I think that modern physics has definitely decided in favor of Plato. In fact the smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense; they are forms, ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language.
-- Werner Heisenberg [quoted March 8, 1992 in NYTB REVIEW, p. 4]
By William A. Savage
[Reproduced from the THEOSOPHIC LINK, Fall 1996, 8:3. Reprinted with permission.]
Whether Cambrian, Jurassic, or other geologic layers of the earth, science and The Secret Doctrine (SD) are in general agreement on sequences and many events in the fossil record. They differ, however, in the lengths of time for these periods and the age of man. What is the source of that divergence, and how can we explain it? How do the root-races of humanity relate to current scientific thinking on geologic ages? These are the questions we'll explore.
Geologic classification of ages is derived from thicknesses of strata and deposits. The accuracy of times given to them depended upon a knowledge of the duration and/or rate at which materials were deposited. The SD's geologic timeline was derived from (1) thicknesses of sedimentation layers, given in Andre Lefevre's 1879 book LA PHILOSOPHIE, and (2) the science of the wisdom tradition which states in part that sedimentation in this 4th round began 320 M (million years ago).
In THE SECRET DOCTRINE, II, 709-10, HPB takes Lefevre's thicknesses and utilizes each as a percentage of the whole. She then applies these percentages to the overall period of 320 million years, deriving an estimate of time for each geologic era. "Such estimates," she says, "harmonise with the statements of Esoteric Ethnology in almost every particular".
An example of agreement on events and difference in timelines is the extinction of the dinosaurs and the rise of mammals. The SD and science place that extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period, and the rise of the mammals in the following Tertiary. However, the SD's timeline places the extinction of the dinosaurs some 9 or 10 M, while science has stretched its estimates of dinosaur extinction to 65 M.
HPB's timeline was not in agreement with the science of her day either, although the divergence wasn't nearly as pronounced as it is today. The reason for the current discrepancy has to do with the radiometric methods of science: dating geologic layers based on rates of radioactive decay. One method is carbon-14 (limited to archaeological periods less than 50,000 years ago); another is potassium-argon (used geologically for periods covering millions of years).
Radioactivity is a process of releasing matter (particles or gamma rays) from atoms. As particles or gamma rays are ejected and radiated from the substance, it naturally loses mass and materiality. G. de Purucker in THE ESOTERIC TRADITION, I, 325-7, suggests that radioactivity is a process of the physical world etherealizing.
It occurs on the "ascending arc" or progression away from materiality. From a theosophic perspective, this began slowly about the middle of the 4th root-race of the 4th round (8 or 9 M, suggested from HPB's timeline). At its inception, the rate of radioactive decay would have been small. In the ensuing millions of years, radioactivity would have increased progressively until we have the decay rates observed today.
Consider the analogy of a clock. Regardless of timekeeping, sunrise and sunset are the same -- just as the geologic layers (Jurassic, etc.) are the same. If our clock ran more slowly in the morning, it would measure a shorter time period than a clock that ran at a constant rate the whole day. So it is when we use radioactive decay rates as our clocks. Since science assumes constant and uniform rates of decay, older periods would be lengthened and the timeline would naturally exceed that of the SD.
Should figures in the SD be updated to reflect current scientific conclusions? HPB's timeline was not borrowed from the judgments of the science of her day, but came from geologic data and the science of the wisdom tradition. It is also from that tradition that came the idea of varying decay rates.
As medicine, biology, physics, and other sciences approach more and more the thinking of the wisdom tradition (as in holistic medicine, morphogenetic fields, and quantum consciousness studies), perhaps the day will come when non-constant radioactivity will be recognized, and science will adjust its timeline to be more in tune with THE SECRET DOCTRINE.
Now, to significant events in the geologic eras and the root-races. HPB estimated that human minds began to awaken 18 million years ago. Her timeline places this event in the early Cretaceous period (the time of the dinosaurs). But according to current scientific estimates, 18 M was the middle of the Miocene epoch (the time of development of larger mammals). Which is correct? When it comes to esoteric timelines and scientific timelines, we have to be "bilingual" and convert from one system to the other. I contend that 18 M (SD) is early Cretaceous, which science today would call 130 M.
With this in mind, let's examine the sequence of root-races. The 1st root-race reached full swing in the Carboniferous (or coal) period about 75-110 M (SD).
The use of "SD" with dates indicates interpolations from figures in The Secret Doctrine. Science gives the figure as 280-350 M. Not all scientists agree on dating of geologic layers.
At this point the human life-wave had developed unique characteristics of its own. Naturally, all time periods are approximate -- not only because of the immense time elapsed, and because there is a long overlap and blending between any two races, but also, as HPB noted:
The parallelism of Races and geological periods here adopted, is, so far as the origin of 1st and 2nd are concerned, purely tentative, no direct information being available.
-- THE SECRET DOCTRINE, II, 713 fn
Humanity of the 1st root-race of the 4th round was ethereal. Physical bodies of people had such low densities that they might seem like clouds rolling over the landscape. Meanwhile, the animal and lower kingdoms were slowly physicalizing ahead of humans.
The 2nd root-race (Hyperborean) came into its own at some time in the Permian period, about 45-75 M (SD). Science gives the figure for that period as 230-280 M.
The 3rd root-race (Lemurian) appeared some time in the Triassic period and extended through the Cretaceous: from about 9-45 M (SD). Science would give the figure as 65-230 M. Over millions of years this root-race is said to have become more physical, reaching an important juncture near its midpoint, 18 M (SD).
This date places it near the boundary of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, which science would date as 130 M. At that point humanity began to separate into two sexes, and the human mind began to awaken. The 3rd root-race is said to have gradually disappeared as a result of the cataclysms that wiped out the dinosaurs and brought the Cretaceous period to a close. A difficulty is that while dinosaur remains have been found, fossils of coexisting humans have not.
(Some controversial discoveries include the coexistence of large numbers of human footprints and dinosaur tracks in the Paluxy River area in central Texas. Also, prehistoric pictographs of dinosaur figures were found in the Grand Canyon area (E. L. Doheny, THE DOHENY SCIENTIFIC EXPEDITION TO THE HAVA SUPAI CANYON, NORTHERN ARIZONA, 1924). Unlike science, which tends to ignore such controversy, the SD's timeline offers reasonable explanations.)
One explanation is that the animal kingdom became dense and physical long before the human kingdom. Although physical, the human kingdom could have been cartilaginous or "soft," -- the bones of modern babies are not preserved in the same way as those of adults.
The 4th root-race (Atlantean) arose at some time in the later Cretaceous and extended through the Miocene epoch: roughly 3-12 M (SD). Science would give the figure as 7-90 M. The word "Atlantean" also refers to the entire configuration of the world's continents as they changed over a vast time period from about 12 M (SD) to 3 or even 1 million years ago.
Cataclysms began to disrupt Atlantean lands in various parts of the world in the mid-Miocene epoch: around 4 M (SD), which science would date as 10-15 M. Tertiary cataclysms include the raising of the Himalayas and Alps, the North American inland sea, and inversions of the earth's magnetic pole.
The present 5th root-race came into its own in the Pleistocene epoch of the Quaternary period: approximately 1 M. The 5th root-race overlapped the 4th, and is said to have had its incipience a couple of million years before 1 M.
What do these incomprehensibly long time periods mean? From a broader perspective, the rounds and races have to do with evolution -- where we've been and where we're going. It's the destiny of all beings -- the center of consciousness at the core of all beings -- to express themselves in matter, experience, and refine themselves. Hence, these subjects concern not only the evolution of physical form, but the inner unfolding of spirit on its cosmic journey.
Taken from GREAT THEOSOPHISTS, a collection of articles from THEOSOPHY MAGAZINE than ran from 1923 through 1938. Reprinted with permission by THEOSOPHY MAGAZINE.]
In the year 527, when the Emperor Justinian closed the Neoplatonic School in Athens and banished the last seven great Neoplatonists, the teachings of Plato and the Neoplatonists disappeared from Christian Europe for almost a thousand years. In the fifteenth century a revival of Neoplatonism arose through the efforts of Nicolas de Cusa, a Catholic Cardinal of German birth. Directly opposing the personal God of the Church, Cusa defined Deity as "the absolute Maximum and also the absolute minimum, who comprehends all that is or can be." This laid him open to the charge of pantheism, which he did not deny. He also declared that Deity can be apprehended only through INTUITION, an exalted state of consciousness in which all limitations disappear. Cusa's efforts to revive Neoplatonism were continued in Germany by Reuchlin, Trithemius and Cornelius Agrippa, and in France by Bovillus. The chief stronghold of the Neoplatonic revival, however, was the city of Florence, where Theosophical principles reappeared under the protection of the powerful house of Medici.
In 1438 Cosmo de Medici made the acquaintance of Gemisthus Pletho, an ardent Platonist, who inspired him with the idea of founding a Platonic Academy in Florence. With this end in view, Cosmo selected Marsilio Ficino, the son of his chief physician, and provided for his education in Greek philosophy. Ficino's natural aptitude was so great that he was able to complete his first work on the Platonic Institutions when he was only twenty-three years old. At the age of thirty, after translating the Theogony of Hesiod, the Hymns of Proclus, Orpheus and Homer, and all of the works of Hermes Trismegistus that could be found, Ficino began his translations of Plato. When that was finished, he turned to the Neoplatonic writers, and left behind him excellent translations of Plotinus, Iamblicus, Proclus and Synesius as his contribution to the work of the Theosophical Movement.
When Cosmo de Medici's grandson Lorenzo was eight years old, Ficino became his tutor, and imbued him with a deep reverence for the Greeks. After Lorenzo became the head of the house of Medici he brought his grandfather's plans to completion. He founded a great University in Pisa, established public libraries for his people, and made many valuable additions to the Lorentian Library which by this time contained a collection of ancient manuscripts second to none in Europe. He raised the Platonic Academy to a high standard of excellence and founded an Academy in the gardens of San Marco where the finest examples of ancient art were displayed for the benefit of students. Here Lorenzo spent many happy afternoons, watching the work of Botticelli and Michael Angelo, and listening to the words of Leonardo da Vinci, whose ideas about flying machines interested him as much as his discussions on art.
On the hills of Fiesole, just outside of Florence, Lorenzo had a beautiful villa which was surrounded by a colony of writers and scholars. One day a visitor arrived, a handsome young man of twenty-one who was already a prominent figure in the world of thought. He was Giovanni Pico, a younger son of the Prince of Mirandola. Although, to quote his nephew, Pico was "still a child and beardless," he had already acquired proficiency in twenty-two languages, had been initiated into the Chaldean, Hebrew and Arabian Mysteries, and had come under the notice of the "Brothers of the Snowy Range" in far-off Tibet. On the day of his arrival in Fiesole, the whole colony gathered around him to hear why he had left Rome so precipitously. He told them that he had become thoroughly disgusted with the ignorance displayed by the heads of the Church. He had published a series of 900 questions addressed to the Church and had invited scholars from all over Europe to be present at the debate. The intellectual leaders of the Church, after carefully examining these questions, decided that thirteen of them contained heretical statements. These were sent to the Pope, who immediately issued a bull against the young nobleman. Pico left for the more congenial atmosphere of Florence.
Lorenzo and Ficino decided that Pico would be a valuable addition to their Academy. Through the united efforts of these three the revival of Neoplatonism made rapid headway. Mirandola, who was a devoted student of Plotinus, persuaded Ficino to translate the ENNEADS, the influence of which appears in Mirandola's own description of God:
God is not Being; rather is He the CAUSE of Being. As the one primal Fountain of Being, He is properly described as the ONE. God is all things, the abstract Universal Unity of all things in their perfection. To even think or speak of God is profanity.
-- DE AURO, Sir Thomas More's Translation
Pico della Mirandola died in his thirty-first year, and Marsilio Ficino followed him six years later. After the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent the Platonic Academy went out of existence. In its place arose a mystical Fraternity, the FRATRES LUCIS, or BROTHERS OF LIGHT, which was founded in Florence in 1498. In spite of the persecution of the Inquisition, this Order was still alive in the eighteenth century, numbering among its members such men as Paschalis, Cagliostro, Swedenborg and St. Germain.
One afternoon in the latter part of the fifteenth century the monk Savonarola sat in his gloomy cell in the monastery of San Marco, grieving over the corruption of the world. He thought of the unspeakable moral crimes of Pope Alexandria VI and his son Caesar Borgia and shuddered. He thought of the "pagan heresies" which Lorenzo had introduced to Florence. He thought of the godless painters who tempted holy monks with their vivid portrayals of human flesh. Savonarola arose from his meditation and swore to rid Florence of these abominations. His fervidly ascetic genius soon gained him a large following, and when the French invaders departed from the city he attempted to turn the newly formed republic into a Christian commonwealth. But when Savonarola attacked the corruption of the Holy City, sparing not even the pope himself, he was cited as a heretic. Indignantly refusing the bribe of a cardinal's hat to change his style of preaching, he continued his denunciations, which led to his excommunication and execution at the stake in 1498. This was merely the prelude to another conflagration which was started by Torquemada, the pitiless Inquisitor-General and confessor to Queen Isabella of Spain. The Spanish bonfire was fed with the bodies of 10,000 Jews, with all the Hebrew Bibles that could be found, and with 6,000 volumes of Oriental literature. Thus, by the end of the fifteenth century, Italy and Spain were once more thoroughly "Christian."
While these events were taking place in Italy and Spain, another fire of revolt smoldered in Germany. Groups of Theosophists were now scattered throughout the country, studying and assisting one another in their common struggle for esoteric knowledge. Germany was destined to be the scene of a great moral struggle during the sixteenth century, and the opposing forces were assembling. On the side of freedom were numerous agents of the Theosophical Movement, some of whom must have worked with knowledge of the great Plan, while others served an ideal arising from an unknown source in their hearts.
In 1414 a young monk named Basil Valentinus was acting as the Prior of the Benedictine Monastery in Erfurt. According to his own story, Basil determined to devote himself to the occult sciences at an early age. "I resolved to make wings for myself," he wrote, "so that I might ascend on high." His first flights into the ether must have been unsuccessful, as he relates that "my feathers were consumed and I fell headlong into the sea." But just at the moment when all hope had disappeared,
one hastened to my assistance who commanded the waters to be still; and instantly a HIGH MOUNTAIN appeared upon which I ascended, that I might examine whether there could be any friendship between inferiors and SUPERIORS, and whether indeed these Superiors had produced Themselves upon earth.
Now thoroughly convinced that Masters DID exist, Basil determined that:
whatever the ancient Masters had so many ages ago committed to writing and delivered to Their disciples was as true as truth itself.
-- THE STONE OF FIRE
The first truth he discovered was that man's knowledge must commence within himself.
Only those who have obtained this passport can attain to the Magistery of Life; since they only can enter into the narrow gate [of initiation] as in the Mysteries we have just described.
-- CHARIOT OF ANTIMONY
The work of Bail Valentinus was continued by Trithemius, Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Spanheim, who was an Adept in the Secret Sciences and is said to have been initiated into the mysteries of the Kabala by a pupil of Pico della Mirandola. He taught the seven stages of evolution, mentioned several secret cycles and made some important prophecies. His definition of Magic was purely Theosophical:
The art of Magic consists in the ability to perceive the essence of things in the light of Nature, and by using the soul-powers to produce things from the unseen Universe. In such operations the Microcosm and Macrocosm must be brought together and made to act harmoniously.
-- Written in 1506
His pupils inquired what he meant by Nature. "Nature," Trithemius replied,
is a Unity, creating and forming everything. Such processes take place according to LAW. You will learn this Law if YOU FIRST LEARN TO KNOW YOURSELVES.
The fame of Trithemius was perpetuated by his two distinguished pupils, Paraceleus and Cornelius Agrippa. Agrippa was a statesman and linguist, physician and chemist, philosopher, Kabalist and Neoplatonist. He passed through life alternately patronized and persecuted, courted by the nobility and hunted down as a heretic by the Church. Although knighted by Margaret, Regent of the Netherlands, and honored by the Queen of France, he spent much of his life in dire poverty. Agrippa formed a secret association for the study of the occult sciences and wrote an esoteric interpretation of the New Testament. He taught the three-fold nature of the Universe, the identity of the Macrocosm and the Microcosm, and traced out the lines of correspondence between them. Space, he said, is threaded with invisible lines of magnetic force which unite men's principles with the occult forces of Nature. Hence:
The human being possesses, from the fact of its being of the same essence as all creation, a wonderful power. Truth can be made ever present to the eye of the soul. Time and space vanish before the eagle eye of the immortal soul. Her power is boundless.
-- DE OCCULTO PHILOSOPHIA
All of these ideas, so contrary to the teachings of the Church, were gradually preparing the minds of the people for the coming battle. In the middle of the fifteenth century John Reuchlin appeared, the Imperial Counselor of Emperor Frederick III. In spite of his diplomatic duties, Reuchlin found time to study Neoplatonism, to perfect himself in several Oriental languages, and to write an interpretation of the Kabala in which he described the sevenfold constitution of the universe in detail. When he denounced the burning of the Hebrew Bibles he was expelled from Germany and his works were burned. But later, when Melacthon, Erasmus and Martin Luther came to him for instruction, Reuchlin lit the torch which set fire to the Christian world and became in fact the "Father of the Reformation."
The immediate cause of the Reformation was the revolt in Germany against the enforced sale of indulgences, which promised the shortening of the time spent in purgatory upon the payment of a certain sum to a priest. In the year 1517 Pope Leo X, desiring to rebuild St. Peter's Cathedral, ordered a special sale of indulgences in Germany in order to collect the needed money. When the Augustinian monk Martin Luther heard the news his soul rose in rebellion. "Why," he indignantly demanded,
if the Pope releases souls from purgatory for money, does he not do it for charity? Since the Pope is as rich as Croesus, why does he not rebuild St. Peter's with his own money, instead of extorting it from poor men?
Walking boldly to the Church of Wittenberg, Luther nailed his ninety-seven THESES to the door. The people gasped at his audacity. Some trembled with fear, others rallied to Luther's support. Erasmus of Rotterdam, then considered to be the most brilliant man in Europe, refused to take sides in the controversy. Although he had already openly declared that "the monarchy of the Roman high priest was the pest of Christendom," he did not believe that a DIRECT and aggressive attack upon the Church would accomplish the desired result. Erasmus had already voiced his own protest against the sale of indulgences, had already declared that there was no difference between Jesus' teachings and those of the pagan creeds, and had already tried to unite the world in a league of brotherhood. What, then, could this raw, uncouth monk hope to accomplish? Erasmus expressed his admiration of Luther's courage, but disapproved of his extreme methods of reform.
Luther raged when Erasmus' views were brought to him. Origen, Synesius, and Clement of Alexandria had all used moderation, and were simply excommunicated from the Church as a result. And the Albigenses, Waldenses and Knights Templar -- they had used moderation and were burned at the stake. Luther felt that something more drastic than moderation was needed in this crisis. He wrote:
We punish thieves with the gallows, bandits with the sword, heretics with fire. Why should not we, with far greater propriety, attack with every kind of weapon these very masters of perdition, the Cardinals and Popes?
The reply to this outburst was a papal bull condemning Martin Luther as a heretic. As soon as the paper arrived, Luther called all his friends together, made a bonfire outside the city walls and cast into it the document itself, a copy of the Church Canon and a volume of scholastic theology which he particularly disliked.
Up to that time the Church had not taken Martin Luther seriously. She thought of him only as a vulgar, quarrelsome monk who could be quickly silenced by the Inquisition. But one morning Pope Leo received a most disturbing communication from his German representative:
These mad dogs are now well-equipped with KNOWLEDGE AND POWER. They boast that they are no longer ignorant brutes like their predecessors. Nine-tenths of the Germans are shouting "Luther!" and the other tenth goes as far at least as "Death to the Roman Curia!"
The pontiff was badly upset by this news. The matter was not as trivial as he had thought. This stupid monk must be given a lesson which he would not forget. The Edict of Worms was published, in which Luther was condemned as an outlaw and every one warned against giving him food or shelter. It also decreed that --
no one shall dare to buy, sell, read or cause to be read any books of the aforesaid Martin Luther, since they are foul, noxious and written by a notorious and stiff-necked heretic.
As Luther neared Eisenach on his way home from Worms, he was kidnapped by his friends and taken to the Castle of Wartburg, where he spent his time making a German translation of the New Testament. During his retirement, his friends and students tore down the images of the Saints in the Churches and openly opposed the celebration of the Mass. Many celibate monks and nuns, remembering Luther's story of the 6,000 infant skulls which had been found under a convent in Rome, left their cloisters and went out into the world. When Luther married an ex-nun, they followed his example and started their household lives. Finally the whole of Germany was split up into two opposing factions, southern Germany remaining loyal to the Pope, northern Germany becoming Protestant. In 1555 the Peace of Augsburg was ratified, after which time every ruling Prince was given the opportunity to choose his own brand of Christianity.
It cannot be denied that the Reformation led to conflicts as bloody as the "Holy Wars" of the Catholic Church. Luther was extremely intolerant of anyone who disagreed with his own interpretation of the scripture; Calvin did not scruple to betray Servetus to the Inquisition, which burned him as a heretic. Even the mild Melancthon regarded the latter event with "gratitude." Why, then, should the Reformation be described as part of the Theosophical Movement?
Whatever may be said of Martin Luther, of his colleagues and successors in reform, the fact remains that these men were animated by the fervor of sincerity, by a hatred of corruption and a longing for freedom from the selfish rule and brazen hypocrisy of Rome. Whatever were Luther's faults, he THOUGHT FOR HIMSELF, elected his own beliefs. This was an example to the world. What he had done, other men could do -- and did. Since his day religious thought has grown increasingly free, and in the present, no man need answer to an external authority for his beliefs unless he so choose.
By Murray Stentiford
[Adopted from a October 26, 1996 posting to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Can we be creative in presenting theosophy? Do we want to be? My personal answer is "Absolutely, yes." HOW is where the next challenge is.
Perhaps we need to be creative about ways of being creative first, e.g. brainstorm PROCESSES for people to interact and develop ways to convey theosophy. The Internet itself is a forum where just such things can happen.
Then there is language itself. Whenever I give a theosophical talk, I always try to put what I consider to be the meaning and essence of each idea in ordinary, original language that relates as directly as possible to the audience. I believe this is really important to the successful communication of theosophy and can be worked-on and developed.
On the other hand, if there's a need to make an exact quote from say THE SECRET DOCTRINE, I will do it and say so. The language of the "peak" ideas in the S.D. is to my mind extremely expressive and surprisingly durable as the decades roll by, but the innate vastness and freshness of spiritual experience needs to ever seek new and less limiting ways to express itself. Why stop where we are when we're only half way?
I believe another factor in successfully imparting theosophy is intellectual integrity, ie keeping clear in your mind and making it clear to your audience as well, the source and level of "authority" for what you're saying, ie whether it's something you've read and understand well, something you've read and don't really understand, or something principally from your own insight and experience. Mere book-learning is not a very good basis for expressing theosophy and I've seen it put people off.
On the other hand, people respond very much to enthusiasm and conviction when they're embedded in language.
The collective weight of thought of a tradition, which modern theosophy has built up to some degree, and more so with its ancient roots, seems to often stifle flexibility of expression, but I don't think this HAS to be so. No matter how tried and true,
I think we can set our focus more on the insights behind and beyond any of the verbal expressions -- in fact, it's critical to do so when it comes to trying to convey the ideas to others.
There's usually a cultural overlay as well, in older language, sometimes quite a negative one, eg a repressive attitude to women, that needs to be discerned for what it is and filtered out, when speaking to people.
Getting stuck in a way of expression is counter to the spirit of theosophy, but I don't think it's just a matter of those "in charge" not listening to requests for change. I think that when/if they appear to act like this, they are caught in a quite complex network of things to consider; on the positive side consciously trying to express their idealism and protectiveness, but perhaps also unconsciously expressing a part of the collective shadow side of the theosophical groups in the world, the part where inertia in the tradition, fear of change and locked-in vision lurk. So the challenge here is to find ways to break the choking hold of collective negativity while nurturing collective positivity, so to speak.
On top of this is the simple fact that most of us don't have the inner stature or perceptiveness of a Blavatsky, or the ability to check it out with a spiritual teacher, and so simply can't tell whether any new language really means the same as the old. This is where the intellectual integrity and honesty are essential, in what we say or write.
Better to be clear and enthusiastic about one percent of the theosophical offering than to sound derivative and fail to connect with ten percent of it, I reckon.
I think that the service is best achieved in meeting people where they are, as close to their way of thinking and language as possible, then giving them what's relevant to their lives and spiritual pathways. In our humble opinion!
By Eldon B. Tucker
[Based upon a November 27, 1993 posting to email@example.com.]
Bliss is one of the most sought-after experiences in life, an experience that is both one of the most common, yet one of the most rare to be found.
With bliss, one is filled with something greater. He is swept out of the world and forgets himself. He is engulfed in beauty, ecstacy, something vast and grand.
There is a sense of a remembered reality. Something elsewhere, long forgotten, dearly wanted, is seen again. One experiences a combination of an emotional intensity and extreme quiet at the same moment.
We could be in the arms of a dearly loved family member, long lost, but now reunited with us. We could be saying a sad farewell to a beloved friend, at his death bed. As a teenager, we could be having our first experience of sex, with a strong sense of deja vu, of knowing that this is something that we've known before, something beyond the personality of the day. We could be swept into a deep reverie through a poignant passage of music. We could be diving into writing or painting, lost in the wonder of the creative process. Or perhaps we're shaken by a brilliant idea, one that opens up wondrous vista of though in our minds.
We are seized, taken captive, filled with the sweep of a higher power. There is a momentary sensation of perfection, completion, where we've obtained a glimpse of a higher reality.
At a lower level, bliss comes from the achievement of the object of desire. We are fulfilled for an instance. We have cast out a desire, and drawn it back in. It has been fulfilled. Something has been created and achieved its purpose in life. In this momentary sensation of completion, we have become bigger, better, more complete. A part of ourselves, which we lost when casting it forth as a desire in the world, has returned, and become united with us again. Now if we could only not cast it out again!
To fully understand something, now, requires us to know the opposite as well. We must understand anger, rage, and evil as the polar opposite to bliss, which comes from perfection and transcendence.
The opposite to bliss is horror, regret, shame, emptiness, a total lack of value and meaning. We have gone down, become abandoned by the higher nature, and corrupted in some new way. This corruption is to lose an essential quality, to have the effects of the higher nature diffused, weakened, dispersed, disassociated with our lives.
The evil side to nature would tear apart ourselves, the destructive forces would rip us apart. We would be left, in our hearts, with but regret, shame. With the uplifting of bliss, of the holy side of our spiritual natures, our lower natures are changed, transformed, and also destroyed. But in this case the destruction leaves the seeds of growth, green shoots of future grander selves. Evil, though, leaves us with future shoots of evil, a bud, a sapling of corruption.
At the level of the personality, the evil side to life is experienced as a burning rage, fierce in its lower aspect, burning hot, fiery, destructive. It's emphasis is self-destruction, as opposed to self-sacrifice. We die to achieve our revenge, our vengeance, in honor of teaching others 'a lesson.'
Slights against us, small harms that others have done us, are magnified in our hearts to matters deserving of killing ranges. Like the enraged motorist who slams his car into yours, he is consumed with the fulfillment of universal evil. The opposite tendency, to contrast it with this, is where a small act of kindness of another is magnified in our hearts to a wave of love and kindness and appreciation in our hearts.
In either case, for good or evil, we are embraced by something higher than our personal selves. And it comes at many different levels. For the personality, bliss is pleasure, joy in doing activities. And in a still higher part of our natures, it is joy in being, in pure selfhood, in pure relation, unqualified relation, with others. Likewise, evil, at its highest, is joy in pure selfishness, pure destructive relation, unqualified by any sense of one's personal self, in pure relation to the others.
Bliss is, in one aspect, a cyclic experience. At the end of a cycle, the goal or reward for the experience of life is bliss. Bliss is also a background consciousness, something that stands behind and colors our every moment of manifest life. And a third aspect to bliss is that it represents the joy of reaching something higher, to breaking through to a higher stage of life, to achieving manifestation on a higher plane of nature than before. There is a sense of beauty and rightness to it.
As a periodic experience, bliss comes to us, we are filled with it, and experience it in a passionate sense. It can be very emotional, but the fiery energy exhausts itself, and we are left drained, feeling better, cleansed, uplifted, but at the same time it has departed. It will return, when our energy has picked up again, but it has for the moment left us again. We are back to our ordinary lives and it is gone.
The higher bliss, though, is cool, quiet, a background to the experience of life. It does not exhaust our vital energies but like the gentle radiance of the sun, it shines on us through the myriad experiences of the day.
The same is true, unfortunately, with spiritual evil, as well. The coolness is an attribute of the spiritual, be it good or evil, and the higher levels of spiritual evil come with an icy coldness that is awful to experience.
With spiritual evil, there is an enjoyment of the sense of doing cruelty, of doing harm, of hurting others, and feeling nothing! The more violent the pain, the injury inflicted on another, and still feeling nothing but the icy sweet coldness of not caring, the greater the experience of spiritual evil. It is really anti-Buddhi, the shadow side of the buddhic principle.
Instead of acting as co-creator of the world, one is acting as co- destructor, manifesting isolation and more separateness beyond the material world, raising those qualities, those elements of evil, into the higher principles, making them self-conscious at spiritual levels.
Individuals on the path of evil, the Left Hand Path, are really on the track of separation from our world, and not just separation from the other people of the world. The ultimate result is a Avichi Nirvana, an annihilation of unspeakable horror, and a following manvantara of abject misery as a Mamo Chohan. One has left the school of life and suffers an existence in nature's reform school.
The path of evil is not a natural thing. It is not a mere symmetry, an equally-valid opposition direction that we could take. It is not the second of two valid choices in life. It rather represents a temporary failure, a malfunction, a lack of success in life.
On the bright side of life, on the side of bliss, we find a perfection where a much grander scale of being has been obtained. The ray of consciousness has been withdrawn into the Monad, and one's existence has been grandly fulfilled! A personal self was fashioned out of the substances of nature, filled with life, and given consciousness, then returned home in glory, with the treasure of self-consciousness! It is a beautiful thing to behold.
This perfection, which is experienced as bliss, is the natural course, the natural order to things. Nature is moving in this direction. We are on the Upward Arc, ascending into the spiritual, and it is the natural course of things to raise ourselves, to ennoble ourselves, to experience the bliss of the achieving of perfection. Let us follow it. Let us deeply experience it. And let us lead our fellows about us to find it as well!
By Sarah Belle Dougherty
[based upon a new web page with the author's permission.]
THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
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By John Algeo
[Reprinted with author's permission.]
Among the curious lore of H. P. Blavatsky's SECRET DOCTRINE are her references to a language called Senzar. Senzar is a mystery. According to Blavatsky, it is the original language of the stanzas of Dzyan, which are the core of her great book, and of certain commentaries and glosses upon the Book of Dzyan, others being in Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit. The version of the stanzas that she presents in THE SECRET DOCTRINE is an abridgment of the originals and blends together the text of the stanzas with various glosses (I, 23). ---
[References to volume and page number only are to THE SECRET DOCTRINE (the original pagination); other references are identified by abbreviations.]
--- Some texts of the stanzas themselves are in other languages; for example, stanza 6 is said to be translated from a Chinese text (I, 36n).
The impression we get, then, is that the wording of the stanzas in the SD is not simply a translation of some set text in a language called Senzar, but is rather a restatement for modern students of such parts of the stanzas as Blavatsky herself understood, drawing upon such sources as she had available to make the ideas more comprehensible. That is, the stanzas of Dzyan, as we have them, are not a fixed sacred text, but an approximation. The version we have is less a translation than a paraphrase. That difference is important for our understanding of what kind of language Senzar is.
Blavatsky calls Senzar "a tongue absent from the nomenclature of languages and dialects with which philology is acquainted" (I, xxxvii), and so it is. The name of Senzar appears in none of the lists of the world's languages that linguists have compiled, nor is it ever likely to. We know about Senzar only what HPB has told us, although in fact she has told us a good deal.
SENZAR AND OTHER LANGUAGES
Much of what Blavatsky says about Senzar makes it seem to be an ordinary language like other languages, especially if we read her comments uncritically or with an excessively literal interpretation. Indeed, the question of what Senzar is, is significant precisely because it is a typical case of the temptation to interpret Blavatsky (and other theosophical authorities) in a literal, materialistic way, when what they are talking about is often something more symbolic and abstract.
The temptation to literalize is ever present and is fostered by Blavatsky herself. For example, she describes a dream in which she was studying Senzar in the Master K.H.'s house at the same time that she was improving her English with his aid (ML 471). We might leap to the conclusion that Senzar and English are similar things. This was, however, a dream only, and even so, her description does not tell us what sort of thing Senzar is.
In THE SECRET DOCTRINE, Blavatsky quotes a "Senzar Catechism" (I, 9), which is elsewhere referred to as the "Esoteric [or Occult] Catechism." This catechism is not necessarily written in Senzar; it may instead be about Senzar, as its alternative titles suggest that it is about esoteric or occult subjects.
The straightforward definition of Senzar in THE THEOSOPHICAL GLOSSARY (295) makes it sound like an ordinary language put to extraordinary uses:
SENZAR. The mystic name for the secret sacerdotal language or the "Mystery-speech" of the initiated Adepts, all over the world.
Because of statements like this, we can also assume that when Blavatsky uses expressions like "secret sacerdotal language" or "mystery speech," she is probably referring to Senzar.
Yet Blavatsky sometimes uses terms in broad and overlapping senses. Consequently we cannot be sure that all her statements about a "primordial," "sacred," "secret," "sacerdotal," or "mystery" language refer to Senzar, though it seems likely that many of them do. Some apparent contradictions, however, may be due to her using such terms of both Senzar and other languages. We cannot be sure. Even her use of the terms LANGUAGE and SPEECH is by no means so conclusive as it might appear in identifying what Senzar is -- a matter considered in detail below.
Blavatsky does explicitly compare Senzar and other ordinary languages. For example, she speaks of the "Senzar and Sanskrit alphabets" (CW XII, 642), as though they were parallel things. She contrasts Sanskrit as an ancient vernacular language with
the sacred or Mystery-language, that which, even in our own age, is used by the Hindu fakirs and initiated Brahmans in their magical evocations" (ISIS, II, 46).
She calls the "sacerdotal language or "mystery-tongue" the "direct progenitor" or "root" of Sanskrit (II, 200, CW V, 298) and identifies Senzar as being "ancient Sanskrit" (ISIS, I, 440).
Blavatsky also seems to relate Senzar to Avestan, the language of the most ancient Persian scriptures, but her comments in that regard are susceptible of more than one interpretation.
The book containing the ancient Persian hymns is often called the Zend-Avesta; hence the name ZEND was formerly used for the language in which the book was written. However, the word ZEND means a 'commentary,' ZEND-AVESTA denoting something like 'Interpreted Avesta' or 'Avesta with Comments.'
Blavatsky is well aware of the proper meaning of ZEND when she makes a punning identification of it with Senzar, in the kind of "occult etymology" that she was fond of, but that no philologist would accept as having historical validity. We might call such wordplay "synchronic etymology." ---
[By contrast with the usual sort of diachronic (or historical) etymology that philologists practice and with allusion to C.G. Jung's principle of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence.]
--- There is no historical, causal connection between the words in question, but their similarity of sound is a meaningful coincidence. What HPB says about Zend and Senzar bears careful examination:
... the word "Zend" does not apply to any language, whether dead or living, and never belonged to any of the languages or dialects of ancient Persia ... It means, as in one sense correctly stated, "a commentary or explanation," but it also means that which the Orientalists do not seem to have any idea about, viz., the "rendering of the esoteric into exoteric sentences," the veil used to conceal the correct meaning of the ZEN-(D)-ZAR texts, the sacerdotal language in use among the initiates of archaic India. Found now in several undecipherable inscriptions, it is still used and studied unto this day in the secret communities of the Eastern adepts, and called by them -- according to the locality -- ZEND-ZAR and BRAHMA or DEVA-BHASHYA.
-- CW IV, 517-18n
BHASHYA is Sanskrit for 'speaking, talking'; thus BRAHMA-BHASHYA or DEVA-BHASHYA means 'divine language.' Elsewhere, HPB cites a letter in which the "secret sacerdotal language" is called SENZAR BRAHMA-BHASHYA (CW V, 62). HPB's remarks on Zend cited above are echoed in the GLOSSARY (386):
ZEND means "a commentary or explanation" ... As the translator of the VENDIDAD remarks ...: "what it is customary to call 'the Zend language', ought to be named 'the Avesta language', the Zend being no language at all ... Why should not the Zend be of the same family, if not identical with the ZEN-SAR, meaning also the speech EXPLAINING THE ABSTRACT SYMBOL, or the "mystery language," used by Initiates?
However, if Zend and Senzar are "of the same family, if not identical," and if Zend is "no language at all," what shall we conclude about the nature of Senzar? Apparently that it too is no language at all. Moreover, in both the above passages, HPB indicates that Senzar (under the punning names ZEND-ZAR and ZEN-SAR) has something to do with interpreting esoteric communications into exoteric forms and with explaining abstract symbols. This connection with abstract symbols is significant, as we shall see.
Despite these comparisons of Senzar with ordinary language, and other such comparisons noted below, Senzar is no ordinary form of speech. It is secret. It is distributed over the whole globe. It is used by initiated adepts. It involves the explanation (ZEND) of abstract symbols. And it has other peculiarities that set it off from ordinary lanaguage.
SOME PUZZLES ABOUT SENZAR
Another of HPB's language comparisons creates a puzzle for interpretation, if we assume that by Senzar she is talking about an ordinary language:
The Neter Khari (hieratic alphabet) and secret (sacerdotal) speech of the Egyptians is closely related to the oldest "Secret Doctrine Speech." It is a Devanagari with mystical combinations and additions, into which the Senzar largely enters.
-- CW, XIV, 97
Hieratic is a cursive form of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. Its comparison to Devanagari probably refers only to the sacred use of both scripts; they are quite different in appearance and principles. If "the oldest 'Secret Doctrine Speech'" is Senzar, as seems likely, HPB twice states a relationship between Senzar and hieroglyphics -- a difficult statement to understand in view of her earlier linkage of Senzar and Sanskrit, since it and Egyptian have no known affinity.
[Some Russian linguists have proposed a linkage between Hamito-Semitic (which includes Egyptian) and Indo-European (which includes Sanskrit) in a hypothetical Nostratic language family; however, this theory is generally regarded as speculative. In any case, Blavatsky seems to be talking more about writing systems than about language proper in the passage cited above. Her conflation of writing and speech is discussed below.]
There are other puzzles in HPB's statements about Senzar. One comes during a discussion of the identity of Amida Buddha, in which she states, "'Amida' is the Senzar form of 'Adi'" (CW XIV, 425). AMIDA is in fact the Japanese form of the Sanskrit word AMITABHA, the name of one of the five (or seven) Dhyani Buddhas that symbolize the creative power of the Adi or Primordial Buddha. If we take HPB's statement as an etymology, she is wrong on two counts. AMIDA is Japanese, not Senzar (unless Senzar is also Japanese, as well as Sanskrit and Egyptian); and AMIDA does not mean the same as ADI.
Moreover, HPB must have known those simple facts. It is difficult to imagine that she did not, and therefore she must have meant something other than a simple etymology by her statement. In fact, HPB was not much interested in or concerned about the philologist's form of etymology; she was far more interested in a symbolic connection between things. This peculiar statement must be a symbolic one, a possibility to which we shall return.
As a final instance of the puzzles surrounding Senzar, we can note the legend of the marvelous Kumbum tree. It is a tree that is supposed to grow only in Tibet and to have sprung originally from one of the hairs of the Lama Tsong-Kha-pa, an avatar of the Buddha. Blavatsky quotes an account by the Abbe Huc, who says that the leaves and bark of this tree have impressed upon them letters and characters and that, if the bark is peeled off, different characters appear on the inner layers.
The tale is a familiar sort of traveler's marvelous narrative, but to it HPB adds several details. She says that the writing on the Kumbum tree is
in the Sansar (or language of the Sun) characters (ancient Sanskrit); and that the sacred tree, in its various parts, contains IN EXTENSO the whole history of the creation, and in substance the sacred books of Buddhism. In this respect, it bears the same relation to Buddhism as the pictures in the Temple of Dendera, in Egypt, do to the ancient faith of the Pharaohs.
-- ISIS, I, 440
The association of Senzar with Sanskrit has already been noted, and the comparison of Senzar with pictures will be noted below. Blavatsky adds that the Egyptian pictures allegorically represent a cosmogony (ISIS, I, 441), a significant point since Senzar is also used in the Stanzas of Dzyan to express a cosmogony.
Elsewhere, she repeats the main points about the Kumbum tree and insists that
The letter-tree of Tibet is a fact; and moreover, the inscriptions in its leaf-cells and fibres are in the SENZAR, or sacred language used by the Adepts, and in their totality comprise the whole Dharma of Buddhism and the history of the world.
-- CW IV, 350-51
The Kumbum tree is as much a mystery as the Senzar writing that appears upon it.
Some of what Blavatsky says about Senzar raises it from the realm of the ordinary to that of the extraordinary -- indeed, of the fantastic, if her comments are taken literally. She links Senzar with such different writing systems as hieroglyphics and devanagari. She identifies a Japanese word as a Senzar form of Sanskrit. She says that the legendary Kumbum tree's leaves and bark are impressed with Senzar symbols spelling out the whole of Buddhist teaching and world history. What kind of language can be and do all those things?
THE ANCIENT MYSTERY LANGUAGE
When Blavatsky talks about Senzar itself, she provides a very ancient genealogy for the language. She says that "there was a time when the whole world was 'of one lip and of one knowledge,'" (I, 229), which is to say that "there was, during the youth of mankind, one language, one knowledge, one universal religion" (I, 341). In this idea, HPB is echoing Ralston Skinner, who in a passage quoted in THE SECRET DOCTRINE postulates "an ancient language which modernly and up to this time appears to have been lost, the vestiges of which, however, abundantly exist" (I, 308).
She frequently repeats this idea, mentioning "the one sacerdotal universal tongue" (CW, XIV, 96), "one universal esoteric, or 'Mystery'-Language ... the language of the Hierophants, which has seven 'dialects,' so to speak, each referring, and being specially appropriate, to one of the seven mysteries of Nature" (I, 310), and she says that this "secret language, common to all schools of occult science[,] once prevailed throughout the world" (CW V, 306).
This "secret sacerdotal tongue" is Senzar, the language in which was written "an old book," the original work from which the books of Kiu-ti were compiled. The "old book" was taken down in Senzar "from the words of the Divine Beings, who dictated it to the sons of Light, in Central Asia, at the very beginning of the 5th (our) Race." But Senzar itself is much older than that,
for there was a time when its language (the SEN-ZAR) was known to the Initiates of every nation, when the forefathers of the Toltec understood it as easily as the inhabitants of the lost Atlantis, who inherited it, in their turn, from the sages of the 3rd Race, the MANUSHIS, who learnt it direct from the DEVAS of the 2nd and 1st Races.
-- I, xliii
The foregoing passage is of considerable interest, since, in providing such antiquity for the history of Senzar, it has effectively indicated that Senzar is not properly a language at all. In commenting on sloka 36 of stanza 9, "The Fourth Race developed Speech," Blavatsky says:
The Commentaries explain that the first Race -- the etherial or astral Sons of Yoga, also called "Self-born" -- was, in our sense, speechless, as it was devoid of mind on our plane ... The Third Race developed in the beginning a kind of language which was only a slight improvement on the various sounds in Nature, on the cry of gigantic insects and of the first animals ... The whole human race was at that time of "one language and of one lip."
-- II, 198
Obviously, it could not have been much of a language or of a lip. Indeed, this primeval sort of communication is not what we would call language at all. Since language, in our ordinary sense of the term, was not developed until the Fourth Race period, that which was learnt from the Devas of the First and Second Races and inherited from the sages of the Third must be something other than ordinary language.
Whatever Senzar was, HPB tells how it came to be a secret, sacerdotal "language" (CW, XIV, 180-81). After reiterating the claim that "there was in antiquity one knowledge and one language," she says that the knowledge together with the language in which it is expressed became esoteric after the submersion of Atlantis, "and, from being universal, it became limited to the few." The memory of the esotericizing of "the 'one-lip' -- or the Mystery-language -- " knowledge of which was "gradually denied to subsequent generations," was preserved in the Biblical myth of the Tower of Babel, concerning a time when human beings were prevented from understanding each other's speech because of their sin of presumption.
As a result of the esotericizing of Senzar, two languages came into use in every nation: "(a) the profane or popular language of the masses; (b) the sacerdotal or secret language of the Initiates of the temples and mysteries -- the LATTER BEING ONE AND UNIVERSAL" (CW V, 297). This divided state of affairs is not, however, to continue indefinitely. When Blavatsky remarks "that the entire cycle of the universal mystery-language will not be mastered for whole centuries to come" (I, 318), she implies that the once generally known and now esoteric language will again one day be fully mastered by humanity.
The existence of sacred languages is well-known throughout the world. Latin was, and to a limited extent still is, such a sacred language for Western Christendom. Hebrew is such a language for Judaism. Sanskrit is for Hinduism, and Pali for Southern Buddhism. Sacred languages are used in scriptures, for rituals, and often for scholarly writings on religious subjects. Such sacred languages may be intended by THE THEOSOPHICAL GLOSSARY's entry for MYSTERY LANGUAGE (220):
The sacerdotal secret jargon employed by the initiated priests, and used only when discussing sacred things. Every nation had its own "mystery" tongue, unknown save to those admitted to the Mysteries.
HPB puts such great emphasis on the unity of the one mystery language of Senzar that, if we are to understand literally the statement here that every nation had its own (by implication, distinct) language, then what is intended must be something like the sacred languages of various religions rather than the primordial mystery language called Senzar. Generally when HPB talks about the one universal mystery language, she means something considerably more basic and mysterious than run-of-the-mill sacred languages. HPB does sometimes use one term for several referents, so we should probably distinguish between the one primordial mystery language of all humanity, which is Senzar, and the various mystery languages of individual cultures, which are sacred languages like Latin, Hebrew, and Sanskrit.
Blavatsky's history of Senzar traces it back to the primordial times of our world cycle, before humanity had a physical tongue to speak with or a mind to think with. It was the common possession of nascent humanity before language proper had developed at all. Then a point came in the evolution of our species when a great disruption occurred, symbolized by such myths as the Tower of Babel, the Flood, and the destruction of Atlantis. Primitive communion was broken, a disjunction separated what is consciously known from what is subconsciously remembered, and a portion of the human mind sank into the waters of the unconscious as another portion become consciously active.
The myths of Babel, the Flood, and Atlantis seem to speak of such a separation within the human soul by which the conscious and unconscious aspects of our mind came into being as separate modes, replacing the undivided and undifferentiated mind of proto-humanity. Senzar was the common language of humanity before that division. After the differentiation of conscious from unconscious mind, Senzar become the "esoteric" language, that is, the lagnuage of the unconscious, which the initiated adept translates into the public exoteric languages of the conscious mind.
LANGUAGE, LANGUAGES, AND WRITING
To make sense out of the mysteries surrounding Senzar, we need to consider the meanings of the word LANGUAGE. Like most other words, it has more than one use. If we understand a word in one of its meanings, while it was intended by its producer in a different meaning, the result is confusion and misinterpretation.
WEBSTER'S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY has six main, including fourteen subsidiary, meanings for the word LANGUAGE, two of which are of especial relevance here. The first meaning is
the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a considerable community and established by long usage.
Examples cited for this meaning are "French language," "Bantu group of languages," and "classical Latin is a dead language." Another meaning, however, is
a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.
Examples cited for this meaning are "finger language," "language of flowers," "language of painting," and "mathematics is a universally understood language." Restricting our consideration to these two meanings out of fourteen, we can construct a language "tree" to show some sorts of things that have been called "language".
- Language -- Human Languages -- Speech -- Literal Language
- English, French, Bantu, Tamil, Latin
- Language -- Human Languages -- Speech -- Figurative Language
- Allegory, Parable, Myth
- Language -- Human Languages -- Writing -- Phonograms
- Alphabets, Syllabaries, Rebuses
- Language -- Human Languages - Writing -- Ideographs
- Hieroglyphs, Kanji, &, @, 5, +
- Language -- Other Communication -- Pictographs
- Drawings by Amerinds and Cave Dwellers
- Language -- Other Communication -- Other Artifacts
- Traffic Lights, Music
- Language -- Other Communication -- Natural Objects
- Gesture, Flowers
Figure I: Types of "Language"
Language in the first sense, ordinary human languages, can be either speech or writing, the first being language proper and the latter a visual representation of spoken language.
Speech can be either (1) literal, so that by it we mean exactly what we say (and a spade is a spade); or it can be (2) figurative, symbolic, so that by it we mean something other than what we say (and a spade -- as in the suit of cards -- may then stand for a sword, which is a symbol for the intellect). Ordinary literal languages include our ordinary, everyday uses of English, French, Bantu, Tamil, ancient Latin, and a great many others. The figurative uses of language include allegories, like Bunyan's PILGRIM'S PROGRESS; parables, like those in the gospels; and myths, like those about the ancient Greek gods.
Writing consists of either characters that represent the sounds of a language, called (3) phonograms, or characters that represent the words of the language, called (4) ideographs. Each phonogram may stand for an individual sound, as the letters of our own alphabet do, or it may stand for a whole syllable, as the characters in a Japanese form of writing called hiragana do. A rebus is a punning form of writing in which signs representing things are used to stand instead for the sound of the thing's name; for example, a picture of a bee followed by a picture of a leaf might stand for belief (bee-leaf).
An ideograph, on the other hand, stands for a whole word and represents its meaning rather than its sound. Egyptian hieroglyphics used ideographs, as does another form of Japanese writing called kanji, which is derived from the Chinese ideographs. We use a few ideographs in English: "&" and "@", the signs for 'and' and 'at'; numerals like "5"; and the signs of mathematical operations like "+" for 'plus.' Some of these signs are used in all European languages, though pronounced differently in each language; thus "5" is "five" in English, "funf" in German, "cinco" in Spanish, but always means the same thing.
Language in the second sense, a nonlinguistic sort of symbolic system, includes (5) pictographs -- pictures that are intended to convey particular meanings, such as those drawn by the American Indians or the cavemen in Europe. It also includes the symbolic use of things we make -- (6) artifacts such as red and green traffic lights, or music that conveys ideas and feelings. In addition, it includes the symbolic use of (7) natural objects: we can read meanings in facial gestures, or we talk about the language of flowers, in which pansies represent thought; lilies, purity; and forget-me-nots, remembrance.
The fact that so many different things can be called language is not a recent discovery. Ralston Skinner, in a passage quoted by HPB (I, 308), points to this very fact:
To clear up an ambiguity as to the term language: Primarily the word means the expression of ideas by human speech; but, secondarily, it may mean the expression of ideas by any other instrumentality.
It is, however, easy to confuse the many senses of language, and any of us may do so when we talk about ways of conveying meaning. We often confuse speech with writing in a careless manner of talking about one or the other, and so did Blavatsky. Thus she remarks, "The DEVANAGARI -- the Sanskrit characters -- is the 'Speech of the Gods' and Sanskrit the divine language" (CW VII, 264). On the one hand, she correctly distinguishes between devanagari, the characters for writing Sanskrit, and the Sanskrit language or speech itself; but at the same time, she refers to the written characters as "speech," an obvious inconsistency. Blavatsky may have been thinking of the Sanskrit word as meaning 'speech of the gods,' but its etymological sense is rather 'divine city (writing).'
Devanagari is a cross between an alphabet and a syllabary. It has some letters that represent vowels (when the vowels form syllables without any consonant) and other letters that represent consonants plus the vowel "A". Diacritic marks (signs like accents) are added above or below a consonant letter to show that it is followed by some vowel other than "a" or that it is followed by no vowel at all. Although an unusual form of writing, devanagari is clearly one in which the characters stand for sounds. Therefore it is puzzling to see HPB remark,
Real Devanagari -- non-phonetic characters -- meant formerly the outward signals, so to say, THE SIGNS USED IN THE INTERCOMMUNICATION BETWEEN GODS AND INITIATED MORTALS.
-- CW V, 306
The writing system we know as devanagari has clearly phonetic characters. So either HPB means that originally the characters had some additional, nonphonetic value, or she means that the historical devanagari developed out of or was influenced by or replaced some earlier nonphonetic system of writing. The importance of this remark about devanagari is that it shows one must be careful in interpreting what HPB means. A facile interpretation is likely to be wrong.
It is even possible that the "real devanagari" HPB refers to may not be a writing system at all -- at least, in the strict sense of a system of visible marks that represent the sounds or words of a language. In the GLOSSARY (316), the term SYMBOLISM is defined thus:
The pictorial expression of an idea or a thought. Primordial WRITING had at first no characters, but a symbol generally stood for a whole phrase or sentence. A symbol is thus a recorded parable, and a parable a spoken symbol. The Chinese written language is nothing more than symbolical writing, each of its several thousand letters being a symbol.
Several different things are combined in that statement. Chinese writing is properly speaking ideographic; that is, its characters stand basically for word meanings rather than word sounds. When, however, a pictorial symbol stands for a whole group of ideas or thoughts that might be variously expressed by a sentence or group of sentences, it is a pictograph and is not properly writing at all, but rather a form of communication out of which primordial writing may indeed have developed. An example of a pictograph is an Amerindian drawing that depicts a treaty of friendship between Indian tribes and the American government.
FIGURE 2 -- An American Indian Pictograph
[Shown is a petition sent by a group of seven tribes, indicated by their totem creature, asking for fishing rights in four lakes. Lines connecting the eyes and hearts of the seven indicate that they "see eye to eye" and are of "one heart" in the request. The line from the leading figure (a crane totem) to the lakes indicates that they are thinking about those bodies of water.]
[based on Henry R. Schoolcraft, INFORMATION RESPECTING THE HISTORY, CONDITION, AND PROSPECTS OF THE INDIAN TRIBES OF THE UNITED STATES (1853), reprinted from John Algeo, PROBLEMS IN THE ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, 3rd ed. (New York: Harcourt, 1982), 54-55.]
Symbols can be pictures, like the Amerindian pictograph, or more abstract drawings, like the yantras of some forms of Hinduism. They can be other objects, either natural ones like the Himalayas or artifactual ones like Stonehenge. They can be words, either spoken or written. Words are especially likely to be symbolic when they are used figuratively, in parables or allegories. Moreover the same idea can be expressed symbolically through a variety of alternative forms, in which case the alternative forms are equivalents (as HPB says, a "symbol is thus a recorded parable, and a parable a spoken symbol"). So Skinner, as quoted by HPB (I, 308), remarks about the ancient mystery language:
The peculiarity of this language was that it could be contained in another, concealed and not to be perceived, save through the help of special instruction; letters and syllabic signs possessing at the same time the powers or meanings of numbers, of geometrical shapes, pictures, or ideographs and symbols, the designed scope of which would be determinatively helped out by parables in the shape of narratives or parts of narratives; while also it could be set forth separately, independently, and variously, by pictures, in stone work, or in earth constructions.
Skinner says the mystery language that he has hypothesized and that HPB elsewhere calls Senzar can be expressed in a concealed fashion in ordinary language through the symbolism of the letter shapes or correspondences, but can also be expressed through parabolic stories and visually in constructions of many kinds. That mystery language is thus not a single form of expression, but is rather a symbolic use of many different forms.
The word LANGUAGE can be used to refer to many different things: to human speech or written representations of it, to symbolic drawings and the symbolic use of objects of all types. All of those are varieties of communication systems. Cutting across the many senses of the word LANGUAGE as a communication system are two main modes of meaning: literal and symbolic.
Literal meaning is that by which things are themselves (as a spade is a spade) or represent other things simply and straightforwardly (as the word BOOK represents printed sheets of paper bound together). Symbolic meaning is that by which things -- words, stories, events, objects -- represent other things in a complex and allusive way, by analogies and correspondences (as a cross represents matter, suffering, the world, and so on). Senzar does not seem to be a language in the sense of a simple communication system. Instead it looks more like a mode of meaning -- the symbolic mode -- applied to any sort of language system.
By Keith Price
It's possible to become obsessed with many things, including sex and art. How are the two related? How are they spiritual or capable of being SPIRITUALIZED or theosophical in the sense of echoing in a NEW way the Ancient Wisdom?
I would like to suggest that it doesn't take a lot of effort to be influenced indirectly, unconsciously by art of the Ancient Wisdom tradition. It is really all around us, not just in coded hidden esoteric form, but out in the open as the CODE itself. Our alphabets and number systems, Egyptian, Hebrew, Roman, Phoenician, have allowed the creation of our dynamic, one might even say monstrous technologies like the Internet which we are now sharing and which is nothing more than the dew jewels in Indra's net of consciousness crystallized, mechanized and electrified to create a new kind of old linking of our very consciousness which CANNOT be separated from our SPIRIT.
Try as we might, we are all hapless dupes and victims most of the time and active Masterful co- creators some of the time of the same basic elements of communication as art whether the elements are sound, light, color, electromagnetism, number, letters, biological DNA markers etc.
I picked up Giovanni Gentile's book THE PHILOSOPHY OF ART synchonistically. I had no idea that his life was his ART, that his philosophy was ultimately his DESTINY, tragic and beautiful like art itself. I only skimmed in an accelerated learning style his translated work. The translator apologized that Gentile's style was too prolix, diffuse and ITALIEN-atedly romantic for our dry scholarly plane fair English tastes. He was verbose but not logical. He accentuated, some would say over accentuated the possibilities that were inherent almost immanent in the operatic style of Italian.
I would like to go on to echo some problems he uncovered and lived out. They haunt our world today like an uneasy Zeitgeist that is in no way paltry or polter. I am talking about his collusion with Mussolini's regime of fascism. Like Ezra Pound, he did the Unforgivable. His suggestions even deified a style of art, a style of life that we can no longer even CONSIDER in this age of political CORRECTNESS. How could he have betrayed us, the future artists, the future citizens that were, are, and will be starving for MEANING?
Fasten your seat belt fellow theosophists. His life and thought weren't pretty, warm, fuzzy or new age at all. Shirley McClaine and Jane Fonda wouldn't go near and I fear I shouldn't go near either. But I am definitely not in their league, so I have a certain freedom, to dare, to know, to will and FLAP my FACE.
What was his fearful message? He dared to suggest that the artist cannot will to be silent. That art is not so much thought in the Aristotelean Appollonian formalistic logical mode, but IS a priori, de facto FEELING before it is anything. That feeling, not form or matter or thought arises ex nihlo. Who can look at this? Who would consider the fearful consequences of acting from FEELING, not neurolinguistic programming of the political correct and righteously spiritual in a theosophical mode? What is the brotherhood of humanity?
Whoa! No, I am not apologizing for the jack-booted -- a term that has amazingly reappeared in the STRANGEST mouths and other orifices -- a juggernaut of genocidal madness. Yet fate moves us from within. Then the moving finger cannot help but trace a line that is not fully under conscious control, but is under the control of FEELING before form.
Before we judge and think and talk, we feel. We are doomed to art more than sin. It is original and drives the market at Southeby's daily. Jackie O's sheets are not my sheets and for valuable reasons. President Kennedy, not to mention Aristotle, never slept in MY bed even as platonic ideals, believe me!
The very people that kill and maim and feed and fuel the world economy and death mills are the first to send troops to Africa on HuMANi-samaritan (sic-sick) missions of mercy.
Mercy, is right and amazing grace to boot! Society always puts it best face forward, but it always sends someone else sons' to the war zones and gas chambers. Can we worry about issues of ART and FEELING before we FEED the starving minions of the juicy jungles of tribal jealousies of Hatfield and McCoy rivalries that would make the Irish blush with Republican terrorist shame?
Art is commerce, is politics, is economics, is spirit, is theosophy. Gentile's look at Leopardi's poetry among other things lead to a very uneasy truce with Mussolini that ultimately lead to his assassination for standing up for antifascist propagandists in the underground in 1944. Like Bernardo Bertulluci's antihero (if there ever was one) in THE CONFORMIST, Gentile like Mussolini and perhaps even Hitler helped the WORLD PROCESS OF ART in a way that is tragicomic in the worst way like a Borsht belt comedian trying to imitate Stridents and for an Eva Peron encore? Madonna, the truth is that we never loved you, only we couldn't take our eyes and ears off you, you PROGRAMMED our soul! I don't want my MTV anymore, not like that! Was his/her/now our song and thought worth her salt? The sulfur dioxide fumes of hell leaps around his soul tormented by the thought: what if I Didn't have to do it just that way. Could he escape our condemnation? Could we put him up there with the greats like Juddu Krishnimurti not to mention Col. Olcott or even HPB? Yet all are great just because they did what they had to do despite the judgements of history, but with de-infinite help even from the likes of the 3rd Reich, Spaghetti fascism (oxymoronic, I'm sure) and MTV (heard any music there recently?).
Does Gentile's spirit live today? Tyger, typer burning bright, in the armies of the night, what immortal hand or art could frame thy fearless symmetry?
What would a theosophy of art (not theosophical art, whatever that might be) be, look like, feel like? What heartfelt movement is rumbling just under the surface of the fabric of time ready to emerge? With a roar or whimper, by fire or ice, it is all the same and can be no different. Let the Feelings be with you. Fellow artists unite!
By Eldon B. Tucker
Hearing of Bakti Yoga, of union with a diety, of estatic bliss, we may think that this would be the ultimate form of consciousness, the most perfect, the most wonderful, the most fullfilling. But it is not.
There is a state that is higher than estatic bliss. And it is not a sense of perfect peace, however wonderful that may be. It might come to us in a quiet moment of emotional exhaustion after a devotion, perhaps to beautiful music, or after a streneous mental probing of the High Philosophy.
This experience has to do with healing the ultimate split, the ultimate separation in life. It is not a duality in the usual sense, not a split that arises, not the pair of opposites that come into being when a qualitity manifests itself. Take Ethics, for instance. When it comes into manifestation, it splits into the opposites of Good and Evil, it has split.
The ultimate split is not a pair of opposites, but rather the duality of the manifest and the unmanifest, of being and non-being, of existence and non-existence. We experience this split throughout all of eternity, and go through cyclic existences without end. But it is possible to rise above it, to rise above the sense of being in existence or not in existence.
We are not talking about a sense of wholeness, since it is neither complete nor incomplete. It is not perfection, since it is not dependent upon our state of evolution. And it is not bliss, since it is neither fulfilled nor lacking in any manner.
There is not brillance of understanding in it, since it is not known or knowable. It can neither be grasped nor let go of and ignored. This experience is both a part of our nature, an aspect of our consciousness, a view of ours in the experience of life, and also nothing at all to do with us!
It has a name, and yet is nameless. It is clearly defined in our Teachings, yet hidden behind the words. Beautiful and engaging, a source of rapture, it is yet so common and unnoticable a part of our existence that we go through life unaware.
We do not reach this experience by going to higher planes, by magic or personal self-cultivation; we never reach it regardless of our place in life or closeness to perfection. Yet we are already there; we already have it.
If we look for this experience, we don't see it, because it is lost behind the mask of words, the mental image we create when we search. Yet it also does not come by waiting for it.
This thing is unmanifest, for no imperfect creature in the world could represent nor give expression to it. It is unconditioned, since no event in the world, at any time, can change it. It is beyond attribute, since no virtue nor eternal ideal can qualify it. And yet, it is behind and throughout everything.
We achieve this experience, this insight, this appreciation of life by not reaching out to it. We become aware by not giving our attention to WHAT WE THINK IT MIGHT BE. It always exists in the periphery of our awareness. And we just KNOW IT and can only smile. There is no other way to express it.
By Judy D. Saltzman
[Reprinted with permission from a web page of Sylvia Cranston's.]
A hundred years ago, a leading New York newspaper, THE SUN, commenced a biographical account of the life of Helena Blavatsky with these words:
A woman who, for one reason or another, has kept the world talking of her, disputing about her, defending or assailing her character and motives, joining her enterprise or opposing its might and main, and in her death being as much telegraphed about between two continents as an emperor, must have been a remarkable person.
In 1986, the centenary year of THE HODGSON REPORT, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) itself issued a three page press release to the newspapers and leading magazines in Great Britain, Canada and the United States. It opened with these words:
Madame Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society was unjustly condemned, new study concludes." Dr. Vernon Harrison reexamined the case and presented a twenty-five page report entitled: J'ACCUSE: AN EXAMINATION OF THE HODGSON REPORT OF 1885, published in total by the SPR the very same year. Harrison included this comment in his report: "I apologize to her [HPB] that it has taken us one hundred years to demonstrate that she wrote truly.
Cranston's biography is the best recent publication on the life and influence of Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. It is characterized by a fairness and balance in describing her life and work. This current book has the advantage of being written near the end of the twentieth century when interest in her works such as ISUS UNVEILED and THE SECRET DOCTRINE and others has been reawakened and has greatly intensified.
The enormous value of this particular volume is that instead of stressing Blavatsky's paranormal abilities, such as clairvoyance and telekinesis, as do some biographies, it focuses directly on the heart of her work and her mission: compassion and help for suffering humanity. Furthermore, the book does not characterize the Theosophical Movement as a "New Age" fad, but views it comprehensively as an attempt to bring forth and to synthesize the Divine Wisdom of the ages which is at the core of all world religions and mature philosophies.
The chapters on Theosophy and modern science are particularly fascinating, because they do show how Theosophy is, in essence, a scientific attempt to understand religions, and also a religious attempt to spiritualize science.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the conclusion in which Blavatsky's influence on the "Reincarnation Renaissance" and "New Age" is discussed. Regarding science, for example, the book cites the ideas of the infinite divisibility of the atom, and the convertibility of matter to energy, which were predicted in the first volume of THE SECRET DOCTRINE (pp. 519-20). Blavatsky never claimed to be the inventor or discoverer of these ideas, but declares they have long been a part of esoteric science.
The last section of the book also discusses H.P. Blavatsky's great influence on the arts and humanities. Great poets and writers such as W.B.Yeats, George William Russell, Jack London, E. M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Thornton Wilder and others are mentioned as being profoundly influenced by Theosophy, and whose writings admit to a belief in reincarnation, an idea first introduced to the West by Blavatsky.
The occult dynamics of Theosophy are also evident in the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, the Bauhaus mystics, as well as Piet Mondrian, the liberated Calvinist, and Nicholas Roerich. Moreover, the music of Scriabin, Sibelius and Mahler would not have been written without the inspiration of Theosophy.
The book traces the influence of Blavatsky and Theosophy on such diverse figures as the profound student and popularizer of mythology, Joseph Campbell, the scientific luminary, Thomas A. Edison and many others. Also revealed is the formation of an alchemical society made up of mostly retired MIT professors, meeting periodically at the Harvard Club in New York to discuss Blavatsky's SECRET DOCTRINE.
In Cranston's book, witnesses to various events are given the opportunity to tell their tale in their own words wherever possible, lest in retelling the freshness and flavor of the original be lost. This policy, of course, was held for the chief witness herself, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. It is fair to say that all claims made in the book are carefully documented and presented in such a way that readers may judge the truth for themselves.
By Sarah Belle Dougherty
[based upon a new web page with the author's permission.]
The Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society (Pasadena) has opened an Internet site, "Theosophy Northwest," at
which focuses on providing significant content on core theosophical subjects. Its main portion, "Topics in Depth," contains over 300 "reprints" organized by topic. Subjects include theosophy, Blavatsky, Judge, Purucker, brotherhood, reincarnation, karma, evolution, the spiritual path, occultism, cycles, what a human being is, death, teachers and the hierarchy of compassion, truth and ethics; also science, the arts, and the world's spiritual traditions considered from a theosophical perspective. The material comes largely from Theosophical University Press publications (used with permission), including the last 30 years of SUNRISE magazine. Additional material is added regularly. Branch members hope this will prove a valuable research tool for students of theosophy, and make material of real substance available to inquirers into theosophy and to researchers looking for something beyond the orthodox academic viewpoint.
A second section of the site is an online version of THE CHILDREN'S BOOKLIST compiled by the Children's Committee of the Theosophical Society. The BOOKLIST now contains over 650 annotated titles (expanded from the 1992 print version's 380) for ages up to 15 years, under such categories as picture books, fiction for older children, myths and religions, science and nature, poetry, nonfiction, biography, and resources for adults. Children's Committee members update the list periodically as they continually review additional books. All suggestions on books to consider for inclusion are welcome (include title, author, and any additional information, and send to the Northwest Branch).
A third feature is electronic versions of several of the theosophical manuals published under the direction of Katherine Tingley in the first two decades of this century. Current manuals include ELEMENTARY THEOSOPHY, THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF MAN, KARMA, MAN AFTER DEATH, THE DOCTRINE OF CYCLES, and FROM CRYPT TO PRONAOS: AN ESSAY ON THE RISE AND FALL OF DOGMA. The PREFACE ends with a list of theosophical books, and several titles are linked to full-text online versions. More manuals will be added periodically.
Lastly, there are announcements of the Branch's monthly public discussion group (the Northwest Branch is located in King County, Washington, with meetings at the Bellevue Regional Library); local, national, and international addresses and contact information; and links to selected sites. Of particular interest are links to the portions of the new
site featuring Theosophical University Press Online, which contains full-text versions of over a dozen books from Theosophical University Press; and the site of Sunrise magazine, with the current online issue and many articles from back issues organized by date and author (the majority of the articles from back issues appear, organized by subject, on the Theosophy Northwest site).
To contact the Northwest Branch, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to PO Box 461, Woodinville, WA 98072-0461.