Sunday, 28 June 2015

The spiritual meaning of St-John's Day / Midsummer Day / the Summer Solstice


Midsummer Day or St-John’s Day (or Nativity) is particularly popular in Quebec (see http://www.lysenfetelysenfeu.net/histoire/les-origines-de-la-fete-de-la-saint-jean-baptiste), so I thought a post on this would be nice.

Evidently, the feast is intimately connected with the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, that is the day when the sun reaches its highest or lowest excursion relative to the celestial equator (the Tropic of Cancer) and occupies the sky for the longest time, marking the beginning of summer. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun's path (as seen from Earth) comes to a stop before reversing direction.

Ancient Sacred Calendars gave a symbolic spiritual importance to equinoxes and solstices, those four dates forming four key moments in the year, a cross within a circle, symbolically. The Neoplatonic philosopher, Porphyry, in his eloquent essay “On the Homeric Caves of the Nymphs” explains that the tropic of Cancer  is related to Summer and the  Moon and is the North gate where the souls descend ; The tropic of Capricorn is related to Winter and Saturn, and is South gate of ascent. Ascent is related to liberation, for example, the Roman Saturnalia festival is therefore related to the Southern Tropic and features elements of divesting of garments symbolising the return to pristine felicity, the fountain of life. The entrances are said be aligned with the North-South tropic rather than the East-West/Aries-Libra equinoctial axis because Sothis, the Dog-Star is near Cancer and related to the new moon, thus a symbol of generation.

In the Secret Doctrine,Vol. 3, Blavatsky devote many chapters to ancient solar symbolism. Following the erudite French Mason Jean-Marie Ragon, she notes how the Masonic story of Hiram Abiff is related to this sacred calendar concept:

“Ragon explains it by showing that the three companions of Hiram, the “three murderers,” typify the three last months of the year; and that Hiram stands for the Sun—from its summer solstice downwards, when it begins decreasing—the whole rite being an astronomical allegory.
‘During the summer solstice, the Sun provokes songs of gratitude from all that breathes; hence Hiram, who represents it, can give to whomsoever has the right to it, the sacred Word, that is to say life. When the Sun descends to the inferior signs all Nature becomes mute, and Hiram can no longer give the sacred Word to the companions, who represent the three inert months of the year. .. From this interpretation it has been inferred that Hiram, a founder of metals, the hero of the new legend with the title of architect, is Osiris (the Sun) of modern initiation; that Isis, his widow, is the Lodge, the emblem of the Earth (loka in Sanskrit, the world) and that Horus, son of Osiris (or of light) and the widow’s son, is the free Mason, that is to say, the Initiate who inhabits the terrestrial lodge (the child of the Widow, and of Light.)’(Collected Writings 14, pp. 264-65)

This concept has been carried over to Christianity and again one can note the Egyptian connection; according to Ralph Ellis:
"In a similar fashion, the birth of John the Baptist is said to have occurred exactly six months before that of Jesus, a convenient tradition which resulted in John’s birth representing the summer solstice while Jesus’ birth represented the winter solstice. It is clear, therefore, that the Church of Jesus was often associated with Osiris (the dying sun) while the winter solstice was identified with Horus (the reborn Sun), and so the origins of this ‘new’ religion were ultimately Egyptian. Which is correct because, as we have seen many times previously, Jesus was indeed identified with Horus in the famous Madonna and Child symbology. This is also why John said of Jesus:
John answered and said.. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am no the Christ (the king), but that I am sent before him… He must increase,  but I must decrease (John 3:27-30)" (King Jesus: King of Judaea and Prince of Rome (2008),  p.4)

This linking of John Baptist to the Solstice goes back at least to Augustine, well-versed in Platonic symbolism. In Sermon 380, he writes:

"So let both their deaths also speak of these two things: 'It is necessary for him to grow, but for me to diminish.' The one grew on the Cross, the other was diminished by the sword. Their deaths have spoken of this mystery, let the days do so too. Christ is born, and the days start increasing; John is born, and the days start diminishing."
Picture thanks to http://www.summersolstice2015.net/

Sunday, 21 June 2015

William Q Judge - On the Value of Philosophical Knowledge

Strength + Wisdom / Sympathy + Discrimination

Judge's epic commentary on Chapter 2 of the Baghavad Gita (Judge's translation was the first popular western edition, btw, he opened the floodgates)(1) - is a rich compendium of Judge's pet theosophical themes - the following passage gives a good idea of his original, practical approach:
http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/gita/bg-eg-hp.htm
"Although philosophy seems dry to most people, and especially to minds in the Western world who are surrounded by the rush of their new and quite undeveloped civilization, yet it must be taught and understood. It has become the fashion to some extent to scout careful study or practice and go in for the rapid methods inaugurated in America. In many places emotional goodness is declared to exceed in value the calmness that results from a broad philosophical foundation, and in others astral wonder seeking, or great strength of mind whether discriminative or not, is given the first rank. Strength without knowledge, and sympathetic tears without the ability to be calm — in fine, faith without works — will not save us. And this is one of the lessons of the second chapter.

The greatest of the ancients inculcated by both symbols and books the absolute necessity for the acquirement of philosophical knowledge, inasmuch as strength or special faculties are useless without it. Those Greeks and others who recorded some of the wisdom of the elder Egyptians well illustrated this. They said,
that in the symbols it was shown, as where Hermes is represented as an old and a young man, intending by this to signify that he who rightly inspects sacred matters ought to be both intelligent and strong, one of these without the other being imperfect. And for the same reason the symbol of the great Sphinx was established; the beast signifying strength, and the man wisdom. For strength when destitute of the ruling aid of wisdom, is overcome by stupid astonishment confusing all things together; and for the purpose of action the intellect is useless when it is deprived of strength. (2)
So, whether our strength is that of sympathy or of astral vision, we will be confounded if philosophical knowledge be absent.
But, so as not to be misunderstood, I must answer the question that will be asked, "Do you then condemn sympathy and love, and preach a cold philosophy only?" By no means. Sympathy and emotion are as much parts of the great whole as knowledge, but inquiring students wish to know all that lies in the path. The office of sympathy, charity, and all other forms of goodness, so far as the effect on us is concerned, is to entitle us to help. By this exercise we inevitably attract to us those souls who have the knowledge and are ready to help us to acquire it also. But while we ignore philosophy and do not try to attain to right discrimination, we must pass through many lives, many weary treadmills of life, until at last little by little we have been forced, without our will, into the possession of the proper seeds of mental action from which the crop of right discrimination may be gathered."

(1) See Ronald Neufeldt's excellent overview of the pioneering Theosophical approach to the Gita, "A Lesson in Allegory", in Modern Indian Interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita edited by Robert Neil Minor (notes on Judge's contribution can found on pages 23-25): https://books.google.ca/books?id=Ku2DGm20WWUC&pg=PA11&lpg=PA11&dq=bhagavad+gita+neufeldt&source=bl&ots=NY6eiBK5De&sig=kTZ3oY37PZFS0NeyVJfl8YTXl7o&hl=en&sa=X&ei=t4uQVcbsKMLt-QHwz4O4Ag&ved=0CCMQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=bhagavad%20gita%20neufeldt&f=false
(2)From Synesios' Treatise on Providence (Synesios was a learned Christian neoplatonist, and  there can occasionally be found vivid echoes with certain theosophical concepts in his writings - a very theosophy-friendly writer).

varia:
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report wraps up:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/truth-and-reconciliation-looking-back-on-a-landmark-week-for-canada-1.3102956

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Reincarnation Basics 6

Here's the final installment from Geoffrey Barborka's Secret Doctrine Questions and Answers.  I find Barborka's writings to be clear, concise and accurate, with an accessible pedagogical exposition, a recommended writer (Technical note: Devachan corresponds to the various 'heavens' in many religions. Kama Loka corresponds to the various 'purgatories')::

"In order to live in the world to come a conscious life, one has to believe first of all in that life during the terrestrial existence." (The Key to Theosophy, p. 165). (Comment 1)
Comment 1. It should be borne in mind that the quotation from The Key to Theosophyhas reference to a highly specialized state - representing the acme of attainment - which would result in a specific Devachanic state, whereas the descriptions usually given in connection with Devachan are generalized. For instance:
"Devachan is often compared to the happiest day in a series of many thousands of other 'days' in the life of a person. The intensity of its happiness makes the man entirely forget all others, his past becoming obliterated. This is what we call the Devachanic state, the reward of the personality." (The Secret Doctrine, V. 490-1; H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, XII, 627.)

This seems to lead to the supposition that a rank materialist, denying any life outside the body, would not go through the experiences of Kama-loka and Devachan. (Comment 2)
Comment 2. Here again a specified state is referred to: that of a "rank materialist." For that matter it should be remembered likewise that Devachan is strictly speaking an individualized state of consciousness:
"...there are great varieties in the Devachan states, and ... as many varieties of bliss, as on earth there are shades of perception and of capability to appreciate such reward. It is an ideated paradise, in each case of the Ego's own making." (The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, p. 102/100 3rd ed.)
However, in regard to Kama-loka there is this difference: the state of consciousness of an individual experiencing the state of Kama-loka differs from that experienced by the devachani. Therefore, from the standpoint of the teachings of Theosophy in connection with these two states of consciousness, it would not be correct to make the statement "that a rank materialist, denying any life outside the body, would not go through the experiences of Kama-loka and Devachan" without qualifying comments. To illustrate the point: a rank materialist who may have been a drunkard during his life on earth will certainly go through the experiences of desiring drink in Kama-loka and not be able to satisfy his desires. This, of course, is a "specialized kama-lokic experience," but the point is this: Kama-loka is literally the desire-world "the land of intense desires" (ibid.,p.109/106). On the other hand, a materialist who did not have strong attachments to drink or to other desireful tendencies or attractions would not experience intense desires in the Kama-loka, but would be in a condition similar to that of a person who is in a dull stupor. The significant factor is this: the after-death experiences of both the states of Kama-loka and Devachan depend upon the life that has been lived on earth. As for the experiences of Devachan: it should be remembered that one who enters the state of Devachan "brings along with him but the Karma of his good deeds, words and thoughts" (ibid., p. 101/98). Surely, even a materialist has his moments of good deeds, words and thoughts. It is these that will "bear fruit" or be experienced in the state of Devachan.

"Every effect must be proportionate to the cause. And, as man's terms of incarnate existence bear but a small proportion to his periods of inter-natal existence in the manvantaric cycle, so the good thoughts, words, and deeds of any one of these 'lives' on a globe are causative of effects, the working out of which requires far more time than the evolution of the causes occupied." (ibid., p. 106/104).
However, a rank materialist who has had no kind thoughts or feelings will not have such an experience. With regard to the materialist who denies immortality in general and the survival of his own individuality, H.P. Blavatsky writes: "he is right without knowing it. One who has no inner perception of, and faith in, the immortality of his soul, in that man the soul can never become Buddhi-taijasi, but will remain simply Manas, and for Manas alone there is no immortality possible." (Key, pp. 164-5). Buddhi-taijasi signifies Manas conjoined with Buddhi: it is this aspect of man's sevenfold constitution "which absorbs the Manasic recollections of all our preceding lives." (Key, 163). This is so "because both immortality and consciousness after death become, for the terrestrial personality of man, simply conditioned attributes, as they depend entirely on conditions and beliefs created by the human soul itself during the life of its body. Karma acts incessantly: we reap in our afterlife only the fruit of that which we have ourselves sown in this." (Key, 160)

These subtile worlds - or rather states of consciousness - we are taught, involve the consequences of the causes generated during earth-life, and should therefore be consciously experienced by everyone. (Comment 3)
Comment 3.This is very well phrased. We may indeed refer to the "subtile worlds" as the globes on the Ascending Arc - Globes E, F and G - which may well be equated to superior states of consciousness, when viewed from the standpoint of our consciousness on Globe D of the Earth-chain. However, the clue to understanding this aspect of the subject was provided by the questioner in Comment 4 (which follows).

The clue to this question lies perhaps in the word "full" in the text of The Divine Plan, p. 385: "...in order to have full consciousness during the after-death states one must attain that knowledge as well as that ability during the life lived on earth." (Comment 4)
Comment 4. Yes, indeed, in order to attain the FULL consciousness of experiencing the after-death states, an individual "must attain that knowledge as well as that ability during the life lived on earth." This is truly a challenging proposition, yet it is a highly desirable one. A beginning towards its accomplishment may be made by striving to elevate one's thought-life by consistently raising it above the plane of desires and holding it at that superior level.

Would you please explain the difference of the conditions post-mortem for a student of Theosophy and for a disbeliever? (Comment 5)
Comment 5. Of course, students of Theosophy vary as to their qualifications. Naturally, the more a student attains the ability of experiencing higher states of consciousness during life on earth and has built these states or experiences into the fabric of his being - or the "web of life" which he creates from day to day - the more will such experiences be re-lived in the state of Devachan; especially so if he believes that he will re-experience such higher states of consciousness in the post-morten sojourn.
Thus far the significance of the state of Devachan has been stressed; but the study-group's attention should be directed to the status and cycle of the monad in the afterdeath states. This was referred to by the Mahatma in the following passage: "no monad gets ever reincarnated before its appointed cycle." (M.L.176/173) In The Secret Doctrine this aspect was presented by means of the doctrines taught by the Egyptians and the Gnostics in connection with the cyclic journeys of the monad. Also reference was made to the Chaldaean account, in the chapter mentioned in the question. It was this aspect which was pointed to in the quotation from The Key to Theosophy. This is the knowledge which has been made available to students of Theosophy and which may be experienced in the after-death states - if dwelt upon during earth-life.

As for the disbeliever or materialist, H.P. Blavatsky wrote in a positive manner as to his after-death state:
"...according to the after life a man has believed in and expected, such is the life he will have. He who expected no life to come will have an absolute blank, amounting to annihilation, in the interval between the two rebirths. This is just the carrying out of the programme we spoke of, a programme created by the materialists themselves. But there are various kinds of materialists." (Key, p. 170).
As to the "programme" referred to, it should be borne in mind that each individual creates his own programme, and it is described in this manner:
"...death is sleep. After death, before the spiritual eyes of the soul, begins a performance according to a programme learnt and very often unconsciously composed by ourselves: the practical carrying out of correct beliefs or of illusions which have been created by ourselves. The Methodist will be Methodist, the Mussulman a Mussulman, at least for some time - in a perfect fool's paradise of each man's creation and making. These are the post-mortem fruits of the tree of life. Naturally, our belief or unbelief in the fact of conscious immortality is unable to influence the unconditioned reality of the fact itself, once that it exists; but the belief or unbelief in that immortality as the property of independent or separate entities, cannot fail to give colour to that fact in its application to each of these entities." (Key, p. 165)

Copyright the estate of the author or the publisher - used for academic purposes - the book is available at:
http://www.wizardsbookshelf.com/sd-questions-answers/

Friday, 5 June 2015

Blavatsky American Convention Letters

Blavatsky never returned to the United States after leaving for India. But she did keep certain contacts there (see for example her correspondence with William Q. Judge http://www.blavatskyarchives.com/hpbwqjtab.html) and sent nice letters to the American Theosophical conventions, which were re-published over the years; some of her best explanations of what Theosophy is can be found therein:
http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/hpb-am/hpb-am1.htm

From the first letter, 1888, quite eloquent:

"I am confident that, when the real nature of Theosophy is understood, the prejudice against it, now so unfortunately prevalent, will die out. Theosophists are of necessity the friends of all movements in the world, whether intellectual or simply practical, for the amelioration of the condition of mankind. We are the friends of all those who fight against drunkenness, against cruelty to animals, against injustice to women, against corruption in society or in government, although we do not meddle in politics. We are the friends of those who exercise practical charity, who seek to lift a little of the tremendous weight of misery that is crushing down the poor. But, in our quality of Theosophists, we cannot engage in any one of these great works in particular. As individuals we may do so, but as Theosophists we have a larger, more important, and much more difficult work to do. (1)

People say that Theosophists should show what is in them, that "the tree is known by its fruit." Let them build dwellings for the poor, it is said, let them open "soup kitchens," etc., etc., and the world will believe that there is something in Theosophy. These good people forget that Theosophists, as such, are poor, and that the Founders themselves are poorer than any, and that one of them, at any rate, the humble writer of these lines, has no property of her own, and has to work hard for her daily bread whenever she finds time from her Theosophical duties. (2)

The function of Theosophists is to open men's hearts and understandings to charity, justice, and generosity, attributes which belong specifically to the human kingdom and are natural to man when he has developed the qualities of a human being. Theosophy teaches the animal-man to be a human-man; and when people have learnt to think and feel as truly human beings should feel and think, they will act humanely, and works of charity, justice, and generosity will be done spontaneously by all."

Image thanks to: http://www.flightcentre.com.au/travel-news/destinations/american-independence-day-key-destinations/

(1) Blavatsky did eventually give support to a charitable London school for girls, even delivering a rare public speech at the official opening event.
(2) Blavatsky had steady writing contracts for Russian periodicals, contributing semi-autobiographical mystical travel writings (which are probably some of her most underated writings -see her From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan, The People of the Blue Mountains, The Durbar in Lahore)