The cosmos stretches out before us, a vast pageant which humanity has sought to understand since its thinking faculties emerged. What is man's relation to the whole in which he finds himself? What are the basic processes that occur throughout the universe, and how do they affect man and the lives around him? Answers to questions such as these can be found in most of the world's systems of thought, and under diverse metaphors and terminology the essential meaning is usually very similar, forming a "universal" wisdom tradition that spans the ages.
These basic ideas that humanity has discovered and rediscovered through time are preserved in many texts and oral traditions, but frequently, particularly to those outside the culture which produced them, the fundamental principles are buried so deeply that the average reader has trouble identifying them unaided. As a result, a number of works have been written which try to make visible the pattern lying beneath the obvious dissimilarities of form. Perhaps The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky is preeminent among these, yet many find themselves lost in its sometimes difficult language and its mass of details. Because of the great need for clear and discerning treatments of this subject, the appearance of a new edition of Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy by Gottfried de Purucker is especially welcome. This work, while based on The Secret Doctrine, stands on its own as an original and illuminating introduction to the principles which form the wisdom tradition of mankind. It sketches a panorama of the structures and processes of the cosmos and their relation to humanity, and gives the reader sufficient preparation to facilitate his own further study of comparative religious and theosophic thought.
Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy is composed of the transcripts of lectures delivered between 1924 and 1927 to a private study group on The Secret Doctrine held at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society, then located at Point Loma, California. The order of the material and its development were carefully chosen by the author to try to awaken the intuition of his listeners and prevent their minds from crystallizing around any one statement or aspect of an idea. The discussion begins with the three postulates or principles which H. P. Blavatsky maintains are pivotal for understanding her masterwork. The new edition contains material on this subject from the author's first two lectures, neither of which appeared in the first edition. The rest of the book is concerned largely with what Dr. de Purucker calls the "seven jewels": reincarnation; karma or cause and effect; hierarchies or interconnected lives; swabhava or self-becoming; evolution; the two paths of spiritual development; and atma-vidya or self-knowledge. Around these themes are gathered many other topics, including the composite nature of man and cosmos, the Mysteries of antiquity and initiation, the process of cosmic manifestation, the evolution of the earth and of the life-waves that form it, and the Hierarchy of Compassion.
The concepts brought forward are illustrated with numerous examples from world traditions such as the Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Greek, and Christian. Dr. de Purucker also uses and explains clearly many foreign words, particularly from the Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Greek, as well as terms found frequently in modern theosophical works, and makes correspondences among them. These features help the student to draw his own parallels between different systems of thought and their terminologies.
Among the primary ideas discussed, one that arises time and again is that the universe is composed of an endless series of interdependent, living beings. Space is filled with, and actually formed of, innumerable entities at various levels of self-expression. This view contrasts sharply with contemporary theories that assume the universe is formed largely from lifeless matter acting by purely mechanical laws. Going further, the author emphasizes that physical substance comprises only a fraction of the whole cosmos. The universe has many layers or spheres of existence, and each of its parts has many facets, ranging from the physical through the psychological to the spiritual. Every unit, great or small, springs ultimately from the same divine source; and thus everything is in its essence one with all others, though different in its particular experiences and pattern of growth. By the progressive unfoldment of the possibilities lying latent within it, each entity in time becomes more able to express its own inner nature on the many levels of cosmic existence.
The idea of a living universe with dimensions beyond the physical was once a very common one. Over the past two or three centuries it has largely disappeared, particularly in the West, although awareness of this outlook is increasing again today. Without an understanding of concepts such as these and their implications, many ancient and traditional systems become difficult to evaluate fairly and much of their content may be entirely overlooked or misinterpreted because of our modern preconceptions.
The central purpose of Fundamentals, however, goes beyond providing insights into comparative religions. Dr. de Purucker states several times that intellectual stimulation alone is not what he intends. Rather, he also hopes to lay a firm foundation for ethics through his exposition of the general elements of the wisdom tradition of mankind. True ethics, he maintains, is not an arbitrary code of morals evolved by human societies as a matter of mere convenience or security, unrelated to the rest of the universe. It is instead the expression in human life of the laws of nature, of the reality that underlies the functioning of the cosmos. As he says:
It is most interesting to note that these subjects, which so many people have misunderstood to be merely interesting questions for intellectual entertainment, are intimately involved with the moral, and with the spiritual, nature of man; . . . What morals need in Occidental thought is a foundation based on science and philosophy. . . .
Realizing that we are one unity with all that is; that universal brotherhood is a fact of being, rooted in the very heart of things, unescapable, not to be avoided; and that our acts and thoughts act and react with inevitable consequence in all that we think and do — not only upon ourselves, the thinkers and actors, but on all other beings everywhere — how different might the lives of men be! — pp. 450, 6
In presenting a wider vision than is commonly held of the universe and the relationships existing within it, Fundamentals expands our awareness of who we are. Both our responsibilities and potentials as human beings acquire deeper meaning: we are not chance increments of matter superficially related to the physical world, but spiritual-psychomental-physical beings connected in our origin and structure not only with the earth, but with the solar system and galaxy, affecting by our individual and collective actions countless other lives. Rooted in spirit, it is our destiny first to unfold completely the qualities within ourselves that make us truly human, and then those godlike qualities that are now largely dormant. And as we grow in awareness of our own nature and that of the world in which we live, we will be able to take an increasingly conscious role in the processes of the cosmos, working in ever greater harmony with the whole to which we belong.
(From Sunrise magazine, October 1979. Copyright © 1979 by Theosophical University Press)