Theosophical Theories of the Microcosm
Theosophist, August, 1887
The greatest schisms often come about through the supporters of one cause disputing over mere terminology. Mr. Subba Row, in his able addresses on Bhagavad Gita, condemned “the sevenfold classification” which has come to be very largely accepted among Theosophists all over the world, and declared, that as that particular classification seemed to him unscientific and misleading, he preferred to adopt another. This brought out a reply which was published in The Path, and one which H. P. Blavatsky wrote for the Theosophist. As editor of the first named magazine I saw no occasion to enter into any part of the small contest, although at the time the first reply was not really on its face an argument newly propounded for the theory, but rather one pointing out possible inconsistencies in Mr. Subba Row’s position. In the May Theosophist Mr. Subba Row goes at more length into the matter, and it seems that if his two articles are taken together a way out of the difficulty may be found.
As his articles appeal to my eyes and mind, the real difficulty seems to be, not with any and all sevenfold classifications, but with the particular sevenfold classification found in Esoteric Buddhism and other theosophical works. He has in many places given his adherence to the number seven as a perfect number, but that does not necessarily bind him to the sevenfold division of Esoteric Buddhism. And although I have been an adherent of the Theosophical Society longer than our brother Subba Row, as well as an admirer and supporter of H. P. Blavatsky for many years and am still, yet I cannot adopt the manner in which the terms in the equation of man have been allotted by the author of Esoteric Buddhism. I have all along thought that that allotment was more or less tentative, but still have always believed that man—taken as a whole—could be called a sevenfold composition. While the changes of position given to the various “principles” have been going on, I have preferred to stick to the threefold division of Body, Soul and Spirit, leaving it open to me to say whether or not I would adopt a fourth—that is, the whole three together.
On page 506, May Theosophist, I find Mr. Subba Row saying:—”I am yet to be convinced that the sevenfold classification we have adopted was the real sevenfold classification of this ancient school of occultism.” (The italics are mine.) From this we must conclude that he believes the ancient school did have a sevenfold classification, but that ours is not the same. In this—if it be his position—I agree with him. But we should never quarrel over mere words or numbers. If one should say “I believe in duality, and not in the septenary,” he would be right so long as he admits that one of two making up the duad was not perfectly known to him in all its parts; for in the duality could be found every one of the seven or the nine, or the twenty-five principles into which some other philosopher chose to divide the human subject. So for the present, I say I believe in the ternary division, that being one more easily comprehended by the minds of this Kali-Yuga.
This brings us to the question:—”Is it possible for the mind of this Yuga or perhaps of this part of it—to thoroughly comprehend a psychological enumeration which includes seven numbers?” We can grasp seven easily enough in lower things, such as mathematics, the days of the week, and so on, but I doubt if the undeveloped man can, with his unregenerated mind, grasp seven when applied to the unknown quantities of the higher nature. The more especially is this difficult when one considers the poverty of the English language in psychological things.
It is a language that has come up out of piracy, brigandage and war. Very true that it has taken over words from almost all languages, but for what purposes? To suit the uses of nations bound on the path of self aggrandisement, of mere money getting, of individualism. How could European minds understand the statement that there may be an astral body and an astral shape also, each distinct from the other, when they have always known that body is a thing due to accretions from beef and beer? And if one were to tell them that upon approaching the hall of Brahman a point is reached where the flavour of Brahman is perceived, while at another point the glory of Brahman becomes apparent, they would understand the flavour as something due to seasoning or sauce, and the glory to be a mere effulgence or wide extended fame. But it was necessary to direct their minds to the fact that there is more of man than mere body, and therefore such books as Esoteric Buddhism, Zanoni and others came before them. And in Mr. Sinnett’s book some division had to be adopted that Western minds could grasp until they were able to go higher. But for my part I have never understood that his book was gospel truth. The great basis of our Society would be undermined by any such doctrine, just as much as his own progress would be retarded did he fancy that the views expressed by him were his own invention. In his work he has been careful to show that his teachers hold that a comprehension of numbers is coincident with a development of certain inner senses or principles in man; and as he says that our “fifth principle” is only in germ, it must follow under the law of correspondences,—that it is impossible for the present man to grasp an equation, relating to these higher states, which includes more than five terms. The result then is that when we deal with these matters we will have to use the unknown quantity x, and leave every one who deals intellectually with the problem to his own manner of placing the different terms. Those who investigate the subject, however, by means of the inner guide, will discover upon attempting to convey their experiences to their intellect—using fellows, that it is not possible to put their hearers into complete possession of the information gained in that way. But even if both of these classes in the West are left to their own devices, many decades will pass away, and many false as well as ridiculous systems will arise, grow up and disappear, before the whole truth will be known. But if that object of our Society which calls for a demonstration of the value of the ancient Aryan philosophy and psychology is sedulously pursued, we may hope for an earlier dawn of a better day. Who then are to be foremost in this? Our brothers who now possess Hindu bodies! They are within reach of the material, they are now in bodies that have grown on Indian soil, they are charged with a debt to the great sages of the past. Let them faithfully translate those books into English, explaining the terms as nearly as possible in every case, and not go on with mere transliterations of words that do not exist for the West. Thus the power and energy of the West will be wedded to the metaphysics and spiritual inheritance of the East, while both will be saved from a greater darkness. If this is not done, the day will come when the Hindu of today will find that he has failed to help his Western brothers who were in reality once themselves Hindus. Mr. Subba Row can very easily—owing to his mastery of English—enlighten us all by giving us better translations, or, if his time will not allow that, by inducing many Brahmans in India by whom he is held in high esteem, to act upon suggestion of his in that direction.