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):
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:
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),
Referring to the continuous nature of the evolutionary scheme, there is a passage, The Secret Doctrine Vol.I p106, as follows:
Again on the same page there is a significant passage:
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):
A footnote to The Secret Doctrine Vol.I p189, says:
In another classification of the hierarchies they are referred to as Creative and on p221 there is a significant passage as follows:
Later concerning mankind it says:
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):
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:
Here Individuality in its theosophical sense, as opposed to Personality, is meant. On p276 (still in the Summing-Up), we have:
Then there is a quotation from some other work not specified:
There are many other important statements in this Summing-Up, such as the following:
On the next page (280) what the attitude of humankind on earth should be towards these Dhyan Chohans - Heavenly Hosts - is explicitly stated:
Then follows the well-known exhortation:
further reading: 'The Masque of Love' from The Philaletheians