Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Mahatma Letters on Compassion

Who are these mysterious Mahatmas, Adepts, Brothers, Sisters...Much creative speculation has been written on them and they have many imitators - why not read the original texts? One thing that can be said, is that compassion seems to be a primary concern (thanks to Katherine Beechey):

You cannot truly be students of the Divine Wisdom, save as you are active in the service  of the Divine Life. Where trouble is, where suffering is, where ignorance is, where quarrel is, where oppression, where cruelty is-there must we find the earnest members of Our society.

For it is “humanity” which is the great Orphan, the only disinherited one upon this earth, my friend. And it is the duty of every man who is capable of an unselfish impulse to do something, whoever little, for its welfare. KH (Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom, Series I, p.74)

A man who places not the good of mankind above his own good is not worthy of becoming our chela, -he is not worthy of becoming higher in knowledge than his neighbor. M (Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, p. 252)

Send forth Atma’s most divine emanations, proceeding of that God-like sentiment-the love of mortal man for its fellow creature in its higher spiritual expression, and concentrating them…find… the means of benefiting humanity by the practical application of the Sephiroths of Love, Mercy, Justice, Divine Charity and boundless Self-abnegation. S. (Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom, Series 2, p.40)

For, though no one ought to be expecting thanks, for doing his duty by humanity and the cause of truth-since, after all, he who labours for others, labours but for himself-nevertheless, my Brother, I feel deeply grateful to you for what you have done. KH  (Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, p. 239)

To all, whether Chohan or chela, who are obligated workers among us the first and last consideration is whether we can do good to our neighbour, no matter how humble he may be; and we do not permit ourselves to even think of the danger of any contumely, abuse or injustice visited upon ourselves. We are ready to be "spat upon and crucified" daily — not once — if real good to another can come of it. KH (Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, p. 395)

He who is desirous to learn how to benefit humanity, and believes himself able to read the character of other people, must begin first of all, to learn to know himself, to appreciate his own character at its true value. M (Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, p. 222)

Woman’s mission is to become the mother of future occultists-one of those who will be born without sin. On the elevation of woman the world’s redemption and salvation hinge. And no till woman bursts the bonds of her sexual slavery to which she has ever been subjected will the world obtain an inkling of what she really is and of her proper place in the economy of nature. (Eminent Occultist, Comm. On E. Levi’s Paradoxes)

If he (H.S.O) is “ignorant of many things, so are his accusers, and because he remains still uninitiated the reason… is very plain: to this day he has preferred the good  of the many to his own personal benefit. Having given up the advantages derived from steady, serious chelaship by those who devote themselves to it, for his work for other people-these are those who now turn against him. M (Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom, Series 2, p.63)

The greatest consolation in and the foremost duty of life, child, is not to give pain, and avoid causing suffering to man or beast. KH (Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom, Series 1, p.153)

Our Society is not a mere intellectual school for occultism, and those greater than we have said that he who thinks the task of working for others too hard had better not undertake it. The moral and spiritual sufferings of the world are more important, and need help and cure more than science needs aid from us in any field of discovery. KH (Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom, Series 1, p.77)

Are you ready to do your part in the great work of philanthropy? You have offered yourself for the Red Cross; but, Sister, there are sicknesses and wounds of the Soul that no Surgeon’s heart can cure. Shall you help us teach mankind that the soul-sick must heal themselves? M (Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom, Series 2, p.129)

Cease  to judge a movement, a cause, and opinion, by the extent to which it appeals to you, satisfies you, or perhaps antagonizes you. Examine rather the measure of its power to be of service to others in their need. (TS Jubilee book)

You cannot truly be students of the Divine Wisdom, save as you are active in the service  of the Divine Life. Where trouble is, where suffering is, where ignorance is, where quarrel is, where oppression, where cruelty is-there must we find the earnest members of Our society. (TS Jubilee book)

Let every Theosophist only do his duty, that which he can and ought to do, and very soon the sum of human misery, within and around the areas of every Branch of your Society, will be found visibly diminished. (Lucifer January 1888 edition, pp. 344)

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a review of the Truth and Reconciliation report

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Jacob Boehme on Religious Tolerance

Some  timeless reflections by the great Christian theosophist, Jacob Boehme:
150. But the Holy Ghost teacheth in the holy Teachers, and the Spirit of Christ heareth through the Soul, which is the Divine House of the Divine Sound or Voice in the holy Hearer.

151. The holy Man hath his Church in himself, wherein he heareth and teacheth.  But Babel hath a Heap of Stones, into which she goeth with her seeming Holiness and real Hypocrisy.  There she loveth to be seen in fine Clothes, and maketh a very devout and godly Shew; the Church of Stone is her God, in which she putteth her Confidence.

152. But the holy Man hath his Church about him every where, even in himself; for he always standeth and walketh, sitteth and lyeth down in his Church.  He liveth in the true Christian Church; yea, in the Temple of Christ.   The Holy Ghost preacheth to him out of every Creature.  Whatsoever he looketh upon, he seeth a Preacher of God therein.
153. Here now the Scoffer will say that I despise the Church Of Stone, where the Congregation meeteth; but I say that I do not.  For I do but discover the hypocritical Whore of Babylon, which committeth Whoredom with the Church of Stone, and termeth herself a Christian, but is indeed a Strumpet.
154. A true Christian brings his holy Church with him into the Congregation.  For the Heart is the true Church, where a Man must practise the Service of God.  If I should go a thousand Times to Church, and to the Sacrament every Week, and hear Absolution declared to me every Day, and have not Christ in me, all would be false, an unprofitable Fiction and graven Image in Babel, and no forgiving of Sins.
155. A holy Man doth holy Works from the holy Strength of his Mind.  The Work is not the Atonement or Reconciliation, but it is the Building which the true Spirit buildeth in his Substance; it is his Habitation.  But the Fiction and Fancy is the Habitation of the false Christian, into which his Soul entereth with Dissimulation.  The outward Hearing reacheth but to the outward, and worketh in the outward only; but the inward Hearing goeth into the inward, and worketh in the inward.
Regeneration or the New Birth (1622), Chapter 6)

162. But a Christian is of no Sect: he can dwell in the Midst of Sects, and appear in their Services, without being attached or bound to any.   He hath but one Knowledge, and that is, Christ in him.  He seeketh but one Way, which is the Desire always to do and teach that which is right; and he putteth all his knowing and willing into the Life of Christ. 163. He sigheth and wisheth continually that the Will of God might be done in him, and that his Kingdom might be manifested in him.   He daily and hourly killeth Sin in the Flesh; for the Seed of the Woman, viz. the inward Man in Christ, continually breaketh the Head of the Serpent, that is, the Power of the Devil, which is in Vanity.

164. His Faith is a Desire after God and Goodness; which he wrappeth up in a sure Hope, trusting to the Words of the Promise, and liveth and dieth therein; though as to the true Man, he never dieth.

165. For Christ saith, Whosoever believeth in me, shall never die, but hath pierced through from Death to Life; and Rivers of living Water shall flow from him, viz. good Doctrine and Works.

166. Therefore I say, that whatsoever fighteth and contendeth about the Letter, is all Babel.  The Letters of the Word proceed from, and stand all in, one Root, which is the Spirit of God; as the various Flowers stand all in the Earth and grow about one another.  They fight not with each other about their Difference of Colour, Smell, and Taste, but suffer the Earth, the Sun, the Rain, the Wind, the Heat and Cold, to do with them as they please; and yet every one of them groweth in its own peculiar Essence and Property.

167. Even so it is with the Children of God; they have various Gifts and Degrees of Knowledge, yet all from one Spirit.  They all rejoice at the great Wonders of God, and give Thanks to the most High in his Wisdom.   Why then should they contend about him in whom they live and have their Being, and of whose Substance they themselves are?

(Regeneration or the New Birth (1622), Chapter 7)

a review of the Paris climate summit:

Friday, 11 December 2015

Theosophy Basics: Blavatsky on Freedom

Obviously, Blavatsky wrote extensively on her brand of traditionial esoteric global perrenialism,which integrates a very fine analysis of Hegel's philosophy of history. It is probably not one of the more popular or better understood aspects of her thought, I think because it is not in tune with the current modern form of sceptical empiricism . One important component of her admirably deep and perceptive semantic approach is the value of freedom, of which she developed a remarkably progressive perspective; the passages below are a few typical examples:

Blavatsky's universalist perspective entails that freedom of thought is an important value:
We hold to no religion, as to no philosophy in particular: we cull the good we find in each. But here, again, it must be stated that, like all other ancient systems, Theosophy is divided into Exoteric and Esoteric Sections. (Key, 19)

"Verily so," we answer. "But where is the alleged contradiction in this? Neither the Founders, nor the 'most prominent members,' nor yet the majority thereof, constitute the Society, but only a certain portion of it, which, moreover, having no creed as a body, yet allows its members to believe as and what they please." PHILOSOPHERS AND PHILOSOPHICULES [Lucifer, Vol. V, No. 26, October, 1889, pp. 85-91, CW11, 431]

Membership in the Theosophical Society does not expose the "Fellows" to any interference with their religious, irreligious, political, philosophical or scientific views. The Society is not a sectarian nor is it a religious body, but simply a nucleus of men devoted to the search after truth, whencesoever it may come.  [FORCE OF PREJUDICE Lucifer, Vol. IV, No. 23,July, 1889, pp. 353-360, CW11, 330]

A cosmopolitan sense of equality and respect of fundamental human rights for all is part of this perspective:
We have already said in The Theosophist: "Born in the United States of America, the Theosophical Society was constituted on the model of its mother country. The latter, as we know, omits the name of God from its constitution, lest, said the Fathers of the Republic, this word someday afford the pretext for a State religion; for they wanted to grant absolute equality in its laws to all religions so that all would support the State and all in their turn would be protected."   The Theosophical Society was established on this beautiful model.   THE NEW CYCLE [La Revue Theosophique, Paris, Vol.  I, No.  I, March 21, 1889, pp. 3-13, CW11, 123]

ENQUIRER. What do you consider as due to humanity at large?
THEOSOPHIST. Full recognition of equal rights and privileges for all, and without distinction of race, colour, social position, or birth.
ENQUIRER. When would you consider such due not given?
THEOSOPHIST. When there is the slightest invasion of another's right — be that other a man or a nation; when there is any failure to show him the same justice, kindness, consideration or mercy which we desire for ourselves. The whole present system of politics is built on the oblivion of such rights, and the most fierce assertion of national selfishness. The French say: "Like master, like man"; they ought to add, "Like national policy, like citizen." (Key, 230)

To begin with, no Fellow in the Society, whether exoteric or esoteric, has a right to force his personal opinions upon another Fellow. "It is not lawful for any officer of the Parent Society to express in public, by word or act, any hostility to, or preference for, any one section (3), religious or philosophical, more than another. All have an equal right to have the essential features of their religious belief laid before the tribunal of an impartial world. And no officer of the Society, in his capacity as an officer, has the right to preach his own sectarian views and beliefs to members assembled, except when the meeting consists of his co-religionists. (Key, 50)

In general, self-reliance, independent and original thinking is encouraged, in a spirit of inclusiveness. The position is one of neutrality, objectivity and open-mindedness; this is considered to be the basis of a non-sectarion, non-dogmatic position:

As a body, the Theosophical Society holds that all original thinkers and investigators of the hidden side of nature whether materialists--those who find in matter "the promise and potency of all terrestrial life," or spiritualists--that is, those who discover in spirit the source of all energy and of matter as well, were and are, properly, Theosophists. For to be one, one need not necessarily recognize the existence of any special God or a deity. One need but worship the spirit of living nature, and try to identify oneself with it. To revere that Presence, the invisible Cause, which is yet ever manifesting itself in its incessant results; the intangible, omnipotent, and omnipresent Proteus: indivisible in its Essence, and eluding form, yet appearing under all and every form; who is here and there, and everywhere and nowhere; is ALL, and NOTHING; ubiquitous yet one; the Essence filling, binding, bounding, containing everything, contained in all. It will, we think, be seen now, that whether classed as Theists, Pantheists or Atheists, such men are near kinsmen to the rest. Be what he may, once that a student abandons the old and trodden highway of routine, and enters upon the solitary path of independent thought--Godward--he is a Theosophist; an original thinker, a seeker after the eternal truth with "an inspiration of his own" to solve the universal problems. [What are the Theosophists? The Theosophist, Vol. I, October, 1879, pp. 5-7, CW2, 98]

The Society, in its capacity as an abstract corporation, believes in nothing, accepts nothing, teaches nothing. The Society per se cannot and must not have any religion, for it contains all religions. Cults are, after all, but external vehicles, more or less material forms and containing more or less of the essence of the One and Universal Truth. In its essential nature Theosophy is the spiritual as well as the physical science of this Truth--the very essence of deistic and philosophical research. As visible representative of the universal Truth, since it contains all religions and philosophies, and since each of them contains in its turn a portion of this Truth--the Society could not be sectarian, have preferences, or be any more partial than, say, an anthropological or geographic society. Do the latter care to what religion their explorers belong, so long as each of their members bravely carries out his duty?   THE NEW CYCLE [La Revue Theosophique, Paris, Vol.  I, No.  I, March 21, 1889, pp. 3-13, CW11, 123]

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Thursday, 3 December 2015

Book Review: The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky Vol. One, 2003

The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky Vol. One, Quest Books, 2003, John Algeo, editor.
Early in the new millenium, Blavatsky's Collected Works project got a welcome re-boot with the first installment of her collected letters. There are 134 letters, covering mainly a four-year period, 1875-78, the important seminal years of the Theosophical Society and the writing of Isis Unveiled, in the United States. Roughly three quarters of these letters have previously appeared in various books of collected letters of hers, giving roughly 30 letters that are more obscure, although almost all of the letters have been published; the only exception being a short previously unpublished note to Olcott from the Adyar archives in India (letter 29). There is a Canadian connection in that several of the more obscure letters were reprinted in the late-lamented magazine The Canadian Theosophist in the 1980s. The thoroughness in gathering all this material together is impressive.
On a more controversial note, the inclusion of possible forgeries or adulterated source material, of which Blavatsky has been the victim, for purposes of defamation, on several occasions. In most cases, a note indicating the problematic nature of the letter is included. Fantastically, there is letter 7, an alleged letter of Blavatsky offering her services to a secret government department as a spy for Russia. Although the reference information in the letter seems fairly accurate, the letter on the whole comes across as far-fetched and contrived and so is most likely inauthentic, although the original copy has never been analyzed, which is a shame. Ironically, this letter originally surfaced in 1986, shortly after the Society for Psychical Research  (SPR) issued a  publication analyzing the infamous 1885 Hodgson report, the main source of her mainstream reputation woes, largely exonerating her. This new letter has had considerable mileage in academic circles.

The interesting letters to Hurrichund Chintamon were transcribed by Eleanor Sidgwick on behalf of the SPR, and although probably mostly authentic, there are some wonky passages of questionable authenticity. A series of letters that do not have any notes indicating problems of authenticity are the letters to A.N. Aksakov, a Russian spiritualist writer,  taken from Solovyov's A Modern Priestess of Isis, which has a notoriously negative portrayal of Blavatsky, most likely inspired by the Hodgson report, which entailed probable adulteration of certain otherwise authentic letters. Although they seem mostly authentic, the letter involving Andrew Jackson Davis in particular, seems questionable. Since it is a rather touchy issue, a certain disclaimer might have been appropriate. Since this problem had been amply covered previously, notably in Jean Overton Fuller's Blavatsky and her Teachers, it would have been a good opportunity to set the record straight. There are at least four distinct cases of forgery problems with Blavatsky so perhaps a separate study on all of them would be useful.
Of particular interest are letters to Olcott (44), to W.S. Moses (59), and C.C. Massey (65,74) which contain much interesting passages on esoteric philosophy, which, interestingly, shows that she was already acquainted with the distinctive theosophical tenets that were only published during and after her stay in India  (It is very regrettable that the considerable correspondence known to exist to the latter two have been lost). Moreover, there are a half dozen lengthy letters to her aunt Nadya de Fadeyev, both erudite and heartfelt. One small caveat is that since many of the letters that deal with the mysterious character of John King, concern a mysteriously produced painting, it would have been nice to include an illustration of said painting, as it has survived.

Most of the original Russian letters are previously unpublished translations by original collected works editor Boris de Zirkoff and many letters have benefited from verification with the archived originals. There is much helpful historical notes and explanatory text as this hefty 600-page tome collects much scattered material together for the first time, a treasure-trove of material for both theosophists and historians alike. Volume two is eagerly awaited.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Blavatsky on the Six Perfections (Paramitas) - Part 3

Below is an abridged rendetion of Blavatsky's Voice of the Silence  dealing with the six Paramitas:

Armed with the key of Charity, of love and tender mercy, thou art secure before the gate of Dâna, the gate that standeth at the entrance of the path.
Behold, O happy Pilgrim! The portal that faceth thee is high and wide, seems easy of access. The road that leads therethrough is straight and smooth and green. 'Tis like a sunny glade in the dark forest depths, a spot on earth mirrored from Amitâbha's paradise. There, nightingales of hope and birds of radiant plumage sing perched in green bowers, chanting success to fearless Pilgrims. They sing of Bodhisattvas' virtues five, the fivefold source of Bodhi power, and of the seven steps in Knowledge.
Pass on! For thou hast brought the key; thou art secure.

And to the second gate the way is verdant too. But it is steep and winds up hill; yea, to its rocky top. Grey mists will over-hang its rough and stony height, and all be dark beyond. As on he goes, the song of hope soundeth more feeble in the pilgrim's heart. The thrill of doubt is now upon him; his step less steady grows.
Beware of this, O candidate! Beware of fear that spreadeth, like the black and soundless wings of midnight bat, between the moonlight of thy Soul and thy great goal that loometh in the distance far away.
Fear, O disciple, kills the will and stays all action. If lacking in the Śîla virtue, — the pilgrim trips, and Karmic pebbles bruise his feet along the rocky path.

Be of sure foot, O candidate. In Kshânti's* essence bathe thy Soul; for now thou dost approach the portal of that name, the gate of fortitude and patience.
[*Kshânti, "patience," vide supra the enumeration of the golden keys.]
Close not thine eyes, nor lose thy sight of Dorje; Mâra's arrows ever smite the man who has not reached Virâga*.
Beware of trembling. 'Neath the breath of fear the key of Kshânti rusty grows: the rusty key refuseth to unlock.
But once that thou hast passed the gate of Kshânti, step the third is taken. Thy body is thy slave. Now, for the fourth prepare, the Portal of temptations which do ensnare the inner man.

Ere thou canst near that goal, before thine hand is lifted to upraise the fourth gate's latch, thou must have mustered all the mental changes in thy Self and slain the army of the thought sensations that, subtle and insidious, creep unasked within the Soul's bright shrine.
If thou would'st not be slain by them, then must thou harmless make thy own creations, the children of thy thoughts, unseen, impalpable, that swarm round humankind, the progeny and heirs to man and his terrestrial spoils. Thou hast to study the voidness of the seeming full, the fulness of the seeming void. O fearless Aspirant, look deep within the well of thine own heart, and answer. Knowest thou of Self the powers, O thou perceiver of external shadows?
If thou dost not — then art thou lost.
For, on Path fourth, the lightest breeze of passion or desire will stir the steady light upon the pure white walls of Soul. The smallest wave of longing or regret for Mâyâ's gifts illusive, along Antahkarana— the path that lies between thy Spirit and thy self, the highway of sensations, the rude arousers of Ahankâra — a thought as fleeting as the lightning flash will make thee thy three prizes forfeit — the prizes thou hast won.
For know, that the ETERNAL knows no change.
"The eight dire miseries forsake for evermore. If not, to wisdom, sure, thou can'st not come, nor yet to liberation," saith the great Lord, the Tathâgata of perfection, "he who has followed in the footsteps of his predecessors."
Stern and exacting is the virtue of Virâga. If thou its path would'st master, thou must keep thy mind and thy perceptions far freer than before from killing action.
Thou hast to saturate thyself with pure Alaya, become as one with Nature's Soul-Thought. At one with it thou art invincible; in separation, thou becomest the playground of Samvriti, origin of all the world's delusions.
Prepare, and be forewarned in time. If thou hast tried and failed, O dauntless fighter, yet lose not courage: fight on and to the charge return again, and yet again.
The fearless warrior, his precious life-blood oozing from his wide and gaping wounds, will still attack the foe, drive him from out his stronghold, vanquish him, ere he himself expires. Act then, all ye who fail and suffer, act like him; and from the stronghold of your Soul, chase all your foes away — ambition, anger, hatred, e'en to the shadow of desire — when even you have failed. . .
Remember, thou that fightest for man's liberation, each failure is success, and each sincere attempt wins its reward in time. The holy germs that sprout and grow unseen in the disciple's soul, their stalks wax strong at each new trial, they bend like reeds but never break, nor can they e'er be lost. But when the hour has struck they blossom forth. . .
But if thou cam'st prepared, then have no fear.

Henceforth thy way is clear right through the Vîrya gate, the fifth one of the Seven Portals. Thou art now on the way that leadeth to the Dhyâna haven, the sixth, the Bodhi Portal.

The Dhyâna gate is like an alabaster vase, white and transparent; within there burns a steady golden fire, the flame of Prajñâ that radiates from Âtman.
Thou art that vase.

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Thursday, 19 November 2015

Blavatsky and the Six Perfections (Paramitas) - Part 2

Below are passages from the great Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist scholar Gampopa (1079–1153), from the classic Jewel Ornament of Liberation:

Generosity has three classifications:
A. giving wealth,
B. giving fearlessness, and
C. giving Dharma.

The practice of giving wealth will stabilize others’ bodies, giving fearlessness will stabilize others’ lives, and giving Dharma stabilizes others’ minds. Furthermore, the first two generosity practices establish others’ happiness in this life. Giving Dharma establishes their happiness hereafter. (Chapter 12.3)

Moral ethics has three classifications:

A. moral ethics of restraint,
B. morality of accumulating virtuous Dharma, and
C. morality of benefitting sentient beings.

The first means to restrain your mind in a proper place; the second one means to mature the Dharma qualities of your mind; and the third one means to fully mature sentient beings.(Chapter 13.3)

Patience has three classifications:
• the patience of feeling ease toward someone harmful,
• the patience of accepting suffering, and
• patience in understanding the nature of Dharma.

The first one is practicing patience by investigating the nature of the one who creates harm. The second one is practicing patience by investigating the nature of suffering. The third one is practicing patience by investigating the unmistakable nature of all phenomena. Put another way, the first two are practiced in the conventional state, and the third one is practiced according to the ultimate state. (Chapter 14.3)

 Perseverance has three classifications:
A. perseverance of armor,
B. perseverance of application, and
C. insatiable perseverance.

The first is the excellent motivation, the second one is excellent applied effort, and the third one is the perfection of these two. (Chapter 15.3)

Actual meditative concentration has three classifications:
A. meditative concentration of abiding in bliss at the present,
B. meditative concentration of accumulating good qualities, and
C. meditative concentration of benefitting sentient beings.

The first one is the method to make a proper vessel of one’s own mind. The second one is establishing all of the Buddha’s qualities on the basis of the proper vessel. The third one is benefitting sentient beings. (Chapter 16.3)
The commentary to the Ornament of Mahayana Sutra lists three types:
A. wisdom awareness of the mundane,
B. wisdom awareness of the lesser supramundane, and
C. wisdom awareness of the greater supramundane.

A. Wisdom Awareness of the Mundane.
The study of medicine and healing, the study of reasoning, the study of linguistics, and the study of the arts—the wisdom awareness which arises in dependence on these four is called wisdom awareness of the mundane.

The two types of supramundane wisdom awareness are called inner awarenesses which arise in dependence on the holy Dharma.

B. Wisdom Awareness of the Lesser Supramundane.
The first, the lesser supramundane wisdom awareness, is the wisdom awareness that arises from the hearing, reflection, and meditation of the Hearers and Solitary Realisers. It is the realization that the afflicted aggregates of personality are impure, of the nature of suffering, impermanent, and without self.

C. Wisdom Awareness of the Greater Supramundane.
Second, the greater supramundane wisdom awareness is the wisdom awareness that arises from the hearing, reflection, and meditation of the followers of the Mahayana. It is the realization that all phenomena are, by nature, emptiness, unborn, without a foundation and without roots.
 The 700 Stanza Perfection of Wisdom says:
The realization that all phenomena are unborn— that is the perfection of wisdom awareness. Fully realizing that phenomena are without any inherent existence is the practice of the supreme perfection of wisdom awareness.

Also, the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment says:
That which is called wisdom awareness has been thoroughly explained as coming from the realization of the emptiness of inherent existence, which is the realization that aggregates, constituent elements, and sources are without birth

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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Blavatsky and the Six Perfections (Paramitas) - Part I

 In part three of Blavatsky's Voice of the Silence, "The Seven Portals", we are given a very distinctive take on the traditional Six Paramitas of Buddhism:

1. DANA, the key of charity and love immortal.

 2. SHILA, the key of Harmony in word and act, the key that counterbalances the cause and the effect, and leaves no further room for Karmic action. 

3. KSHANTI, patience sweet, that nought can ruffle.

4. VIRYA, the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal TRUTH, out of the mire of lies terrestrial.

5. DHYANA, whose golden gate once opened leads the Narjol* toward the realm of Sat eternal and its ceaseless contemplation.  [*A saint, an adept.]

6. PRAJNA, the key to which makes of a man a god, creating him a Bodhisattva, son of the Dhyanis. 

Plus: VIRAGA, indifference to pleasure and to pain, illusion conquered, truth alone perceived.
Moreover, she mentions the Paramitas elsewehere, on occasion:

 "Try to realize that progress is made step by step, and each step gained by heroic effort. Withdrawal means despair or timidity. . . . Conquered passions, like slain tigers, can no longer turn and rend you. Be hopeful then, not despairing. With each morning's awakening try to live through the day in harmony with the Higher Self. 'Try' is the battle-cry taught by the teacher to each pupil. Naught else is expected of you. One who does his best does all that can be asked. There is a moment when even a Buddha ceases to be a sinning mortal and takes his first step toward Buddhahood. The six and ten Paramitas (virtues) are not for priests and yogis alone, as said, but stand for models for us all to strive after--and neither priest nor yogi, Chela nor Mahatma, ever attained all at once. . . . The idea that sinners and not saints are expected to enter the Path is emphatically stated in the Voice of the Silence."

Here's a good basic introduction to the Paramitas, courtesy of His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman:

''Although the generation of the aspirational aspects of the bodhichitta alone is very remarkable and a virtuous action in itself, that alone will not fulfill your aim of achieving Buddhahood. It is important to engage in the practice of the bodhisattva deeds. These deeds, called the six perfections, constitute the essential and comprehensive path to enlightenment, combining methods and wisdom. The Buddha himself said that by the force of their wisdom bodhisattvas abandon all the delusions, but by the force of their compassionate method they never abandon sentient beings. These two aspects of the path should always be undertaken in combination, never in isolation. The entire practice of the bodhisattva is classified under the six perfections, which are generosity, ethics, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom.

To fulfill the wishes of others it is very important to engage in the practice of generosity, and generosity itself should be reinforced by the pure observance of ethics, abstaining from inflicting harm upon others. The actual practice itself should be completed by the practice of patience, because you should have forbearance toward harm inflicted upon you by others. In order to engage in such practices, you must have strong effort. Without concentration, your practice will not be powerful. And without wisdom realizing the nature of phenomena, you will not be able to guide others rightly on the path leading to the achievement of enlightenment.''

(The Way to Freedom Harper Sanfrancisco, 1994)

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Theosophy Basics - Blavatsky's Ten Fundamental Propositions

Blavatsky's Ten Fundamental Propositions of Oriental Philosophy from Isis Unveiled caught on quite well, and remain a pretty good universal summary of principles of a traditional world view:
To comprehend the principles of natural law involved in the various phenomena already described, the reader must keep in mind the fundamental propositions of Oriental philosophy which we have elucidated, as yet. Let us recapitulate very briefly:
  1. There is no miracle. Whatever happens is the result of law — eternal, immutable, ever active. The evidenced 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 which were once "known", but are known to science, nowadays.
  2. Nature is triune: there is a visible, objective nature; an invisible, indwelling, energizing nature, the exact model of the former one, and its vital principle; and, above these two, SPIRIT, source of all forces, alone eternal, and indestructible. The lower two constantly change; the third one, the higher, never does.
  3. Man is, also, triune: he has his objective, physical body; his vitalizing astral body (or soul), the real man; and these two are hatched together and illuminated by the third — the supreme, the immortal spirit. When real man succeeds in merging himself with the latter, he becomes an immortal entity.
  4. Magic, as a science, is the knowledge of these principles, and of the way in which the omniscience and omnipotence of the spirit and its control over nature's forces may be acquired by the individual while still in physical life. Magic, as a technique, is the application of this knowledge in practice.
  5. Arcane knowledge if misapplied, is sorcery; beneficently used, it is true magic or WISDOM.
  6. Mediumship is the opposite of adeptship; the medium is the passive instrument of external influences, the adept actively controls himself and all inferior forces.
  7. All things that ever were, are, or will be, are recorded on the astral light, or tablet of the invisible universe. The initiated adept, through insight, is in a position to know all that has been ever known or may be known in the future.
  8. Human races differ in spiritual gifts as they differ in color, stature, or any other external attribute; among some people seership prevails innately; among others, mediumship. Some are overpowered by black magic, and, as a result, transmit its secret rules of practice from generation to generation, with a range of psychical phenomena, more or less known.
  9. One phase of magical skill is the voluntary and conscious withdrawal of the inner man (astral body) from the outer man (physical body). In the case of some mediums withdrawal occurs, but it is unconscious and involuntary. When this happens, the body is more or less dormant; but with the adept the absence of the astral body would not be noticed, as the physical senses are alert, and the individual appears only as if absent-minded —in a state of " brown study," as many people call it.
  10. The corner-stone of MAGIC is profound, practical knowledge of magnetism and electricity, their qualities, correlations, and potencies. Especially necessary is a familiarization with their effects in and upon the animal kingdom and man.
To sum up: MAGIC is spiritual Wisdom; nature is the material ally, pupil and servant of the magician. One common vital principle pervades all things, and this is controllable by the perfected human will...
(Isis Unveiled, Vol. ΙΙ, 587-590)
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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Are there a specific number of reincarnations?

Thank you so much one and all for the warm reception at Sunday's talk. Some loose ends:
The Theosophical explanations on reincarnation do give a specific number of reincarnations. Is this 777 related to the symbolism of a well-known mystical and biblical number?They do not specifically make the connection. As far as I know, this explanation remains a distinct theosophical view and as offered is succinct and mathematical, and can thus be considered a comparitively pragmatic and rational explanation as far as mystical questions go. (nb. please make allowance for the outdated colonialist anthropoligcal terminology of the time, merely used out of practical semantic necessity. Blavatsky was openly critical of colonialism. According to
Gauri Viswanathan (The Ordinary Business of Occultism, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Autumn, 2000, p. 19), the Mahatma Letters, "brilliantly combine a critique of both colonialism and secularism by admitting the occult into the making of worldly relations and a more inclusive account of the world than the one allowed by imperial, secular histories".( p. 19)

The Mahatma Letters to A.P.Sinnett, (Letter No. 14):

"(7b) However, to set you right so far I will say — one life in each of the seven root-races (nb.race meaning cultural groups or humanities in today's terms - mc); seven lives in each of the 49 sub-races — or 7 x 7 x 7 = 343 and add 7 more. And then a series of lives in offshoot and branchlet races; making the total incarnations of man in each station or planet 777 (...)Not much to divide over some millions of years that man passes on one planet. Let us take but one million of years — suspected and now accepted by your science — to represent man's entire term upon our earth in this Round; and allowing an average of a century for each life, we find that whereas he has passed in all his lives upon our planet (in this Round) but 77,700 years he has been in the subjective spheres 922,300 years. Not much encouragement for the extreme modern re-incarnationists who remember their several previous existences!

Should you indulge in any calculations do not forget that we have computed above only full average lives of consciousness and responsibility. Nothing has been said as to the failures of Nature in abortions, congenital idiots, death of children in their first septenary cycles, nor of the exceptions of which I cannot speak. No less have you to remember that average human life varies greatly according to the Rounds. Though I am obliged to withhold information about many points yet if you should work out any of the problems by yourself it will be my duty to tell you so. Try to solve the problem of the 777 incarnations."

This questions is further discussed in Sinnett's Esoteric Buddhism, p. 51 (which is derived from Letter 14):

A little bit more is developed in Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine Vol. I, p. 168:

A nice article in a contemporary context by Jean-Louis Siemons:
The transpersonal model of death as presented in Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy:

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Book review: Joe Fisher - The Case for Reincarnation

Joe Fisher’s The Case for Reincarnation. 1998, Sommerville Publishing (Revised in 1997)  This 1984 work is considered something of a modern classic on the question of reincarnation, at least in the field of popular bestsellers. I think the book’s main merit is the very broad survey that it delivers, an impressive array and variety of different sources and topics. The text is concise and entertaining.

In chapter one, he gives a nice overview of belief in reincarnation in the west. In chapter two, he investigates the cases of the claims of past life experiences in children notably through the cases of Dr. Ian Stevenson and Hermendra Banerjee. In chapter 3, he presents arguments from modern science and the traditional cyclical argument. In chapter four, the case of child prodigies, children showing exceptional abilities at a very young age – as well as past life regression therapies via hypnosis are examined.

Chapter five, deals with the Past life therapy. In chapter six, he looks at the more traditional beliefs of various ancient myth of different cultures. In chapter seven, he studies the case of reincarnation in Christianity. In chapter eight, he looks into the question of after-life experience, notably the Bardo planes of the Tibetan book of the dead, near-death experiences and various other theories.

In chapter nine, he explores the possibility of cognizing future lives. In chapter ten, Explores the use of hypnotherapy in exploring past lives and the question of the possibility of reincarnating as animals. In chapter eleven, he explores the problem of suicide and its consequences on reincarnation. In chapter twelve, he examines the role of the planet Pluto in reincarnation and the author provides an astrological predications for the next few decades.

In chapter thirteen, he revisits the question of past life regression techniques. In chapter fourteen, he examines the case of Tibet’s Dalai Lama in terms of past life remembrance case and looks and revisits past life regression therapy. In chapter fifteen, he revisits Dr. Stevenson’s past life memory cases and the question of birth defects or birth marks as tangible evidence of reincarnation and looks again at past life regression therapy.  In chapter sixteen, he broaches the notion of karma and attempts to formulate a conclusion and philosophy based on the evidence of reincarnation presented.

He gives fair credit to the theosophical contributions to the field and at the same time one can notice the wide influence of theosophy on modern spiritual ideas, as many of the concepts covered can be traced to original theosophical writings, although the author does not indicate this. Unfortunately, when expounding on theosophy (p. 142), the account apparently does not rely on original theosophical texts, but rather summaries from other sources. Regrettably, such is the reality of mainstream publishing more often than not - apparent specialist accounts of theosophy give rather garbled second-hand versions of the key concepts. Simply consulting Blavatsky’s Key to Theosophy directly, for example, would solve the problem, yet it’s an unfortunate reality that it is still quite difficult to get accurate accounts of theosophical concepts in mainstream publications.

Looking at Chapter Seven, entitled “The Lost Chord of Christianity”, although he does credit the title to William Q. Judge, he does not seem to be aware that it was in fact Judge who specifically coined the term used as the title of the chapter and that his writings seem to form the basis for most of the ideas covered in the chapter. See, for example, his article  “Reincarnation and Judaism in the Bible”,  among others  (Theosophist E. D. Walker’s  Reincarnation, 1887, is another early study of the presence of reincarnation in Christianity).

The final chapter attempts to propose an overall philosophical conclusion yet gives perhaps too little space examining the notion of karma, which might have given more depth to the discourse.  (Interestingly, one of the most philosophical citations in the chapter is a very traditional oriental account by Annie Besant). Moreover, the chapters tend to have a rather diffused feel.  For example cases of past-life therapy and the Stevenson cases reappear in various chapters for no obvious reason. Moreover, although the author does aim to build a serious case or Reincarnation, he occasionally tends toward the uncritical, highly optimistic emotionalism of the California new age experimental alternative therapy field - chapters nine and twelve being indicative of this weakness. Since there is such a large amount of citations, more specific referencing would have been appreciated as well. Nonetheless, the book remains a readable, accessible, interesting, well-researched mainstream work on reincarnation.

William Q Judge's Aphorisms on Karma and Hindu Scripture (Part 1)

From another well-know Judge article, these 31 aphorisms first appeared in the March 1893 issue of The Path. In the May and June 1893 issues of The Theosophist, a learned Hindu pandit, E. Desikacharya, somewhat critically responded by stating that these are fairly common traditional notions about Karma, providing an impressive series of quotations. Below are the aphorisms together with the passages from Hindu scripture:

(1) There is no Karma unless there is a being to make it or feel its effects.
"If they (the afflictions) are the root (of Karma) fructification (or result) is rank, years, and enjoyment" Patanjali, Yoga Sutras (II. 1:3).

"All the creatures in the world would have been exterminated if there were no Karma. If also Karma bore no fruits, creatures would have never multiplied ......... Without Karma, the course of life itself would be impossible." (Mahabharata (Vanaparva, sec. XXXII)

"There must be a body for the Karma to operate on, and Karma to operate on a body" (Vatsyayana's Commentary on the Nyaya Sutras, III. 2, 64).

(2) Karma is the adjustment of effects flowing from causes, during which the being upon whom and through whom that adjustment is effected experiences pain or pleasure.
"These (Karmas) have joy or suffering as their fruits, according as the cause is virtue or vice." Patanjali, Yoga Sutras (II, 14)

(3) Karma is an undeviating and unerring tendency in the Universe to restore equilibrium, and it operates incessantly.
"The consequence of the Karma that is once done can never be obviated." (Mahabharata. Vanaparva CCIX)

(4) The apparent stoppage of this restoration to equilibrium is due to the necessary adjustment of disturbance at some other spot, place, or focus which is visible only to the Yogi, to the Sage, or the perfect Seer: there is therefore no stoppage, but only a hiding from view.
"The Karma done must be suffered, whether good or bad." (Suta Samhita)

"Indeed, all creatures live according to the Karma of a former life, even the Creator and the Ordainer of the Universe, like a crane that liyeth on the water (untaught by anyone)". (Mahabharata. Vanaparva, Sec. XXXII):

(5) Karma operates on all things and beings from the minutest conceivable atom to Brahma. Proceeding in the three worlds of men, gods, and the elemental beings, no spot in the manifested universe is exempt from its sway.
"Karma affects the whole Universe from Brahman to the grass," Mahabharata

See also Manu Smriti (XII, 9-51)

(6) Karma is not subject to time, and therefore he who knows what is the ultimate division of time in this Universe knows Karma.
"As it (Karma) is not controlled by Time and Space, it should not be judged by Time and Space." (Vyasadeva, Commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras - II, 1:1)

(7) For all other men Karma is in its essential nature unknown and unknowable.
" It is very difficult, to know which is Karma and which is not Karma". (Bhagavadgita, IV, 17)

"He who knows it is a wise man" (Bhagavadgita, V. 19). )

(8) But its action may be known by calculation from cause to effect; and this calculation is possible because the effect is wrapped up in and is not succedent to the cause.
See Manu (Chap. XII, 39-51)

"We have to conjecture about the nature of our previous Karma, by our present birth" (Vyasadeva, Commentary on Patanjali II,13)

"Its action can only be conjectured," (Bhojadeva, Commentary on Patanjali)

(9) The Karma of this earth is the combination of the acts and thoughts of all beings of every grade which were concerned in the preceding Manvantara or evolutionary stream from which ours flows.
Since every cause must have an effect and since the present Karma is the result of past Karma, and Karma is thus said by Sankaracharya to be with no beginning, it is reasonable to suppose that the Karma of the present Manvantara is the result of the past.

(10) And as those beings include Lords of Power and Holy Men, as well as weak and wicked ones, the period of the earth's duration is greater than that of any entity or race upon it.
(see Patanjali's Yoga Sutra II, 1, Vyasadevas Commentary)

(11) Because the Karma of this earth and its races began in a past too far back for human minds to reach, an enquiry into its beginning is useless and profitless.
"The objection would be valid if the world was had a beginning; but, as it is without beginning, merit and inequaity are like seed and sprout, caused as well as causes, and there is therefore no logical objection to their operation." (Sankara, Commentary on Bhagavadgita, II. 1. 35)
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William Q Judge's Aphorisms on Karma and Hindu Scripture (Part 2)

It is not clear how critical E. Desikacharya is of these Aphorisms, but that's OK because back in the day, discussion, criticism and debate had an important place in the various theosophical periodicals, which are still worth checking out -At the time, The Theosophist, Lucifer, and The Path, and others were of a rather remarkably consistent high quality.

(13) The effects may be counteracted or mitigated by the thoughts and acts of oneself or of another, and then the resulting effects represent the combination and interaction of the whole number of causes involved in producing the effects.
"The effects (of Karma) which have not yet begun to operate will be counteracted, or will die out (Brahma Sutras.IV, 4, 1)
See also the Prayaschitka Khanda and Madhavacharya, Commentary on Parasara Smriti, chapter on Karmavipaka.

Madhvacharya, at the end of the chapter on Prayaschitta, observes that all of them are. only for Sancita Karma and not for Prarabdha Karma, and refers to the Brahma Sutras above quoted for his authority. He also adds that any prayaschitta undergone for counteracting or mitigating any other kind of Karma is no real prayaschitta, for, although their fruition is temporarily held in abeyance, he will have to suffer it in the future.

(14) In the life of worlds, races, nations, and individuals, Karma cannot act unless there is an appropriate instrument provided for its action.
See references to Aphorism No. 1.

(15) And until such appropriate instrument is found, that Karma related to it remains unexpended.
"In the Sanhita Karma, that which is most powerful, first begins to bear fruition, and it has body (also) as its instrument to work through." . (Madhavacharya , Prayaschitta Kanda):

See also references for Aphorism No. 13.

(16) While a man is experiencing Karma in the instrument provided, his other unexpended Karma is not exhausted through other beings or means, but is held reserved for future operation; and lapse of time during which no operation of that Karma is felt causes no deterioration in its force or change in its nature.
“Only when there are Klesas (Kama, Kroda, &c.), will Karma be able to bear fruition. When there are no Klesas, no Karma can act, just as rice which has husk and which is not fried will sprout. Thus Karma will not be operative either when the husk of the Klesas are burnt off by Brahmagnana, or when there is no such husk. The fruition of Karma is either age and experience. We shall now enquire, is one kind of Karma the cause of one birth, or many births? Or, are several kinds of Karma the causes of a single birth? If we think of saying that a single Karma is the cause of birth , that will not do, as we cannot say whether it is one of the Karmas done in the previous births, or a Karma of the present birth, that is the cause of the next birth . Hence mankind will not, as a body, have a desire to do good Karma.* If we should suppose a single Karma, then the case becomes more hopeless. If we should again suppose that several Karmas are the cause of several births, how can there be a large number of births in a single birth, the conclusion to which we are invariably driven. Thus what we should say is, that certain kinds of Karma committed between birth and death (in an incarnation) group round a more important Karma, cause the individual’s death, and give him a new birth altogether. It is those Karmas that give him sufficient age (to experience ) . How to know them we can only infer...”

“ Karma is of two kinds, viz., that which bears fruition and that which does not. That which we can infer from the mere fact of our existence, is the Karma which bears fruition (Niyatavipaka).The other kind of Karma (Aniyatavipaka) is of three kinds : (a ) That which perishes in the bud : (b) That which acts as an auxiliary to a more important karma (c) and that which does not begin to bear fruition at once , but only works after several incarnations. The Sruti says: ‘Two kinds of Karma should be known : one is bad; the virtuous make it perish . Hence shouldst thou desire to make good Karma . Gnanis know this Karma” (Vyasadeva`s Commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras , II, 13)

“The residue of works have affliction for their root, and are felt (either ) in this manifest birth , (or) in the unmanifest one”. (Sutra XII).

(17) The appropriateness of an instrument for the operation of Karma consists in the exact connection and relation of the Karma with the body, mind, intellectual and psychical nature acquired for use by the Ego in any life.
See references for Aphorism No. 14.

(18) Every instrument used by any Ego in any life is appropriate to the Karma operating through it.

(19) Changes may occur in the instrument during one life so as to make it appropriate for a new class of Karma, and this may take place in two ways: (a) through intensity of thought and the power of a vow, and (b) through natural alterations due to complete exhaustion of old causes.
In other words, the Karma which was hitherto bearing fruition has stopped doing so owing to the “repetition of Mantras, penance (under which is included Prayaschitta ) and Samadhi,”which are no other than the “ intensity of thought” and “ power of a vow”. See Bhojadeva’s or Vyasadeva’s Commentary on Patanjali’s Sutra (II, xii).

(20) As body and mind and soul have each a power of independent action, any one of these may exhaust, independently of others, some Karmic causes more remote from or nearer to the time of their inception than those operating though other channels.

(21) Karma is both merciful and just. Mercy and Justice are only opposite poles of a single whole; and Mercy without Justice is not possible in the operations of Karma. That which man calls Mercy and Justice is defective, errant, and impure.

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