THEOSOPHY, Vol. 52, No. 10, August, 1964
(Pages 293-300; Size: 23K)
(Number 5 of a 9-part series)
MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLICAL TRADITIONS
[Part 1 of 3]
STUDY of history, both religious and secular, reveals the fact that miracles, so-called, have been known and produced in all ages and by all peoples -- from the primeval tribes of Paleolithic times (as intimated by cave paintings) to nations of the present day. The history of magic embraces the lives of the Bushmen of South Africa, the Indians of both North and South America, as well as the almost numberless tribes and sects of India, China, Egypt and Greece. Whether one searches the Holy Writ of the world's religious lore or the literature of Gnostic and Neo-platonic philosophy, the secret documents of mediaeval Alchemy and Kabalism or the more recent teachings of Spiritualism, there is one long story of "magic," in one or another phase of its operation, of the good or evil, conscious or unconscious, exercise of the extraordinary powers of the human mind. Even the Bible teems with allusions to enchantments, sorcery, dreams, prophecy, and clairvoyance.
To the average religious devotee, born and bred under the Judeo-Christian tradition, there used to be little doubt as to the bona fides of the "signs," "wonders," and "mighty deeds" recorded in the pages of both Old and New Testaments. Who among the truly faithful, for example, ever questioned the story of the parting of the Red Sea, so as to let the Israelites pass, or of Aaron's magic rod turning into a serpent? Who had the temerity to doubt the statement made in Joshua that the sun and moon were stayed in their courses for the period of a day, or that Elisha caused an iron axe to float upon the water? Who asked for an explanation of the mighty deeds attributed to Jesus -- the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the healing of the blind, walking upon the water, and the feeding of thousands of people on five loaves and two fishes? Such questionings could only bring a demand for the strengthening of one's faith.
So accustomed are we to thinking of the "signs" and "wonders" of the Bible as things "past finding out," that we are not inclined, as a rule, to consider the possibility that some of these phenomena may have a perfectly natural explanation -- even within range of present understanding. So fixed have we become in the belief that there are "good" miracles, divinely inspired, and "bad" ones, the work of Satan, that we have taken neither time nor interest to look into the relationship between the two.
In the so-called "savage" cultures, where life is little influenced by materialism, powers over nature are held by the people to be natural attributes of the medicine-man or shaman. Rain-making and the tempering of storms, altering the course of human events, healing, the exorcism of evil spirits, and even the raising of the "dead," are feats of common occurrence. In the history of the higher religious cultures, the range of magical display is enormous: causing the sun to stand still, the drying up of rivers, control over the weather, power over space and time, imperviousness to fire and water, change of sex, levitation, penetrating stone walls, lengthening beams of wood, and the multiplying of food. Inanimate objects, such as statues, were often said to move as if alive. Diseases were cured both through use of herbs and with magic potions, or by the laying on of hands. Visions of distant events were seen clairvoyantly and foretold, and the thoughts of men were an open book to the initiated.
Few Western readers, it would seem, have any conception of the vast variety of "miracles" recorded in the writings of oriental religious philosophy. How many know the story, for example, of the miraculous virgin birth of Gautama Buddha, founder and propagator of one of the world's most sublime systems of religious thought? Queen Maya, Gautama's mother, as sensitively reported in The Light of Asia, "dreamed that a Star from heaven, splendid, six-rayed, in color rosy-pearl, whereof the token was an Elephant, six-tusked, and white as milk of Kamaduk, shot through the void; and, shining into her, entered her womb from the right. Awakened, bliss beyond mortal mother's filled her breast, and over half the earth a lovely light forewent the morn. The strong hills shook; the waves sank lulled; and flowers that bloom by day came forth as 'twere high noon ... and a wind blew with unknown freshness over lands and seas."
After the child was born and placed in a palanquin for the journey home, the Four Regents of Heaven are said to have descended in order to pay homage, much as the Three Wise Men of the East, seeing the Star of Bethlehem, travelled great distances to offer gifts to Jesus. The Regents of the North, South, East and West, it is said, took the poles of the palanquin, "in caste and outward garb like bearers, yet most mighty gods; and gods walked free with men that day, though men knew not: for Heaven was filled with gladness for Earth's sake, knowing Lord Buddha thus was come again."
It was through discipline and saintliness that the pupils of Lao-tse were said to have become one with Tao, or God, wherein control over the recondite laws of Nature was gained. Through concentration, meditation, and the training of Will, Buddha's arhats (disciples) were supposed to have developed and perfected their manasic or magical powers -- the five transcendental virtues, as they were called -- and were thus enabled to perform miracles. Although extraordinary feats of magic are attributed to both Lao-tse and Buddha, neither placed great value upon the phenomenal. If any of Buddha's arhats, for example, were seen or known to have gained their almsbowl of food through display of magic, the Master immediately ordered the bowl broken. When one of the arhats flew through the air, Buddha is reported to have rebuked him sternly, saying: "This will not conduce to the conversion of the unconverted, but rather to those who have not been converted remaining unconverted, and to the turning back of those who have been converted ... There is no path through the air. A man is not a samana by outward acts."
Fearless and open-minded Christians and Jews, of whom there are an ever-increasing number these days, might do well to reassess the whole subject of miracles as recorded in the Old and New Testaments, and compare their findings with the teachings of other faiths. If this is done, it will probably be discovered that there is little distinction to be made among such wonders, of whatever land. Some may even be led to question, as one Christian was, why the miracles reported in oriental scriptures seem to display little of the aggressiveness and ruthlessness found in Old Testament magic -- such as the ten plagues, for example, and the event at Mt. Carmel where Elijah is said to have slain the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. It is reported that on this "holy" occasion, after the God of Israel had demonstrated through Elijah his superiority over Baal:Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Ki-shon and slew them there. (1 Kings 18. 40.)Sectarians usually dislike having this and similar demonstrations of miracle (or shall we call it black magic?) brought to their attention. Few possess the courage, it would seem, to evaluate the Bible on its own inherent worth, and thus to view Elijah's deed in the light of common human mercy, to say nothing of its appearance in the light of the fifth of the ten Commandments: Thou shalt not kill.
What are miracles? Are they super-natural phenomena outside the rule of Law, and possible only through intervention from God or Satan? Or are they works of man? Are miracles the same as magic? Is there a science of Occultism that may be studied and learned, and through a knowledge of which extraordinary phenomena may be produced? Whatever the answers to these questions, honest enquirers will find it difficult to ignore the fact that every religious system worthy of the name has had its esoteric, or secret teaching, and its exoteric, or outward public worship.
If there were no schools of Occultism and no science of Magic in early biblical days, how explain the statement in Acts 7: 22 that "Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds?"
Buddha's system has always been divided into two parts, and is so to this day: the Mahayana or esoteric school, the "greater" vehicle, and the Hinayana, or exoteric school, the "lesser." Pythagoras referred to his Gnosis as "the knowledge of the things that are," and this greater knowledge he reserved for his pledged disciples. The initiated Egyptian Priests, or Hierophants, are known to have guarded with care the knowledge of occult alphabets and secret ciphers of the hieratic writings, through use of which, in correlation with color and sound, they made contact with the invisible worlds. The old Jewish Rabbis spoke of their outward public teaching as the Mercavah, "the vehicle," which they said was but the covering which contains the hidden soul -- i.e., their highest secret knowledge, the latter being kept in the hands of teachers of the Secret Mysteries. And is it not a well known fact, a truth easily proven by reference to any good dictionary or encyclopedia, that the celebrated solemnities of the Eleusinian and Samothracian Mysteries of ancient Greece were enacted in two parts -- the "lesser Mysteries" for the mystae (those who see as through a veil), and the "greater Mysteries" for the epoptae (who see things unveiled)? And did not Jesus, also, have his two teachings -- one for the "disciples" and the other for the "multitudes"?And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them [the multitudes] in parables?What "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" were, which the disciples heard and saw, but which the multitudes could not see -- we are not informed. Nor are we told what were "those things" which the disciples beheld that not even prophets and righteous men could behold.
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you [the disciples] to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
I speak to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear....
For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. (Matt. 13. 10-17.)
Both the materialistic scientist and the mystically-inclined theosophist look with considerable distaste upon the technological term miracle. Especially is this so when the term is used to denote those uncommon occurrences which are held to be outside the realm of "established order" and "possible only by the intervention of divine power," as defined in some dictionaries. Theosophical philosophy accords with Science in the view that the Universe is governed by Law, and that no event or experience, however strange or even supernatural it may appear, can take place without an efficient and precedent Cause. But beyond this, the path of the two Sciences is likely to divide. For Theosophy, unlike Materialism, recognizes Forces and Powers beyond the physical -- forces spiritual and occult, whose operations are transcendental, and whose effects, although perfectly natural and according to Law, may sometimes appear to be as "miraculous" and "unexplainable" as any member of religious sectarianism could desire. It is a fundamental principle in theosophical philosophy that--There is no miracle. Everything that happens is the result of law -- eternal, immutable, ever active. Apparent miracle is but the operation of forces antagonistic to what Dr. W. B. Carpenter, F.R.S. -- a man of great learning but little knowledge -- calls "the well-ascertained laws of nature." Like many of his class, Dr. Carpenter ignores the fact that there may be laws once "known," now unknown to science. (H. P. Blavatsky.)In spite of his apparent iconoclasm and persistently questioning mind, the Theosophist, then, is friend and ally of every truly religious man, who feels intuitively that there is more to life than appears on the surface or that can be accounted for by materialism. There are "wonders" beyond imagination on this old earth of ours -- wonders terrible and grand, exceeding by far any of the "works" and "mighty deeds" recorded in the Bible. Only, to the Theosophist, they are not miracles --but feats, rather, of a vast and mighty science -- the majestic science of Magic. To the student of esoteric philosophy, it does not seem logical to believe, as many religious devotees apparently do, that Moses, Aaron, Jesus, Lao-tse, and Buddha, together with a host of early Christian and mediaeval magicians, all put aside the laws of nature in the production of their "wonders." The Theosophist suggests that these Wise Men were not breakers of Nature's Laws, but only knew more about them than is known today, and put those higher forces to work.
Ever since the third and fourth centuries of our era, when Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, took upon himself the task of editing other men's philosophies, both Christian and Pagan, theological Christianity seems to have adopted an unbelievably low estimate of the human being. From that period, man has been conceived to be a "poor miserable sinner," incapable of reaching great heights of knowledge and nobility. Enough of the New Testament teaching remains, however, to indicate that this was not the view held by all. St. Paul looked upon man as being dual in nature -- possessing both godlike and demoniacal dispositions -- and so did Zoroaster, Krishna, and Buddha. What did Paul mean when he states (1 Cor. 15: 47) that "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second is the Lord from heaven?" Could he have meant to imply, as do the Theosophists of this day, that the "first man," the lower, is but the mortal body or vehicle of the second, "the Lord from heaven" -- the latter being the immortal Higher Ego which incarnates from life to life? Failing to admit the twofold nature of mind, theology finds itself in the unenviable position of making Deity an accessory of all those acts of ruthlessness mentioned in the Old Testament.
But in a study of this kind, the twofold nature of man, as given in the Bible, is not to be thus put aside. There is no proposition in the whole field of research more susceptible of proof than the proposition that the entire manifested universe is pervaded by an inescapable law of duality --good and evil, light and darkness, pleasure and pain, etc. And if daily experience and reflection have taught us anything, it seems to be that the line of demarcation between these "opposites" is very thin, indeed! High and low, inner and outer, and hot and cold, are not separate and distinct, but are opposite sides of a single coin. The pharmacist who compounds remedies prescribed to heal does not use laws different from those employed by the insecticide chemist, whose concoctions are meant to kill. The carpenter who constructs a temple of Truth does not employ different rules of proportion from those applied by the builder of a house of ill-fame. Why, then, should we think that the good and evil miracles referred to in the Bible have their sources in two separate and distinct arts -- one sponsored by God, the other by Satan? Archaic philosophy teaches that a common science of Magic underlies the production of every miracle the world has ever known, whether good or bad. And like mathematics, chemistry and physics, it possesses no quality of itself, but becomes beneficent or maleficent, black or white, according to the knowledge and motives of the men who practice it.
The wiseacres say, "The age of miracles is past"; but a Master of Wisdom has said "it never existed." Power over the forces of the lower occult Universe may be acquired by the most selfish of men; the powers of the Divine Spirit belong only to the pure in heart. While indicating the path of the higher evolution in man, the Theosophist warns, as did the ancients, that Demon est Deus inversus. The Theosophist agrees with Nebuchadnezzar that "wisdom and understanding," such as that possessed by Daniel (1:20), is "ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers [the selfish ones] that were in all his realm." In the words of H. P. Blavatsky:Men cannot all be Occultists, but they can all be Theosophists. Many who have never heard of the Society are Theosophists without knowing it themselves; for the essence of Theosophy is the perfect harmonizing of the divine with the human in man, the adjustment of his god-like qualities and aspirations, and their sway over the terrestrial or animal passions in him. Kindness, absence of every ill feeling or selfishness, charity, good will to all beings, and perfect justice to others as to one's self, are its chief features.Every human being, according to Theosophy, has the germ of all the powers attributed to Moses, Jesus, and Buddha. The difference lies solely in the fact that men in general -- that is to say, the "multitudes," ourselves -- have not developed what they possess the germ of, while certain outstanding individuals, the Initiates, have gone through the training and experience which have caused all the unseen human powers to develop in them, and conferred gifts that look god-like to their struggling brothers below. All that the Christ may do is natural to the perfected man. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do." (John 14: 12.) If these powers and "greater works" are not at once revealed to us, what can it mean but that perhaps we are still "children in understanding," to use St. Paul's phrase, that we believe not in the Father within (the Christ or Higher Self in each man) and its powers, and that the race is as yet selfish in the extreme and still living for the present and the transitory? As H. P. Blavatsky said: "The trinity of Nature is the lock of Magic, the trinity of man the key that fits it."
(To be continued)
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
"THE PSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGION"
At the beginning of the twentieth century the psychology of religion suddenly became a centre of interest to the general reader. This was almost entirely due to the genius of one man, William James, whose Gifford Lectures, The Varieties of Religious Experience, startled and excited a public which extended far beyond theological circles. Not only were they brilliantly and amusingly written, in a style far removed from the dry technicalities of formal psychology, but they were also highly original and provocative, at once challenging to orthodoxy and sympathetic to religion.
The student of the psychology of religion is, as things stand today, in the very difficult position that there is no one psychological theory, still less any one psychological text-book, to which he can turn with any assurance that it contains even a minimum of accepted opinions. He must in fact become a psychologist himself, and make his own choice between the views set out with so much conviction and so few common principles, before he can begin the process of applying his psychological knowledge to the elucidation of religious practice and belief. This involves the necessary consequence that it is quite impossible to study the psychology of religion by reading books directly upon that subject and no others.
--L. W. GRENSTED
MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLICAL TRADITIONS
(Part II of III)
(Part 6 of a 9-part series)
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