Friday, 26 February 2016

Aphorisms on Providence

Nemesis, by Alfred Rethel (1837)
Based on common ideas in Plotinus' and Seneca's respective essays, "On Providence". ("Karma-Nemesis is the synonym of PROVIDENCE", Blavatsky, SD I, 643) This is more Stoic, hence the focus on practical ethics; it does not integrate reincarnation - we will do another in the future, based on Proclus' writings, where reincarnation and metaphysics will be factored in.
  1. The logos governs the all.
  2. Beauty and order in the natural world are signs of providence.
  3. Things occur in a chain of causation.
  4. There are phases of order and disorder; destruction is a necessary part of nature.
  5. The earth is very small and unimportant compared to the vastness of the universe.
  6. One can see the order of nature by observing that each part of the body is designed for a useful function.
  7. It is normal for things to happen according to physical laws, such as the stronger defeating the weaker.
  8. Troublesome situations play a role in the coordination of the whole.
  9. Providence heals like a doctor healing a wound or sickness.
  10. Adversity has benefits that are either evident are otherwise hidden.
  11. Troubles serve to awaken us and help us understand the nature of virtue and vice.
  12. Providence explains why good people are sometimes disfavored and bad people sometimes favored.
  13. Situations like poverty and sickness are not bad things for good people.
  14. The good life consists in being good; a bad life consists in being bad.
  15. The wrongdoer is punished by becoming wicked.
  16. Nothing that happens is bad for the good man; nothing that happens is good for the bad man.
  17. Good conduct consists in acting in accordance with providence.
  18. One should be self-reliant and not blame providence.
  19. Mishaps should be seen as a children’s game.
  20. Play your role in life as an actor in a play
  21. Death is like an actor exiting a play.

varia: Blavatsky congress in Portugal:

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Plotinus and the Stoics on Providence

Blavatsky occasionally hints at the connection between the eastern notion of karma and the western notion of providence, clearly favoring the pantheistic pagan concept over the theistic version. (1)
"Karma-Nemesis is the synonym of PROVIDENCE, minus design, goodness, and every other finite attribute and qualification, so unphilosophically attributed to the latter. An Occultist or a philosopher will not speak of the goodness or cruelty of Providence; but, identifying it with Karma-Nemesis, he will teach that nevertheless it guards the good and watches over them in this, as in future lives; and that it punishes the evil-doer -- aye, even to his seventh rebirth"(Sd1 643).
The Greek term for ‘’fate’ is ‘’heimarmene’’, the term for providence is ‘’pronoia’’; and since providence was a major Neoplatonic doctrine, and a prominent theme in ancient philosophy in general, one can find works and fragments by such philosophers as Chrysippus, Nemesius of Ephesa, Apuleuis, Calcidius, Albinus, Pseudo-Plutarch, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Seneca, Epictetus, Cicero, Plotinus, Hierocles, Proclus, Synesius, and Boethius, I would therefore  like to go one step further and claim that karma and providence are equivalent terms. The quotes below show to illustrate this and also how both the Platonic and Stoic schools held similar views on this idea: 

    1. Troublesome situations play a role in the coordination of the whole.
      “And even these troubles are not altogether without usefulness for the co-ordination and completion  of the whole” (En. I, 5, 15).
      “For the present, I will say so much of the eventualities that you style harsh, unfortunate and detestable; in the first place, they benefit the individuals to whose lot they fall, and, in the second place , they benefit the whole body of mankind, for which the gods are more concerned than they are of individuals” (Seneca 3, 1, 15)
    2. Nothing that happens is bad for the good man; nothing that happens is good for the bad man.
       “As for people getting what they do not deserve, when the good get what is bad and the bad the opposite, it is correct to say that nothing is bad for the good man and nothing, correspondingly, good for the bad one; (En. 3, 2, 6, 5).”
      “’Why do many misfortunes fall to the lot of good men?’ It is not possible that any evil can befall a good man” (Seneca 2,  1, 12). “Yet why does god allow evil to happen to good men? But in fact he does not” (Seneca 6, 1, 26).
    3. Troubles serve to awaken us and help us understand the nature of virtue and vice.
      “For it makes men awake and wakes up the intelligence and understanding of those who are opposed to the ways of wickedness” (En. 3, 2, 5, 20).
      “Do not, I beseech you, dread the things which the immortal gods apply to our souls like goads; disaster is virtue’s opportunity”. (Seneca 4, 6, 20). 
    4. Why are good people sometimes disfavored and bad people sometimes favored?
      “But what if one considers the comparative distribution of evils to men of opposite character, that the good are poor and the wicked are rich, and the bad have more than their share of things which those who are human beings must have, and are masters, and peoples and cities belong to them?” (En. 3, 2, 7, 30).
      ‘’Yet why was god so unfair in distributing destinies as to allot good men poverty and wounds and painful death?’’ (Seneca 5, 9, 25)
    5. The earth is very small and unimportant compared to the vastness of the universe.
      “but men are in the middle and below, and above are heaven and the gods in it; but the earth is like a central point even in comparison with only one of the stars” (En. 3, 2, 8,5).
      “The whole earth is a mere point in space: what a minute cranny within this is your own habitation, and how many and what sort will sing your praises here!” (Marcus Aurelius 4, 3).
    6. It is normal for things to happen according to physical laws, such as the stronger defeating the weaker.
      “Then again, it is ridiculous for people to do everything else in life according to their own ideas,  even if they are not doing it in the way which the gods like, and then be merely saved by the gods without even doing the things by means of which the gods command them to save themselves?” (En. 3, 2, 8, 40)
      “Somewhere or other we are going to have encounters with wild beasts, and with man, too – more dangerous than all those beasts. Floods will rob us of one thing, fire of another. These are conditions of our existence which we cannot change’’ (Seneca Epist. 107, 7, 226)
    7. The good life consists in being good; a bad life consists in being bad .
      “But it says that those who have become good shall have a good life, now, and laid up for them hereafter as well, and the wicked the opposite” (En.3, 2, 9, 10).
      “But to you I have given goods that are sure and abiding, goods which are better and greater the more one turns them about and scrutinizes them from every side. (Seneca 6, 5, 27)
    8. Adversity has benefits that are either evident are otherwise hidden.
      “No, it is necessary that these, too, should exist; and some of the benefits which come from them are obvious, and those which are not evident, many of them time discovers”(En. 3, 2, 9,35).
      “Of all these propositions the most difficult, apparently, is the first in the list, that the objects of our dread and horror are actually advantageous to the persons to whose lot they fall” (Seneca, 3, 2, 15) 
    9. Things occur in a chain of causation.
      “Given a first principle, it accomplishes what follows with the inclusion in the chain of causation of all principles there are; but men, too , are principles; at any rate, they are moved to noble actions by their own nature, and this is an independent principle” (En. 3, 2, 10, 15).
      “I know that all things proceed according to a law that is fixed and eternally valid. Fate directs us, and the first hour of our birth determines each man’s span. Cause is linked with cause, and a long chain of events governs all matters public and private” (Seneca 5, 7, 24-5). 
    10. Beauty and order in the natural world is a sign of providence
      “for example, the workmanship which produces wonders in rich variety in ordinary animals, and the beauty of appearance which extends to the fruits and even the leaves of plants, and their beauty of flower which comes so effortlessly, and their delicacy and variety, and that all this has not been  made once and come to an end but is always being made as the powers above move in different ways over this world” (En. 3, 2, 13, 20). 
      “that this orderliness is not a property of matter moving at random; and that fortuitous conglomerations cannot arrange their balance so skillfully that the earth, which is heaviest in weight, should abide unmoved and, as spectator, observe the rapid flight of the surrounding sky, how the seas are distilled into the valleys to soften the earth, how huge growths burgeon from tiny seeds” (Seneca 1, 2, 10-11)
    11. Play your role in life as actor in a play
      “But in the truer poetic creation, which men who have a poetic nature imitate in part, the soul acts, receiving the part which it acts from the poet creator; “  (En. 3, 2, 17, 35)
      “Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it“ (Epictetus, Manuel, 17 ).
    12. Death is like an actor exiting a play.
      “If, then, death is a changing of body, like changing of clothes on the stage, or, for some of us, a putting off of body, like in the theatre the final exit, in that performance, of an actor who will on later occasion come in again to play, what would there be that is terrible in a change of this kind of living beings into other?” (En. 3, 2, 15,20).
      “It is like the officer who engaged a comic actor dismissing him from the stage.’ But I have not played my five acts, only three.’ Completion is determined by that being who caused first your composition and now your dissolution. You have no part in either causation. Go then in peace: the god who lets you go is at peace with you.” (Marcus Aurelius XII, 36) (Armstrong 90)
    13. Mishaps should be seen as a children’s game
      “But if anyone joins in their play and suffers their sort of sufferings, he must know that he has tumbled into a children’s game and put off the play-costume in which he was dressed” (En. 3, 2, 15,40).
      “Thus, when you are unable to convince any one, consider him as a child, and clap your hands with him; (Epictetus I, 29, 30-32)
    14.  The wrongdoer is punished by becoming wicked
      ‘’But those who do these things are punished, first by being wolves and ill-fated men;’’ (En. 3, 2, 4, 25)
      ‘’But he is the person hurt who suffers the most miserable and shameful evils; who, instead of a man, becomes a wolf or viper or a hornet’’ (Epictetus IV, 1, 127)

    (1) Although this  probably refers to more popular theological notions. Note that Wayne J. Hankey gives the following points of agreement between Iamblichus, Proclus, Boethius, Dionysius, and Thomas Aquinas regarding providence:

    1) theodicy, under the form of the question of evil because the existence of evil, especially injustice in the human realm, seems inconsistent with government by a good divine providence;
    2) criticism of the Epicureans and Stoics, primarily because of atheism or of determinism which excludes the freewill which all regard as necessary to the operation of providence in humans;
    3) criticism of Aristotle and the Peripatetics, because they do not extend providence to human individuals;
    4) the distinction between a higher providence, on the one hand, and fate, fortune, nature, or government, on the other;
    5) that fundamental to providence is its operating in each kind of being in a way adapted to each thing‘s mode and through its inherent teleology;
    6) that providence extends to individuals;
    7) that providence employs spiritual beings intermediary between the First and humans;
    8) that humans are in the middle between the sensible and the intellectual worlds and that this is crucial to how they stand to providence;
    9) that humans as rational souls have free choice;
    10) that providence operates in them by their acquisition of virtues or vices;
    11) that prayer requires human freedom and is essential to the operation of providence;
    12) that providence combines what happens outside human control (most things) with the free acts of intellectual and rational beings for the good of virtuous humans;
    13) that providence is a function either of the divine intellect and will, or of the gods as pro-noia, above mind;
    14) that, either as divine intellect or as divinity above intellect, providence is an eternal unchanging intuition uniting the generic and the individual;
    15) that the divine providential care for human individuals is ultimately its providing a summons and ways, natural and gracious, to deiformity.

    Sunday, 14 February 2016

    Theosophy Basics: Blavatsky on Altruism

    "For every flower of love and charity he plants in his neighbour’s garden, a loathsome weed will disappear from his own, and so this garden of the gods — Humanity — shall blossom as a rose."

    Despite the general human tendency towards selfishness, the theosophical approach gives major importance to the unselfish altruistic values:
    It sounds very simple, but is eminently difficult; for that cure is “ALTRUISM.” And this is the keynote of Theosophy and the cure for all ills; this it is which the real Founders of the Theosophical Society promote as its first object — UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD. (Letter II — 1889 – Third Annual Convention — April 28-29)

    My first reply then is : Nothing of that which is conducive to help man, collectively or individually, to live—not « happily »—but less unhappily in this world, ought to be indifferent to the Theosophist-Occultist. It is no concern of his whether his help benefits a man in his worldly or spiritual progress ; his first duty is to be ever ready to help if he can, without stopping to philosophize. [WHAT SHALL WE DO FOR OUR FELLOW-MEN ? Lucifer, Vol. V, No. 26, October, 1889, pp. 156-165, CW 11, 466]

     “Love one another,” said the great Teacher to those who were studying the mysteries of “the kingdom of God.” “preach altruism, keep unity, mutual understanding and harmony in your groups, all of you who place yourselves among the neophytes and the seekers after the ONE TRUTH,” other Teachers tell us. “Without unity, and intellectual as well as psychic sympathy, you will arrive at nothing. He who sows discord, reaps the whirlwind ...”[1] [THE BEACON OF THE UNKNOWN La Revue Théosophique,  Paris, Vol. I, Nos. 3,4,5,6; May 21 , 1889, pp. 1-9; June 21, 1889; pp. 1-7; July 21, 1889, pp. 1-6; August 21, 1889, pp. 1-9, CW 11, 275]

     All are willing to work for their own development and progress; very few for those of others. To quote the same writer again: “Men have been deceived and deluded long enough; they must break their idols, put away their shams, and go to work for themselves — nay, there is one little word too much or too many, for he who works for himself had better not work at all; rather let him work himself for others, for all. For every flower of love and charity he plants in his neighbour’s garden, a loathsome weed will disappear from his own, and so this garden of the gods — Humanity — shall blossom as a rose. In all Bibles, all religions, this is plainly set forth — but designing men have at first misinterpreted and finally emasculated, materialised, besotted them. It does not require a new revelation. Let every man be a revelation unto himself. Let once man’s immortal spirit take possession of the temple of his body, drive out the money-changers and every unclean thing, and his own divine humanity will redeem him, for when he is thus at one with himself he will know the ‘builder of the Temple.’” (Key 53)

    No man has a right to say that he can do nothing for others, on any pretext whatever. “By doing the proper duty in the proper place, a man may make the world his debtor,” says an English writer. A cup of cold water given in time to a thirsty wayfarer is a nobler duty and more worth, than a dozen of dinners given away, out of season, to men who can afford to pay for them. No man who has not got it in him will ever become a Theosophist; but he may remain a member of our Society all the same. We have no rules by which we could force any man to become a practical Theosophist, if he does not desire to be one. (Key 241)

     An extract from a letter from one of Blavatsky’s teachers has become a classic formulation of this idea:
    “He who does not practice altruism; he who is not prepared to share his last morsel with a weaker or a poorer than himself; he who neglects to help his brother man, of whatever race, nation, or creed, whenever and wherever he meets suffering, and who turns a deaf ear to the cry of human misery; he who hears an innocent person slandered, whether a brother Theosophist or not, and  does not undertake his defense as he would undertake his own—is no Theosophist. [The Theosophical Society: Its mission and it Future. Lucifer, Vol. II, No. 12, August, 1888, pp. 421-433, CW 10, 70]

    Sunday, 7 February 2016

    Book Review: Blavatsky - The Secret Doctrine Dialogues

     2013,  The Theosophy Company; 750 pages
    First published in the Netherlands in 2010 and edited by Michael Gomes, the happy surprising discovery of a lost collection of transcripts of an important study class on the Secret Doctrine given by H. P. Blavatsky in 1889 by Daniel Caldwell is truly an amazing event. The resulting book is probably the most important Blavatsky publication since Trevor Barker’s 1925 Letters of H.P Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett.
    There are twenty-two class transcriptions in all – the first ten classes comprise the contents of the original Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge publication, which covered the first four stanzas of the Secret Doctrine. Classes 11- 17 and part of 21 cover the rest of the Secret Doctrine to the end of Stanza 7. Class 18 is sadly missing and presumably dealt with early and middle slokas of Stanza 7. The remaining classes are dedicated to discussing questions to what eventually became the Key to Theosophy and it is fascinating to see part of the collaborative process that went into the writing of that classic work.
    The first thing that one notices is how different the class transcripts of stanzas i-iv differ are the original published 1890 Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge version. It now seems that a considerable amount of re-writing and editing and additions of new material went into the making of that valuable work, one of the underappreciated gems in the Blavatskian oeuvre.
    The remaining transcriptions are particularly valuable due to the extremely difficult nature of the stanzaa of the first volume of the Secret Doctrine. Therefore commentary from the original author provides much needed and invaluable hints and explanations.
    Another striking aspect to these transcriptions is that one is afforded the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in a room with Blavatsky having discussions with some of her closest students and so we get the most up-close and personal glimpse of Blavatsky yet. Naturally, there are many lively examples of the famous Blavatskian wit, sarcasm, iconoclasm, temper, etc… and also, more poignantly, occasional examples  of Blavatsky feeling the strain of her poor health and the heavy public opposition she was faced with. Yet despite this, and with the added difficulty of having to deal with students much more accustomed to materialistic science than esoteric philosophy (some of them with considerable credentials), she patiently soldiered on to cover the entirety of the first section of the Secret Doctrine.
    One also notices the very informal and casual tone of the classes, much different from the often  very laboured, erudite style of her writings; but this does not mean that there is a lack of substance in these texts – there is a refreshing simple kind of wisdom in many of the explanations, giving them a more accessible quality than the formidable original text, making them valuable as an introduction to the Secret Doctrine as well as helpful commentary for advanced students of the text. Moreover, one gets occasional intriguing bits of information not found in any of her writings, further showing what a fathomless fount of information this remarkable woman was (although in general, she is quite reticent to expand upon recondite esoteric hints found in the Secret Doctrine).
    Meeting 15 of April 18, 1889 is of interest due to the participation of famous theosophists G.R.S. Mead and A.P. Sinnett as well most likely the famous poet and Theosophist W.B. Yeats. Annie Besant participated in class 21 of June 6 1889. Moreover, the well-known astrologer Sepharial (Walter Old) is a prominent and articulate class participant. This is truly an exceptional publication - highly recommended.
    Below is an extract from class 20 of May 30, 1889, showing Blavatsky's distinctively eloquent philosophical metaphysical intuition (pp. 553-554):
    "This is then the Unknowable, and this contains more than a simple negation. It is the confession of our human ignorance; but also the tacit or virtual admission that within man there is that which feels that energy which is the universal substance"
    Mme. Blavatsky:  This is then the Unknowable, and this contains more than a simple negation. It is the confession of our human ignorance; but also the tacit or virtual admission that within man there is that which feels that energy which is the universal substance; it is fabric, so to speak. Now, Spencer repeats very often that Unknowable is that energy which manifests itself simultaneously in the universe, and in our consciousness, and that it is the highest existing reality, only concealed in the ever-changing progress of physical manifestation; and yet spirit for Herbert Spencer is simply the invisible cosmic cause of these phenomena. As I understand him he does not see in spirit anything more. He attributes to this essence, as we do, unity, homogeneity, and a limitless existence outside space and time, whose means of activity are universal laws. We say so, too, but we add that above that essence and plurality of the laws whose manifestations are only periodical, there is the one eternal law, the causeless cause, as we call it. Spencer places the Unknowable face to face with the abstract and the cosmic phenomena, and sees in this Unknowable the cause of the manifestation. The Positivist, on the other hand, while admitting the existence of a certain fundamental or basic energy, speaks, nevertheless, of the Unknowable as being  simply a negative quantity, which is a contradiction in terms. Now, you understand the idea. One calls it the Unknowable, and the other the Unknown. It is positively a contradiction in terms, and both mean quite a different thing; and yet, the same thing. Because Herbert Spencer calls that which we would call the First Logos—or the first manifestation, the radiation from the eternal—he calls it first cause; and then he speaks about the Unknowable. The other one speaks of the Unknown and wants to make of the Unknown the Parabrahman. You understand? But the Parabrahman entirely unconsciousness, that is to say, a negative quantity, as he calls it. Now, what we Occultists say is that neither Spencer nor Harrison offers anything like a complete philosophy. The Unknowable or the Unknown could not exist for our perceptions, nor could our perceptions for it. It is the Unknown, or the Invisible manifesting the Logos, which we place face to face with every phenomenon—abstract, physical, psychic, mental, or spiritual—because the Unknown will always contain in itself some portion of the Unknowable, that is to say, some of the laws and manifestations which elude our perception for a time. On the other hand, Unknowable, being the sum of all that which owing to our finite intellectual organization may elude forever our perceptions, is the Parabrahman, or the causeless cause. Now, if I have succeeded in making myself understood, then I say if you study Spencer’s Unknowable, and take Harrison’s Unknown, instead of accepting either one or the other, seeing the necessary complements of each one life, then our one abstract Monad, and our one universal Prâna, whose eternal, immutable, causeless cause, is our Vedântinic Parabrahman, at one end of the line, and the great being, the human race or humanity at the other, then you will have the true idea of what the Occultists mean. You see it is this humanity and each unit in it which are, at one and the same time, the Unknowable, the Unknown, and the To-Be-Known. This is what occultism says: as it is impossible for the human mind to know anything definite even of the unknown essence, so let us turn our whole attention to its highest manifestation on earth, mankind, and say as is said in John: “In it we live and move and have our being”—“Illo vivicuus moveuur et sumus”.2  
    2 [Acts 17:28, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being—in illa enim vivimus et movemur et sumus.”]