Saved by a "Three-ply Tow Rope"

W. T. S. Thackara
Life precedes form, and life survives the last atom of form. Through the countless rays proceeds the life-ray, the one, like a thread through many jewels.
When the one becomes two, the threefold appears, and the three are one; and it is our thread, oh Lanoo, the heart of the man-plant called Saptaparna.
It is the root that never dies; the three-tongued flame of the four wicks. . . .
From the first-born the thread between the Silent Watcher and his Shadow becomes more strong and radiant with every change. The morning sun-light has changed into noon-day glory.
— From Stanza VII, The Secret Doctrine 1:34

A few years ago a retired senior administrator at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory told me that as an aeronautical engineer he had no trouble believing in the existence of God or gods: the compelling evidence of design in nature demands godlike intelligence. Blind chance does not engineer highly complex systems such as a human being, let alone a universe. What disturbed him, though, was God's (or the gods') apparent lack of concern for conditions here on earth. "Where is He, or where are They, now?" he asked, for he had a few things on his mind he thought they ought to know. By every recognized index — overpopulation, pollution, resource depletion, and so forth — our planet is slowly but inexorably drifting to oblivion. So why aren't the gods more active in trying to prevent it? To him, their silence seemed irresponsible. How could they allow their creation to imperil itself so greatly? They should make their existence indisputably known, show us our blunders, and put us on the right track to solving the very real problems confronting us. If they don't, and we don't mend our ways soon, our planet will be in very big trouble!

One could hardly quarrel with this, for who of us has not asked similar questions, wondering why life should be so difficult and why superior beings, if they exist, should be so silent and obscure? Once, however, we become convinced that blind chance does not make universes — and there is persuasive scientific and mathematical evidence of creative evolutionary agencies at work in nature* — searching for relevant answers about God and/or the gods becomes more pressing: Who or what are they? How do they help us? And how might we assist them in their protective work for all creatures?

*See "Creation, Evolution, and the Secret Doctrine," Sunrise, April/May 1988, pp. 144-51.)

Generalizing from the law of cycles, to which everything in nature is subject, it is reasonable to believe that universes have been living and dying throughout the infinite course of time, each one undoubtedly producing galaxies of intelligent beings. But has the vast knowledge and wisdom accumulated by each universe also been lost with the destruction of its physical form? Some scientists, such as Cambridge biochemist Rupert Sheldrake, think perhaps not. In trying to solve the puzzle of how nature's designs arise, they have deduced that there must be nonmaterial "morphogenetic fields" which, retaining nature's memory of past forms and behavior, provide the architectural patterns guiding the growth and activity of all creatures today, humankind included.*

*The Presence of the Past, Times Books, Random House, New York, 1988; see also Jeremy Rifkin, Algeny, Viking Press, New York, 1983.)

This idea echoes in scientific terms the theosophic philosophy which conceives of these fields as the reflected expressions of a conscious, living wisdom. More precisely, they are the "veiled manifestations" or evolutions of Fohat, the guiding universal energy "rich with the Divine and Dhyan-Chohanic thought" (SD 2:649n). After a cosmic rest spanning billions of years, the impulse for a universe to manifest again originates within the mysterious heart of Being. From this boundless wisdom-granary seed "ideas," formed of the consciousness-substance of a hierarchy of creative powers, unfold into the myriad species and star systems composing a universe. In various traditions these creative, world-producing, and world-sustaining beings have been called by many names, including gods, theoi, dhyani-chohans, elohim, and — collectively — God.

According to theosophic teaching, among this host are the perfected humans of previous world embodiments who function as mediating links between divine wisdom and the kingdoms on earth. Owing to evolutionary necessity they exist in a condition beyond the physical as we know it, but are nevertheless active, influential, and intimately linked with us. That their presence is not more distinctly felt is said to be as much for our protection as it is due to our limited range of perception and understanding. But every tradition includes teachings and/or hints about how humanity is helped by them and why it is important for every one of us to become spiritually self-reliant — able as far as possible to draw upon this reservoir of wisdom for the universal welfare.

In mythology, the heroes of the Quest (who are none other than ourselves) are always challenged to the utter limits of their strength, and then to reach beyond and within for deeper reserves. Paradoxically, the heroes rarely if ever achieve victory solely by their own efforts. The gods must intervene to help them out. Being too powerful for direct human contact, they usually act in disguise, often by sending a prophetic dream or by influencing an ordinary mortal who provides a skill or talisman the hero lacks but needs to accomplish his objective.

In many stories the gods' help is symbolized by a thread, cord, or rope which aids the hero to find a way out of darkness, or to pass safely through storm and danger. For example, in Greek mythology, Theseus — who volunteered to rescue Athens from having  to sacrifice seven youths and seven maidens to the Cretan Minotaur* — is given a clew of thread by his beloved Ariadne, daughter of a king (personifying wisdom), to help guide him out of the Labyrinth after he slays the monster. In the Matsya Purana (II.1-19), one version of India's several flood legends, the savior and progenitor of humanity, Vaivasvata Manu, rescues the seeds of life from world destruction in the "boat of the Vedas" (divine knowledge, from vid, to know), towed through the storm by a "serpent-rope" fastened to the horn of a fish (an avataric disguise of Vishnu).

*Apollodorus, Library, 3.15.8. Some accounts say every nine years.

One of the oldest and most interesting variants — perhaps as close to the original as any — is found in the Sumerian-Babylonian story of the hero-king Gilgamesh and his friend, brother, and "servant," Enkidu. In connection with their mission to slay the ferocious 7-terrored giant, Humbaba, there is reference to a "three-stranded tow rope" which is somehow used to help them (V.ii.24). But the clay tablet describing this episode is fragmentary and the context has not been preserved. However, the rope as a symbol of protection and strength was significant enough to be incorporated in the later Hebrew tradition:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toll. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. . . . And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A three-fold cord is not quickly broken. — Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

In Hindu philosophy and in modern theosophic nomenclature, our lifeline to the gods (and to the god within) is sometimes called sutratman or "thread-self." When viewed from the human standpoint, it is our essential spiritual consciousness which incarnates from life to life, each imbodiment being compared to a pearl or jewel on a string. Cosmically, sutratman is the divine essence which passes like a thread throughout the universe, linking all beings into a Oneness. In the excerpt from the Stanza of Dzyan heading this article, sutratman is described as one in essence, becoming two, then three, as it evolves forth the pattern of itself, which is to be the "seven-leaved man-plant," i.e., a growing, fully-developed human composed of seven interacting principles. As the immortal heart of our being — a cooperative union of spirit, intuition, and intellect (atman, buddhi, manas) — sutratman is our direct link with the radiant source of wisdom and compassion of the universe, called in the Stanza the Silent Watcher, who ever protects and serves as a lodestar for its "shadow," the aspiring human soul.*

*See The Secret Doctrine 1:222-65 for H. P. Blavatsky’s commentary on this Stanza; also Isis Unveiled 2:393 which compares the masonic "cable-tow" of brotherhood (cf. Hosea 2:4) with the "sacred triple cord" of the Brahman sannyāsin.

However we interpret the many symbols of the sutratman, single in essence or three-ply in manifestation, a fundamental message is clear: we are composite beings, offsprings of the gods, yet gods in our own right (albeit of a very junior grade), having the power and responsibility of creating our lives for good or ill. It tells us also that our growth and our ability to solve problems creatively derive their greatest strength from collaborative effort: inwardly between our higher and human selves, and outwardly between ourself and our family, friends, and fellowmen — and, indeed, all of nature. None of us accomplishes any task or achieves any victory for good single-handedly.

How do the gods speak to us and how are they helping the world in its present crisis? Perhaps we should ask: How would they speak to us, especially in today's wilderness of discordant claims? Let us suppose, however, an indisputable theophany were possible, one which convinced everyone of the gods' reality, and communicated specific knowledge giving us magical power to cure the world's ills. Would this be wise? What guarantee could we humans offer to assure them that we (and subsequent generations) would always use this knowledge beneficially for the whole planet? Judging by past performance, not a very good one. But there is a more important issue to consider: if our evolutionary mandate is to become as gods with increasing power to help make this a better, more beautiful universe, how could the gods make their presence known without most of us regressing into mindless servility? Spelling out how we should think and act in every situation would rob us of our divine right of creative choice, and the right to make mistakes in the process, so that what we do learn becomes truly ours — knowledge to be used with care and responsibility.

On the other hand we could also ask: When has humanity ever been without its "sacred instructions": those golden rules and ideas whose intrinsic fitness we know but have not always been willing to accept or to practice? Miracles (so called) to convince us or catastrophes to wake us up seldom, if ever, produce lasting improvement of character. Are we not rather to find our salvation by trying to live these ennobling precepts daily, fortified by the promise that help will be given when needed — and earned?

When so much pain and confusion afflict so many good people, it is not always easy to believe that the gods have an active concern for our welfare. Obviously, each of us has to come to terms with this problem in his or her own way. A friend once said to me years ago that if I ever found myself at the end of my rope (never again a meaningless phrase!), to hang on. Then take one step at a time, focusing on the task or duty to hand and giving it my best effort. Life will never shoulder us with a burden beyond our capacity, however painful or difficult. When we do our part as wisely and lovingly as we can, the gods do come to our aid.

Behind this practical advice lies a sound philosophy: we are never alone, we are not the orphans we sometimes feel ourselves to be, and where there is real need, we — humanity and all other creatures — are helped by the compassionate god-wisdom of the universe and by those who embody it.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1989; copyright © 1989 Theosophical University Press)

As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence.
The next best, the people honor and praise.
The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate.
If you have no faith people will have no faith in you, and you must resort to oaths.
When the best leader's work is done the people say: "We did it ourselves!"
Tao Teh Ching, 17

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