Monday, 28 October 2019

Theosophical Basics: The Esoteric Spiritual Path

In the Golden Age of Theosophy, we were very fortunate to have a generous amount of quality literature being released. Below is a list of texts that can be considered classic guide books for the esoteric spiritual path, sometimes called occultism. I think every one of these texts has some valuable practical insights to offer, as well as having distinctive, original voices. Moreover, Theosophists were the first to publish popular editions of two key texts of Eastern philosophy, the Baghavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which have gone on to become quintessential works for spiritual guidance in the West.


Mabel Collins - Light on the Path

Mabel Collins - Through the Gates of Gold

Mabel Collins - Idyll of the White Lotus & Commentary, Subba Row

H. P. Blavatsky – The Voice of the silence

H.P. Blavatsky - Practical Occultism

William Q Judge - Letters that have Helped Me

Godolphin Mitford - The Elixir of Life

Monday, 21 October 2019

Al-Ghazāli - On the Duties of Brotherhood/Sisterhood

Al-Ghazāli - Extracts from On the Duties of Brotherhood from Part 2, chapter 15 of the Ihyā  (The Revival of the Religious Sciences), translation by Muhtar Holland. Al-Ghazâlî (c.1056–1111) was one of the most prominent and influential philosophers, theologians, jurists, and mystics of Sunni Islam.

Know that the contract of brotherhood is a bond between two persons, like the contract of marriage between two spouses. For just as marriage gives rise to certain duties which must be fulfilled when it is entered into, so does the contract of brotherhood confer upon your brother a certain right touching your property, your person, your tongue and your heart – by way of forgiveness, prayer, sincerity, loyalty, relief and considerateness. In all this, it comprises eight duties.

The First Duty: Material Assistance
The first duty is the material one.
First degree : Some need befalls him when you have more than you require to satisfy your own, so you give him spontaneously, not obliging him to ask. To oblige him to ask is the ultimate shortcoming in brotherly duty.
Second degree: You place your bother on the same footing as yourself. You are content to have as partner in your property and to treat him like yourself, to the point of letting him share it equally.
Third degree: You prefer your brother to yourself and set his need before your own.
Self-sacrifice is one of the fruits of this degree.

The Second Duty: Personal Aid
The second duty is to render personal aid in the satisfaction of needs, attending to them without waiting to be asked, and giving them priority over private needs.  First degree: Attending to the need when asked and when in plenty, though with joy and cheerfulness, showing pleasure and gratitude. If a man does not manifest compassion towards his brother in the same degree as to himself, then there is no goodness in it. In short, you brother’s need ought to be like your own, or even more important than your own.

The Third Duty: Holding One's Tongue
The third duty concerns the tongue, which should sometimes be silent and at other times speak out. As for silence, the tongue should not mention a brother’s faults in his absence or his presence. Rather should you feign ignorance. You should not contradict him when he talks, nor dispute nor argue with him.  OF course you should not hide any praise you may hear, for the pleasure in it is received directly from the conveyer of the compliment as well as indirectly from the original source. Concealment where would mean envy.  The noble believer always keeps present in himself the good qualities of his brother, so that his heart may be the source of honour, affection and respect. As for the hypocrite of low character, he is always noticing misdeeds and faults.

The Fourth Duty: Speaking Out
You should use the tongue to express affection to your brother, and to enquire agreeably about his circumstances. Thus you should indicate by word and deed that you disapprove of all circumstances that are disagreeable to him, and use your tongue to let him know that you share his joy in all conditions that give him pleasure. For brotherhood means participating together in joy and sadness.  What is even more potent in attracting affection is defending him in his absence whenever he is abused or his honour impugned, explicitly or by innuendo. Through concord, sincerity comes to completion; and he who is not sincere in his brotherhood is a hypocrite. This duty to use the tongue also embraces instruction and advice. For you brother’s need of knowledge is no less than his need of money. When it is a matter of a shortcoming in his duty towards you, what is required of you is patience, forgiveness, pardon, and turning a blind eye. To interfere in this case has nothing to do with advice at all.

The Fifth Duty: Forgiveness
Thus fulfillment  of the contract of brotherhood is obligatory, once it has been concluded. This is our response to the question about initiating brotherhood with the immoral, for he has no prior right. If he does have a prior connexion through kinship it is certainly not proper to break with him; one should rather try and improve him. It has been said that you should seek seventy excuses for your brother’s misdeed, and if your heart will accept none of them you should turn the blame upon yourself, saying t your heart: How hard you are! Your brother pleads seventy excuses, yet you will not accept him. You are the one at fault, not your brother!

The Sixth Duty: Prayer
The sixth duty is to pray for your brother, during his life and after his death, that he may have all he might wish for himself, his family and his dependents. You should pray for him as you pray for yourself, making no distinction at all between  you and him. For in reality your prayer for him is a a prayer for yourself.

The Seventh Duty: Loyalty and Sincerity
The meaning  of loyalty is steadfastness in love and maintaining it to the death with your brother, and after his death with his children and his fellows. For love is for the sake of the Other Life. If it is severe before death the work is in vain and the effort wasted.

The Eighth Duty: Informality
You should not discomfort your brother with things that are awkward for him. Rather should you ease his heart of its cares and needs, and spare him  having to assume any of your burdens You should not ask him for help with money or influence. You should not discomfort him with having to be polite, to go into your situation and attend to your rights. No, the sole object of your love should be God (Exalted is he1), being blessed by your brother’s prayer, enjoying his company, receiving assistance from him in your religion, drawing night to God (Exalted be He!) through attending to his rights and bearing his provision.

Monday, 14 October 2019

The Doctrine of the Logos - A comparative study

The doctrine of the Logos is fundamental in Theosophical metaphysics and one could say that it is an esoteric concept found in many different mystical traditions and, as shown in Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled, is related to the Trinity. Therefore an esoteric understanding of the Logos and the Trinity are part of Theosophical metaphysics. Below are a few texts that aim to sketch out a groundwork for a comparative study, beginning with Philo of Alexandria, a key purveyor of the Logos doctrine:
Whatever we can know or say about God, whether through what Scripture tells us, or through our reason, belongs within the intelligible world. It is not only the Powers that belong there, but there too is located the Divine Logos, Divine Reason. The multi-faceted capacities of God, which we can know through our reason, are summarizable in the Divine Logos. … (Samuel Sandmel, Philo of Alexandria - An introduction, New York Oxford University Press, 1979, 94)
Jewish Scripture
Obviously, it has some Greek ancestry, for at the least the word, and some aspects of the idea, are known to be even earlier than Plato. The term is especially prominent, however, in Stoic thought, serving there as the reason which is in-dwelling in the universe and thereby available to all thinking men. (...)* There is also a Jewish ancestry to logos, found in the idea of wisdom. A passage, 1 Kings 3:5-12, tells that Solomon prayed to God for gifts, and inasmuch as he did not pray for long life or wealth but only for wisdom, God granted him wisdom. That is to say, wisdom is a gift from God. Various passages in Scripture, such a Job, chapter 28, describe how impossible it is for men to acquire wisdom by their own efforts, but it can be acquired only as God’s gift. So fully associated is wisdom with God that it was present at creation and available to him as he fashioned the word (Proverbs 8:22-32). That God bestows it makes wisdom kindred to God’s revelation, and in a sense Torah, ‘’divine teaching,’’ and hokma, ‘’wisdom,’’ are synonymous. The presence in Scripture of the Book of Proverbs, a book of wisdom, from a human attribute into a divine capacity which rare men come to possess. Moreover, there are passages in Proverbs, such as chapter 8, wherein wisdom is personified; she builds a house, she beckons to people.
Hokma-Sophia and Torah-Logos
When Greek and Jewish thought met, after the conquest by Alexander the Great in 323, the inter-penetration of ideas brought it about that Hebrew hokma was equated with the Greek Sophia and Sophia with both Torah and Logos. There took place, before Philo’s time, a Hellenistic Jewish amalgam in which Torah-Logos were already intertwined with each other. Such an amalgam is found in the Wisdom of Solomon. (Sandmel, 98-99)
Sanskrit Vach-Latin Vox
The burnt offering was accompanied, as we have already said, by prayer, a hymn interpretive of the symbols, a hymn of praise (stouti), adding a spiritual to the material offering. This had been taught by Vach (the latin Vox), the sacred ‘’speech,’’ the ‘’Word,’’ the ‘’first of speaking beings,’’ the ‘’treasure of prayer,’’ whom one of the hymns of the fourth mandala of the Rig Veda celebrates in these magnificent words:-‘’I am queen and mistress of riches, I am wise… He who is born, who breathes, who hears, feeds with me on this sacred food. He who knows me not is lost. Listen then to me, for I speak words worthy of belief. I speak good things for the gods, and for the children of manu (men). Whom I love I make terrible, pious, wise, bright. … I traverse heaven and earth. I exist in all worlds, and extend towards the heavens. Like the wind, I breathe in all worlds. My greatness extends beyond this world, and reaches even beyond heaven itself.’’(…)
Vach, or Saravasti, the Goddess of Speech, the Sakti, or female form of Brahma, to whom frequent hymns are addressed in the Rig Veda, seems to have been worshipped as an audible manifestation of the Deity, corresponding to the Avalokitesvara, or Kwan Yin, the Sakti of Amitabha, of the later Buddhists-‘’the manifested voice (of the Deity).’’ (See the translation of The Confessional Services of the Great Compassionate Kwan Yin,  by Rec. S. Beal. Journ. R.A.S. Vol. ii., part ii. (New Series))
The Honover of the Zend Avesta seems to have had much the same character as Vach, but to have been considered the ‘’Word,’’ or command, of the Deity employed in calling creation into existence, and was therefore the ‘’Creating Word,’’ or the ‘’Word Creator.’’
The Wisdom (Chochmah) of Solomon, as the idea is first presented in the 8th and 9th chapters of the Book of Proverbs, and afterwards more completely developed in the book called ‘’The Wisdom of Solomon,’’ appears to be an attempt to define an intermediate, or mediating power between God and man- a divine teacher and instructor to lead man to God, or an attempt to personify the action of the Deity in the moral world.
The Memra, or Word, of the Jews-an expression first employed in the Targum of Onkelos-is one of the phrases so commonly substituted by the Jews for the name of God in all that related to the relations of the Deity with man.
The Logos of the Greek and later Hebrew philosophy was used in a double sense: one as Reason, ‘’the immanent word,’’ logos endiatheros; the other, ‘’the enunciative word’’-the Word, properly so called, logos prophorikos. The one prepared men’s minds for the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the other for the manifestation of the Son of God.(…)
‘’GLORY BE TO THE MANIFESTED WORD’’ may be read over the doors of nearly all the Buddhist temples in China and Japan. This Buddhist ascription of praise to Kwan-yin is Nmamo Kwan-shai-yin Pusah,i.e., ‘’Glory of the Bodhisatwa Kwan-shai-yin.’’ Now shai-yin is the phrase which the first translators of the Gospel of St. John into Chinese designed to employ as equivalent to the Logos of the Evangelist; and the word kwan, although commonly rendered in the active voice as ‘’he or she who beholds,’’ is really the equivalent of the Sansrit Avalokita, that is, ‘’the manifested.’’ The whole phrase, therefore, (…) is, ‘’Glory be to the manifested Word or voice, Bodhisatwa,’’ where Bodhisatwa implies a Supreme Being in a human form.
The connection of the Wisdom (Chochmah) of Solomon with this worship of Vach and Honover is remarkable and interesting, especially when it is remembered that Solomon’s fleets were in direct communication with the East, and when a comparison is made of the hymn in the text with the 8th and 9th chapters of Proverbs; though, as might be expected, the doctrine in the latter is purer, and bears evidences of the acquaintance of the writer with divine revelation. In these passages Wisdom is anterior to Creation, and witnesses, but takes no part in the act. Her ‘’delights were with the sons of men’’; her office to guide and direct mankind to choose the better path.  (A Manual of the Ancient History of the East, Volume 2, François Lenormant, Elisabeth Chevallier, 1871. pp.15-16)
In Islamic traditions, the term used is kalimah, meaning “word”, derived from the root klm, from which is also derived kallama (he spoke) and kalām (speech, speaking). All of these terms are used with respect to divine speech in the Qur’an.
In Sunni Islam, the concept of the logos has been given many different names by the denomination's metaphysicians, mystics, and philosophers, including ʿaql ("Intellect"), al-insān al-kāmil ("Universal Man"), kalimat Allāh ("Word of God"), haqīqa muammadiyya ("The Muhammadan Reality"), and nūr muammadī ("The Muhammadan Light").
In particular Ibn Arabi, developed a philosophy of the Logos, similar to that of Philo’s concepts of the Logos as Divine Reason, the Primal Man, and the Messenger of God, esoteric concepts that are compatible with Theosophical concepts of the Logos:
He refers to the Logos (kalimah) as the Reality of Realities (Haqiqatu'l  Haqa'iq - in contrast to this the Sufi Hallaj used the similiar term "Reality of Reality" (Haqiqatu'l Haqiqah) to refer to God Himself [p.68 n.2]), the Reality of Mohammed, the Spirit of  Mohammed, the First Intellect, the Most Mighty Spirit, the Most Exalted Pen (i.e. the Pen which God uses to inscribe the destiny of all things), the Throne (of God), the Perfect Man, the Real  Adam, the Origin of the Universe, the Real who is the Instrument  of Creation, the Pole (Qutb, on which all Creation revolves), the Intermediary (between God and Creation), the Sphere of Life, the  Servant of the All-embracing One, and so on [Affifi, Mystical Philosophy, p.66 note].
* The Stoic use of the Logos can be said to be derived from Heraclitus, the Pre-Socratic philosopher and earliest known person to use the term.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Thesosophy Basics: Primordial Substance (Mulaprakriti, Akasha, Svabhava, Pradhana, Aditi)

Theosophical metaphysics as described in Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine can be termed multi-modal. It is a complex, holistic view of the universe that posits a monistic abstract absolute principle (similar to Neoplatonism and Advaita Vedanta) and an emanative manifestation of reality in seven levels of being, with innumerable sub-divisions within the sevenfold structure. It can also be described as a kind of spiritual substantialism (related to the concept of Primal Matter in ancient western philosophy), because the notion of primordial substance, with the basic principle known as Mulaprakriti, is a fundamental principle that has ramifications on all levels of ontological reality and so a large nomenclature of terms was developed. For a basic outline of this spiritual substantialism, the following passage from Blavatsky’s Theosophical Glossary, is a good basic presentation:
Spirit. The lack of any mutual agreement between writers in the use of this word has resulted in dire confusion. It is commonly made synonymous with soul; and the lexicographers countenance the usage. In Theosophical teachings. the term “Spirit” is applied solely to that which belongs directly to Universal Consciousness, and which is its homogeneous and unadulterated emanation. Thus, the higher Mind in Man or his Ego (Manas) is, when linked indissolubly with Buddhi, a spirit; while the term “Soul”, human or even animal (the lower Manas acting in animals as instinct), is applied only to Kâma-Manas, and qualified as the living soul. This is nephesh, in Hebrew, the “breath of life”. Spirit is formless and immaterial, being, when individualised, of the highest spiritual substance—Suddasatwa, the divine essence, of which the body of the manifesting highest Dhyanis are formed. Therefore, the Theosophists reject the appellation “ Spirits” for those phantoms which appear in the phenomenal manifestations of the Spiritualists, and call them “shells”, and various other names. (See “Sukshma Sarîra”.) Spirit, in short, is no entity in the sense of having form ; for, as Buddhist philosophy has it, where there is a form, there is a cause for pain and suffering. But each individual spirit—this individuality lasting only throughout the manvantaric life-cycle—may be described as a centre of consciousness, a self-sentient and self-conscious centre; a state, not a conditioned individual. This is why there is such a wealth of words in Sanskrit to express the different States of Being, Beings and Entities, each appellation showing the philosophical difference, the plane to which such unit belongs, and the degree of its spirituality or materiality. Unfortunately these terms are almost untranslatable into our Western tongues.
The term Mulaprakriti is the primary term presented, the following gives a brief, basic explanation:
In contradistinction to the manifested universe of matter, the term Mulaprakriti (from Mula, “the root,” and prakriti, “nature”), or the unmanifested primordial matter — called by Western alchemists Adam’s Earth — is applied by the Vedantins to Parabrahmam. Matter is dual in religious metaphysics, and septenary in esoteric teachings, like everything else in the universe. As Mulaprakriti, it is undifferentiated and eternal; as Vyakta, it becomes differentiated and conditioned, according to Svetasvatara Upanishad, I. 8, and Devi Bhagavata Purana. The author of the Four Lectures on the Bhagavad Gita, says, in speaking of Mulaprakriti: “From its (the Logos’) objective standpoint, Parabrahmam appears to it as Mulaprakriti. . . . Of course this Mulaprakriti is material to it, as any material object is material to us. . . . Parabrahmam is an unconditioned and absolute reality, and Mulaprakriti is a sort of veil thrown over it.” (Theosophist, Vol. VIII., p. 304.) (Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine , Proem, 10)
The sixteen terms below, from the Theosophical Glossary¸ are all intimately related to the term Mulaprakriti and the concept of Primordial Substance, and the notions contained therein form a large body of Theosophical Metaphysical principles. Therefore an understanding that all of these terms are more or less synonymous and inter-connected, although applying to different levels and degrees of reality, can make the study of The Secret Doctrine somewhat easier.
1-Adamic Earth (Alch.) Called the “true oil of gold” or the “primal element” in Alchemy. It is but one remove from the pure homogeneous element… Alchemy: Seeking under the veil of language, more or less artificial, to convey to the uninitiated so much of the  mysterium magnum as is safe in the hands of a selfish world, the alchemist postulates as his first  principle the existence of a certain Universal Solvent by which all composite bodies are resolved into the  homogeneous substance from which they are evolved, which substance he calls pure gold, or summa  materia. This solvent, also called menstvuum universale, possesses the power of removing all the seeds of  disease from the human body, of renewing youth and prolonging life. Such is the lapis philosophorum  (philosopher’s stone).
2-Âditi (Sk.) The Vedic name for the Mûlaprakriti of the Vedantists; the abstract aspect of Parabrahman, though both unmanifested and unknowable. In the Vedas Âditi is the “Mother-Goddess”, her terrestrial symbol being infinite and shoreless space.
3-Akâsa (Sk.) The subtle, supersensuous spiritual essence which pervades all space; the primordial substance erroneously identified with Ether. But it is to Ether what Spirit is to Matter, or Âtmâ to Kâma-rûpa.  It is, in fact, the Universal Space in which lies inherent the eternal Ideation of the Universe in its ever-changing aspects on the planes of matter and objectivity, and from which radiates the First Logos, or expressed thought.
4-Æther (Gr.) With the ancients the divine luminiferous substance which pervades the whole universe, the “garment” of the Supreme Deity, Zeus, or Jupiter. With the moderns, Ether, for the meaning of which in physics and chemistry see Webster’s Dictionary or any other. In esotericism  Æther is the third principle of the Kosmic Septenary; the Earth being the lowest, then the Astral light, Ether and Âkâsa (phonetically Âkâsha) the highest.
5-Alaya (Sk.) The Universal Soul (See Secret Doctrine Vol. I. pp. 47 et seq.). The name belongs to the Tibetan system of the contemplative Mahâyâna School. Identical with Âkâsa in its mystic sense, and with Mulâprâkriti, in its essence, as it is the basis or root of all things.
6-Avyakta (Sk.) The unrevealed cause; indiscrete or undifferentiated; the opposite of Vyakta, the differentiated. The former is used of the unmanifested, and the latter of the manifested Deity, or of Brahma and Brahmâ.
7-AnimaMundi (Lat.) The“Soul of the World”, the same as the Alaya of the Northern Buddhists; the divine essence which permeates, animates and informs all, from the smallest atom of matter to man and god. It is in a sense the “seven-skinned mother” of the stanzas in the Secret Doctrine, the essence of seven planes of sentience, consciousness and differentiation, moral and physical. In its highest aspect it is Nirvâna, in its lowest Astral Light. It was feminine with the Gnostics, the early Christians and the Nazarenes; bisexual with other sects, who considered it only in its four lower planes. Of igneous, ethereal nature in theobjective world of form (and then ether), and divine and spiritual in its three higher planes. When it is said that every human soul was born by detaching itself from the Anima Mundi, it means, esoterically, that our higher Egos are of an essence identical with It, which is a radiation of the ever unknown Universal ABSOLUTE.
8-Astral Light (Occult) The invisible region that surrounds our globe, as it does every other, and corresponding as the second Principle of Kosmos (the third being Life, of which it is the vehicle) to the Linga Sharira or the Astral Double in man. A subtle Essence visible only to a clairvoyant eye, and the lowest but one (viz., the earth), of the Seven Akâsic or Kosmic Principles.
9-Chaos (Gr.) The Abyss, the “Great Deep”. It was personified in Egypt by the Goddess Neїth, anterior to all gods. As Deveria says, “the only God, without form and sex, who gave birth to itself, and without fecundation, is adored under the form of a Virgin Mother”. … Neїth is the “Father-mother” of the Stanzas of the Secret Doctrine, the Swabhavat of the Northern Buddhists, the immaculate Mother indeed, the prototype of the latest “Virgin” of all; for, as Sharpe says, “the Feast of Candlemas—in honour of the goddess Neїth— is yet marked in our Almanacs as Candlemas day, or the Purification of the Virgin Mary”; and Beauregard tells us of “the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, who can henceforth, as well as the Egyptian Minerva, the mysterious Neїth, boast of having come from herself, and of having given birth to God”…Neїth is Swabhdvat and also the Vedic Aditi and the Purânic Akâsa, for “she is not only the celestial vault, or ether, but is made to appear in a tree, from which she gives the fruit of the Tree of Life (like another Eve) or pours upon her worshippers some of the divine water of life”.
10-Ether. Students are but too apt to confuse this with Akâsa and with Astral Light. It is neither, in the sense in which ether is described by physical Science. Ether is a material agent, though hitherto undetected by any physical apparatus; whereas Akâsa is a distinctly spiritual agent, identical, in one sense, with the Anima Mundi, while the Astral Light is only the seventh and highest principle of the terrestrial atmosphere, as undetectable as Akâsa and real Ether, because it is something quite on another plane. The seventh principle of the earth’s atmosphere, as said, the Astral Light, is only the second on the Cosmic scale. The scale of Cosmic Forces, Principles and Planes, of Emanations—on the metaphysical—and Evolutions—on the physical plane—is the Cosmic Serpent biting its own tail, the Serpent reflecting the Higher, and reflected in its turn by the lower Serpent. The Caduceus explains the mystery, and the four-fold Dodecahedron on the model of which the universe is said by Plato to have been built by the manifested Logos—synthesized by the unmanifested First-Born—yields geometrically the key to Cosmogony and its microcosmic reflection—our Earth.
11-Mûlaprakriti (Sk.) The Parabrahmic root, the abstract deific feminine principle—undifferentiated substance. Akâsa. Literally, “the root of Nature” (Prakriti) or Matter.
12-Pradhâna (Sk.) Undifferentiated substance, called elsewhere and in other schools—Akâsa; and Mulaprakriti or Root of Matter by the Vedantins. In short, Primeval Matter.
13-Prakriti (Sk.) Nature in general, nature as opposed to Purusha— spiritual nature and Spirit, which together are the “two primeval aspects of the One Unknown Deity”. (Secret Doctrine, I. 51.)
14-Svabhâvat (Sk.) Explained by the Orientalists as “plastic substance”, which is an inadequate definition. Svabhâvat is the world-substance and stuff, or rather that which is behind it—the spirit and essence of substance. The name comes from Subhâva and is composed of three words—su, good, perfect, fair, handsome; sva, self; and bkâva, being, or state of being. From it all nature proceeds and into it all returns at the end of the life-cycles. In Esotericism it is called “Father-Mother”. It is the plastic essence of matter.
15-Substance. Theosophists use the word in a dual sense, qualifying substance as perceptible and imperceptible; and making a distinction between material, psychic and spiritual substances (see “Sudda Satwa”), into ideal (i.e., existing on higher planes) and real substance.
16-Sudda Satwa (Sk.) A substance not subject to the qualities of matter; a luminiferous and (to us) invisible substance, of which the bodies of the Gods and highest Dhyânis are formed. Philosophically, Suddha Satwa is a conscious state of spiritual Ego-ship rather than any essence.