The Metaphysical Basis of “Esoteric Buddhism”
Theosophist, May, 1884
The pamphlet of Mr. C. C. Massey, an F.T.S., of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society, is a valuable contribution to the discussion now being raised by the publication of Mr. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism. It is a trite axiom that truth exists independent of human error, and he who would know the truth, must rise up to its level and not try the ridiculous task of dragging it down to his own standard. Every metaphysician knows that Absolute Truth is the eternal Reality which survives all the transient phenomena. The preface to the Isis Unveiled expresses the idea very clearly when it says:—”Men and parties, sects and creeds, are the mere ephemera of the world’s day, while Truth, high seated on its rock of Adamant, is alone eternal and supreme.” Language belongs to the world of relativity, while Truth is the Absolute Reality. It is therefore vain to suppose that any language, however ancient or sublime, can express Abstract Truth. The latter exists in the world of ideas, and the ideal can be perceived by the sense belonging to that world. Words can merely clothe the ideas, but no number of words can convey an idea to one who is incapable of perceiving it. Every one of us has within him the latent capacity or a sense dormant in us which can take cognisance of Abstract Truth, although the development of that sense or, more correctly speaking, the assimilation of our intellect with that higher sense, may vary in different persons, according to circumstances, education and discipline. That higher sense which is the potential capacity of every human being is in eternal contact with Reality, and every one of us has experienced moments when, being for the time en rapport with that higher sense, we realise the eternal verities. The sole question is how to focalise ourselves entirely in that higher sense. Directly we realise this truth, we are brought face to face with occultism.
Occultism teaches its votaries what sort of training will bring on such a development. It never dogmatises, but only recommends certain methods which the experience of ages has proved to be the best suited to the purpose. But just as the harmony of nature consists in symphonious discord, so also the harmony of occult training (in other words, individual human progress) consists in discord of details. The scope of Occultism being a study of Nature, both in its phenomenal and noumenal aspects, its organisation is in exact harmony with the plan of Nature. Different constitutions require different details in training, and different men can better grasp the idea clothed in different expressions. This necessity has given rise to different schools of Occultism, whose scope and ideal is the same, but whose modes of expression and methods of procedure differ. Nay, even the students of the same school have not necessarily a uniformity of training. This will show why it is that until a certain stage is reached, the Chela is generally left to himself, and why he is never given verbal or written instructions regarding the truths of Nature. It will also suggest the meaning of the neophyte being made to undergo a particular kind of sleep for a certain period before each initiation. And his success or failure depends upon his capacity for the assimilation of the Abstract Truth his higher sense perceives. However, just as unity is the ultimate possibility of Nature, so there is a certain school of Occultism which deals only with the synthetic process, and to which all the other schools, dealing with analytical methods wherein alone can diversity exist, owe their allegiance. A careful reader will thus perceive the absurdity of a dogmatism which claims for its methods a universal application.
What is therefore meant by the Adwaitee Philosophy being identical with the Arhat Doctrine, is that the final goal or the ultimate possibility of both is the same. The synthetical process is one, for it deals only with eternal verities, the Abstract Truth, the noumenal. And these two philosophies are put forth together, for in their analytical methods they proceed on parallel lines, one proceeding from the subjective and the other from the objective stand-point, to meet ultimately or rather converge together in one point or centre. As such, each is the complement of the other and neither can be said to be complete in itself. It should be distinctly remembered here that the Adwaitee Doctrine does not date from Sankaracharya, nor does the Arhat Philosophy owe its origin to Gautama Buddha. They were but the latest expounders of these two systems which have existed from time immemorial as they must. Some natures can better comprehend the truth from a subjective stand-point, while others must proceed from the objective. These two systems are therefore as old as Occultism itself, while the later phases of the Esoteric Doctrine are but another aspect of either of these two, the details being modified according to the comprehensive faculties of the people addressed, as also the other surrounding circumstances. Attempts at a revival of the knowledge of this Truth have been numberless, and therefore to suggest that the present is the first attempt in the world’s history, is an error which those whose sense has just been awakened to the glorious Reality are apt to commit. It has already been stated that the diffusion of knowledge is not limited to one process. The possessors of it have never jealously guarded it from any personal or selfish motives. In fact such a frame of mind precludes the possibility of the attainment of knowledge. They have at every opportunity tried all available means to give its benefit to humanity. Times there were undoubtedly when they had to rest content with giving it only to a few chosen pupils, who, it should be remembered, differ from ordinary humanity only in one essential particular, and that is, that by abnormal training they bring on a process of self-evolution in a comparatively very short period, which ordinary humanity may require numberless ages to reach during the ordinary course of evolution. Those who are acquainted with the history of Count St. Germain and the works of the late Lord Lytton, need not be told that even during the past hundred years constant efforts have been made to awaken the present races to a sense of the knowledge which will assist their progress and ensure future happiness. It should not be, moreover, forgotten that to spread a knowledge of philosophical truths forms but a small fraction of the important work the occultists are engaged in. Whenever circumstances compel them to be shut out from the world’s view, they are most actively engaged in so arranging and guiding the current of events, sometimes by influencing people’s minds, at others by bringing about, as far as practicable, such combinations of forces as would give rise to a higher form of evolution and such other important work on a spiritual plane. They have to do and are doing that work now. Little therefore do the public know what in reality it is that they ask for when they apply for Chelaship. They have to thus pledge themselves to assist the MAHATMAS in that spiritual work by the process of self-evolution, for, the energy expended by them in the act of self-purification, has a dynamic effect and produces grand results on a spiritual plane. Moreover, they gradually fit themselves to take an active share in the grand work. It may perhaps be now apparent why “THE ADEPT BECOMES; HE IS NOT MADE,” and why he is the “rare efflorescence of the age.” The foregoing considerations should never be lost sight of by the reader of Esoteric Buddhism.
The great difficulty which an ordinarily philosophic mind has to contend against, is the idea that consciousness and intelligence proceed out of non-consciousness and non-intelligence. Although an abstruse metaphysical intellect can comprehend or rather perceive the point subjectively, the present undeveloped state of humanity, at any rate, can conceive the higher truths only from an objective stand-point. Just as, therefore, we are obliged to talk of the setting of the sun, in common parlance, although we know that it is not the movement of the sun that we really refer to, and just as in geocentric system we have to speak as though the earth were a fixed point in the centre of the universe so that the unripe mind of the student may understand our teachings, so in the same manner the Abstract Truth has to be presented from an objective point of view, so that it may be more easily comprehended by minds with not a very keen metaphysical intellect. Thus one may say that Buddhism is rational Vedantism, while Vedantism is transcendental Buddhism. Keeping this difference in view, an explanation of the difficulty above put forth may be given from the Buddhist stand-point. If the reader will here recall the answer of the MAHATMAS to Question V of “An English F. T. S.,” published in the Theosophist for September 1883, he will remember the explanation concerning “the mineral monad.” The one Life permeates ALL. Here it may be added that consciousness and intelligence also permeate ALL. These three are inherent potentially everywhere. But we do not talk of the life of a mineral, nor of its consciousness or intelligence. These exist in it only potentially, The differentiation which results in individualisation is not yet complete. A piece of gold, silver, copper or any other metal, or a piece of rock, &c., has no sense of separate existence, because the mineral monad is not individualised. It is only in the animal kingdom that a sense of personality begins to be formed. But for all that, an occultist will not say that life, consciousness or intelligence, do not potentially exist in the minerals. Thus it will be seen that although consciousness and intelligence exist everywhere, all objects are not conscious or intelligent. The latent potentiality when developed to the stage of individualisation by the Law of Cosmic Evolution, separates the subject from the object, or rather the subject falls into Upadhi (objective or vehicular form), and a state of personal consciousness or intelligence is realized. But the absolute consciousness and intelligence which has no Upadhi cannot be conscious or intelligent, for there is no duality, nothing to wake intelligence or to be conscious of. Hence the Upanishads say that Parabrahm has no consciousness, no intelligence, for these states can be cognised by us only on account of our individualisation, while we can have, from our differentiated and personal state, no conception of the undifferentiated, non-dualistic consciousness or intelligence. If there were no consciousness or intelligence in Nature, it were absurd to talk of the Law of Karma or every cause producing its corresponding effect. The MAHATMA, in one of the letters published in the Occult World, says that matter is indestructible, but enquires whether the modern Scientist can tell why it is that Nature consciously prefers that matter should remain indestructible under organic rather than inorganic form. This is a very suggestive idea in regard to the subject under notice.
At the beginning of our studies we are apt to be misled by the supposition that our earth, or the planetary chain, or the solar system, constitutes infinity and that eternity can be measured by numbers. Often and often have the MAHATMAS warned us against this error, and yet we do, now and then, try to limit the infinity to our standard instead of endeavouring to expand ourselves to its conception. This has led some naturally to a sense of isolation, and to forget that the same Law of Cosmic Evolution which has brought us to our present stage of individual differentiation, is tending to lead us gradually to the original undifferentiated condition. Such allow themselves to be imbued so much with a sense of personality that they try to rebel against the idea of Absolute Unity. Forcing themselves thus in a state of isolation, they endeavour to ride the Cosmic Law which must have its course: and the natural result is annihilation through the throes of disintegration. This it is which constitutes the bridge, the dangerous point in evolution referred to by Mr. Sinnett in his Esoteric Buddhism. And this is why selfishness, which is the result of a strong sense of personality, is detrimental to spiritual progress. This it is that constitutes the difference between white and black magic. And it is this tendency to which reference is made when talking of the end of a Race. At this period, the whole humanity splits up into two classes, the Adepts of the good Law and the Sorcerers (or Dugpas). To that period we are fast rushing; and to save humanity from a cataclysm which must overtake those who go against the purposes of Nature, the MAHATMAS, who are working with her, are endeavouring to spread knowledge in a manner to prevent its abuse as far as possible. We should therefore constantly remember that the present is not the apex of evolution, and that if we would not be annihilated, we must not allow ourselves to be influenced by a sense of personal isolation and consequent worldly vanities and shows. This world does not constitute infinity, nor does our solar system, nor does the immeasurable expanse our physical senses can take cognisance of. All these and more are but an infinitesimal atom of the Absolute Infinity. The idea of personality is limited to our physical senses which, belonging as they do to the Rupa Loka (world of forms), must perish, since we see no permanent form anywhere. All is liable to change, and the more we live in transient personality, the more we incur the danger of final death, or total annihilation. It is only the seventh principle, the Adi Buddha, that is the Absolute Reality. The objective stand-point, however, ever, adds further that Dharma, the vehicle of the seventh principle or its Upadhi, is co-existent with its Lord and Master, the Adi Buddha; because it says nothing can come out of nothing. A more correct form of expressing the idea would be that in the state of Pralaya the sixth principle exists in the seventh as an eternal potentiality to be manifested during the period of cosmic activity. Viewed in this light both the seventh and the sixth principles are Eternal Realities, although it would be more correct to say that the seventh principle is the only Reality, since it remains immutable both during cosmic activity as also during cosmic rest, while the sixth principle, the Upadhi, although absorbed into the seventh during Pralaya, is changing during Manvantara, first differentiating to return to its undifferentiated condition as the time for Pralaya approaches. It was from this standpoint that Mr. Subba Row was arguing in his article on “A Personal and an Impersonal God,”1 which was meant as a reply to Mr. Hume, who was then talking of the Arhat Philosophy.
Now the Vedantin doctrine says that Parabrahm is the Absolute Reality which never changes and is thus identical with the Adi Buddha of the Arhats. While Mulaprakriti is that aspect of Parabrahm, which at the time of Manvantara emanates from itself Purush and Prakriti, and which thus undergoes change during the period of cosmic activity. As Purush is force, which remains immutable throughout, it is that aspect of Mulaprakriti which is identical with Parabrahm. Hence it is that Purush is said to be the same as Parabrahm, or the Absolute Reality. While Prakriti, the differentiated cosmic matter, constantly undergoes change, and is thus unpermanent, forming the basis of phenomenal evolution. This is a purely subjective stand-point from which Mr. Subba Row was arguing with the late Swami of Almora who professed to be an Adwaitee. A careful reader will thus perceive that there is no contradiction involved in Mr. Subba Row’s statements, when he says from the objective standpoint that Mulaprakriti and Purush are eternal, and when again from a subjective standpoint he says that Purush is the only eternal Reality. His critic has unconsciously mixed up the two stand-points by culling extracts from two different articles written from two different points of view and imagines that Mr. Subba Row has made an error.
Attention must now be turned to the idea of the Dhyan Chohans. It has been already stated above that the sixth and the seventh principles are the same in all, and this idea will be clear to every one who reads carefully the foregoing remarks. It has also been added that the sixth principle, being a differentiation of Mulaprakriti, is personal, however exalted and ubiquitous that personality may be. In the Adwaitee Philosophy the Dhyan Chohans correspond to Iswara, the Demiurgus. There is no conscious Iswara outside of the 7th principle of Manu as vulgarly understood. This was the idea Mr. Subba Row meant to convey when he said:—”expressions implying the existence of a conscious Iswar which are to be found here and there in the Upanishads, are not to be literally construed.” Mr. Subba Row’s statement is therefore neither “perfectly inexplicable,” nor “audacious,” as it is consistent with the teaching of Sankaracharya. The Dhyan Chohans, who represent the aggregate cosmic intelligence, are the immediate artificers of the worlds, and are thus identical with Iswara or the Demiurgic Mind. But their consciousness and intelligence, pertaining as they do to the sixth and the seventh states of matter, are such as we cannot cognise, so long as we prefer to remain in our isolation and do not transfer our individuality to the sixth and the seventh principles. As artificers of the worlds, they are the primary principle of the Universe, although they are at the same time the result of Cosmic Evolution. It is an incorrect understanding of the consciousness of Dhyan Chohans that has given rise to the current vulgar notion of God. Little do the dogmatic theists realise that it is within their power to become Dhyan Chohans or Iswara, or at least they have the latent potentiality in them to rise to that spiritual eminence if they will but work with Nature. They know not themselves, and thus allow themselves to be carried away and buried under a sense of personal isolation, looking upon Nature as something apart from themselves. They thus isolate themselves from the spirit of Nature, which is the only eternal Absolute Reality and hurry towards their own disintegration.
The reader will now perceive that Esoteric Buddhism is not a system of materialism. It is, as Mr. Sinnett calls it, “transcendental Materialism” which is non-materialism just as the absolute consciousness is non-consciousness and the absolute personality, of which Mr. Massey talks, is non-personality.
Mr. Massey’s description of evolution from the idealist stand-point, with which his pamphlet closes, no occultist will disagree with. The book shows such various phases of thought that different portions must evidently have been written at different times. It is undoubtedly a valuable addition to the existing literature on the subject and will be read with extreme interest by the students of “The metaphysical basis of Esoteric Buddhism.”
After the above was in type, a copy of the “Reply to the ‘Observations’ of Mr. T. Subba Row, F. T. S.,” by Mrs. Kingsford and Mr. Maitland of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society, came to hand. Most of the questions raised therein having been discussed in the foregoing article, attention must now be confined to three or four important points put forth in the present pamphlet.
It has been authoritatively declared, more than once, in the Theosophist that the eighth sphere must not be confounded with the visible moon. The authors of the pamphlet are therefore undoubtedly right in this respect.
Speaking from a subjective stand-point, to talk of locality and time is absurd, since the latter are mere relative terms and as such restricted only to the phenomenal. Abstract space and eternity are indivisible; and therefore to try to fix time and place, as though they were absolute realities, is neither metaphysical nor philosophical. However, objective stand-point is essential, as has been already pointed out. In the economy of Nature, every thing is right in its place, and to ignore a certain plane is just as illogical as to overestimate it. True knowledge consists in a right sense of discrimination: to be able to perceive what phenomenon performs what function, and how to utilize it for human progress and happiness. Both the objective and subjective stand-points, as much as the inductive and deductive methods, are therefore essential for the attainment of true knowledge which is true power. In doing so, it is human habit and nature to associate certain phenomena with certain abstract ideas, having of course determined beforehand the exact relation between these two. With these remarks, it may be left to the intuition of the readers to find out the relation between the phases of the moon and the states of being known to occultists as the eighth sphere.
Next we come to the question of the Dhyan Chohans. What they are conceived to be has already been stated in the foregoing article. It may however be remarked here that the learned and gifted authors of the pamphlet under consideration seem to mix up both the subjective and the objective stand-points when they say:—
“We confess that the difficulty propounded by us respecting the alleged part taken by the Dhyan Chohans in the production of the Cosmos is not removed by the statement that ‘as there can be no beginning of Eternity, so there can be no first Dhyan Chohans,’—if we are to regard these as human, and not Emanations, but Products of Evolution. For, both logically and chronologically, the producer must precede the product, the manifester the manifestation. Unless, indeed, it be that we are called on to believe that prior to, and independently of, manifestation is no—Being; a belief which would involve the doctrine that the manifest exhausts Being; in other words, that the Cosmos is God.”
Perhaps the difficulty may be removed when it is remembered that the Dhyan Chohans represent the cosmic intelligence and consciousness, and that our conception of chronology is inconsistent with the idea of Eternity, and when the subjective and objective stand-points are realized in their distinct aspects. The Dhyan Chohans may be considered as the Elohim of the Kabala, while the “Seven spirits of God” of the Cabalists are represented in the Oriental teaching by the primary seven Centres of Energy which subsist “indefeasibly in the Divine Nature, as the seven rays of the prism in light.”
We may assure the erudite authors that, according to the Oriental occult teaching, “When a race has reached the Zenith of its physical intellectuality and developed its highest civilization, its progress towards absolute evil” is arrested by the destruction, as far as possible, “of its false and pernicious system of thought and conduct . . . by means of such further interior unfoldment of man’s spiritual consciousness as will supplement and correct mere intellect and pure intuition, and thus enable man to realise his higher potentialities.” The formation and the growth of the Theosophical Society is one of the indications of the fact, as has already been pointed out. Moreover, from a proper understanding of the doctrine of Karma and of what has already been said in the Fragments 2, &c., concerning the after-states of suicides and those who die premature deaths, it will be obvious that the influence of the results of the evil actions of Dugpas is likely to be worse, under certain conditions and circumstances, when they are destroyed than when alive. In the first place, their elementaries are likely to affect a number of sensitives who may thus be dragged, unconsciously to themselves, towards evil. Then, the premature death of one evil personality is likely to influence innumerable other evilly inclined personalities by the Law of Affinity, as in life the former has not had full opportunities of working out the effects of its bad Karma. As they are all, more or less, actuated by merely selfish and personal considerations, there can be no complete unity among them, and their “powers” are generally exercised and sometimes exhausted in matters of dissensions among parties and sects. The conditions being such as above indicated, it will be seen that the physical destruction of a race would tend to increase rather the evil effects than otherwise. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that those entities who have as it were reached the grandeur and the eminence of a Prince of Black magicians, ultimately tend to so group themselves as to make it impossible for them to have their influence spread beyond a very limited area. This opportunity may be taken advantage of; and none will deny that it is a certain kind of physical destruction by which they are all focalised together, as it were, in a spot, until a total annihilation results. It is to this destruction that Mr. Subba Row refers in his “Observations.” The phrase “Absolute evil” has been made use of in the same sense as a mathematician sometimes uses the terms “Zero” and “Infinity”—to indicate a theoretical limit.
A few words may now be said in connection with the idea of Buddha. When Mr. Subba Row talks of the historical aspect of Buddha, he probably refers to Gautama Buddha, who was a historical personage. It must, of course, at the same time be remembered that every entity that identifies itself with that ray of the Divine Wisdom which is represented by Gautama, is a Buddha; and thus it will be evident that there can be but one Buddha at a time, the highest type of that particular ray of Adeptship.
As the purpose of this writing has been elucidation of truth by means of discussion—spirit which should animate every true philosophical disquisition—we hope we have succeeded in leaving entirely out of consideration every personal question—which so often mars the force of metaphysical arguments. The chief aim of the Theosophical Society is human enlightenment and true progress, which can be gained only by impersonal intelligent discussions, thus promoting a Brotherhood formed upon the basis of mutual intellectual sympathy.
1. See Theosophist, February and March, 1883.
2. “Fragments of Occult Truth”, Theosophist, October 1881; March, September, October, November, 1882; March, April, May, 1883.