THEOSOPHY - Modern Presentations
SOME BASIC QUESTIONS & SOME BASIC PROPOSITIONS
Endlessly man questions. He questions origins. He wants to know where his world came from. What is life? What is the nature of matter? Whence the power that sustains universal activity? Whence all natural law? Is there a cosmic purpose? If there is some plan that all nature is fulfilling, what is it? What is consciousness itself? What of Man's own beginnings and endings? What of Divinity and the Gods that men have worshipped? Is there a God? Some may be concerned with more immediate personal questions. What happens when I die? What is the point of suffering? Is there any justice in life's dispensations? Are our scriptures significant? Can we help or hinder any grand plan there may be? Is there a particular part for each of us to play? If so, what is it? And so on.
None of these questions nor their answers has any relevance unless they are related to the experience of our lives, to the intimacy of individual circumstances, to our relationships, our efforts, hopes and fears, to our happiness and joys, our lovings and our hatings, and maybe our spiritual aspirations. All this for us is the stuff of life. As we mature we know it is the stuff of other lives too. We can sympathize and understand. But of what great design, if any, are these the mere details and colours? Are we passive passengers in the process or can we modify, hasten or retard it or affect our part in it? What is our ultimate responsibility?
Upon questions such as these men have speculated from time immemorial. For some the mysteries have been too complex or too deep and they have found their satisfaction and peace in faith, in one religion or another. In this faith many an acceptable answer has been found. For some this has sufficed but for many it has not and some of these have sought, questioned and quested into the secrets of nature. Some have found some answers, as have modern scientists. Their faith has been of the kind that says that 'the Universe works mightily and magnificently'. This fact alone justifies their faith. 'But how?' has been the further question.
There is a tradition that some few, a very few, men of wisdom and power far in excess of their fellows, have, at intervals during the many millennia of Earth's history , penetrated into the depths of being and learned the inmost secrets. However, because of man's general immaturity, his state of unreadiness, these men of knowledge, initiates in the hidden side and workings of nature, have had to keep their secrets to themselves. Down the ages these mysteries have been kept and jealously guarded in closed Brotherhoods and Societies and revealed only to their pledged members.
The innumerable stories of old folklore, myths and fairy tales, all tell of men with superior powers, some say supernatural ones, but as worlds and all that is in them are subject to natural universal law, there cannot be anything outside or above nature. These tales are of wonders, mighty feats of daring and strength, superhuman wisdom and power, of magicians, and miracles. In more recent times we have read about, even witnessed, the powers of the hypnotist, the magic of the fakirs and yogis in the East, demonstrations of extrasensory perception and spiritualistic and psychic phenomena. The very extent of these occurrences, and the undoubted integrity of many writers and researchers who have investigated them, should command some attention and respect from us. With the unparalleled advance of intellect in this century, the decline in 'faith', and his demand for more knowledge through personal experience, man's speculations about his origins and destiny, his questions about his essential nature and his powers, are more pressing than ever before. In the study of what we call here Theosophy, that totality of the truths of existence known as the Divine Wisdom, many answers are available and discoverable by any man for himself. Partially and gradually each earnest seeker, through his own open-minded, individual effort, slowly finds knowledge.
There are relatively few basic propositions upon which Theosophy or the Esoteric Philosophy rests. All the other teachings proceed from and are an expansion of these.
UNITY. The first proposition is an affirmation of the unity, the ONENESS, of origin of all that exists. It says that there is a single spiritual source from which all proceeds, which sustains everything every moment of time and into which all will be re-absorbed, bearing the fruits of experience, at the end of each great period of activity or evolutionary cycle. At the highest or inmost level this background to all existence is said to be " An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless and Immutable Principle on which all speculation is impossible. ..It is beyond the range and reach of thought". ..
In order that the worlds of form may come to be, this One Reality must manifest a Supreme Unity having two essential aspects. These reflect into the duality, the polarisation, that we see running through all nature. This is the duality of spirit and matter, of subject and object, of positive and negative, life and form, and male and female. The poles of this duality are, however, to be regarded as two aspects only of the original ONE. They are postulated as the basis of conditioned being, but there cannot be one without the other; they are, so to say, faces of the same coin.
There is then a Oneness of origin, of essence, of being, indeed of 'beness', at the heart of all things. All existence is one thing. There is One Life. Every thing in existence is giving expression to it, in its particular way.
It is postulated that there is one original, homogeneous Substance of which all others are differentiations. This Substance is inseparable from Spirit, however, so that all derived substances, physical and otherwise, are imbued with spirit as their inherent energy .It is, so to say, their life, the common source of all dynamism, the ONE POWER. The One manifests as the Many, in diversity, in the almost endless variety and multiplicity of the forms of nature. Spirit operating in a vehicle or substance or matter is life, and life is sentient, conscious in some degree. Consciousness is awareness, that which makes perception and feeling possible.
UNIVERSAL LAW. This proposition is that the Universe operates according to Law. There is One Law which includes all others. Nothing is outside the Law. Law is inherent in the Whole. One of its aspects is that of periodicity or alternation. According to this everything comes and goes, in due season. Every thing has a beginning, a period of being and an end. Every thing here includes universes as well as all that is in them. We say more about this all-embracing law later.
EVOLUTIONARY PROGRESS. We have seen that Spirit needs a base of Substance, or matter, to give it expression. Without Substance Spirit itself would be a mere abstraction. The universal base through which Spirit operates is Universal Soul, sometimes called the Over-soul. But Spirit manifests in diversity and multiplicity so that the Over-soul becomes a countless multitude of souls, all however inseparable from the One. These ensoul all forms from those of atoms and cells to man's.
This proposition also says that every soul has of necessity to pass through a complete cycle of incarnation, during which it gains experience as mineral, plant, animal and eventually man. This does not mean to say that any man has been a stone, a plant and so on, but that this is the evolutionary path of development for the inner invisible aspects of life and that it is by this age-long process that individual self-consciousness eventually arises in man.
This proposition further says that man enjoys "no special gifts or privileges save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations". The word Ego as used here has a special meaning explained later, and metempsychosis means the changes in 'soul' which take place as life is given expression in higher and higher forms.
For any man, then, his evolutionary journey is not accomplished in only one lifetime. His immortal spiritual soul, as we shall see later, puts a ray of itself down into a series of personalities, one after the other, and garners the spiritual experience of interest to itself, of living in each of them. So man's spiritual soul, his Ego, grows in this sense.
It is said that by this process man eventually becomes superman, the evolutionary process being continuous into realms beyond the human state, undreamt of as yet by us.
These basic propositions introduce deep and difficult concepts which, for the beginner, may not at first be easily understood. Nevertheless some ideas stand out clearly. The Universe and all that is in it constitute a Whole. No part can be thought of independently from the whole, and this means no aspect, no law, no principle can properly be considered in isolation.
This all-embracing Unity, however, manifests in diversity, in all that we see and know at our physical level of being. It is here, at this physical level, that the primeval One Substance eventually becomes dense matter, with a multitudinous variety of forms and characteristics.
There is an important key to the understanding of Theosophical doctrine in the so-called Hermetic axiom, " As is the Inner, so is the Outer; as is the Great, so is the Small; as it is above, so it is below: there is but ONE LIFE and LAW; and he that worketh it is ONE. Nothing is Inner, nothing is Outer; nothing is Great, nothing is Small; nothing is High, nothing is Low, in the Divine Economy ". The full appreciation of this is probably only for the mystic but we can all sense something of its significance, and it becomes increasingly illuminating as our studies progress. Another key is that man is said to be a reflection of the Whole. His nature is the same as that of Cosmos. He is a microcosm of the macrocosm, as we shall see later.
Theosophy further states that nowhere in the Universe is there real emptiness, or nothing. Space is not nothing. There is the one universal root Substance which is the ever present essence of the whole range of material of every kind in Cosmos. With this Substance as its root everything is some thing; even our feelings and thoughts are in a sense 'substantial'. Every force is a 'something' capable of creating an effect, as for example, the earth's magnetic field which forces a compass needle to point in a certain direction. The compass needle would not do this if nothing were pushing or pulling it. Theosophy expands most interestingly on this basic theme of the One Substance, which it says is synonymous with Space, something which always is, whether there is a manifest universe or not.
Consciousness, while present in a degree everywhere and in everything, expands in depth, quality and expression, according to the substance or form through which it operates in the kingdoms of nature, from mineral to man. In the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms it changes gradually from mere rudimentary response to become the beginning of feeling and sentiency as we know it, until man, who is capable of self-consciousness and self- determination, is reached. This means that up to the human stage everything must obey the Law, as the laws of nature, through the inbuilt but maybe unconscious powers of its own being. In animals this is instinct. All creatures other than man must obey the natural rhythms; suffer the limitations of their kind. Creatures can only be and do, so to speak, what they are. In so doing however they are fulfilling themselves, fulfilling their function in the scheme of things. Self-consciousness in man means that not only is he conscious of his surroundings but also of himself in them. It is by reason of this and his power of free choice that he can act of his own volition, in harmony with or deviation from the law.
Life manifesting in things and creatures, as we move up the scale of being, comprises a vast series of 'hierarchies', each of its own degree of development of consciousness and effectiveness. The hierarchies are instanced, in the big scale, in the kingdoms of nature. Mankind as a whole is such a hierarchy and as we have seen there are super- human hierarchies above him, as there are sub-human ones below. It is from beings who have moved up the ladder of development to beyond our human stage that we have received so much of the Ancient Wisdom or Esoteric Science as is summarised in this booklet. As we said in part 1, most of it may be theory for most of us, certainly to start with, but the acceptance of a theory as a working hypothesis, is a very different matter from accepting a tenet, a dogma or a compulsory belief, on faith.
For a further exploration of this topic >> Chapter 5 'Basic Propositions' from 'Exploring the Great Beyond'