Proem to the Secret Doctrine
an introduction to Theosophy’s key metaphysical and scientific doctrines
PAGES FROM A PRE-HISTORIC PERIOD
AN Archaic Manuscript—a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire, and air, by some specific unknown process—is before the writer’s eye. 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 (see Part II., “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 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.
Only the face of the Disk being white and the ground all around black, shows clearly that its plane is the only knowledge, dim and hazy though it still is, that is attainable by man. 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.
* It is hardly necessary to remind the reader once more that the term “Divine Thought,” like that of “Universal Mind,” must not be regarded as even vaguely shadowing forth an intellectual process akin to that exhibited by man. The “Unconscious,” according to von Hartmann, arrived at the vast creative, or rather Evolutionary Plan, “by a clairvoyant wisdom superior to all consciousness,” which in the Vedantic language would mean absolute Wisdom.
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.
Mind, as we know it, 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 personal God of orthodox Theism perceives, thinks, and is affected by emotion; he repents and feels “fierce anger.”
But the notion of such mental states clearly involves the unthinkable postulate of the externality of the exciting stimuli, to say nothing of the impossibility of ascribing changelessness to a Being whose emotions fluctuate with events in the worlds he presides over. The conceptions of a Personal God as changeless and infinite are thus unpsychological and, what is worse, unphilosophical.
It is the ONE LIFE, eternal, invisible, yet Omnipresent, without beginning or end, yet periodical in its regular manifestations, between which periods reigns the dark mystery of non-Being; unconscious, yet absolute Consciousness; unrealisable, yet the one self-existing reality; truly, “a chaos to the sense, a Kosmos to the reason. “Its one absolute attribute, which is ITSELF, eternal, ceaseless Motion, is called in esoteric parlance the “Great Breath,”* which is the perpetual motion of the universe, in the sense of limitless, ever-present SPACE. That which is motionless cannot be Divine. But then there is nothing in fact and reality absolutely motionless within the universal soul.
Almost five centuries B.C. Leucippus, the instructor of Democritus, maintained that Space was filled eternally with atoms actuated by a ceaseless motion, the latter generating in due course of time, when those atoms aggregated, rotatory motion, through mutual collisions producing lateral movements. Epicurus and Lucretius taught the same, only adding to the lateral motion of the atoms the idea of affinity—an occult teaching.
From the beginning of man’s inheritance, from the first appearance of the architects of the globe he lives in, the unrevealed Deity was recognised and considered under its only philosophical aspect—universal motion, the thrill of the creative Breath in Nature. Occultism sums up the “One Existence” thus: “Deity is an arcane, living (or moving) FIRE, and the eternal witnesses to this unseen Presence are Light, Heat, Moisture,”—this trinity including, and being the cause of, every
* Plato proves himself an Initiate, when saying in Cratylus that theos is derived from the verb theein “to move,” “to run,” as the first astronomers who observed the motions of the heavenly bodies called the planets theoi the gods. (See SD Book II., “Symbolism of the Cross and Circle.”) Later, the word produced another term, alētheia —”the breath of God.”
phenomenon in Nature.* Intra-Cosmic motion is eternal and ceaseless; cosmic motion (the visible, or that which is subject to perception) is finite and periodical. As an eternal abstraction it is the EVER-PRESENT; as a manifestation, it is finite both in the coming direction and the opposite, the two being the alpha and omega of successive reconstructions. Kosmos—the NOUMENON—has nought to do with the causal relations of the phenomenal World.
It is only with reference to the intra-cosmic soul, the ideal Kosmos in the immutable Divine Thought, that we may say: “It never had a beginning nor will it have an end.” With regard to its body or Cosmic organization, though it cannot be said that it had a first, or will ever have a last construction, yet at each new Manvantara, its organization may be regarded as the first and the last of its kind, as it evolutes every time on a higher plane . . . .
A few years ago only, it was stated that:—
“The esoteric doctrine teaches, like Buddhism and Brahminism, and even the Kabala, that the one infinite and unknown Essence exists from all eternity, and in regular and harmonious successions is either passive or active. In the poetical phraseology of Manu these conditions are called the “Days” and the “Nights” of Brahmâ.
The latter is either “awake” or “asleep.” The Svabhâvikas, or philosophers of the oldest school of Buddhism (which still exists in Nepaul), speculate only upon the active condition of this “Essence,” which they call Svâbhâvat, and deem it foolish to theorise upon the abstract and “unknowable” power in its passive condition. Hence they are called atheists by both Christian theologians and modern scientists, for neither of the
* Nominalists, arguing with Berkeley that “it is impossible . . . to form the abstract idea of motion distinct from the body moving” (“Prin. of Human Knowledge,” Introd., par. 10), may put the question, “What is that body, the producer of that motion? Is it a substance? Then you are believers in a Personal God?” etc., etc. This will be answered farther on, in the Addendum to this Book; meanwhile, we claim our rights of Conceptionalists as against Roscelini’s materialistic views of Realism and Nominalism.
“Has science,” says one of its ablest advocates, Edward Clodd, “revealed anything that weakens or opposes itself to the ancient words in which the Essence of all religion, past, present, and to come, is given; to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly before thy God?” Provided we connote by the word God, not the crude anthropomorphism which is still the backbone of our current theology, but the symbolic conception of that which is Life and Motion of the Universe, to know which in physical order is to know time past, present, and to come, in the existence of successions of phenomena; to know which, in the moral, is to know what has been, is, and will be, within human consciousness.
(See “Science and the Emotions.” A Discourse delivered at South Place Chapel, Finsbury, London, Dec. 27th, 1885.)
two are able to understand the profound logic of their philosophy. The former will allow of no other God than the personified secondary powers which have worked out the visible universe, and which became with them the anthropomorphic God of the Christians—the male Jehovah, roaring amid thunder and lightning. In its turn, rationalistic science greets the Buddhists and the Svabhâvikas as the “positivists” of the archaic ages. If we take a one-sided view of the philosophy of the latter, our materialists may be right in their own way.
The Buddhists maintained that there is no Creator, but an infinitude of creative powers, which collectively form the one eternal substance, the essence of which is inscrutable—hence not a subject for speculation for any true philosopher. Socrates invariably refused to argue upon the mystery of universal being, yet no one would ever have thought of charging him with atheism, except those who were bent upon his destruction. Upon inaugurating an active period, says the Secret Doctrine, an expansion of this Divine essence from without inwardly and from within outwardly, occurs in obedience to eternal and immutable law, and the phenomenal or visible universe is the ultimate result of the long chain of cosmical forces thus progressively set in motion.
In like manner, when the passive condition is resumed, a contraction of the Divine essence takes place, and the previous work of creation is gradually and progressively undone. The visible universe becomes disintegrated, its material dispersed; and ‘darkness’ solitary and alone, broods once more over the face of the ‘deep.’ To use a Metaphor from the Secret Books, which will convey the idea still more clearly, an out-breathing of the ‘unknown essence’ produces the world; and an inhalation causes it to disappear. This process has been going on from all eternity, and our present universe is but one of an infinite series, which had no beginning and will have no end.”—(See “Isis Unveiled;” also “The Days and Nights of Brahmâ” in Part II.)
This passage will be explained, as far as it is possible, in the present work. Though, as it now stands, it contains nothing new to the Orientalist, its esoteric interpretation may contain a good deal which has hitherto remained entirely unknown to the Western student.