THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 3, January, 1951
(Pages 123-127; Size: 15K)
(Number 15 of a 24-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 24 articles have the same name.]
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
ICONOCLASM and Theosophy have often been historical companions. The struggles for freedom of thought against entrenched orthodoxy have all been identified as Theosophical by definition, both through the writings of William Q. Judge and H. P. Blavatsky, and by implication of the philosophical essentials of Theosophic teaching, as these point toward self-initiative as well as self-responsibility.
True to this tradition, present Theosophists will usually develop carefully critical attitudes toward all statements in the premises of religion or religious philosophy -- no matter by whom originated -- which sound specifically revelatory, revelation being the anticipated foe of independent thought. The hardest, toughest images are made from revelation and they, more than any other kind, need breaking. Yet since the habit of iconoclasm, once gained, is persistent, it can lead Theosophists in interesting directions.
How many Theosophical students have felt their mental hackles rising when Mr. Judge discusses life on Venus, in The Ocean of Theosophy? We might say that this reaction is a good one, in that it is protective. The Gita, too, may try the cautious mind, often, in much the same way. For instance, in Chapter Eight the student encounters what is apparently a form of revelation not only blatant but materialistic, in a sense similar to that in which astrology is generally so considered. Krishna says:I will now declare to thee, O best of the Bharatas, at what time yogis dying obtain freedom from subjection to rebirth. Fire, light, day, the fortnight of the waxing moon, six months of the sun's northern course -- going then and knowing the Supreme Spirit, men go to the Supreme. But those who depart in smoke, at night, during the fortnight of the waning moon, and while the sun is in the path of his southern journey, proceed for a while to the regions of the moon and again return to mortal birth.To imply that this statement is actually, on face value, reasonable and philosophical would be absurd -- it is not, even if we claim that "Yogis" are so different from ourselves as to make the passage irrelevant to our reasoning.
If the Theosophist is to find meaning in these "revelations" of Krishna, he will probably do so by the process of rationalization, beginning from some such premise as that the Gita must in all its parts be something better than revelatory in content or pompous in style. Since much of value in mental life comes from the process of rationalization -- indeed, we might say that Theosophy is the supreme stimulus to rationalization, insisting upon the primary importance of the deductive method -- we need not be dismayed by the admission that we intend to "rationalize." The question, truly, is only whether or not we can derive philosophical or human value from such statements when we ponder them -- not whether or not the passage under question conveys its message in the best of all possible ways for the mind of our present age.
The first step in our "rationalization" might be to claim that these words of Krishna are not meant to be taken entirely literally, since the disciple is elsewhere enjoined to "reach beyond the word" (that is, the literalness) of the Vedas. Why are the Vedas -- and other doctrines -- so specific? If we reflect, we may guess that at times the specific has a certain occult advantage over the general, just as at other times only the broadest of generalities can be occultly true. For a specific statement causes the energies of mind to converge, focus upon a single point. While religion attempts to hold the mind at "points" of this sort, it is the way of philosophy to consider the "focussing" as simply a means to an end -- the mental energies thus brought together escape the diffuseness from which the human mind usually suffers. Once satisfactorily concentrated, these energies may be encouraged to spread out, once more, while still held within certain privative limits by the symbolism of the specific point upon which attention was originally focussed.
The first contrast in the passage under question is between "smoke" and "fire." Just a little mental experimentation will convince that the analogies here are infinite, and rather infinitely interesting. If we begin with what might be called the instinctive preferences of the great masses of people -- even those who are said to "have received but a spark" of Manas -- we will immediately be aware that the doers of bold deeds are held in special affection. The "fiery" natures are those about whom all traditional romances revolve, as if those possessed of less will-energy, courage and aspiration have found, in admiration and veneration of the "fiery" beings, a kind of religion for worship -- a religion often followed with fanaticism precisely because it represents their own present emotional and intellectual shortcomings.
Certainly it takes strength of will -- "devotion through action" -- to escape "subjection" to rebirth. "Smoke" may be thought to represent a condition just preceding or following the existence of fire. When smoke alone manifests, Fire has either not yet incarnated, or already departed. Just as so many urges for social transformation are vague, unable to inspire men to roles of true catalysts, similarly, a religion may convey nothing more than the visible or material effects of the "fire" of a great teacher.
"At night" there is no vision, for "light" is essential to the physical perceptive organs. Must not some kind of "light" be necessary on every plane? We will recall extensive references in Theosophical writings to the Astral Light, a phrase adopted for repeated use by William Q. Judge -- perhaps because the symbolism of the imagery is so easily grasped. Upon the Astral Light, it is said, do all of the powers of the clairvoyant depend. How can one who has no clarity of vision (or lacks sufficient Light on any plane) expect to pass consciously through rebirth, which is what escape from subjection to rebirth must mean?
Similarly a symbolism in "the fortnight of the waxing moon" should be easy to decipher. The moon is associated, says tradition, with the psychic elements of man's nature. The waxing moon marks that interval during which a growing light shines from (or through) the psychic element. Similarly, the light of egoic perception, in order to manifest, must always pass through the media of our psychic faculties -- while, often alternately, we lessen or deepen the opaqueness of the instrument by countless thoughts and choices. The "waning moon" is, on the other hand, a fit symbol of one of those cycles of psychic craving which all of us experience, wherein the higher faculties are "brought through" more seldom, less convincingly, as the psychic momentum drains physical and brain energy. The pendulum of many psychic states swings inevitably, once started, just as the pendulum of the seasons. (Another complication enters here, by the way: "The daytime of the body is the night time of the soul," in most of us. Increased energy poured into sensual existence will mean that the higher faculties retreat from the body, the "fire" of Prana-Jiva as well as of Manas bringing nothing more than physical intensity when so channeled. Finally, though, we must be obligated -- unless we escape or give up this cycle of evolution -- to intensify our higher aspirations with each new influx of energy from the universal quickening of organic life, so that "the waxing moon" gives us more strength rather than more distraction.)
"Six months of the sun's northern course" is a full symbol for the spiralling ascension of man's will. There are those who discern how to "use nature and work on with her," and these are the "fortune's favored soldiers" who are not impeded by adverse influences from the lower "qualities." Here is a particularly good symbol because we will naturally think of a six months' course of the sun as a long cycle, so long that we cannot always see it as a course or path with our eyes. Yet the cycle continues nonetheless, passing with a sure continuity through the vicissitudes of days of rain and cold, days of first budding -- and the seemingly treacherous alternations from heat to cold, from the appearances of one season to the appearances of another; we can know these changes are irrelevant to the surely ascending strength of new life, pulsing everywhere throughout nature at proper times and under law. The temporary reverses in weather, as in happiness, may mean next to nothing.
So it must be with the dedicated will of man, its growing control over psychic and mental states not proceeding without interruptions, yet showing itself as a persistent and finally irresistible force. In this way only is it possible to "go to the Supreme Spirit." That man alone who has separated himself from fear of defeat has become sufficiently impersonal to know the will's full power and all of its uses. The theosophically popular definition of Will as "the force of Spirit in action" becomes, on this view, particularly understandable.
The path of the sun's "southern journey" means a time of loss of fundamental energy, when man must call forth greater effort to keep a constant balance of vitality in all parts of his nature.
Finally is there any literal meaning in the statements of the quoted passage? For the student of Theosophy the symbolic meanings should be sufficiently pregnant with thought possibilities to make the answer relatively unimportant, yet we may note in Robert Crosbie's commentary on Chapter Eight (Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita) that the possibility of literal meaning is considered -- for Yogis. But who are the "Yogis"? What state of harmony with nature's forces did the aspirant of Krishna's time have to attain to be a "Yogi"? Would it be even more difficult to obtain such a close harmony today, when the lines of Karma are mixed and complicated by another five thousand years? Though it is conceivable that such external indices might, at times of death or birth in a Golden Age, tell us something true of the soul within, clear it is that we may not presently rely upon such things in any literal sense -- any more than upon phrenology. Physical circumstances are now always unsatisfactory indications of spiritual status.
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 CENTER OF MAN'S GRAVITATION
At one time man is at the topmost point of the circle of development; at another, at the lowest. And, as he thus alternately rises and sinks, and his moral nature responsively expands or contracts, so will his moral code at one time embody the noblest altruistic and aspirational ideals, while at the other, the ruling conscience will be but the reflection of selfishness, brutality and faithlessness. But this, however, is so only on the external, illusionary plane. In their internal, or rather, essential constitution, both nature and man are at one, as their essence is identical. All grows and develops and strives toward perfection on the former planes of externality or, as well said by a philosopher, is -- "ever becoming"; but on the ultimate plane of the spiritual essence all Is, and remains therefore immutable. It is toward this eternal Esse that every thing, as every being, is gravitating, gradually, almost imperceptibly, but as surely as the Universe of stars and worlds moves towards a mysterious point known to, yet still unnamed by, astronomy, and called by the Occultists -- the central Spiritual Sun.
--H. P. BLAVATSKY
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY PROBLEMS
(Part 16 of a 24-part series)
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
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