Compassion in The Secret Doctrine

Bas Rijken van Olst
The nobler a soul, the more objects of compassion. — Francis Bacon

The picture we humans have of ourselves and the world around us is of vital importance, because how we act is directly connected to how we think. Many people restrict their thinking to the physical world that can be studied with scientific instruments. From this viewpoint, a person is no more than a water-bag in which a limited number of chemical elements react — a rather uninspiring vision. But belief that attaining a condition of unchanging bliss is the highest salvation is also rather limited, for this type of static immortality means an endpoint where no further growth or development is possible.

The ancient wisdom offers a very different picture of reality. In The Voice of the Silence H. P. Blavatsky says: "The Mind is the great Slayer of the Real. Let the Disciple slay the Slayer" (p. 1). In describing the origin of the cosmos and mankind, her Secret Doctrine constantly refers to the real as the deeper background behind our physical world. One of the key ideas presented is the fundamental unity of all existence. In the outer world everything seems separate; on inner planes everything is connected. By linking ourselves more fully with our inmost essence which transcends thought, we intuitively feel more of the forces of compassion that hold the universe together.

Recently while out for a walk I met a mentally handicapped boy and his helper sitting on a bench by the side of the path. I had never seen them before. The boy spontaneously held out his hand to greet me. When I shook his hand, he took hold of my wrist with his other hand and guided my hand towards his helper so that I could shake his hand as well. Without any words a connection was sealed, and a little bit of unity was experienced. The mentally handicapped are not spiritually handicapped, and this small incident gave me the feeling that people, through their thoughts, all too often erect illusory barriers between one another.

The idea of separateness is opposed by the idea of connectedness. In a Tibetan Buddhist exercise for expanding our feeling of compassion towards others, we are advised to feel for each living being the love of a mother for her child. The reason given is that in the infinitely long cycle of rebirths, every being was once our mother and gave us love, and that we should think about that love and wish to return it.* At first glance this idea might seem somewhat exaggerated, but how closely are we humans connected, and with how many are we linked? Perhaps some simple arithmetic can help us here. Let us consider our physical body. It has links with two parents, who each in turn have two parents, and over three generations we have links with eight great-grandparents. Over ten generations the number rises to 1,024, and over twenty generations to over a million. If we go back thirty generations, the number of ancestral links in our physical line is over a billion. Using a figure of 25 years per generation, this represents a period of 750 years. If we go further back in time, in less than a thousand years the number of links for every human easily embraces the number of the entire population of our planet. This points to a much greater degree of connection than we might have realized.

*See Pabongka Rinpoche, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand (1991), pp. 566, 609.

Our sevenfold constitution is also an example of compassion because it indicates that our inner nature includes higher levels than that of thought, and that people can avoid a great deal of suffering for themselves and others by focusing more on the universal essence within themselves than on seeking pleasure or possessions for themselves alone.

Diagram: Seven principles in man

Seven Principles in Man (Theosophical classification)

The fifth principle in our sevenfold constitution — mind — is associated with thinking and our ego-consciousness, whereas the sixth principle, buddhi, is the organ of spiritual consciousness. Buddhi gives us an intuitive sense of our unity and connectedness, and is the principle in which our compassion and sense of harmony are rooted. The Secret Doctrine describes the laws of nature, and G. de Purucker remarks in this connection:

Nature is rigidly just in all her rules and actions, because she is rigidly compassionate. Compassion, remember, means law, harmony, regular procedures of cause and effect. The very heart of Nature's being is compassion. — Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 620

He refers here to karma, the idea that all causes have their natural effects. Karma is not something outside ourselves: we are what we now are because we ourselves set in motion the relevant causes in the past. Sometimes we suffer because we experience the consequences of earlier disharmonious acts, and by studying karma we may better understand why things happen to us. Realizing that karma is a key to growth, we can work on our future more consciously. Unfortunately many people turn this doctrine of hope into an externally imposed fate, which inclines them towards passivity instead of prompting them to assume their responsibilities.

A related idea is that humans have free will. We can make choices. Everything in the universe is continuously in motion. We are constantly changing because we are a flow of energy, a flow of consciousness. Our freedom of choice is, in turn, directly connected with our own responsibility. We make choices, undergo their consequences, and learn.

The connectedness of all beings is expressed in The Secret Doctrine (1:571-2) in the hierarchy of compassion, which G. de Purucker summarized in nine levels*: 1) adi-buddhi or the cosmic essence of divine intelligence; 2) maha-buddhi, mahat (universal mind), or the first logos; 3) universal light and life, or the second logos, called in Sanskrit daiviprakriti, "divine matter"; 4) the sons of light, logoi of life, or the third logos; 5) the dhyani- or celestial buddhas; 6) the celestial bodhisattvas; 7) the superterrestrial or superhuman bodhisattvas; 8) the manushya or human buddhas; and 9) human beings. This hierarchy represents the consciousness side of the structure of our solar system, sometimes called architects in contrast to the builders or solar hierarchy of the matter side. Although the terms used are taken mainly from the Buddhist tradition, there are parallels in other cultures. For instance, the Greeks called the hierarchy of compassion the Golden Chain of Hermes, and explained manifestation in terms of a series of logoi or divine "words."

*Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 304; see also the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary.

A bodhisattva ("he whose nature is essentially celestial wisdom or bodhi") is a spiritually awakened human in whom mind is completely developed and illuminated by his divine-spiritual nature. Instead of accepting his reward in nirvana, he remains on earth out of compassion for imbodied beings and becomes a nirmanakaya, that is, a complete human being minus the astral and physical bodies. To help others, the nirmanakayas constantly make sacrifices, reaching down from a higher plane to our own, which for them is a plane of darkness, a sort of underworld. They have already, through their own efforts, risen above such attractions, but can incarnate at will in mortal bodies to help humanity in its development. That there are differences in the way terms such as buddha and bodhisattva are viewed in theosophy and in some schools of Buddhism is made clear in The Voice of the Silence:

This same popular reverence calls "Buddhas of Compassion" those Bodhisattvas who, having reached the rank of an Arhat . . . , refuse to pass into the Nirvanic state . . . "and cross to the other shore," as it would then become beyond their power to assist men even so little as Karma permits. They prefer to remain invisibly (in Spirit, so to speak) in the world, and contribute toward man's salvation by influencing them to follow the Good Law, i.e., lead them on the Path of Righteousness. It is part of the exoteric Northern Buddhism to honour all such great characters as Saints, and to offer even prayers to them, as the Greeks and Catholics do to their Saints and Patrons; on the other hand, the esoteric teachings countenance no such thing. — p. 95, note 34

In this overview of the hierarchy of compassion, humans appear at the bottom. Teachings such as those in The Secret Doctrine are designed to help us expand our consciousness. We can regard them as trampolines enabling us to see a little higher than the limited world with which we are usually concerned. We are all aware that reaching upwards sometimes entails great difficulties for us, but it is interesting that this also applies to the spiritual beings who wish to reach downward to the material plane where we operate. A general term for these beings is kumaras, from the Sanskrit ku, "with difficulty," and mara, "mortal." In other words, the kumaras have to make an effort and a sacrifice to reach our material plane to help us. Similarly, we must make a sacrifice to elevate ourselves and to stop focusing our attention on the limited, mortal part of ourselves.

In Hindu literature we find numerous names for the spiritual-intellectual beings who play a role in the hierarchy of compassion. Such terms as kumaras, asuras, manasaputras, agnishvattas, rudras, daityas, and maruts each have their distinct meanings. Of the maruts, spiritual helpers in the Rig Veda, The Secret Doctrine says:

The Vayu Purana shows, and Harivansa corroborates, that the Maruts — the oldest as the most incomprehensible of all the secondary or lower gods in the Rig Veda — "are born in every manvantara (Round) seven times seven (or 49); that in each Manvantara, four times seven (or twenty-eight) they obtain emancipation, but their places are filled up by persons reborn in that character." What are the Maruts in their esoteric meaning, and who those persons "reborn in that character"? In the Rig and other Vedas, the Maruts are represented as the storm gods and the friends and allies of Indra; they are the "Sons of heaven and of earth." . . . In the Rig Veda the name Siva is unknown, but the god is called Rudra, which is a word used for Agni, the fire god, the Maruts being called therein his sons. — 2:613

Since the maruts are said to be born 49 times in each manvantara, they seem to play a role comparable to that of the dhyani-buddhas, dhyani-bodhisattvas, and superterrestrial bodhisattvas. If we consult the Rig Veda, we find the maruts described as "self-luminous" (1:37:2) and as "visible helpers in the time of trouble" (5:87:6). We also read: "They . . . guard all men of their own accord" (5:52:2), "come as ancient Friends" (5:54:16), and "have made heaven and earth increase and grow: in sacrifices they delight" (1:85:1). The exoteric interpretation is that the maruts are storm gods who are pleased if humans make sacrifices to them. But might it not also mean that they are pleased to be able to make sacrifices themselves in order to help mankind and to take on a body for that purpose? The following verse (6:66:4) seems to confirm this: "They shrink not from birth . . . When they have streamed forth, brilliant, at their pleasure, with their own splendour they bedew their bodies."

The essential aim of the entire hierarchy of compassion is, in Dr. de Purucker's words, "to raise the corruptible into incorruptibility, to raise imperfection to perfection, to raise the mortal so that it shall put on immortality or, in other words, to raise the personal man to be the individual man, to make of the human a divine being" (Fundamentals, p. 305); the aim of The Secret Doctrine is the same. As Grace F. Knoche put it: "Let us take renewed courage, confident that Those behind the scenes are ever on duty." And let us endeavor to work for the same goal so that the power of compassion in the world can grow.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2004; copyright © 2004 Theosophical University Press)

If there's a connection between our consciousness and complex, dynamic electromagnetic patterns in our brains, there's no reason that I can see for denying the possibility of this connection in other cases and especially on the sun. If the sun is conscious, why not the other stars too? All the stars may have mental activity, life, and intelligence associated with them. — Rupert Sheldrake

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