l contents l
'Theosophy - What's it all about?' - Chapter 2, Fundamentals and Origins
by Geoffrey Farthing
'A brief summary of a wonderfully exciting and vitally important subject.'
No matter what our ideas or beliefs on origins, it is obvious and beyond argument that there is a physical universe of which we, so far as our bodies are concerned, and our world, are parts. It must be obvious, too, that everything that has existence must have had a beginning. All things persist for a while. In terms of our time, it may be a very short while or it may be incalculable ages. Things also exist in a state of change. The bodies of living things, for example, change with the process of metabolism. Organic and inorganic substances change with time and with the conditions that surround them. Even rocks suffer from weather erosion. In these changes we see the impermanence of all things and the inevitability of their ultimate end.
If we think about this process of constant change, we are led to the realization that motion is a universal principle. Throughout all Nature there is motion and movement. In the grand phenomena of Nature for example, in the wind, in the rain and the oceans, it is obvious. At the other end of the scale there is motion within the very particles of matter itself. Nothing is still, absolutely still, even for an instant of time.
This ceaseless movement of and within all things introduces another idea, that of energy. We know of the vast amounts of energy locked up in atoms. We know how to release some of that energy. Energy is the ultimate basis of the existence of all things in manifestation. Without it there would be no existence for anything. We are now familiar with the idea that energy and matter are forms of the same thing.
Now movement, as perceived and thought of by us, is necessarily associated with time. It is only by the movement
of something that we are conscious of the passage of time. It is by the movement of the hands of watches or the passage of the sun through the heavens that we measure time for ordering the events of our lives. There are some interesting aspects of movement and time. One is that rates of movement and of the passage of time are always relative quantities. For instance, if we could move at the velocity of an electron, the speed of other electrons travelling in our direction would appear to us quite slow, assuming we could see them, even though they and we were travelling with respect to something else at a speed approaching that of light.
While we are thinking on these lines, we must see also that movement and space are inseparable. Things must have room to be and move in. Space, therefore, is a prerequisite of existence. Some ideas on the nature of space will be given later and from them we shall see that we may have to revise our commonly held ideas that space is always to be regarded as the mere empty extension of nothing in three dimensions.
Having introduced these fundamental ideas of motion, energy, space and time, let us see in brief what use Theosophy can make of them.
First as to origins; here we must proceed with some caution because of the ideas on this subject most of us have been brought up with and are conditioned to. We shall have to be very careful not to let our preconceptions intrude if we would see what is now meant. A cursory reading, in the manner of reading a news item for example, will yield nothing. Dwell and think deeply on and around what is written. No belief is asked for, but an open and fearless look at what is said, and a firm intention to understand is needed. To most of us and to begin with, the ideas given will be mere theories, hypotheses, but let us see whether or not they can explain or fit in with the facts of our existence of which we are aware and so earn our reasonably acceptance.
Theosophy makes Three Fundamental Propositions. The first postulates that the universe is a unity, a unity stemming from and having its being in an inconceivable, indescribable
Absolute, unconditioned, unlimited in any way whatsoever. This Absolute is always unmanifest, eternal, infinite, and with no attributes. Possibly the only positive thing that can be said about it is that it IS, and that it is All Potentiality. The Absolute is Reality. It is the All. It is not an entity, and is utterly impersonal. It is, and always will be, quite unknowable, beyond all thought and speculation.
This proposition says additionally that the highest thing that can possibly be conceived of, and that only in the sense that we can get an idea of it for purposes of thinking and talking, is one remove from the Absolute in the chain of causation of manifested existence, and that is a symbolic Duality, in itself a Unity, the ONE.
The two aspects of this Duality are absolute abstract Space and absolute abstract Motion. These two are highly metaphysical concepts which are in themselves nearly meaningless to us, but they act as a foundation on which to build a comprehensible structure.
Abstract Space is that which we cannot "exclude from any conception or conceive of by itself". It is the universal matrix within and out of which what we call matter can arise. It is the "rootless root" of the passive, limiting, confining principle in the universe which makes possible existence in any form. This abstract Space is not the three- dimensional extension we know but, so to say, is the 'essence' of it. This is a very difficult concept but the idea can perhaps be seen if space itself is regarded as something. Nowhere is there absolutely nothing.
Abstract Motion on the other hand is 'the rootless root' of energy, the active generative force in creation. It is not the energy itself but that of which energy, as we know it, is a derivative or manifestation.
Now these two aspects, of abstract Motion and abstract Space, give us the elements of the primary duality of subjectivity and objectivity necessary when, we begin to think in terms of incipient Consciousness as we must now do.
Consciousness, as we know it, does not exist at this 'highest' level of Being, but the essentials necessary for the duality of a knower and something to be known are there.
Absolute abstract Motion can be regarded as 'Unconditioned Consciousness'. It is the origin of what we shall come to talk of as Spirit. Itis important to remember we are here still talking of a Unity, the ONE. Motion and Space, subject and object, Spirit and Matter are inseparables, dual aspects only of the ONE. Neither aspect of each of these dualities can have any being in isolation, any more than can the inside and outside of a container. There cannot be one without the other. Together they form "the basis of conditioned Being", to quote The Secret Doctrine. "This Absolute and its aspects of Space and Motion as a Triad (symbolized by finite intelligence as the theological Trinity) ... "is the origin" of force and of all individual consciousness and supplies the guiding intelligence in the vast scheme of cosmic Evolution ... just as the opposite poles of subject and object, spirit and matter, are but aspects of the One Unity in which they are synthesized, so, in the manifested Universe, there is "that" which links spirit to matter, subject to object." This 'link' (called Fohat in the literature) is the dynamic energy of Cosmic Ideation; or regarded from the other side, it is the intelligent medium, the guiding power of all manifestation. Itis the means by which the fruits of the past are impressed as seed imprints on the nascent matter of future things, as archetypal forms and as the laws of Nature.
Thus from Spirit comes consciousness and from root Matter "come the several vehicles in which that consciousness is individualized and attains to self - or reflective consciousness" and, as a "mysterious link between Mind and Matter, we have the animating principle electrifying every atom with life". This principle operates at all levels of being and is in fact that which manifests as electricity in the physical world.
From this fundamental trinity of Spirit-Matter-Energy is derived the whole manifested universe, in all its diversity of condition, material, organism and form.
To anyone who has not met these ideas before they will no doubt appear as abstruse. Possibly there will not appear to be much connection between them and life as we know it in our ordinary circumstances, but if carefully studied
over a period, with thought and in the light of what follows, they will lead to an understanding that would be very unlikely to have arisen spontaneously without them. Perseverance yields wonderful results. Now that we have a few 'cornerstones', let us see if we can come a stage 'more down to earth', even though the going may still not be too easy.
One of the big difficulties in this vast but wonderful subject of Theosophy is that we are dealing with a story that has no beginning and no end. We have to start in the middle. The big basic ideas we have so far touched on are literally universal. They apply to the whole Universe and it is necessary to look at the two remaining universal Propositions before we try to cover more familiar ground.
One of these Propositions is that all being, that is, everything in manifestation, is subject to and operates according to universal Law. This Law has a number of aspects. One of them is that everything proceeds in cycles, periods of rest and activity typified by days and nights, summers and winters, waking and sleeping, in-breathing and out- breathing and so on. There are little cycles within big ones and big ones within bigger ones. Breathing is a little one within the bigger one of waking and sleeping. Waking and sleeping are small ones within the greater cycle of birth and death. Within the races of mankind there are the lives of individuals, of the generations of families, that come and go; there are the births and deaths of tribes, of nations and of the races themselves. Another aspect of the Law is that everything is, and is as it is, as a result of what went before.
The Third Proposition is derived from our Spirit-Matter thesis and our first Proposition, the Universal Unity. Itis that just as Spirit cannot be without Matter, so consciousness cannot be without a vehicle or vessel of matter in some state, in which to operate. The active interplay between Spirit and Matter is Life. There are planes of existence, which we will discuss later, in each of which consciousness can function if it has a 'body' of substance appropriate to the particular plane. A physical body is necessary to it in our everyday world.
Consciousness as it manifests in individuals is a spark derived, from but never entirely separate from the
Universal Consciousness. Further, the vehicles or bodies that individual consciousness uses are subject to the cyclical law of being and non-being. Periodically therefore, individual consciousness must withdraw from the vehicle it has been using and, for its next period of activity, must take on a new one.
Coupled with this successive occupation of new vehicles is another aspect of the Law of periodicity, of ebb and flow, etc. , that of progression, of growth, of expansion, of unfoldment. No natural cycle returns precisely to its starting-point. It progresses along the axis of the greater cycle of which it forms part. In this way during the life of a man-bearing globe, 'consciousness' can occupy vehicles in all the kingdoms of nature, expanding as it goes until it becomes individualized in Man when the faculty of self-consciousness is born. Thereafter, as a result of what efforts he makes during his incarnation, Man can further his evolution and pass into 'super-human' states of being. But more of this later.
As consciousness expands it unfolds faculty. Faculty is the ability to function in a particular way. Each of our senses is a faculty, emotional feeling, thinking and other functions of the mind, are faculties and so are intuition and will.
Each of these faculties is only possible because of certain qualities in nature. These faculties are, so to say, powers or activities of spirit for which means of response and action have been developed. These means of response are possible because of and to the extent of the development of the qualities of the materials, structures, forms and bodies that has so far taken place in evolution. These powers and qualities are what have so far been 'actualized' from the All Potentiality during the life of our solar system, which itself will of course have derived much from other and preceding systems.
These powers and qualities are 'rayed' forth from the ONE LIFE in a number of streams as the rays of light of different colours stream from a prism which is itself in a beam of white light. Each ray passes through all levels of being from the highest to the lowest, and the powers and
qualities in each ray are characterized by the ray's dominant character. For example, each ray would have a representative colour on the physical plane. It may have different colours on other planes but these colours would always be peculiar to that ray on a particular level. Each of our senses and other faculties has its ray and corresponding colour and 'sound' too. Each ray has its fundamental note. Different levels of being have corresponding notes in different 'octaves'. The various personality qualities, roughly classified by the old philosophers as sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic, are ray qualities, or mixtures of them.
These ray characteristics pervade all Nature and everything is an admixture of them. All the natural elements, plants and animals could be grouped and classified according to them if we knew enough about their essential qualities.
Each ray 'power' typifies a certain aspect of life or force and each quality a corresponding matter or form quality. For example, sight is a power or faculty operating through a material but living eye.
The permutations and combinations, in varying degrees, of these characteristic powers and qualities give us the infinite variety of sorts, conditions and capabilities of all that constitutes Nature for us.
We have now given some thoughts and ideas on fundamentals and origins. Perhaps it can already be seen from these that not only is the stage of Man's life very big but that in them we have a vista of existence to satisfy the longest long-term purposeful objective for individual man, and for mankind as a whole. What is meant by purposeful we will try to explain as we go on.
It may be objected that we have intellectualised too much a subject that must embrace all aspects of life and include the intensely human, personal situation. So far we have not had regard to such of our qualities as love and devotion which, when dealing with human existence, are ultimately the only ones that really matter. But we set out to appeal to modern thinking man, and are trying to provide him with some explanations. We will deal with, or
at least touch on, these 'feeling' sides of life at appropriate places later on.
To summarize, we have postulated an Absolute, the Causeless Cause, All Potentiality, the Unknowable, the Perfect, the Eternal. We have said that the highest we can conceive of in the chain of manifestation is the ONE as a prime Duality giving rise to the spirit-matter, subject-object combinations which, passing down through all the levels of being, bring us ultimately to the dualities of force and form in the manifested Universe in all its wonderful diversity with which we are familiar .
We have enunciated the Proposition of the Law of Cycles, of periodicity and of cause and effect and that of the essential identity (because of the ultimate Unity) of all individual consciousness with the One Consciousness, of the periodical, successive incarnations of individual consciousness into appropriate vehicles. Inthis we mentioned the law of growth, of progression, etc. which is behind all evolutionary processes. We have said something about the nature and qualities of things so far developed during these processes up to date on this planet.
We said earlier that this great story had no beginning and no end. The significance of that is that our world and our solar system are the result of what went before. When the great awakening came, after a vast period of rest, the germs of what was to be were already present. So will the fruits of the present existence and life of our world scheme be gathered into the Unmanifest for a vast period of rest, to be breathed out again as the seeds of all that shall be at the next great awakening.
Creation in the ordinary sense, has no place in this philosophy. There is, therefore, no Creator in the generally accepted sense.
Theosophy - what's it all about? > Next Page Chapter 3 The Purpose of Life?