Universal Brotherhood Path – October 1901


The Universe is built by number — Pythagoras

Take care of number One — Old Proverb

The great philosopher Pythagoras taught that the Universe is built by number. Lesser minds than his have written many dissertations upon the meaning of this, but probably no two minds would look at the statement from the same stand-point, or realize it in just the same way.

Take it which way we will, the maxim is a very striking one. As we ponder over it glimpses of its meaning come to us from various sources.

For ages every recorded teacher of humanity or founder of a great religion, has taught that there is only one God, one Spiritual Essence — the origin and cause of all things. This can be no personal God, — it is beyond all words, limitless, all pervading, indescribable, yet from man's attempts to define and describe it have sprung all the limiting and limited ideas of a personal God which men have made and conceived to be of like passions with themselves. The Great Spirit which ever works for righteousness through the action of the good law of cause and effect is like unto no man. From It all things have sprung, — to It all must return when the cycle of humanity is accomplished.

If then the universe is built by number the first cause of all things is represented by that number which is the source and origin of all other numbers — the unit, One. Now it will be clear that in the orderly progress of manifestation according to law there is, and must be, an established plan of emanation in that aspect of the one God which we comprehend as the Divine mind. This plan which we cannot now fully grasp presents many points which we can discern, whilst others are, as yet, hidden until we attain to higher possibilities of understanding.

The claim which is made by the teachings of Theosophy is, that man can comprehend this divine plan, because he is himself endowed with the divine mind, in a greater or less degree — because in fact, he is now on the road to the final great comprehension of that which is Himself.

The divine plan upon which the Universe is built, is thus partly comprehended by us, and we can see the truth of the statement of the Greek philosopher that all is effected by orderly evolvement and by number.

The first stage of this unfolding is the expression of duality in Nature, the two referred to in all religions under various symbolic guises. This is the differentiation of spirit from matter, the opposite poles of the one out-breathing, within which are enfolded the germs of all experience. From the two proceeds the three, the Trinity, and then from and within the three, are the seven combinations, the primary root octave of manifestation.

To fully comprehend this, is clearly beyond the ken of the human mind, in these dark days of the black age, when men have so far left their first estate in search of the knowledge of good and evil. Buried as we are, in materiality, our minds have lost the grasp which they once had in the far past. Some day we shall again attain. Enough for us to know that the law of progress is beautiful in its rhythmic and majestic harmony.

Yet for those perceptions of the divine which we can claim as our own, we rely upon the universal intelligence of true manhood, — that heritage of our race and nation. This intelligence is not to be gotten from books or from the oral teaching of others. Such teachings merely serve to draw out, illustrate and cause to be realized, that which is already existent and latent in the constitution of man himself, and which may be found by diligent search within. For this reason the authority of another is of no value, further than as a pointer to that which each may discover for himself. A realization of this tends to self-reliance, and upon it is founded the conviction of the divine character of man, and the truth of the teachings of Theosophy. Upon this foundation is built the grand conception of the Universal Brotherhood of Man by the recognition of the inherently divine origin of that intelligence which is common to all humanity and of which each man is but a focalized center. In varying degrees each one in his measure forms a note in the general harmony of progress, whether or not he recognizes the source of the supreme fountain of intelligent consciousness from which he derives his sustenance of comprehension.

The full recognition of this must eventually put an end to the strife and contention of the self-seeking for, knowing that our brother's error cannot be measured by any yard-stick but his own, we shall recognize firstly, that we can have no true interest in his error but to help him out of it — and secondly: — that the only true way to help is either to let him alone that he may realize his error, or to hold out a helping hand. By so doing we return to first principles and act upon our neighbor through the divine nature common to both.

Let us now endeavor to analyze a little more fully how this perception of the true and harmonious works within us, according to the idea of Pythagoras. We believe it to be true that man owes his kingship over nature to that sense of the proportion or relative value of things which we may call wisdom or reason, taking that word in the noblest and highest aspect. Some people call it common sense.

It may here be noticed that the word reason is derived from the Latin ratio; also, mathematically, a ratio is an expression denoting no concrete value, but the relative size of two quantities. It is evident therefore that originally the word reason implied the power of judgment of proportion.

Is it not true that man's perception of truth and beauty is all a question of proportion or relative number, taking number as the equivalent of subliminal value.

Let us illustrate: That the world of sound and color are built upon number is clear to every student of natural law. Scientists divide the musical scale into groups of seven notes, which differ in pitch according to the number of their vibrations, and in quality and timbre by the number and variety of their harmonic divisions. Again, the colors of the rainbow are seven in number, and the vibrations which manifest as color are continued beyond the sevenfold solar spectrum in both directions through octaves which can be measured by delicate instruments replacing the human eye.

Listen to the music which lifts your consciousness from the thought of material life to the inner harmonies. If you try to analyze the situation you will convince yourself that the succession of sweet sounds has within it an undercurrent of rhythm which lifts you to a vision of the eternally harmonious proportions of something which you cannot grasp.

Fix your gaze on the hills opposite the setting sun and drink in the delicate shades of opalescent pink and purple and gold, ever shifting and blending as the master of the day sinks below the horizon. Whence comes the peace and delight which silence only can express, if it be not from some hidden sense of the beauteous expression of nature's colors, in the relative value of the outpouring.

Again, it is a well known fact that most people are influenced by the shape of the room in which they may be living or working. Certain proportions are generally accepted as pleasing. If the ceiling is low we feel depressed. If the room is long and narrow one feels drawn out of shape. If the room is circular the effect is altogether different. Possibly our consciousness expands in some way scarcely recognized by the brain mind and fills the chamber. Should the dimension be out of a certain standard of proportion, we feel it, and when we go out into the open air, we have a sense of "freedom" — from what?

Look at a beautiful spire like that of Antwerp cathedral. It strikes you at once as a work of genius evolved by some one who possessed this innate sense of beautiful proportion in high degree and who knew how to express it. One may examine it for hours and still see fresh harmonies. It rises, tier on tier, each one different in detail from the other, and yet the whole blends into a perfect ideal. Whence comes this sense of harmony? Follow it out to the end, and we shall find that although we cannot tell what relative measurements underlie the various proportions, yet the harmonious whole depends upon the fact that it is a poem in number.

If then it be true that the outer senses can distinguish the relativeness which overlies harmonious and rhythmic beauty, it is also true that the inner senses, those of the mind and heart, have the same power of discrimination in their own fields of action.

For instance, it may be doubted whether any man was ever truly great who was not liberally endowed with a sense of humor. What is the origin of this sense? Is it not a power of keen discrimination of the relative value of ideas, seeing underneath the lion's skin which covers the ass, feeling the inadequacy of the feeble to compass its ambition, knowing the folly of the strong in pursuit of illusion, or any other blind incongruity produced by an ignorance of the true relation of things.

And so, deeper still, the selfishness which is the world's great insanity, is caused by the false value which each mistaken pursuer of illusion places upon the relative value of his ideal.

See a man in whom selfishness and avarice have stultified the finer activities of his soul-consciousness, as the beat of a tom-tom would drown the sound of a violin, and you will find that the sense of inner harmony is lost in the tumult of fleshly passion, and the realization of that proportion which makes him man, has given way to the blind elementals of the lower kingdom.

The more one thinks of it the more one becomes convinced that true wisdom lies in our being well grounded in the proper proportion of things and particularly in our own infinitely small value in the general sum total. Once this is realized we may find true happiness in the constant consideration of the fact that we are a part of the whole — and that any attempt to increase our own infinitesmal value at the expense of our fellows is an offense against the welfare of that whole. Our destiny is eternally bound up with that of our fellow men on the march onward to the goal. In the same divine life we move, and live and have our being. We influence them and are influenced by them at every moment of our existence whether in life or death.

Wise old Pythagoras! thou hast truly said, "The universe is built by number."

Theosophical University Press Online Edition