Studies in the Secret Doctrine:
Knowledge—Absolute and Relative
Outside of initiation, the ideals of contemporary religious thought must always have their wings clipped and remain unable to soar higher; for idealistic as well as realistic thinkers, and even free-thinkers, are but the outcome and the natural product of their respective environments and periods. The ideals of both are only the necessary results of their temperaments, and the outcome of that phase of intellectual progress to which a nation, in its collectivity, has attained. Hence, as already remarked, the highest flights of modern (Western) metaphysics have fallen far short of the truth. (S.D., Vol. I, Original Edition, pp. 326-327.)
A quiet reflection on the above brings the earnest student to these questions: Are there two types of psycho-mental evolution? What is the difference between the thinker who is the outcome and the natural product of his environment and period and the knower of Truth “initiated into perceptive mysteries,” referred to in the text which precedes the above quotation? Are there two fundamental classes of Knowledge? What is the difference between that which exists and is discovered, and that which the evolving intelligence of man invents in ever-renewed attempt which implies abandonment of that which was previously found and accepted?
… Otherwise — outside such initiation — for every thinker there will be a “Thus far shalt thou go and no farther,” mapped out by his intellectual capacity, as clearly and as unmistakably as there is for the progress of any nation or race in its cycle by the law of Karma. (S.D., Vol. I, Original Edition, p. 326.)
Are we to infer from the above that our very intellectual capacity is also a Karmic limitation? And if philosophers are limited and metaphysics fall “far short of the truth” what fate must befall the poor and humble seeker of the Wisdom — he who earnestly desires to pass on from this dungeon of ignorance into the light of Knowledge?
Let the reader meditate on this whole passage; let him read and re-read and then brood over the ideas as they emanate from between the lines and within the words. It is one of those passages in The Secret Doctrine which yields regular seasonal harvests in terms of the mental sowing done. It throws new light on the very intricate maze of human evolution, individual as well as racial, especially in reference to the development of the lower mind. It also brings some illumination on the problems of Karma, how it grows, how it weaves its fine web of life, imprisoning, and setting free to imprison again, the human soul. It affords opportunities, not only to conjecture but to understand, how ideas come to birth and die, how ideals live and decay, how knowledge, in its aspect of growth through perpetual change, comes to be regarded as ever-evolving. On the other hand, it most emphatically unveils that other and higher existence of Knowledge in its aspect of profound stability, wherein ideals and ideas are immortal and change not and which the human soul can discover, when it is “initiated into perceptive mysteries.”
Ours is the era of mind; this Aryan fifth root-race of ours is related to the fifth principle of our human constitution, the mind; intellectual achievements, therefore, dominate all other achievements. Knowledge grows from day to day.
Ours is the age of materialism. This growing and evolving knowledge ever abandoning the old of yesterday forges ahead to fresh fields and pastures new. Tremendous is the power of fecundation of the human mind; the productivity of matter is amazing, and these two beget branches of science, schools of philosophy, artistic expressions and religious sects, in such numbers as take our thoughts to that prodigious breeder — the queen of the white ants.
Intellectual materialism is the Source of our economic and industrial materialism; our materialistic politics are rooted in our materialistic philosophy; our materialistic sociology arises from our materialistic religions. The individuals of today who believe themselves to be beings of matter are “the outcome and the natural product of their environment and period.”
Ours is the epoch of experts. Mental materialism has produced the phenomenon where each class of scientist and scholar works for his own particular branch of science or subject. Physics and physiology, chemistry and psychology, embryology and astronomy, zoology and botany, philology and theology, are unrelated. We have experts ranging from embryologists, who deal with our bodies before they are born, to “mortologists” who deal with corpses. We have ophthalmologists, otologists, rhinologists, laryngologists and other experts innumerable.
Our age of mental materialism and its experts can be assigned their proper place in the scheme of things if we apply the teachings of the sentence in the above-quoted passage: “The ideals of both are only the necessary results of their temperaments, and the outcome of that phase of intellectual progress to which a nation, in its collectivity, has attained.”
But is there no way out of these ever-expanding and ever-deepening divisions of matter where knowledge continuously becomes ignorance and has to be set aside? The above extract from The Secret Doctrine opens a new vista for the thoughtful. Therein we find more than a hint of the existence of the Immortal Knowledge — ancient and unchanging, constant and consistent. This broad but very vital hint is like unto the illumination which must have been Galileo’s when the light dawned on him that the Earth was not at the center of the Universe and that it had a diurnal rotation. Let us pursue the hint which, for the intellectually faithful, the first Volume opens at pages 611-12:—
The exact extent, depth, breadth, and length of the mysteries of Nature are to be found only in Eastern esoteric sciences. So vast and so profound are these that hardly a few, a very few of the highest Initiates — those whose very existence is known but to a small number of Adepts — are capable of assimilating the knowledge. Yet it is all there,…
It is all there. That knowledge is “to be found only in Eastern esoteric sciences.” Who can find it? How can it be obtained? Eager, hasty, enthusiastic is the student as the great light dawns on him, and with what joy and deep contentment he continues reading: “…mysterious help is given to rare individuals in unravelling its arcana” (p. 612). At the first reading he even fails to take note of limiting provisos. Yes, “it is all there”; but “one by one facts and processes in Nature’s workshops are permitted to find their way into the exact Sciences” (p. 612); yes, “mysterious help is given to rare individuals,” but it is added, “It is at the close of great Cycles, in connection with racial development, that such events generally take place” (p. 612). Thus a change of feeling swiftly takes place and our mind flashes the signal “are we then doomed?” But depression gives place to elation as we read further: “We are at the very close of the cycle of 5,000 years of the present Aryan Kaliyuga; and between this time and 1897 there will be a large rent made in the Veil of Nature, and materialistic science will receive a death-blow.” Has that happened?
Let us avoid the pitfall into which so many students of The Secret Doctrine fall. When we are endeavoring to grasp a particular subject treated in this great book we are continuously tempted by other topics, equally important and even more fascinating than the one we are pursuing.
Our enquiry has been about the Imperishable Knowledge, not if we can have it for ourselves in this day and generation, not to whom and when and how it is given. We have yet to gain a clear perception of its very existence — what it is. In what form it exists and how it came to be there, are subjects of enquiry which should precede that other search — how can we obtain possession of it in this day and generation?
Here is a profound thought expressed in language which sounds not only assertive but dogmatic; and yet when we read the passages we feel like exclaiming — “Thou speakest as one having authority.”
The growth of Knowledge is generally accepted as a fact, and not without good reasons. We constantly speak of the evolution of ideas, of the advance of Science, of the progress of culture. This is very natural indeed, for such expressions are the legitimate result of every-day observation and experience as we contact the achievements of the human mind. We must not forget, however, that Western philosophers and metaphysicians are not all in agreement about the nature of issues involved in and raised by the above extracts of The Secret Doctrine and other similar ones, some of which we will quote as we proceed with our study. “Absoluteness” of knowledge as against relativity of knowledge is a persistent subject of enquiry and debate, and Western philosophy has not solved the problem, in fact, is far from it. In the hoary East the case may be found to be somewhat different.
Through the advent of Cartesian propositions in Western philosophy the relativity of knowledge became a subject of keen debate, though the factors involved therein were matters of lively discussion even among the Greeks, and antedating them, among the Asiatics. It was Immanuel Kant who put into modern currency the Greek term Noumenon and expounded the old doctrine of theThing-in-itself; he did so in a limited sense, for he was circumscribed by his environment and period and could go so far and no further for reasons advanced in the above quoted sentences. Kant’s world of the Noumena and Plato’s world of Ideas have much in common, but Plato, like Pythagoras and unlike Kant, was “initiated into perceptive mysteries” as H.P.B. informs us. Pythagoras also taught “absoluteness” of knowledge; as a fundamental proposition he put forward the fact of a permanent principle of unity beneath and behind the changing forms and phenomena of the universe. To this world of archetypal unity belong the Ideas of Plato and theThings-in-Themselves of Kant. The evolution (!) of European philosophy can be studied in the evolution of this very word “idea” from the days of Plato to those of Stout and Baldwin. In the Pythagorean philosophy absolute knowledge may be described as belonging to the unity underlying all forms; in the Platonic, as being composed of the Idea of Knowledge; in the Kantian, it may be regarded as the Knowledge of Things-in-Themselves. These concepts, however, should not be taken to mean that an acceptance of or a belief in the “absoluteness” of Knowledge destroys the possibility of our accepting at the same time the concept of the relativity of Knowledge. Modern science and Western philosophy have concerned themselves so much with phenomena that the world of Noumena — Archetype — Idea is not only forgotten but abolished from the Universe of discourse. The Secret Doctrine maintains that the two are not incompatible; that they do exist simultaneously.
One of the services rendered by The Secret Doctrine to modern thought is the re-introduction of this concept of the world of archetypes, implying “absoluteness” of Knowledge in that sphere of Ideas, as an eternally existing Reality “laid up in the mind of God” as it is said, of which the Knowledge by the senses, the knowledge by feelings, the knowledge by mind, are but reflections, which can and do bear resemblance to the Reality but which also can and do get corrupted. Knowledge in modern times is defined differently. To fully grasp the proposition of The Secret Doctrine that “the exact extent, depth, breadth and length of the mysteries of Nature are … there” (Vol. I, Original Edition, pp. 611-12), it is necessary for us to see what the term knowledge implies in modern culture.
Hobbes says that there are two kinds of knowledge; the one, knowledge original and remembrance of the same; the other, science or knowledge of the truth of proposition, derived from understanding. It is deduced that a blind man who cannot know light in the first sense can know about light in the second if he studies a treatise on optics. William James, however, would insist on feeling being part and parcel of understanding if the latter is to be complete, for he says: “A blind man may know all about the sky’s blueness, and I may know all about your toothache, conceptually; tracing their causes from primeval chaos, and their consequence to the crack of doom. But so long as he has not felt the blueness, nor I the toothache, our knowledge, wide as it is, of these realities will be hollow and inadequate.” Sense impression, and its assimilation by thought and feeling which constitutes understanding, are the two factors which make up knowledge as understood by the modern scholar.
In reference to these two categories of knowledge: (1) recognition and assimilation of impressions and (2) the result of intellectual comparison (in one or the other or both of which William James’s “feeling” must be respected), we encounter another difficulty. It was Reid who propounded that “when ten men look at the sun or the moon they all see the same individual object,” and thus in a way emphasized the value of the first category. Hamilton answered Reid that “each of these persons sees a different object…. It is not by perception but by a process of reasoning that we connect the objects of sense with the sphere of immediate knowledge.” Thus we come to the sphere of immediate knowledge to be perceived and assimilated by the senses, and the sphere of understanding to be contacted by intellectual reasoning — the world of senses and the world of mind.
Locke furnishes the view that the conscious experience of the individual is the result of interaction between the individual mind and the universe of things, but he holds, as does Hume, that the work of the mind was unreal because it was “made by” man and not “given to” man. The work of mind thus represents “a subjective creation, not an objective fact.” The logical deductions from the teachings of Locke and Hume drawn by a writer in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Vol. XII, p. 535) are of more than passing interest for us. He refers to the universally recognized distinction “between the real and ‘mere ideas’” and adds that “This (obviously valid) distinction logically involves the consequence that the object, or content, of knowledge, viz., reality, is an intelligible ideal reality, a system of thought relations, a spiritual cosmos. How is the existence of this ideal whole to be accounted for? Only by the existence of some ‘principle which renders all relations possible and is itself determined by none of them’; an eternal self-consciousness which knows in whole what we know in part. To God the world is, to man the world becomes. Human experience is God gradually made manifest.”
Let us not forget, however, that Western philosophy is more speculative than practical and that the scientific expert prefers “mere ideas” to the “Real,” and deals with that which is “becoming”; considers it highly superstitious to take into account the world which“is,” and regards the individual who thinks or talks about the “eternal self-consciousness which knows in whole what we know in part,” as one hovering near the borders of the world of lunacy. Where is the Psychiatrist who will not regard it as an acute symptom of approaching insanity in the friend who desires to discuss how human and God experiences are intimately related in every son of man?
The modern philosopher admits that our knowledge of things is conditioned by our perceptive faculties and regards as quite unphilosophical one who assumes that a rose as he sees it is identical with the rose as it is in itself, or even as it is for others. Says the philosopher to the man in the street, “Thou canst not know what the rose is in itself any more than the insect which is eating away its fragrant heart. Thou canst not know the rose in itself any more than the poor blind boy who inhales its scent; thou knowest differently from them, that is all; but neither thou, nor the insect, nor the blind boy can ever know the rose in itself.” When asked by the man in the street how is he different from the insect or the blind boy he receives the answer that the insect knows the rose in terms of his sense-impressions while he, being a possessor of mind, knows it by an understanding arising out of the sense-impressions. As sense-impressions and also understanding are different in different individuals, the knowledge of the rose differs as it is evidenced in him or the blind boy or the sage-speaker himself. Thus far modern philosophy.
The tale which modern science tells is somewhat different. It says, “I am exact. I can tell you the exact composition of the rose chemically, its exact type botanically. I can also tell you about the insect pests, formidable and otherwise which destroy the blossom, how they can be checked by spray and solution. I can tell you about blindness; its causes and cures, its symptoms and varieties. I can tell you about the average man in the language of statistics, temperament, capacity — whence he came, what he is, whither he is going. I can tell you all about my friend the philosopher, better than he can tell about himself. He is a phenomenon like yourself, like the blind boy, like the insect, like the rose. My telescope and microscope, my test tube and retort, my exquisite balance which can almost weigh life itself, have found no Noumenon.”
Thus in our age of experts even materialistic science and materialistic philosophy cannot be correlated.
What does The Secret Doctrine say?
Science cannot, owing to the very nature of things, unveil the mystery of the universe around us. Science can, it is true, collect, classify, and generalize upon phenomena; but the occultist, arguing from admitted metaphysical data, declares that the daring explorer, who would probe the inmost secrets of Nature, must transcend the narrow limitations of sense, and transfer his consciousness into the region of noumena and the sphere of primal causes. To effect this, he must develop faculties which are absolutely dormant — save in a few rare and exceptional cases — in the constitution of the off-shoots of our present Fifth Root-race in Europe and America. He can in no other conceivable manner collect the facts on which to base his speculations. Is this not apparent on the principles of Inductive Logic and Metaphysics alike? (S.D., Vol. I, Original Edition, pp. 477-8.)
We are advised to transfer our consciousness into “the region of noumena and the sphere of primal causes”; therefore it is but natural to infer that in that region lie embedded “Eastern esoteric sciences” in which only are to be found “the exact extent, depth, breadth, and length of the mysteries of Nature.” The world of Noumena or of Things-in-Themselves, or of archetypes or of equity (Pythagorean) or of Ideas (Platonic) need not be regarded as a mere background to be posited in thought and language for the purposes of understanding and discussion of philosophical propositions. It is a reality and a substantial reality at that. This sphere of noumena is not a metaphysical concept, it is a scientific fact. Those who regard it as the first can find out the second as their ancient predecessors did. How? “The philosophers themselves had to be initiated into perceptive mysteries” and thus they contacted the Knowledge — Immortal, Imperishable, Eternal and Constant.
The contrast of the absolute and relative knowledge is shown in The Secret Doctrine. The modern scientist rejects the first and accepts the second; the ancient scientists accepted the eternal, constant and consistent knowledge, whose teachings he attained through the mysteries of Initiation; for him all else was illusion, but of that illusion he took note and did not deny its existence. SaysThe Secret Doctrine (Vol. I, Original Edition, p. 108):
Dzyu is the one real (magical) knowledge, or Occult Wisdom; which, dealing with eternal truths and primal causes, becomes almost omnipotence when applied in the right direction. Its antithesis is Dzyu-mi, that which deals with illusions and false appearances only, as in our exoteric modern sciences. In this case, Dzyu is the expression of the collective Wisdom of the Dhyani-Buddhas.