however, because it is a purely generalizing term. The word Parabrahman simply means 'Beyond Brahman.' It too is a confession that here the human consciousness stops: it cannot go any farther.
O. T. — I would like to ask you a question. We Western minds think more analytically; and when you spoke, a little while ago, about the Infinite as being the only thing that was not relative, it also occurred to me that the center of consciousness which each one of us is, in the, from the, middle point of that consciousness, reaches out in opposite directions; that is, inwards and outwards — inwards towards the infinite, and outwards towards the finite; and the two are equal at all times.
G. de P. — Yes, but I did not speak of the Infinite as "being the only thing that was not relative." Even this word 'Infinite,' if you analyse it, simply means 'not finite.' It does not mean anything in particular. It is man's confession of ignorance and of inability to penetrate deeper. It is a word exactly like Parabrahman; it simply means 'not finite,' meaning by that, that the human consciousness can no longer reach into what we call the frontiers of the finite, and seize, grasp, comprehend, what is there; and being unable to do so, it simply says, "Ah! that, that is beyond all we know; it is in-finite, not finite, the All." The very word 'Boundless' so often used in Theosophy, is simply a counter, a verbal counter. This very 'Boundless' is filled full of, made up of, composed of, finite, bounded things individuals, beings.
J. H. F. — Would you not say the same of 'Infinite'?
G. de P. — Absolutely the same, therefore just so. People use these terms which are pure abstractions as if they were concrete realities, and create thoughts about them, and thereby they cheat themselves. I repeat that these words are mere abstractions.
S. E. — With your definition of PARABRAHMAN we can no longer say that PARABRAHMAN on the one hand and MULAPRAKRITI on the other, are two aspects of the same thing, which have produced the first Logos; because MULAPRAKRITI then is a definite noun, while PARABRAHMAN is merely a descriptive adjective.
G. de P. — No, that is not the idea. Parabrahman and Mulaprakriti, simply meaning 'Boundless Space' with all its indwelling hosts of beings, at any one particular point of itself finds a Logos springing into manifestation from its pralaya. That may happen here, there, or anywhere: millions of these Logoi may contemporaneously be bursting forth into new manvantaras; but millions of them contemporaneously may be passing into their respective pralayas.
Now then, in order to describe cosmic evolution and its beginning, the Teacher — whoever it may be, any great Sage — says: "In the beginning was THAT"; and this beginning is not merely an absolute commencement of all infinitude, which is absurd, but one of any beginnings of a system in Boundless Duration. At its commencement of time the Logos springs forth, the Logos merely meaning one of these innumerable monadic points in THAT; and from this Logos — one such Logos — is evolved forth a Hierarchy — whether it be a Cosmic Hierarchy, or a solar system, or a planetary chain, or a human being, or an atom. Do you understand the general idea?
S. E. — I understand you; it is a wonderful conception,
G. de P. — And these logoic points are numberless. Every mathematical point in Space is a potential Logos. Also there are many kinds of Logoi; some are much higher in evolution than others; but the doctrine as I have stated it is given in generalizing terms applicable to all.
S. E. — I understand that perfectly well; it is a wonderful explanation. But when you said that PARABRAHMAN really was not an entity, but merely everything beyond what the human mind can reach to, then MULAPRAKRITI must be an aspect of something else.
G. de P. — No, the other side or alter ego of Parabrahman, but more particularly the root-matter of any and therefore of every hierarchical system or cosmos.
S. E. — The other side of something — yes, but they must be the abstractions, nevertheless, of something else which is above them.
G. de P. — That is included in the conception of Parabrahman.
S. E. — Yes, I understand; because being qualities, they have to qualify something.
G. de P. — I think I see your point. A universe is both; it is Mulaprakriti in its essence; it is also in its essence Parabrahman; because it is formed of hosts of individual monads. The heart of a monad is boundless space; and boundless space has two aspects, life or energy, and substance or form. You cannot separate the one from the other. Life or energy is what we may call Parabrahman; the substance-side or vehicular side is the Mulaprakriti-side. Wipe out Mulaprakriti, if it were possible, which it is not, and you would have pure consciousness, pure energy; and that is not possible, because energy and matter are two sides of the same thing; force and substance are two sides of the same thing; electricity, for example, is both energic and substantial; consciousness is both energy (or force) and substance.
S. E. — What you have just said there has cleared away a few of the greatest difficulties in my mind.
G. de P. — Your body, my body, any body, is fundamentally Mulaprakriti, Root-substance, fundamental Essence, manifesting in form. So is everything else — a star, a bit of wood, a stone, a beast, a bit of thistle-down floating in the air. Its essence is Mulaprakriti; and out in the abysmal spaces, in the deepest deeps of Space, is Mulaprakriti, but also Parabrahman.
S. E. — But even so, having said that in the deepest deeps there are Mulaprakriti and Parabrahman, and as far as our imagination can penetrate, they are nevertheless mere words; because beyond 'That' there is again something.
G. de P. — Absolutely; but only because everything — even what we call THAT — is contained in something greater. But the word THAT is nevertheless sufficient to include the entire range of this conception. The entire Galaxy is a Cosmic Cell; and what the modern astronomers call the Island-Universes, are other Cosmic Cells; and these Cosmic Cells are bathed in the inter-galactic ether — using human words — and these Cosmic Cells are united into some ultra-cosmic, incomprehensible BEING, just as the cells of a man's body, viewed only under the microscope and under the microscope apparently separate from each other, are united in a man's physical body; and a man's physical body lives in a world. Our Galaxy is therefore like a Cell in a Cosmic Body surrounded by the abstraction we call Infinitude.
S. E. — May I ask you another question, following the other direction in thought: Let us take the atom or the very smallest possible form of an atom or molecule that we can think of — an electron: is there no end, as it were, on the downward scale of smallness?
G. de P. — None. There cannot be an end; otherwise you would have an ending, after which, what? Let me tell you that your difficulty is reasoning in forms familiar to our human conceptions. It is much easier to reason along the lines of energy: an electron, for instance, is but a bit of compacted electricity, and electricity is particular, that is, formed of particles; hence the electron is particular, formed of particles. Consequently the electron is divisible and these divisions or sub-particles cannot be considered to be indivisible, because then we should reach an ending, which is absurd, because we should immediately have to ask ourselves what lies beyond or beneath.
S. E. — Is it correct to think that on one of such electrons there are White and Black Masters, Sambhalas, and other things such as we know them in our world?
G. de P. — Think for yourself, my Friend: consciousness is not limited by space, because consciousness is an energy, one of the highest forms of energy, perhaps the highest, if indeed there be a 'highest.'
O. L. — The 'small' or the 'great' depend only upon what measure one begins with.
G. de P. — Just so. We measure things by the human yardsticks of ideas which we in our consciousness are accustomed to.
S. E. — You did answer one question in the Temple recently, to the effect that greatness of form does indeed represent a higher evolutionary development.
G. de P. — It does in a certain sense; but not necessarily so, and not so much from the standpoint of consciousness as from the standpoint of Prakriti — evolving Nature. You have often heard me speak of the expansion of consciousness as one evolves to greater things. Consequently, the consciousness co-extensive with our Galaxy is more highly evolved than the consciousness co-extensive with an electron, for instance. But contrariwise, it is quite possible that an electron of a certain kind might contain a more evolved consciousness, individually speaking, than that which functions in our Galaxy. We must free our minds absolutely from the limitations imposed by our conceptions of 'space' and 'time.'
It is the same thought here that I have elsewhere often tried to explain as the 'reach of consciousness' — an idea deliberately chosen and suggesting a continuously increasing enlargement of the consciousness. Do you now understand me? A man can constrict, can shrink, his consciousness to the point of being suited for inhabiting an electron, and yet in still deeper profundities of his being be as free as the wild winds or the free bird, because consciousness is not and cannot ever be bounded by material space or extension. Space is Mulaprakriti; therefore in a sense limited, however vast; but sheer or pure consciousness is free, whether it be expanded to cosmic dimensions, or whether it be, as we humans say, shrunken to electronic magnitude.
On certain ones of the electrons composing even our physical matter, there actually are entities as conscious as we are, thinking divine thoughts, thinking about the Universe, just as we humans do. We humans are still very imperfect in our evolutionary growth. There are beings on other planets of our solar system — you would not call them humans, and yet they are actually more evolutionally advanced than we human beings are — who think diviner thoughts than we do. There are also entities inhabiting the Sun, and consequently the Sun has inhabitants thinking godlike thoughts, having a godlike or solar consciousness. All these questions are relative, please remember, and not absolute, for there are no absolute absolutes in the grotesque Occidental sense of the word that I am opposing and arguing against.
O. T. — Is there any reason why we may not consider ourselves as being on one such cosmic electron?
G. de P. — Certainly there is no reason against that idea. Quite to the contrary. We are on such a cosmic electron, but on one of cosmic magnitude; nevertheless it is an electron, relatively speaking; and compared with one of the super-Galactic Entities that I have just spoken of, we on our tiny little Earth, whirling about our protonic aggregate, which we call the Sun, are inhabitants of such an electron, which is our Earth. Now, such a vast Cosmic Entity of super-Galactic magnitude, might look upon us in his thought, and wonder and think: "Can such infinitesimals have thoughts as I have them? Is their consciousness free like mine? Can it reach into the abysmal bosom of things?" My answer is, of course, Yes, because consciousness is the very heart of things, the essence of things; and when you ally yourself with pure or sheer consciousness, you then enter the Heart of the Universe, the Heart which is nowhere in particular because it is everywhere; and the more you reach out in consciousness, the more you expand, following (as I said a little while ago) the mulaprakritic idea, the greater you become.
For instance, our human consciousness, limited to this Earth and possessing vague concepts and dreams of a solar life, enables us to look outwards through our telescopes into the Galaxy and towards the Island-Universes beyond the Galaxy, and have thoughts about them; but they are thoughts; they are not the actual becoming of our consciousness into those things — i.e., actually becoming those things. But as our consciousness expands through evolution, it expands self-consciously to take in the solar system, and then still later in aeonic time to comprehend the Galaxy.
O. L. — Can it not happen that an entity on an electron, say on one in our body, may evolve to such divine power that it gives to the whole human entity a saving divine impulse, because it is so spiritually mighty?
G. de P. — Yes; but do you know what that electron is? That electron is our individual spiritual Monad — the very one you speak of. My answer to your question is Yes. Our spiritual consciousness is the entity on the spiritual Monad that you speak of, for the Monad is itself, both the entity and its habitat.
You will remember how the Hindu Upanishads nobly express this thought: "Smaller than the smallest atom; vaster than the Universe." It is verily so; for this is consciousness. The Upanishads speak of Brahman, as you know, as being more minute than an atom, and yet comprehending the Universe. Oh how lofty is this conception to think about! Why our Theosophists do not ponder over it more, is amazing to me. Try to enter into the cosmic atom within you, the cosmic electron which is your own Monad. It is the very heart of you, and you are the inhabitant of it, and it is your habitat.