Sunday, 10 December 2017

Theosophy Basics: The Microcosm-Macrocosm Homology


According to Antoine Faivre, there are four basic principles in any esoteric system, and two secondary principles:
1) Correspondences between the symbolic and real and between the visible and invisible cosmos (“As above so below.”). Two types of correspondences exist:
a) those in nature (between microcosmic and macrocosmic entities such as the planets and parts of the body or those that exist in astrology) and
b) those that exist between revealed texts (and history) and Nature such as the correspondence between the Bible and Nature as represented in the Kabbalah. (Antoine Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism, 10-15 (Albany: SUNY, 1994)
This concept can be found in Eastern traditions as well, for example in India and China:
The universe consists of a Mahābrahmānda, or grand Cosmos, and of numerous Brhatbrahmānda, or macrocosms evolved from it. As is said by the Nirvāna- Tantra, all which is in the first is in the second. In the latter are heavenly bodies and beings, which are microcosms reflecting on a minor scale the greater worlds which evolve them. “As above, so below.” The mystical maxim of the West is stated in the Viśvasāra-Tantra as follows: “What is here is elsewhere; what is not here is nowhere” (yadhihāsti tadanyatra yannehāsti na tatkvacit). …
The witness within is the purusa without, for the personal soul of the microcosm corresponds to the cosmic soul (hiranyagarbha) in the macrocosm. (Arthur Avalon, Mahanirvana Tantra, Introduction, 22, 1913)
In the interpretation of the following translation, it is of value to say a few more words about the foundations of the Weltanschauung on which the method depends. This philosophy is, to a certain extent, the common property of all Chinese trends of thought. It is built on the premise that cosmos and man in the last analysis obey common laws; that man is a cosmos in miniature and is not divided from the great cosmos by any fixed limits. The same laws rule for the one as for the other, and from the one a way leads into the other. The psyche and the cosmos are related to each other like the inner and outer worlds. Therefore man participates by nature in all cosmic events, and is inwardly as well as outwardly interwoven with them. Tao, then, the meaning of the world, the way, dominates man just as it does invisible and visible nature (Heaven and Earth). (Richard Wilhelm, Discussion, 2, 11 The Secret of the Golden Flower, 1931)

Blavatsky describes this notion as follows:
Man is a little world — a microcosm inside the great universe. Like a foetus, he is suspended, by all his three spirits, in the matrix of the macrocosmos; and while his terrestrial body is in constant sympathy with its parent earth, his astral soul lives in unison with the sidereal anima mundi. He is in it, as it is in him, for the world-pervading element fills all space, and is space itself, only shoreless and infinite. (Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, pp. 212)
The Universe is worked and guided from within outwards. As above so it is below, as in heaven so on earth; and man — the microcosm and miniature copy of the macrocosm — is the living witness to this Universal Law, and to the mode of its action. We see that every external motion, act, gesture, whether voluntary or mechanical, organic or mental, is produced and preceded by internal feeling or emotion, will or volition, and thought or mind. As no outward motion or change, when normal, in man’s external body can take place unless provoked by an inward impulse, given through one of the three functions named, so with the external or manifested Universe. The whole Kosmos is guided, controlled, and animated by almost endless series of Hierarchies of sentient Beings, each having a mission to perform, and who — whether we give to them one name or another, and call them Dhyan-Chohans or Angels — are “messengers” in the sense only that they are the agents of Karmic and Cosmic Laws. (Secret Doctrine Vol. .I , 274)


Friday, 1 December 2017

Through the Gates of Gold – Chapter 2 – The Mystery of Threshold - Part 2


Part 2 offers some advice using practical analogies of normal life and gives some insights on the use of the will:

”There is no doubt that a man must educate himself to perceive that which is beyond matter, just as he must educate himself to perceive that which is in matter. Every one knows that the early life of a child is one long process of adjustment, of learning to understand the use of the senses with regard to their special provinces, and of practice in the exercise of difficult, complex, yet imperfect organs entirely in reference to the perception of the world of matter. The child is in earnest and works on without hesitation if he means to live. Some infants born into the light of earth shrink from it, and refuse to attack the immense task which is before them, and which must be accomplished in order to make life in matter possible.”

”That the initial effort is a heavy one is evident, and it is clearly a question of strength, as well as of willing activity. But there is no way of acquiring this strength, or of using it when acquired, except by the exercise of the will. It is vain to expect to be born into great possessions.
In the kingdom of life there is no heredity except from the man’s own past. He has to accumulate that which is his. This is evident to any observer of life who uses his eyes without blinding them by prejudice; and even when prejudice is present, it is impossible for a man of sense not to perceive the fact.”
Relevant passages from Light on the Path:
Thus with the disciple, he must first become a disciple before he can even see the paths to choose between. This effort of creating himself as a disciple, the re-birth, he must do for himself without any teacher. (Comments, 2)
This is, of course, a faculty which indwells in that soul, which is inherent. The would-be disciple has to arouse himself to the consciousness of it by a fierce and resolute and indomitable effort of will.(Comments, 2)
There’s quite a good entry for Will in  HPB’s Theosophical Glossary:
Will. In metaphysics and occult philosophy, Will is that which governs the manifested universes in eternity. Will is the one and sole principle of abstract eternal MOTION, or its ensouling essence. “ The will”, says Van Helmont, “is the first of all powers. . . . The will is the property of all spiritual beings and displays itself in them the more actively the more they are freed from matter.” And Paracelsus teaches that “determined will is the beginning of all magical operations. It is because men do not perfectly imagine and believe the result, that the (occult) arts are so uncertain, while they might he perfectly certain.” Like all the rest, the Will is septenary in its degrees of manifestation. Emanating from the one, eternal, abstract and purely quiescent Will (Âtmâ in Layam), it becomes Buddhi in its Alaya state, descends lower as Mahat (Manas), and runs down the ladder of degrees until the divine Eros becomes, in its lower, animal manifestation, erotic desire. Will as an eternal principle is neither spirit nor substance but everlasting ideation. As well expressed by Schopenhauer in his Parerga, “ in sober reality there is neither matter nor spirit. The tendency to gravitation in a stone is as unexplainable as thought in the human brain. . . If matter can—no one knows why——fall to the ground, then it can also—no one knows why—-think. . . . As soon, even in mechanics, as we trespass beyond the purely mathematical, as soon as we reach the inscrutable adhesion, gravitation, and so on, we are faced by phenomena which are to our senses as mysterious as the WILL.”

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Divine Madness: Plato on Sex and Love, part 1

Letter 19 from the Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom, second series, is quite intriguing:
Know, O Brother mine, that where a truly spiritual love seeks to consolidate itself doubly by a pure, permanent union of the two, in its earthly sense, it commits no sin, no crime in the eyes of the great Ain-Soph, for it is but the divine repetition of the Male and Female Principles-the microcosmal reflection of the first condition of Creation. On such a union angels may well smile! But they are rare, Brother mine, and can only be created under the wise and loving supervision of the Lodge, in order that the sons and daughters of clay might not be utterly degenerated, and the Divine Love of the Inhabitants of Higher Spheres (Angels) towards the daughters of Adam be repeated. But even such must suffer, before they are rewarded. Man's Atma may remain pure and as highly spiritual while it is united with its material body; why should not two souls in two bodies remain as pure and uncontaminated notwithstanding the earthly passing union of the latter two.
It sounds like an esoteric version of Platonic love, and so that will be the topic of today’s post:
In the Phaedrus, Plato describes a three-level cosmos composed of a supreme reality, a world of gods and a world of souls. The inferior levels look to the higher levels for sustenance. The gods look to Reality, the souls look to the gods and have a less direct view of reality. Redemption is ultimately based on judgement and atonement according the merit of one’s actions and behaviour. Plato considers that the philosophical life is the ideal path to redemption. He introduces the role of beauty along with the notion of divine madness. The beauty that one sees in the beloved creates an intense feeling of inspired frenzy.
This divine madness of lovers is considered to be the fourth and greatest type of madness. It provokes a recollection of the original vision of essential truths of the soul in the heavens. He describes the original vision of divine beauty as one of the brightest visions in the celestial world in lyrical, mystical tones. He relates the process of recollection to the mother of the muses. Beauty is described as being the most vividly manifested of essential principles and is particularly striking because it appeals to our visual sense, considered to be the brightest and sharpest of our senses. Plato however observes that the sight of beauty is like a double-edged sword. If experienced with modesty and restraint, it is a deeply uplifting experience. Without those sanctifying virtues it can lead to a debased carnality and crude sensuality. It is this moral challenge of beauty that the speech is essentially concerned with.[1]
 The image of the charioteer and the two horses, a noble one and an unruly one, are introduced corresponding to the rational, spirited and sensual divisions of the soul in the Republic. In Freudian terms, the struggle to control the unruly horse in the sight of beauty could be described as a process of sublimating the energies of the libido (instincts and unconscious energies) through a proper repression in order to develop a socially functional adult behaviour.[2]
According to Sanford: “The debate on the Symposium concerning the status of eros in its ‘‘educated’’ forms can be (and sometimes explicitly is) presented precisely in relation to Freud’s concept of sublimation. Is it that a specifically sexual concept of eros is postulated as the driving force behind the higher sublimated aims of the philosopher – that eros as sexual passion is responsible for all desire, including the desire to philosophize, and that philosophy is thus a sexual-erotic discipline? (Sanford 53)
In summary, Plato uses the image of the charioteer and the two horses at a cosmic level for ontological purposes. The charioteer participating in the divine revolutions denotes the soul’s metaphysical nature. The fall of the soul deals with the problem of the origins of human incarnation and the origins of human consciousness. It serves to evoke why human beings have the capacity for reason and understanding, distinguishing them from animals, despite having an animal nature. When the soul suffers incarnation in a body, Plato pursues the charioteer image to develop on the epistemological, psychological and ethical aspects of the human condition.
Plato concludes the myth by discussing three paths that a loving relationship can take: one lived in chaste purity and virtue leads to salvation, regaining one’s wings; a life of virtue inspired by love, but with occasional lapses into physical passion, leads to a slower, partial redemption; a relationship characterized by seduction and calculation is not conducive to salvation. The loss and re-growth of wings deals with the intellectual faculties of the soul. The loss symbolizing forgetfulness and ignorance and the re-growth denoting progress in recollection and knowledge.

[1] These, in sum, are innocent frequenters of beauty, not to be confused with the class to whom it becomes an occasion of fall into the ugly – for the aspiration towards a good degenerates into an evil often” (Plotinus, III, 5, 1).
2]We have defined the concept of ‘‘libido’’ as a quantitatively variable force which could serve as a measure of processes and transformations occurring in the field of sexual excitation. We distinguish this libido in respect of its special origin from the energy which must be supposed to underlie mental processes in general, and we also thus attribute a qualitative character to it (Sanford 54); Socrates’ speech identifies (contra Halperin) a metaphysical desire for immortality shared by all animals,including the human. Even intellectual procreation in the more abstract forms of beauty is described in ecstatic terms. Eros, in all its manifestations, is neither somatic nor psychical, neither ‘‘sexual’’ nor ‘‘non-sexual,’’ but both
"(Sanford 56).



Divine Madness: Plato on Sex and Love, part 2

For the sake of comparison, the speech of Diotima with the myth of Eros in Symposium (200-212) will be considered as a later stage in the redemptive process of love and beauty (after the soul’s initial incarnation). While the Phaedrus could be said to emphasize a primordial phase in ethical purification, the Symposium can be considered to elaborate a later, more intellectual process of salvation through love (a phase where the ascent occurs after many incarnations). Since the speech of Diotima has been amply summarized, commentary will be limited to certain comparative considerations.

In the ascent to the contemplation of absolute beauty, there are certain intellectual strategies that can be noticed:
1-An inductive movement from multiplicity to simplicity – observing many beautiful bodies before choosing a single representative example of beauty (210b).

2-A deductive movement from particular to general – the essential qualities of the ideal example of beauty are applied to all examples of beautiful bodies (210b).The first two phases apply to visible, concrete beauty. The next two phases are applied to a consideration of conceptual, abstract beauty.

3-A deductive process where the universal notions of concrete beauty are applied to concepts and values. The beauty of virtues, of ideas, sciences (210c).

4-An inductive process of contemplating various instances of conceptual beauty to arrive at an understanding of absolute, essential beauty, which is the source of the previous forms of beauty. (211a-b)

The notion of regeneration of wings in the Phaedrus corresponds to the notion of pregnancy in the Symposium: Growing wings can be related to giving birth to intellectual creations. Moreover the notion of ascension by growing wings corresponds with ascension via climbing a ladder in the Symposium The role of eros is related to the intermediary position of the soul; the daimon communicatesbetween the divine and material worlds.

The emphasis on the cosmic role of beauty in the process of generation of the cosmos in the  Phaedrus is shifted to the role of beauty in human procreation and artistic and intellectual creativity. Plato makes an interesting connection between the sexual function and the artistic function; Artistic creation is related to physical procreation. The sensual role of beauty of the body is considered in a more positive light. In the Phaedrus (and the Phaedo), the body is considered as a prison and a serious impediment to intellectual activity, to be suppressed and overcome. In the Phaedrus, physical love is not considered redemptive; in the Symposium it is granted that coition represents a desire for immortality and the desire to create beauty. This desire for immortality seems to be a more attenuated form of his theory of recollection of the Phaedrus. (1)(2) In both dialogues, beauty plays a role of catalyst to salvation.(3)

Both dialogues portray the lover’s beauty as a basis for appreciating higher forms of beauty such as moral or intellectual beauty. The Symposium emphasizes a more active process of the role of beauty in a romantic relationship. Beauty inspires the philosopher to educate the lover to be more virtuous. Romantic love is considered to be part of a complex psychological process; the love a soul mate is not absolute; the love is not entirely for one`s partner, the love is a desire for absolute goodness, or the desire to become one with the absolute good. Ultimately it is a love for one’s higher self; (4) a metaphysical self-centered love similar to Aristotle's notion of philia in book seven of the  Nichomachean Ethics, in the sense that friendship is essentially achieved by becoming a good person.


Interestingly, Blavatsky's definition of the Sanskrit term Kama in the Theosophical Glossary (p. 171-72) has certain similarities with Plato's notions of a higher and lower Eros:

As the Eros of Hesiod, degraded into Cupid by exoteric law, and still more degraded by a later popular sense attributed to the term, so is Kama a most mysterious and metaphysical subject. The earlier Vedic description of Kama alone gives the key-note to what he emblematizes. Kama is the first conscious, all embracing desire for universal good, love, and for all that lives and feels, needs help and kindness, the first feeling of infinite tender compassion and mercy that arose in the consciousness of the creative ONE Force, as soon as it came into life and being as a ray from the ABSOLUTE. Says the Rig Veda, “Desire first arose in IT, which was the primal germ of mind, and which Sages, searching with their intellect, have discovered in their heart to be the bond which connects Entity with non-Entity”, or Manas with pure Atma-Buddhi. There is no idea of sexual love in the conception. Kama is pre-eminently the divine desire of creating happiness and love; and it is only ages later, as mankind began to materialize by anthropomorphization its grandest ideals into cut and dried dogmas, that Kama became the power that gratifies desire on the animal plane.

(1) According to Robin,"Recollection of essential reality is replaced with the notion of the innate desire of immortality"(181).

(2) Plotinus distinguishes two levels of inspiration from beauty, one which provokes recollection, and a lower, less consciouslevel: "There are souls to whom earthly beauty is a leading to the memory of that in the higher realm and these love the earthlyas an image; those that have not attained to this memory do not understand what is happening within them, and take the imagefor the reality. Once there is perfect self-control, it is no fault to enjoy the beauty of earth; where appreciation degenerates intocarnality, there is sin. (Plotinus, III, 5, 1)

(3) Plutarch calls it a refraction: "But the noble and self-controlled lover has a different bent. His regard is refracted to the other world, to Beauty divine and intelligible" (Plutarch 409, Amatorius 766B).

(4) "All that one sees as a spectacle is still external; one must bring the vision within and see no longer in that mode of separation but as we know ourselves; thus a man filled with a god – possessed by Apollo or by one of the Muses – need no longer look outside for his vision of the divine being; it is but finding the strength to see the divinity within" (Plotinus, V, 8, 10).


References:
Plato. The Banquet. Percy Byshe Shelley, transl. Provincetown : Pagan Press, 2001. Print.
- - -. Phaedrus. J. H. Nichols Jr., transl. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1998. Print.
Plotinus. Enneads V. A.H. Armstrong, transl. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Print.
Plutarch.  Moralia IX ‘’The Dialogue on Love’’ transl. W. C. Helmbold: Harvard University Press, 1967. 302-441. Print.
Robin, Léon. La Théorie Platonicienne de L’Amour . Paris : Presses Universitaires de France.1933. Print.
Sandford, Stella. "'Sexually Ambiguous. Eros and Sexuality in Plato and Freud' Journal of thetheoretical humanities 109 (2006) 11 3 43 — 59 28 Mar. 2011 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09697250601048507>.




Thursday, 9 November 2017

Dimensions of Sacred Geography



Chapter 14 of Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled, vol. 1 featured a pioneering study of Sacred Architecture and Sacred Geography and the field is doing very well nowadays thank you very much, notably with the work of people such as Rana P.B. Singh of India, below are the fivefold dimensions of sacred geography from Visioning Sacred Geography, Rana P.B. Singh from Sacred Geography of Goddesses in South Asia, p. 9:

The notion of sacred geography refers to an all-encompassing reality that maintain the prāna (ethereal breathe/ life-force) by interactional web of the five gross elements (mahābhutas), viz. earth, air, water, fire, and ether/space. The interactional web of network may further be reflected into at least five dimensions (cf. Pogačnik 2007: 5-6):
(i) Dimension of eternity representation of primeval vibration, the divine all-presence, the light of light, e.g. sacred territory like Vindhyāchal Kshetra.
(ii) Archetypal dimension of reality the inherent quality of spatial manifestation that preserves the sense of planetary creation or archetypal patterns behind reality, e.g. representation of other sacred places of India in the sacredscapes of Banaras.
(iii) Dimension of consciousness the operational system of cosmic ideas and archetypes that makes the mindset and covers the range from mental to emotional, and from intuitive to rational ultimately making the ‘belief systems’, e.g. various myths, folk believes and rituals that make the consciousness always alive, active and expanding.
(iv) Etheric dimension possessing vital-energy or bio-energetic dimensions, symbolised with ether that invisible hold and manifests the rest four elements, e.g. Vital-energy fields, Earth chakras, and channel/orsite of vital power or places of healing.
(v) Material dimension the dimension in which embodiment of minerals, plants, animals, human beings, landscape features, stars and the Earth’s crust takes place the visual world of physical perceptibility.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Through the Gates of Gold – Chapter 2 – The Mystery of Threshold - Part 1



There are no more meaningless or trifling circumstances in his life, for each is a link purposely placed in the chain of events that have to lead him forward to the “Golden Gate” or the “Gates of Gold”. Each step, each person he meets with, every word uttered may be a word purposely placed in the day’s sentence with the purpose of giving certain importance to the chapter it belongs to and such or another (Karmic) meaning to the volume of life. (HPB, Letter to London Students)
Part 1


“THERE is no doubt that at the entrance on a new phase of life something has to be given up. The child, when it has become the man, puts away childish things.”
“With each drop of the divine draught which is put into the cup of pleasure something is purged away from that cup to make room for the magic drop. For Nature deals with her children generously: man’s cup is always full to the brim; and if he chooses to taste of the fine and life-giving essence, he must cast away something of the grosser and less sensitive part of himself.”
“This has to be done daily, hourly, momently, in order that the draught of life may steadily increase. And to do this unflinchingly, a man must be his own schoolmaster, must recognize that he is always in need of wisdom, must be ready to practise any austerities, to use the birch-rod unhesitatingly against himself, in order to gain his end.”
“For that there is before him power, life, perfection, and that every portion of his passage thitherwards is crowded with the means of helping him to his goal, can only be denied by those who refuse to acknowledge life as apart from matter. Their mental position is so absolutely arbitrary that it is useless to encounter or combat it. Through all time the unseen has been pressing on the seen, the immaterial overpowering the material; through all time the signs and tokens of that which is beyond matter have been waiting for the men of matter to test and weigh them.”
Relevant passages from Light on the Path:
All steps are necessary to make up the ladder. The vices of men become steps in the ladder, one by one, as they are surmounted. The virtues of man are steps indeed, necessary — not by any means to be dispensed with. Yet, though they create a fair atmosphere and a happy future, they are useless if they stand alone. The whole nature of man must be used wisely by the one who desires to enter the way. (1,20)

 Seek it by testing all experience, by utilizing the senses in order to understand the growth and meaning of individuality, and the beauty and obscurity of those other divine fragments which are struggling side by side with you, and form the race to which you belong. (1,20)

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The 12 Most Important Ethical-Moral Philosophy Writings of All-Time


Modern technocratic capitalist society prides itself in its scientific advances and material comfort, at least for those who live in the developed western world. However, the ethical problem seems to have slipped away somehow. Religion no longer knows how to inspire morality, philosophers get lost in specialized theoretical speculations, and politicians like to legislate the loftiest ethical visions that have no way of being applied practically. Why not turn to the ancients? They had both the theoretical and practical aspects well in hand, inspiring right moral conduct with insight, wit and culture.

1- Shantideva (8th century) - Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra. "A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life"
Before reading Shantideva, I thought I knew what compassion was; what did I know? Nothing. This one is a dark horse candidate, not having been fully translated into English until the early 1960s, but since the explosion of Buddhism in the last 30 years, this timeless jewel of Mahayana ethics has skyrocketed to prominence.
2- Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC –43 BC) - De Officiis (On Duties or On Obligations)
This work was the second most printed work besides the Bible in the 17th century and has been hugely influential on enlightenment ethics. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback. Its eloquent, erudite blend of deontology, virtue and utilitarian ethics set the standard for ethics in cosmopolitan societies.
3- Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) - Analects
Confucious devoted his life to studying and promoting ethics and is a consummate master in the art of the pithy ethical aphorism. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback.
4- Epictetus. (c. AD 55 – 135) - Enchiridion. or Manual of Epictetus
Cicero
His reputation for living the ethical  life that he tirelessly taught made him respected by all the philosophical schools of antiquity. A master in understanding how to regulate the mind to achieve serenity. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback.
5- Svayambhuva Manu - Manusmṛti or Laws of Manu
Encapsulating what is best in Hindu tradition, this work understands the importance of ethical education for all phases of life, from the earliest childhood to the very end of life and beyond.
Before reading The Imitation of Christ, I thought I knew what charity was; what did I know? Nothing. This work is the second most printed Christian work, next to the Bible. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback.
7- Maimonides (1135 or 1138 - 1204) - Guide for the Perplexed
Maimonides was one of the greatest philosophers of the medieval era who wrote prolifically. Fortunately for us, he summarized his ideas in one volume for the edification of countless readers since.
8- Sa'di (c. 1208- 1291 /1294) - Gulistan  ("The Rose Garden")
Ethical works are known for being stern and serious, so this work is probably the most enjoyable work to read on this list. With charming poetic stories, fables and anecdotes, this Sufi author created one of the most popular and edifying books of all time.
9- Plato  (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) -  Gorgias
The inspired speech of Socrates on the importance of the ethical life in the final part of this classic dialogue set the agenda for most western ethical enquiry to follow.
10- Patanjali (5th c. BCE to 4th c. CE) - Yoga sūtras
This one is the comeback success story. The Theosophical Society helped revive this neglected classic of yoga philosophy and its influence since then has been remarkable; no self-respecting meditation teacher can do without it.
11- Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65) - Moral letters to Lucilius 


Seneca was active in all facets of Roman life, literature and politics and this work is probably the most concerned with practical ethical problems pertaining to urban living. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback.
12- Plutarch (c. AD 46 – AD 120) - Moralia
This large 14-volume set is not all about ethics, but largely so.  A proud and accomplished custodian of the finest heritage of Greek civilisation, he answers all the questions on how to behave with elegance in a wide variety of situations of city living. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback.