THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 5, March, 1962
(Pages 223-228; Size: 18K)
(Number 2 of a 14-part series)
SYMBOLISM, taken from "Pages from a Pre-historic Period," is the immediate subject-matter of the Proem. Occult symbolism, in its essential meaning, has not changed throughout ages. There is, in the Occult symbol, a power inherent that implicates, in a peculiar way, the mind that strives to grasp its meaning. The highest power of the mind is evoked -- as the first footnote indicates:Only those who realise how far Intuition soars above the tardy processes of ratiocinative thought can form the faintest conception of that absolute Wisdom which transcends the ideas of Time and Space.How can a symbol -- the pictorial expression of an idea or thought -- transcend the measure of Time and the limiting aspects of Space? By its abstract quality. The abstract idea communicates through the abstract symbol to the mind that is unbounded by preconception, uncolored by misconception, undistorted by ambitious desires, unconcerned with fearful imaginings or hopes of personal salvation. "Mind, as we know it," continues the footnote, "is resolvable into states of consciousness, of varying duration, intensity, complexity, etc. -- all, in the ultimate, resting on sensation, which is again Maya. Sensation, again, necessarily postulates limitation." The intuitive mind soars above the lower, personal and sensational levels; like the bird that mounts without the flapping of wings, the intuition rises directly and with certainty; it "flies like light and cuts all obstacles as with a sword." Its characteristic quality is to "look directly upon ideas" -- Patanjali's statement of Soul-vision.
There are no ancient symbols without a deep and philosophical meaning attached to them, their importance and significance often increasing with their antiquity. The most archaic symbols in Eastern Esotericism are a circle, a point, a triangle, a plane, a cube, a pentacle, and a hexagon, and plane figures with various sides and angles. This shows the knowledge and use of geometrical symbology to be as old as the world. But human knowledge has its boundaries, as the symbols on the first page of the Proem indicate -- and the preliminary outline of the Stanzas of Dzyan (p. 21) explains:The First Stanza describes the state of the ONE ALL during Pralaya, before the first flutter of re-awakening manifestation."Our knowledge," said Wm. Q. Judge in The Ocean of Theosophy, "begins with differentiation." The symbols of Occultism precede that point -- symbols succeed in communicating where language fails.
A moment's thought shows that such a state can only be symbolised; to describe it is impossible. Nor can it be symbolised except in negatives; for, since it is the state of Absoluteness per se, it can possess none of those specific attributes which serve us to describe objects in positive terms. Hence that state can only be suggested by the negatives of all those most abstract attributes which men feel rather than conceive, as the remotest limits attainable by their power of conception.
The stage described in Stanza II. is, to a Western mind, so nearly identical with that mentioned in the first Stanza, that to express the idea of its difference would require a treatise in itself. Hence it must be left to the intuition and the higher faculties of the reader to grasp, as far as he can, the meaning of the allegorical phrases used. Indeed it must be remembered that all these Stanzas appeal to the inner faculties rather than to the ordinary comprehension of the physical brain.
Stanza III. describes the Re-awakening of the Universe to life after Pralaya. It depicts the emergence of the "Monads" from their state of absorption within the ONE; the earliest and highest stage in the formation of "Worlds," the term Monad being one which may apply equally to the vastest Solar System or the tiniest atom.
Stanza IV. shows the differentiation of the "Germ" of the Universe into ....
Resting on the illusionary aspect of the differentiating and evolutionary process -- the Maya of manifestation -- the mind, in order to understand, tends to identify with what is seen and sensed. The extreme of this use of mind becomes the "killing materialism of the age; that peculiar twist in the modern mind, which, like a Northern blast, bends all on its way, and freezes every intuition, allowing it no hand in the physical speculations of the day."
Spiritual freedom of the mind is paramount. It is implicit in all the counsels of The Voice of the Silence. But consider -- what is the origin of the Voice? It is derived from the Book of the Golden Precepts which, in turn, forms part of the same series as that from which the "Stanzas" of the Book of Dzyan were taken. They are, in the truest sense, complementary: the Book of Counsel, and the Book of Wisdom. These are the words from the Voice:The seeds of Wisdom cannot sprout and grow in airless space. To live and reap experience, the mind needs breadth and depth and points to draw it towards the Diamond Soul. Seek not those points in Maya's realm; but soar beyond illusion, search the eternal and the changeless Sat, mistrusting fancy's false suggestions.Occult symbols provide a critical area of experience; they invite the mind to "soar beyond illusion," or, in the words of Thomas Taylor, intuitive translator of the Greek Fragments, "...like a bridge, to pass over the obscurity of a material nature, as over some dark sea, to the luminous regions of perfect reality." Contemplation of Reality keeps alive the spiritual intuitions and arouses into activity the dormant spiritual Eye.
The ONE REALITY is absolute abstraction. "Darkness is around his pavilion," said Wm. Q. Judge in the Ocean of Theosophy, quoting a biblical phrase. "Absolute abstraction" is a phrase to muse upon; it stills the vaunted intellect. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:The final step in the process of abstraction is the conception of the Absolute, which is abstract in the most complete sense.In this last, it may perhaps be said, is an unstriven-for application of the Upanishadic thought: THAT THOU ART. The innateness of the idea is compellingly presented in The Secret Doctrine, in the chapter, "Primordial Substance and Divine Thought." On page 339-40, Volume I, it says: "The one prevailing, most distinct idea -- found in all ancient teaching, with reference to Cosmic Evolution and the first 'creation' of our Globe with all its products, organic and inorganic (strange word for an Occultist to use) -- is that the whole Kosmos has sprung from the DIVINE THOUGHT. This thought impregnates matter, which is co-eternal with the ONE REALITY; and all that lives and breathes evolves from the emanations of the ONE Immutable --Parabrahm = Mulaprakriti, the eternal one-root."
The process of knowledge in the sphere of intellect as in that of natural science is one of generalization, i.e. the co-ordination of particular facts under general statements, or in other words, the explanation of one fact by another, and that by a third, and so on. In this way the particular facts or existences are left behind in the search for higher, more inclusive conceptions; as twigs are traced to one branch, and branches to one trunk, so, it is held, all the plurality of sense data is absorbed in a unity which is all-inclusive and self-existent, and has no "beyond." ....
The fundamental problem [in statements of "the Absolute"] is whether a thing which is by hypothesis infinite can in any sense be defined, and if it is not defined, whether it can be said to be cognized or thought. It would appear to be almost an axiom that anything which by hypothesis transcends the intellect (i.e. by including subject and object, knowing and known) is ipso facto beyond the limits of the knower. Only an Absolute can cognize an absolute.The former of these is, so to say, the aspect of the central point turned inward into regions quite inaccessible to human intellect, and is absolute abstraction; whereas, in its aspect as Mulaprakriti --the eternal root of all, -- it gives one some hazy comprehension at least of the Mystery of Being.The symbols in the manuscript "from a pre-historic period" antecede the Mystery of Being, and the mystery of "Creation." Since they represent the most abstract ideas conceivable, they are, necessarily, the simplest: a disk, a point. According to the Proem:On the first page is an immaculate white disk within a dull black ground. On the following page, the same disk, but with a central point. The first, the student knows to represent Kosmos in Eternity, before the re-awakening of still slumbering Energy, the emanation of the Word in later systems. The point in the hitherto immaculate Disk, Space and Eternity in Pralaya, denotes the dawn of differentiation. It is the Point in the Mundane Egg, the germ within the latter which will become the Universe, the ALL, the boundless, periodical Kosmos, this germ being latent and active, periodically and by turns.The abstractness of these ideas suggests the need for considering the abstract qualities of the symbols themselves -- since the human mind tends to visualize, to objectify, to materialize even the most general concept. It is no wonder that the Platonists made the study of geometry preliminary to the study of philosophy. Symbols serve to focus the mind at another level.
What is a point? A point does not occupy space. It is indivisible, having neither length, width, nor thickness. It indicates nothing more than a position in space. It is represented by a dot, which has length, width, and even an imperceptible thickness. We can see a dot. We can never actually see a point. The point, also, is an indivisible portion of time; it indicates a particular moment -- the moment when something is about or likely to take place. How does this apply to the above quotation? The point in Space denotes the "dawn" -- or promise -- of differentiation: "potential Space within abstract Space." The point in Time is the germ "which will become" the Universe -- the boundless, periodical Kosmos.
What is a circle? The form of a circle is familiar to all and needs no definition. As symbol, the circle is alive with meaning. The Circle was with every nation the symbol of the Unknown -- "Boundless Space," the abstract garb of an ever present abstraction -- the Incognizable Deity. The circle also represents limitless Time in Eternity:The one circle is divine Unity, from which all proceeds, whither all returns. Its circumference -- a forcibly limited symbol, in view of the limitation of the human mind -- indicates the abstract ever incognisable PRESENCE, and its plane, the Universal Soul, although the two are one.... It is on this plane that the Manvantaric manifestations begin; for it is in this SOUL that slumbers, during the Pralaya, the Divine Thought, wherein lies concealed the plan of every future Cosmogony and Theogony.The circle in Space, and the circle in Time represent UNITY -- unmanifested and manifested; they are one.
The circumference of the circle-symbol cannot be defined. As does the point in the Circle, so the circumference but "indicates" the abstract PRESENCE -- the Reality that IS -- out of all relation to manifested existence.
The plane of the boundless Circle more specifically exemplifies the unity of the divine "Essence." In Space it is the Universal Soul -- "in this SOUL that slumbers, during the Pralaya, the Divine Thought, wherein lies concealed the plan of every future Cosmogony and Theogony." In Time it is:The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically "the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing," called "the manifesting stars," and the "sparks of Eternity," ... "the appearance and disappearance of Worlds is like a regular tidal ebb of flux and reflux."And what of the diameter of the circle? There is a deeply relevant passage in Volume II of The Secret Doctrine, page 553:In the Secret Doctrine the concealed UNITY -- whether representing PARABRAHMAN, or the "GREAT EXTREME" of Confucius, or the Deity concealed by PHTA, the Eternal Light, or again the Jewish EN-SOPH, is always found to be symbolized by a circle or the "nought" (absolute No-Thing and Nothing, because it is infinite and the ALL); while the god-manifested (by its works) is referred to as the diameter of that circle. The symbolism of the underlying idea is thus made evident: the right line passing through the centre of a circle has, in the geometrical sense, length, but neither breadth or thickness: it is an imaginary and feminine symbol, crossing eternity and made to rest on the plane of existence of the phenomenal world. It is dimensional, whereas its circle is dimensionless or, to use an algebraical term, it is the dimension of an equation.The diameter transfers the Circle from the realm of pure abstraction to the plane of measurement, of relationships in Space, involving cycles, order, sequence in Time --cause and effect.
The living, moving, qualifying, modifying, transforming character of the Universe in manifestation is captured in the geometrical symbol of the polygon -- a plane figure bounded by straight lines called sides, which form angles. The smallest number of sides that a polygon can have is three, say, an equilateral triangle. As the number of sides and angles increases, an interesting transformation takes place: it becomes more and more like a circle. Ultimately, one may think of a circle as a regular polygon with an infinite number of sides. And, as said in the Light of Asia, "The Universe grows I."And now thy Self is lost in SELF, Thyself unto THYSELF, merged in THAT SELF from which thou first didst radiate. (Voice of the Silence.)The Secret Doctrine is the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages: the Wisdom that transcends Time and Space.
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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:
SHADOWS OF SPEECH
One of the greater mischiefs which confront us today is the growing debasement of the language. Our speech is a mere shadow of its incomparable richness, having on the one hand become vulgarized and on the other corrupted with a particularly odious academic jargon. Now this is dangerous. A civilization which loses its power over its own language has lost its power over the instrument by which it thinks. Without some power over language there is neither greatness nor accuracy of thought. I am sure that this wasting disease of our English speech is one of the causes of today's bewilderment.
(Part 3 of a 14-part series)
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