THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY GRAIL
The story of the Holy Grail is exclusively Christian, relating as it does to the Last Supper and the Crucifixion of Jesus. The quest for the Grail is obviously allegorical and the Grail itself is a symbol.
As an allegory the story can be related both to the grand cosmic process and to the individual man as being on a long evolutionary journey culminating in the discovery in consciousness, of his own Self. This constitutes the finding of the Grail.
The Damsel of the Sanct Grael or Holy Grail
Part One : THE ON-GOING SEARCH
In Theosophy the story is told us in terms of the mighty processes of Nature from the beginning of one Manvantara, or period of activity in manifestation, to its end when it dissolves into Pralaya, its long period of rest. In Theosophy we are told of the main aspects of this vast process as life comes into being in manifest forms and how it ramifies into the kingdoms of Nature and then into mankind. The whole process is evolutionary in two modes: dynamic life, consciousness or spirit on the one hand, and form and function on the other. Everything as a living being is animate with a characteristic body or means of expression at whatever level it operates.
This magnificent concept was beautifully and succinctly described in the Proem to H. P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine. The very fact that the story is so condensed in the Proem demands close attention and perseverance from the student, but the main outlines of the teachings are summarised in the familiar Three Fundamental Propositions link which can be summarised very inadequately under the three heads of The Absolute, the everlasting indescribable ‘something’ which always is and which has no conceivable attributes. As the text says, “it is beyond the range and reach of thought”. Although it itself always unmanifest there emanates from it a Unity, the First Cause, which sets the process of cosmic formation and functioning into operation. It is this latter manifested One which is potentially possessed of all the qualities inherent in all that Nature is to produce.
The Second Proposition starts its description as follows:
The Third Proposition starts with the words:
These last few sentences apply the cosmic evolutionary process to individual human-beings. Their pilgrimage is one of experience through many lifetimes involving all the necessary efforts to develop their faculties as opportunities present until particularly they are concerned with their spiritual powers and consciousness. It is important to note that consciousness is central to this matter of progress and achievement on this path.
It is also important to notice that, in cosmic terms, we are talking about humanity as a whole but its progress is achieved by the sum, so to speak, of the progress made by its individuals.
Nature in herself, of course, is not searching for anything - It is man as a stage in his development who begins consciously to make the search for whatever the Grail might be. At first he will have no idea; he is compelled by his “natural impulses” quite unconsciously.
Reiterating the words of the Second Fundamental Proposition, “the Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane periodically the ‘playground’ of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing”. The universe is eternal but its manifestations are periodical. Referring to it as a spiritual entity, a descriptive phrase in the second proposition is “The Eternity of the Pilgrim”. A pilgrim is someone on a quest, applying specifically here to mankind.
The total cosmic process is one of cyclic development where each cycle is moving along the axis of another, greater cycle such that it always finishes a stage of development ahead of where it started. This is evolutionary progression or growth. Growth is an aspect of the Universal Law.
This cyclic process of evolution is the mechanism by which is determined the starting state of any cycle. Each cycle begins where the previous one finished. No cycle ever starts from ‘absolute zero’. The resulting cumulative experience can be regarded as progressive development. It applies to any individual living thing at whatever level on the evolutionary scale it might be. It applies to whole worlds and universes as much as to the atoms that comprise their materials. It is the explanation of not only how things come to be but how they come to be as they are. This process is very relevant to man in his several incarnations. This vast cumulative experience of the Cosmos and all that is in it could be considered as universal memory and in their degree in the scale of things it is shared by everything. This scale of degree starts with the Great Beings who first awaken at the start of a new cosmic or universal Manvantara, and are responsible for its organisation, down to the lowliest elemental associated with the mineral kingdom.
All these factors of evolutionary development, memory and the ‘law’ which energise and direct the whole process are relevant to the human individual in his evolutionary journey as a pilgrim, and that is the subject for part two.
It is important to appreciate that all that is described above is indicative of the nature and processes of Nature herself. Nature here includes all the IS at whatever level of existence it may be. In this sense Nature is our yardstick of Truth. It is not a matter of belief, of opinion, or even of speculation except insofar as we do not yet know of all that comprises her in the totality of her being.
Part Two : THE ON-GOING SEARCH
In part one, we said that the Grail was a symbol and the quest was an allegorical story. Further we said that for any experience to be real it must relate to Nature. Here we use Nature in the widest possible sense to include all levels of being, from our point of view both the subjective and the objective. We saw that something of this comprehensive scheme was described in the Proem to The Secret Doctrine with its three fundamental Propositions. These tell us what lies behind the whole process of manifestation and how that manifestation comes into being by the rebirth of the entities of the previous period of activities with their stored experience. We saw something of the law of alternation and cycles and lastly how each man’s soul relates to the Universal Over-Soul, how it makes a pilgrimage through all the kingdoms of Nature and up to man.
During this process the soul is growing, expanding, and acquiring experience: its fields of consciousness are spreading as it acquires the ability to apprehend more and more.
In The Secret Doctrine it says that this journey is obligatory. It is in accordance with universal law which is not only the law of harmony but the law of cause and effect. It says that everything is as it is now as a result of what went before. It is the law by which each of us as incarnated human beings has in effect created himself to be just what he is now.
It is one of the laws of Nature that before anything comes into being, there is a gestation period wherein everything is prepared for an eventual birth. The birth means a sudden change of state, an eruption into a new kind of being. The classic example is the birth of a baby, but the process applies throughout Nature even to the growth of a plant with the eventual opening of its flowers. The occult teaching is that this process applies analogously throughout Nature, not only to the objective worlds but to what is happening invisibly inside them. It applies to the spiritual aspects of our natures.
Most of us, as students of Theosophy, are familiar with the threefold constitution of man, 1) its three upper principles comprising the Monad (Atma, Buddhi and Manas), 2) the personal man of emotions which comprise the dynamism for his actions interiorly and for his physical body, and 3) the physical body itself. Number One is described as the spiritual or divine Ego, and Numbers Two and Three the Personal, incarnated man.
There is a link between the Ego and the personal aspects in Manas (the 5th principle). Mana has seven sub-principles. It is regarded as dual; it is spiritual in its upper three sub-principles and personal in its four lower ones. The upper principles are orientated towards the spiritual Monad, and the lower, what we generally call the lower mind, to the emotional elements of his nature.
We are told that the man’s memory is centred in his desire nature (Kama, the 4th principle) which is closely related to his life principles constituting the astral body. Although the physical brain is attuned to these astral memory elements the memory does not reside in the brain. Similarly with the spiritual, Egoic entity there is a ‘spiritual’ memory, but that memory is stored in the ‘substance’ of “all-being” (Akasa). Further, as the memory of the personal man is temporary, that of the spiritual man is permanent.
There is a degree of continuity of personal memory from life to life by way of the conditioning of the ‘soul’ principles (astral, kama and lower manas). The mechanism of transmission of this conditioning between lives is the Skandhas.
The memory of the immortal Ego accumulates in the spiritual Akasa attaching to each Egoic entity. The mechanism for this is the ‘Auric Envelope’ or Egg, information about which was given us very late in H.P.Blavatsky’s life (and then only to her Inner Group).
The purpose of all this information is to explain the processes of spiritual development. They are stages on the pilgrim’s progress. The understanding of these stages grows as the man’s personal consciousness rises into ever-closer relationship with his higher manas, or Ego. At a particular stage this constitutes a break-through from the limitations of the personal mind to the freedom of the higher mind. This is analogous to the opening of a flower or even the coming into birth of an infant. After it has happened a man is said to be twice born or born again. This event constitutes an irreversible crisis in his development. It is what is symbolised in the finding of the Holy Grail, where the Grail is the spiritual entity filled with the ‘grace’ of the Monad.
Putting this realisation into the Christian terms of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, we must know the symbolism of blood and body. These are the two elements of himself that Jesus offered his disciples at the Last Supper by way of wine and bread. The symbol goes further back. Every existent thing, every life, whether it be that of a Jesus or an atom, is animated by life or spirit, and that spirit is working always through a form. Even a man of Jesus’ divine stature can be thought of in terms of life or spirit operating in a substantial vehicle such as a physical body.
At every Eucharistic meal involving bread and wine, commemorating the spiritual Teacher, this symbolism is being used. In the story of the Grail we see the significance of Joseph of Arimathea collecting Jesus’ blood as it issued from his body when he was pierced by a spear at his crucifixion. A vessel was needed to collect that blood and it is said that, regardless of the form it took, i.e. a chalice or a platter, that vessel was the Grail. The point to be noted: the symbolic vessel containing the blood in fact received the Spirit of the Divine One. Regarding the quest or pilgrimage it is the personal man who, having achieved an appropriate stage of development, can receive the Divine Spirit into himself as a chalice or Grail, in his own consciousness. He thereby becomes one with the Divine. He has not only found the Grail but drunk from it the fluids, be they wine or blood, of Eternal Life.
The finding of the Grail in these terms is the end of a gestation period of which there are two aspects, during which a form or substantial vehicle is being built. The other aspect is that individual consciousness is expanding along with the growth of the form. For these growth processes to take place the necessary nutrients have to be available. In the case of a human embryo these are supplied by the mother. In the case of a plant, Nature provides them in the soil and by way of rain and sunshine. Where the higher attributes of man, i.e. his subjective inner being, are concerned they stem from a dynamism, an inner pressure towards growth and development. In the case of a baby or a plant, Nature provides that impulse and the nutrients, but in a man the urge must arise from within himself and be turned into an intent in the form of higher emotion to provide the motive power. This is aspiration, a thirst for spiritual knowledge. It is a natural urge that can either be obstructed or nurtured. The distractions of ordinary life obstruct it. Spiritual stimulation in any form nurtures it.
What could this spiritual inspiration be? How do we find it? Fortunately, those seekers who have passed along the way before us have ensured that, when we seriously enter upon the quest, we shall find the necessary aids to our advancement ready available to hand. What are these aids? When we start reading the literature of holy things, people and happenings we are inspired, just because we have an aspiration to growth in that direction. It means that we have inwardly matured to the point where these things are of interest; otherwise we would not take up the necessary books or seek out the necessary information. From this reading we learn by example. We learn of the nature of those who have succeeded and what that attainment involves. Something of this is reflected in the stories of the mediaeval knights who went on the quest for the Grail. Firstly there was the idea of the quest, then the incitement to attempt it, and having embarked on it, the necessary perseverance, determination, courage, steadfastness, even honesty, and a dauntless determination to overcome all difficulties. The knights displayed courtesy, gentleness, mercy, generosity. From this we get an idea of the personal qualities necessary for success in our search. Most of us probably feel hopelessly inadequate but we reckon without the dynamic pressures within which the evolutionary process has generated. The spirit will not be denied; we are virtually but unconsciously compelled to go on this quest.
Having been so inspired, and having set out, albeit unaware, on this voyage of discovery we do proceed, step by step; life does offer us the opportunities and periodically aids do present themselves. For example, in the literature we come across the magnificent instruction available in the great religious classics such as the Baghavad Gita, Light on the Path, The Voice of the Silence, and such poems as Milton’s Paradise Lost. In the East there are the magnificent religious scriptures, of the Vedas and the Upanishads. In the West many passages of a very uplifting and encouraging nature are to be found in the Bible. All this literature, poetry and prose, is available and somehow or another it comes to our attention when we need it. Consciousness-raising is an expression we could use to describe what these words do for us.
Similarly our spirits can be lifted to great heights by music, chanting and even the ceremonial of a well-conducted church service, and by the elaborate rites of ceremonial magic and Masonry.
However, all these things are in fact merely aids. The gestation process involves a growth. Our vision must open up to include the ‘inhabitants’ of our field of activity. Sympathy is engendered, compassion grows. We could keep in mind H.P. Blavatsky’s definition of love, “as a homogeneous sympathy” [ see H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Vol.12, p52].
From this enlargement in consciousness of our field of experience to embrace not only the other people in our environment but also every living thing as also being on the evolutionary journey we begin to want to help, to make a contribution with whatever we have to give to further the grand procession of everything along the road to self-enlightenment.
We are on that road. The whole aim and object of the Grail quest is to realise that injunction of the Delphic Oracle, “Man, know thyself”.
On finding the Grail consciousness moves out of the limitations of personality. We are moving into a realm of limitless freedom. To begin with this may seem strange and empty. Then other aids seem to present themselves. Maybe the booklet “How to Study Theosophy” (otherwise known as the Bowen notes link) comes to our notice and has tremendous significance for us. In it H.P. Blavatsky is quoted as saying:
This is just one example of the nature of the higher thought of the spiritual mind. Quite impersonal but it opens up vistas of a universal scene to our spiritual eye which the finding of the Grail makes possible.