To many members of the Theosophical Society the word 'hierarchy' is applied to the brotherhood of Adepts, the Initiates in the Ancient Wisdom. Some would even restrict their view of the word to those lofty Beings residing somewhere in the Himalayas. In Theosophy or Esoteric Science as given us by H.P. Blavatsky (H.P.B.) and the Masters, the word is used in a very much wider sense. The structure and function of Cosmos is on a hierarchical basis which further reflects into the being of man.
The dictionary definition of the word 'Hierarchy' is interesting: "The collective body of angels, grouped in three divisions and nine orders of different power and glory;... a body classified in successively subordinate grades;... It comes from two Greek words meaning 'sacred' and 'to rule'. The definition is very obviously from a Christian viewpoint and mentions some aspects of its theological doctrines. In order to see the significance of the hierarchical idea as it applies to Cosmos, we have to accept some fundamental postulates. One is that in its essence Cosmos manifests a unity. It is also in itself a life and all that is in it is living. According to Theosophy there is no dead matter. Even the most inert material substances, it claims, have an energy content representing a life aspect.
Stemming from this idea of one life is another postulate that Cosmos comprises an infinite series of lives, all at different evolutionary stages and all performing a particular function in the overall scheme of things. Another postulate is that life as such is an abstract and in itself is ineffective. It must have a vehicle of substance of some degree to operate in, and through which it can manifest its capabilities. This is obvious when we consider the body of a man. His characteristic life is expressed through his body and psyche, his soul.
Man in his total makeup is also an example of a hierarchy, both in structure and function. The chemical elements comprising the atoms and molecules of the cells of his body are lives. The molecules, an aggregate of atoms, constitute lives in themselves. The cells built up of the molecules are individually a life. The cells aggregate together to form organs. The constitution of the cells is specialized to enable them to play their particular part in the organ concerned. This in its turn plays its part in the larger organism of which it forms a part. Lastly we have the whole body, consisting of several organs, each specialized to perform its particular function within the whole, and to do it in close relationship and harmony with the other organs. The esoteric view is that the organs themselves have or subtend a life. In their aggregate they comprise our physical body. The whole assemblage of lives subtends a single unit consciousness, the man's Ego, which has its whole experience, during life, in and through that body.
So we see man's body as a hierarchical structure, composed of many lives operating in different modes at different levels, each of them conscious in its own degree but as a corporate unity supporting an over-riding unit of consciousness. Man's consciousness, however, embraces much more than physical sensations. Apart from registering non-physical feelings, it has the ability to think. Furthermore, a man's mental abilities cover a very wide field, from psychical right through to sublime spiritual experience.
Esoteric Science postulates that, even in the subjective areas of feeling and thinking, a vehicle is necessary wherein the life can operate in those modes. Each of these vehicles, whatever its level, has constituents which are themselves living, and again are organized on a hierarchical basis. The lives composing these inner, normally invisible, vehicles themselves constitute an organized whole. We have then the concept that Life operates not only through 'lives' at our level of being, but by way of lives in the invisible worlds, these lives themselves forming the elements of beings, collective lives, operating at those invisible levels. Of such lives are the Devas and Dhyan Chohans and the little lives of the 'life atoms' or Elementals.
These 'lives' actually comprise the levels of being in Nature. They are the planes to which correspond directly the principles of man's constitution.
The cosmic process is an evolutionary one; to use the expression in The Secret Doctrine, "Life is ever-becoming". The vehicles that it, i.e. Life or the Monad, operates in are continually and progressively developing and thereby become able to express more and more of the potentialities inherent in it. This development is by stages. The major stages are exemplified, on earth, in the kingdoms of Nature. We are all used to thinking in terms of mineral, vegetable, animal and human, but Theosophy says that there are three kingdoms below the mineral, comprising three development stages of elemental life, that is 'lives' operating at pre-mineral levels. They are in fact living nature-forces. It is said that they are quasi intelligent beings, sentient, but with no self-consciousness and no self-determination. They operate purely from instinct. Nevertheless they perform a wide range of functions in the total scheme of things and these abilities have been learned throughout the aeons of evolutionary time, going back into world periods long prior to ours. They constitute the elements of our invisible vehicles and play an important part in the whole natural scheme of things. H.P.B. says, "There is not a single thing going on about us, no matter what, that elementals are not concerned in .." [H.P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings Vol.X, p271].
Theosophy or Esoteric Science postulates that the process of evolution is continuous through the kingdoms. Life is given increasingly more and more expression as we rise through the kingdoms, until we arrive at the man stage. He is said to be the apex of the evolutionary process on this earth. As well as development in what might be regarded as a vertical direction, by expansion of sentience and capability, there is another factor to be considered in our hierarchical picture. This is, so to say, a horizontal one, the matter of 'imparted' qualities. In Nature we see an enormous variety of characteristics in the nature of all things, typically at physical level, for example we see an infinite variety of colour, shapes, modes of operation, rates of growth, textures of materials, shapes, etc. All these variants are according to archetypal patterns. We are told that these patterns have their origins in seven Great Beings, which become effective as soon as the cosmic process of genesis or coming into being starts. Thereafter, it is said, these Beings manifest seven 'rays' which permeate every level of being in the total scheme and affect every individual being (life) within that scheme.
Each of these rays, in itself, represents a hierarchy of beings on all planes of existence and these ray characteristics reflect into various human principles. The ray types are symbolised in the nature of each of the planets of our solar system, and every being in the system is 'born' under the influence of one of these planets. This means that planetary influence predominates in its nature, but the influence of all the other planets are also to a more or less degree represented in every being. This is most easily seen in the human kingdom, where our characters are made up of an admixture of these planetary influences, with one predominating. In The Secret Doctrine lists of correspondences are given which show the extensive ramifications of this ray-type structure of Cosmos.
Concerning man and the hierarchies, there is a passage in Cmdr. R. Bowen's "Notes on how to study Theosophy" (Bowen Notes):
The third basic idea to be held is that Man is the MICROCOSM. As he is so then all the Hierarchies of the Heavens exist within him. But in truth there is neither Macrocosm nor Microcosm but ONE EXISTENCE, Great and Small are such only as viewed by limited consciousness.
For the significance of this last sentence properly to dawn on us we may have to wait until our inner eye's perception is opened. Only then we may appreciate the content of the Hermetic Axiom which H.P. Blavatsky quotes in these notes.
A number of quotations from The Secret Doctrine are given below to justify or illustrate some of the points made above. Concerning the origins of the universe wherein everything was in a homogeneous state before any differentiation had taken place, there is a quotation in The Secret Doctrine Vol.I p21, (referring to one of the Stanzas on which The Secret Doctrine is based) as follows:
Stanza IV shows the differentiation of the 'Germ' of the Universe into the septenary hierarchy of conscious divine powers, who are the active manifestations of the one supreme energy. They are the framers, shapers and ultimately the creators of all the manifested Universe, and the only sense in which the name "Creator" is intelligible; they inform and guide it; they are the intelligent Beings who adjust and control evolution, embodying in themselves those manifestations of the one law which we know as "The Laws of Nature".
Generically they are known as the Dhyan Chohans, though each of the various groups has its own designation in The Secret Doctrine.
Referring to another Sloka (Stanza IV, The Secret Doctrine Vol.I, p93),
... this Sloka gives again a brief analysis of the Hierarchies of the Dhyan Chohans, ... or the conscious intelligent powers in Nature. To this Hierarchy corresponds the actual types into which humanity may be divided; for humanity as a whole, is in reality a materialized though as yet imperfect expression thereof.
Referring to the continuous nature of the evolutionary scheme, there is a passage, The Secret Doctrine Vol.I p106, as follows:
The doctrine teaches that, in order to become a divine, fully conscious god, aye - even the highest - the Spiritual Primeval Intelligences must pass through the human stage. And when we say human, this does not apply merely to our terrestrial humanity, but to the mortals that inhabit any world, i.e. to those intelligences that have reached the appropriate equilibrium between matter and spirit, as we have now .. Each Entity must have won for itself the right of becoming divine, through self-experience.
Again on the same page there is a significant passage:
... the question will surely be asked "Do the Occultists believe in all these 'Builders', 'Lipika' and 'Sons of Light' as Entities, or are they merely imageries?" To this the answer is given as plainly. "After due allowance for the imagery of personified powers, we must admit the existence of these entities, if we would not reject the existence of spiritual humanity within physical mankind. For the hosts of these Sons of Light and 'Mind-born Sons' of the first manifested Ray of the unknown ALL, are the very root of spiritual man".
Here we have a direct reference to the close relationship of man to these hierarchies. Concerning their role in the process of manifestation, there is the following information (The Secret Doctrine Vol.I p127):
There are three chief groups of Builders, and as many of the Planetary Spirits and Lipika, each group being again divided into seven sub-groups ... They build or rather rebuild every "System" after the "Night". The Second group of the Builders is the architect of our planetary chain exclusively; and the third the progenitor of our Humanity - the macrocosmic prototype of the microcosm.
The Planetary Spirits are the informing spirits of the Stars in general and of the planets especially. They rule the destinies of men who are all born under one or other of their constellations; the second and third groups pertaining to other systems have the same functions, and all rule various departments in nature ...
A footnote to The Secret Doctrine Vol.I p189, says:
The Natures of the seven hierarchies or classes of Pitris and Dhyan Chohans which compose our nature and bodies are here meant.
In another classification of the hierarchies they are referred to as Creative and on p221 there is a significant passage as follows:
A Dhyan Chohan has to become one; he cannot be born or appear suddenly on the plane of life as a full-blown angel. The Celestial Hierarchy of the present Manvantara [period of cosmic activity] will find itself transferred in the next cycle of life into higher superior worlds and will make room for a new hierarchy composed of the elect ones of our mankind.
Later concerning mankind it says:
This sixth group [creative hierarchy] moreover, remains almost inseparable from man, who draws from it all but his highest and lowest Principles, or his spirit and body, the five middle human principles being the very essence of those Dhyanis.
The student of Theosophy who would acquaint himself with the intricacies of the subject of these hierarchies, and the part they play in both the structure and operation of Cosmos and their role in the creation and constitution of man, could not do better than read the Summing-Up to Part I of Book I of The Secret Doctrine, starting on page 269. Selecting some passages from it relating particularly to hierarchies, we have (p274):
... the whole Kosmos is guided, controlled, and animated by almost endless series of Hierarchies of sentient Beings, each having a mission to perform, and who - whether we give to them one name or another and call them Dhyan Chohans or Angels - are "messengers" in the only sense that they are the agents of Karmic and Cosmic Laws. They vary infinitely in their respective degrees of consciousness and intelligence .. each of these beings either was, or prepares to become, a man, if not in the present then in a past or a coming cycle (Manvantara). They are perfected, when not incipient men, and differ morally from the terrestrial human beings on their higher (less material) spheres, only in that they are devoid of the feeling of personality and of the human emotional nature - two purely earthly characteristics.
There is much else concerning the nature and consciousness of these beings, both as regards the pre-human and the post-human ones. Regarding the post-human ones there is the following significant passage:
Individuality is the characteristic of their respective hierarchies, not of their units; and these characteristics vary only with the degree of the plane to which those hierarchies belong; the nearer to the region of Homogeneity and the One Divine, the purer and the less accentuated that individuality in the Hierarchy.
Here Individuality in its theosophical sense, as opposed to Personality, is meant. On p276 (still in the Summing-Up), we have:
To appeal to their protection is as foolish as to believe that their sympathy may be secured by any kind of propitiation; for they are, as much as man himself is, the slaves and creatures of immutable Karmic and Kosmic law. The reason for it is evident. Having no elements of personality in their essence they can have no personal qualities, such as attributed by men, in their exoteric religions, to their anthropomorphic god ... Man ..., being a compound of the essences of all those celestial hierarchies, may succeed in making himself, as such, superior, in one sense, to any hierarchy or class, or even combination of them.
Then there is a quotation from some other work not specified:
Man can neither propitiate nor command the "Devas" ... But, by paralysing his lower personality, and arriving thereby at the full knowledge of the non-separateness of his Higher Self from the One Absolute Self, man can, even during his terrestrial life, become as "One of Us".
There are many other important statements in this Summing-Up, such as the following:
As from the highest Archangel (Dhyan Chohan) down to the last conscious "Builder" [the inferior class of Spiritual Entities], all such are men, having lived aeons ago, in other Manvantaras, on this or other Spheres; so the inferior, semi-intelligent and non-intelligent Elementals - are all future men. That fact alone - that a Spirit is endowed with intelligence - is a proof to the Occultist that that being must have been a man, and acquired his knowledge and intelligence throughout the human cycle ...
The whole order of nature evinces a progressive march toward a higher life. There is design in the action of the seemingly blindest forces.
On the next page (280) what the attitude of humankind on earth should be towards these Dhyan Chohans - Heavenly Hosts - is explicitly stated:
... All are entitled to the grateful reverence of Humanity, however, and man ought to be ever striving to help the divine evolution of ideas, by becoming to the best of his ability her co-worker with Nature in the cyclic task.
Then follows the well-known exhortation:
The ever unknowable and incognisable "Karana" alone, the Causeless Cause of all causes, should have its shrine and altar on the holy and ever untrodden ground of our heart - invisible, intangible, unmentioned, save through "the still voice" of our spiritual consciousness. Those who worship before it, ought to do so in the silence and the sanctified solitude of their Souls; making their spirit the sole mediator between them and the Universal Spirit, their good actions the only priests, and their sinful intentions the only visible and objective sacrificial victims to the Presence.
further reading: 'The Masque of Love' from The Philaletheians