Entries from the Theosophical Glossary
Bhârata Varsha (Sk.)
The land of Bharata, an ancient name of India.
The father of Bhârata, who gave his name to Bhârata Varsha (land) or India.
The “land of the Aryas”, or India. The ancient name for Northern India. The Brahmanical invaders (“ from the Oxus” say the Orientalists) first settled. It is erroneous to give this name to the whole,of India, since Manu gives the name of “the land of the Aryas” only to “the tract between the Himalaya and the Vindhya ranges, from the eastern to the western sea”.
Lit., “the holy”; originally the title of Rishis, those who had mastered the “Âryasatyâni” (q.v.) and entered the Âryanimârga path to Nirvâna or Moksha, the great “four-fold” path. But now the name has become the epithet of a race, and our Orientalists, depriving the Hindu Brahmans of their birth-right, have made Aryans of all Europeans. In esotericism, as the four paths, or stages, can be entered only owing to great spiritual development and “growth in holiness ”, they are called the “four fruits”. The degrees of Arhatship, called respectively Srotâpatti, Sakridâgamin, Anâgâmin, and Arhat, or the four classes of Âryas, correspond to these four paths and truths.
Originally the system of the four hereditary classes into which the Indian population was divided: Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra (or descendants of Brahmâ, Warriors, Merchants, and the lowest or Agriculturalists). Besides these original four, hundreds have now grown up in India.
The name, according to the Bhâgavata Purâna, of the “One Caste” when there were as yet no varieties of caste, but verily “one Veda, one Deity and one Caste”.
Traditional accounts imparted orally, from the word Smriti, “Memory” a daughter of Daksha. They are now the legal and ceremonial writings of the Hindus; the opposite of, and therefore less sacred, than the Vedas, which are Sruti, or “ revelation ”.
Sacred tradition received by revelation; the Vedas are such a tradition as distinguished from “ Smriti ” (q.v.).
Brâhmana period (Sk.)
One of the four periods into which Vedic literature has been divided by Orientalists.
According to the best Hindu Commentators and Swami Dayanand Saraswati, 5,000 years B.C.
Mantra period (Sk.)
One of the four periods into which Vedic literature has been divided.
Sûtra Period (Sk.)
One of the periods into which Vedic literature is divided.
Lit., the “great war”; the celebrated epic poem of India (probably the longest poem in the world) which includes both the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gîtâ “the Song Celestial”. No two Orientalists agree as to its date. But it is undeniably extremely ancient.
Lit., “the Lord’s Song”. A portion of the Mahabharata, the great epic poem of India. It contains a dialogue wherein Krishna—the “Charioteer”—and Arjuna, his Chela, have a discussion upon the highest spiritual philosophy. The work is pre-eminently occult or esoteric.
A portion of the Mahâbhârata, a poem on the genealogy of Vishnu, or Hari.
The famous epic poem collated with the Mahâbhârata. It looks as if this poem was either the original of the Iliad or vice versa, except that in Râmâyana the allies of Râma are monkeys, led by Hanuman, and monster birds and other animals, all of whom fight against the Râkshasas, or demons and giants of Lankâ.
Hindu Sacred Books. Works composed by, and for Brahmans. Commentaries on those portions of the Vedas which were intended for the ritualistic use and guidance of the “twice-born (Dwija) or Brahmans.
Lit., “ancient”. A collection of symbolical and allegorical writings—eighteen in number now—supposed to have been composed by Vyâsa, the author of Mahâbhârata.
A long poem, which forms a part of the Skanda Purâna and contains another version of the legend of Daksha’s head. Having lost it in an affray, the gods replaced it with the head of a ram Mekha Shivas, whereas the other versions describe it as the head of a goat, a substitution which changes the allegory considerably.
Linga Purâna (Sk.)
A scripture of the Saivas or worshippers of Siva. Therein Maheswara, “the great Lord”, concealed in the Agni Linga explains the ethics of life—duty, virtue, self-sacrifice and finally liberation by and through ascetic life at the end of the Agni Kalpa (the Seventh Round). As Professor Wilson justly observed “the Spirit of the worship (phallic) is as little influenced by the character of the type as can well be imagined. There is nothing like the phallic orgies of antiquity; it is all mystical andspiritual.”
Matsya Purâna (Sk.)
The Scripture or Purâna which treats of that incarnation.
The “revelation”. the scriptures of the Hindus, from the root vid, “to know ”, or “divine knowledge”. They are the most ancient as well as the most sacred of the Sanskrit works. The Vedas on the date and antiquity of which no two Orientalists can agree, are claimed by the Hindus themselves, whose Brahmans and Pundits ought to know best about their own religious works, to have been first taught orally for thousands of years and then compiled on the shores of Lake Mânasa-Sarovara (phonetically, Mansarovara) beyond the Himalayas, in Tibet. When was this done? While their religious teachers, such as Swami Dayanand Saraswati, claim for them an antiquity of many decades of ages, our modern Orientalists will grant them no greater antiquity in their present form than about between 1,000 and 2,000 B.C. As compiled in their final form by Veda-Vyâsa, however, the Brahmans themselves unanimously assign 3,100 years before the Christian era, the date when Vyâsa flourished. Therefore the Vedas must be as old as this date. But their antiquity is sufficiently proven by the fact that they are written in such an ancient form, of Sanskrit, so different from the Sanskrit now used, that there is no other, work like them in the literature of this eldest sister of all the known languages, as Prof. Max Muller calls it. Only the most learned of the Brahman Pundits can read the Vedas in their original. It is urged that Colebrooke found the date 1400 B.c. corroborated absolutely by a passage which he discovered, and which is based on astronomical data. But if, as shown unanimously by all the Orientalists and the Hindu Pundits also, that (a) the Vedas are not a single work, nor yet any one of the separate Vedas; but that each Veda, and almost every hymn and division of the latter, is the production of various authors; and that (b) these have been written (whether as sruti, “revelation ”, or not) at various periods of the ethnological evolution of the Indo-Aryan race, then—what does Mr. Colebrooke’s discovery prove? Simply that the Vedas were finally arranged and compiled fourteen centuries before our era; but this interferes in no way with their antiquity. Quite the reverse; for, as an offset to Mr. Colebrooke’s passage, there is a learned article, written on purely astronomical data by Krishna Shâstri Godbole (of Bombay), which proves as absolutely and on the same evidence that the Vedas must have been taught at least 25,000 years ago. (See Theosophist, Vol. II., p. 238 et seq., Aug., 1881.) This statement is, if not supported, at any rate not contradicted by what Prof. Cowell says in Appendix VII., of Elphinstone’ History of India: “ There is a difference in age between the various hymns, which are now united in their present form as the Sanhitâ of the Rig Veda; but we have no data to determine their relative antiquity, and purely subjective criticism, apart from solid data, has so often failed in other instances, that we can trust but little to any of its inferences in such a recently opened field of research as Sanskrit literature. [ a fourth part of the Vaidik literature is as yet in print, and very little of it has been translated into English (1866).] The still unsettled controversies about the Homeric poems may well warn us of being too confident in our judgments regarding the yet earlier hymns of the Rig -Veda. . . . When we examine these hymns . . . they are deeply interesting for the history of the human mind, belonging as they do to a much older phase than the poems of Homer or Hesiod.” The Vedic writings are all classified in two great divisions, exoteric and esoteric, the former being called Karma-Kânda, “division of actions or works ”, and the Jnâna Kânda, “division of (divine) knowledge”, the Upanishads (q.v.) coming under this last classification. Both departments are regarded as Sruti or revelation. To each hymn of the Rig -Veda, the name of the Seer or Rishi to whom it was revealed is prefixed. It, thus, becomes evident on the authority of these very names (such as Vasishta, Viswâmitra, Nârada, etc.), all of which belong to men born in various manvantaras and even ages, that centuries, and perhaps millenniums, must have elapsed between the dates of their composition.
Rig Veda (Sk.)
The first and most important of the four Vedas. Fabled to have been “created” from the Eastern mouth of Brahmâ; recorded in Occultism as having been delivered by great sages on Lake Man(a)saravara beyond the Himalayas, dozens of thousands of years ago.
Gayâtri (Sk.) also Sâvitri.
A most sacred verse, addressed to the Sun, in the Rig -Veda, which the Brahmans have to repeat mentally every morn and eve during their devotions.
Sâma Veda (Sk.)
Lit., “the Scripture, or Shâstra, of peace”. One of the four Vedas.
A Samhitâ collection of Sama Veda; also a priest, a chanter of the Sama Veda.
A Brâhmana of the Yajur Veda.
Atharva Veda (Sk.)
The fourth Veda; lit., magic incantation containing aphorisms, incantations and magic formula One of the most ancient and revered Books of the Brahmans.
A certain portion of the Veda, after thoroughly studying which a Brâhman is also called a Trisuparna.
Translated as “esoteric doctrine ”, or interpretation of the Vedas by the Vedânta methods. The third division of the Vedas appended to the Brâhmanas and regarded as a portion of Sruti or “revealed” word. They are, however, as records, far older than the Brâhmanas the exception of the two, still extant, attached to the Rig -Veda of the Aitareyins. The term Upanishad is explained by the Hindu pundits as “that which destroys ignorance, and thus produces liberation” of the spirit, through the knowledge of the supreme though hidden truth; the same, therefore, as that which was hinted at by Jesus, when he is made to say, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free ” (John viii. 32). It is from these treatises of the Upanishads—themselves the echo of the primeval Wisdom-Religion―that the Vedânta system of philosophy has been developed. (See “Vedânta”.) Yet old as the Upanishads may be, the Orientalists will not assign to the oldest of them more than an antiquity of 600 years B.C. The accepted number of these treatises is 150, though now no more than about twenty are left unadulterated. They treat of very abstruse, metaphysical questions, such as the origin of the Universe; the nature and the essence of the Unmanifested Deity and the manifested gods the connection, primal and ultimate, of spirit and matter ; the universality of mind and the nature of the human Soul and Ego.
The Upanishads must be far more ancient than the days of Buddhism, as they show no preference for, nor do they uphold, the superiority of the Brahmans as a caste. On the contrary, it is the (now) second caste, the Kshatriya, or warrior class, who are exalted in the oldest of them. As stated by Professor Cowell in Elphinstone’s History ofIndia——“they breathe a freedom of spirit unknown to any earlier work except the Rig Veda. . . The great teachers of the higher knowledge and Brahmans are continually represented as going to KshatriyaKings to become their pupils.” The “ Kshatriya Kings” were in the olden times, like the King Hierophants of Egypt, the receptacles of the highest divine knowledge and wisdom, the Elect and the incarnations of the primordial divine Instructors—the Dhyâni Buddhas or Kumâras. There was a time, æons before the Brahmans became a caste, or even the Upanishads were written, when there was on earth but one “lip ”, one religion and one science, namely, the speech of the gods, the Wisdom-Religion and Truth. This was before the fair fields of the latter, overrun by nations of many languages, became overgrown with the weeds of intentional deception, and national creeds invented by ambition, cruelty and selfishness, broke the one sacred Truth into thousands of fragments.
The name of an Aranyaka (Brâhmana) and a Upanishad of the Rig Veda. Some of its portions are purely Vedântic.
One of the Upanishads. A very occult treatise. (See The sacred Books of the East.)
Holy hermits, sages who dwelt in ancient India in forests. Also a portion of the Vedas containing Upanishads, etc.
Ashtar Vidyâ (Sk.)
The most ancient of the Hindu works on Magic. Though there is a claim that the entire work is in the hands of some Occultists, yet the Orientalists deem it lost. A very few fragments of it are now extant, and even these are very much disfigured.
A Tamil Scripture on Astronomy and other matters.
The name of a Upanishad. One of the sacred and secret books of the Brahmins; an Aranyaka is a treatise appended to the Vedas, and considered a subject of special study by those who have retired to the jungle (forest) for purposes of religious meditation.
One of the Upanishads commented upon by Sankarâchârya.
Verses from the Vedic works, used as incantations and charms. By Mantras are meant all those portions of the Vedas which are distinct from the Brahmanas, or their interpretation.
Mantra Shâstra (Sk.)
Brahmanical writings on the occult science of incantations.
Mundakya Upanishad (Sk.)
Lit., the “Mundaka esoteric doctrine”, a work of high antiquity. It has been translated by Raja Rammohun Roy.
Sanat Sujâtîya (Sk.)
A work treating of Krishna’s teachings, such as in Bhagavad Gitâ and Anugîta.
Sânkhya Kârikâ (Sk.)
A work by Kapila, containing his aphorisms.
A Sanskrit treatise on astronomy.
Schools of Indian Philosophy:
The Schools of Indian philosophy, of which there are six; Shad-darsanas or six demonstrations.
The system of philosophy founded by Kapila Rishi, a system of analytical metaphysics, and one of the six Darshanas or schools of philosophy. It discourses on numerical categories and the meaning of the twenty-five tatwas (the forces of nature in various degrees). This “atomistic school”, as some call it, explains nature by the interaction of twenty-four elements with purusha (spirit) modified by the three gunas (qualities), teaching the eternity of pradhâna (primordial, homogeneous matter), or the self-transformation of nature and the eternity of the human Egos.
Sânkhya Yoga (Sk.)
The system of Yoga as set forth by the above school.
(1) One of the six Darshanas or schools of India; a school of philosophy founded by Patanjali, though the real Yoga doctrine, the one that is said to have helped to prepare the world for the preaching of Buddha, is attributed with good reasons to the more ancient sage Yâjnawalkya, the writer of the Shatapatha Brâhmana, of Yajur Veda, the Brihad Âranyaka, and other famous works.
(2) The practice of meditation as a means of leading to spiritual liberation. Psycho-spiritual powers are obtained thereby, and induced ecstatic states lead to the clear and correct perception of the eternal truths, in both the visible and invisible universe.
One of the six Darshanas or schools of Philosophy in India; a system of Hindu logic founded by the Rishi Gautama.
One of the six Darshanas or schools of philosophy, founded by Kanâda. It is called the Atomistic School, as it teaches the existence of a universe of atoms of a transient character, an endless number of souls and a fixed number of material principles, by the correlation and interaction of which periodical cosmic evolutions take place without any directing Force, save a kind of mechanical law inherent in the atoms; a very materialistic school.
A school of philosophy; one of the six in India. There are two Mîmânsâ the older and the younger. The first, the “Pârva-Mîmânsâ”, was founded by Jamini, and the later or “Uttara Mîmânsâ”, by a Vyasa—and is now called the Vedânta school. Sankarâchârya was the most prominent apostle of the latter. The Vedânta school is the oldest of all the six Darshana (lit., “demonstrations”), but even to the Pûrva-Mîmânsâ no higher antiquity is allowed than 500 B.C. Orientalists in favour of the absurd idea that all these schools are “due to Greek influence”, in order to have them fit their theory would make them of still later date. The Shad-darshana (or Six Demonstrations) have all a starting point in common, and maintain that ex nihilo nihil fit.
Uttara Mîmânsâ (Sk.)
The second of the two Mîmânsâs—the first being Pûrva (first) Mîmânsâ, which form respectively the fifth and sixth of the Darshanas or schools of philosophy. The Mîmânsâ are included in the generic name of Vedânta, though it is the Uttara (by Vyâsa) which is really the Vedânta.
A mystic system of philosophy which has developed from the efforts of generations of sages to interpret the secret meaning of the Upanishads (q.v.). It is called in the Shad-Darshanas (six schools or systems of demonstration), Uttara Mîmânsâ, attributed to Vyâsa, the compiler of the Vedas, who is thus referred to as the founder of the Vedânta. The orthodox Hindus call Vedânta_a term meaning literally the “end of all (Vedic) knowledge ”—Brahmâ-jnâna, or pure and spiritual knowledge of Brahmâ. Even if we accept the late dates assigned to various Sanskrit schools and treatises by our Orientalists, the Vedânta must be 3,300 years old, as Vyâsa is said to have lived I,400 years B.C. If, as Elphinstone has it in his History of India, the Brahmanas are the Talmud of the Hindus, and the Vedas the Mosaic books, then the Vedânta may be correctly called the Kabalah of India. But how vastly more grand! Sankarâchârya, who was the popularizer of the Vedântic system, and the founder of the Adwaita philosophy, is sometimes called the founder of the modern schools of the Vedânta.
Characters & Historical Figures:
Lit., the “white”. The third of the five Brothers Pandu or the reputed Sons of Indra (esoterically the same as Orpheus). A disciple of Krishna, who visited him and married Su-bhadrâ, his sister, besides many other wives, according to the allegory. During the fratricidal war between the Kauravas and the Pândavas, Krishna instructed him in the highest philosophy, while serving as his charioteer. (See Bhaguvad Gîtâ.)
The earliest Hindu algerbraist and astronomer, with the exception of Asura Maya (q.v.); the author of a work called Ârya Siddhânta, a system of Astronomy.
Known also as Mayâsura. An Atlantean astronomer, considered as a great magician and sorcerer, well-known in Sanskrit works.
A writer on Medicine who lived in Vedic times. He is believed to have been an incarnation (Avatara) of the Serpent Sesha, i.e., an embodiment of divine Wisdom, since Sesha-Naga, the King of the “Serpent” race, is synonymous with Ananta, the seven-headed Serpent, on which Vishnu sleeps during the pralayas. Ananta is the “endless” and the symbol of eternity, and as such, one with Space, while Sesha is only periodical in his manifestations. Hence while Vishnu is identified with Ananta, Charaka is only the Avatar of Sesha. (See “Ananta” and “Sesha”.)
An Aryan Sage, now the Pole Star. A Kshatriya (one of the warrior caste) who became through religious austerities a Rishi, and was, for this reason, raised by Vishnu to this eminence in the skies. Also called Grah-Âdhâr or “the pivot of the planets”.
A celebrated Brahman teacher, the author of the Commentaries on the SankhyaKarika, Mandukya Upanishad, and other works.
The Prince of Kapilavastu, son of Sudhôdana, the Sâkya king of a small realm on the borders of Nepaul, born in the seventh century B.c., now called the “Saviour of the World”. Gautama or Gôtama was the sacerdotal name of the Sâkya family, and Sidhârtha was Buddha’s name before he became a Buddha. Sâkya Muni, means the Saint of the Sâkya family. Born a simple mortal he rose to Buddhaship through his own personal and unaided merit. A man—verily greater than any god!
A great sage, a disciple of Vyâsa the transmitter and teacher of the Sama Veda which as claimed he received from his Guru. He is also the famous founder and writer of the Pûrva Mimânsâ philosophy.
The greatest poet and dramatist of India.
Kapila Rishi (Sk.)
A great sage, a great adept of antiquity; the author of the Sankhya philosophy.
A Vedic Sage; in the words of Atharva Veda, “The self-born who sprang from Time”. Besides being the father of the Adityas headed by Indra, Kasyapa is also the progenitor of serpents, reptiles, birds and other walking, flying and creeping beings.
The King of the Nagas (Serpents) in Pâtâla, exoterically a hall. But esoterically it means something very different. There is a tribe of the Nâgas in Upper India; Nagal is the name in Mexico of the chief medicine men to this day, and was that of the chief adepts in the twilight of history; and finally Patal means the Antipodes and is a name of America. Hence the story that Arjuna travelled to Pâtàla, and married Ulupi, the daughter of the King Kauravya, may he as historical as many others regarded first as fabled and then found out to be true.
The most celebrated avatar of Vishnu, the “Saviour” of the Hindus and their most popular god. He is the- eighth Avatar, the son of Devaki, and the nephew of Kansa, the Indian King Herod, who while seeking for him among the shepherds and cow-herds who concealed him, slew thousands of their newly-born babes. The story of Krishna’s conception, birth, and childhood are the exact prototype of the New Testament story. The missionaries, of course, try to show that the Hindus stole the story of the Nativity from the early Christians who came to India.
The great Indian legislator. The name comes from the Sanskrit root man “to think”—mankind really, but stands for Swâyambhuva, the first of the Manus, who started from Swâyambhu, “the self-existent” hence the Logos, and the progenitor of mankind. Manu is the first Legislator, almost a Divine Being.
A celebrated grammarian, author of the famous work called Pâninîyama; a Rishi, supposed to have received his work from the god Siva. Ignorant of the epoch at which he lived, the Orientalists place his date between 600 B.C. and 300 A.D.
A Vedic Rishi, the narrator of Vishnu Purâna.
The founder of the Yoga philosophy. The date assigned to him by the Orientalists is 200 B.C.; and by the Occultists nearer to 700 than 600 B.C. At any rate he was a contemporary of Pânini.
The great Vedic authority on the Prosody and chhandas of the Vedas. Lived several centuries B.C.
The shepherdess among the Gopis (shepherdesses) of Krishna, who was the wife of the god.
The seventh avatar or incarnation of Vishnu; the eldest son of King Dasaratha, of the Solar Race. His full name is Râma-Chandra, and he is the hero of the Râmâyana. He married Sîta, who was the female avatar of Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife, and was carried away by Râvana the Demon-King of Lanka, which act led to the famous war.
The name of Siva. Also a great Vedantic philosopher.
Sri Sankarâchârya (Sk.)
The great religious reformer of India, and teacher of the Vedânta philosophy—the greatest of all such teachers, regarded by the Adwaitas (Non-dualists) as an incarnation of Siva and a worker of miracles. He established many mathams (monasteries), and founded the most learned sect among Brahmans, called the Smârtava. The legends about him are as numerous as his philosophical writings. At the age of thirty-two he went to Kashmir, and reaching Kedâranâth in the Himalayas, entered a cave alone, whence he never returned. His followers claim that he did not die, but only retired from the world.
Udra Ramaputra (Sk.)
Udra, the son of Râma. A Brahman ascetic, who was for some years the Guru of Gautama Buddha.
A daughter of Kauravya, King of the Nâgas in Pâtâla (the nether world, or more correctly, the Antipodes, America). Exoterically, she was the daughter of a king or chief of an aboriginal tribe of the Nâgas, or Nagals (ancient adepts) in pre-historic America—Mexico most likely, or Uruguay. She was married to Arjuna, the disciple of Krishna, whom every tradition, oral and written, shows travelling five thousand years ago to Pâtâla (the Antipodes). The Purânic tale is based on a historical fact. Moreover, Ulûpi, as a name, has a Mexican ring in it, like “ Atlan ”, “ Aclo ”, etc.
One of the primitive seven great Rishis, and a most celebrated Vedic sage.
The father of Krishna. He belonged to the Yâdava branch of the Somavansa, or lunar race.
The compiler of the Vedas (q.v.).
Lit., one who expands or amplifies; an interpreter, or rather a revealer; for that which he explains, interprets and amplifies is a mystery to the profane. This term was applied in days of old to the highest Gurus in India. There were many Vyâsas in Aryavarta; one was the compiler and arranger of the Vedas; another, the author of the Mahâbhârata—the twenty-eighth Vyâsa or revealer in the order of succession—and the last one of note was the author of Uttara Mîmânsâ, the sixth school or system of Indian philosophy. He was also the founder of the Vedânta system. His date, as assigned by Orientalists (see Elphinstone, Cowell, etc.), is 1,400 B.C., but this date is certainly too recent. The Purânas mention only twenty-eight Vyâsas, who at various ages descended to the earth to promulgate Vedic truths—but there were many more.
A descendant of Yadu; of the great race in which Krishna was born. The founder of this line was Yadu, the son of King Yayâti of the Somavansa or Lunar Race. It was under Krishna— certainly no mythical personage—that the kingdom of Dwârakâ in Guzerat was established; and also after the death of Krishna (3102 B.c.) that all the Yâdavas present in the city perished, when it was submerged by the ocean. Only a few of the Yâdavas, who were absent from the town at the time of the catastrophe, escaped to perpetuate this great race. The Râjâs of Vijaya-Nâgara are now among the small number of its representatives.
One of the heroes of the Mahâbhârata. The eldest brother of the Pândavas, or the five Pându princes who fought against their next of kin, the Kauravas, the sons of their maternal uncle. Arjuna, the disciple of Krishna, was his younger brother. The Bhagavad Gîtâ gives mystical particulars of this war. Kuntî was the mother of the Pândavas, and Draupadi the wife in common of the five brothers—an allegory. But Yudishthira is also, as well as Krishna, Arjuna, and so many other heroes, an historical character, who lived some 5,000 years ago, at the period when the Kali Yuga set in.
Gods & Mythical Figures:
Satya Loka (Sk.)
The world of infinite purity and wisdom, the celestial abode of Brahmâ and the gods.
A general term for gods, the same as devas; the contrary to asuras or “no-gods“.
Three times ten or “thirty”. This is in round numbers the sum of the Indian Pantheon—the thirty-three crores of deities—the twelve Âdityas, the eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras and the two Ashvins, or thirty-three kotis, or 330 millions of gods.
Lit., “three faces”, or “triple form”—the Trinity. In the modern Pantheon these three persons are Brahmâ, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. But this is an after thought, as in the Vedas neither Brahmâ nor Shiva is known, and the Vedic trinity consists of Agni, Vâyu and Sûrya; or as the Nirukta explains it, the terrestrial fire, the atmospheric (or aërial) and the heavenly fire, since Agni is the god of fire, Vâyu of the air, and Sûrya is the sun. As the Padma Purâna has it: “In the beginning, the great Vishnu, desirous of creating the whole world, became threefold: creator, preserver, destroyer. In order to produce this world, the Supreme Spirit emanated from the right side of his body, himself, as Brahmâ then, in order to preserve the universe, he produced from the left side of his body Vishnu; and in order to destroy the world he produced from the middle of his body the eternal Shiva. Some worship Brahmâ, some Vishnu, others Shiva; but Vishnu, one yet threefold, creates, preserves, and destroys, therefore let the pious make no difference between the three.” The fact is, that all the three “persons” of the Trimûrti are simply the three qualificative gunas or attributes of the universe of differentiated Spirit-Matter, self-formative, self-preserving and self-destroying, for purposes of regeneration and perfectibility. This is the correct meaning; and it is shown in Brahmâ being made the personified embodiment of Rajoguna, the attribute or quality of activity, of desire for procreation, that desire owing to which the universe and everything in it is called into being. Vishnu is the embodied Sattvaguna, that property of preservation arising from quietude and restful enjoyment, which characterizes the intermediate period between the full growth and the beginning of decay; while Shiva, being embodied Tamoguna—which is the attribute of stagnancy and final decay—becomes of course the destroyer. This is as highly philosophical under its mask of anthropomorphism, as it is unphilosophical and absurd to hold to and enforce on the world the dead letter of the original conception.
The student must distinguish between Brahma the neuter, and Brahmâ, the male creator of the Indian Pantheon. The former, Brahma or Brahman, is the impersonal, supreme and uncognizable Principle of the Universe from the essence of which all emanates, and into which all returns, which is incorporeal, immaterial, unborn, eternal, beginningless and endless. It is all-pervading, animating the highest god as well as the smallest mineral atom. Brahmâ on the other hand, the male and the alleged Creator, exists periodically in his manifestation only, and then again goes into pralaya, i.e., disappears and is annihilated.
Brahmâ Prajâpati (Sk.)
“Brahmâ the Progenitor”, literally the “Lord of Creatures”. In this aspect Brahmâ is the synthesis of the Prajâpati or creative Forces.
Brahmâ Vâch (Sk.)
Male and female Brahmâ. Vâch is also some-times called the female logos; for Vâch means Speech, literally. (See Manu Book I., and Vishnu Purâna.)
Brahmâ Virâj. (Sk.)
The same: Brahmâ separating his body into two halves, male and female, creates in them Vâch and Virâj. In plainer terms and esotericlly Brahmâ the Universe, differentiating, produced thereby material nature, Virâj, and spiritual intelligent Nature, Vâch—which is the Logos of Deity or the manifested expression of the eternal divine Ideation.
Brahma Vidyâ (Sk.)
The knowledge, the esoteric science, about the two Brahmas and their true nature.
Chatur mukha (Sk.)
The “four-faced one”, a title of Brahmâ.
Kalahansa or Hamsa (Sk.)
A mystic title given to Brahma (or Parabrahman); means “the swan in and out of time”. Brahmâ (male) is called Hansa-Vahan, the vehicle of the “Swan”.
Sleep. Also the female form of Brahmâ.
Padma Yoni (Sk.)
A title of Brahmâ (also called Abjayoni), or the “lotus-born”.
The second person of the Hindu Trimûrti (trinity), composed of Brahmâ, Vishnu and Siva. From the root vish, “to pervade”. in the Rig -Veda, Vishnu is no high god, but simply a manifestation of the solar energy, described as “striding through the seven regions of the Universe in three steps and enveloping all things with the dust (of his beams ”.) Whatever may be the six other occult significances of the statement, this is related to the same class of types as the seven and ten Sephiroth, as the seven and three orifices of the perfect Adam Kadmon, as the seven “principles” and the higher triad in man, etc., etc. Later on this mystic type becomes a great god, the preserver and the renovator, he “of a thousand names—Sahasranâma ”.
Lit., “Lord of the World”, a title of Vishnu. The great image of Jagan-natha on its car, commonly pronounced and spelt Jagernath. The idol is that of Vishnu Krishna. Puri, near the town of Cuttack in Orissa, is the great seat of its worship; and twice a year an immense number of pilgrims attend the festivals of the Snâna yâtra and Ratha-âtra During the first, the image is bathed, and during the second it is placed on a car, between the images of Balarâma the brother, and Subhadrâ the sister of Krishna and the huge vehicle is drawn by the devotees, who deem it felicity to be crushed to death under it.
Mahâ Purusha (Sk.)
Supreme or Great Spirit. A title of Vishnu.
The “mover on the Waters” of space: a title of Vishnu, in his aspect of the Holy Spirit, moving on the Waters of Creation. (See Mânu, Book II.) In esoteric symbology it stands for the primeval manifestation of the life-principle, spreading in infinite Space.
The Lotus; a name of Lakshmi, the Hindu Venus, who is the wife or the female aspect, of Vishnu.
Lit., “lotus-eyed”, a title of Vishnu. “Supreme and imperishable glory”, as translated by some Orientalists.
“Pregenetic”, the same as the Orphic Protologos; a title of Vishnu.
An epithet of Vishnu used in the Rig Veda in relation to the “three steps of Vishnu”. The first step he took on earth, in the form of Agni; the second in the atmosphere, in the form of Vâyu, god of the air; and the third in the sky, in the shape of Sûrya, the sun.
The third person of the Hindu Trinity (the Trimûrti). He is a god of the first order, and in his character of Destroyer higher than Vishnu, the Preserver, as he destroys only to regenerate on a higher plane. He is born as Rudra, the Kumâra, and is the patron of all the Yogis, being called, as such, Mahâdeva the great ascetic, His titles are significant Trilochana, “the three-eyed”, Mahâdeva, “the great god ”, Sankara, etc., etc., etc.
Rudra is the Vedic name of Siva, the latter being absent from the Veda.
A title of the god Siva.
The “Lord” or the personal god—divine Spirit in man.Lit., sovereign (independent) existence. A title given to Siva and other gods in India. Siva is also called Iswaradeva, or sovereign deva.
Mahâ Deva (Sk.)
Lit., “great god”; a title of Siva.
Mahâ Kâla (Sk.)
“Great Time”. A name of Siva as the “Destroyer”, and of Vishnu as the “Preserver”.
A name of Siva meaning “ blue throated”. This is said to have been the result of some poison administered to the god.
“Five-faced”, a title of Siva; an allusion to the five races (since the beginning of the first) which he represents, as the ever reincarnating Kumâra throughout the Manvantara. In the sixth root-race he will be called the “six-faced”.
A title of Siva, the Destroyer.
The name of Siva. Also a great Vedantic philosopher.
The most celebrated avatar of Vishnu, the “Saviour” of the Hindus and their most popular god. He is the- eighth Avatar, the son of Devaki, and the nephew of Kansa, the Indian King Herod, who while seeking for him among the shepherds and cow-herds who concealed him, slew thousands of their newly-born babes. The story of Krishna’s conception, birth, and childhood are the exact prototype of the New Testament story. The missionaries, of course, try to show that the Hindus stole the story of the Nativity from the early Christians who came to India.
Lit., “the adored of mankind”, a title of Krishna.
The elephant-headed God of Wisdom, the son of Siva. He is the same as the Egyptian Thoth-Hermes, and Anubis or Hermanubis (q.v.). The legend shows him as having lost his human head, which was replaced by that of an elephant.
The monkey god of the Ramayana; the generalissimo of Rama’s army; the son of Vayu, the god of the wind, and of a virtuous she-demon. Hanuman was the faithful ally of Rama and by his unparalleled audacity and wit, helped the Avatar of Vishnu to finally conquer the demon-king of Lanka, Ravana, who had carried off the beautiful Sita, Rama’s wife, an outrage which led to the celebrated war described in the Hindu epic poem.
The god of the Firmament, the King of the sidereal gods. A Vedic Deity.
An epithet or title of Indra, meaning “the slayer of Vritra”.
“Leader of the Celestial Host”, a title of Indra, who, in the War of the Gods with the Asuras, led the “host of devas”. He is the “Michael, the leader of the Archangels” of India.
The “black”, now the name of Parvati, the consort of Siva, but originally that of one of the seven tongues of Agni, the god of fire—“the black, fiery tongue”. Evil and wickedness.
In the popular notions the god of love, a Visva-deva, in the Hindu Pantheon. As the Eros of Hesiod, degraded into Cupid by exoteric law, and still more degraded by a later popular sense attributed to the term, so is Kama a most mysterious and metaphysical subject. The earlier Vedic description of Kama alone gives the key-note to what he emblematizes. Kama is the first conscious, allembracing desire for universal good, love, and for all that lives and feels, needs help and kindness, the first feeling of infinite tender compassion and mercy that arose in the consciousness of the creative ONE Force, as soon as it came into life and being as a ray from the ABSOLUTE. Says the Rig Veda, “Desire first arose in IT, which was the primal germ of mind, and which Sages, searching with their intellect, have discovered in their heart to be the bond which connects Entity with non-Entity”, or Manas with pure Atma-Buddhi. There is no idea of sexual love in the conception. Kama is pre-eminently the divine desire of creating happiness and love; and it is only ages later, as mankind began to materialize by anthropomorphization its grandest ideals into cut and dried dogmas, that Kama became the power that gratifies desire on the animal plane. This is shown by what every Veda and some Brahmanas say. In the Atharva Veda, Kama is represented as the Supreme Deity and Creator. In the Taitarîya Brahmana, he is the child of Dharma, the god of Law and Justice, of Sraddha and faith. In another account he springs from the heart of Brahmâ. Others show him born from water, i.e., from primordial chaos, or the “Deep”. Hence one of his many names, Irâ-ja, “the water-born”; and Aja, “unborn” ; and Atmabhu or “Self-existent”. Because of the sign of Makara (Capricornus) on his banner, he is also called “ Makara Ketu”. The allegory about Siva, the “Great Yogin ”, reducing Kama to ashes by the fire from his central (or third) Eye, for inspiring the Mahadeva with thoughts of his wife, while he was at his devotions—is very suggestive, as it is said that he thereby reduced Kama to his primeval spiritual form.
Makâra Ketu (Sk.)
A name of Kâma, the Hindu god of love and desire.
The god of Temptation, the Seducer who tried to turn away Buddha from his PATH. He is called the “Destroyer” and “Death” (of the Soul). One of the names of Kâma, God of love.
The twelve great gods in the Purânas who neglect to create men, and are therefore, cursed by Brahmâ to be reborn “in every (racial) Manvantara till the seventh”. Another form or aspect of the reincarnating Egos.
The flame of time. A divine Being created by Siva, a monster with 1,000 heads. A title of Siva meaning “the fire of fate”.
Kartikeya (Sk.), or Kartika.
The Indian God of War, son of Siva, born of his seed fallen into the Ganges. He is also the personification of the power of the Logos. The planet Mars. Kartika is a very occult personage, a nursling of the Pleiades, and a Kumâra. (See Secret Doctrine.)
God of the Hades, and of wealth like Pluto. The king of the evil demons in the Hindu Pantheon.
The great Asura; exoterically—Satan, esoterically—the great god.
A goddess of Death and Decay.
God of the wind; the alleged father of the monkey-god Hanuman (See “Râmâyana”).
A Vedic deity, the real meaning of which remains unknown to Orientalists. It is qualified as the “Nourisher”, the feeder of all (helpless) beings. Esoteric philosophy explains the meaning. Speaking of it the Taittirîya Brâhmana says that, “When Prajâpati formed living beings, Pûshan nourished them”. This then is the same mysterious force that nourishes the fœtus and unborn babe, by Osmosis, and which is called the“atmospheric (or akâsic) nurse”, and the “father nourisher”. When the lunar Pitris had evolved men, these remained senseless and helpless, and it is “Pûshan who fed primeval man”. Also a name of the Sun.
The shepherdess among the Gopis (shepherdesses) of Krishna, who was the wife of the god.
The seventh avatar or incarnation of Vishnu; the eldest son of King Dasaratha, of the Solar Race. His full name is Râma-Chandra, and he is the hero of the Râmâyana. He married Sîta, who was the female avatar of Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife, and was carried away by Râvana the Demon-King of Lanka, which act led to the famous war.
One of the names of the “twelve great gods” created by Brahmâ. Kosmic gods; lit., “divine sacrificers”. The Sâdhyas are important in Occultism.
A title of Aditi, the mother of the gods or suras.
The wife of Brihaspati (Jupiter), carried away by King Soma, the Moon, an act which led to the war of the Gods with the Asuras. Târâ personifies mystic knowledge as opposed to ritualistic faith. She is the mother (by Soma) of Buddha, “Wisdom ”.
Lit., “Virgin of Light”; a title ill-befitting its possessor, as it was that of Durgâ Kâli, the goddess or female aspect of Siva. Human flesh was offered to her every autumn; and, as Durgâ, she was the patroness of the once murderous Thugs of India, and the special goddess of Tântrika sorcery. But in days of old it was not as it is now. The earliest mention of the title “Umâ-Kanyâ is found in the Kena–Upanishad; in it the now blood-thirsty Kâlî, was a benevolent goddess, a being of light and goodness, who brings about reconciliation between Brahmâ and the gods. She is Saraswati and she is Vâch. In esoteric symbology, Kâlî is the dual type of the dual soul—the divine and the human, the light and the dark soul of man.
To call Vâch “speech” simply, is deficient in clearness. Vâch is the mystic personification of speech, and the female Logos, being one with Brahmâ, who created her out of one-half of his body, which he divided into two portions; she is also one with Virâj (called the “female” Virâj) who was created in her by Brahmâ. In one sense Vâch is “speech” by which knowledge was taught to man; in another she is the “mystic, secret speech” which descends upon and enters into the primeval Rishis, as the “tongues of fire” are said to have “sat upon” the apostles. For, she is called “the female creator ”, the “mother of the Vedas ”, etc., etc. Esoterically, she is the subjective Creative Force which, emanating from the Creative Deity (the subjective Universe, its “privation ”, or ideation) becomes the manifested “world of speech ”, i.e., the concrete expression of ideation, hence the “Word” or Logos. Vâch is “the male and female” Adam of the first chapter of Genesis, and thus called “Vâch-Virâj” by the sages. (See Atharva Veda.) She is also “the celestial Saraswatî produced from the heavens ”, a “voice derived from speechless Brahmâ” (Mahâbhârata); the goddess of wisdom and eloquence. She is called Sata-rûpa, the goddess of a hundredforms.
The same as Vâch, wife and daughter of Brahmâ produced from one of the two halves of his body. She is the goddess of speech and of sacred or esoteric knowledge and wisdom. Also called Sri.
Sata rûpa (Sk.)
The “hundred-formed one”; applied to Vâch, who to be the female Brahmâ assumes a hundred forms, i.e., Nature.
A vehicle, the carrier of something immaterial and formless. All the gods and goddesses are, therefore, represented as using vâhanas to manifest themselves, which vehicles are ever symbolical. So, for instance, Vishnu has during Pralayas, Ânanta the infinite” (Space), symbolized by the serpent Sesha, and during the Manvantaras—Garuda the gigantic half-eagle, half-man, the symbol of the great cycle; Brahma appears as Brahmâ, descending into the planes of manifestations on Kâlahamsa, the “swan in time or finite eternity”; Siva (phonet, Shiva) appears as the bull Nandi; Osiris as the sacred bull Apis; Indra travels on an elephant; Kârttikeya, on a peacock; Kâmadeva on Makâra, at other times a parrot; Agni, the universal (and also solar) Fire-god, who is, as all of them are, “a consuming Fire”, manifests itself as a ram and a lamb, Ajâ, “the unborn”; Varuna, as a fish; etc., etc., while the vehicle of MAN is his body.
The god of water, or marine god, but far different from Neptune, for in the case of this oldest of the Vedic deities, Water means the “ Waters of Space”, or the all-investing sky, Akâsa, in one sense. Varuna or Ooaroona (phonetically), is certainly the prototype of the Ouranos of the Greeks. As Muir says : “ The grandest cosmical functions are ascribed to Varuna. Possessed of illimitable knowledge he upholds heaven and earth, he dwells in all worlds as sovereign ruler. . . He made the golden . . . sun to shine in the firmament. The wind which resounds through the atmosphere is his breath. . . . Through the operation of his laws the moon walks in brightness and the stars . . . mysteriously vanish in daylight. He knows the flight of birds in the sky, the paths of ships on the ocean, the course of the far travelling wind, and beholds all the things that have been or shall be done. . . . He witnesses men’s truth and false hood. He instructs the Rishi Vasishta in mysteries ; but his secrets and those of Mitra are not to be revealed to the foolish.” . . “ The attributes and functions ascribed to Varuna impart to his character a moral elevation and sanctity far surpassing that attributed to any other Vedic deity.”
A name of Varuna, the god of water, or esoterically—its principle.
Air: the god and sovereign of the air; one of the five states of matter, namely the gaseous; one of the five elements, called, as wind, Vâta. The Vishnu Purâna makes Vâyu King of the Gandharvas. He is the father of Hanumân, in the Râmâyana. The trinity of the mystic gods in Kosmos closely related to each other, are “ Agni (fire) whose place is on earth; Vâyu (air, or one of the forms of Indra), whose place is in the air ; and Sûrya (the sun) whose place is in the air (Nirukta.) In esoteric interpretation, these three cosmic principles, correspond with the three human principles, Kâma, Kâma-Manas and Manas, the sun of the intellect.
The “Omnificent”. A Vedic god, a personification of the creative Force, described as the One “all-seeing god, . . . the generator, disposer, who . . . is beyond the comprehension of (uninitiated) mortals”. In the two hymns of the Rig -Veda specially devoted to him, he is said “to sacrifice himself to himself ”. The names of his mother, “the lovely and virtuous Yoga-Siddha” (Purânas) and of his daughter Sanjnâ (spiritual consciousness), show his mystic character. (See Secret Doctrine, sub voc.) As the artificer of the gods and maker of their weapons, he is called Karu, “workman”, Takshaka “carpenter”, or “wood-cutter”, etc., etc.
The demon of drought in the Vedas, a great foe of Indra, with whom he is constantly at war. The allegory of a cosmic phenomenon.
The personified third root-race in Occultism. In the Indian Pantheon Yama is the subject of two distinct versions of the myth. In the Vedas he is the god of the dead, a Pluto or a Minos, with whom the shades of the departed dwell (the Kâmarûpas in Kâmaloka). A hymn speaks of Yama as the first of men that died, and the first that departed to the world of bliss (Devachan). This, because Yama is the embodiment of the race which was the first to be endowed with consciousness (Manas), without which there is neither Heaven nor Hades. Yama is represented as the son of Vivaswat (the Sun). He had a twin-sister named Yami, who was ever urging him, according to another hymn, to take her for his wife, in order to perpetuate the species. The above has a very suggestive symbolical meaning, which is explained in Occultism. As Dr. Muir truly remarks, the Rig -Veda—the greatest authority on the primeval myths which strike the original key-note of the themes that underlie all the subsequent variations—nowhere shows Yama “as having anything to do with the punishment of the wicked ”. As king and judge of the dead, a Pluto in short, Yama is a far later creation. One has to study the true character of Yama-Yamî throughout more than one hymn and epic poem, and collect the various accounts scattered in dozens of ancient works, and then he will obtain a consensus of allegorical statements which will be found to corroborate and justify the Esoteric teaching, that Yama-Yamî is the symbol of the dual Manas, in one of its mystical meanings. For instance, Yama-Yamî is always represented of a green colour and clothed with red, and as dwelling in a palace of copper and iron. Students of Occultism know to which of the human “principles” the green and the red colours, and by correspondence the iron and copper,’ are to be applied. The “twofold-ruler ”—the epithet of Yama Yamî—is regarded in the exoteric teachings of the Chino-Buddhists as both judge and criminal, the restrainer of his own evil doings and the evil-doer himself. In the Hindu epic poems Yama-Yami is the twin- child of the Sun (the deity) by Sanjnâ (spiritual consciousness); but while Yama is the Aryan “lord of the day”, appearing as the symbol of spirit in the East, Yamî is the queen of the night (darkness, ignorance) “who opens to mortals the path to the West ”—the emblem of evil and matter. In the Purânas Yama has many wives (many Yamis) who force him to dwell in the lower world (Pâtâla, Myalba, etc., etc.); and an allegory represents him with his foot lifted, to kick Chhâyâ, the hand maiden of his father (the astral body of his mother, Sanjnâ, a metaphysical aspect of Buddhi or Alaya). As stated in the Hindu Scriptures, a soul when it quits its mortal frame, repairs to its abode in the lower regions (Kâmaloka or Hades). Once there, the Recorder, the Karmic messenger called Chitragupta (hidden or concealed brightness), reads out his account from the Great Register, wherein during the life of the human being, every deed and thought are indelibly impressed-— and, according to the sentence pronounced, the “soul” either ascends to the abode of the Pitris (Devachan), descends to a “hell ” (Kâmaloka), or is reborn on earth in another human form. The student of Esoteric philosophy will easily recognise the bearings of the allegories.
An epithet of Yama, the god of death and king of the nether world, or Hades.
See also: Abhimânim, Abhimanyu, Adbhuta Brâhmana, Âdi-bhûta, Âdikrit, Âdi-Sakti, Âditi, Agastya, Agneyastra, Agni, Agni Bhuvah, Agni-ratha, Agnishwattas, Ahan, Ahi, Aindrî, Aindriya, Ajitas, Akâsa, Akshara, Akta, Amânasa, Amrita, Amûlam Mûlam, Ananta-Sesha, Anda-Katâha, Augiras, Angirasas, Anjala, Anjana, Annamaya Kosha, Ansumat, Antahkarana, Anu, Anugraha, Anumati, Anyâmsam Aniyasâm, Aparinâmin, Âpava, Apsaras, Arani, Arvâksrotas, Asat, Asita, Asrama, Asuras, Aswamedha, Atala, Atmâ, Atri, Aum, Aurva, Avatâra, Avidyâ, Ayur Veda, Bhagavat, Bhargavas, Bhava, Bhrigu, Bhur-loka, Bhûtesa, Bhuvana, Brahmâ’s Day, Brahmâ’s Night, Brahmâcharî, Brahmanaspati, Brahmârshîs, Brihaspati, Buddhi, Chakra, Chandra, Chandra-vansa, Chatur varna, Chit, Chitra Gupta, Daityas, Daksha, Dayus, Deva, Devaki, Deva-laya, Devapi, Devarshis, Digambara, Dravidians, Durga, Dwapara Yuga, Dwipa, Ekana-rupa, Gandharva, Gangâ, Gangâdwâra, Garuda, Gâtra, Gharma, Grihastha, Gunas, Himavat, Hiranya, Hitopadesa, Hotri, Idwatsara, Ikshwaku, Jâbalas, Jâhnavî, Jambu-dwipa, Janaka, Jana-loka, Jaras, Jatayu, Jiva, Jyotisha, Kala, Kaliya, Kaliyuga, Kalki Avatar, Kalpa, Kandu, Kanishthas, Kârana, Karma, Kaumara, Krita-Yuga, Kshatriya, Kumâra, Kumbhakarna, Kunti, Kurus, Kusadwipa, Lajja, Lila, Lipikas, Lobha, Loka, Mâ, Mâdhava, Maga, Mahâ Kalpa, Mahâ Mâyâ, Mahâ Yuga, Mahat, Mahâtma, Mahattattwa, Manas, Mânasa Dhyânis, Mânava, Mandala, Mandara, Mandâkinî, Manomaya Kosha, Manus, Manvantara, Mârîchi, Mârishâ, Mârttanda, Mâruts, Matari Svan, Mâyâ, Mâyâ Moha, Medinî, Meru, Mûlaprakriti, Murâri, Nâga, Nâgadwîpa, Nandi, Nara Sinha, Nârada, Nâth, Nidhi, Nimitta, Nirguna, Nirmathya, Nirukta, Nîshada, Om, Oshadi Prastha, Padârthas, Pancha Kosha, Panchâsikha, Pândavâranî, Pandavas, Pandu, Parabrahm, Paramapadha, Paramartha, Pâramârthika, Paramâtman, Parasakti, Pâsa, Pâtâla, Phâlguna, Pippalâda, Pisâchas, Pitris, Plaksha, Prâchetasas, Pradhâna, Prahlâda, Prajâpatis, Prakriti, Pralaya, Prânamâya Kosha, Pranâtman, Pratyasarga, Prêtas, Priyavrata, Pulastya, Purusha, Pushkara, Râjâ, Râjas, Râsa, Reincarnation, Rik, Rishi-Prajâpati, Rudras, Rudras, Sabda Brahmam, Sabhâ, Saharaksha, Sâka Dwîpa, Sakti, S’ambhala, Samskâra, Sancha-Dwîpa, Sandhyâ, Sannyâsi, Sanskrit, Saptadwîpa, Saptarshi, Saramâ, Sarpas, Sat, Sattâ, Sattva, Satya Yuga, Sesha, Shâstra, Sibikâ, Sinika, Smârtava, Soma, Soma-drink, Soma-loka, Srotriya, Su-darshana, Suki, Sunasepha, Su-rasâ, Sûryâ, Sûryavansa, Svadhâ, Svarâj, Svayambhû, Sveta, Sveta-dwîpa, Tamas, Tapas, Toyâmbudhi, Trailokya, Tretâ Yuga, Tri-bhuvana, Trigunas, Trilcohana, Trishûla, Tushita, Upâdhi, Upanita, Urvasî, Vaijayantî, Vaikuntha, Vairâjas, Vaishnava, Vâmana, Varâha, Varna, Vasus, Vijnânam, Vinatâ, Viprachitti, Vîrabhadra, Virâj, Viwan, Vrata, Vratâni, Vriddha Mânava, Vyahritis, Yajna, Yaksha, Yudishthira, Yuga, etc.
The Epics of India
of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa
translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
See also: Mahabharata in Translation
The Bhagavad Gita
Translated in Verse by Sir Edwin Arnold,
Recension By William Quan Judge, and
The Gita According to Gandhi
Being a Translation of Sanscrit Manuscripts from the Asvamedha Parvan of the
A Natural Adjunct to the
KASHINATH TRIMBAK TELANG, MA, LL.B.
Ramayam of Valmiki
Translated into English Verse
RALPH T. H. GRIFFITH, M. A.
The Vedas and Upanishads
|The 108 Upanishads as given in the Muktika Upanishad (see notes below):||PDF Version|
* The Nṛsiṃhatāpanī listed in the Muktika Upanishad is found in some cases listed as two upanishads (the purva and the uttara). The total of 108 is reached when counting these as one, as is most common.
translated by Anand Aadhar Prabhu
The Vishnu Purana
translated by Horace Hayman Wilson
The Heritage of Ancient India
The Heritage of Ancient India
Pax non est privatio belli, sed virtus, quae de fortitudine animi oritur.
La paix n’est pas l’absence de la guerre; c’est une virtu qui nait de la force de l’âme.—Spinoza.
Commerce and conquest — in them lies buried the history of the Western nations who went to India.
The East generally, and India especially, was enamoured of philosophy, mysticism and altruism. Soul-culture, emancipation of the senses from the thraldom of fleshly appetites that soul and sense might join hands in the service of the good, the true and the beautiful — such was the central idea of the ancient Hindus. The masses and their leaders were so immersed in creation and expression of the pure principles in art and architecture, in trade and commerce, in life and daily drudgery; they were so intent on building political and social institutions which would enable the many to live and labour like the cultured few — that their splendid gold was spent in the cause of peace rather than to bring forth the weapons of war. Offensive wars were never thought of, and even preparations for defense against attacks from without were not seriously considered. Thus India became an open target for the ambitious arms of foreign foes.
In the long and eventful story of India, foreign invasions occupy perhaps the most prominent place in Indian history today. The fierce battles, bringing in their wake marked political changes and effects, catch the mind’s eye to such an extent that hardly any attention is paid to the slow uprising of stately edifices of peace, of progress, of culture. So much is said about the doings of the conquering heroes that the tale of the splendid performance of the conquered are forgotten. When we read of the exploits of Alexander, or Nadirshah, of the achievements of Baber or Akbar, we generally neglect to enquire what kind of people were exploited or conquered. What is true of these other conquests is equally true of British penetration into India and the rearing of the Empire, the foundations of which were laid by Clive and Hastings.
The Western world, even today, seems to prefer the gory conquests of war to the slow achievements of peace. The French are more proud of Napoleon the soldier than of Napoleon the maker of the Code Napoléon. The British, in their turn, honour Warren Hastings for his work as soldier-statesman (part of which at any rate is regarded by some historians as of doubtful morality), but few know that he was a patron of Sanskrit and Persian knowledge and culture and that we owe the Bhagavad-Gita to the support and encouragement he gave to Charles Wilkins. War has been regarded by the western masses as the greater achievement. Perhaps — who can tell? — this is the strange and unrecognized nemesis of the act of the Roman Governor and the Jewish priest which sent Jesus to the Cross.
A growing demand exists on the part of the American public to know more about Eastern, and especially Indian culture, but readers should be on their guard while selecting books, as a basis for their information and acquaintance. Some books are written by biased and interested parties who see nothing but evil, degradation, and the superstition in India: these outpourings may be discarded. On the other hand there are idealists and visionaries who express their dreams of old India. Their statements may be taken with caution. Let the enquirer seek for the facts.
But in studying the long story of India, let us look for the achievements of the people in times of peace. What they did, how they lived, what were the ideals and ideas uppermost in their thoughts, why they acted and behaved in ways that seem peculiar to us, what were their religious and philosophic beliefs — these and such like themes will reveal the greatness and grandeur of a people who grappled with knowledge, and thus an understanding of spirituality, thousands of years ago. We know something about the conquests of India; but do we know how the soul of India conquered Alexander, captured Baber, and even today, in spite of the clamour of millions upon millions, keeps the British, in a sense, prisoners in that old land? They loathe leaving India and yet are unable to make it their home. Their lot will not improve till at least a number of them assimilate the gifts which the Soul of the ever-young Mother India is offering them. The Indians of all castes and classes can help them, but a danger awaits these. If Indians do not remain true to the teachings of their own almost forgotten Rishis they will become like unto their conquerors — take pride in and glorify the passion of war and forget their old, old Dharma — to give their teaching by and through the sacrifice of Soul. It would indeed be a day of tragedy for the world, were the India of the Indians to become anglicized. In this tragedy the spiritual welfare of the entire West would be participant. The true lesson of ancient Aryavarta remains still to be learned by both East and West.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 19, No. 5, March, 1931
I: The Eternal Religion
* Isis Unveiled, II, p. 30.
Forty years ago, expounding Theosophical tenets, W. Q. Judge called them “Echoes from the Orient.” His words convey a deeper truth than is generally understood: Modern Theosophy verily is but the echo of the Occult Voice of the Orient.
Time was when the ancient continent of Asia, from Fo-Kien to Baku, lived by the same religious truths which united tribes and races and nations into a harmonious whole. The universal Wisdom-Religion was the root of that mighty Tree on which in later times grew the branches of the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, the Egyptian religions; this takes us back ages before Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad tried to teach the eternal truths. Before the Vedas existed, that Wisdom-Religion, the Bodhi-Dharma, the Source of Brahmanical lore, was.
Not without good reasons the Hindus call theirs the Eternal Religion, Sanatana Dharma. Properly speaking, that title by right can belong only to the Mother Source of all religions, viz., Theosophia or the Wisdom-Religion; but of all exoteric faiths the Brahmanical is the one which approximates most nearly to the original; the first-born of the Aryan family of religions, it bears a very close resemblance to the Mother.
First, of all Asiatic cultures only that of old India survives* as a living reality. Says Mr. Judge, “Of all the old races the Aryan Indian alone yet remains as the preserver of the old doctrine. It will one day rise again to its old heights of glory” (Ocean of Theosophy, p. 85). This is a striking fact, and its meaning becomes clearer when the student of H.P.B.’s Secret Doctrine notes that India became and still is the home of the parent-stock of the Aryan Root-Race which started on its eventful journey a million years ago. Four sub-races of the Fifth Root-Race, the Aryan, have run their course, and at present the fifth sub-race is in the ascendant. During these million years the root-stock has been the Foster Mother of the sub-races, nourishing with her hoary culture the daughter-races in many Western lands. It began with Egypt: “Egypt and India”, says H.P.B. (Isis Unveiled, I, p. 515), “were the oldest in the group of nations; and … the Eastern Ethiopians — the mighty builders — had come from India as a matured people.” The following is from the same book (II, p. 435):
…we are prepared to maintain that Egypt owes her civilization, commonwealth and arts — especially the art of building, to pre-Vedic India, and that it was a colony of the dark-skinned Aryans, or those whom Homer and Herodotus term the eastern Æthiopians, i.e., the inhabitants of Southern India, who brought to it their ready-made civilization in the ante-chronological ages, of what Bunsen calls pre-Menite, but nevertheless epochal history.
We must remember in this connection, that the peoples of Southwestern and Western Asia, including the Medes, were all Aryans. It is yet far from being proved who were the original and primitive masters of India. That this period is now beyond the reach of documentary history, does not preclude the probability of our theory that it was the mighty race of builders, whether we call them Eastern Æthiopians, or dark-skinned Aryans (the word meaning simply “noble warrior,” a “brave”). They ruled supreme at one time over the whole of ancient India, enumerated later by Manu as the possession of those whom our scientists term the Sanskrit-speaking people.
* Readers must bear in mind that archaic India was a far flung country; modern India has shrunk to its present proportions — wide and large as they are — from the geographical marvel that it was! Says H.P.B. in Isis Unveiled, I, p. 589: — “There was an Upper, a Lower, and a Western India, the latter of which is now Persia-Iran. The countries now named Thibet, Mongolia, and Great Tartary, were also considered by the ancient writers as India.”
Similarly “Babylonian civilization was neither born nor developed in that country. It was imported from India, and the importers were Brahmanical Hindus” (Isis Unveiled, I, p. 576). And again, “The Babylonians … got their wisdom and learning from India” (Secret Doctrine, II, p. 566). And so the deduction (Isis Unveiled, I, p. 584):
Can there be any absurdity in the suggestion that the India of 6,000 years ago, brilliant, civilized, overflowing with population, impressed upon Egypt, Persia, Judea, Greece, and Rome, a stamp as ineffaceable, impressions as profound, as these last have impressed upon us?
And again (Isis Unveiled, II, p. 361):
…all the knowledge possessed by these different schools, whether Magian, Egyptian, or Jewish, was derived from India, or rather from both sides of the Himalayas.
The process continues: in some few hundred years more the sixth sub-race will become the pioneer; it will flower in America from the seeds which have been, and are being, sown. Another 25,000 years and the seventh sub-race will come into being, when alone the Aryan Fifth Root-Race will have completed the great drama of its evolution (Secret Doctrine, II, p. 445). It is obvious that the cyclic rise of India is contemporaneous with the rise of each of its daughter sub-races. Every time India rises to the crest of the wave in grand creative activity, she radiates the energy of wisdom, which fructifies a new civilization; then follows the period of preservation, during which India guards her hoard of knowledge, waiting and watching for another hour of cyclic rising, while within her borders the struggle of existence goes on. Thus there are dynamic and static periods in Indian history, and of the latter Mr. Judge says this (Ocean, p. 9):
Turning to India, so long forgotten and ignored by the lusty and egotistical, the fighting and the trading West, we find her full of the lore relating to these wonderful men of whom Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Solomon are only examples. There the people are fitted by temperament and climate to be the preservers of the philosophical, ethical, and psychical jewels that would have been forever lost to us had they been left to the ravages of such Goths and Vandals as western nations were in the early days of their struggle for education and civilization.
Thus India will live fulfilling her mission till the whole of the Aryan Race has discharged its Dharma to the God of Time. In the fascinating story of India’s hoary past, which, says H.P.B., is part of the Great Record, her cyclic rise to eminence, her influence at the birth of new sub-races, etc., are all described. Allegorical reflections of that Record are to be found in what is called Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Religion — which title is not altogether correctly understood by Hindus themselves. This is one real reason why that title belongs to the religious lore of old India: in the Occult History of Aryavarta is to be found the history of the entire Aryan Root-Race with its seven sub-races.
Secondly, it is a well-known fact that even in extant Hinduism, every soul finds its own especial nourishment. From fetishism, through polytheism and pantheism to the highest and the noblest concept of Deity and Man — in Hinduism the whole gamut of human thought and belief is to be found. For every class of worshiper and thinker Hinduism makes a provision; herein lies also its great power of assimilation and absorption of schools of philosophy and communities of people. And another aspect of this phase consists in the power old India wields in impressing the mind of distant countries, and moulding the heart of foreign cultures. To the real India there are no aliens, for whatever others believe and think is to be found in some phase of Hindu religious philosophy. Of her spiritual commonwealth it can truly be said that it encompasses the whole world. There is not a philosophy, a science or a magical art of Chaldea, Persia, or Greece whose original counterpart cannot be traced to some Sanskrit source. Says H.P.B. in Isis Unveiled, I, p. 620:
Name to us any modern discovery, and we venture to say, that Indian history need not long be searched before the prototype will be found of record.
Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Religion, has narrowed down to a creed, because during the last many centuries this reality of its touching the wide spaces of earth and encompassing many cycles of time has not been rightly perceived. As genuine Theosophy gains ground in the world, this old and forgotten view of Sanatana Dharma will be more and more recognized. When in America the time arrives for the sixth sub-race to function as a race apart, her sustenance will come from India as in ages gone by it came thence to Egypt and Ethiopia and Babylonia and Greece and Rome. H.P.B. calls India “that old initiatrix” and bearing in mind the kinship between old Egypt and modern America, to which Mr. Judge makes more than one pointed reference, the student is called upon to ponder over this statement from Isis Unveiled, I, p. 589:
…we affirm that, if Egypt furnished Greece with her civilization, and the latter bequeathed hers to Rome, Egypt herself had, in those unknown ages when Menes reigned, received her laws, her social institutions, her arts and her sciences, from pre-Vedic India; and that therefore, it is in that old initiatrix of the priests — adepts of all the other countries — we must seek for the key to the great mysteries of humanity.
With all this in view Mr. Judge wrote in The Path for February, 1891:
If I were convinced by any reasonable proof or argument that Palestine was ever the cradle of our civilization or philosophy, or other than the seat of a people who are the true exponents of a fine social materialism, I would advocate great attention to her records. But it is not a single small nation we should look to. The fountain head is better than a secondary receptacle, a mere cistern that takes the overflow from the source. The fountain is old India, and to that the members of the Theosophical Society who are not only desirous of saving time but also of aiding the sages of the past in the evolution of doctrines which, applied to our great new civilization, can alone save it from failure, will bend themselves to the task of carrying out our second object — the investigation of Aryan literature, religion, and science.
We must prepare. There are men in India to-day who are qualified and willing to aid in translating works hitherto untranslated, in collecting that which shall enable us to disseminate and popularise true doctrines of man’s life and destiny. Time is very short and cannot be spent by all of us in learning Sanskrit… Let us then get ready to use the material in the ancient storehouse of India, treasures that no man can be called a thief for taking, since the truths acquired by the mind respecting man’s life, conduct, constitution, and destiny are the common property of the human race, a treasure that is lost by monopoly and expanded by dissemination.
How very close the mind of Judge was to the great mind of H.P.B. in all matters is once again to be seen by comparing the above with that which follows:
…it is to India, the country less explored, and less known than any other, that all the other great nations of the world are indebted for their languages, arts, legislature, and civilization (Isis, I, p. 585).
No wonder then why H.P.B. called India “The Alma-Mater, not only of the civilization, arts, and sciences, but also of all great religions of antiquity” (Isis, II, p. 30.)
Bearing this in mind let us see what we can learn from Aryavarta of old.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 19, No. 7, May, 1931, Pages 294-298
II: The Temple of Knowledge
What has India been preserving through the ages?
That science which is called in some places, the “seven-storied,” in others the “nine-storied” Temple. Every story answers allegorically to a degree of knowledge acquired. Says Isis Unveiled II, p. 392:
Throughout the countries of the Orient, wherever magic and the wisdom-religion are studied, its practitioners and students are known among their craft as Builders — for they build the temple of knowledge, of secret science.
India’s surviving rock-cut caves, her ancient shrines, her gopurams and mandapams are but concrete records of the Invisible Temple above referred to. The Temple Lore is therefore dual — exoteric and esoteric, the former but the shadow and reflection of the latter. The visible and tangible record of the Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Religion, is but the garment of the true Wisdom-Religion which antedates the Vedas themselves.
The extant writings from Vedas to Puranas are like the numerous shrines of India; they are symbols of the Invisible Temple of Secret Knowledge. It is an awe-inspiring vision to behold the concrete record in its incomplete completeness. The plan of knowledge imparted by Living Divine Men is still available though but in silhouette form. What wealth of detailed information must have been the valued possession of generations of Aryans? What depth of pure and reverent perception must have been theirs to be worthy of such mines of Wisdom?
While the striking fact about other ancient religious philosophies is their fragmentary nature (for example the Zoroastrian), the most remarkable feature of the Brahmanical Shastras is their breadth as well as their depth. Almost every conceivable subject of enquiry meets with some treatment, and compared to our modern knowledge the ancient Indian views are certainly more profound, even though puzzling, than those of any other philosophy.
The first point to note is that while with the approach of Kali-Yuga, the cycle of shadows which darkens everything and blinds man’s moral perceptions, important information and practical instruction were withdrawn, we have still remaining with us most of the map of complete knowledge, which gives us some idea of how this complete knowledge was divided into schools of science and of philosophy, into myths and history, and into codes of laws. Thus, for example, the Upanishads give us an idea of the lofty concepts of Deity, Nature, the Human Soul, and their inter-relationship, which concepts still remain unrivalled; but they also show certain signs of careful withdrawal of important doctrines, which to the ordinary reader, however, appear but as gaps, as illogical sequences and uncalled for deductions. In every department of Aryan Knowledge these gaps are visible, and their true explanation is to be found in the introductory to the first volume of The Secret Doctrine.
Such gaps, due to withdrawal and other causes, notwithstanding, the Brahmanical religious-philosophy contains almost the whole doctrine which will ever become public on this globe in this round. Says Isis Unveiled, II, p. 535:
This creed has not decayed, and its hidden philosophy, as understood now by the initiated Hindus, is just as it was 10,000 years ago. But can our scholars seriously hope to have it delivered unto them upon their first demand? Or do they still expect to fathom the mysteries of the World-Religion in its popular exoteric rites?
One of the most important factors, often overlooked by Western students of Hinduism and more often by Hindus themselves, is that there are interpolations as well as gaps in the doctrine. Corruption of Hinduism is not so much due to what has been withdrawn as to what has been inserted and added. To buttress their own beliefs and attain ulterior purposes, men with vested interests have unscrupulously tampered with texts, while honest interpreters were writing commentaries on them, some of which are illuminating, yet most of which befog the vision. With this note of caution sounded let us draw pertinent attention to the following from Isis Unveiled, I, p. 583:
No people in the world have ever attained to such a grandeur of thought in ideal conceptions of the Deity and its offspring, MAN, as the Sanskrit metaphysicians and theologians.
All knowledge was divided into two divisions — Para-Vidya, the esoteric knowledge and Apara-Vidya, the exoteric. It must not be supposed that the former is distinct and separate from the latter; like the Soul and mind in man, the esoteric and exoteric are closely interknit. Within the exoteric lies hidden the esoteric, though it is true that the esoteric extends beyond the exoteric, just as soul vision transcends mind perception. The exoteric record is objective — in architecture, in amulets, in coins, in jewels, in Mss., in ritual, etc., it can be read. The esoteric record is subjective — it is made and retained in the volume of the brain, hidden in certain of its organs, whose functions and powers are unknown to modern anatomy and physiology; words of silence communicate it from Hierophant to neophyte, from Guru to chela. This Para-Vidya is also named Guhya-Vidya: the secret Art only to be learnt and practiced in the cave (guha) of the heart. This Gupta-Vidya, says H.P.B. (Secret Doctrine II, p. 565), is “the primeval and original Occultism of Aryavarta, brought into India by the primeval Brahmins, who had been initiated in Central Asia. And this is the Occultism we study and try to explain, as much as is possible in these pages.” And again (Ibid, p. 584), she speaks of “the one root, the root of wisdom, which grows and thrives on the Indian soil … the sacred land of Aryavarta.”
We must now survey Apara-Vidya, the exoteric knowledge — not as a field but as a veritable continent.
Before we name the contents of the exoteric knowledge let us dispose of the classification of Karma-Kanda and Gnyan-Kanda so often referred to. There is some confusion of thought and only the true Theosophic light dispels the surrounding fog.
Karma-Kanda is that part of Apara-Vidya or exoteric knowledge, which enables a man to act righteously, to practice Dharma-Religion. Every tome of the exoteric knowledge has this Karma-Kanda which tells the reader how to act, what to do, the way to avoid the sins of omission as well as those of commission. Much of ritualism, most of the laws and rules laid down, are accepted and believed in and practiced. The strong point and the virtuous aspect of this arrangement lies in the training which men and women get through methodic and regular religious exercises; repetitive acts of worship and sacrifice whereby people are made to remember (1) their own inner Divinity; (2) the grandeur of visible and invisible Nature which surrounds them; (3) the inter-relationship between them; and (4) the debt which men owe to the beings of the invisible worlds on whom they are dependent, as also their own dignity as beings on whom these invisible beings, in turn, rely for help and guidance of a particular kind. The weak point and vicious aspect of the arrangement is that people, not understanding the real meaning of these rituals, have come to perform them quite mechanically, and the energy of faith has evaporated leaving behind the scum of blind-belief. So to-day the religious actions and exercises are in greatest measure a farce, nay more, a blasphemy. This is one of the chief curses under which India of to-day is groaning. But for all that, the value of Karma-Kanda is very great and has served the people worthily for long centuries.
Gnyan-Kanda is supplementary to Karma-Kanda; it gives knowledge about why and how actions according to the Karma-Kanda should be performed. Study and practice went hand in hand and both, duly observed, led the students to the esoteric side of things. The glory of old Sanatana Dharma lay in the Gnyan-Kanda which explained Nature and Nature’s Laws and made the living of the life a noble process.
Another way to look at these two is to regard Gnyan-Kanda as the hidden esoteric soul of Karma-Kanda, the exoteric ritual or form side of religion.
Next, we will consider still another classification of knowledge which is recognized by Hinduism. These various classifications are instructive inasmuch as each of them reveals a fundamental and true aspect of the subject under review.
All knowledge was divided into four classes — (1) Science; (2) Philosophy; (3) Religion; (4) Esotericism. Science is the body, philosophy the mind, religion the soul, and esotericism the spirit of knowledge. Four great paths take the student to the end of the journey.
The Path of Practice, Abhayasa, is the path of the Scientist. By repeated experimentation, by observation checked and rechecked, by analysis and reiterated verification the scientist grows — learning and teaching. Treading this path, he develops patience, accuracy, and detachment for the results of his labours. The Path of Science must be valued in the light of the virtues it brings out in the practitioner; many Theosophical students are wrong in evincing a sneering or superior attitude to Modern Science. It is not what is said by the scientist that should be made the means of measuring his achievements; no doubt his theories change; but in evolving theories, qualities are unfolded, which are assets for the future collected in the present.
The Path of Knowledge, Gnyan, is the path of the philosopher. By the method of synthesizing the many theories and even speculations, he builds the power of abstract meditation. Removing his thinking from the field of objects he enters that of subjects, from the world of forms he goes inwards to formless worlds. Unlike his brother scientist, he is unconcerned about details and confines his reflections to underlying principles. He finds out the trinity of Gnyata, Gnyan and Gneyam — knower, knowledge and object known.
The Path of Devotion, Bhakti, is the path of the religious. Having seen with the mind’s eye the source of all which is freedom absolute — Sat, Chit, Ananda, the existence of bliss-full ideation; and also that the separated “I” or Ahamkara is the cause of bondage to Gnyan, Knowledge, and therefore to ignorance, Avidya; to Ichcha, the will to live, which implies the will to die; to kriya, action, which means also to fate, prarabdka Karma — the religious unfolds true fiery devotion as a means to a grand end, a sublime attainment. What is his objective? To reach that state of Compassion Absolute, Paramartha Satya, which enables him to love all creatures, the little selves, bound by the power of the One Great Self. As pure and powerful manifestations of the Great Self, in the world of men, he uses the life-work of the Incarnations, Avataras. To understand the mystery, the hidden reality, the Occultism of Life Incarnate, he perforce seeks Teachers, Gurus of the great knowledge, Maha-Vidya, which is secret-knowledge, Guhya-Vidya.
The Path of Yagna, Sacrificial Action or real magic is the path of the esotericist. The esotericist labours in full knowledge; performance of certain actions is undertaken, in definite manner, by deliberately planned method, according to what is learnt from the lips of Divine Men perfected. He alone knows what the devotee feels, what the philosopher thinks, what the scientist sees, without their limitations.
Thus the four categories of knowledge are practically utilized and the thread of evolution of the human being runs through them.
We must leave here, for the time being, Para-Vidya, the esoteric soul of knowledge and confine our attention to exoteric or Apara-Vidya. And at the very start we will request the reader to keep in mind that in ancient India exoteric knowledge was not what learning is to-day — materialistic, speculative, hesitant, changing, giving a dozen theories for one fact. Then, even exoteric knowledge was classified on principles; what was taught were provable facts, and theories were working hypotheses which the pupil was called upon to accept, not to abandon after a while for new ones, but to transform them one by one into proven facts.
All knowledge was divided into three main compartments: (1) Sruti — revelation; (2) Smriti — Laws and Tradition; (3) Itihasa-Purana — History and Mythology. They are numbered in the order of their value and importance and to their examination we must now turn.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 19, No. 8, June, 1931, Pages 347-351
III: History and Myths
WE must start with the primary division of all knowledge into three compartments: (1) Sruti — Revelation; (2) Smriti — Laws and Tradition; (3) Itihasa and Purana — History and Mythology. Sruti contains the Vedic lore; Smriti is composed of codes of laws; the third consists of the Epics and the Puranas. However, it will facilitate our work to survey them in the reverse order, beginning with the third compartment.
The main divisions of this third class are two: (a) Itihasa — History; (b) Puranas — Myths; both contain stories innumerable. These are mostly allegories of cosmical and psychological facts especially meant for the less educated portion of the community unable to read the Sruti (Vedas, etc.), or the Smriti (Law-Codes). In every Indian village, even to-day, stories are told under the shady tree. Many are the favourite tales of the peerless Sita, of the devoted Savitri, of the sin of Kaikeyi, heard by the girls, while their brothers enjoy tales of the playfulness of Krishna, the Divine Cowherd, the prowess of Arjuna, the degrading destruction of the evil-minded Duryodhana.
The art of story-telling (actually telling by word of mouth) is almost perfect among the illiterate, but by no means uncultured, villagers, and especially among the women-folk. This has given rise to a very rich folk-lore, and there are stories short and long which give not only mundane but also spiritual knowledge — every one of them is aptly adorned with a moral. In these folk-lore tales Indian proverb-stories should be included. All of these are full of wit, humor and charm and have proven a veritable grace which purifies and uplifts the heart of the simple men and women. A special department of this should also be referred to in passing. Wandering Sadhus and others, especially those gifted with a voice for song and a quick wit perform kalakshepams and Hari-Kathas — speak of Hari the Great Lord in story and song. This is the only form of drama and concert which Indian villagers in their millions ever hear or know about. Their educative value is greater than is ordinarily suspected, for among such workers are sometimes servant-chelas of Great Masters.
(a) Itihasa or History consists of epics in which are narrated actual historical events and happenings and in which also, the psychological, the mythical, and the philosophical moral of each is well and carefully drawn. The epics are the well-known Ramayana and Mahabharata, most likely the originals of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Myths represent the living soul of history; the former help men to image forth the future, as history enables them to visualize the past. Myths deal with the whole man, history only with the visible part of him. Therefore has Myth the power to prognosticate. Myths may be rightly regarded as records of souls, and in India their practical application is constantly sought and made.
The Ramayana deals with the historical period of the first King of the Divine Dynasty. Says the Secret Doctrine (II, p. 495):
The whole History of that period is allegorized in the Ramayana, which is the mystic narrative in epic form of the struggle between Rama — the first King of the divine dynasty of the early Aryans — and Ravana, the symbolical personation of the Atlantean (Lanka) race. The former were the incarnations of the Solar Gods; the latter, of the lunar Devas. This was the great battle between Good and Evil, between white and black magic, for the supremacy of the divine forces, or of the lower terrestrial, or cosmic powers.
But both history and myth are intermingled and the latter aspect also is dealt with in the Secret Doctrine (II, p. 163):
In the Ramâyana, when Hanuman is reconnoitering the enemy in Lanka, he finds there Rakshasas, some hideous, “while some were beautiful to look upon,” and, in Vishnu Purâna, there is a direct reference to their becoming the Saviours of “Humanity,” or of Brahmâ.
The allegory is very ingenious. Great intellect and too much knowledge are a two-edged weapon in life, and instruments for evil as well as for good. When combined with Selfishness, they will make of the whole of Humanity a footstool for the elevation of him who possesses them, and a means for the attainment of his objects; while, applied to altruistic humanitarian purposes, they may become the means of the salvation of many. At all events, the absence of self-consciousness and intellect will make of man an idiot, a brute in human form. Brahmâ is Mahat — the universal Mind — hence the too-selfish among the Rakshasas showing the desire to become possessed of it all — to “devour” Mahat. The allegory is transparent.
Similarly, the Mahabharata deals with the historical event of the Great War on the battle-field of Kurukshetra, which event is allegorized as the Psychological War on Dharmakshetra, the field of Duty. This Mahabharata War marked the closing epoch which the Ramayana War opened, for “the Aryan races had never ceased to fight with the descendants of the first giant races.” This last war coincided with Kaliyuga which began 5,000 years ago.
Both these Epics are wonderful spiritual treatises — “every line of which has to be read esoterically” says the Secret Doctrine. They disclose “in magnificent symbolism and allegory the tribulations of both man and soul.” (Secret Doctrine, II, p. 496.) But let them not be regarded as unscientific; says the Secret Doctrine (II, p. 680):
The Evolutionists stand firm as a rock on the evidence of similarity of structure between the ape and the man. The anatomical evidence, it is urged, is quite overpowering in this case; it is bone for bone, and muscle for muscle, even the brain conformation being very much the same.
Well, what of it? All this was known before King Herod; and the writers of the Ramayana, the poets who sang the prowess and valour of Hanuman, the monkey-God, “whose feats were great and Wisdom never rivalled,” must have known as much about his anatomy and brain as does any Haeckel or Huxley in our modern day. Volumes upon volumes were written upon this similarity, in antiquity as in more modern times.
Whence all this knowledge of physiology, psychology and anthropology, not to mention astronomy, mechanics and mathematics? The Secret Doctrine tells us (II, p. 426):
It is from the Fourth Race that the early Aryans got their knowledge of “the bundle of wonderful things,” the Sabha and Mayasabha, mentioned in the Mahabhârata, the gift of Mayâsur to the Pándavas. It is from them that they learnt aëronautics, Viwán Vidya (the “knowledge of flying in air-vehicles”), and, therefore, their great arts of meteorography and meteorology. It is from them, again, that the Aryans inherited their most valuable science of the hidden virtues of precious and other stones, of chemistry, or rather alchemy, of mineralogy, geology, physics and astronomy.
(b) The Puranas are eighteen in number. The attention of the student of Occultism may once more be drawn to this oft-recurring number — 18 Chapters of the Gita, 18 days of the Great War, both of which form part of the 18 books of the Mahabharata, etc., and now the 18 Puranas. The name Purana means “Ancient”* signifying that it is the ancient lore which is re-told in a new form. The birth and dissolution of the Cosmos with its many systems; the numerous marvels of anthropogenesis; the appearance and actions of Great Incarnations, Avataras; the intimate relation between the Invisible worlds of Devas and Dhyan-Chohans and their creatures the Devatas or Elementals on the one hand, and the visible earth on which men live and labour affecting and affected by crystals and metals, by giant trees and flowering shrubs, by the bird, the beast, the reptile, on the other; the sage advice of Deva-Rishis, the example of sacrifice of the Raja-Rishis — all this and more is to be found in the Puranas. These Chronicles are certainly more valuable than they are given credit for, generally speaking.
* Midrashim of the Hebrews, who in so many respects, especially in mystical and ritualistic, have copied ancient Brahmanas, but invariably corrupting and animalizing them.
H. P. Blavatsky reiterates the value of the Puranas to the student of esoteric science, pointing out that they are but attempts at the repetition of the tenets of the esoteric doctrine under exoteric form of national symbols, for the purpose of cloaking these tenets. (S.D. II, p. 455.) We cannot do better than give her own words, selecting only a few from the many passages on the subject:
By the scholar who studies the Hindu religion from the Purânas, one thing is to be especially noted. He must not take literally, and in one sense only, the statements therein found; since those which especially concern the Manvantaras or Kalpas have to be understood in their several references. (I. p. 369).
It is evident that, taken in their dead letter, the Purânas read as an absurd tissue of fairy tales and no better. But if one reads chapters I., II. and III. from Book II. (Vol. II.) of Vishnu Purâna and accepts verbatim its geography, geodesy, and ethnology, in the matter of Priyavrata’s seven sons, among whom the father divides the seven Dwipas (Continental Islands); and then proceeds to study how the eldest son, the King of Jambu-dwipa, Agnidhra, apportioned Jambu-dwipa among his nine sons; and then how Nabhi his son, who had a hundred sons and apportioned all these in his turn — then the reader is likely to throw the book away and pronounce it a farrago of nonsense. But the esoteric student will understand that, in the days when the Purânas were written, the true meaning was clear only to the Initiated Brahmins, who wrote those works allegorically and would not give the whole truth to the masses. (II, p. 320).
…in the Purânas one may find the most scientific and philosophical “dawn of creation,” which, if impartially analyzed and rendered into plain language from its fairy tale-like allegories, would show that modern zoology, geology, astronomy, and nearly all the branches of modern knowledge, have been anticipated in the ancient Science, and were known to the philosophers in their general features, if not in such detail as at present!
Purânic astronomy, with all its deliberate concealment and confusion for the purpose of leading the profane off the real track, was shown even by Bentley to be a real science; and those who are versed in the mysteries of Hindu astronomical treatises, will prove that the modern theories of the progressive condensation of nebulae, nebulous stars and suns, with the most minute details about the cyclic progress of asterisms — far more correct than Europeans have even now — for chronological and other purposes, were known in India to perfection.
If we turn to geology and zoology we find the same. What are all the myths and endless genealogies of the seven Prajâpati, and their sons, the seven Rishis or Manus, and of their wives, sons and progeny, but a vast detailed account of the progressive development and evolution of animal creation, one species after the other? Were the highly philosophical and metaphysical Aryans — the authors of the most perfect philosophical systems of transcendental psychology, of Codes of Ethics, and such a grammar as Pânini’s, of the Sankhya and Vedanta systems, and a moral code (Buddhism), proclaimed by Max Müller the most perfect on earth — such fools, or children, as to lose their time in writing fairy tales; such tales as the Purânas now seem to be in the eyes of those who have not the remotest idea of their secret meaning? What is the fable, the genealogy and origin of Kasyapa, with his twelve wives, by whom he had a numerous and diversified progeny of nagas (serpents), reptiles, birds, and all kinds of living things, and who was thus the father of all kinds of animals, but a veiled record of the order of evolution in this round? So far, we do not see that any Orientalist ever had the remotest conception of the truths concealed under the allegories and personifications. (II, p. 253.)
Just as in old alchemical works the real meaning of the substances and elements meant are concealed under the most ridiculous metaphors, so are the physical, psychic, and spiritual natures of the Elements (say of fire) concealed in the Vedas, and especially in the Purânas, under allegories comprehensible only to the Initiates. Had they no meaning, then indeed all those long legends and allegories about the sacredness of the three types of fire, and the forty-nine original fires — personified by the Sons of Daksha’s daughters and the Rishis, their husbands, “who with the first son of Brahmâ and his three descendants constitute the forty-nine fires” — would be idiotic verbiage and no more. But it is not so…. Science has no speculations to offer on fire per se; Occultism and ancient religious science have. This is shown even in the meagre and purposely veiled phraseology of the Purânas, where (as in the Vâyu Purâna) many of the qualities of the personified fires are explained….the writers of the Purânas were perfectly conversant with the “Forces” of Science and their correlations; moreover, with the various qualities of the latter in their bearing upon those psychic and physical phenomena which receive no credit and are unknown to physical science now. Very naturally, when an Orientalist, — especially one with materialistic tendencies — reads that these are only appellations of fire employed in the invocations and rituals, he calls this “Tantrika superstition and mystification”; and he becomes more careful to avoid errors in spelling, than to give attention to the secret meaning attached to the personifications, or to seek their explanation in the physical correlations of forces, so far as known. So little credit, indeed, is given to the ancient Aryans for knowledge, that even such glaring passages as in Book I, chap. ii, Vishnu Purâna, are left without any notice. (I, p. 520-21.)
…the Hindu Purânas give a description of wars on continents and islands situated beyond Western Africa in the Atlantic Ocean; if their writers speak of Barbaras and other people such as Arabs — they who were never known to navigate, or cross the Kala pani (the black waters of the Ocean) in the days of Phoenician navigation — then their Purânas must be older than those Phoenicians…. (II, p. 406.)
The Puranic lore has remained unexplored. However late the era in which they were transcribed to writing, the Puranas are ancient historical records which deal with the “story of creation” of stars and souls, of gods and demons, and finally of humans, separating into men and women. We cannot close this instalment more fitly than by repeating the advice H. P. Blavatsky gave to young Indians, which has not yet been accepted. She wrote (I, p. 522-3):
Truly the young Brahmin who graduates in the universities and colleges of India with the highest honours; who starts in life as an M.A. and an LL.B., with a tail initialed from Alpha to Omega after his name, and a contempt for his national gods proportioned to the honours received in his education in physical sciences; truly he has but to read in the light of the latter, and with an eye to the correlation of physical Forces, certain passages in his Purânas, if he would learn how much more his ancestors knew than he will ever know — unless he becomes an occultist.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 19, No. 9, July, 1931, Pages 392-397
IV: Odes Of Duty
SMRITIS are traditions imparted orally; the word Smriti means Memory. The occult origin is obvious: facts which could not be transcribed were passed on orally; also the cultural value of memory was so fully recognized that the ear was regarded as more important than the eye and the spoken word came into greater educational use than the written word. Their other name is Dharma-Shastra — Codes of Law, or the Lore of the Laws of Duty. There are four great Codes recognized, even by the British Government Courts, and these are constantly used to seek for precedents, etc. Just as the Itihasa-Puranas are living realities in Indian homes, so are the Smritis vital and essential in statecraft and civic administration. They are: (1) Manu Smriti, about which one of the great Theosophical Mahatmas wrote to H.P.B. to advise students of esotericism “to study Manu;” (2) Yagnavalkaya Smriti; (3) Shankha Likhita Smriti; (4) Parashara Smriti. There are also others, some of which contain rules and laws for special occasions and precedents for untoward and not ordinary cases.
Of all the Smritis the Manu Smriti is the most important. It is also known as the Manava Dharma Shastra. Like other authentic texts it begins with universals from which it proceeds to particulars. Why ethics and rites of a particular description should be practised is demonstrated by the fact that these rest on, and have their origin in, philosophical and metaphysical truth. Therefore the Code of Manu begins with the story of Svayambhu, the Self-Existent which shines forth of Its own Will and which can be perceived by subtle sight only. Then follows the manifestation of all else — human principles, spirit, mind, body and their cosmic correspondences and sources. In short compass but without lacunae the Code lays the foundation, cosmic and universal, for human conduct. It advises all men to learn the Sacred Law which is fully known by the Enlightened Ones; but to which an intuitive assent is given by virtuous mortals who then follow it; it imparts to those who practise it the power of powers — to become exempt from hatred and inordinate affection (II, 1). If the learner, because of the intuitive urge, is intent on the performance of his own Duty according to the teachings of this great Code, he finds that in him opens the eye of discernment (II, 8). And as not a single act performed by mortals on earth is free from desire (II, 4) the Code essays the task of teaching how to perform congenital duties.
Now the whole struggle of human existence lies in the struggle of duty. Man discards his proper duty because it is unpleasant and through attachment he assumes duties which are not his, and thus forges links of future bondage. He rushes to perform actions which are not his duties and runs away from their legitimate reactions when these have to be faced. What then is congenital duty? As an ordinary mortal is not capable of determining by his own unaided effort, the Master-Codifiers give indications, signs and tokens. How shall a man know what his duty is? By following the instruction imparted in the Codes, where different stages of human evolution, each with its appropriate qualities and attributes, are described. Just as in a new city with the help of a map the traveller finds out in what particular street of the city he is, and where that street leads to, so also with the aid of the Codes a soul born in a new environment can learn his place and position in the scheme of things. For this reason are rites and sacraments laid down, and castes and states detailed. From birth to death, life is one long ritual and the life-thread, sutra-atma, is Duty.
It would be impossible to give in full what the Code of Manu offers. Moreover, we must guard against interpolations by priests and others with vested interests. Once again, the key of Theosophy, the religion of common sense par excellence, must be applied. According to the Bhagavata Purana, far back in the mists of a forgotten past, time was when there was among the Hindus only “One Veda, One Deity, One Caste.” Then came the cycle of natural divisions into four castes, which later were degraded into the tyrannical institution which the system now is. We will here examine the two principal teachings about Caste (Varna) and State (Ashrama) especially as they have a practical bearing on, and can be of service to, our modern civilization.
The origin of Caste is said to be Brahma Himself; to make the earth prosper He caused the Brahamana to be born of his mouth, the Kshatriya of his arms, the Vaisha of his thighs and the Shudra of his feet. The significant point to note is that they are all born of Brahma, and that really in their original forms no distinction of superiority or inferiority is made. These castes are universal and the Code of Manu applies to the entire human kingdom. “In order to protect the universe, He the most resplendent one assigned separate occupations to those who sprang from his mouth, arms, thighs, and feet” (I, 87), and it is said that “there is no fifth caste” (X, 4). Those that are not born from Brahma are named Dasyus. Much misrepresentation and misunderstanding exists in this matter, because in reality the four castes have an esoteric significance and represent the work of four classes of super-physical, but all the same corporeal beings (S.D. II, 89) who are devoid of intellect (S.D. II, 91). The Secret Doctrine contains the real key to the solution of this problem. First, it must be clearly grasped that, however important a part birth may play in it, the institution of caste is determined by the inner birth marks. In earlier Yugas when the swing of evolution was rhythmic, physically and super-physically, materially and spiritually, caste laws worked infallibly, i.e., only an appropriate soul incarnated in the caste body. But in this Kali-Yuga, the caste-confusion feared by Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita has taken place. Nowadays in exceedingly rare cases do soul virtues find virtuous vehicles in which to incarnate. All over the world caste-confusion prevails, causing innumerable problems — among them, the problem of Varna, colour. The colour problem in America, in India and elsewhere will find its true meaning and solution when Manu’s Code is really understood, and for that the key of the Esoteric Philosophy has to be applied.
The Code of Manu says: “Behaviour unworthy of an Aryan, hardness, cruelty and habitual neglect of prescribed duties, betray in this world a man of impure origin” (X, 58). By this criterion there are but few caste-men in existence! Again there is much in this paradoxical statement: “Having considered the case of a non-Aryan who acts like an Aryan, and that of an Aryan who acts like a non-Aryan, the creator declared — ‘Those two are neither equal nor unequal.'”
The Gita defines the virtues and attributes of each caste. His own Karma determines the caste into which a soul is born, as by his past Karma he attracts to himself his instruments which possess Gunas or attributes. Karma and Guna — actions and qualities — determine the caste of a man. We must note the dual element of forces, spiritual and material. Caste is not of the Soul, nor of the body, but arises out of the conjoint action of the two. Krishna is the “author” of these (Gita IV, 13). The natural duties of the four castes are defined (Gita XVIII, 41-44).
Each and every human being belongs to one of the four castes: He whose natural bent is to study and to teach, to sacrifice his self to Self and his self for other selves, to be generous in giving and to humbly accept gifts, he is a Brahmana, whatever his walk in life. He whose natural bent is to offer protection to all, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifice, to study and to fight against sensuous life, he is a Kshattriya, whatever his status in life. He whose natural bent is to amass wealth by agriculture or trade, to borrow and lend money, is a Vaishya, whatever his place in life. He whose natural inclination is to be dependent on others and to labour for them is a Shudra, whatever position he occupies in life. These natural bents expressing qualities show what vices one should avoid and what virtues one should cultivate.
Still more practical is the division of a single life into four compartments called Ashramas or states to which also the Smritis make pointed and repeated reference. Let us glance at them.
The Caste institution depicts the larger circle of the steady and rhythmic unfoldment of the man through many lives. The colours of his qualities from that of dark Inertia, through the green of Mobility, to the golden lustre of Truth and the radiance of the white Purity of the One Self, mark the steady and long progress achieved. Esoteric science teaches that this change of colours of the inner astral man verily does take place. Shades of colour in the Astral Man are as real as pigmentation of the skin, colour of the eye, lustre of the hair, etc., in his physical body. These developments represent a long line of evolution through the round of many births and deaths, and belong to the entire human kingdom.
Similarly, the Codes of Duty lay down the rhythm of progress in the smaller circle of a single incarnation. If there is caste-confusion, and its sequence, non-recognition of the fact that man’s evolution can be made to proceed along harmonious lines, so also is there confusion in this Kali-Yuga, when youths who ought to be learning are wage-slaves, when men and women who ought to be building homes are utilizing demoniac devices to shatter the dignity of parenthood, and when old men are clinging to worldly possessions or have to cling to worldly avocations, and die in harness with their minds fixed on earth instead of in the quietude of spiritual contemplation. It may take a longer time for the modern man to see the wisdom of the ancient teaching about caste, than to understand the four stages through which each one passes in a single life. Once the latter scheme of rhythmic progress is perceived, however, it will not be very difficult to see the truth underlying the former.
What is the teaching about the four ashramas or orders?
Each human being should pass through (1) studentship, (2) family life, (3) non-worldly contemplation, (4) service of his fellow men.
I. Studentship is named Brahmacharya — service of Brahman, i.e., the student is acquiring knowledge now for the service of omnipresent Deity or Nature, to last for the rest of his life. The term is translated as continence, celibacy, because sex-purity is the centre-virtue, the foundation of the life of the learner — “let him never waste his manhood” (II, 180). Also, learning, which is regarded as an accumulating process, has as its bodily counterpart the preservation of the creative forces, the gathering in of the forces which, in the next stage only, should be used. The relation between these two is to be seen in this verse: “Those organs which are strongly attached to sensual pleasures, cannot so effectually be restrained by abstinence as by a constant pursuit of knowledge” (II, 96). Therefore has the term Brahmacharya this dual meaning — celibacy and service: creating bodily and intellectual progeny follows the gathering in of seminal powers of both types.
Wisdom is the goal of the learner and whatever branch of knowledge he may be engaged in acquiring he is called upon to observe the following general rules:
A wise man should strive to restrain his organs which run wild among alluring sensual objects, like a charioteer his horses. Those eleven organs which former sages have named, I will properly (and) precisely enumerate in due order, (Viz.) the ear, the skin, the eyes, the tongue, and the nose as the fifth, the anus, the organ of generation, hands and feet, and the (organ of) speech, named as the tenth. Five of them, the ear and the rest according to their order, they call organs of sense, and five of them, the anus and the rest, organs of action. Know that the internal organ (manas) is the eleventh, which by its quality belongs to both (sets); when that has been subdued, both those sets of five have been conquered. Through the attachment of his organs (to sensual pleasure) a man doubtlessly will incur guilt; but if he keep them under complete control, he will obtain success (in gaining all his aims). (II, 88-93).
Rules of life are stressed much more than the subjects of study. What would an undergraduate of to-day say to this:
Let him abstain from meat, perfumes, flavouring substances, and doing injury to living creatures. Let him abstain from anointing his body, applying collyrium to his eyes, as from desire, dancing, singing, gambling, looking at or touching women; also from idle disputes, backbiting and seducing or being seduced.
II. The Householder stage unfolds out of the student stage. The student lived in his teacher’s home, which was like unto a boarding school. Grihastha ashram is the stage of home-building which follows marriage. This stage is considered to be the highest of the four, for from it the other three spring. (VI, 87).
As all living creatures subsist by receiving support from air, even so all orders subsist by receiving support from the householder. (III, 77).
Elaborate and detailed rules and regulations for this stage are given — beginning with marriage. Our modern students of Eugenics who are groping in the dark will gain much by a careful and discriminative study of these sections of the Code of Manu. To those who believe that the Laws of Manu hold woman’s estate to be low the following may be cited:
Women must be honoured and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law if they desire their own welfare. Where women are honoured, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honoured, no sacred rite yields reward. (III, 55-56).
It would be impossible to go into details and so we will permit ourselves one more quotation which sums up the vocation of a Grihastha, a gentleman:
Let him not, out of desire attach himself to sensual pleasures, and let him carefully obviate an excessive attachment to them, by reflecting on their worthlessness in his heart. Let him avoid all means of acquiring wealth which impede the study of the Veda; let him maintain himself somehow but let him maintain study because through study he secures the realization of his aims. Let him walk the way of life bringing his dress, speech and thoughts to a conformity with his age, his occupation, his wealth, his sacred learning and his race. (IV, 16-19).
III. Vanaprastha, the Forest-dwelling stage follows. When a man is beginning to become wrinkled, when grey hairs are turning white, when he sees his grandchildren around him, then is his time for the contemplative life, to practise which he must seek retirement, either committing his wife to the care of his sons, or accompanied by her, if she be willing. The industry of the forest-dweller is reciting the sacred texts; his independence is not receiving gifts; his ritual is with the three sacred fires. The Code describes what he should eat and how he should live and in order to attain union with the Supreme Soul he must study the Upanishads.
IV. Just as the student stage is the preparatory stage for that of the householder, so also the forest-dwelling stage precedes the fourth, that of Sannyasa, complete Renunciation. In this, a man comes in contact with his fellow-men and lives for them:
Let him not desire to die, let him not desire to live; let him wait his hour, as a servant for his wages. Against an angry man let him not be angry; let him bless when he is cursed; let him not utter speech, devoid of truth, scattered at the seven gates. Neither by explaining prodigies and omens, nor by skill in astrology and palmistry, nor by giving advice, let him ever seek to obtain alms. By deep meditation let him recognize the subtile nature of the Supreme Soul, and its presence in all organisms, both the highest and the lowest. Let him recognize by the practice of meditation the progress of the individual soul through beings of various kinds, a process hard to understand for unregenerate man.
The student of Theosophy will recognize in all this much of his own instructions and in his sincere effort to change the mind of the race will find these ancient ideals of profound significance and great value. Both simplicity and beauty have gone out of life. Ugly complexities have imprisoned the Soul and have produced wickedness. Unrighteousness prevails because Dharma, the Law of Duty, is not practised. Its knowledge will help us to bring the world to Duty and with Duty simplicity of life as well as its beauty will come to abide.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 19, No. 11, September, 1931, Pages 495-501
V: On Revelation
SRUTI means Revelation. Smriti results from remembrance of “what is heard,” i.e., Sruti. In the Western religions, both in modern Christianity and in its parent Judaism, Revelation connotes that which is revealed by God to his chosen Prophets. In Hinduism it does not mean that at all. By purity of life, study, and meditation the human soul becomes capable of hearing the Song of Life which Mother Nature chants in the Voice of the Silence; such highly evolved souls repeat in the language of words what is heard; that repetition is Sruti or Revelation. On the banks of the sacred rivers, in the heart of the living forests, wise ones heard by the soul what the Mahatmas and Nirmanakayas and Devas said and sang; they saw by the Soul what the “upholders of the universe” who are “the knowers of the essence of things” were doing by way of duty and of sacrifice; what they heard and saw they described and that faithful description is the Sruti. This is not the work of one or several isolated individuals, but is the great record of Truth made by checking, testing and verifying the work of each with that of all others and by centuries of experience.
The Sruti is composed of the Four Vedas. Occultism teaches that these were delivered by Primeval Sages on Lake Manasa-Sarovar beyond the Himalayas, tens of thousands of years ago.
It is, comparatively speaking, not important to argue out the exact era in which the Vedas were first transcribed, or subsequently arranged. The stages seem to be, first, the age when they were heard and remembered; second, the age when they were fully transcribed; and third, the age when they were rearranged till their present form was reached. H.P.B. says, “They are the most ancient as well as the most sacred of the Sanskrit works.”
There exist to-day four Vedas: Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. Whether or not the Vedas known to-day retain their Original Impulse and their Original Vision is doubtful; this, however, may be taken as certain, that the efficacy of even what exists does not consist in their surface-meaning, but in their correct chanting. Originally there were three classes of priests, learned and holy, Hotri, Adhvaryu, and Udgatri; the first used the Rig, the second the Yajur, and the third the Sama. The use of the fourth or Atharva Veda was confined to a few versed in the esotericism of the three.
The Hymns of the Rig Veda are highly philosophical and describe the processes of visible and invisible Nature and name the Presiding Genius over every such process. Even to-day by right repetition pure minds can understand the plan of action in Nature which is a Living Whole.
The Chants of the Sama Veda are songs of peace and praise which unveil the Powers and Potencies of that Living Nature; even to-day rightly sung they produce results.
The Rites of the Yajur Veda detail the performance of all sacrifices; why, where, when and how these rituals should be performed is taught. The real knowledge is mostly lost, for it rests on that Faith or Will which is so rare, and so even the intellectual understanding of what is meant and implied has become difficult. With the rise of Spiritual Knowledge, which strengthens Spiritual Will, the effective art of pure ritual will again become known — first in India, and then in the world.
The sacred incantations, formulas and aphorisms which cure all diseases, bodily, mental and moral, and also by which magical phenomena can be performed, are given in the fourth or Atharva Veda.
These four make the foundation of Sruti or Revelation, on which a majestic edifice stands.
Each Veda is divided into three parts: Mantras or Samhitas, Brahamanas and Aranyakas. Mantras are verses used as charms and made up of sounds of power. Samhita means collection. In each Veda there are verses of sound power, and all these as a collection are known as the Mantra Samhita of the Veda. They make majestic poetry addressed to the Devas and sing their glory. In days of old these Mantras were practically efficacious in their use. At present all recognize them to be mystical and powerful but the knowledge and their practical use are confined to the charmed circle of Mahatmas and Their disciples; but their mere repetition is very general and while people do not know how to use them they are aware because of tradition that a certain Mantra is meant to produce certain definite results. Their occult power, however, does not reside in the words but in the inflexion or accent given, and the necessary sound originated thereby. Among very orthodox Brahamanas even to-day, there are a few who have acquired by heredity-osmosis the correct intonation and their automatic repetition is not altogether fruitless.
There is, however, an extended meaning which should be given to the institution of Mantra to understand fully all that this section of the four Vedas stands for. Every letter of the alphabet represents a Number, has a form and colour, besides a sound. In the Sanskrit alphabet there are forty-nine letters, each a number with a colour, sound and form, and each is representative of a hidden Power in Nature, of a Force of the invisible universe, called a Deva, a Shining One, a Resplendent God. Deva-Nagari is the name of the characters of the Sanskrit alphabet.
There are therefore Words of Power like Aum, Sat, Tat; or phrases and sentences like the Gayatri. Thus to give an example of these words lit by and born of fire: Manu records that Prajapati milked from the Vedas three fiery words — Bhur from the Rig, Bhuvah from the Yajur, and Swar from the Sama. All three are creative potencies. The Satapatha Brahamana explains that they are “the three luminous essences” extracted from the Vedas through heat by Praja-patis, Progenitors. Brahmá uttered Bhur, and lo! the earth; Bhuvah, and thereupon materialized the firmament of Astral Light; Swar, and there was the Heaven of Ideation. It is said, and truly indeed, that Atharva-Veda yielded the fourth luminous essence and the word Mahar, but it is so purely magical that its very intonation cannot be even taught, but results from the purification of the lower triad in man.
Brahamanas are distinct from Mantras. They are authentic commentaries on those portions of the Vedas which were intended for the ritualistic use and guidance of the caste of Brahamanas, and include prayers. The real Brahamana caste (not the one of Census reports) is composed of men and women who are all twice-born, Dwijas, born in the Occult World, of the Race of the Deathless Ones, in the Home or Lodge of the Parentless — Anupadaka. Real Brahamanas are the Sons of the Fire Mist. The numbers of that Deathless Race were and are recruited from the races of men, which live and die. Time was when the institution of caste (Varna or colour) was real and was known and recognized; to-day it is real in process and operation, because it is a fact in Nature, but is unknown and unrecognized. In modern India, however, caste has become a corrupt and degrading superstition and Brahamanas, lawyers, clerks or cooks, are no more twice-born than the most despised chandâla. These latter are known sometimes as those who eat the flesh of dogs, behind which also there is a mystic meaning. Now alas! most Hindus, though strict vegetarians on the physical plane, eat, metaphorically and metaphysically speaking, dog’s flesh. The untouchable caste, the Pariah or Panchama, is really not only the one-sixth of the Indian people who are submerged and depressed from the socio-economic point of view; but from the inner and occult point of view most Hindus are black in colour (Varna) having polluted themselves with that which in our phrase is represented by “dog’s flesh.” Another graphic expression which is a metaphor is that the true Brahamana is the protector of the kine. Chapter after Chapter in the Mahabharata is devoted to the subject, but the modern Hindu, who is meticulous on the physical plane not to be cruel and who builds pinjra-pols where old animals are fed till they die, is not the protector of the kine in the real sense.
Now the Brahamana portion of the Vedas contains ceremonies and prayers which are efficacious only when performed or said by the real Brahamana — the dwija or twice-born. In the hands and on the lips of the ordinary temple-priest they are a farce, and worse than a farce. Millions superstitiously indulge in the second-hand performance of these ceremonies, and hope against hope that the purohit’s lips are still capable in some kind of a way of charming the inflexible gods of justice who are also merciful! Thus we have in India the ludicrous superstition, immoral and weakening, which is a variant of the laying on of hands by ordained priests of Roman and other Christian churches. The Brahamana priests’ “apostolic succession” is more clever, nearer to the base of truth, from which all priest-caste have strayed, and so more dangerous, more glamorous.
Aranyakas are books for forest dwellers — “meditation in the forest.” They were studied by holy hermits and sages endowed with great mystic powers. These were the Gymnosophists spoken of by Hellenic writers — “the air-clad” mendicants. Retiring into the forest they reach, through great austerities, superhuman knowledge and experience. The world famous Upanishads form part of the Aranyakas of the Vedas.
In addition to these three there are treatises on science and philosophy.
Shad Angani or Vedangas — Six Limbs, or Limbs of the Veda — may be said to be the complement of the Brahamana portion of the Vedas. They consist of very condensed aphorisms called Sutras and commentaries on them. They deal with some seventy sciences classified under six main heads:
(A) Shiksha (Phonetics), (B) Kalpa (Rituals), (C) Vyakarana (Grammar), (D) Niruktam (Etymology), (E) Chhandah (Prosody), and (F) Jyotisham (Astrology).
It is not possible in this series to deal with the science lore of ancient India. Interested readers should turn to the Positive Background of Hindu Sociology, by Prof. Benoy Kumar Sarkar, which deals with geography, ethnology, mineralogy, botany, zoology, physiology, biology and mechanics; also to The Positive Sciences of the Ancient Hindus, by Sir Brajendranath Seal; then to Hindu Chemistry, by Sir P. C. Roy.
In the closing article we will examine in outline the six schools of Indian philosophy known as Shad Darshanani.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 19, No. 12, October, 1931, Pages 535-539
VI: The Six Demonstrations
AS this is an age of logic and induction when analysis of beliefs and ideas is the natural method of approach to any subject, those Hindu systems of thought which utilize it are most popular among western scholars. More than any other, the six schools of Indian philosophy, as they are popularly called, are specially favoured by western investigators because they come closest to western ways of reasoning. The Vedas are mystical, the Puranas are folk-lore, even the six limbs of the Vedas offer but unproven statements — such is the general opinion. On the other hand, the six philosophical schools argue and explain propositions and something can be made of them — so say the philologist-philosophers. Hence their popularity.
It must, however, be pointed out that in spite of all the treatises written and lectures delivered on the six schools their soul has eluded the grasp of most of the western savants as of most of their Indian compeers. This is to be expected in the absence of the Theosophical Key which the Esoteric Philosophy provides.
H. P. Blavatsky calls these six schools six Demonstrations. They are like the six cardinal points; each of them presents but one view of truth; not one of them in itself is complete; even the six taken together are not complete; for there is still a seventh darshana known to genuine Chelas of the Masters or Rishis (see H.P.B.’s Glossary — “Occult Sciences”) which in Hindu terminology is Guhya or Gupta Vidya, i.e., the Esoteric Demonstration.
Each of these six schools demonstrates completely the whole of the world-process from one particular angle of vision. The same universe, the same world-process, the same panorama is looked at from one side and then another. Just as a building can be examined from the north and the east and the south and the west, then from above and then from the foundations below, and yet its real worth cannot be perceived unless one enters the building and looks at it from within, so also a philosophical proposition cannot fully and truly be demonstrated unless the seventh step of examination is taken.
Now, why is it that the seventh point of view is not presented, the seventh Demonstration is not made? Neither perverse reticence, nor even spiritual consideration of any kind whatever is responsible. The simple fact is that the seventh viewpoint may be likened to a kind of fourth-dimensional vision. No microscope, no telescope can uncover the fourth dimension; where observation fails, there mathematics steps in and can demonstrate the concept of the fourth dimension. It would be as absurd to refuse to listen to a mathematician because he can not by means of a microscope demonstrate to a man the fourth dimension of space as to say that because the esoteric is invisible to our mental perception therefore it does not exist. The scientist must turn mathematician; so also the ordinary intellectual enquirer must put away his familiar instruments of analysis, logic and inference and adopt a new mode of approach. Just as there are connecting links which bind, say the physicist to the mathematician, so also there are natural bridges which join the six schools of philosophy to their common but hidden spiritual soul, the Esoteric Science.
H.P.B. says that these six demonstrations “have all a starting point in common, and maintain that ex nihilo nihil fit” (Glossary under “Mimansa”).
All exoteric philosophies are concerned with the universe of Spirit-Matter, Purusha-Prakriti. Of the six viewpoints three are from the side of matter and the other three from the side of spirit. They are therefore interlaced. The seventh deals with that which links spirit to matter, and which also transcends both of them. Fohat, says The Secret Doctrine, is “at present unknown to Western speculation” (Secret Doctrine, I, 16). It is called Daivi-prakriti, the Light in and through which Krishna, the Unborn, takes name and form. The highest mystery of human consciousness, as also the grand and sacred mystery of Avataras or Incarnations, is hidden in this Light, which the Gita describes as Krishna’s superior nature (viii-5); again Krishna refers to it when He says, “I am born through my own maya, the mystic power of self-ideation, the eternal thought in the eternal mind.” The viewpoint or demonstration presented by this Light can only be acquired by first gathering the knowledge offered by the six schools; then, leaving the methods employed for that gathering, the seeker turns within and employs the only method recommended, that of self-energization, self-purification, and self-discipline. To speak of this seventh Demonstration falls outside of the scope of our article.
Turning then to the six exoteric Demonstrations, the first thing to note is that no single one of them will be found sufficient and that the thread binding them must be seen, especially because it is this thread which helps us to approach the shadowy traces of the seventh to be found in them.
The six Demonstrations are:
1. Vaisheshika, demonstrated by Rishi Kanada.
2. Nyaya, demonstrated by Rishi Gautama.
3. Purva Mimansa, demonstrated by Rishi Jaimini.
4. Sankhya, demonstrated by Rishi Kapila.
5. Yoga, demonstrated by Rishi Patanjali.
6. Vedanta, demonstrated by Rishi Badarayana.
The first three seem to present materialistic outlooks; really they examine the universe from the point of view of matter. The remaining three, however, deal primarily with the consciousness aspect. But each of them is regarded as an explanation of the world-process and as showing part of the way to the Emancipation from that world-process. If the student misses the synthetic viewpoint he will err, as so many others have done, and see one school as antagonistic to one or all of the others. Thus to take but an example — Vedanta-Sutras show the fallacies of the Vaisheshika system, not to overthrow but to supplement that system. In that connection we must also bear in mind that these six Demonstrations are age-old; they have passed through a long evolution; what is extant now is not the unaltered and unadulterated facts originally presented. Interpolation and withdrawal in no small measure have left their marks in each system. It is one of the tasks of the votary of the Second Object of our Theosophical Movement to remove the grain from the chaff and to show the unity underlying them, to show that they are but parts and phases of one whole.
Let us now turn to a brief examination of these six Demonstrations:
I. Vaisheshika. The object of knowledge is Padarthas — Predicates of existing things. They are seven in number: (1) Dravya — Substance (metaphysically) which “is not destroyed either by its effect or by its cause,” — uncaused and eternal. Of these there are nine — five are atomic substances and four are pervasive; the former are earth, water, fire, air and manas, and the latter are time, space, akasha, and atma. Of these nine eternal and ultimate substances Atma is the most important, for by it all others are cognized. Thus arises an endless number of souls. (2) The second predicate is Guna or Gunatvam — Qualitativeness; there are 24 qualities enumerated of which five belong to all substances, viz., number, dimension, individuality, conjunction and disjunction. (3) Karma or better Karmatvam — Activity is five-fold and is described in terms of Motion: throwing up, throwing down, contracting, expanding and going. Cause-effect is examined under this category in a most interesting way. (4) The fourth predicate is Samanya, i.e., the unifying common basis, the relation of a thing to its genus, sometimes translated as Generality or Generalness. (5) Visesha is the opposite of the fourth and is called Particularity or what constitutes an entity or individuality; from this category the school derives its name and title. (6) Samvaya or Inherence, through which it is said of cause and effect that the one abides in the other and Karma and Karta, deed and doer in each other. (7) Lastly, Abhava — Non-existence, referring to the condition of a thing before its creation or manifestation and after its destruction and dissolution. The knowledge of these Predicates results ultimately in emancipation, for the universe comes into existence mechanically because of them, runs mechanically because of them, and dissolves mechanically because of them. Learn the mechanics of the universe and you are freeing yourself from the tyranny of that great machine.
II. Nyaya. To learn of the mechanics of the universe one must seek knowledge. The essence of knowledge lies in the proofs of cosmic ultimates, to obtain which one must learn about sixteen categories — (1) Pramana — Proofs, (2) Prameya — Objects of proof, (3) Samsaya — Doubt, (4) Prayojana — Purpose, (5) Drishtanta — Example, (6) Siddhanta — Proven knowledge, (7) Avayava — Premises, (8) Tarka — Logical reasoning, (9) Nirnaya — Conclusion, (10) Vada — Discussion, (11) Jalpa — Wrangling, (12) Vitanda — Caviling, (13) Hetvabhasa — Fallacies, (14) Chhala — Quibbles, (15) Jati — Futile analogies, and (16) Nigrahasthana — Unfitness for arguing, which is always to be regarded as an occasion for rebuke. An enquirer to turn student must first acquaint himself with these, to save his own time and that of those from whom he is learning.
Of these the first two are the most important and we shall have space to examine only these.
The ways of gaining proofs are four and they bring right knowledge about twelve things. We have to prove to ourselves the correct value of (1) Atma — the Self, (2) Sharira — Body, (3) Indriya — Senses, (4) Artha — Objects of sense, (5) Buddhi — Intuition, (6) Manas — Mind, (7) Pravriti — Going forth, (8) Dosha — Fault, (9) Pretya-bhava — Change of existing nature or Transmigration, (10) Phala — Fruit thereof, i.e., Karma, (11) Dukh — Suffering, (12) Apavarga — Emancipation therefrom.
By what means can these proofs be obtained? By (1) Pratyaksha — Perception, (2) Anuman — Inference, (3) Upamuna — Comparison, and (4) Shabda — Word, i.e., Recorded Knowledge.
Perception implies use of the senses which is to be aided by Inference, a mental process, in which the law of analogy or correspondence or comparison should be used, and in seeking this comparison the Record of Seers and Sages should be utilized. Shabda — Word, is described as the instructive assertion of a reliable person, i.e., One who Knows.
III. Purva Mimamsa is also called Karma-Mimamsa. It is the record of interpretation which must be examined and studied prior to turning to the spirit-defining schools which flower in Uttara Mimamsa, generally called Vedanta, end of knowledge. It is called Karma-Mimamsa because this record explains the method of rituals and the meaning of material events, etc. The Sutras of Jaimini enquire into and expound Dharma — Law and Duty of ordinary life. As Dharma cannot be fathomed by mere perception and inference, the use advocated by the previous school of applying the law of correspondence and of the study of the Record should be adopted. Therefore these Jaimini-Sutras deal with Adhikaranas or Topics of which there are nearly a thousand. For each topic a Vedic text is offered about which there is doubt. Then follows the setting down of the prima facie view and its refutation. The whole process yields the final proven view or Siddhanta. These are the five limbs of every topic. For living the ordinary life intelligently, not by fanciful thinking or isolated personal reasoning, this school provided a substantial basis. This brings us to the highest view of material life — world life according to religious injunctions, which must be followed intelligently and must not be merely believed in.
IV. Sankhya. The Philosophy of Numbers or the Numerical Demonstration. Much of the original philosophy is reported to be lost to the public world and what is extant is a system of analytical metaphysics. It discourses on twenty-five Tatvas — Forces of Nature in various degrees. Like the very first, the Vaisheshika School, this also is called the “atomistic school” and not without good reason; for in this Demonstration the point of view is of the Spirit, while in the first it was of Matter. It explains Nature by the interaction of twenty-four elements with Purusha (Spirit) modified by three Gunas; it teaches the eternity of Pradhana, primordial homogeneous matter, or the self-transformation of nature and the eternity of the human egos.
This school teaches the permanent prevention of the three-fold pain as the supreme purpose of life. The Purusha or Spirit is free from all association, is not bound by Karma, or by time, or by space; it seems so bound, but this is only verbal, not real, and it resides in human ideation; and the notion of bondage arises in Buddhi through A-viveka — Non-discrimination. The Purusha is felt by us to be bound because of His seeming indifference as a spectator of all the changes taking place in Prakriti, i.e., Buddhi, etc.; the bondage is but the reflection on Him or It of the impurities seen in matter. These three kinds of pain, spiritual, mental and bodily, produce three kinds of bondage, and therefore there are three ways of release, from Karma, from existence in form, and from repose in one’s own Self. The whole process of the Sankhya is to seek for the Number One — the One Purusha, who is at the core of every individual. The original treatise to be studied is Tattva-Samasa, a work of greater value even than Sankhya-Pravachana-Suttra.
V. Yoga of Patanjali is very well known to students of Theosophy. It carries on the thread of the Sankhya. Having found the Purusha behind the 24 tattvas the human spiritual Being must seek and find the union (Yoga) with the universal aspect. Much confusion exists and discussion takes place as to whether there are many Purushas or one Purusha. The Sankhya stops at the human spiritual individuality face to face with dangers and possibilities and Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras continue the line of further advance, showing how man can become Super-Man, i.e., a Universal Potency. Such a Jivan-Mukta or Master is called Dharma-Megha, Cloud of Dharma. Just as rain comes from clouds so do Law, Virtue, Instruction descend from the Mahatma. Also, just as the cloud makes the vision of the sun possible for ordinary sight by standing between the sun and the eye, so also does the Jivan-Mukta, the great Guru, enable his disciple to catch a glimpse of the Universal Self — the Spiritual Universe, boundless and timeless.
VI. Vedanta — Summation of Knowledge. Just as the first two Demonstrations lead to their practice in Purva Mimamsa, so the Sankhya and the Yoga Demonstrations produce the practical code which earnest souls desiring to know the Truth may study so that practice and realization may result. That is why it is called Uttara Mimamsa. The reputed author of Vedanta-Sutras, Badarayana, is known as Vyasa. H.P.B. says that “there were many Vyasas in Aryavarata” and adds that “the Puranas mention only twenty-eight Vyasas, who at various ages descended to the earth to promulgate Vedic truths — but there were many more.”
In more recent centuries three principal schools of Vedanta have arisen. They are the well-known Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita and Advaita. Their equally well-known exponents are, respectively, Madhva, Ramanaja and Shankara.
The Dvaita School emphasizes the distinction between the Human-Spirit-Being and the Universal Self and shows the distinction between the spiritual and the carnal natures in man.
The Vishishtadvaita emphasizes the union between the Human-Spirit-Being and the Universal Self provided the former purifying himself of his carnal nature becomes a vehicle of that Supreme Self. It hints at the continuity of the Human-Spirit-Being in some state in unison with the Supreme Self.
The Advaita emphasizes the absolute identity of the Human-Spirit-Being and the Universal Self. Man in his innate Nature is the Indivisible Whole — all else being part and parcel of Himself in His ultimate aspect.
. . . . .
Not articles but volumes will have to be written to reveal in their pristine grandeur the Landmarks of Ancient India. Here are indicated but a very few sign-posts, each of which takes the active seeker on a different road of the Great Journey. For immemorial ages, yuga after yuga, on the mountain ridges and in the forests on the plains, India’s sons have struggled with the fogs of ignorance and the upas trees of superstition, gaining the vision splendid of which one here has sung, another there has spoken for the guidance of the weary-footed pilgrim of this Age of Darkness. If we humbly bow in devotion to the Ancient Seers and Sages we too may succeed in fully understanding the Mission of the Mighty Ones who have never ceased speaking the Word, the latest from whose ranks was our own teacher — H. P. Blavatsky.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 20, No. 1, November, 1931, Pages 19-25
Articles from The Path
Tales of the Ancient Rajputs
There is an old tradition, so old that it has almost died from the memories of men, that veils eventful epochs in the archaic history of India.
The Rajputs, afterwards the Kshattriyas, or warrior caste, were, according to this legend, the aboriginal dwellers in the sacred land of India. They had strong cities and powerful dynasties, and had already grown old in the land, when a newer race came to share their inheritance. The newer race were the Brahmans, who crossed the mountains of eternal snow, the Sacred Himavat, from lake Mansarawar the divine, on whose holy shores the Lord first came to Earth and taught to the Seven Rishis the archaic wisdom. The Brahmans had dwelt long by lake Mansarawar; they had learned the secret wisdom from the glowing lips of the children of the Fire-Mist in the Sacred Island.
Their lore was holy; its end was the attainment of spiritual bliss. But the Rajputs, the early dwellers in the land, had learned the darker lore, which bent to their power those subtle and tremendous forces which Nature ever seeks to keep concealed. And the Brahmans came to the Rajputs to learn their wisdom; for the Brahmans were then the pupils of the Rajputs.
Such is the old legend, which Echo has almost forgotten to whisper along the corridors of Time.
But in the Sacred Books of India are still found traces of the time when the Rajputs were greater than the Brahmans, and the Brahmans sat at their feet to learn their wisdom.
These two races have doubtless changed but little since that archaic time, ages ago.
Doubtless even then the Rajputs were, as they are now, “bronze-cheeked, large-limbed, leisure-loving”; while the Brahman was, as now, “tall and slim, with finely modelled lips and nose, fair complexion, and high forehead.” But the Rajputs have lost that superiority which the Brahmans have gained.
The Sacred Books of India still preserve traces of Rajput supremacy in might and wisdom, and a few stories from the Scriptures to illustrate this may be collected here. The first is from the Kaushitaki Brahmana Upanishad; it is as follows: 1
There was a certain Gargya Balaki, learned in the holy Vedas. He dwelt among the Matsyas, the Kurus, and the Videha. This Brahman, coming once to Raja Ajatasatru, a royal Rajput, addressed him thus: “Let me declare to thee divine knowledge, oh king!” The king replied, “We bestow a thousand cows on thee, oh Brahman, for this word of thine.” The Brahman, deeply versed in the Vedas, then expounded the doctrines of his religion. But though the Brahman was wise, the Rajput king was wiser than he; and in all things it was seen that the sacred wisdom of the Rajput was greater than the love of the Brahman. Finally the royal Rajput Ajatasatru, perceiving himself to be more wise, thus addressed the Brahman: “Dost thou know only so much, oh Balaki?” “Only so much,” he replied. The king rejoined, “Thou hast vainly proposed to me; let me teach thee divine knowledge.”
Then the Son of Balaka approached the king with fuel in his hand and said, “Let me attend thee as thy pupil.” The king replied, “Contrary to rule is it that a Kshattriya should initiate a Brahman in divine knowledge; nevertheless, approach, I will make thee to know the divine wisdom.” The King, taking him by the hand, departed.
Another story is from the Chandogya Upanishad.
Svetaketu came to the assembly of the Panchalas: Pravahana Jaivali asked him, “Youth, has thy father instructed thee?” “He has, sire,” replied Svetaketu. “Dost thou know,” asked the King, “whither living creatures go, when they depart hence?” “No, sire.” “Dost thou know how they return?” “No, sire.” “Dost thou know,” again asked the king, “”the divergences of the two paths whereof one leads to the gods and the other to the pitris? 2 “No, sire.” “And hast thou then said, ‘I have been instructed’; for how can he who knows not these things say he has been taught?” The young man returned sorrowful to his father, and said, “Thou saidest ‘I have instructed thee,’ but this Rajanya (Kshattriya) proposed to me many questions which I was not able to answer.”
The father replied, “If I had known the answer to these questions, would I not have told them to thee?” Gautama 3 went to the king, who received him with honor. In the morning he presented himself before the King, who said, “ask, oh reverend Gautama, a boon of human riches.” He replied, “To thee, oh King, belongs wealth of that kind. Declare to me the questions thou hast asked of the youth.” The King desired him to make a long stay, and at last replied, “As thou hast declared to me, Oh Gautama, that this knowledge has not formerly reached the Brahmans who lived before thee, it has therefore been among all people a wisdom taught by the Kshattriya class alone.” He then declared it to him. But the most famous of all these legends of Rajput supremacy is that which tells of the strife between Visamitra the Rajput, and Vasishta the white-robed Brahman. Many of the Rig-Veda hymns are attributed to the seership of the Vasishtas. Visvamitra is also the seer of many Vedic hymns.
In the Mahabharata is found the “ancient story of Vasishta” thus narrated: Visvamitra was the son of the Raja of Kanyakubja (Kanouj), a royal Rajput. Visvamitra, when hunting in the forest, came to the hermitage of Vasishta the Brahman, where he was received with all honor, entertained together with his followers with delicious food and drink, and presented with precious jewels and dresses obtained by the Sage from his wonder working cow, the fulfiller of all his desires. 4 The cupidity of the Rajput Visvamitra was aroused by the sight of the cow. He offered a million cows in exchange for her, but Vasishta would not part with her, even on promise of a kingdom. Visvamitra was angry; “I am a Kshattriya, a warrior,” said he, “have I not more power than thou, a Brahman, whose virtue is submissiveness? I shall not abandon war, the virtue of my caste, but shall take thy cow by force.”
Vasishta challenged him to show his power, and Visvamitra seized the wonder-working cow. But she, though beaten with a whip, would not be moved from the hermitage. Witnessing this, Vasishta asks her what he, a patient Brahman, could do.
She asks why he overlooks the violence she suffers; Vasishta replies, “Force is the strength of Kshattriyas, patience that of the Brahmans. As patience possesses me, go if thou pleasest.” The cow prays Vasishta not to abandon her; for, till he forsakes her, she cannot be taken away. Vasishta promises he will never forsake her. Hearing these words of her master, the cow tosses her head aloft and assumes a terrific aspect, her eyes become red with rage, she utters a deep, bellowing sound, and puts to flight the whole army of Visvamitra. Being again beaten with a whip, she becomes more incensed, her eyes are red with anger, her whole body, kindled by her indignation, glows like the noonday sun; she discharges firebrands, and creates bands of warriors, — Pahlavas, Dravidas, Sakas, Yavanas, Sabaras, Paundras, Sinhalas, and Kiratas; these warriors defeated Visvamitra’s army, and put it to flight. Beholding this great miracle, Visvamitra was humbled at the impotence of a Kshattriyas nature, and exclaimed, “Shame on a Kshattriya’s force; the might of a Brahman, this is force indeed!” Examining what is and what is not force, and ascertaining that austere fervour is the supreme force, he abandoned his prosperous kingdom and all its brilliant regal splendour, and, casting all enjoyments behind his back, he devoted himself to austerity. Having by this means attained perfection and Brahmanhood, he arrested the worlds by his fiery vigour, and disturbed them all by the blaze of his glory: and at length this Rajput drank Soma with Indra. 5
If one is permitted to speculate on the meaning of this legend, the conjecture may be put forward that Vasishta and Visvamitra stand for the Brahman and Rajput tribes respectively, having their territories probably on the upper waters of the Indus and Ganges. For it is only since 1200 A.D. that the descendants of the Kshattriyas have dwelt in the sandy jungles of Rajputana. Visvamitra probably represents an expedition of Rajputs to the Brahman country typified by the cow of Vasishta, — a “land flowing with milk.” This cow, the source of fertility, supplies a wealthy booty to the Rajput if he will consent to be bought off: but the Rajput wants the Brahman’s country for himself, and the wealth offered him only stimulates his cupidity. The Brahmans refuse to give up their territory, and the Kshattriyas begin the attack. The Brahmans summon to their aid the non-aryan tribes of Dravidas, Pahlavas, and Sinhalas. By their aid the Rajputs are defeated. This is, perhaps, a not improbable interpretation of the legend.
Let us return, however, to the austerities of Visvamitra, taking up the story in the Ramayana. Visvamitra the Rajput, being utterly vanquished by Vasishta, placed his son on his throne and travelled to the Himalayas, where he betook himself to austerities and thereby obtained a vision of Mahadeva, 6 who at his desire revealed to him the science of war in all its branches and gave him celestial weapons, with which, elated and full of pride, he consumed the hermitage of Vasishta and put all its inhabitants to flight. Vasishta threatened Visvamitra, and raised on high his Brahman’s mace. Visvamitra, too, raised his fiery weapon, and called to his adversary to stand. Vasishta cried out, “What comparison is there between the might of a Kshattriya and the might of a Brahman? Behold, base Kshatt-riya. my divine Brahmanical power.” The dreadful fiery weapon, uplifted by Visvamitra, was quenched by the rod of the Brahman, as water quenches fire. Many other celestial weapons were used by Visvamitra — the discus of Vishnu, the trident of Siva, etc., but the Brahman’s mace devoured them all. Finally, to the terror of the gods, the Rajput shot off the terrible Brahmastra, the weapon of Brahma. But it availed not against Vasishta the sage. Vasishta grew terrible in appearance, jets of fire issued from his body, the Brahmanical mace blazed in his hand like a smokeless mundane conflagration, or a second Sceptre of Yama, lord of death. But the devotees besought him, and his vengeance was stayed. Visvamitra cried, “Shame on a Kshattriya’s strength; the strength of a Brahman is superior.”
This tale is doubtless the echo of a tremendous conflict between the Rajputs — bringing to their aid their darker magic powers and the control of the terrible occult force which they had learned from the Atlanteans of the South — and the Brahmans, strong in the holy wisdom of the Sacred Isle. At first Visvamitra’s devotion only obtained, for him the position of Rajarshi, a royal Rishi, while he aspired to the higher rank of Brahmarshi, — divine Rishi.
That he gained great power, however, the following story from the Mahabharata clearly shows.
King Trishanku desired to ascend alive to heaven. He came to Visvamitra to ask his aid. Visvamitra sacrificed, and addressed him thus; “Behold, oh monarch, the power of austere fervor acquired by my own efforts. I myself, by my own power, will conduct thee to heaven. Ascend to that celestial region, difficult to attain to in an earthly body. I have surely earned some reward of my austerity.” Trishanku ascended to heaven in the sight of the assembled saints. Indra ordered him to be gone, and to fall to the earth. Visvamitra again exerted his power, and the king obtained a place amongst the stars. 7
Yisvamitra, still yearning for Brahmanhood, fasted and took a vow of silence. As he continued to suspend his breath, smoke issued from his head, to the great consternation and distress of the three worlds. The gods and Rishis addressed Brahma: “The great Muni, Visvamitra, has conquered many trials, and still advances in sanctity. If his wish be not granted, he will in wrath destroy the three worlds by his austere fervor. All the regions of the universe are confounded; no light anywhere shines: all the oceans are tossed, the mountains crumble, the earth quakes, the wind blows confusedly. We cannot, oh Brahma, guarantee that mankind shall not become atheistic. Before the great and glorious sage of fiery form resolves to destroy everything, let him be propitiated.” The gods, headed by Brahma, addressed Visvamitra thus: “Hail Brahmarshi! we are satisfied with thy austerities; thou hast through their intensity attained to Brahmanhood.” The sage, delighted, made his obeisance to the gods, and said; “If I have obtained Brahmanhood and long life, then let the mystic syllable (omkara), and the sacrificial formula, and the Vedas recognise me as a Brahman. And let Vasishta the Brahman, the greatest of those who know the Rajput knowledge and the Brahman knowledge, also recognise me.” Vasishta, being propitiated by the gods, became reconciled to Visvamitra, and hailed him, though a Rajput, with the title of Brahmarshi. Visvamitra also, having attained the Brahmanical rank, paid all honor to Vasishta. Before Visvamitra thus attained the pinnacle he had longed to reach, he performed many wonders, recounted in another part of the Mahabharata.
He destroyed Vasishta’s hundred sons by the power of austere fervor; when possessed by anger, he created many demons, fierce and destructive as death; he delivered the son of Richika from being offered in sacrifice; he cursed his fifty sons, and they became outcasts; he elevated Trishanku alive to heaven; he changed a troublesome nymph into a stone.
(To make the meaning of this clear, it should be explained that, when the gods had reason to dread the too great austerity of any saint, they used to send a “troublesome nymph” to disturb his orisons. Kama the love-god, when taking part in one of these expeditions, which had for its object the destruction of Siva’s Samadhi, through the charms of Uma, daughter of the Himavat, lost his body, which was turned to ashes by Siva’s glances, and is thenceforth known as Ananga, the bodiless god.) Besides this, Visvamitra induced Vasishta to bind and throw himself into a river, though he emerged thence unbound. He also made himself invisible, and caused Rakshasa demons to obsess his enemies. He also incited the demon to destroy the sons of Vasishta. On hearing of the death of his sons, Vasishta supported his misfortune as the great mountain supports the earth. He meditated his own destruction, but thought not of destroying the Rajput Visvamitra. He hurled himself from the summit of Mount Meru, but fell on the rocks as if on a heap of cotton. Escaping alive from his fall, he entered a glowing fire in the forest; but the fire, though blazing fiercely, not only failed to burn him, but seemed quite cool. He next threw himself into the sea, with a stone tied around his neck; but the waves cast him up alive on the shore. He sought death from the Sutlej alligators, but they fled from the Brahman, seeing him brilliant as fire. Seeing that death would not receive him, he returned to his hermitage. But at last Visvamitra attained to Brahmanhood, and Vasishta was reconciled to him. How many other Brahmans came to the feet of the Kshattriyas to learn wisdom, and how the Kshattriyas triumphed over the Rajputs, and how Parasurama made a mighty slaughter of the Kshattrivas, must here remain untold.
1. This, and the quotations that follow, are not literal translations, but summaries of the Sanskrit text.
2. Vide “The Secret Doctrine,” for the doctrine of the lunar Pitris.
3. Not Gautama the Buddha, but ages earlier.
4. Called Kamaduk.
5. In other words, he went to Devachan.
6. The great God of All.
7. This has reference to a very obscure, but not the less important, doctrine “Concerning the Star-Rishis.” It has to do with the selfishness and materiality of our nature, and is not explained because dangerous. It will be known, however, quite soon enough. — Ed.
— Charles Johnston, The Path, October 1888
The Seven Dwipas: I
From The Indian Puranas.
It is the opinion of many at the present day that the almost grotesque myths, and fantastic geographical and astronomical descriptions contained in the religious writings of many ancient faiths, are not, as they have hitherto been too often considered, mere vagaries and extravagances of the youthful imagination of the early races; but are really deliberately contrived and constructed allegories, by which ancient sages sought to veil, and effectually succeeded in veiling, the sacred truths which could only be declared in the secret recesses of the temples.
If this be so, then valuable truths and revelations of ancient history of great and absorbing interest may be laid bare, if we succeed in removing the veil from these venerable allegories. To understand them completely, demands doubtless a knowledge not at the command of ordinary students; but nevertheless, in studying these myths and making ourselves familiar with them, we find a link which binds us by sympathy to a remote past, and to a phase of the human mind which must have its representative in us, ready to vibrate responsive to these old-world stories.
They bring us back to an epoch which knew not the iron which has since entered so deeply into our souls; when man perhaps saw deeper into the mystery of things; and the universe reflected itself more clearly in his yet undarkened soul.
These old myths, if they contain transcendental truths known to us, and which we can recognize, will open up to us an almost limitless vista in the souls of the ancient sages who inwove their theories therein, and will give us one more proof of the brotherhood of man, wherever born, and in whatever age.
With these reasons in view, we shall try to make our readers familiar by degrees with the great allegories of India, as they appear in the Brahmanas, the Puranas, and the great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
In a recent number, we told the tale of the Rajput supremacy, and of the mighty contest between the Brahman and the Kshattriya, and the rivalry of Vashishta and Visvamitra; and at present we shall try to give the history of the seven dwipas, the great divisions of the world in the Puranic cosmogony.
We shall first try merely to reflect faithfully into our pages the picture presented by the Puranas, and afterwards summarise any ideas as to the meaning of the Puranic stories which occur to us.
But there is little doubt that the full import of these stories will not be brought to the light, until they have lain in the minds of mystics for years; until the time when the facts of nature to which they refer reflect themselves again in the minds of men.
The seven dwipas, or divisions of the earth, are said in the Vishnu Purana to have been formed as follows:
Priyavrata distributed the seven dwipas, into which the earth had been divided (by Narayana in the form of Brahma) amongst his seven sons; who are the regents of the seven dwipas. Before this, Priyavrata, being dissatisfied that only half the earth was illumined at once, by the sun, followed the sun seven times round the earth in his own flaming car of equal velocity, like another celestial orb, resolved to turn night into day; the ruts made by his chariot-wheels were the seven oceans: in this way the seven dwipas, or continents were made.
These seven continents are called Jambu dwipa, Plaksha dwipa, Shalmali dwipa, Kusha dwipa, Krauncha dwipa, Shaka dwipa, and Pushkara dwipa.
These continents, which appear to have lain in concentric circles, with Jambu dwipa in the centre, were separated by annular oceans, said to have been formed of salt water, sugar-cane juice, clarified butter, curds, milk, and fresh water, respectively.
Jambu dwipa lay in the centre of all these continents. It fell to the lot of Agnidhara, son of Priyavrata, who again divided it among his nine sons.
In the centre of Jambu dwipa is the golden mountain Meru, 84,000 yojanas high, and crowned by the great city of Brahma.
Then follows a minute description of Jambu dwipa.
Before referring to it, however, let us try to make clear our conception of the Puranic idea so far.
Let thirteen concentric circles be drawn: the inner is Jambu dwipa; the annular space next to it is the salt ocean; the next annular space is Plaksha dwipa; and so on. Outside, we have the sea of fresh water which encircles the whole system.
The subdivision of Jambu dwipa, which is, as we have seen, a circular island, is as follows:
Mount Meru is in the centre.
South of Mount Meru are three mountain ranges; and north of it are three mountain ranges; dividing it into seven strips. These strips are the Varshas, or subdivisions, of Jambu dwipa.
The centre strip is divided further into three parts, a western, central, and eastern division; making in all nine Varshas. Meru is in the centre of this central division of the central strip. This central Varsha is called Havrita. It is divided from Harivarsha, to the south, by the Nishada range; and from Ramyaka to the north by the Nila range. To the west of Havrita, lies the Varsha of Ketumala; while to the east lies Bhadrasva.
Harivarsha is, we have seen, the Varsha directly to the south of Havrita. South of it lies Kimpurusha, separated from Harivarsha by the Hemaketu range. South of Kimpurusha and separated from it by the Himadri or Himalaya range, lies Bharata Varsha.
These three, Harivarsha, Kimpurusha, and Bharatavarsha, are all to the south of the three central Varshas.
To the north of the three central Varshas lie three other Varshas: Ramyaka, Hiranmaya, and Uttara Kuru. Ramyaka is, as we have seen, separated from the zone containing the three central Varshas by the Nila range.
North of Ramyaka, and separated from it by the Shveta range, lies Hiranmaya; while north of this Varsha, and separated from it by the Shringin range, lies Uttara Kuru.
This will make sufficiently clear the geography of Jambu dwipa; each division of which was under the rule of one of the nine sons of Agnidhara, the son of Priyavrata.
Bharata Varsha seems to be identical with what we know as India, bounded on the north, as it is by the Himadri, or Himalaya, and on the south reaching to the extremity of Jambu Dwipa, which is surrounded by the ocean of salt water.
A description of the other eight Varshas follows:
In these, Kimpurusha and the rest, it is said that the inhabitants enjoy a natural perfection attended with complete happiness gained without toil. There is there no change, nor age, nor death, nor fear; no distinction of virtue and vice, and no difference of best, medial, and worst; nor any change resulting from the four ages (yugas).
Again it is said: In those eight Varshas, there is neither sorrow nor weariness nor anxiety, nor hunger nor fear. The people live in perfect health free from every suffering, for ten or twelve thousand years.
Indra does not rain on these Varshas, for they have many springs. There is no division of the time into the Krita, Treta, and other Yugas.
In the Aitareya Brahmana it is said of the Uttara Kurus that they are consecrated to glorious dominion; and the following story is told:
Satyaharya declared to Atvarati a great inauguration similar to Indra’s; and in consequence Atvarati, though not a king, by his knowledge went round the earth on every side to its ends, reducing it to subjection; Satyaharya then said to him “thou hast subdued the earth in all directions to its limits; exalt me now to greatness.”
Atvarati replied, “When I conquer the Uttara Kurus, oh Brahman, thou shalt be king of the earth, and I will be only thy general.”
Satyaharya replied, “That is the realm of the gods; no mortal man may make the conquest of it.”
The Uttara Kurus are mentioned also in the Ramayana, as “the abodes of those who have performed works of merit,” and again “you must not go to the north of the Kurus: other beings also may not proceed further.”
In the Mahabharata, Arjuna is thus addressed: “Thou canst not, son of Pritha, subdue this city. He who shall enter this city must be more than man. Here are the Uttara Kurus, whom no one attempts to assail. And even if thou shouldst enter, thou couldst behold nothing. For no one can perceive anything here with human senses.”
And again, in another place, it is said by Kushika, on seeing a magic palace: “I have attained, even in my embodied condition to the heavenly state; or to the holy northern Kurus, or to Amaravati, the everlasting city of Indra.”
We shall try to point out further what seems to us to be the great value of these texts, when trying to unravel a little of the Puranic mystery.
To make quite certain our identification of the Bharata Varsha of Jambu Dwipa in this cosmogony with India, we shall quote the following text from the Vishna Purana:
The country to the north of the ocean, and to the south of the Himadri, the snowy mountains, is Bharata Varsha, where the descendants of Bharata dwell.
As all our readers know, it was between two divisions of the descendants of Bharata that the Mahabharata war was fought.
The following qualities of Bharata Varsha are noticed:
In Bharata Varsha, and no where else, do the four Yugas, Krita, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali exist. Here devotees perform austerities, and priests sacrifice. In this respect Bharata is the most excellent division of Jambu Dwipa: for this is the land of works, while the others are places of enjoyment.
In the Bhagavat Purana it is said: Of the Varshas, Bharata alone is the land of works; the other eight Varshas are places where the celestials enjoy the remaining rewards of their works.
This is almost all the information we can collect of the Puranic idea of the divisions of Jambu Dwipa. We shall afterwards examine some of these texts, with their bearings; first glancing at the accounts of the other dwipas.
— Charles Johnston, The Path, April 1889
The Seven Dwipas: II
From The Indian Puranas.
Plaksha dwipa, the nearest to Jambu dwipa, is divided into seven provinces. Existence there is always that of the Treta yuga, a perpetual silver age. In the five dwipas, (all except Pushkara dwipa and Jambu dwipa), the people live 5,000 years without sickness. The four castes, with different names, exist on each of them.
In the Bhagavat Parana it is said of the inhabitants of Plaksha dwipa: The four castes, purified from passion and darkness by the touch of the water of the rivers, live a thousand years, and resemble the gods.
It may be noted of this text that the purification of these castes from passion and darkness leaves them only one of the “three qualities,” goodness, which is said to be the distinctive mark of the true Brahman; so that the measure of spirituality on this dwipa is much higher than in Jambu dwipa.
An ocean of sugar-cane juice separates Plaksha dwipa from Shalmala dwipa: which is also divided into seven Varshas. It has four castes who worship Vishnu in the form of Vayu, (air.) Here the vicinity of the Gods is very delightful to the soul.
This dwipa is surrounded by an ocean of wine, whose exterior shore is compassed by Kusha dwipa: here the inhabitants are men dwelling with Devas, Gandharvas, and other beings.
In the Mahabharata, it is said: No one dies in Kusha dwipa; the people are fair, and of very delicate forms.
Kusha dwipa is surrounded by a sea of clarified butter, of the same compass as itself: around this sea runs Kramcha dwipa. Vishnu Parana says: In all the pleasant divisions of this dwipa, the people dwell free from fear, in the society of the gods.
A sea of curds encompasses this dwipa, which is of the same circumference as itself. This sea is surrounded by Shaka dwipa, of which the Vishnu Purana says: These are the holy countries whose holy rivers remove all sin and fear. There is among them no defect of virtue, nor any mutual rivalry, nor any transgression of rectitude in the seven Varshas. Here the people are holy, and no one dies, says the Mahabharata. Shaka dwipa is surrounded by an ocean of milk, outside which lies Pushkara dwipa: where men live ten thousand years, free from sorrow and pain. There is no distinction of highest and lowest, of truth and falsehood, — [because all alike are good and true], men are like gods; there are no rules of caste, and happiness dwells with all.
Of the seven dwipas, the Mahabharata says: Each doubly exceeds the former in abstinence, veracity, and self-restraint; in health and length of life.
Prajapati, the lord, governs these dwipas. All these people eat prepared food, which comes to them of itself. To finish its account, the Vishnu Purana says: Pushkara dwipa is surrounded by an ocean of water which envelopes all the seven dwipas.
On the other side of the sea is a golden land of great extent but without inhabitants; beyond that is the Lokalaoka mountain, ten thousand yojanas in height and ten thousand yojanas in breadth.
It is encompassed on all sides with darkness, which is enclosed within the shell of the mundane egg.
Thus ends the account of the Seven Dwipas, as told by the Indian Puranas.
The objective point from which this cosmogomy starts is Bharata Varsha, or India, bounded southward by the salt ocean, and reaching northward to the Himadri, or Himalaya.
Perhaps the other Varshas, in one of their interpretations, are the lost continents of former races with Meru, the north pole, in their centre.
But it seems to us from what is told of the other Varshas, and, above all, of Uttara Kuru, that these Varshas are not to be found on earth, but represent the various planes rising from the physical to the spiritual, from Bharata Varsha, taken as the type of physical life, or waking consciousness, to the Uttara Kurus, the highest spiritual stage that dwellers on this earth can reach.
We are led to believe that these Varshas which I have described and explained in my last paper are not located in the physical world from what is told of the perfection of their inhabitants; the length of life, which is measured by thousands of years, and, above all, by the specific statement that these Varshas are the abodes of those who are reaping the fruits of their merits, while Bharata is the Varsha where this fruit was earned, the world of works, or physical life.
We observe that these Varshas are nine: though when we mark their position in the circular island of Jambu dwipa according to the directions of the Puranas, we find that while nine Varshas are mentioned they fall into only seven strips: and moreover, while a great symmetry reigns among the various dwipas we find it absent in this particular, for five of the other dwipas have only seven Varshas.
Perhaps therefore the nine Varshas of Jambu dwipa, or our earth, are only a veil, to conceal the seven, or the real mystic number of the planes.
Perhaps, however, these nine Varshas represent the nine phases of consciousness as explained by Mr. T. Subba Row; this division, which appears in the “Theosophist” for Jan. 1888, being as follows:
Jagrat 1. waking life.
Swapna, 2. dreaming.
Sushupti, 3. deep sleep.
Jagrat, 4. waking clairvoyance.
Swapna. 5. trance clairvoyance.
Sushupti, 6. Kama loka consciousness.
Jagrat, 7. Devachan consciousness.
Swapna, 8. Consciousness between planets.
Sushupti, 9. Consciousness between rounds.
Jagrat, swapna, and sushupti mean, respectively, waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.
This division falls, as will be seen, into three groups of three each; just as the nine Varshas fall into three groups of three each. The ninth form of consciousness in this division is an arupa consciousness; that is to say, a state in which the consciousness does not take cognizance of forms. In connection with this it will be remembered that it was said of the ninth Varsha, Uttara Kuru, that “if thou shouldst enter, thou couldst behold nothing. For no one can perceive anything here with human senses.”
But this would hold equally true of the seventh plane of consciousness: if we take the nine to be a veil of seven.
It seems, therefore, that the seven or nine divisions of Jambu dwipa may mean our physical earth, or the physical life known to us, and its higher planes or principles; the mountain ranges being the points of separation between the planes. If this be so, and if we credit the authors of the Vishnu Purana with adeptship, and transcendental knowledge, which they have imparted in it in a veiled form, it would seem that valuable knowledge of the superior planes might be gained by a careful analysis of what is said in the Vishnu Purana of the other Varshas of Jambu dwipa.
If we are right in identifying Jambu dwipa with our earth, we may conjecture that the salt ocean which surrounds it, besides meaning the sea, may also mean the aura of the earth; that part of the astral light which clings round our planet. If then we are right in considering jambu dwipa to be the earth, what view are we to take of the nature of the other six dwipas?
It is clear that they are connected with our earth, and with the evolution of life on it. It is also said that the dwipas are in an ascending order of spirituality, Jambu dwipa being the lowest, and Pushkara dwipa the highest; while the other five dwipas have many attributes in common, and are classed together.
Moreover, each of these five dwipas has seven Varshas: and if we are right in considering the Varshas of Jambu dwipa as planes, or principles, may we not suppose that the Varshas of the five dwipas are also planes or principles?
Jambu dwipa is said to be a circular island; but there is no doubt that the Hindus knew the earth to be a sphere. Therefore this may simply mean that if Jambu dwipa is a sphere, in that case we are perhaps justified in believing that, when the other six dwipas are represented as annular, they are really spheres, and that the statement that each lies outside the preceding, and separated from it by an ocean, really means that these dwipas are spheres, isolated from each other, but surrounded by some more subtle medium which serves as a connection between them.
Are we justified then in considering that the seven dwipas mean a system of seven spheres united to each other by a subtle medium, and cooperating in the work of human evolution by furnishing man with a series of dwellings in an ascending scale of spirituality?
It has doubtless already become apparent to our readers that this idea is, in almost every particular, identical with that of the Planetary Chain, as expounded in the Secret Doctrine. A careful review of all the statements we have collected as to the other dwipas will give further indications of the identity of these two ideas, and will elicit many facts of great interest.
What is meant by the oceans of sugar, wine, curds, and milk? Is this a hint of the nature of the auras of these different planets? Are the colours and properties of these liquids taken as symbolizing these auras?
If so, then the ocean of pure water which surrounds the whole system may mean the ether which extends through all space, as distinguished from the aura which is differentiated and condensed around each planet.
The outer darkness which shuts in the golden wall cannot but be the void space between our solar system and the stars, the mundane egg which encloses it being the limit of the life of the system to which we belong.
For the mundane egg is not the boundary of the whole universe, nor does our system exhaust the infinitude of life.
“There are thousands and tens of thousands of such mundane eggs; nay hundreds of millions of millions.”
— Charles Johnston, The Path, May 1889
Studies in the Upanishads
These notes are not technical studies of forms of speech, but simply attempts to discover the true meaning underlying the words of the Upanishads. These ancient works are full of food for reflection; they should be studied with a view of finding the inner meaning, and without being influenced by the fact that they are cast in a form which is strange to us. This caution is especially needful in the case of Hindu books, because the Indian is fond of expressing himself in a form totally different from that of his Western brother.
In 1886 I made a few references in these pages to the Mundaka Upanishad, which is often known as the one which shaves off error so that the truth may shine or be apparent, and shall now proceed a little further in the same direction. This Upanishad is divided into chapters or sections which are called “mundakas” and “khandas,” the last being the smaller divisions included in the former: a “khanda” would therefore be something like our “section”.
Thus we have:
FIRST MUNDAKA, SECOND KHANDA.
1. This is the truth: the sacrificial works which they saw in the hymns of the Veda have been performed in many ways in the Treta age. Practise them diligently, ye lovers of truth; this is your path that leads to the world of good works.”
From the first verse to the end of the sixth there are statements and descriptions relating to the flames from the sacrifice and about the effects of good works, ending with these words:
“This is thy holy Brahma world — swarga — gained by thy good works.”
All of these mean to inculcate that swarga or heaven will be gained by good works, which are here also called sacrifices or the attentive following of the Brahmanical law. Both in the fifth and sixth verses heaven or devachan is referred to, in the one as the place “where the one lord of the devas dwells”, and in the other as “swarga”. Indra is “the one lord of the devas”, and his place, known as “Indra loka”, is devachan or the land of the gods.
Indra’s heaven is not eternal. The only loka admitted by the Hindu sacred books to be nondestructible is “Goloka” or the place of Krishna. Those who go to devachan have to emerge from that state when the energies that took them there are exhausted. In the Bhagavad Gita this is thus put; “When the reward is exhausted after having dwelt in the heaven of Indra for years of infinite number, they return to the world of mortals”. But even if one should become Indra himself, who is the regent of this sphere, the reward would not be eternal, for the reason that Indra as a power comes to an end at the close of the manvantara. The Khanda under consideration touches upon the transitory nature of the reward for good works without knowledge in the seventh and other verses:
7. But frail indeed are these boats, the sacrifices, the eighteen in which this lower ceremonial has been told. Fools who praise this as the highest good are subject again and again to old age and death.
8. Fools dwell in darkness, wise in their own conceit and puffed up with a vain knowledge, go round and round, staggering to and fro, like blind men led by the blind.
9. Children when they have long lived in ignorance consider themselves happy. Because those who depend on their good works are improvident, owing to their passions, they fall and become miserable when their life in the world which they have gained by their good works is finished.
The fall spoken of in these and also in the tenth is the death in devachan and rebirth into this life. Both life here and life in devachan are illusionary, and hence there is a continual rise and fail, fall and rise, from the one to the other until the time arrives when the man, by adding knowledge to good works is able to mount above the illusion and prevent himself from being drawn into the gulf of death in either this world or the world of the devas. It must follow from this that such a perfected man may, while living among men, have the experiences of devachan, if that be his wish; in Buddha’s life it is said that he entered nirvana and carried on his mission upon earth afterwards.
Verse 11, referring to those hermits called Sannyasis who have left all concerns of this world behind, has this significant sentence:
“(those) depart free from passion, through the sun, to where that immortal person dwells whose nature is imperishable”.
I am very much inclined to read this as meaning that even in their case what might be called absolute immortality is not gained.
The Hindu philosophy is full of fine distinctions, and, indeed, so is occultism. To say that “they go to that place where the highest person dwells” is not the same as saying they become that person himself. In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna says that only a certain sort of devotion causes the devotee to become the highest person, or, to put it in other words, to be absorbed in the highest. In the present case the Sannyasi goes to the place but does not become that highest person. And in saying “absolute immortality” I have in view the immense periods of time covered by the cycles of the Hindus, which are so long that they seem the same as eternity to us, and are often construed to have that meaning, giving to the term a shorter or lesser significance than we give it. This can be noticed in the sentence quoted from the Bhagavad Gita in the use of the word “infinite”, as there it does not mean never-ending, but only an enormous period of time, so immense that the human mind is not able to conceive it and therefore has to call it eternal. The “departure through the sun” is a reference to that part of the hidden-teachings of the Hindu initiates which deals with the practical part of yoga, the ways and means for developing the higher powers and faculties, all of which are governed and affected by certain forces and centres of force in the system of which this globe is a part. Even this has its counterpart in the Bhagavad Gita in that chapter where it is said that the devotee who dies when the sun is in its northern course goes away never to return, and that the one who dies when the moon is waxing goes but to return again, ending with the statement that these two ways of white and black are eternally decreed in this world. This has been commented on by Europeans as being nonsense, but when we know that reference is meant to be made to the eternal unity of the great tides in human affairs and the adjustment of all things to universal laws, it does not seem so foolish. Of course if it be taken to apply to all men indiscriminately, then it would be the talk of children; but it is well known to all those who have had a glimmer of the inner meaning of these holy books that the persons who come under the influence of this law in the manner above given are only those devotees who follow the practices enjoined and thus bring into operation upon themselves different forces from those that bear upon the ordinary man.
In the next verse directions are given for finding the truth as:
12. Let a Brahmana 1 after he has examined all these worlds which are gained by works acquire freedom from all desires. Nothing that is eternal (or not made) can be gained by that which is not eternal (or made). Let him in order to understand this take fuel in his hands and approach a guru who is learned and dwells entirely in Brahman, and that teacher tells the truth to him.
Verse 13 ends this khanda leading to the second Mundaka wherein the truth about these matters is to be found.
1. “A Brahmana” here does not exclude non-brahmins, but means the man who is on Brahma’s path, who is studying the wisdom of or about Brahma or spirit.
— The Path, March 1891
The Symbolism of the Upanishads: I
Students of the Oriental Theosophy, which finds its highest expression in the Ten Upanishads, are met at the outset by a serious difficulty which has proved a real stumbling block in the way of many earnest disciples, and has almost completely veiled the true meaning of these most ancient mystical books to all who have approached them in a purely literary or philological spirit.
This serious difficulty, which is caused by the symbolism of the Upanishads, requires two qualifications for its solution: first, some knowledge at first hand of the interior truths and realities represented by these symbols; and secondly, a certain acquaintance with the symbology of the great religions of antiquity. This ancient symbology is marked by such a uniformity in countries and times as widely separated as those which gave birth to the Vedas and the Book of Job, the Mysteries of Osiris and the Apocalypse, that, in view of these resemblances, not only is one led to infer an identity of inspiration underlying all ancient symbolism, but also that an acquaintance with the method of expression of one ancient faith will often give clear insight into the darkest passages of another.
The source of this original identity of inspiration is not far to seek: for all the ancient religions treat of the same subject, the mysteries of the interior development of man, and the understanding of the universe which is reached in the course of that interior development. It is evident that a complete and exhaustive understanding of the ancient scriptures and the mysteries of inner life which are hidden beneath their symbols can be attained only by those whose inner unfoldment has gone so far as to identify them with the spirit in which these ancient scriptures were written, the universal spirit of wisdom and goodness. But though a complete understanding of the whole meaning of books like the Upanishads is thus impossible for all but the highest and holiest Sages, one cannot follow the path of interior development, of the inner light, with earnestness and integrity, without gaining some insight into the hidden meaning of the symbols; and this, added to an acquaintance with other scriptures, may make clear much that seemed hopelessly obscure.
The best way to illustrate this is by a concrete example; and we cannot do better than begin with the Katha Upanishad — the “Secret of Death,” as one translator calls it — which is distinguished for its purity and beauty of style and its universal application to human life, not less than for its avoidance of mere technical and scientific treatment of certain special powers and potencies of the inner life, such as one finds, for instance, in the Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads. The Katha Upanishad begins:
Vajashravasa, verily, seeking favor, offered in sacrifice all he possessed. He had a son, also, by name Nachiketas. Him, though still a child, faith entered, when the offerings were brought. He meditated:
– These have drunk water, eaten grass, given milk, and lost their strength. Joyless worlds he gains who offers these. He addressed his father:
– To whom, then, wilt thou give me? said he. Twice, thrice he asked him.
– To Death I give thee, said he.
It would not be contrary to the spirit of these ancient scriptures to find a meaning in the names of Nachiketas and his father. Vajashravasa may mean “one who sacrifices according to tradition or ritual”, while Nachiketas may mean “one who has lost the desire for sensation”. But without insisting upon this, we may turn to the general meaning of father and son. A son, in the symbolism of the Upanishads, means a new birth; either spiritual regeneration, or simply reincarnation; this meaning of the new life which faith had entered, or of the soul in that new life, is represented here by Nachiketas. His father is the past birth, or the condition before the spiritual rebirth, which offers an inadequate sacrifice.
The lean cattle, who have “given milk and lost their strength”, represent either worldly enjoyments or the physical powers which enjoy them; just as perfect, well-nourished cows represent the spiritual powers, which succeed them. Vajashravasa, the type of the soul in the former or unregenerate birth, offered up these lean cattle, the physical enjoyments; Nachiketas, his son, the new or regenerate birth, perceived that this offering was inadequate; the offering needed was not the sacrifice of worldly enjoyments, but the sacrifice of self.
– I go the first of many; I go in the midst of many. What is this work of Death, that he will work on me today?
Look, as those that have gone before, behold so are those that shall come after. As corn a mortal is ripened; as corn he is born again.
[Nachiketas comes to the House of Death. Nachiketas speaks:]
– Like the Lord of Fire, a pure guest comes to the house. They offer him this greeting:
Bring water, O King Death!
Fair hopes and friendship, truth and holy deeds, sons and cattle, all forsake the foolish man in whose house a pure guest dwells, without food.
What is the House of Death to which Nachiketas comes? It has two meanings. The first and universal meaning is the physical world, the ‘world of birth and death” to which the soul comes in each new life. The second, more special, meaning is the underworld, visited by the spirit of the neophyte at initiation.
[After three days, Death returns. Death speaks:]
– As them, a pure guest and honorable, hast dwelt three nights in my house without food — honor to thee, pure one, welcome to thee — against this, choose them three wishes.
[ Nachiketas speaks: ]
– That my father may be at peace, well-minded, and with anger gone towards me, O Death; that he may speak kindly to me, when sent forth by thee; this of the three as my first wish I choose.
– As before will he be kind to thee, sent forth by me; by night will he sleep well, with anger gone, seeing thee set free from the month of Death.
The three nights which Nachiketas passes in the House of Death have also two meanings; the first, the universal meaning, in which the three nights are the “three times”, present, past, and future, the three conditions to which everything is subject in this physical world, the House of Death. The special meaning refers to the initiation in which the soul “descended into hell, and rose again the third day. One of the three wishes of Nachiketas refers to each of these “three times”; the first, “that the father may be at peace”, refers to the past; the meaning of “father” being the same as before.
– In the heaven-world there is no fear; nor art thou there, and fear comes not with old age. Crossing over hunger and thirst, and going beyond sorrow, he exults in the heaven-world.
The heavenly fire thou knowest, Death; tell me it, for I am faithful. The heaven-worlds enjoy undyingness. This as my second wish I choose.
– To thee I tell it; listen then to me, O Nachiketas, learning that heavenly fire. Know thou also the excellent winning of endless worlds, for this is hidden in the secret place.
He told him then that fire, the source of the worlds, and the bricks of the altar, and how many and what they are. And he again spoke it back as it was told; and Death, well pleased, again addressed him.
The next three verses, which speak of the triple fire as part of a ceremony, are evidently a later addition; they are therefore omitted here. It is possible that they take the place of older verses which spoke too clearly of the sacred fire and were therefore omitted in the later manuscripts. But the secret of the triple fire may be revealed by the words, “he told him that fire, the source of the worlds, and the bricks (of the altar), how many and what they are”; the triple fire being here the Higher Triad, the unmanifested three that underlie creation, preservation, and regeneration; as also the being, consciousness, and bliss of the Self, the Atma. The altar being the manifested world, which is crowned by the unmanifested three. The square altar is thus the lower quaternary, the bricks being the four or seven planes or worlds of manifestation. The triple fire and the square altar would thus be the triangle above the square in symbolism, the triangle being the same as the Egyptian pyramid, also connected with “pur” or fire. The “speaking back” is the reflection of the seven in Nachiketas, the individual soul.
– This is the heavenly fire for thee, Nachiketas, which thou hast chosen as thy second wish. They shall call this fire thine. Choose thy third wish, Nachiketas.
– This doubt that there is of a man that has gone forth; “he exists” say some, and “he exists not” others say. A knowledge of this taught by thee: this of my wishes is the third wish.
– Even by the gods it was doubted about this; not easily knowable and subtle is this law. Choose, Nachiketas, another wish. Hold me not to it; spare me this.
– Even by the gods, thou sayest, it was doubted about this; nor easily knowable is it, O Death. Another teacher of it cannot be found like thee. No other wish is equal to this.
This third wish is the essence and crown of the whole Upanishad. Not the first wish “that the father may be at peace,” that the past may “sleep well”; nor the second wish, the heavenly fire, are the true mystery of the Secret of Death.
The words, “the doubt that there is of a man that has gone forth,” evidently bear two meanings. They refer first to the death of the body, and the doubt as to the survival of the personality. But this is not the deeper meaning. Nachiketas has confidently looked forward to the time when he shall be “released by Death” and “freed from the mouth of Death”; and has spoken of “the heaven-world which enjoys immortality”; so that he does not doubt as to the immortality of the soul, in its ordinary sense of the individual survival after death.
It is not this physical death, but the death which precedes the true spiritual rebirth and inward illumination; the death of the passions and selfishness, of personal desire, which must be passed through before the initiation by the spirit is reached; what Paul calls the “death to sin, and the new birth to righteousness”; the death which comes only once, while the physical death comes many times; the turning-point of the soul, after it has reached its extremest limit on the outward path. This is the death whose secret Nachiketas asks. The “man that has gone forth” would be, in this sense, the Jivanmukta, “for whom there is no return”, who has entered Nirvana, of whom the gods have doubted; ” ‘he exists’ say some, ‘he exists not,’ others say.”
Of this secret there is no teacher but Death; the death of selfishness must be passed through before an understanding can be reached of that true undyingness “which is not immortality but eternity”; and which may be reached in the midst of life, long before the time of physical death has come.
– Choose sons and grandsons of a hundred years; and cattle and elephants and gold and horses. Choose the great treasure-house of the world, and live as many autumns as thou wilt.
If thou thinkest this an equal wish, choose wealth and length of days. Be thou mighty in the world, O Nachiketas. I make thee an enjoyer of thy desires.
Whatsoever desires are difficult in the mortal world, ask all desires according to thy will.
These beauties, with their chariots and lutes — not such as these are to be won by men — be waited on by them, my gifts. Ask me not of dying, Nachiketas.
This answers to the offer made by the Lord of the House of Death to another neophyte, who, like Nachiketas, “descended into hell, and rose again the third day”; the offer of the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them. It would seem that the knowledge and power which make the spiritual rebirth possible are great enough to render certain the winning of any lesser prize, if the ambition to be mighty on the earth remains. These alternatives are offered, therefore, by the power which, if they are refused, will become the Initiator.
– By tomorrow these fleeting things wear out the vigor of a mortal’s powers. Even the whole of life is little; and chariots and dance are in thy power.
Not by wealth can a man be satisfied. Shall we choose wealth if we have seen thee? Shall we desire life while thou art master? But the wish I choose is verily that.
Coming near to the unfadingness of the immortals, a fading mortal here below, and understanding it, understanding the sweets of beauty and pleasure, who would rejoice in length of days?
This that they doubt about, O Death, what is in the great Beyond, tell me of that. This wish that draws nigh the mystery, Nachiketas chooses no other wish but that.
(To be concluded)
— C.J., The Path, January 1894
The Symbolism of the Upanishads: II
The first part of the Katha Upanishad, if we have interpreted its symbols aright, taught the descent of Nachiketas — the soul — into this outer world, graphically described as the House of Death; its lingering there for three nights, which are the three times, past, present, and future, that condition everything in the House of Death; there confronted by Death, the prince of this world; the soul is offered three wishes, one for the past, one for the present, one for the future. The first is the quiescence of the past and the tranquil return of the soul to the source whence it fell into the “mouth of death”, the second, the secret of the three fires on the four-fold altar, or the three divine energies which underlie the four-fold world of manifestation, the world of the present; the third is the secret of the Great Beyond, that real world to which the soul’s true life belongs, and whence it has strayed into this House of Death.
The first two wishes have been already satisfied; the third is treated of in the second and third parts of the Upanishad, which we shall translate and comment on as before. In the second part, the speaker is Death the Great Initiator; not the body’s death, but the death of the lower self, which alone can open the doors of the Great Beyond. What lies behind that door is told as far as words can tell it; it is the eternal mystery, which remains hidden in secret, and everlastingly unrevealable for all who have not passed the initiation — or “new beginning” — of the death of the lower self.
– The better is one thing; the dearer is another thing; these two draw a man in opposite ways. Of these two it is well for him who chooses the better; he fails of his object who chooses the dearer.
The better and the dearer approach a man; looking closely at them, the Sage discerns between them. The Sage chooses the better rather than the dearer; the fool chooses the dearer, through lust of possession.
The better is what belongs to the real world, the Great Beyond. The dearer is what belongs to this unreal world, the House of Death, in whose gift are “wealth and length of days, the great treasure-house of the world, and the beauties with their chariots and lutes”; representative of the ideals of the lower self. The better and the dearer are the blessedness and the happiness, in Carlyle’s inimitable chapters of Sartor Resartus which speak of the Everlasting No, the Center of Indifference, and the Everlasting Yea; where with matchless vividness and power are depicted the death of the lower self and the new birth of the soul. These two, the better and the dearer, draw every man in opposite ways; every man, that is, has the longing for Death’s fair gifts; and also the incipient sense of the Great Beyond, called, in its negative aspect, Conscience, but which becomes positive, as intuition and growing omniscience, when Death’s Initiation has been passed through.
– Thou, indeed, understanding dear and dearly loved desires, Nachiketas, hast passed by them. Not this way of wealth hast thou chosen, in which many men sink.
Wide apart are these two minds, unwisdom, and that of which the knower says “it is wisdom”. I esteem Nachiketas to be one seeking wisdom, nor do manifold desires allure thee.
Others, turning about in unwisdom — self-wise, thinking they are learned — and fools, stagger, lagging in the way, like the blind led by the blind.
The Great Beyond gleams not for the fool, led away by the delusion of possessions. “This is the world, there is no other”, he thinks; and so falls again and again under my dominion.
The understanding of desire is the deep and irrevocable conviction, based upon the experience of innumerable lives, innumerable incarnations, that desire can never be satisfied; that the gratification desired is never actually touched, but remains each time just one step out of reach. Like fruit under a glass case, the object of desire is never seized, but every effort towards perfect gratification is stopped by an irresistible barrier. The essential nature of desire is that it actually is never gratified, but every effort at gratification leads to another and this again to another. Every attempt at gratification is at once a disappointment and the father of a new desire. To this understanding of desire, which is the last ripeness of the lower self before it falls off the tree of life, must be added another qualification, the firm steady will, which, after the conviction of the futility of desire has been fully reached, gives effect to that conviction by checking the little children of desire, as they are born in the mind and run down through emotion into action. These three worlds, the world of mind, of emotion, and of action, are the “three worlds” which are to be conquered by the neophyte, and the first, that of the mind, must be conquered first. When this is done, the outward actions of desire, robbed of their motive power, will cease of themselves; their continuation would show, not that the soul had risen above the body, of whose mere outward acts it was independent, but that the first of the three worlds, the mind where the children of desire are born, was still unconquered and unclean. The delusion that a pure soul may accompany impure action is a part of that unwisdom which brings men “again and again under the dominion of death”. Then Death speaks of the Great Beyond:
– That is not to be gained even for a hearing by many; and, hearing it, many understand it not. Wonderful is the speaker of it, blessed is the receiver; wonderful is the knower of it, blessed is the learner.
Not by a baser man is this declared; but it is to be known by much meditation. There is no way to it unless told by another, nor can it be debated by formal logic.
The comprehending of this cannot be gained by debate; but when declared by another it is dearest to a good understanding. Thou hast obtained it, for thou art steadfast in the truth, and a questioner like thee, Nachiketas, is dear to us.
That which many do not even gain for a hearing is the Voice of the Silence, the first glimmer of the inner light which shines in the soul and illumines the Great Beyond. Many who hear it understand not; they follow the “promptings of conscience” blindly and haltingly, knowing not that this is the first gleam of the light that lightens the world. “The speaker of it” is the Higher Self, which brings the light to the soul; the hearer of it is the soul which receives that light. The Higher Self is the “other that tells it”; without being told by that other, it cannot be known; but whenever the hearer is ready, the teacher is ready also; when the soul is purified and reaches out toward the light, the light will certainly appear.
– I know that what is called precious is unenduring; and by unlasting things what is lasting cannot be gained. Therefore the triple fire was chosen by me, and instead of these unenduring things I have gained what endures.
Thus saying, and having beheld the fulfilment of desire, the seat of the world, the endless fruit of sacrifice, the shore where there is no fear, great praise, and the wide-famed world, thou, Nachiketas, hast wisely passed them by.
The lasting thing which cannot be gained by the unlasting is peace, which can never come from the gratification of desire, but only from the kindling of the triple fire, the three-fold Higher Self, of Being, Bliss, and Knowledge. The words “the fulfilment of desire” refer to Death’s offer in the first part of the Upanishad. The seat of the world is the “Kingdoms of this world and the glory of them”; the fruit of sacrifice or good deeds is the rest in Devachan — the shore where there is no fear; all this, Nachiketas, understanding its unlasting character, had passed by.
– But that which is hard to see, which has entered the secret place and is hidden in secret, the mystery, the Ancient; understanding that bright one by the path of union with the Inner Self, the wise man leaves exaltation and sorrow behind.
A mortal, hearing this and understanding it, passing on to that righteous subtle one and obtaining it, rejoices, having good cause for rejoicing; and the door to it is wide open, I think, Nachiketas.
“The Mystery, the Ancient” is the Higher Self, which for the unenlightened is hidden in the secret place, the beyond, above the ordinary consciousness of the soul; it is the ancient, because the Higher Self is the power which again and again causes the incarnation of the personality through a vast series of lives, and thus, as the Ancient of Days, it is endless both backwards and forwards. It is to be found by the path of union with the Inner Self, the bridge so often spoken of in the Upanishads. This bridge, which the disciple must cross by becoming it, is really the identification of the personality with the life of the Higher Self by perfectly following its dictates and assimilating its nature; by the perfect obedience through which alone there is liberty.
A mortal learning this obedience and understanding it, and then becoming himself the path by identifying himself with the law of the path, reaches that Subtle one, where is eternal joy and not that lower exultation which is merely the opposite of grief; this exultation and grief being the two sides of the lower, personal self, while joy and peace are of the Higher Self and have no opposites; for the Higher Self is beyond the world of opposites, heat and cold, sorrow and exultation, and the rest. As the law is always waiting for obedience, the door is always open.
– What them seest to be neither the law nor lawlessness, neither what is commanded nor what is forbidden, neither what has been nor what shall be, say that it is THAT.
That resting-place which all the Vedas proclaim, and all austerities declare; seeking for which they enter the service of the eternal; that resting-place I briefly tell to thee.
It is the unchanging Eternal; it is the unchanging Supreme; having understood that eternal one, whatsoever a man wishes, that he gains. It is the excellent foundation, the supreme foundation; knowing that foundation, a man grows mighty in the eternal world.
The Higher Self is again defined as that which is free from the pairs of opposites; that which is neither the righteousness of the ritual law nor yet the unrighteousness of breach of that law; neither the performance of ritual nor its neglect; but a new life, a new yet ancient being, above the virtue and vice of the ritual law, because it dwells in the Great Beyond, while the law of ritual is, at best, for this world or for Devachan. The Higher Self is also the resting-place declared by the Vedas, because it rests above the personal life, while the personal life goes through endless alternations of birth and death; as the Higher Self, being a facet of the Infinite One, contains within itself the infinite; he who has gained it possesses all things, and therefore possesses whatever he may desire.
– The knower is never born nor dies; nor is it from anywhere, nor did anything become it. Unborn, eternal, immemorial, this ancient is not slain when the body is slain.
If the slayer thinks to slay it, if the slain thinks it is slain, neither of them understands; this slays not, nor is slain. Smaller than small, greater than great, this self is hidden in the heart of man.
He who has ceased from sacrifices and passed sorrow by, through the favor of that ordainer beholds the greatness of the Self.
Though seated, it travels far; though at rest, it goes everywhere; who but thee is worthy to know this bright one, who is joy without rejoicing?
The “knower” is again the Higher Self, which knows all things. It is the ordainer, because it is the will and power of the Higher Self which ordains the incarnations of the personality and directs the whole series, with a single purpose, from beginning to end; correcting one life and supplementing its deficiencies in those that follow. Though seated, though at rest, it travels far, from one end of the chain of births to the other; it is everywhere, in every birth, because it overshadows and ordains them all.
– Understanding this great lord, the Self, the bodiless in bodies, the unstable in stable things, the wise man cannot grieve. This Self is not to be gained by speaking of it, nor by cleverness, nor by much hearing. Whom this chooses, by him it is gained; and the Self chooses his body as its own.
He who has not ceased from evil, who is not at peace, who stands not firm, whose emotions are not at rest, cannot obtain it by understanding. Brahman and Kshattriya are its food; its anointing is death; who knows truly where it is?
This final clause reiterates the truth that through the death of the lower self, and perfect integrity, and through these only, the path to the Self can be known; that Self whose food is Brahman and Kshattriya — knowledge and power; and whose anointing comes only through the death of selfishness. When selfishness is dead, then that Self chooses the purified soul, which gradually becomes one with it, in the resting-place which all the Vedas sing.
— C.J., The Path, February 1894
The Symbolism of the Upanishads: III
The third part of the Katha Upanishad continues the teaching of Death to Nachiketas, which has already been followed through the first two parts:
– Those who know the Eternal, the five fires, and the triple flame tell of the shadow and the light entering the cave through the long age, and drinking the reward of good deeds in the world.
No better sentence for illustrating the symbolism of the Upanishads could be chosen. The first words hardly need an explanation. They need, rather, realization in the inmost recesses of the heart. But who are the knowers or practicers of the five fires? These words allude to an ancient penance, when the ascetic stood bare-headed between four fires, in the blazing heat of the Indian sun. But this penance in itself is symbolical. The five fires are the five senses, or the five powers of sensation, which make up the phenomenal, illusory world; and it is the heat of these five fires of delusion which the true ascetic must learn to withstand. The knower of the triple flame is he who knows the Higher Self, the triple Atma, or the triad Atma, Buddhi, and Higher Manas; that is, Spirit, Soul, and pure reason. What, then, are the shadow and the light that these three tell the knower of the eternal, he who withstands the five fires of sense, and he who knows the triple flame of the Higher Self? We may discern the meaning by the words which follow. The shadow and the light enter the cave, or the hidden world, and enjoy for a long age the fruit of good deeds done in the world. The shadow and the light are, therefore, the Spirit, and its vehicle the soul, which, entering into the hidden world of Devachan after death, reap the good Karma of the past life.
– Let us teach to Nachiketas what is the bridge of sacrificers, the unperishing Eternal, and the fearless shore of those who seek, to pass over.
The bridge by which the sacrificers of self pass over to the shore where there is no fear, the resting-place of the unperishing Eternal, is the link between the Higher and the lower self; it is the latent power of the lower self to rise to the Higher Self, and thus to cross over from the outer world which is its field of life to the inner world of the Higher Self.
– Know that the Self (Atma.) is the lord of the chariot; that the body (Sharira ) is the chariot; know that soul (Buddhi) is the charioteer; and that mind (Manas) is the rein.
They say that the organs (or impulses) are the horses; and the external world of objects is their road. As the self is yoked to mind and the impulses, the wise say the Self is the enjoyer. But he who is unwise, with mind not bound to the Self (that is, with lower Manas preponderant), his impulses are ungoverned, like the charioteer’s unruly horses. But he who is wise, with mind ever bound to the Self (with higher Manas preponderant), his impulses are controlled like the charioteer’s good horses.
In this simile of the chariot, Buddhi governs kama through Manas, under the inspiration of Atma. The reins are well in hand, the horses are controlled, when Manas is recipient of the light of Atma, through the mediation of Buddhi; when the lower aspires to the Higher Self. It will be remembered that in the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna is the charioteer or Buddhi.
– But who is unwise, unmindful, and ever impure, obtains not that resting-place and goal); but falls back into the world of birth and death.
But he who is wise, mindful, and ever pure, he indeed reaches a resting-place from which he is not born again.
He who has wisdom for his charioteer, keeping mind well in hand, reaches the end of the path, the supreme resting-place of the evolving power.
The impulses are higher than the senses; mind (Manas) is higher than the impulses; soul (Buddhi) is higher than mind; and the Great Self (Mahamatma) is higher than Buddhi. Higher than this Great is the Unmanifested. Higher than the Unmanifested is the Logos (Purushas). Than the Logos, none is higher; that is the prop, the Supreme Way.
The “unwise, unmindful” is again he whose lower mind (Manas) is not dominated by the Higher. For only with this domination and preponderance of the higher mind over the lower, by which the center of life passes from the lower mind dominated by desire (kama-manas) to the higher mind dominated by Spirit Soul (Atma-Buddhi-Manas) is the final goal reached; for the center of life thus leaves a temporary and unstable dwelling for one that is eternal and fixed; and thus the end of the path is reached, the supreme seat of the power which evolves the worlds.
– The hidden Self does not shine forth in all beings; but is seen by the keen and subtle soul of subtle seers.
Let the wise man restrain voice (creative power) and mind; let him restrain them by the Self which is wisdom. Let him restrain this wisdom by the Self which is great; and this let him restrain in the Self which is peace.
This is the secret of the triple Self, the three-fold Atma; its three sides are Wisdom, Power, and Peace. These correspond to the three sides of the Self, Sat, Chit, Ananda, or Being, Consciousness, and Bliss, in the classification of the later Vedantins.
Then, having taught the final secret, the bridge across to the Great Beyond, and the way to cross over, and the nature of the Self that dwells on the other side, Death bids Nachiketas:
– “Awake, arise! Having obtained thy wishes, understand them. The wise say the path is hard to traverse, like the keen edge of a razor”. Then, having won the soundless, touchless, formless, unfading, the everlasting, that has neither taste nor smell, the beginningless, endless Eternal, that is beyond the Great, he is released from the mouth of Death.
And the Initiation is ended; the lesson of death is learned. The Upanishad concludes:
– This is the immemorial teaching declared by Death to Nachiketas. Declaring and hearing it, the wise grows great in the world of the Eternal. He who causes this supreme secret to be heard in the assembly of those who seek the Eternal, or at the time of the union with those who have gone forth builds for everlastingness; he builds for everlastingness.
A last word as to the meaning of this “union with those who have gone forth”. The Sanskrit word used is Shraddha, the yearly sacrifice to the spirits of ancestors in the ascending line; when the sacrificer is united in spirit to his forefathers in the other world. But the inner meaning is that union with spiritual ancestors in the ascending Guru parampara chain which is described in the last chapter of the “Idyll of the White Lotus”. This union with the spirit of the Great Ones who have gone be fore is the Great Initiation, the theme of the “immemorial teaching of Death”.
— C.J., The Path, March 1894
Studies in the Upanishads: I
[BY A STUDENT]
Many American theosophists are asking, “What are the Upanishads?” They are a portion of the ancient Aryan literature which this journal has set itself to help lay before theosophists of America, to the end that whatever in them is good and true may be brought out. As Max Muller says, hitherto the Upanishads have not received at the hands of Sanskrit and oriental scholars, that treatment which in the eyes of philosophers and theologians they seem so fully to deserve. He also calls them “ancient theosophic treatises” and declares that his real love for Sanskrit literature was first kindled by them. 1 They have received no treatment at all in the United States, because they are almost absolutely unknown in the original tongue in this country, and in translations, have been but little studied here. Europe and America differ in this, that while in England and Germany nearly all such study is confined to the book-worm or the theologian, here there is such a general diffusion of pretty fair education in the people, that the study of these books, as translated, may be made popular, a thing which in Europe is perhaps impossible.
Muller returned to the study of the Upanishads after a period of thirty years, during which he had devoted himself to the hymns and Brahmanas of the Vedas, and found his interest in them undiminished. As for the period of these treatises, he says that has been fixed provisionally, at about 800 B. C.
The word means “secret charm,” “philosophical doctrine;” and more strictly, “to sit down near.” Hindu theologians say the Upanishads belong to revealed religion in opposition to that which is traditional. In the opinion of our friend Muller, to whom all western students must ever remain grateful no matter how much they may disagree with his views as to the Yedas being the lispings of baby man, “the earliest of these philosophical treatises will always maintain a place in the literature of the world, among the most astounding productions of the human mind in any age and in any country.” 2
Professor Weber placed the number of Upanishads at 235; 3 in 1865 Muller put them at 149, and others added to that number, so that even today the actual figures are not known. Indeed it is held by several Orientalists, that before they assumed their present form, a large mass of traditional Upanishads must have existed.
The meaning of the word which ought to be borne most in mind is, “secret knowledge, or true knowledge” although there may be a Upanishad or secret knowledge, which is false.
In the Chandogya Upanishad (I, I,) after describing the deeper meaning of OM. it is said that the sacrifice which a man performs with knowledge, with faith, and with the Upanishad, i.e., with an understanding of the secret charm, or underlying principles and effects, is more powerful than when with faith, the only knowledge possessed is of the rites themselves, their origin and regularity. The sacrifice referred to is, not alone the one offered on the altar in the temple, but that daily sacrifice which every breath and every thought, brings about in ourselves.
THE MUNDAKA UPANISHAD
This is in the Atharva Veda. Although it has the form of a mantra, it is not to be used in the sacrifices, as its sole object is to teach the highest knowledge, the knowledge of Brahman, which cannot be obtained by either worship or sacrifices. Offerings to the Gods, in no matter what mode or church, restraining of the breath, penances, or cultivation of the pychic senses, will not lead to the true knowledge. Yet some works have to be performed, and many persons require works, sacrifices and penances as stepping stones to a higher life. In the progress of these works and sacrificial performances, errors are gradually discovered by the individual himself. He can then remove them. So the Hindu commentators have explained the title of this Upanishad as the “shaving” one. That is, it cuts off the errors of the mind like a razor. It is said by European scholars that the title has not yet been explained. This may be quite correct for them, but it is very certain the Hindu explanation appears to the Hindu mind to be a very good one. Let us proceed.
This means first shaving, or beginning of the process for removing error. It may be considered as a division equivalent to “first title,” after which follow the lesser divisions, as: First Khanda.
“1. Brahma was the first of the Devas, the maker of the universe, the preserver of the world. He told the knowledge of Brahman, the foundation of all knowledge, to his eldest son Atharva.”
Here at once should be noted, that although in Hindu theology we find Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, as the creator, preserver and destroyer, forming the Trinity, the Upanishad now before us — for cutting away error — has not such a division. It says Brahma is first, also the maker and the preserver. Even knowledge that is true for certain stages of development becomes error when we rise up into the higher plane and desire to know the true. Similarly we find Buddha in his congregation teaching his disciples by means of the “three vehicles,” but when he had raised them to the higher plane, he informed them that these vehicles might be discarded and sat or truth be approached through one vehicle.
The knowledge here spoken of is Brahman knowledge which is the supreme vehicle.
“2. Whatever Brahma told Atharvan that knowledge Atharvan told to Angir, he told it to Satyavaha Bharadvaga, and he in succession told it to Angiras. “3. Sannaka, the great householder, approached Angiras respectfully and asked ‘Sir, what is that through which if it is known, everything else becomes known?’ “4. He said to him: ‘Two kinds of knowledge must be known, this is what all who know Brahman tell us, the higher and the lower knowledge.’ “5. ‘The lower knowledge is the Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda, Atharva-Veda, Phonetics, Ceremonial, Grammar, Etymology, Metre and Astronomy; but the higher knowledge is that by which the Indestructible (Brahma) is apprehended. “6. ‘That which cannot be seen nor seized, which has no origin and is without qualities, no eyes nor ears, no hands nor feet, the eternal, the all pervading, infinitesimal, that which is imperishable, that is what is regarded by the wise as the source of all beings. “7. ‘As the spider sends forth and draws in its thread, as plants grow on the earth, as from every man hairs spring forth on the head and the body, thus does everything arise here from the Indestructible. “8. ‘The Brahman swells by means of meditation; hence is produced matter; from matter mind, breath and intellect, the seven worlds, and from the works performed by men in the worlds, the eternal effects, rewards and punishment of works. “9. ‘From Him who perceives all and who knows all, whose meditation consists of knowledge, from that highest Brahman is born that other Hiranyagarbha — name, form, and matter.'”
This Khanda unfolds broadly the whole philosophy. The following ones go into particulars. It is very easy here to see that the imperishable doctrine could not be communicated directly by the Great Brahma to man, but it has to be filtered down through various channels. The communicator of it to mortals, however, would be regarded by his finite auditors as a god. The same method is observable in the Bhagavad-Gita (ch. IV) where Krishna says to Arjuna that “this never failing doctrine I formerly taught unto Vivaswat and he to Manu, who told it to Ikswaku, succeeding whom came the Rajarshis who studied it.” Manu is regarded as of a wholly Divine nature although not the Great Brahm.
Now, when Angiras, as detailed in the Upanishad, had received this higher knowledge, he was approached by a great householder, by name Saunaka. This has reference to an ancient mode of life in India when Saunaka would be called a grihastha, or one who was performing all his duties to his family, his tribe, and his nation while still in the world. All the while, however, he studied the knowledge of Brahman, so that when the proper time came for him to give up those duties of life, he could either die or retire to solitude. It was not considered then to be a virtue for one to violently sever all ties and assume the garb and life of a mendicant devoted to religious contemplation, but the better way was thought to be that one which resulted in our, so to speak, consuming all the Karma of our family in ourselves. Otherwise it would inevitably result that if he retired with many duties unfulfilled, they waited, figuratively speaking, for him, sure to attach to him in a succeeding incarnation and to work him either injury or obstruction. So it was thought better to work out all such results in the present life as far as possible.
We find here also a foreshadowing of some ideas held by the Greek philosophers. In the third verse, the question is asked: “What is that through which when it is known, the knower thereof knows everything else.” Some of the Greeks said that we must first ascend to the general, from which descent to the particular is easy. Such, however, is directly opposite to the modern method, which delights in going from particulars to generals, from effects to causes. The true knowledge proceeds as shown in the Upanishad. By endeavoring to attain to the Universal Soul of all, the knowledge of the particular parts may be gained. This is not easy, but it is easy to try. At the same time do not forsake modern methods altogether, which correspond to the lower knowledge spoken of in Verse 5. Therefore Angiras says: Two kinds of knowledge, the lower and the higher, must be known.
Here and there are persons who seem not to need the lower knowledge, who pay no attention to it, and who apprehend the higher flights impossible for others. This is what is known as the result of past births. In previous incarnations these persons studied upon all the lower planes so that their spiritual perceptions do not now need that help and training which the lower knowledge gives to others. They are approaching that state which is beautifully described by Longfellow in his “Rain in Summer,” in these words: —
“Thus the seer,
With vision clear,
Sees forms appear and disappear,
In the perpetual round of strange,
From birth to death, from death to birth;
From earth to heaven, from heaven to earth:
‘Till glimpses more sublime,
Of things unseen before,
Unto his wondering eyes reveal
The Universe, as an immeasurable wheel
In the rapid and rushing river of Time.”
(To be continued)
1. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. I. lxv.
2. Sacred Books, &c., Vol. I, lxvii.
3. Hist. of Sans. Lit., p. 155, note.
— The Path, May 1886
Studies In The Upanishads: II
(Continued from May number)
Longfellow, in the lines last quoted, symbolized the Universe by an immeasurable wheel forever turning in the stream of time. Allowing for the western habit of studying effects and not causes, this is a fair simile. Yet it is faulty in that it presupposes two co-existing eternities; the wheel of the Universe, and the stream in which it turns. There can be but one eternity,
Saunaka asks in this Upanishad a natural question, propounded by nearly every thinking man, especially by students of occultism who are continually seeking a royal road to the accomplishment of their objects. He wishes to be told what may be the great solvent of all knowledge. The reply of Angiras points out two great roads, which include all the others. The lower road is the one of hard work for countless births, during which we acquire knowledge slowly in all directions, and, of course, when that is possessed, one rises to the higher road.
This is the true initiation, nature, so to speak, acting as the initiator. In replying to Saunaka, Angiras did not mean to be understood, that a man could in one birth pass over the lower road, but that the progress of a human monad toward perfection proceeded in a certain fixed manner which included all experiences. Of course if we say that we appear on the earth once only, and then disappear from it, to the place called by the spiritualists of America, “the summer land,” and by the Christian, “heaven,” there is no need for one to acquire the lower knowledge, for that might be obtained in the life after death. But we regard it as true that the spirit, in order to acquire complete knowledge, must inhabit a human form, and one term of tenancy in such a form will not be enough for the testing of the countless varieties of life, of temptation, of triumph, failure and success.
The sage Angiras in this Upanishad looks at man from the standpoint of one who can see the great stream of life which flows through the eternal plain, and therefore he could not have meant to apply his words to one incarnation, but to the whole series through which man has to pass until he reaches “immortal, blest nirvana.”
In the journey along this road we will encounter great differences in the powers of our fellow travellers. Some go haltingly and others quickly; some with eyes bent on the ground, a few with gaze fixed on the great goal. Those who halt or look down will not reach the end because they refuse to take the assistance to be found in the constant aspiration to the light. But we are not to blame them: they have not yet been often enough initiated to understand their error. Nature is kind and will wait for them much longer than their human fellows would if they were permitted to be their judges. This ought to give us a lesson in charity, in universal brotherhood. Very often we meet those who show an utter inability to appreciate some spiritual ideas which we quite understand. It is because they have not, so far, been able to transmute into a part of themselves, that which we have been so fortunate as to become possessed of, and so they seem devoted to things that to us appear to be of small value.
The Bhagavad-Gita says that there is no detriment or loss to one’s efforts in any direction, be it good or bad; that is, in going through these countless incarnations, all inquiry, every sort of investigation, no matter even if it seems at the close of any one life that the life was wasted, is so much energy and experience stored up. For although, in the course of one existence, physical energy is expended, there is, all the while, a storing up of spiritual energy which is again a power in the next succeeding life.
In consequence of the modern, western system of education, we are apt constantly to forget the existence of the great force and value belonging to our super-sensuous consciousness. That consciousness is the great register where we record the real results of our various earthly experiences; in it we store up the spiritual energy, and once stored there, it becomes immortal, our own eternal possession. The question then will be asked: “How is one to store up such spiritual energy: do we do it unconsciously, and how are we to know that any has been stored up?” It is to be done by trying to know and to act truth; by “living in the eternal,” as Light on the Path directs. To live thus in the eternal, does not mean that we shall abandon the cares and struggles of live, for so surely as we do we must suffer, but that we should try to make the real self direct its aspirations ever to the eternal truth.
This series of births is absolutely necessary, so that the “lower knowledge” can be acquired; and just so long as we do not acquire that, we must be reborn. Here and there will occur exceptions to this rule, in those great souls who with “an astonishing violence,” leap beyond and over all barriers, and by getting the higher knowledge, become at the same time, possessors of the lower knowledge also.
In the Chaldean Oracles such souls are thus described: “More robust souls perceive truth through themselves, and are of a more inventive nature,” and by Proklus in I Alkibiad: “such a soul being saved, according to the oracle, through its own strength.” But even this rapid progress must be regarded as comparative, for even these “robust souls,” had to go through certain incarnations in which they were accumulating to themselves that very strength and ability to outstrip their fellows which, later on, placed them in the front rank.
In consequence of our ignorance of what we really are, not knowing at the time we begin the struggle in this present life whether the real man inside has passed through incarnations full of this necessary experience or not, we must not, because of the fancied importance we give ourselves, neglect the lower knowledge. There are many pitfalls besetting the road. Perchance we feel a certain degree of illumination, or we are able to see or hear in the astral world, and at once the temptation presents itself to claim to ourselves a spiritual greatness not our own. The possession of such astral acuteness is not high spirituality per se, for one might be able, as Buddha declares in the Saddharma-Pundarika, to smell the extraordinary odors arising in ten points of space which are not perceived by ordinary people, or to hear the innumerable and strange voices, sounds, bells, discords and harmonies produced by the whole host of unknown and unseen spirits of the earth, air, water and fire, and still be altogether devoid of spirituality. If we let ourselves then, be carried away by this, it is only a form of pride that precedes a severe fall. Being carried away with it, is at once a proof that we are not master, but are mastered by what is merely a novel experience.
But if we wisely and carefully test all experience, being willing to descend low enough to learn and study so that the instrument may be tuned and perfected, we may avoid the pitfalls, or be able to cross them should they be inevitable, whereas if we are deluded by supposed self-illumination, and run after that to the exclusion of all study, we will perhaps, enjoy a period of excitement and of self-satisfaction, but it will end, and the end will be bitter. As Buddha says: “He who ignores the rotation of mundane existences, has no perception of blessed rest.”
The very fact that a man is in the world and has a continual fight with his passions and inclinations, proves that he is not yet in any condition to leave it. And of even the very far advanced, it was said by those who were near the time of the Upanishads:
“The disciple who by his discrimination has escaped from the triple world, thinks he has reached pure, blessed nirvana; but it is only by knowing all the laws of the lower world, and the universal laws as well, that the immortal, pure, blest nirvana is readied. There is no real nirvana without all-knowingness; try to reach this.”
— The Path, July 1886
Upanishads on Re-Birth
Hence one whose fire is burned out is reborn through the tendencies in ind; according to his thoughts he enters life. But linked by the fire with the Self, this life leads to a world of recompense. – Prashna Upanishad.
Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return. – Genesis
The above quotation from Prashna Upanishad gives the old doctrine, the same as in Buddhism, that re-birth is due to mind and to the tendencies therein. “Whose fire has burned out” means the fire of life expiring. “According to his thoughts” does not refer to what one wishes to have for rebirth, but to the seeds of thought left in the mind from the thinking of each hour of life; these in a mass make a tendency or many tendencies which on coming out either keep the soul to that family in all modes of thought and act or tend to segregate the soul from the circle into which it was born. “This life leads to a world of recompense”, because by the fire of life it is linked to the Self, which being thus bound goes after death to the state where recompense is its portion. The alternation to and fro from one state to another for purposes of compensation is not the attainment of knowledge but the subjection to results eternally, unless the soul strives to find the truth and becomes free, and ceases to set up causes for future births. A Jewish tradition says that Adam had to reincarnate as David and later as the Messiah; hence “to dust thou shalt return”.
— The Path, February 1894
Hindu Symbolism: I
The student of Hindu metaphysical religious philosophy, will find most of its important formulations, veiled under a mystical symbolism; to understand which, is a key to the hints in the Upanishads and other esoteric writings.
We propose to give those interested, a series of illustrations from Hindu drawings with descriptions; in the latter, our study of the Kabbalah has been of great assistance.
The figure is a symbolical representation of Brahman (neuter) intwined in Itself. 1 It is the highest deity of the Hindus, the principle of the universe; the representation is, of It, at the immediate instant of Its revealing Itself in the emanation of the universe, and before Its entrance into any kind of matter and before Its self renunciation. It symbolises the God — dawn between the pauses of emanative creation, its preservation, and the dissolution of created forms. Wrapped in Its cloak-sphere, Brahman conducts Its toe into Its mouth, perhaps to make, an eternal circle of Itself, perhaps to signify the union of the linga and yoni, perhaps to indicate the retrogression of Itself into Itself, or may be the eternity and unfathomableness of Its nature, plunged in the contemplation of Its own essence. Compare with this the great figure of Neith or Typhe, the Heaven goddess of the Egyptian Zodiac of Dendera. Brahman (neuter) or Para-brahma, i.e. the Great Brahma, as an unrevealed deity, has neither temple or image in India. It is in effect considered in Itself without form or figure, but exteriorly It manifests Itself in many figures and symbols. It is the unit and the multiplied in all, at the same instant, smaller than an atom, it is greater than the whole universe, which cannot contain it, and is ineffable and inexpressible in Its essence. The ancient Hindus say of it in the Vedas: — “Brahman is eternal, the being above all others, revealing Itself in felicity and joy. The universe is Its name, Its image, but that first existence, which contains all in Itself, is the soul really existing. All the phenomena have their cause in Brahman, It is not limited by time or space, is imperishable, is the soul of the world and of each particular existence.” * * * “That universe is Brahman, it comes from Brahman, exists in Brahman, and it will return to Brahman.”
“Brahman, the Being existing in Itself, is the form of all wisdom and of all the worlds without end. All the worlds are made only one with It, because they are through Its Will. That eternal Will is innate in all things. It reveals Itself in the emanation (or creation), in the preservation, and in the destruction (which is also a re-creation), and in the movements and forms, of Time and Space.” The Atharva-Veda says: — “All the gods are in (Brahman) as cows in a cow-house. In the beginning Brahman was this (universe). It created gods. Having created gods, It placed them in these worlds, viz: Agni in this world, Vayu in the atmosphere, and Surya in the sky. 2 And in the worlds which are yet higher, It placed the gods which are still higher. Then Brahman proceeded to the higher sphere.” This is explained by a commentator to be Satyaloka, 3 the most excellent limit of all the worlds. In the “Taitteriya Brahmana” it is; “Brahman generated the gods, Brahman (generated or emanated) this entire world. Within It are all these worlds. Within It is the entire universe. It is Brahman who is the greatest of beings. Who can vie with It.” Brahman (neuter) is the only real eternal true essence; when It passes in to actual manifested existence It is called Brahma; when It develops Itself in the universe It is called Vishnu, and when It again dissolves Itself into simple being, It is called Siva; all the other deities are only symbols or manifestations of the eternal neuter Brahman. 4
The Vishnu Purana says: “Glory to Brahman, who is addressed by that mystic word AUM, 5 who is associated eternally with the triple universe (heaven, sky, earth), and who is one with the four Vedas. Glory to Brahman, who both in the destruction and renovation of the universe is called the great and mysterious cause of the intellectual principle, who is without limit in time or space, and exempt from diminution and decay, etc. To that supreme Brahman be for ever adoration.”
In its highest development, the doctrine of the Vedas is a rational and philosophical pantheism, combined with the most ideal, pure, and absolute monotheism, that the mind can conceive. The doctrines as to Brahman (neuter) in their higher conceptions, arc similar in many respects to the exalted ideas as to the Ain Soph or Non Ego, of the Kabbalah.
Brahman, the Eternal, in Itself, Being, goes out of Its profundity in Its eternity, to emanate the universe of all the things, and undeniably establishes that great law of production, through the opposition and yet a harmonious blending, as to which, all nature offers everywhere a similitude, evidence, and image. Its first emanation is the creating energy, force or potentiality, which manifests Itself in Time, the mother and the matrix of the existences, that is the Sakti, Para Sakti or Maya, the first virgin and first female or plasticity, containing all in germ, symbolized by the Yoni. Its spouse, the spiritualizing, the man-type, is symbolized by the Lingam.
1. Taken from the Glauben, Wissen und Kunst der alten Hindus, etc., von Niklas Muller, Erster Band, Mainz, 1822.
2. Fire, Aether, Light.
3. Satya-Loka, the place, world, or region of Truth. — [Ed.]
4. See Indian Wisdom by Monier Williams, p. 12
5. This occurs at the beginning of prayers, etc., as our word AMeN occurs at the end. It is so sacred that none must hear it pronounced. Originally its three letters typified the three Vedas, afterwards it became a mystical symbol of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva in unity; See further as to AUM supra.
— Isaac Myer, The Path, October 1886
Hindu Symbolism: II
This figure represents Brahma-Maya or Mahat-Maya, Brahma Viraj, or the great Illusion.
The androgene or male-female, the Great Appearance, the first revelation of the Being or Brahman (neuter), under the form of the double-sexed first emanation. The neuter, became male and female, by separation into the male, positive, forming the spiritual — the entities or the noumena, and his sakti or female, the negative, or plastic, matter, the illusionary or phenomenal existence. The sakti, is his developing energy, force or potentiality. This symbol, the divine type of the first male and female, which can be compared with the terrestrial Adam before the final separation of Eve, is really in consonance with this Adam’s perfect ideal, the Adam Kadmon or Heavenly Adam of the Kabbalah. The Brahma-half is on the right side, the good side, man’s, the Maya-half is on the left, the evil side, the woman’s. So according to the Hebrew sacred writings, through Eve the woman, evil was brought into the world. Compare with this the Greek myth of Pandora. Issuing from the linga-yoni is the pearl chain, or connected circle of the existences, looked upon as united atoms, and the symbol of all the existing. It is held up by the hand on the male side.
Brahman (neuter), appears here as manifested in the male in union with the female sakti, of the preformatory imagination, as the nine creative monarch and Pearl King, richly decorated with the circles of the soul-monads and atoms. On his head is the world egg cap. The veil of the existences, upon which are woven the ideas or models of the to-be-emanated existences, flows from the linga-yoni to the highest part of the head and thence down the right side. He as the male, has a tendency to twist himself upon himself and his face bears the stamp of deep meditation. The aureole of fire is on the male side and from it scintillate sparks upon the veil of Maya. On the Maya side, the attitude is that of joy or dancing; the hand raised as if in play, holds up the veil, bells are hanging on her robe and singularly the Egyptian hieroglyphic for the water of life is shown; while the bust is developed. Portrayed upon the veil are the prototypes of the creatures. Compare the symbolism of the girdle of Aphrodite and that of Venus.
As the double spouse of Brahman (neuter) considered apart and in opposition to It. The Brahma-Maya is the life in nature, of which, Brahman (neuter) is the soul. The Brahma-Maya is that blind energy and force, potential and powerful, and eternally fecund, which is incessantly producing under forms which are without cessation renewed; and which is adored in India to-day, as the Great Mother, the Universal Mother, in other words all nature deified. Maya is the mother of Love or Desire, the first principle or affinity of all affection, creation, matter. She is even matter itself, but the primitive subtile matter co-existing with God (Brahman, neuter) from all eternity, contained in It, and symbolized by the three colors, red, white, black; the three qualities or powers of creation, preservation and destruction, consequently the Trimurti, and also the three gunas (qualities), Truth, Action, and Indifference, of the Bhagavad Gita. 1 It is Maya, who through the attraction of her beauty, causes the Most High, from the bosom of Its ineffable profoundity, forgetting Itself, to unite Itself, in the intoxication of desire with that divine enchantress.
The mysterious veil, which she had woven with her hands, received entirely from both, and the thought of the Eternal Almighty became fecundated, and fell into Time. The innumerable forms of the creatures, represent the perfect ideals woven upon the magic tissue, the woven warp and woof of all existence, with which veil Maya 2 envelops her spouse and
causes the recurrence of the gift of life.
1. These three qualities are explained by Krishna in the Bhagavadgita, as Satwa good or inactive being purely spiritual; Rajas bad and active; and Tamas inactive or indifferent and bad. They exist in every human mind and are mingled in greater or less proportions at all times, according to the individual and also according to his varying circumstances. His teaching in regard to the Tamo guna is the same as that taught in the Christian Bible, for he says that for the indifferent man there is no salvation — he is as it were “ejected like a broken cloud;” and in I James v, 6, 7, the doubting man is declared incapable of obtaining anything, while in Rev. iii, 16, the Laodiceans are accused of being neither cold nor hot, that is of being indifferent, and they are condemned to be “spewed out of the mouth,” which is the same as the fate described as awaiting those in whom indifference predominates, Krishna declaring that they become more and more deluded at each succeeding generation until at last they reach the lowest round of the ladder in the shape of primordial matter. The difference between the two schools is, that Krishna’s allows the doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma, while the modern Christians, blind to their own Bible, reject these supremely important laws, or rather ignore them as yet. [Ed.]
2. Maya is the Sanskrit for illusion. [Ed.]
— Isaac Myer, The Path, November 1886
Hindu Symbolism: III
This figure represents the Mystic Brahma espousals with Parasakti. The latter is the divine principle of intellectual emanative potentiality or energy, and the ideal of archetypal womanhood. The Sakti is conceived of as the female part of the energy of Brahma’s intellectual, creative power and creative wisdom. Brahma is here the true Para-Brahma, and Para-Sakti a true Para-sarasvadi. The sexless in Brahman (neuter) is here transmuted into the male or energizing power, as the principal symbolic type of the divine emanative, yet immanent, creative power, as the masculine principle of the ideal or Great Androgynic Man or the Makrokosm; and the flaming Sun is here depicted as the flaming sun-face, representative of the male-active deity, also called Purusha. The Sakti or Para-Sakti, the fructifying energy and potentiality of Brahman’s wisdom, wears upon her head a bright fire-flaming crown or nimbus.
The veil surrounding them, is the mystic veil produced by the ideation of the eternal thought of the eternal Mind. In the left hand of the sun-figure on the first finger, is carried a bird or perhaps a dove, which is intended to symbolize the flight of the ideal creation from the eternal Mind before the appearance of that which appears to us to be the real world. In the right hand he holds the end of the mystic veil. On the head of Maya — the woman — is the world-egg cap. Below, in the shadow of the spherical cloak of the God-dawn, is seen the world-egg surrounded by the spiritualizing Ananda the snake of eternity, which as if asleep and inactive, is suspended around the egg.
In India the principal general symbols are fire and water, sun and moon, man and woman, bull and cow, the linga and yoni, the lotus and the sacred fig (ficus indica). The lotus is formed of red, white and blue colors; blue is considered the same as black.
— Isaac Myer, The Path, February 1887
Hindu Symbolism: IV
AUM symbolized as in unison with the attributes of the Trimurti, as the symbolic foundation of the elementary universe. This has a certain connection with figures Nos. 1 and 2 and 3.
The idea is to represent the mystic body of Brahman (neuter) and the ideal type of the Trimurti. The representation is of a four-handed cloud picture. A wreath of clouds forms the outline of the head which is without any tiara. Two suns indicate the eyes without lids, always open. This symbolism is also found in the Hebrew books, e.g. the Zohar. The nose and eyebrows are formed by a palm tree divided on the top, in the centre. This tree was considered as androgynous. The mouth is merely an opening in the clouds; from it emanate, four principal rays, the four-worlds of the Kabbalah. AUM is winged, Brahman (neuter) is not, for the latter is also AUM — Prana, the breath of the highest life and mystic carrier of the Will of Brahman (neuter). AUM is the bird of the Brahman Desire or Wish.
The four hands of AUM are holding the archetypes of the four elements, fire, water, air, earth, in their height and depth. The lower are supporting the Himalayan Mountains, the mountains of the gods. From which comes the German Himmel i.e., Heaven. The linga yoni is shown as the symbol of all the creative and emanative powers which lie in the mystic cloud garment of AUM. In this figure are nearly all the principal symbols of the Brahmanical religious metaphysics.
The bond which unites Prakriti to Brahman (neuter) is Prana, the subtile body of Brahman, the form of the Being, the divine breath, the principle of the organism, the respiration so to say, of the Deity; in Sanskrit it also means “breath of man,” more correctly it is AUM, the first form of the creator, the Sun engendered before Time, the first Word (the Logos) which went from Its mouth, the ‘Hokhmah or Wisdom of the Kabbalah, when It prepared its work, the creative Word. Prana and AUM are confounded in Maya, and as it, they have formed the Cow. AUM is the son of Maya as he is the son of Brahman (neuter), because Maya is Brahman. AUM is the first born Word or Logos of the Deity, the Memrah of the Jews, the Honover of the Persians, the origin of the Vedas. It has revealed and manifested all the emanated things, the so-called creation. It appeared before all things, and contains all qualities, all the elements, and is the name and body of Brahman (neuter), and consequently as infinite as It. The Will, Desire, Word is the master architect and creator of all the things. Brahma meditating upon the divine Word, therein found the primitive water, the common bond of all the creatures, the primitive fire, and the Trimurti of the Vedas, also the worlds and universal harmony of all the things. The image of AUM is the Cow, which is also a symbol of the universe. The universe was concealed and at first was hidden under the waters, and the waters were in Atma. These waters are those without any shores, all that which exists is water, and the water and AUM make but one; these primitive waters are the sea of Maya, the celestial ocean of all existence.
There are to be found further in this symbolical picture many other suggestions flowing from the Ancient Aryan or Hindu system. That system is believed to contain in germ all the others which have since arisen, as: the Hermetic, the Jewish, the Christian and others. Space, however, forbids a more extended explanation at present, and the student is recommended to study the four which have appeared in this magazine.
— Isaac Myer, The Path, March 1887
Some Hindu Legends
A ROMANCE OF SITA.
Perhaps in the whole range of moral allegories which honeycomb the ethical and religious literature of Hindustan there is nothing more elevating, more inspiring to the mind of the Hindu than the narrative of the recovery of Sita from the hands of the giant Ravanna, by Rama, as an incarnation of Vishnu the Deity Absolute.
It is said that in one of her past lives Sita was the only daughter of the great Rishi (Sage) Bhrigu, and then went by the name of Bhargavi. She passed the prime of her life in stern asceticism with a view to obtaining complete union with the Deity in her next incarnation. One day while she was walking alone in the forests, Ravanna the giant king of Lanka, (Ceylon), of the ancient race of giants mentioned in the Secret Doctrine, came upon her, and was so much ravished by her enchanting beauty that he wanted to make her his bride.
At this proposal Sita was so incensed that she, there and then, prepared a pyre into which she threw herself, uttering an indelible curse upon the giant that during his whole lifetime, which covered 150,000 years, he would not be able to touch a single woman, a curse which was literally fulfilled.
Bhargavi’s curse worked itself out in a most wonderful manner.
Centuries upon centuries rolled away, and the giant Ravanna, the most long-lived of God’s creatures, still ruled Lanka with an iron hand.
Lapped by the limpid waters of a lake in Southern India, there stood in its very midst a Lotus-flower whose sun-kissed bosom bore the noble form of a gentle being of angelic innocence. It was the daughter of Bhrigu come to life again in this strange watery cradle. A couple of fishermen who had been one morning angling on the margin of the lake brought the Lotus out. Admiring the glorious image of the sleeper inside, they took it to their King Ravanna, the monster who had cost Sita her life in her last incarnation. Astonished at the infant so peacefully reclining on the Lotus, the King called his soothsayers and asked them, as is customary with the Hindus, to consult the stars about the future of that mysterious being. On being informed that the girl was destined to bring ruin and desolation on him and his kingdom, Ravanna ordered that she be shut up in an air-tight box and drowned in the deep sea.
The future Sita remained for years a sojourner of the sea, till one day the furious waves washed the box ashore. The sands covered it and kept it long unseen by human eyes. Janaka, the king of Videhnagar, one morning, intent upon performing a sacrifice to the gods (yagna), came to the sea-shore with his retinue of priests and courtiers. In yagna it is very necessary that the ground should be consecrated before the ceremony. When the beach was being made ready, the share of a plough that was uplifting the ground struck against a hard substance, which being dug out turned out to be the well-secured box holding the woman who was to bring about the downfall of the house of Ravanna. Delighted with this acquisition, considered to be a god-send for his life, Janaka took the child home and brought her up as his own daughter. From her foster-father Janaka she received the patronymic Janaki. She was called Sita because she was first brought to light by a plough whose Sanskrit equivalent is Sita.
Valmiki relates that she was afterwards married to Rama, an incarnation of the Deity, was carried off to Lanka by Ravanna, and there kept by him in captivity. Rama then pursued the enemy to the Southern shore of India, and was helped by the monkey god, Hanuman, who made war with him against the giant, calling to his aid the elemental forces of Nature. Here Hanuman represents not only the ancient ape-like men of the early races, but also the elementals of all degrees of power. The armies arrived at Lanka, beseiged the place, and finally overthrew the giant, recovering Sita. In other words, the new cycle and the new race overcame the old and took their place.
VALMIKI, THE WRITER OF RAMAYANA.
In one of the wilds of India, a Brahmin youth of obscure parentage in a vagabond company used to waylay travelers, and lead a life remarkable for its lawlessness and avarice. For years the boy trafficked in unrighteousness, till one fine summer morning Narada, the messenger of the gods, the Mercury of the Aryans, with his tuneful lute ( Vina) hymning forth praises to Vishnu to kill the tedium of his march, came upon the brigand so early up for his daily human hunt. On being threatened with his life Narada remonstrated with the brigand to spare it, as his death would not give him any money, and asked the chief motive which led him to commit such crimes. On being told that he had a large family to maintain, which, as he could not do by fair means, he had to fall upon foul ones to keep them well fed and clothed, Narada begged him hard, before being put to the sword, to run to his own house and ask his wife and children, for whose sake he was heaping sins on his own head, if any one amongst them was willing to exchange with him the penalty of hanging which was inevitably destined for him at no distant date. Utterly dejected and downcast did the Brahmin return to Narada and complained most bitterly to him of the ingratitude of his own kith and kin for whom he had dipped his hands so deep in blood, since they cared not for him to desist though he should die. He fell upon his knees and requested the divine messenger to save his soul. Taking pity on his abandoned plight, Narada told him to sit under a banyan tree hard by and mutter incessantly the word MARA.
In the Canarese language this word means “a tree”, and the illiterate youth, who had never heard the name of God until now, very soon, by repeated anagrams, began to pronounce Rama, Rama, the name of the Deity amongst the Hindus. For a thousand years, the legend runs, the Brahmin in his yoga trance kept the word Rama ceaselessly on his lips, at the end of which Narada once more happened to pass that very way, and found in his would-be murderer a regenerated ascetic whose body was altogether enveloped with white ants, Nearing him he recalled him from his trance and gave him the name of Valmiki, or he whose body was covered with Valmik or white ants. Inspired by him this Valmiki, the former highwayman, wrote that glorious monument of human genius held so sacred by the Hindus, the Ramayana, in which he recounts the love of God towards man, and how He tries to alleviate the sufferings and woes of Humanity.
Among other things the story is intended to show how the soul even of the most abandoned may be swayed, and how an impulse in the direction of a better life will lead to good Karma. The sage, whether appearing as Narada or not, knows how to touch the chord that shall vibrate so strongly as to change a life, as in this case he appealed to the bandit on a point that would show him how ungrateful were those for whom he did evil. And so, too, only by previous good Karma could this youth have met a benefactor in that life; thus all along the road we meet those who help us and those whom we must help. As we do not recognize them, the only way is to help everybody.
THE MUNGALGIRI TEMPLE.
About six miles from the town of Bezwada, the ancient Vijayawada so famous for the religious austerities of Nijaya or Arjuna, there is a high mountain called Mungalgiri. On the top there is a very celebrated temple whose chief wonder is that near its “Holy of the Holies” there is a small opening known as Narsihma Vakira, or the mouth of the God Narsimah, the Fourth Avatar of Vishnu. The votaries who come to the shrine are in the habit of bringing a potful of jaggery mixed with water, as a libation to the god. The contents are emptied by means of a conch shell into the small orifice just mentioned. Only just half of what is offered is taken in; the other half, even if poured, is not received, but thrown out as often as the conch throws it in. This is considered as a token of love and regard of the Deity towards helpless Humanity.
There is a perpendicular crevice in the same mount which is supposed to communicate with the Patala — known as the nether world by some and in Secret Doctrine identified with America.
In the Kreta Yuga this mountain was called Muktadari, or the Mount of Salvation; in the Treta Yuga, Jotadari, or the Mount of Protection; in Dwapara, Niladari, or the Blue Mount; and in Kali, the present age, it is known as Mungalgiri, or the Auspicious Mount.
The spire over the temple is some 1,320 feet high, and was built by a Raja named Venkatradari at a cost of 400,000 rupees in order to expiate the crime of murdering some robbers whom he had invited to his house really for that purpose but on the ostensible plea of hospitality.
India is a land of mysteries truly, but although many of these folk tales arise out of natural phenomena, they show the deeply-seated religious feeling of the race. Religion there enters indeed into everything. But these tales are not despicable, for many great writers of authority know that under the folk tales of all nations are concealed truths hidden from the materialist’s gaze. Oil on the sea to still it was long held a superstition, but now nearly every well appointed ocean vessel is equipped with oil-bags to accomplish this end in accord with ancient “superstition”.
— J.S., The Path, March 1892
The Kali Yuga in Hindu Chronology
Several weeks ago a communication was read at a regular meeting of this Branch, in which some references to the Kali Yuga were quoted from the Secret Doctrine, and some questions asked concerning them. In order to understand what the difficulties were which this writer found in his studies of the subject, I will take the liberty of repeating part of his letter.
“Allow me to ask a few questions about Kali Yuga; but it is necessary to preface a few references, so that the question may be understood. The references are to Vol. II. Secret Doctrine.
Page 434, ‘There are seven rounds; this is the fourth; we are in the fifth root-race. Each root-race has seven sub-races.’ Page 435, ‘The fifth root-race has been in existence about 1,000,000 years; hence each of the four preceding sub-races has lived approximately 210,000 years; thus each family race has an average existence of about 30,000 years.’ Page 395, ‘The Aryans were 200,000 years old when the first great Atlantean island was submerged, about 850,000 years ago.’ Page 147, ‘All races have their own cycles. The Fourth sub-race of the Atlanteans was in its Kali Yuga when destroyed, whereas the Fifth was in its Satya Yuga. The Aryan Race is now in its Kali Yuga, and will continue to be in it for 427,000 years longer, while various family races are in their own special cycles.’ So far preliminary. The questions are: 1. If the Aryan race has gone through its Krita, Treta and Dvapara ages in about 1,000,000 years, can its Kali Yuga be literally 432,000 years? 2. If the entire earth is in the Kali Yuga of some great cycle, may not we of this country still be in the Krita age of some smaller cycle?”
The writer of the foregoing, a respected member of the Theosophical Society, is not alone in his perplexity regarding the divisions of time, as established by the Hindus. There are very many exoteric Oriental students, as well as members of the society, who have been unable to reconcile the various statements made concerning the Yugas by different authorities. I think, however, that upon a careful examination of the subject, most of these difficulties will vanish, and the truth will be made plain in a manner to reflect credit instead of discredit upon the Hindu cosmogony and upon the subtle Aryan mind that conceived this wonderful chronological theory.
Before proceeding to this branch of the subject it will be necessary to examine the earliest references to the yugas in the Hindu Books, in order not only to understand the difference between the various divisions of time as there employed, but to discover, if possible, when they were first brought into common use. There is a wide divergence of opinion among Oriental scholars as to the date of the Manu Smiriti, or Laws of Manu. Max Muller and his followers, who apparently bend all their energies to the task of proving that everything in Hinduism is of comparatively recent origin, claim that the Laws of Manu were compiled in the fifth century of our era. Their arguments are based solely upon certain passages which allude to customs and religious rites known to be modern. But it can easily be shown that all such passages may have been later interpolations of the Brahmins, while, on the other hand, the bulk or greater part of the work is undoubtedly archaic in character. Prof. Monier Williams, of Oxford, says: “Sir William Jones held that Manu’s book was drawn up in about the year 1280 B. C. Mr. Elphinstone placed it 900 years B. C. Possibly some parts of it may represent laws and precepts which were current among the Manayas at the later date, but no one would now assign so early a date to the actual compilation of the Code. Nor can it, I think, reasonably be placed later than the fifth century B.C.” 1
There is here a trifling difference of a thousand years in the estimates of two such good authorities, even, as Max Muller and Monier Williams, to say nothing of the earlier writers quoted, who affirm a still higher antiquity for Manu.
But let us see what the Hindus themselves claim. Manu, according to Brahminical authority, was literally the first man in the present manvantara or man-period. He taught the code of laws to his son Bhrigu, who promulgated them to the Rishis. Concerning the divisions of time he used the following language:
68. — But hear now the brief description of the duration of a night and a day of Brahman, and of the several ages of the world according to their order.
69. — They declare that the Krita age consists of four thousand years of the gods; the twilight preceding it consists of as many hundreds, and the twilight following it of the same number.
70. — In the other three ages with their twilights preceding and following, the thousands and hundreds are diminished by one in each.
71. — These twelve thousand years which thus have just been mentioned as the total of four human ages are called one age of the gods.
72. — But know that the sum of one thousand ages of the Gods makes one day of Brahman, and that his night has the same length.
73. — Those only who know that the holy day of Brahman, indeed, ends after the completion of one thousand ages of the gods, and that his night lasts as long, are really men acquainted with the length of days and nights.
79. — The before mentioned age of the gods or twelve thousand of their years, being multiplied by seventy-one, constitutes what is here named the period of a Manu, or a Manvantara.
80. — The Manvantaras, the creations and destructions of the world, are numberless; sporting, as it were, Brahman repeats this again and again.
81. — In the Krita age justice is four-footed and entire, and so is truth; nor does any gain accrue to men by unrighteousness
82. — In the other three ages, by reason of unjust gains justice is deprived successively of one foot, and through the prevalence of theft, falsehood, and fraud, the merit gained by men is diminished by one-fourth in each.
83. — Men are free from disease, accomplish all their aims, and live four hundred years in the Krita age, but in the Treta and in each of the succeeding ages their life is lessened by one-quarter.
84. — The life of mortals mentioned in the Veda, the desired results of sacrificial rites, and the supernatural power of embodied spirits are fruits proportioned among men according to the character of the Age.
85. — One set of duties is prescribed for men in the Krita age, different ones in the Treta and in the Dvapara, and again another set in the Kali, in proportion as those ages decrease in length.
86. — In the Krita age the chief virtue is declared to be the performance of austerities, in the Treta divine knowledge, in the Dvapara the performance of sacrifices, and in the Kali liberality alone. 2
In the Vishnu Purana we find the same scheme of cosmogony. After stating the duration of the yugas, this ancient book adds:
Seven Rishis, certain secondary divinities, Indra, Manu, and the Kings his sons, are created and perish at one period, and the interval, called a Manvantara, is equal to seventy-one times the number of years contained in the four yugas with some additional years; this is the duration of the Manu, the attendant divinities and the rest, which is equal to 852, 000 divine years or to 306,720,000 years of mortals, independent of the additional period. Fourteen times this period constitutes a Brahma day. At the end of this day a dissolution of the Universe occurs, when all the three worlds, earth, and the regions of space are consumed with fire. 3
We see from the foregoing extracts that the Hindu theory of the four yugas is of immense antiquity. It is not something that has been evolved out of modern thought and speculation. Back even of Manu and the Puranas the same idea may be traced, as frequent references to the Kalpas are found in the Upanishads and Mahabharata. In fact, the latter devotes an entire chapter to an explanation of this subject. 4
Let us now see how the figures are obtained upon which the calculations of the yugas are based. Following the directions as given in Manu, we have the following table:
|Total 12,000 divine years.|
According to Brahminical computation a year of men is equal to a day of the gods; hence, to convert the preceding figures into mortal years we multiply by 360. Thus:
4,800 x 360 = 1,728,000 years of the Krita age.
3,600 x 360 = 1,296.000 years of the Treta age.
2,400 x 360 = 864,000 years of the Dvapara age.
1,200 x 360 = 432,000 years of the Kali age.
Total 4,320,000 years.
The sum of the four ages constitutes a Mahayuga or divine age, and 1,000 of these ages make a day or night of Brahma. Now it is distinctly stated that it takes seventy-one of these maha yugas, with some additional years, to make one Manvantara, and there are fourteen Manvantaras in the day of Brahma.
In order to locate ourselves, or rather our present time, in this comprehensive scheme, we may first divide the Kalpa mentally into fourteen parts, one for each Manvantara. That is certainly a simple proposition. We find that each one of the fourteen Manvantaras has its own leader or Manu, and we find furthermore that Avayambhara Manu, the leader of the present wave of humanity, was the seventh Manu, thus fixing our location at about the middle of the Kalpa. But my present object is to still further define our location; hence we will endeavor to analyze the present or seventh Manvantara.
We learn from the above that it takes seventy-one maha yugas, or sum totals of our four ages, together with some additional years, to make one manvantara. The “additional years” spoken of are in the nature of a grand sandyha or twilight which is added to the maha yugas, just as the smaller twilights are intercalated in the minor yugas to make up a maha yuga. Of these seventy-one maha yugas, which is the one in which our race is located? This question the exoteric teachings of Brahmanism and Buddhism alike fail to answer. It was and has always been behind the veil. Neither the Puranas nor the Sutras utter a word upon the subject. But of late years a large part of the secret doctrine of the Hindu and Buddhist priests has been given to the Western public through the Theosophical Society. The revelations of Sinnett and of Madame Blavatsky recently have given us an insight into these hitherto sacredly guarded traditions. We are told in Esoteric Buddhism that there are seven rounds in every Manvantara and that this one is the fourth. As there are about seventy-one maha yugas and just seven rounds, each round must include about ten maha yugas, and as this is the fourth round, it follows that we are in the vicinity of the fortieth maha yuga, 172,800,000 mortal years after the beginning of the Manvantara. It will be observed that we are near the middle of the Manvantara — somewhat past the middle, to be more exact — the total number of years in the manvantara being about 306,000,000. There are seven root-races in each manvantara, and seven sub-races to each root-race. But the limits of existence of the various races are not identical with the divisions of time; hence we find ourselves, or at least we are told that we find ourselves, in the fifth root-race and the fifth sub-race, the latter having already been in existence about a million years.
The question is asked: “If the Aryan race has gone through its Krita, Treta, and Dvapara ages in about 1,000,000, can its Kali yuga be literally 427,000 years?” I will answer this briefly by saying that the four ages, as applied to particular races, are only used metaphorically. Strictly speaking, they are grand general limitations of time. To speak of the Krita age of the Aryan race is a metaphorical way of alluding to the origin of that race, which, however, as a matter of fact really developed on earth in the latter portion of the Treta yuga. The second question is: “If the entire earth is in the Kali yuga of some great cycle, may not we of this country still be in the Krita age of some smaller cycle?” Practically the same answer can be given to this as to the preceding. I think the use of the names of the yugas in this sense is misleading. We might just as well speak of this morning, for instance, as the Krita age, or this evening as the Kali age, of this particular Saturday.
Now, while all this sounds perplexing to one who has not studied the subject, and no doubt seems foolish to those who are accustomed to the ordinary Biblical chronology, there is really a great truth conveyed in these gigantic estimates of time. It does not appear that the Hindus or Buddhists accept the figures given as intended to be literally exact. In a general way they indicate vast periods of time, and allow ample scope for the development of the physical earth, as well as of the human race according to the now everywhere accepted law of evolution. And it must be said that the latest discoveries in science tend to confirm very many of the Hindu theories. Geology especially is unfolding daily new and startling developments in corroboration of what may be termed Ions chronology. It is true that many men of science still make a bid for popular approval by condemning or ridiculing the chronological systems of India and Chaldaea, but such time-servers are happily growing fewer each year, and it now seems as though it cannot be long before there will be no profit in advocating the exploded time-scale of the Hebrews. When there is no longer any money in it, perhaps the 4000 B.C. scheme will be abandoned. Already a few scientists are lifting their voices in behalf of the truth. The most notable contribution to recent literature in this direction is a book entitled The Origin of the Aryans, by Isaac Taylor, published in the Scribners’ “Contemporary Science Series”, 1890. The author admits that within the last ten years conclusions that had prevailed for fifty years in philology have had to be abandoned. He says:
“First among the causes which have led to this change of opinion must be placed the evidence as to the antiquity and early history of man, supplied by the new sciences of geology, anthropology, craniology, and prehistoric archaeology. The assumption that man was a comparatively recent denizen of the earth. . . . and the identification of the Aryans with the descendents of Japhet had to be reconsidered when it was recognized that man had been an inhabitant of Western Europe at a time anterior to the oldest traditions, probably before the close of the last glacial epoch. . . . to which Dr. Crall and Prof. Geikie assign on astronomical grounds an antiquity of some 80,000 years.”
But, to return to the yugas, the question is often asked how the four ages happened to acquire their names. Literally they are the Ace-age, the Deuce age, the Trois or Third age, and the Quad or Fourth age, being named after the first four sides of the dice used in gambling. The natural arrangement, however, is reversed, and the Krita or Fourth age represents the first or golden age. The Treta or Third age stands second, the Dvapara or Second age comes third, and the Kali age, that in which we live, and which is equivalent to the Ace age or lowest throw possible at dice, is fourth, These appellations, however, are subject to grave misapprehension. It is true that in the archaic ages in India gambling with dice was extremely common, and there is no doubt of the yugas having been named after the four first numbers on the ivory cubes; but, as in many other instances, this nomenclature was only an exoteric blind. Not to have veiled their meaning would have been to expose one of the seven keys to the Brahminical mysteries. We know that Pythagoras found a great part of his philosophy in India, and we are also aware that the basis of his philosophy was mathematical.
“Pythagoras considered a point to correspond in proportion to unity; a line to two; a superficies to three; a solid to four; and he defined a point as a monad having position and the beginning of all things; a line was thought to correspond with duality because it was produced by the first motion from indivisible nature and formed the junction of two points. A superficies was compared to the number three because it is the first of all causes that are found in figures; for a circle, which is the principal of all round figures, comprises a triad in centre, space, and circumference. But a triangle, which is the first of all rectilineal figures, is included in a ternary, and receives its form according to that number; and was considered by the Pythagoreans to be the creator of all sublunary things. The four points at the base of the Pythagorean triangle correspond with a solid or cube, winch combines the principles of length, breadth, and thickness, for no solid can have less than four extreme boundary points.” 5
Here, then, we have the origin of the nomenclature of the yugas. It was not astronomical, as might, as a hasty glance, be expected in such circumstances. Perhaps it antedated astronomy, as the science of numbers must have antedated the science of the stars.
There can be no accurate astronomy without mathematics; astronomy presupposes exact methods of calculation. Hence the naming of the ages from the science of numbers instead of from the science of the stars is a proof of the extreme antiquity of the Hindu theory of cosmogony.
As, according to Brahminical calculation, the present Kali yuga began in the year 3102 B. C. and as the yuga is expected to last 432,000 years, we have still over 427,000 years to look forward to before the end of the maha yuga. Some people, even members of the Theosophical Society, appear to think that the end of the maha yuga will be the end of the world. All such will please take notice that, according to the Hindu scheme, there are yet thirty more maha yugas to come, or about 129,600,000 years before the close of the present manvantara, and there are then seven more full manvantaras, or 2,160,000,000 years, to elapse before the day of Brahma is completed. In other words, the gradual process of evolution upon the solar system is only about half-way upon its course, and we can thus see how mankind in its cycle is now very nearly at the lowest point, and will in some thousands or millions of years begin to show traces of spiritual improvement.
Let no one smile contemptuously at the simplicity of the Puranic prophecy any more than at the complexity of the Hindu system of cosmogony. We must bear in mind that these Brahmins are a picked race. For almost endless thousands of years they have devoted themselves to metaphysical studies, religious contemplation, and intellectual and physical improvement. From generation to generation they have carefully observed the Brahminical rules of health as well as of morality, and the result, according to the Darwinian law of selection, can not fail to have been the development of a class of men far superior to the mixed races. Among the ignorant in America there is an impression that the Hindus are enervated, weak in mind and body, cowardly and abject, and fit subjects only for the missionary. It is true that India has been during the past century ground down beneath the heel of British despotism, but the Empress of India rules only by the sheerest brute force. The pretended superiority of the British to the Hindus is a superiority of physical muscle. As well set up the claim that Sullivan, the prize-fighter, is superior to Whittier, the poet. Among the low-caste natives of India there is doubtless much abjectness, but they are no less obsequious to their own Brahmins than to the English conquerors of the soil. The Brahmins themselves are highly cultivated and possess great powers of thought. Their belief in the archaic system of the yugas is not one of blind faith, but has stood the test of investigation by thousands of the most subtle minds produced among a race that is and has always been intensely metaphysical. Here is what Max Muller says in his introductory lecture to the civil service students at the University of Cambridge:
“If I were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power, and beauty that nature can bestow — in some parts a very Paradise on earth — I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant — I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we, here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life — again I should point to India.” 6
1. Indian Wisdom, page 215.
2. Laws of Manu, Book I, 68.
3. Vishnu Puruna, Book I. Chap. III.
4. Mahabharata XII. 232.
5. Secret Doctrine, I, page 616.
6. India, What can it Teach us? p. 24.
— G. E. W., The Path, July 1890
In reading Theosophical literature one is often confronted by the words Mahayuga, Kaliyuga, Manvantara, Kalpa, etc. No doubt all of the older members of the T.S. are perfectly familiar with the words and their meaning, but it may be of help to recent members, or those who have not time or opportunity to dig down into ancient eastern chronology, to see the principal points clearly set forth.
It has been taught that there was no true understanding of the stellar or solar system until the time of Copernicus, some four hundred years ago, but to any student it is evident he built his system upon that of the Pythagorean school of two thousand years before. The Chinese have some astronomical annals, which they claim go back about 3000 years B.C.; they do not record much but comets and eclipses, and many of their predictions of the latter cannot be verified by modern calculations.
The Egyptians taught astronomy to the Greeks, and they no doubt had very close knowledge of the solar system; their year was of 365 days, with methods of correcting. Although they have left us no observations, the north and south position of the Pyramids has led to a supposition that the Egyptians used them for astronomical purposes. The Zodiac of Denderah is one of their relics, and it is worth noting that upon it the equinoctial points are in the sign of Leo. If it was constructed at that time, it would carry us back nearly 10,000 years.
The Chaldeans, according to Diodorus, had long observed the motion of the heavenly bodies, as well as eclipses; they had the metonic period, or cycle of 19 years, also three other astronomical cycles, the Saros of 3600 years, the Neros 600 and the Sosos of 60 years. Simplicius and Porphyry relate that a series of eclipses, preserved at Babylon, were transmitted by Alexander to Aristotle and contained the observations of 1903 years preceding the conquest of Babylon by the Macedonians, and although crude, they were sufficiently correct to enable Halley to discover the acceleration of the Moon’s mean motion. There have also been discovered in the ruins of Palenque, among the Toltecs and Aztecs, planispheres, on one of which were inscribed symbolical figures corresponding nearly to the signs on the Chinese planispheres, and (Humbolt) “that the name of the first day is also the name of Water, and that the symbol consists of undulating lines similar to that of Aquarius in the Egyptian and Greek Zodiacs.
The Hindus have possessed astronomical knowledge for thousands of years, and their calculations today are found to be singularly correct; the question in regard to them is, whether an astronomical system of advanced character, which certainly was found among them, is as old as they assert it to be. It is claimed that they may have obtained their knowledge from the Arabians or Egyptians; but, on the other hand, the remarkable correctness of their tables, and the known character of the people in question, whose advances in mathematics cannot be doubted, and whose habits have throughout recorded history induced them to repel all connection with foreigners, are urged in favor of the originality of their system. We have their calendars annexed to the Vedas, which date back according to Colebrooke 1400 years B.C. They include a solar year of 365 days and are so composed as to determine it correctly. The Zodiac of Vereapettah and that described by Sripeti in the Sanskrit, are believed to be older than Denderah. (Sir William Jones.)
The “Bones of Napier,” an ingenious instrument used in making long calculations, before the discovery of logarithms, was used in a slightly different form by the Hindus long before.
As with nations of the present, the Hindus referred to two principal meridians, Lanca and Ramissuram. Lanca is supposed to have been an island (no longer existing) under the equator, somewhat southwest of the island of Ceylon. It was one of the four cities, Yavacoti, Lanca, Bornacoti, and Siddhapuri, which are supposed to lie under the equator 90 deg. distant from each other. Ramissuram is a small island situated between Ceylon and the continent of India at the entrance of Palks passage in the straits of Manaar. It is famous for its ancient Pagoda and Observatory. The meridian of Lanca is supposed to run through two other towns on the continent of India, Sanahita-saras and Avanti, now Oogein. The Shastras state that “in the north on the same meridian as Lanca there are two other cities, Avanti-Rohitaca (the mountain) and Sannihita-saras, which in former times were the seats of colleges and observatories.” I mention these facts simply to show the possession by the Hindus from remote times of an extensive knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. We now come to their division of time.
The Tamil solar year is sidereal, i.e., the space of time during which the Sun departing from a star returns to it again. Their Zodiac is divided into 12 signs, or mansions, Mesha, Vrisha, Midhuna, et al, corresponding to our Aries, Taurus, Gemini, etc. Each solar month contains as many days and parts of days as the sun stays in each sign. They divide the year into six seasons, called Ritu, in the Sanskrit, of two months each, the first of which, Chaitram or Vaisacha, corresponds to our April. The Saran or natural day is the time included between two consecutive sun risings. The names of the days are as follows:
|5.||Thursday||Guru||Jupiter — also|
They also divided time into a number of cycles or yugas, the meaning of which has been interpreted in various ways; the most accepted holds that the word yug, or yuga, properly means the conjunction or opposition of one or more planets. It is generally used however to express long periods of years at the expiration of which certain phenomena occur. It is probably more particularly referred to the revolution of Jupiter, one of whose years is about twelve of ours, five revolutions or sixty years being equal to a Vrihaspati chacra or cycle (literally a wheel) of Jupiter. In this Vrihaspati cycle there are contained five other cycles of twelve years each. The names of these five cycles or yugas are:
|1.||Samvatsara||Presided over by||Agni|
The use of these yugs is prehistoric, at least to outsiders. In each Mahayug, reckoning from the past, we have four lesser yugs, as follows:
|1.||Satya yug||or Golden age||1,728,000 years|
|2.||Treta yug||or Silver age||1,296,000 years|
|3.||Dvapar yug||or Brazen age||864,000 years|
|4.||Kali yug||or Iron age||432,000 years|
So that a Mahayug consists of 4,320,000 years
The sun performs 4,320,000 Bag-hanas, or sidereal revolutions, in a Mahayug,
There are also the Ayanas, or librations of equinoctial points, 600 in a Mahayug.
A Kalpa consists of 1000 Mahayugs, or 4,320,000,000 years, which Kalpa is also called a “Day of Brahma” (S.D. ii, 308). In making up the Kalpa we have, first, a twilight, or Sandhya, equal to the Satya yug of 1,728,000 years; second, fourteen Manvantaras of 308,448,000 years each, all of which together make up the Kalpa. Each Manvantara is presided over by a patriarch, or Manu, the names of which I omit. W e are living in the seventh Manvantara (presided over by the patriarch Vaivas-vata), of which twenty-seven Mahayugs have passed. So if one desires to know exactly where he is along the “Pilgrimage of the Ego” the following scheme will place him:
|Sandhi, or Twilight of Kalpa||1,728,000 years|
|Six Manvantaras||1,850,688,000 years|
|Twenty-seven Mahayugs||116,640,000 years|
|The Satya yug = to Sandhi||1,728,000 years|
|The Treta yug||1,296,000 years|
|The Dvapara yug||864,000 years|
|Of Kali yug up to April 11th, 1895||4,997 years|
The beginning of the Kalpa was the time when planetary motion began. Of this time, 17,064,000 years were spent or employed in creation, at the end of which man appeared.
It will be seen from the above that the first 5000 years of our Kali yug will expire April 11th, 1898.
Do we look for any manifestations?
— A. J. Vosburgh, The Path, January 1896
Articles from Sunrise Magazine
Unbroken Chain of Oral Tradition
Didactic ballads and folklore are the most precious remnants of a glorious culture that disappeared from the surface of our globe many centuries prior to the earliest dawn of our present civilization. Religious and spiritual speculations of our most ancient forebears are embedded in these age-old legendary poems. Although this prolific culture vanished in the prehistoric past, we may discern its indelible impact upon the extant universal literature which is invariably the common heritage of mankind. The Dhammapada, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the ascetic poems of the Jains, for instance, perpetuate the ethics and norms that were promulgated by the sages of a forgotten age that is still shrouded in mystery. Valmiki and Vyasa, Homer and Pindar, the Druid bard and the Aztec priest, the Chinese lawgiver and the Egyptian mystic — all echoed these moral values in their eternal epics and systems of thought.
Literacy was not considered a sine qua non of wisdom by the ancients. It is said that even the great grammarian Panini was not a literate. As each school of thought was built upon the graveyard of the preceding system, these great sages who had transcended time and space were not particularly concerned about leaving their arts and sciences for posterity. Although the art of writing was employed after a fashion to give instructions, it did not become popular, the emphasis of education being on the development of memory and the retentive power. If the expounder of a special branch of knowledge wished to protect his system from falling into oblivion, he rendered it into verse; only on rare occasions did he commit it to writing. Paleographical evidence clearly indicates that the art of writing was extensively employed to record the dynastic histories and the lists of kings by the chroniclers of Mesopotamia, Iran, Egypt and India in a period as remote as the third millennium B.C. However, it was not used to impart instructions in mysticism and philosophy, exorcism and religion, for Druid bard and Brahman sage alike considered this a profanation of the esoteric wisdom in that golden epoch of intuition and memory culture no teacher ever attempted to impart the sacred knowledge through the medium of script.
Plato, the greatest philosopher of all times, often stressed this view in his unique dialogues through fables and narratives. In Phaedrus, we come across a striking passage which clearly illustrates his opinion of literary composition:
At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them.
It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit.
Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Throughout his long discourse Plato explains how writing tends to diminish the power of recollection. He compares it to a painting in which the mute figures cannot reply in words to an earnest spectator who puts a question to them. Truth, he believed, should find lodging in the soul of a learner, not by literary composition, but by oral transmission. The written word can give only an idea of the fact, but the word is not the fact itself. We are not surprised to find that the dialogue form used by the great Athenian philosopher was also favored by the Buddha and the Upanishadic sages to impart wisdom to their disciples and adherents.
Up to now no paleontologist, or any other scientist for that matter, has been able to present a single proof that human language evolved from the primitive ululations of anthropoids. Even in the very remote past early man used a highly developed system of symbols and hieroglyphs to convey ideas to others. Actual writing, in its earliest stages, was mostly applied by the tribal chieftain to give commands and information to the members of his ethnic group. Examples of pictographic writing, on the walls of subterranean caves and on boulders and stone ruins, are found all over the world. It is evident that even in the earliest dawn of prehistory men used a system of international signs and symbols to transmit ideas and impressions — for without doubt a symbol can more adequately represent a philosophical notion than the written word.
As writing was not encouraged by the ancient educators, the arts and sciences were mostly treated in terse aphorisms which enabled the students to memorize them easily. The immortal epics of Homer, Vyasa and Valmiki were learnt by professional bards and minstrels, who recited them in the courts of kings and in the pleasure gardens of the great cities where they found large cosmopolitan gatherings. Friars and hymnologists wandered from country to country reciting the religious ballads in order to entice a zealous following from among the curious audience. It is believed that at one such gathering Socrates met an Indian sage at the agora in Athens. This would show that the ancient bards and friars traveled far and near, teaching and preaching without any linguistic or geographic barriers. In those days erudition was not judged by a scholar’s literary achievements, but by his ability to inspire his hearers to seek wisdom. In every court throughout the world there was a professional royal minstrel who would chant the dynastic history from its beginning up to the time of the living king. Even in pre-Columbian America, in the palaces of the Incas and Aztecs, reciters were employed who had memorized the genealogy of the solar rulers from the most remote eras.
Although in a certain phase of human culture learning by memory and oral transmission was admired by the ancient philosophers both in East and West, we must not fail to consider the magnitude of the disadvantages involved in this mode of preserving knowledge. If a natural catastrophe, pestilence or war were to destroy the line of priests, it would inevitably ruin the collective wisdom of a race acquired throughout the centuries. This is the exact cause of the sad disappearance of most of the spoken languages and literatures of the archaic past, before the emergence of the Sanskrit, Sumerian, Hamitic and Semitic languages which, according to our modern philologists, can rightfully claim to be of very early antiquity. How many of such ancient languages with their voluminous literary treasures vanished from the surface of our planet is still an unsolved question. We know from partially deciphered inscriptions that some dialects, like Illyrian and Ligurian, faced extinction even before the gradual rising of the Germanic, Celtic and Italic tongues of the Centum (Western) group of the Indo-European linguistic family. However, all these dialects which we now know only by name have left their imprint on the grammatical structures and the vocabularies of our modern languages.
The above sufficiently shows the grave risk involved when the racial intellect is mobilized to stock the rich tradition of a nation within the memories of a line of individuals who had sharpened their retentive power to learn the extensive works of human wisdom by rote. The hoary Vedas and the non-Vedic literature of India have been safely passed from generation to generation by word of mouth for many thousands of years. A skeptical European reader might well question the purity of these texts, but his doubt would be unfounded. Even today if traveling through India, Ceylon or Burma, one could come across thousands of individuals who can dictate for days the great works of scripture, grammar, astrology, medicine and those of other branches of knowledge. Some of these are still orally transmitted, having never been recorded. It seems apposite in this context to quote from a reliable account given by a famous European historian, Prof. Stuart Piggott, who writes in his admirable book Prehistoric India:
Not long ago in Benares an illiterate Hindu priest appeared who dictated a very long religious work in verse, until then unknown and unrecorded, which on internal evidence of style and language belonged at least to the Middle Ages, since when it had been passed on orally through a certain line of priests.
In Ceylon and Burma it is customary for every Buddhist novice to learn the Pali grammar, lexicons and Dhammapada by heart. Of course, most of these works are metrical compositions which makes the memorizing of them quite easy. We rarely come across a Buddhist monk in Ceylon who cannot recite the Dhammapada without making the slightest mistake. In the same way the Vedic and other literature in India were handed down from one generation to the next with the utmost preservation of their purity, until in later times they were recorded and printed in book form. Even geographic barriers and linguistic differences did not cause much distortion. The text of the Rig Veda found in Northern India is quite identical with that of the Dravidian country in the south. This holds also for the Buddhist and Jain scriptures still extant throughout India, Ceylon, and Burma.
I have dwelt on this subject at some length because most of the European critics argue that centuries of passing on orally the ancestral traditions must have resulted in many extraneous interpolations. However, we must keep in mind that priests, monks and compilers even today consider it a great blasphemy to alter anything in the original texts, unless it is agreed upon in a general council. In one such international Buddhist council, held in Burma some years ago for the purpose of ascertaining the pristine purity of the Pali texts of Theravada, some of the elderly monks began to dictate from memory huge volumes of the scripture with their copious commentaries. Some of these works are larger than the Holy Bible. Any European spectator would have marveled at this preternatural feat, but it is a commonplace occurrence in this area of the world. The inborn conviction that any addition or omission, even of a single word or phrase, would bring about sinister results, has at least indirectly contributed to the perfect preservation of the sacred texts.
— By Harischandra Kaviratna, Sunrise magazine, November 1971
The Art of Writing in India
Though the art of writing was known to the ancient Vedic sages, it was used extensively only in the inscriptions of the Indus civilization. Excavations at Harappa, somewhat south of Lahore, and at Mohenjo-Daro show that the pictographic script was well-developed. Careful investigations have indicated that it is comprised of four hundred characters with a variety of diacritical marks, symbols and other signs. Most archaeologists opine that this script is far superior in its practicability to that employed in ancient Mesopotamia and in Egypt. The Harappa inscriptions have been found engraved on copper plates and seals, and painted on pottery. But as no one has been able to decipher them to this day, it is quite impossible at this juncture to evaluate the intellectual life of this buried culture.
It is feasible to assert that the civilization of the Indus valley, which is said to have flourished between 2500 and 1500 B.C., was highly evolved, literate and urban, although, except for the scanty inscriptions thus far discovered, no written records are left. Perhaps its literature was recorded on perishable scrolls which did not survive the long centuries and the natural disasters such as floods, pestilences and typhoons, which are known to have swept away several literate cultures in this part of the world. There is little doubt that the wisdom of these prehistoric forebears was put in writing, but that it inevitably suffered extinction after reaching its acme. For this seems to be an inexorable cosmic law.
Imagine the extent of the lost literature all over the world which was not preserved by way of oral tradition. And how many of the hoary inscriptions that are extant are still undeciphered? What we consider today as the masterpieces of world literature may well be but a drop in the ocean. For example, except for the calendric texts of the Aztecs, our philologists as yet have been able to translate only a small part of their hieroglyphic writings — and these are supposedly of comparatively recent date.
We know that the civilization of the Indus valley was destroyed by the Aryan hordes which poured into India through the northwestern passes; it is not possible, however, to give a fixed date for this invasion because successive waves of nomadic tribes had entered the fertile plains of India in different periods, perhaps even many millennia before the final destruction of the existing culture. There may also have been semi-sedentary pastoral tribes which colonized the northwestern plains as early as the tenth millennium B.C., consisting mostly of herdsmen, who adopted the agricultural life through contact with the original inhabitants. But when — probably in the second millennium B.C.— the fierce Aryan invaders penetrated the Indus valley, the already declining civilization of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro was extinguished. From that time on, until the advent of the Buddha, we do not find any direct evidence of written language in India. The general results were as devastating as those after the Spanish invasion of Peru in the 16th century.
Aggression, invasion and expansionism are some of the characteristically Aryan attributes, and students of history recognize these hereditary psychological instiricts which propelled this race to migrate all over the globe. We all know how Alexander the Great sacrificed his life in striving to realize this racial ambition of building a world empire; and other megalomanias, generated by the doctrine of racial and linguistic supremacy, have occurred even in more recent times. The immortal slogan voiced throughout the ancient Vedas is Krinvantu Visvam Aryam, which means, “Aryanize the whole universes.” This clarion call has repeatedly echoed in the hearts of this race, even at the peak of its spiritual and moral culture, and despite its wonderful systems of religion and philosophy. Moreover, it has always been customary for the Aryans to absorb the high cultural patterns and the enviable ethics of their captives; at times the more militant among them also attempting to represent the alien arts and sciences as their own invention.
After the fall of the Indus civilization, the victorious Aryans may have learned the art of writing from the native population. As early as the tenth century B.C., cultural and commercial connections between Greece and India existed. Eminent European Indologists and scholars have frequently pointed to the fact that in succeeding centuries both Indian sages and Greek philosophers used to assemble in the courts of Asia Minor and Persia for the interchange of ideas on medicine, astrology, religion, philosophy and science. We have every reason to believe that the art of writing had already reached maturity in India by the time the Greeks became acquainted with the Phoenician alphabet (even the very word is Phoenician) somewhere in the middle of the sixth century. For the Ionians it was of great benefit in their dealings with Phoenician traders to learn the “Phoenician letters,” as they called them. Contracts could be drawn up, and also navigational instructions for the guidance of sailors. Professor F. Max Muller tells us in one of his memorable lectures:
Writing at that time was an effort, and such an effort was made for some great purpose only. Hence the first written skins were what we should call Murray’s Handbooks, called Periegesis or Periodos, or, if treating of sea voyages, Periplus, that is, guidebooks, books to lead travellers round a country or round a town. Connected with these itineraries were the accounts of the foundations of cities, the Ktisis. Such books existed in Asia Minor during the sixth and fifth centuries, and their writers were called by a general term, Logographi, or Logioi or Logopoioi, as opposed to Aoidoi the poets. They were the forerunners of the Greek historians, and Herodotus (443 B.C.), the so-called father of history, made frequent use of their works.
But, as Professor Muller points out, from written contracts and guidebooks to genuine literature is still a great step; and this step had to be taken in every civilization. Northern Germanic races carved their runes on tombstones and drinking vessels — but their inscriptions were not literature.
India went through a similar phase after the Aryan invasion had destroyed the Indus civilization. Perhaps, during the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., the pictographic script was employed side by side with the syllabic script in recording commercial activities and issuing royal commands. Most of the European Indologists are of the opinion that the alphabet was introduced to India by the non-Aryan Dravidian merchants who had maritime trade with Babylon and various ports on the coast of South Arabia. Professors Albrecht Weber and J. G. Buhler attempted to prove that many of the letters in the Northern Semitic alphabet are quite similar to the oldest letters used in India during that period. Prof. Weber and his colleague did not live long enough to verify their hypothesis with the newest discoveries. It may be that in the not too distant future some archaeologist will succeed in deciphering the mercantile memoranda and the short inscriptions found on the seals and pottery of the Indus civilization. This would undoubtedly open a new chapter in the prehistory of India.
The oldest form of alphabet in India is called the Brahmi Lipi, and it may be rightly regarded as the progenitor of all the Indian alphabets, both Aryan and non-Aryan. Some experts believe that the Indian system of letters originated in India itself, with possibly a few letters having been borrowed from the Akkadians. Our extensive researches have convinced us that the Aryans who migrated to India in different periods between the tenth and the second millennia B.C. may well have inherited a system of writing based on the notches of their Cro-Magnon forebears.
The art of writing, however, had to face another crisis in India during the ensuing centuries — that of exclusivism. The Brahman priests monopolized for themselves the religious hymns of the Vedas and the ballads which the Aryans sang in praise of the deified natural forces, thus usurping as much power as possible. Dr. T.W.Rhys Davids writes:
We cannot, therefore, be far wrong if we suppose they were not merely indifferent to the use of writing as a means of handing on the books so lucrative to themselves, but were even strongly opposed to a method so dangerous to their exclusive privileges. And we ought not to be surprised to find that the oldest manuscripts on bark or palm leaf known in India are Buddhist; that the earliest written records on stone and metal are Buddhist; that it is the Buddhists who first made use of writing to record their canonical books.
And so it was that with the advent of the Buddha the art of writing was given renewed impetus, and began to rise in leaps and bounds from the gloomy limbo where it had been concealed for so long by the Brahman priests.
We have seen in the preceding article, there was a very long intervening blank period between the extinction of the Indus valley script and the emergence of a new and highly evolved form of writing. It seems to have been a transitional time during which the pictographic system developed into a sophisticated syllabic one. Some centuries prior to the advent of the Buddha, this syllabic alphabet had been invented by Indian sages, attaining its highest maturity in the edicts of Emperor Asoka (274-237 B.C.), which he had had inscribed on huge pillars and rocks throughout the length and breadth of his extensive empire.
Even at the time of the Buddha himself, which was a glorious epoch in many ways, writing was at a discount. Therefore it is all the more startling to find that he used this means of communication when responding to the entreaty of a young princess of Ceylon to enlighten her in his sublime doctrine. This legend of Muktalata (“Pearl-creeper”) was put into lucid Sanskrit by the reputed poet Kshernendra (11th century A.D.) and was entitled, “Avadana Kalpalata.” It is of great historical interest, since it clearly shows the high degree of literacy prevalent in India and Ceylon during that period. The following selection (the whole poem consists of 24 stanzas) may give an impression:
Merchants from Sravasti’s town,
Happily it so befell,
Crossed the vast and perilous sea,
Came to trade in Lanka’s isle.
And they sang the sacred Gathas,
As their nightly sleep they sought;
Sang the lay which doth proclaim
Precepts that our Master taught.
From her inner palace chambers
Mukta heard the beauteous song,
Bade the merchants to her presence,
Asked them what it was they sung.
And they told the raptured maiden,
“Princess! it is Buddha’s word,
He is bounteous to all creatures,
Of all creatures he is Lord.”
. . . . .
Eagerly the pea-fowl hears
Thunder’s sound, presaging rain;
Eagerly she heard the name;
Who this Lord? — she asked again.
. . . . .
By the merchants’ tale reminded
Of her previous humble birth,
Unto them she gave a letter
For great Buddha, Lord of Earth.
And the traders crossed the ocean,
Reached their own, their native land,
Spoke to Buddha of the princess,
Gave her letter in his hand.
. . . . .
Thus our Master, blessed Buddha,
Briefly read the loving note,
And a gentle smile betokened
All the workings of his thought.
And with skill and knowledge wondrous
Which the painters never knew,
For the princess of Simhala
On a sheet his likeness drew.
By his mandate all the merchants
In their vessels sailed anew,
Reached Simhala, to the princess
Gave the sheet our Master drew.
. . . . .
Written under that sweet likeness,
All the people, wondering truly,
Saw the holy Three Asylums,
Saw the Five Instructions holy!
And the Noble Eightfold Path,
Sweetly writ, with wisdom rife,
With the Doctrine of Causations —
Life to death, and death to life!
. . . . .
And the monarch’s noble daughter
Viewed the likeness fair and holy,
And was freed from all the longings
Bred of ignorance and folly.
. . . . .
Bowing, till the budding blossoms
From her ears and ringlets rained,
With them earthly joys discarding,
Truth supreme the princess gained.
This legend of the “Pearl-creeper” is not known to many Buddhist scholars, and the poet Kshemendra should ever be remembered for preserving this unique epistle, for it gives us some idea of the cultural atmosphere prevalent in India and Ceylon during the sixth century, B.C. It also attests to the literary skill of the Buddha himself, who was undoubtedly the greatest academician among the world teachers. Countless other sources tell of his studies of the many syllabic and pictographic writings of his day. From the vivid descriptions in ancient Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhistic works, and even from those in the rival literatures of the Jains and Vedantins, we may safely deduce that the Buddha had mastered all the sciences, arts and languages known in India at that time. No better
biographical sketch of the education of Sakyamuni can be found than that given in the charming poem of Sir Edwin Arnold in the Light of Asia, in which he so skillfully preserved the pristine beauty of the original Sanskrit. As teacher for the young prince the king had chosen Viswamitra, “the wisest one.” And when the prince, with ox-red sandalwood slate and writing stick, stands before the sage, Viswamitra says:
“Child, write this Scripture,” speaking slow the verse
“Gayatri” named, which only High-born hear: —
. . . . .
“Acharya, I write,” meekly replied
The Prince, and quickly on the dust he drew —
Not in one script, but many characters —
The sacred verse; Nagri and Dakshin, Ni, . . .
The pictured writing and the speech of signs,
Tokens of cave-men and the sea-peoples, . . .
Then his teacher changes subjects:
“Let us to numbers.
After me repeat
Your numeration till we reach the Lakh,
One, two, three, four, to ten, and then by tens
To hundreds, thousands.” After him the child
Named digets, decads, centuries; nor paused,
The round lakh reached, but softly murmured on,
“Then comes the koti, nahut, ninnahut, . . .
. . . unto padumas,
Which last is how you count the utmost grains
Of Hastigiri gound to finest dust;
But beyond that a numeration is,
The Katha, used to count the stars of night;
The Koti-Katha, for the ocean drops;
Ingga, the calculus of circulars; . . .”
The rest of the poem gives a clear idea of the extent of the curriculum which this crown prince of a state in Northern India had to master. We have here an interesting parallel between the King Suddodhana of Kapilavastu appointing the sage Viswamitra as teacher for Prince Siddhartha and King Philip of Macedonia selecting the great philosopher Aristotle to be preceptor to Prince Alexander. In both of these Aryan princes the age-old dream of establishing an invinsible universal empire was engrained in their racial soul; but while the one spent most of his short life in military expeditions in an effort to expand the borders of his kingdom, Prince Siddhartha bade adieu to a worldly realm in order to establish an imperishable eternal empire of the spirit. However, King Suddodhana strongly believed in the prediction that his son would be a world monarch and therefore had him instructed in all the Vedas, systems of mysticism, arts, sciences and languages. It is noteworthy that the young prince was taught to decipher even the pictographs and sign language of cave dwellers and those plying the seas.
All the above serves to show that the art of writing was not at all in a primitive state in Southern Asia when the Buddha came upon the scene, and that a knowledge of several scripts was extant. In breaking the overruling strength of the Brahmin priests, who for so long had kept in their exclusive control the knowledge of writing, the doors were opened wide. It is difficult to imagine what Buddhism had to overcome in the way of entrenched prejudice and indifference, but changes came rapidly. Even in the earliest treatises on Buddhist discipline (Vinaya Pitaka) the Chief Elders or Theras highly praised the profession of the scribe as a very respectable occupation.
Just as some of the zealous Christian missionaries in the not too distant past invented alphabets in some parts of the world to disseminate the wisdom of the Bible among illiterate communities, so the Buddhist missionaries went in all directions of the compass and became the earliest champions of literacy far beyond the borders of India. They were the promoters of the art of writing, if not the actual progenitors of some of the alphabets in vogue even at the present time throughout Southern Asia.
— By Harischandra Kaviratna, Sunrise magazine, February, 1972
The Vedic Schism
Somewhere in the third millennium BC a great conference was held on the slopes of the Himalayas to discuss a problematic Vedic injunction which was threatening to bring about a serious schism in the ceremonial religion. At that time there were two schools of thought, one upholding animal sacrifice, and the other vehemently protesting it. The orthodox Brahmins maintained that it was the sole means of propitiating the gods, while the opposing party, the advocates of nonviolence (ahimsa), argued that this bloody ritual was a perversion of the Vedic command and was merely a practice adopted from the uncivilized native inhabitants.
This famous controversy is known generally as the Ajina Yashtavyam Vada, for it focused on the explanation of the phrase Ajina Yashtavyam — which means that one should sacrifice with “aja.” Around this three-letter word the wide-ranging dispute now centered. While the group dominated by the orthodox priests proclaimed that the ceremony should be executed with goats (for in Sanskrit the word aja means “goat”), those favoring nonviolence contended that one should make the offering with non-germinating grain — for etymologically the same word can be derived from the negative prefix “a” and “ja,” from the verb jan,”to give birth.”
The adherents of the Ahimsa Vada, the thesis of non-injury, were convinced that the Vedas originally were based on this principle and that the priests, through the years, had either destroyed or purposely disregarded those religious works which dealt with rituals not demanding the killing of animals. It is interesting and surprising to note, by the way, that the ahimsa movement was led by the Kshattriya class of royal and noble warriors. In any case, the discord was so deep-rooted that it finally developed into an eternal rivalry which divided the great Aryan community in two. The followers of the heretic thinkers moved to the eastern Ganges valley, while the orthodox Brahmins isolated themselves so completely that the priests in their ranks were strongly admonished not to visit the eastern country under any circumstances. Polemical works condemned the dissenters for their liberal views as well as for the corruption of the Sanskrit phonetical science.
The members of the ahimsa cult, on the other hand, found freedom and assistance in their new home, where they began to interpret the Vedic mantras allegorically, encouraged in their efforts by the ruling princes of Kasi, Kosala, Videha and Magadha. Their philosophical speculations and independent inquiry went deeply into the age-old riddles regarding the universe and man. Within a few centuries after the separation from their orthodox forebears, the Eastern Aryans had produced an impressive system of religio-philosophy known as Atma-vidya (knowledge of self ), with the ahimsa principle as its supreme tenet.
Animal sacrifice was transformed into the offering of vegetables and fruits, such as rice cakes, sweets, pieces of sugar cane, flowers and fried grain. However, within a relatively short time even this was replaced by a more elevated form of oblation, called jnana yajna (inner knowledge-sacrifice). It consisted of austerities, penance, introspective meditation and trance (samadhi). Self-control and renunciation of worldly pleasures were regarded as the requisite virtues of one who sincerely aspired to realize absolute Truth. Forest retreats sprang up in many places. Here the highest esoteric wisdom was promulgated, and thousands of students from far and near flocked to these hermitages to receive instruction from the great seers in this new spiritual knowledge. These enlightened sages or rishis taught that the ultimate truth transcends conceptual thinking and can be grasped only by intuition. Thus they imparted their marvelous idealism of Atma-vidya in a special symbolical form, the Samadhi-bhasha, literally “trance-language” in which they were able to express in a semipoetic way their highly mystical experiences. Viewing the merging of the individual self (atman) with the universal Self (Brahman) as the ultimate goal, they strove to liberate themselves through contemplation and self-purification from the great illusion of the phenomenal world.
The spiritual teachings and experiences of these youthful sages of the new progressive mysticism are embodied in the Upanishads, which became the basis of the Vedanta philosophy, so named because its philosophical treatises not only come last in the order of the Vedas but also contain the quintessence of the esoteric wisdom, i.e. the ‘end’ or ‘acme’ (anta) of the vedas. It exhorts man to establish himself firmly on truth and to embark upon the investigation of Brahman, the universal the all-pervading Self, which resides not in temples or in heaven, but in the heart of every human being. For this realization of Self (atman) one has to practice rigorous self-discipline and concentration. Emphasizing knowledge (jnana) instead of ‘works,’ the Upanishads have exerted a powerful influence on Hindu philosophy through the centuries, giving metaphysical soundness and depth to all its streams of thought.
At this stage of religious development, with the Upanishadic seers seeking spiritual illumination and a glimpse of Brahman (the transcendent Ultimate Principle, not to be confused with Brahma, the creator and the first god of the later post-Vedic triad), there arose simultaneously some strong nihilistic movements. These atheistic and materialistic groups were eager to eradicate all religious cults which stemmed from the Vedas, including the newly formulated religion of the Upanishads. Spiritual pursuits and religious practices, of whatever kind, were bitterly condemned and derided as crude forms of superstition. Materialism, sophistry and skepticism preached a readily acceptable gospel of egoistic hedonism and began to disrupt the spiritual growth of northern India during the period extending from the eighth to the sixth century BC.
The theories of the materialistic school known as Charvaka darsana were first expounded by Brihaspati, who lived perhaps as early as the eighth or seventh century BC. It is evident from references made in still extant works dealing with the various systems of philosophy, that the writings of this great materialistic philosopher must have been voluminous. None of these have survived; they must have perished or been destroyed by the hostile Brahmins who were for so many centuries the custodians of Indian wisdom. However, we do possess some fragments, mainly from quotes used in works by his opponents, giving us insight into this earliest form of materialistic philosophy. A close scrutiny reveals that there are definite parallels with modern European dialectical materialism. Both systems express similar views with regard to spiritual values, after-death existence and rebirth. It seems worthwhile to look at some of the reasoning behind these nihilistic doctrines which had such a profound and almost fatal influence upon the old religion of India.
The materialists were led by a powerful group of nobles and warriors who boldly proclaimed that the authors of the three Vedas were buffoons, knaves and demons. With great vehemence they opposed the supreme authority of the scriptures because these, in their view, contained nothing but falsehoods and contradictions. They argued that if an animal, sacrificed on the altar, goes straight to heaven, why should one not do the same with one’s old father, for in that manner he would then also directly enter heaven. If the offering made after the death of a relative gratifies the departed, why could not a person offer food downstairs to satisfy the hunger of those who are living upstairs? “While life remains, let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee (sacrificial butter) even though he runs in debt.” For once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return?
The adherents of materialism upheld the theory that the consciousness cannot exist without the physical body and brain, and that at the destruction of this body everything that religious thinkers term consciousness, soul or spirit, will perish at the same time. At death the earthy element will return to earth, the fluid to the water, the heat to the fire, the breath to the air, and the senses pass into akasa (space). It involves the annihilation of all sensation, mentation, perception and cognition. In this way these materialists refuted every philosophical concept such as individual continuance, metempsychosis and karma. But above all, they denounced the dogmatism, ritualism and animal sacrifice of the established religion. In some ways they promoted logical thinking and reasoning, thereby inserting a liberalizing factor into the rigid orthodox structure. However, we must not close our eyes to the fact that Charvaka darsana brought about as a monstrous aftermath a moral degeneracy that almost shattered the promising edifice of spiritual wisdom that was about to be constructed by the early sages of the Upanishads.
We now arrive at a critical historical crossroads. Many peculiar religious creeds and thought systems vied for the veneration and loyalty of the people, causing a tremendous upheaval. The intellectual standard of the race had reached an enviable height in the then known sciences and arts. Both the logical acumen of the dialectical materialists and the contemplative discipline of the Vedanta mystics effected a complete metamorphosis in the ancient spiritual values of those Aryans who had separated from their brothers in the western part of the Ganges valley. Vedic polytheism with its old, ritualized formalisms obviously was no longer able to answer the spiritual needs of the race, and was attacked from several sides, although during the Epic Period the Brahmin poets strenuously engaged themselves in an effort to regain the lost vitality of the priestly rule of yore. But their attempts proved futile, for the discriminating thinkers among the population realized that the Brahma-jnana or Atma-vidya, as a sober and unalloyed philosophical system, afforded them far greater spiritual illumination.
As said, agnosticism and skepticism, engendered by the Charvaka doctrine, though appealing to the intelligentsia by their rational assertions, caused at the same time a sharp decline in racial morality, undermining it to the point where conditions were outright pitiable. And the Kshattriya critics from their side, busily at work in their forceful crusade against Vedic theism, were not able to satisfy the religious hunger of the community. The Aryans, after all, were ever a spiritually minded people who through the ages had deified the forces of nature and regarded even insentient objects as ensouled. Thus there grew a keenly felt need in every quarter for a philosophical renaissance of spiritual and ethical values.
The seventh century BC marks this new historical epoch in the religious evolution of northern India. The racial intellect of that time was compelled to face two psychological trends that were diametrically opposed to each other. The only solution to this cataclysmic conflict lay in the emergence of a magnetic personality who would successfully synthesize the realism of the physical philosophers with the idealism of the ancient Vedas, one who would preserve the best of the old and simultaneously incorporate the vital and constructive elements of the new.
— By Harischandra Kaviratna, Sunrise magazine, December 1972
The Vedas: Soil of Buddhism
In ancient cultures, such as that of the Indo-Aryans or the Druids, literacy and education were not considered of general major importance, because they were not regarded as means to acquire material prosperity but merely as instruments to realize spiritual illumination and religious insight. And indeed, throughout the centuries mystics of both East and West have attained enlightenment and union with supreme Reality not through scholastic study, not through dialectic discourses, but through self-negation and intuitive, direct comprehension. Rarely have those of great intellectual stature penetrated to the deepest esoteric truths embedded in the symbology of scriptural texts. With this in mind, we can better understand the conviction of the Brahmins that the sacred knowledge would be perverted when put into writing; the Vedas had to be heard. Yet, at the same time, in favoring the age-old method of orally instructing their pupils, they caused the complete neglect of the written word, which did not re-emerge before the sixth century BC at the dawn of the new intellectual epoch in India.
Throughout the Buddhist canon we come across passages which presuppose the existence of that very ancient religious tradition known as the Vedas, in which even the Great Mendicant (Buddha) had acquired perfect mastery under the renowned sage Visvamitra. Yet the source of this literature, if it can be called such in the modern sense of the word, is shrouded in mystery. Professor Maurice Winternitz writes in A History of Indian Literature:
Vedic literature led us well-nigh into “prehistoric” times; and for the beginning of epic poetry, too, we had to dispense with all certain dates. It is only with the Buddhist literature that we gradually emerge unto the broad daylight of history, and we have seen that the darkness of the history of the Vedic and epic literature is somewhat illuminated by this light.
Buddhism, in the eyes of many European scholars the most fragrant flower of Indian thought, sprang from the tired soil of the Vedic religion. Although its system of philosophy differs vastly in some of its cardinal tenets from Brahmanism, any critical student is fully aware that Buddhism has absorbed many of the teachings of the earliest Upanishads. For a fuller understanding of Buddha’s spiritual teachings, a study of the atmosphere in which they developed, at the convergence as it were of Vedic and non-Vedic streams, is almost indispensable.
The sacred tradition of the Vedas was already in the possession of the Aryans when they came from Europe many, many millennia ago. Its purely mystic religio-philosophy was not only closely related to that of their relatives in Iran (where it took the form of the Avesta), but is also similar to the Eleusinian and Orphic creeds of the Western Aryans who migrated to and established their cultural empires in Greece, Central Europe and the Emerald Isle. However, the seeds of degradation had been planted in the Aryan religion before that great family divided for reasons still unknown.
The Vedas are the supreme authority for all orthodox schools. Six systems (Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Mimamsa, Nyaya, and Vaiseshika) belong to the Astika Darsana, the term Darsana literally meaning “vision,” vision of the Absolute Truth. On the other hand, Charvaka (materialism), Jainism and Buddhism, for instance are termed Nastika, i.e. not based on the Vedas. Each of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Saman and Atharvan) is again divided into four sections, namely, Samhita (collection of hymns), Brahmanas (treatises on sacrifices and rituals), Aranyakas (“forest books” for hermits about sacrifices and contemplation), and the Upanishads, dealing with deeper metaphysics and theosophical speculations. Classical writers from the fifth millennium BC to the first century AD such as Manu, mention only the first three Vedas, and it seems fairly certain that the Atharvan originally was independent from the threefold knowledge or trayi.
Orthodox Hindus hold that the Vedas existed even before the creation of the world, co-eternal with Brahman. In The Cultural Heritage of India Swami Shri Madhavananda aptly observes:
. . . by the word “Veda” which literally means knowledge, no books are primarily meant, but the sum total of the knowledge of God, which concerning itself as it does, with abstract principles, is necessarily eternal. Just as gravitation existed before Newton, and would have remained just the same even if he had not discovered it, so these principles existed before man, and will remain for ever. Their connection with man is that they were revealed to certain exceptionally gifted persons called rishis or sages, who visualized them and handed them down through a succession of disciples.
It seems safe to assert that the hymns were collected and codified by these rishis somewhere near the present Punjab more than six thousand years ago, and gathered into the Rig-Veda Samhita, the world’s earliest masterpiece. It is a voluminous work, its bulk comparable to the Iliad and Odyssey combined. Its 1017 original hymns, systematically arranged in ten mandalas and containing over ten thousand stanzas in all, are addressed to terrestrial and celestial devas or divinities, whose characteristics were somewhat modified when the Aryans, after their successful invasion of India, arrived in their new surroundings in Aryavarta (country of the Aryans).
This fertile plain, extending from the glittering snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas to the fragrant Vindhya ranges, and from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, inspired their poets to sing of its picturesque countryside and scenic beauty. For instance, one seer-poet, in simple and charming style, depicts the Sindhu (Indus) as outstanding among all the rivers that run through Aryavarta to the sea:
The sound rises up to heaven above the earth; she stirs up with splendor her endless power. As from a cloud, the showers thunder forth, when the Sindhu comes, roaring like a bull. . . .
Sparkling, bright with mighty splendor she carries the waters across the plains — the unconquered Sindhu, the quickest of the quick, like a beautiful mare — a sight to see.
Rich in horse, in chariots, in garments, in gold, in booty, in wool, and in straw, the Sindhu, handsome and young, clothes herself in sweet flowers.
The Aryans, having learned from the native inhabitants the cultivation of rice paddy and other grains, soon became the wealthiest people of the then-known world, with time for recreation, for arts, for philosophy and reflection. Consequently, most of the hymns of the Rig-Veda are not just odes to the beauty of nature, but are musings about a transcendental reality beyond the visible natural phenomena. In the ninth mandala of the Rig-Veda we come across the following hymn:
O Pavamana, place me in that deathless undecaying world, wherein the light of heaven is set and everlasting luster shines;
Make me immortal in that realm where dwells the King Vivasvan’s son, where is the secret shine of heaven, where are those waters young and fresh.
Make me immortal in that realm where they move even as they list, in the third sphere of inmost heaven where lucid worlds are full of light;
Make me immortal in that realm of eager wish and strong desire, the region of radiant moon, where food and full delight are found;
Make me immortal in that realm where happiness and transports, where joys and felicities combine and longing wishes are fulfilled.
It is said that the rishis, while in a spiritual trance, came in direct contact with the devas of whom they sang and whom they considered as expressions of the cosmic intelligence, manifestations of the immanent divine principle. Thus they conceived of nature as a living organism controlled by conscious, intelligent entities.
To denote these deities, the poets coined a special appellative term, deva, for which there is no adequate equivalent in modern European languages. It literally means the “shining one” or the “donor.” The rain, therefore, is a deva, because it gives nourishment to all life on earth. Sun, moon and stars are devas, because they shed cosmic light throughout the solar system and universe. The Ganges, Indus and Sarasvati are deified rivers, because they irrigate the arable lands of Aryavarta. In addition, many gods of the pluralistic pantheon had been great heroes, warriors and philanthropists, who later were regarded as devas for their valor, patriotism and benevolence. Indra, the Maruts, Vayu and Matarisvan are some of these deified beings, sublimated into prominent rank among the gods.
The religion of the Vedas is neither naturalism nor anthropomorphism, neither polytheism nor monotheism, but is a unique mysticism, a synthesis of all the prevalent religious cults known to the ancient Aryans. After they entered the fertile Punjab valley and established their permanent home in Northern India, one of their first concerns was to collect and codify their holy tradition, the Vedas, which were at that period scattered over different parts of Aryavarta, preserved by the various families. The disdain of the Aryans for alien cultures and religious cults directly contributed to the purity in which the Vedas were held, no outside influence marring their pristine beauty, and hardly any foreign divinities finding a place in their early pantheon.
The Vedic pantheon is a complicated one, deserving separate treatment. For the time being the following general picture must suffice. The rishis divided the universe into three spheres or lokas, namely, Dyurloka or the celestial world, over which Savitri, the solar deity, presided; Antarikshaloka or the intermediate sphere, supervised by Indra; and Bhurloka or the terrestrial world, under the reign of Agni (Fire). However, when esotericism was ousted by exotericism, symbolism by ritualism, idealism by sacerdotalism, this early spiritual concept soon dwindled into a polytheistic sacrificial creed. The three spheres of the vertical universe of the original Vedic sages was believed to be the abode of thirty-three gods: the eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras, the twelve Adityas, Dyaus (Zeus) and Prithivi (earth). Later 3,339 gods and goddesses were assigned to these spheres, and finally their number was increased by some authorities to 330,000,000! Commentators like Sayana (14th century) and others who deeply reflected on this subject, believed that these gods were the personifications of the innumerable virtues and qualities of the eternal divine principle.
When at last the cultural life of the Aryans became completely dominated by the priesthood, the emergence of a ritualized form of religion was inevitable. The Brahmin priests made every effort to persuade the masses that the only way to salvation was through sacrifice. So the triumphant and haughty Aryans, ever coveting more cattle, gold and sons, began to employ professional hymnologists, specialists in phonetics and other branches of literary arts, to address long chants to the gods and goddesses that they might shower upon them prosperity and longevity. Animal sacrifice, introduced during the Epic period, received more and more emphasis. In due course it would stir feelings of opposition which ultimately would result in a definite schism in the ceremonial Vedic religion, and in the birth of the tradition of nonviolence, but for centuries it held its central place in the Brahminical worship. A second, new Veda, called Yajurveda, delineating the execution of sacrifices and various other rituals, was soon formulated; in it we find, partly in prose and partly in verse, hymns addressed to the sacred utensils and other objects used. A third Veda, the Samaveda, comprising the specific lyrical incantations which were to be uttered at particular occasions, was also added, with most of its hymns taken from the early Rig-Veda.
The extremely complicated ceremonial system compelled the priests to acquire perfect mastery of their tradition, for the exclusiveness of their class, in which lay the safeguard of their power, demanded rigid rules of behavior and stringent methods of learning. Only warriors, Brahmins and merchants were entitled to study, or even hear, the Vedas, and thus were considered to be “twice-born,” while all other classes were called sudras. The establishment of the hereditary right to perform sacrifices gradually paved the way for the caste-system. Ruling princes and great landlords paid for the education of Brahmin youths who dedicated themselves to the priesthood. These young men had to undergo arduous training, primarily intended to bring about inner and outer purification. Truthfulness, forbearance, purity and uprightness were ideally some of the cardinal moral virtues which an orthodox Brahmin had to cultivate. Hypocrisy and dishonesty were regarded as unpardonable sins. Their deep conviction that they represented the divinities in this world and thus had to endeavor to live a life of godliness, kept the spiritual culture of the officiating Brahmins strong through many centuries.
— By Harischandra Kaviratna, Sunrise magazine, October 1972
A Wonder of Ancient India: The Mahabharata
Daunted by its size and a misconception that an intimate understanding of Hinduism was needed, I never considered taking the Mahabharata off the shelf. By accident I tuned into an episode of an Indian television production of the Mahabharata (subtitled in English) — and I was hooked. Ninety-six one-hour episodes later (and many more hours of reading) I am still enthralled and continue delving into this fascinating epic. Its appeal is on many different levels and, through the ages, ascetics and scholars alike have dedicated their lives to studying, collating, and translating the varied and voluminous material. When the series aired on Indian television, railway schedules had to be adjusted as each week almost the entire country sat in front of a TV. Similarly, most things ground to a halt when the Ramayana was serialized. We all love a hero — heroic action appeals to children and adults alike — and these epics are heroic. On a deeper level it is the philosophical depth and the psychological profundity that endure, keeping the stories alive in the soul, drawing one back again and again.
The epic is about a Holy War fought on the fields of Kurukshetra at the junction between the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron or Kali Age. The Kali Yuga is said to have begun with the death of Krishna on February 17, 3102 BC — thus dating the war to 3138 BC (in the epic Krishna died 36 years after the Great War). However, dating the epic is an ongoing debate. The extant written versions can be traced to the period 400-100 BC when the present form was settled on. The Mahabharata has eighteen major chapters or parvas which are, in turn, subdivided into many smaller parvas or sections. There are hundreds of different versions, adjusted by various sects to include their own individual religious biases (for example there are 300 known versions of the Adi Parva).
Krishna-Dvaipayana (also known as Veda Vyasa for his work in synthesizing the Vedas in their present form) is said to be the author of the original 24,000 slokas (verses). Sloka meter is characterized by 32 syllables divided into 4 pada or quarter verses of 8 syllables each, written in either 2 or 4 lines. It is the metrical form commonly used in Sanskrit epics. (1) The present form of the epic contains around 100,000 slokas, though it has been estimated that it may include as many as 150,000. Critical editions intended to discover the pristine material are only a few decades old, the best work having been done by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona.
While the accrual of additional material is ongoing, the age of the texts and questions about the historical accuracy of accounts in the epic are hotly debated. Many believe that the Mahabharata and also the Puranas give the history of not only the peoples of India but of humanity. Scholars have established that the parvas were written at different times — some being much older than others.
One of the parvas contains the Ramayana. According to Hindu tradition the Ramayana recounts the history of Rama and Sita, and is believed to have taken place at the beginning of the Treta or Silver Age, i.e., shortly after the end of the Satya Yuga (Golden Age) — roughly two million years ago by Hindu reckoning — thus potentially very old indeed. The current archaeological dating of the age of humanity prevents scholars from giving credence to the Hindu chronology.
The known history of India does not include verifiable records of a war where millions of soldiers fought and died, or the destruction of Dvaraka (the region governed by Krishna) by tidal waves and cataclysms of the proportions described in the Mahabharata. This leads some to believe that the epics may not be historical. However, corroborating evidence in texts from other sources and countries suggests that these writings are a blend of accurate history, myth, and soul memory, as well as ethical treatises.
The crux of the matter is that the entire Mahabharata has one obvious aim — to awaken a love of truth and right action. The core story is the thread that ties together a profound philosophical content. Embellished by substories to clarify various ethical premises, the central theme always leads in one direction — the ascendancy of right over wrong, justice over injustice, truth over untruth. In the war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas it is made clear that the side of Truth (represented by the Pandavas) will ultimately win. The reasons for this war and the human aspects of the story are what make the epic ever fascinating — its slokas are the mirror whereby we see into our own souls, and the consequences of actions, both gross and subtle, are laid bare for scrutiny.
The cast of characters is large, but one soon finds oneself relating to and caring about them: Draupadi, the virtuous, beautiful wife of the five Pandava brothers; Vidura, the wise younger brother of Pandu and Dhritarashtra; Kunti, the mother of the three eldest Pandava brothers — Yudhishthira, Bhima and Arjuna; Madri, the mother of the younger twin sons of Pandu — Nakula and Sahadeva. As all the characters come alive, the strange names and customs become familiar and comfortable.
The wisdom of the Pandava and Kaurava princes’ tutors — Bhishma, Drona, and Kripacharya — enrich the text at every turn. Bhishma, patriarch of the families on both sides of the conflict, has a magnificence and stature which make him beloved and respected by all the characters, while his all-encompassing wisdom and virtue still earn him the love and reverence of Hindus today.
The central story concerns the rivalry for the throne of Hastinapura, where the ancient dynasty of India has its domain. As jealousy goes unchecked the dynasty is finally destroyed. Pandu, the second son of Santanu, becomes king because his elder brother, Dhritarashtra, was born blind and thus considered unfit to rule. However, when Pandu dies Dhritarashtra, already an able administrator of the country during Pandu’s many absences, proceeds to reign. It is the line of succession that is the bone of contention. Yudhishthira, virtuous son of Pandu and eldest of the Pandava brothers, is heir-apparent, but Duryodhana, eldest of Dhritarashtra’s and Gandhari’s one hundred sons, wishes to be king. Gandhari has a gambler brother, Sakuni, living at court who helps inflame Duryodhana’s jealousy and envy of the five Pandava princes.
Known as the Kauravas, the family and supporters of Dhritarashtra are spearheaded by Duryodhana, his brother Dushasana, Sakuni, and Karna (a protege of Duryodhana whose lineage is mysterious and who, ironically, is finally shown to be linked to the Pandavas). These four try many ways to eliminate the five sons of Pandu. As Dhritarashtra and Gandhari fail to curb Duryodhana’s hatred of the Pandavas — and more especially of his birthday twin, Pandu’s second son, Bhima — the peoples of Hastinapura are inexorably propelled into war.
Through the popularity of the Bhagavad-Gita the third son of Pandu, Arjuna, is perhaps the best known of his five sons. This parva recounts the discussion between Arjuna and Krishna just prior to the Battle of Kurukshetra. Arjuna asks Krishna why he should fight. Krishna, having sworn not to fight himself but to steer Arjuna’s chariot during the battle, explains to Arjuna his duty — in reality the duties of all who seek for truth.
One may read the epic just as an excellent tale, for it has all the elements of good storytelling, yet it also includes the psychological dilemmas inherent in life, though the meaning behind some of the episodes is not always clear — each reader must interpret the episodes according to his own insight and vision. Like a diamond sparkling in the sun, each time a passage or an episode is reread new illuminations and nuances come into focus.
The Mahabharata says that even before the Battle of Kurukshetra the caste system had effectively come to an end. No longer were people to be considered as being born in a particular class, miscegenation having broken the old ways and codes. With the advent of the Kali Age all reflect, by their own actions, what class each act belongs to — the determining factor being whether the motive arises out of wisdom and truth, the passionate or emotional nature, or from ignorance and darkness (avidya or untruth).
The Kshatriya, or divine warrior class, as represented by Arjuna and his peers, died out in this Holy War on the fields of Kurukshetra and the unholy aspects of life during the Kali Age are prescient. It was incumbent upon these godlike men — whose concentration was on dharma (duty), artha (right resolve or motive), karma (action), and vidya (wisdom/truth) — to be just, benevolent, and charitable at all times — always protecting and honoring truth. As the eighteen-day war drags on, all partake of unrighteous acts eroding the old codes of honor and ethics. Finally, at the end of the war, with the loss of the ancient value system and their loyalty solely to truth destroyed, the link with the past is broken. After Kurukshetra a limited age of justice was reestablished and the sun of truth shone briefly — but the Kali Age had begun.
Fortunately for us the old truths remain accessible in this vast storehouse of wisdom from ancient India. The Bhagavad-Gita, the best loved of all Hindu writings, is a profound treatise on the causes and results of action and stands on its own, yet coupled with the entire epic, it acquires an additional lustre — for the Mahabharata has much to say about the qualities and duties of every aspect of life. B.R. TV’s Indian production of the Mahabharata shows the veneration that the Hindus have for this work and their understanding of its effect for good on individual lives.
Use this epic tale as an inspiration to solve your problems. The story is your armour and also your weapon . . . Be heir to Light, to Justice and to Truth. Turn the Kurukshetra of your heart into Holy Ground — That is Salvation!
Whatever there is in the World / Whatever this World is — / Sage Vyasa’s epic tale narrates all that the World is! — From B.R. TV English subtitles
— By Nhilde Davidson, Sunrise magazine, February/March 1997
Letter: On Revising the History of Vedic Civilization
Having read on the Internet an article in Sunrise on the Mahabharata, I would like to bring to your attention a book I just read which relates to ancient India: Gods, Sages, and Kings: Vedic Secrets of Ancient Civilization by Dr. David Frawley. Although there are many books on this subject, this one was written with the international — particularly American or European — reader in mind, who has no previous knowledge of Hindu mythology or history.
In this work Dr. Frawley relates the history and mythology of almost all the ancient world to the Vedic culture which developed on the banks of the now dry Saraswati River. Geological, literary, and archeological data suggest that long ago this mighty river flowed from Lake Manasarowar in Tibet to the sea through present-day Rajasthan. Manasarowar is linked with Manu, the first man according to Vedic tradition. Leaving his golden ship on a high Himalayan peak after the great flood, he is said to have come down to the plains, carrying with him the seeds of life, in order to establish his kingdom on the fertile banks of the Saraswati. The author suggests there may be a linkage of this event with Plato’s Atlantean deluge near the end of the ice age, while cautioning the reader that the boat or ark may be only a metaphor. Although this date may seem irrational from the viewpoint of accepted academic history, more and more archeological evidence from the Indus-Saraswati Valley civilization, geological evidence of the existence and fate of the Saraswati River, and astronomical dating of events recorded in the Vedas, show the antiquity of this ancient civilization. They also contradict the standard Western theory, formed in the 18th and 19th centuries, of Vedic civilization beginning with an Aryan invasion of northern India around 1500 bc.
The Indus-Saraswati Valley civilization is now found to be a collection of nearly 2,500 settlements of various periods along the Saraswati and other rivers, some of which date earlier than 6000 bc. These sites show sure signs of having cultural elements in common with later Vedic culture. The Indus script was first dismissed as imagistic, but has since been found to be very similar to the later Brahmi script, and is possibly related to early Semitic scripts from which the present-day alphabet developed.
The historicity of Vedic religion and its scriptures was once dismissed, in part because it praised very highly the supposedly mythical Saraswati River. Satellite and geological evidence show, however, that although the Saraswati changed its course many times over several thousand years before disappearing, long ago it was as described in the Vedas. Fortunately, some scholars are beginning to interpret history taking into account the geography of the region in the past. In light of new and growing evidence, an objective reexamination of existing data and reinterpretation of ancient history is necessary today.
— By Rithvik. S. Vinekar, Sunrise magazine, June/July 2000
Cosmic Harmony and Human Conduct: A Vedic Perspective
The Rig-Veda is the oldest of the four Vedas. Far from merely expressing man’s primitive wonder in confronting his deities and natural environment, as early Western scholars assumed, it consists of the profound religious insights of Indian sages into the origin, nature, and destiny of the whole manifested cosmos. This scripture’s deep spiritual intent is particularly revealed by the concept of an unmanifest, absolute Oneness or Supreme Power as the central point and common source of all cosmic manifestation, ever imposing divine order and harmony upon it.
A study of this ancient text, believed to have been composed between 3,000 and 3,500 years ago, can throw light on the essential problems of human existence. The Vision of Cosmic Order in the Vedas by Jeanine Miller (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1985), a scholarly treatise on India’s religious lore that includes lengthy characterizations of the various gods of the Vedic pantheon, provides the kind of spiritual wisdom that helps us understand more fully the religious and moral perturbations of our own troubled times. It emphasizes that humanity’s ability to transcend itself does not depend upon the unaided human mind, as Western secularists believe, but instead has a divine source. It stresses, too, that the human attempt to anthropomorphize deity to make it “more accessible to average human intelligence . . . is no sign of advance in or development of understanding.” In rightly disputing the religious notion, also prevalent in the West, that an impersonal power is a less fit object of worship than a personal deity, the book focuses upon the human/divine relationship that is possible when mankind pays universal homage to cosmic law and order.
To account for the dynamics of manifestation during the creation and evolution of the cosmos, Miller painstakingly explores the concept of rita in the Rig-Veda. This, according to the sages, was the first emanation from the Absolute and thus the primary manifestation of the original act of creation. Rita is characterized as the eternal law or blueprint of cosmic order, and the Vedic mind conceived this transcendent law as the only fit expression of the Absolute which itself stands beyond human speculation. As the most perfect symbol of deity in manifestation, rita, the supreme law of harmony, demanded homage and compliance from gods and men. While it is revered and obeyed by the gods (who, we are told, must be true to their own nature), man, who seems uncertain of his, chooses again and again to thwart rita with inharmonious acts that disrupt the divine equilibrium. Thus, inherent in the human condition is the need to seek divine assistance to restore the order that mankind is continually disrupting. In this sense, religious ethics becomes an inseparable part of the ancient world view of India. And it is here, in the sphere of human understanding of good, evil, and ethical choice, that the book is most helpful and most challenging.
During the past three millennia how much have we learned about understanding and resolving moral issues? That we are sadly uncertain in this sphere is demonstrated by those in public life who lie and deceive in order to attain desired ends. Even when the preservation of human lives and values are at stake, such ends do not justify the use of dishonorable means and are, indeed, tarnished by them. It is extremely difficult for anyone to have to decide whether or not personal integrity should be sacrificed for the attainment of goals believed to be higher than self. In fairness, however, let us recognize that at times the ethical choices made express the conscience of individuals who must struggle with moral issues that lie at the very limits of their spiritual wisdom.
Placing ideas about human conduct in a cosmic perspective helps us to see more clearly what the moral obligations of the good man and woman should be. The inseparability of ethics from cosmic harmony is expressed by Raimundo Panikkar in The Vedic Experience:
The dichotomy between an ethical and a cosmic order is foreign to Vedic thinking, not because the ethical order is ignored but because the really existential order is anthropocosmic and thus includes both the ethical and the cosmic in one.
Miller elaborates, saying that “the ethical order pertains to humanity and humanity is part of the cosmic order, hence the use of the adjective ‘anthropocosmic.’ ” Yet cosmic harmony embraces far more than morality since truth, righteousness, and justice are only human value judgments that reflect our vision of universal law but not the whole of it. As Miller remarks:
That whole could be more appropriately summed up, not as ‘the objective law of goodness,’ but simply as the ‘law of harmony.’ . . . That which is consonant with the overall harmony will, in the human sphere of activity, be considered moral or good, hence the norms of social as well as personal ethics that form the basis of all civilizations.
To think in terms of a cosmic moral order is to bring in a purely human dimension at a level where the purely human is bypassed. The objective moral order of the universe exists solely in man’s mind. Its counter-part in the universe is harmony, equilibrium.
The idea that morality, goodness, conscience, and ethical choice belong exclusively to the human sphere is not shared by all. Those who conceive the unmanifest One to be the Absolute Good tend to envisage the entire cosmos, both material and spiritual, as being pervaded and sustained by moral law. How such a law could apply to all nonhuman manifestation seems beyond our ken; nevertheless, the thought of Supreme Goodness in the cosmos persists as an appropriate expression of the truth, just as does the supremacy of cosmic harmony. Both exist as ideas in the human mind. Either could have objective existence apart from mankind. From the strictly human point of view, however, it is scarcely possible to distinguish between them.
Harmony is the “right” relationship of parts; and what is right can only be good. When human conduct is most right, it is just, honorable, courageous, loyal, kind, generous, and compassionate. If the ultimate source of these qualities transcends the human, then to use them in character designation may involve more than human value judgments. And civilized people everywhere have intuitively grasped that these are noble traits representing the realization of humanity’s highest potentials — which may be divine. With or without religious significance, they have always been regarded as good attributes, while deviations from them are less good and sometimes evil.
The harmonious relationship of peaceful men, which we all seek, is built upon trust and confidence in one another’s integrity. To oppose evil forces with dishonorable practices may in the short term accomplish political and even humanitarian ends. Those who participate in such actions may be motivated by idealism and a sense of obligation to fight their enemies in the most efficient way they know, even at the cost of personal integrity. Yet wiser people realize that dishonorable means never establish the “right” relations and, in disrupting the divine harmony of the cosmic order, are in the long run a disservice to mankind. Nor is patriotic concern, however commendable, the highest duty. Nations and governments come and go as the human race struggles to evolve; our prime obligation is to facilitate its spiritual ascent. Let us recognize that despite all our human frailties, our evolutionary potentials are indeed divine and that earthly trials and tribulations are necessary to become more godlike in thought and action.
— By Catherine Roberts, Sunrise magazine, October/November 1997
Evolution in the Vishnu Purana
In H. P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine we find over 100 direct references to the Vishnu Purana, largely in her discussions of cosmic and human evolution. Purana means “old,” hence a legend or tale of ancient times. Traditionally, a Purana covers five distinct topics: 1) the creation of the universe; 2) its destruction and renovation; 3) the genealogy of gods and patriarchs; 4) the reigns of the manus, forming the periods called manvantaras; and 5) the history of the solar and lunar races of kings. All eighteen Puranas are written in verse, in the form of a dialogue between teacher and pupil. The Vishnu Purana, an extraordinarily difficult book, was first published in the West in the unsurpassed five-volume translation of H. H. Wilson, annotated by FitzEdward Hall, from which all quotes here are taken.
In this Purana, Vishnu is the pervader, present in everything, cause of everything, from which all comes and to which all returns. He is not just the preserver in the Hindu Trimurti: the creator Brahma is a form Vishnu takes to bring about creation, and Vishnu can also take on the function of destroyer. He is the eternal principle in which the non-eternal cycles of manifestation or evolution exist. In describing and studying evolution, we should always keep this eternal principle in the back of our minds, pervading every idea on which we focus.
Hindu Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, Siva)
The Vishnu Purana describes the unfolding of the cosmos, the coming into existence of the elements and all that they compose — the universe, the earth, and its living beings — and the evolution and guidance of humanity. It tells us that the chief principle is pradhana: undifferentiated substance, primeval matter, the shadowy substance or “veil” placed before or surrounding Brahman, the universal self. Pradhana is mentioned as the indiscrete or undifferentiated cause: “By that principle all things were invested in the period subsequent to the last dissolution of the universe, and prior to creation.” It is devoid of sound, touch, and other aspects which manifest later. Originally “there was neither day nor night, nor sky nor earth, nor darkness nor light, nor any other things, save only One, unapprehensible by intellect, or That which is Brahma and Pums (spirit) and Pradhana (matter)” (1:21-4). Then the supreme soul
of his own will having entered into matter and spirit, agitated the mutable and immutable principles, the season of creation being arrived. In the same manner as fragrance affects the mind from its proximity merely, and not from any intermediate operation upon the mind itself, so the Supreme influenced the elements of creation. — 1:27
This is a beautiful way of describing how that which is beyond the duality of spirit and matter entered and affected the primordial principles. Here we see the first impulse of divine will from the heart of being. With this impulse evolution starts.
The Vishnu Purana then describes the seven or nine “creations” or periods of evolution. Originally the three gunas or qualities — sattva (goodness), rajas (passion), and tamas (quiescence) — were in equilibrium in pradhana. The “unequal development” or manifestation of these qualities constitutes mahat or cosmic intellect, which becomes threefold, as affected by the qualities (1:33-5). Mahat produces manas (the thinking principle) and ahamkara (egoism, personality, or the feeling of “I am I”). According to theosophy, mahat is actually the aggregate of the divine and spiritual intelligences of our cosmos, the host of dhyani-chohans. Thus the first creation is the creation of mahat or the host of cosmic intelligences.
The next two creations concern the origin of the elements and the organs of sense from egotism affected by the three qualities. Here we see the process of differentiation through illusion. Buddhi (spiritual soul) as a principle is indiscrete in its higher sense: there is no separation of things whatsoever. Cosmic mind separates into units which are distinctive. In the universal being, egoism is the beginning of self-awareness of the distinctive units as being separate. In other words, from cosmic mind issues forth the first shadowy outline of selfhood. Pure (sattva) egoism becomes passionate (rajas) and finally rudimental or initial (tamas); it is the origin of all conscious, as well as of all miscalled unconscious, being.
The second or “elemental” creation is the first differentiation of universal undifferentiated substance. It brings forth the five tanmatras, “rudimentary elements” from which the “gross elements” (mahabhutas) of earth, water, air, fire, and aether arise. These tanmatras are sound, touch, form or sight, taste, and smell. Sound gives birth to aether, touch to fire, form or sight to air, taste to water, and smell to earth. This is the second or elemental creation, proceeding from the principle of egoism affected by the property of tamas (inertia, darkness).
Then follows the third or indriya creation of the organs of sense. The ten organs of sense (ear, skin, eye, tongue, nose, speech, hands, feet, and excretory and generative organs) are said to be the products of egoism affected by rajas (passion, foulness); and the ten divinities ruling them proceed from egoism affected by sattva (goodness), as does mind, which is the eleventh.
These three creations, together called the primary creation, are preceded by or originate from buddhi. This, Blavatsky explains, is because buddhi is neither a discrete nor an indiscrete quantity, but partakes of the nature of both. On the plane of illusion it is a human monad, but once freed from the illusion of the three forms of egoism and from terrestrial mind, buddhi becomes truly continuous, both in duration and extension, because eternal and immortal. Blavatsky mentions three creations originating in buddhi which are only hinted at in the Puranas. As the Vayu Purana says: “the six creations which proceed from the series of which mahat is the first are the work of Brahma. The three creations beginning with buddhi are elemental” (1:77n, Wilson translation).
Let us now see how the mundane egg comes into being. The Vishnu Purana explains that, when ether, air, light, water, and earth combined with one another,
they assumed, through their mutual association, the character of one mass of entire unity; and, from the direction of spirit, with the acquiescence of the indiscrete Principle, Intellect and the rest, to the gross elements inclusive, formed an egg, which gradually expanded like a bubble of water. This vast egg, O sage, compounded of the elements, and resting on the waters, was the excellent natural abode of Vishnu in the form of Brahma; . . . In that egg, O Brahman, were the continents and seas and mountains, the planets and divisions of the universe, the gods, the demons, and mankind. And this egg was externally invested by seven natural envelopes; or by water, air, fire, ether, and Ahamkara, the origin of the elements, each tenfold the extent of that which it invested; next came the principle of Intelligence; and, finally, the whole was surrounded by the indiscrete Principle: resembling, thus, the cocoa-nut, filled interiorly with pulp, and exteriorly covered by husk and rind. — 1:38-40
The primary creation with its three stages is followed by the secondary creation, which includes the fourth and further evolutionary periods. The Vishnu Purana describes the fourth or mukhya creation as “beginning with ignorance, and consisting of darkness” (1:69). Brahma, plunged in abstraction, created “the fivefold (immovable) world, without intellect or reflection, void of perception or sensation, incapable of feeling, and destitute of motion.” This creation comprises the fixed beings: the mineral kingdom and the five classes of plants.
The fourth creation in this world actually starts with the evolution of three elemental or rudimentary kingdoms. According to Blavatsky, this happened in inverse order from that of the primary period, where the order was cosmic mind, the rudimentary elements, and the senses. In the secondary creation,
the order of Elemental Forces stands thus: (1) The nascent centres of Force (intellectual and physical); (2) the rudimental principles — nerve force, so to say; and (3) nascent apperception, which is the Mahat of the lower kingdoms, especially developed in the third order of Elementals; these are succeeded by the objective kingdom of minerals, in which latter that apperception is entirely latent, to re-develop only in the plants. The mukhya “Creation,” then, is the middle point between the three lower and the three higher kingdoms, which represent the seven esoteric kingdoms of Kosmos, as of Earth. — The Secret Doctrine 1:454-5
Then follows the fifth creation: Brahma, beholding that the fourth was defective, designed the animal creation. Their characteristic was darkness or ignorance, “they being destitute of knowledge, uncontrolled in their conduct, and mistaking error for wisdom; being formed of egotism and self-esteem, labouring under the twenty-eight kinds of imperfection [such as blindness, deafness, defects of intellect, etc.], manifesting inward sensations, and associating with each other (according to their kinds)” (Vishnu Purana 1:71-2).
Brahma beheld that this creation was also imperfect and went on to the sixth creation, which abounded with the quality of goodness. The beings produced in this creation were endowed with pleasure and enjoyment, unencumbered internally or externally, and luminous within and without. This creation is sometimes regarded as the sixth, sometimes as the third, and sometimes left out in the sequence of creations of the secondary period because it actually belongs to the primary period, in which the creation of the divinities was the third creation. These divinities are, according to Blavatsky, “simply the prototypes of the First Race, the fathers of their ‘mind-born’ progeny with the soft bones. It is these who became the Evolvers of the ‘Sweat-born’ . . .” (Secret Doctrine 1:456).
Brahma, although pleased, still found his creation incomplete, and so continued with the seventh, eighth, and ninth creations:
Continuing, therefore, his meditations, there sprang, in consequence of his infallible purpose, the creation termed Arvaksrotas, . . . They abound with the light of knowledge [sattva]; but the qualities of darkness [tamas] and of foulness [rajas] predominate. Hence they are afflicted by evil, and are repeatedly impelled to action. They have knowledge both externally and internally, and are the instruments (of accomplishing the object of creation, the liberation of soul). These creatures were mankind.
. . .
There is an eighth creation, termed Anugraha, which possesses both the qualities of goodness and darkness. . . . But there is a ninth, the Kaumara creation, which is both primary and secondary. These are the nine creations of the great progenitor of all, and, both as primary and secondary, are the radical causes of the world, proceeding from the sovereign creator. — Vishnu Purana 1:73, 75-8
The Secret Doctrine says that the eighth creation mentioned here is no creation at all; it is a blind, for it refers to a purely mental process: the cognition of the ninth creation which, in its turn, is an effect, manifesting in the secondary that which was a creation in the primary creation. The eighth creation, according to Blavatsky, “is ‘that creation of which we have a perception‘ — in its esoteric aspect — and ‘to which we give intellectual assent (Anugraha) in contradistinction to organic creation.’ It is the correct perception of our relations to the whole range of ‘gods’ and especially of those we bear to the Kumaras — the so-called ‘Ninth Creation’ — which is in reality an aspect of or reflection of the sixth in our manvantara . . .” (SD 1:456).
The ninth or kaumara creation is both primary and secondary, says the Vishnu Purana. The kumaras (literally, those who are eternally youthful) “`are the Dhyanis, derived immediately from the supreme Principle, who reappear in the Vaivasvata Manu period [our present manvantara], for the progress of mankind’ ” (SD 1:457). They may indeed mark a “special” or extra creation, says Blavatsky, since “it is they who, by incarnating themselves within the senseless human shells of the two first Root-races, and a great portion of the Third Root-race — create, so to speak, a new race: that of thinking, self-conscious and divine men” (SD 1:457n). The Vishnu Purana adds that these sages live as long as Brahma and that they are only created by him in the first kalpa. Esoterically, they are the progenitors of the true spiritual self in physical man, not the progenitors of the model or type of the physical form. Thus, the so-called ninth creation of the kumaras is no real creation, but the incarnation of the already existent highest principle in the first three root-races. The kumaras make their appearance several times: as the sixth creation (which is actually the third), they are the prototypes of the first race of divine men (not of the lower or lunar ancestors of men).
Let us summarize the whole picture of evolution given in the Vishnu Purana. First there was the veil of Brahman — pradhana, the indiscrete principle — in which the three qualities of tamas, rajas, and sattva were in equilibrium. Then that creation is activated by Brahman through Vishnu entering into primordial matter and spirit. Scarcely mentioned is buddhi or cosmic intelligence, from which originated three rudimentary creations. Then comes what the Puranas call the first creation, that of mahat, cosmic mind or intellect, due to the unequal development of the three qualities. As a result of mahat, the sense of egoism manifests. In combination with the three qualities which are no longer in equilibrium, the threefold primary creation of Brahma takes place. The second creation is that of the rudimental elements, from which proceed the gross elements; the third creation is that of the senses and the divinities presiding over them.
Then follows the secondary creation, where originate the fixed and the locomotive beings — from minerals and plants, via animals and the prototypes of the first root-race men, to men — which includes the fourth through seventh creations. The fourth creation itself begins with a threefold process to form the three degrees of elemental kingdoms, evolved in opposite order to those in the primary period. These three creations plus the fourth through seventh actually make seven creations in the secondary creation. The so-called eighth and ninth creations are no real creations, but refer rather to the incarnation of divine beings in the early root-races of humanity.
— By Rudi Jansma, Sunrise magazine, April/May 1999
See Also: Advaita Vedanta on Universal Theosophy