Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Studies in Occult Philosophy  —  by G. de Purucker

Questions and Answers  (part 20)

The Ten Avataras of Vishnu
Is Hypnotic Practice Ever Justifiable?
Plato on Reincarnation
Complicate Nature of Man
The Monad and the Monadic Essence
Types of Devachan

The Ten Avataras of Vishnu

I have been puzzling over a list of the ten avataras of Vishnu, as given in the Brahmanical scriptures, and wondering if there is not some connection between them and the scientific conception of evolution.  Could you throw any light on this?  The list follows: 1. Matsya, the Fish; 2. Kurma, the Tortoise; 3. Varaha, the Boar; 4. Narasimha, the Man-lion; 5. Vamana, the Dwarf; 6. Parasu-Rama, Rama with the Ax; 7. Rama, hero of the Ramayana ; 8. Krishna, the spiritual instructor of Arjuna; 9. Buddha; 10. Kalki, the White Horse.

This line of avataric descents really is in the evolutionary line of progressive growth, even as European science teaches it.  You have, first, the Fish, the Reptile, the Mammal, the beginnings of the humanity, young Humanity, as such more or less developed but unspiritual; then Rama of the Moon, Chandra, showing the beginnings of the workings of mind, and then Krishna; the avataric initiate Gautama the Buddha, and finally the Kalki-Avatara, the summit or highest of all.  I might add that all these names do not imply and were never intended to imply that Brahmanical esotericism taught the descent of divinities into the respective animate beings named here.  These names of different animals and men are technical, and like all zoologic mythology were chosen because of certain attributes that these various animate beings have.

Now, these avataric descents do not appertain solely to a race or a root-race, nor to a globe, nor to a chain, nor to a solar system alone.  But because Nature repeats herself by analogy, for the simple reason that the little must have in it and reproduce whatever its parent the whole contains, therefore the same line of enlarging understanding, of evolutionary development, takes place in all the spheres mutatis mutandis.  So that these avataric descents we can ascribe or allocate to the solar system, to the planetary chain as a whole, to a round, to a globe, to a root-race, to a sub-race therein.

It is very interesting too, that although this line of ten items, ten avataric descents, is typically Hindu, nevertheless the same scheme, suggesting growth in knowledge and wisdom and power, with all consequent spiritual and other attributes and faculties attending thereupon, were and still are found in systems of religio-philosophical and mystical thought other than the Hindu, as for instance, in Mithraism.  The Mithraists had seven degrees — actually ten or twelve — seven degrees of advancing knowledge and growth in understanding.  We would say seven esoteric degrees in the esoteric cycle, beginning with the lowest and rising through various degrees to the highest therein.  Thus, for instance, they taught that the neophyte began his course of experience, and he was given a name, the name of a bird as I recollect.  I do not remember them all in the Mithraic system, but the first grade was called Corax, the crow or the raven, and the neophyte who successfully passed that grade was called technically a crow.  It did not mean that he was a crow.  It was a technical word (the raven in Mithraic mythology was the servant of the Sun) marking his stage of evolutionary growth, development.  Just as in the avataric list the evolutionary growth is indicated from the less to the greater, from the fish through the reptile, through the mammal, headed by man, etc., etc.

The second grade in the hierarchy of the Mithraists was Cryphius, Occult, higher than the crow.  The third grade was that of the soldier.  The fourth grade was that of the lion; and so forth up to the highest, which was Pater, the Father or hierophant.  These were technical terms marking the advancing degrees of initiation.  And to show a still greater similarity to this scheme, the Mithraists said that these same seven or ten grades of growth or advancement mark the stages of the after-death journey of the excarnate being through the planets — their ladder of life, each one a stage.

Somewhat the same thing was found in Christianity.  Christian neophytes were called fishes, so that they even said of themselves: “We are little fishes.  Our great Fish is our Master Jesus.”  Why did they choose such a curious and unpleasant little animal to designate themselves by?  For certain reasons of their own which we can easily imagine.  Fishes could swim in water, and are perpetually hungry, and are going through the water, which is the astral light, signifying the material world and its temptations, and all that kind of thing; hungering for light all the time.  If you catch the thought, you will see the reason why the earliest Christians called themselves little fishes.

I might add that in connection with the highest of these avataric grades, that of the Kalki Avatara, marked by the white horse, riding the white horse: the horse is a symbol of the Sun; the bull or cow is a symbol of the moon; and you may remember how in Egypt and Persia, India, Babylonia, and other places, these animals were used as symbolic suggestions.  Pictures of Egyptian buildings, temples, shrines, and those of other peoples, show the sacred cow, the sacred bull, the sacred horse, and so forth.  As the horse stood for the sun, so the tenth Avatara here would be an Avatara of Vishnu or Maha-Vishnu, of the Sun.

What do we learn from this?  This scheme, in addition to being the names given by human beings to the Avataras, from the first to the tenth, represents likewise the technical names given to neophytes in esoteric schools.  The lowest chela was called a fish, just as in Mithraism he was called by the name of a bird.  The chela who had taken the second degree successfully was called a tortoise.  When he took the third successfully, he was called a boar; and the highest of all was called an incarnation of the Sun, a Son of the Sun technically, called a white horse, or a brilliant horse, a dazzling horse.

You know, we can glean something else from this line of avataric descents.  If you examine this carefully, you will see in time, that these different items in the ascending list from one to ten represent the ten sub-races in any one root-race, commonly enumerated as seven.  Actually there are twelve.

Is Hypnotic Practice Ever Justifiable?

After having unconditionally condemned some 90% of all hypnotic-phenomena and practices, is there any justification whatever in at least some of it, primarily in therapeutics?  Such things as local anesthesia by hypnotism, prevention of birth-pains by the same means, seeming cure of small psychological defects and bad habits.  This is at present done on a rather large scale, and it seems to be divided in two main categories: (a) under hypnosis and (b) without hypnotic sleep and solely by mental suggestion.  My question does not refer to magnetization which, of course, can be of great help when done by clean-minded unselfish people.

Hypnotic practice is almost always bad, even though, somewhat like blood-transfusion, there are rare successes occasionally.  It is just like playing with some dangerous explosive.  It is fundamentally and generally bad because it weakens the will of the subject instead of evoking the will from within outwards into action thus building up a structure of inner life and power.  Every repetition of hypnosis renders the subject still more flabby, still more negative, still weaker, and subjects the subject more and more to leaning on the outer instead of evoking inner powers.

Now of course like everything else, it is conceivable as a theory that an Adept, a Mahatman for instance, knowing nature’s laws and all the tricks and oddities and peculiarities of human psychology and the astral body, could as an abstract theory use hypnosis in certain minor cases beneficially.  But this is merely a theory, and I can assure you that no Mahatman or Adept ever would do such a thing, because the fundamental idea is wrong.  They want to bring out or develop the will-power and inner vital strength of men, and hypnosis sends these last fine things to sleep, weakens them, emasculates the inner powers of reserve.

Still as a mere academic theory, by an Adept hypnotism could be used safely.

Now of course in some local things, like stroking with the hand on an affected part of the body to relieve pain such as a headache, this is really not so much hypnotic sleep in minor degree as a kind of mesmerism or animal magnetization, soothing the nerves but not weakening the will, the healthy body quieting, soothing the tangled and angry nerves of the invalid.  And this is not bad if no attempt is made, as just said, to affect the will of the subject or his body as a whole, if it is purely local; because in the first place it is not hypnotism purely speaking, as this word is popularly understood, and in the second place it is purely local and the benefits are derived from the clean, strong magnetism of the operator.  It is in fact animal magnetism in these last cases; and if the animal magnetism is healthy and clean, probably no harm is done and the patient can receive temporary relief, although it is not permanent because the cause is not eliminated.

I will say in this connection that even auto-hypnosis or self-hypnosis, where the subject hypnotizes himself or herself by various means known for ages past, such as staring at a spot or a bright light or a piece of crystal or glass, or even looking at the tip of the nose concentratedly, or at the navel: all those things which are so well known are emphatically not good because they mean using the will by the subject himself to send his higher will upwards and out of the picture, and induce in the lower part of the constitution a false tranquillity or quiet by what is almost mechanical means.  In other words the nerves, instead of being roused into clean wholesome healthy activity upon which the inner will can work, are put to sleep, hypnotized (which means sending to sleep), and the brain and nervous system sink below the threshold of ordinary consciousness into the vibrational rates of the glass, or other object stared at.  Quiet is induced, but it is the quiet of death, of the mineral kingdom.

Therefore while self-hypnosis is not as bad as hypnosis by others, it again is emphatically not good and is not used by the true Adepts, only by magicians and Shamans and medicine men of barbarous tribes.  It is this power exactly which gives the steady unwinking eye of the snake its hypnotic power over a bird or a rabbit or a mouse, popularly called fascination.  The glittering eye of the human hypnotizer starts hypnotism off with the same process.  It is all unfortunate and if not exactly bad in its better side, is certainly not good.

Therefore all these things should be avoided.  They are unwholesome.  They lower the vibrational level down into the lower kingdom instead of raising the vibrational rate of consciousness upwards into the higher psychical, intellectual and spiritual realms.

Plato on Reincarnation

Do you know of a clear-cut statement by Plato that would show that he accepted Reincarnation?  I am wading through some of his books now, but have not found anything very direct yet.

There is not a single thing that Plato wrote saying: “I accept the doctrine of Reimbodiment,” but there are a number of passages in his dialogs which cannot mean anything else except such a belief.  But we must remember that in those days in Greece and throughout the entire Greek world the full teaching of Reincarnation was given out solely in the Mysteries.

On the other hand, the Pythagoreans did teach the doctrine of what was called Metempsychosis, at the back of which is Reincarnation; but it meant a good deal more than that.  All the ancient world believed in Reimbodiment, but in different manners and in different ways and under different forms of expression; but to say boldly and baldly that Pythagoras or Plato or any other great philosopher of the Greek world “taught Reincarnation,” coming from the mouth of a Theosophist, means today to the ‘man in the street’ that such a philosopher taught Reincarnation as the Theosophist teaches it openly and more or less distinctly; and this is not the fact.

Many are the Greek allusions to it.  Empedocles, for instance, says in substance in one of his fragments still remaining: “I was once a bush; I was once a boy; I was once a maid; I was once a fish in the glittering sea.”  That is not our doctrine of Reincarnation as taught today; and yet it is our doctrine if you understand the meaning behind this.

We have to be careful; we cannot afford to be slipshod as some Theosophists have been in the past in boldly making the statement that all the ancient world “taught Reincarnation,” which means to the public that it taught Reincarnation as presented today by Theosophists; and any scholar could challenge such a statement.  The ancient Initiates knew the doctrine, knew what all these different statements meant; and if our modern Theosophists understood Reincarnation better they would understand that the ancient philosopher taught absolute truth, taught different aspects of the general doctrine of Reimbodiment; but the modern, clear-cut, very definite teaching of the reimbodiment of the Reincarnating Ego is inadequate to express it in its fulness.

All the ancient world taught Reimbodiment; and that is one of the reasons why in my lectures and in my books I keep harping upon the difference between Reincarnation, Rebirth, Transmigration, Metempsychosis, and Metensomatosis, as being all different views or aspects of the one general doctrine of Reimbodiment.  It is not just a matter of words.  I am trying to bring order into the situation, to get accuracy; and the scholars of the future will appreciate it.  It is just like the doctrine concerning the Absolute or the proper spelling of Karma: we need to have accuracy and definiteness and precision.

Complicate Nature of Man

According to Theosophical doctrines, man is a septenary being, in addition to his physical body having six other principles as a part of his constitution.  (a) Is it true then, that in addition to his present physical body manifesting on this our material earth, he would also simultaneously be manifesting on six other material globes or planets in an appropriate physical body or vehicle, all seven physical vehicles on the seven material globes each having its own six other principles functioning in their respective spheres, contributing each and all to the Monadic center?  (b) If this is so, would all seven physical vehicles die and reincarnate again at the same time, or each at a different time, depending upon the karmic energies of each vehicle?

The foregoing question does not lack profound interest; and by the changing of two words — which words because they are esoteric cannot here be stated — the question would deal with a typically esoteric matter, connected with man’s septenary constitution.  However, and answering with as much brevity as possible in view of the complex factors involved, and having in mind the intuitive thought behind the question, I would reply briefly to the questioner’s query (a): No, if by the word ‘material’ is meant physical bodies on other physical planets — Globes D of their respective chains — of our Solar System.

The fact is that man in his septenary constitution has one ‘material’ or rather ‘physical’ body only; and as he is now manifesting on our own Planetary Chain, and on Globe D thereof in the Fourth Round, this his physical body is the physical body that we all know — yours, mine, any other man’s or woman’s physical body on this Earth.

Yet there is an intuition in this question which is struggling to find utterance, or rather to find phrasing in which it may clothe itself; and I believe that future study will prove to this querent the accuracy of this observation of mine.

Now, the querent’s intuition points directly to the fact of man’s composite nature, which is divisible after different manners; for instance, our usual exoteric manner which H. P. B. gave to us, and there is none better for its own purposes; then there is another manner which has been more favored by the Vedanta and the Taraka-Raja-Yoga, to which H. P. B. likewise approvingly alludes in her The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, page 157, and which refers more particularly to the different monads forming man’s composite constitution.  When we remember that these different monads are, each one of them, a growing and evolving entity, each one at some date in the distant future to be an individual of septenary character, we see not only the intuition in the querent’s question, but also the profound truth of the famous old statement found in all mystical literature that man is a microcosm or small copy of the Macrocosm or Great Original; and, on exactly similar lines of analogy, every one of the monads in man is an as yet imperfectly evolved microcosm of the complete man as we recognize him.

With regard to the latter question, the querent’s (b), it is seen from the foregoing part of my answer that there is not more than one physical body at any one time for man, and that this physical body is now found on our Globe D, Earth; and hence, the answer to this question (b) again is No.  Yet just here I must enter a caveat, and point out that the same intuition before noticed is here again struggling to express itself, and it does seem to me as if this questioner had an inkling of a certain esoteric and very difficult teaching concerning the Outer Rounds.  Be this as it may, my answer stands correct, that man’s septenary constitution at any one time works through one physical body only, and that in the present phase of human evolution this physical body is the one in which we, as individuals, are incarnated on this Earth.

The Monad and the Monadic Essence

What is the relation between the Monadic Essence and the principles which H. P. B. mentions: Atma-Buddhi?

Atman and Buddhi together form what we Theosophists call the Monad.  When the Manasic fruitage of past lives is ‘added’ to it, then we have what is called the Reincarnating Ego.  Atman means ‘self’; and, as a spark comes from a fire, so likewise is the Atman which inspirits, a man, a spark from the Fire of Universal Consciousness — the Paramatman or Brahmatman to use the Sanskrit terms; and that Essence which works within the Monad, i.e., Atma-Buddhi, is the Monadic Essence, the heart of the Monad.

To put the matter in other words: Atman is the Self; but even though it belongs to the divine part of the constitution of a human being, nevertheless because this human entity is a manifested entity — however great the manifestation is — the Atman is, as it were, limited and therefore is not absolute infinity.  But that Essence which is in Atman and which is the essential being of the Atman, is the kosmic Paramatman.  The Monadic Essence is, as it were, a divine Atom or divine particle of the Paramatman.  Therefore the Monadic Essence is the heart of Atman, the core of it.

Types of Devachan

In The Key to Theosophy H. P. B. says that after death the Methodist will be a Methodist, the Mohammedan a Mohammedan, at least for some time, in a perfect fool’s Paradise of each man’s creation and making.  Will this be in Kama-loka or Devachan?  I say the latter, as there is no consciousness in the Kama-loka, and H. P. B. herself has described Devachan as a fool’s Paradise.  The Mahatma Letters (page 103) speaks of “the pleasures realized by a Red Indian in his ‘happy hunting grounds’ in that Land of Dreams.”

The answer to this question is in general a Yes, an affirmative.  H. P. B. certainly meant mainly the devachan, since it is a mere reflection of the spiritual vision, imperfect and poor as it is, of the man who has just died: whatever that man was in a spiritual way he will continue to be in the devachan afterwards.  Thus the imperfect vision, for instance, of a Methodist or a Roman Catholic or a Mohammedan — imperfect when compared with that of a Buddha since it is a lack of complete inner vision, inner spiritual growth — will continue in the devachan in a sublimated sort of way in the “fool’s Paradise,” so that the Methodist will be a Methodist, but an improved Methodist, the Roman Catholic ditto, the Mohammedan ditto, and so forth.  So much for this part of the question.

Yet it is obvious that the kama-loka, being the stage preceding the devachan, will not change the character of the man who has just died; and if he has died filled with the thoughts of Mohammedanism, or of Methodism, or of the Baptist, or of the Roman Catholic, he will still be this or that in the quasi-consciousness of the kama-loka.  So we can say he will still remain a Methodist, or a Roman Catholic, or a Mohammedan, through the purging process of the kama-loka; and then the finest part of the man will enter the devachan, the “fool’s Paradise,” in which he will still have his dreams of a glorified Methodism or Roman Catholicism or Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or whatever his quasi-spiritual thoughts on earth were.  So there is a certain truth, when this is understood, in the other statement also, that even in the kama-loka the man’s character is not changed.

I might add that of course an ego is not cleared of all impurities thus becoming perfect before entering the devachan, as he would then be of the status of a Buddha.  Nor do I mean that it is necessarily an “impurity to be cleared away” to be a Methodist or any other religionist.  Of course when a man becomes through evolution so spiritually evolved that he is a Bodhisattva on earth, or a Buddha, then he will just pass through the kama-loka and devachanic states almost unconsciously, for the man is above them, and he enters a lower or higher Nirvana according to his development.  And Nirvana means a vision of Reality.