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Alfred Percy Sinnett
An extract from Esoteric Buddhism
IN all Oriental literature
bearing on the constitution of the cosmos, frequent reference is made to the days
and the nights of Brahmâ; the in-breathings and the out-breathings of the
creative principle, the periods of manvantara, [As
transliterated into English, this word may be written either manwantara or manvantara;
and the proper pronunciation is something between the two, with the accent on
the second syllable.] and the periods of pralaya.
This idea runs into various Eastern mythologies, but in its symbolical aspects
we need not follow it here. The process in Nature to which it refers is of
course the alternate succession of activity and repose that is observable at
every step of the great ascent from the infinitely small to the infinitely
great. Man has a manvantara and pralaya
every four-and-twenty hours, his periods of waking and sleeping; vegetation follows
the same rule from year to year as it subsides and revives with the seasons.
The world, too, has its manvantaras and pralayas, when the tide-wave of humanity approaches its
shore, runs through the evolution of its seven races, and ebbs away again, and
such a manvantara has been treated by most exoteric
religions as the whole cycle of eternity.
The major manvantara of our planetary chain is that which comes to an end when the last Dhyân Chohan of the seventh round of perfected humanity passes into Nirvana. And the expression has thus to be regarded as one of considerable elasticity. It may be said indeed to have infinite elasticity, and that is one explanation of the confusion which has reigned in all treatises on Eastern religions in their popular aspects. All the root-words transferred to popular literature from the secret doctrine have a seven-fold significance at least, for the initiate, while the uninitiated reader, naturally supposing that one word means one thing, and trying always to clear up its meaning by collating its various applications, and striking an average, gets into the most hopeless embarrassment.
The planetary chain with which we are concerned is not the only one which has our sun as its centre. As there are other planets besides the earth in our chain, so there are other chains besides this in our solar system. There are seven such, and there comes a time when all these go into pralaya together. This is spoken of as solar pralaya, and within the interval between two such pralayas, the vast solar manvantara covers seven pralayas and manvantaras of our - and each other - planetary chain. Thought is baffled, say even the adepts, in speculating as to how many of our solar pralayas must come before the great cosmic night in which the whole universe, in its collective enormity, obeys what is manifestly the universal law of activity and repose, and with all its myriad systems passes itself into pralaya. But even that tremendous result, says esoteric science, must surely come.
After the pralaya of a single planetary chain there is no necessity for a recommencement of evolutionary activity absolutely de novo. There is only a resumption of arrested activity. The vegetable and animal kingdoms, which at the end of the last corresponding manvantara had reached only a partial development, are not destroyed. Their life or vital energy passes through a night, or period of rest; they also have, so to speak, a Nirvana of their own, as why should they not, these fśtal and infant entities? They are all, like ourselves, begotten of the one element. As we have our Dhyân Chohans, so have they in their several kingdoms elemental guardians, and are as well taken care of in the mass as humanity is in the mass. The one element not only fills and is space, but interpenetrates every atom of cosmic matter.
When, however, the hour of the solar pralaya strikes, though the process of man’s advance on his last seventh round is precisely the same as usual, each planet, instead of merely passing out of the visible into the invisible, as he quits it in turn, is annihilated. With the beginning of the seventh round of the seventh planetary chain manvantara, every kingdom having now reached its last cycle, there remains on each planet, after the exit of man, merely the mâyâ of once living and existing forms. With every step he takes on the descending and ascending arcs, as he moves on from globe to globe, the planet left behind becomes an empty chrysaloidal case. At his departure there is an outflow from every kingdom of its entities. Waiting to pass into higher forms in due time, they are nevertheless liberated, and to the day of the next evolution they will rest in their lethargic sleep in space, until brought into life again at the new solar manvantara. The old elementals will rest till they are called on to become in their turn the bodies of mineral, vegetable, and animal entities on another and a higher chain of globes on their way to become human entities, while the germinal entities of the lowest forms - and at that time there will remain but few of such - will hang in space like drops of water suddenly turned into icicles. They will thaw at the first hot breath of the new solar manvantara, and form the soul of the future globes. The slow development of the vegetable kingdom, up to the period we are now dealing with, will have been provided for by the longer interplanetary rest of man. When the solar pralaya comes, the whole purified humanity merges into Nirvana, and from that intersolar Nirvana will be reborn in the higher systems. The strings of worlds are destroyed, and vanish like a shadow from the wall when the light is extinguished. “We have every indication,” say the adepts, “that at this very moment such a solar pralaya is taking place, while there are two minor ones ending somewhere.”
At the beginning of the new solar manvantara the hitherto subjective elements of the material worlds, now scattered in cosmic dust, receiving their impulse from the new Dhyân Chohans of the new solar system (the highest of the old ones having gone higher), will form into primordial ripples of life, and, separating into differentiating centres of activity, combine in a graduated scale of seven stages of evolution. Like every other orb of space, our earth has, before obtaining its ultimate materiality, to pass through a gamut of seven stages of density. Nothing in this world now can give us an idea of what that ultimate stage of materiality is like. The French astronomer Flammarion, in a book called La Résurrection et la Fin des Mondes, has approached a conception of this ultimate materiality. The facts are, I am informed, with slight modifications, much as he surmises. In consequence of what he treats as secular refrigeration, but which more truly is old age and loss of vital power, the solidification and desication of the earth at last reaches a point when the whole globe becomes a relaxed conglomerate. Its period of child-bearing has gone by; its progeny are all nurtured; its term of life is finished. Hence its constituent masses cease to obey those laws of cohesion and aggregation which held them together. And becoming like a corpse, which, abandoned to the work of destruction, leaves each molecule composing it free to separate itself from the body, and obey in future the sway of new influences, “the attraction of the moon,” suggests M. Flammarion, “would itself undertake the task of demolition by producing a tidal wave of earth particles instead of an aqueous tide.” This last idea must not be regarded as countenanced by occult science except so far as it may serve to illustrate the loss of molecular cohesion in the material of the earth.
Occult physics pass fairly into the region of metaphysics, if we seek to obtain some indication of the way in which evolution recommences after a universal pralaya.
The one eternal, imperishable thing in the universe, which universal pralayas themselves pass over without destroying, is that which may be regarded indifferently as space, duration, matter or motion; not as something having these four attributes, but as something which is these four things at once and always. And evolution takes its rise in the atomic polarity which motion engenders. In cosmogony the positive and the negative, or the active and the passive, forces correspond to the male and female principles. The spiritual efflux enters into the veil of cosmic matter; the active is attracted by the passive principle, and if we may here assist imagination by having recourse to old occult symbology - the great Nag - the serpent emblem of eternity, attracts its tail to its mouth, forming thereby the circle of eternity, or rather cycles in eternity. The one and chief attribute of the universal spiritual principle, the unconscious but ever active life-giver, is to expand and shed; that of the universal material principle is to gather in and fecundate. Unconscious and non-existing when separate, they become consciousness and life when brought together. The word Brahmâ comes from the Sanscrit root brih, to expand, grow, or fructify, esoteric cosmogony being but the vivifying expansive force of Nature in its eternal evolution. No one expression can have contributed more to mislead the human mind in basic speculation concerning the origin of things than the word “creation.” Talk of creation, and we are continually butting against the facts. But once realize that our planet and ourselves are no more creations than an iceberg, but states of being for a given time - that their present appearance, geological or anthropological, is transitory and but a condition concomitant of that stage of evolution at which they have arrived - and the way has been prepared for correct thinking. Then we are enabled to see what is meant by the one and only principle or element in the universe, and by the treatment of that element as androgynous; also by the proclamation of Hindu philosophy that all things are but Mâyâ - transitory states - except the one element which rests during the maha-pralayas only - the nights of Brahmâ.
Perhaps we have now plunged deeply enough into the fathomless mystery of the great First Cause. It is no paradox to say that, simply by reason of ignorance, do ordinary theologians think they know so much about God. And it is no exaggeration to say that the wondrously endowed representatives of occult science, whose mortal nature has been so far elevated and purified that their perceptions range over other worlds and other states of existence, and commune directly with beings as much greater than ordinary mankind, as man is greater than the insects of the field, it is the mere truth that they never occupy themselves at all with any conception remotely resembling the God of churches and creeds. Within the limits of the solar system, the mortal adept knows, of his own knowledge, that all things are accounted for by the law, working on matter in its diverse forms, plus the guiding and modifying influence of the highest intelligences associated with the solar system, the Dhyân Chohans, the perfected humanity of the last preceding manvantara. These Dhyân Chohans, or Planetary Spirits, on whose nature it is almost fruitless to ponder, until one can at least realize the nature of disembodied existence in one’s own case, impart to the reawakening worlds at the end of a planetary chain pralaya such impulses that evolution feels them throughout its whole progress. The limits of Nature’s great law restrain their action. They cannot say, let there be paradise throughout space, let all men be born supremely wise and good; they can only work through the principle of evolution, and they cannot deny to any man who is to be invested with the potentiality of development himself into a Dhyân Chohan, the right to do evil, if he prefers that to good. Nor can they prevent evil, if done, from producing suffering. Objective life is the soil in which the life-germs are planted; spiritual existence (the expression being used, remember, in contrast merely to grossly material existence) is the flower to be ultimately obtained. But the human germ is something more than a flower seed; it has liberty of choice in regard to growing up or growing down, and it could not be developed without such liberty being exercised by the plant. This is the necessity of evil. But within the limits that logical necessity prescribes, the Dhyân Chohan impresses his conceptions upon the evolutionary tide, and comprehends the origin of all that he beholds.
Surely as we ponder in this way over the magnitude of the cyclic evolution with which esoteric science is in this way engaged, it seems reasonable to postpone considerations as to the origin of the whole cosmos. The ordinary man in this earth-life, with many, certainly some hundred, earth-lives to come, and their very much more important inter-incarnation periods (more important, that is, as regards duration and the prospect of happiness or sorrow) also in prospect, may surely be most wisely occupied with the inquiries whose issue will affect practical results, than with speculation in which he is practically quite uninterested. Of course, from the point of view of religious speculation resting on no positive knowledge of anything beyond this life, nothing can be more important or more highly practical than conjectures as to the attributes and probable intentions of the terrible, personal Jehovah, pictured as an omnipotent tribunal, into whose presence the soul at its death is to be introduced for judgement. But scientific knowledge of spiritual things throws back the day of judgement into a very dim perspective, the intervening period being filled with activity of all kinds. Moreover, it shows mankind that certainly, for millions and millions of centuries to come, it will not be confronted with any judge at all, other than that all-pervading judge, that Seventh Principle, or Universal Spirit, which exists everywhere, and, operating on matter, provokes the existence of man himself, and the world in which he lives, and the future conditions towards which he is pressing. The Seventh Principle, undefinable, incomprehensible for us at our present stage of enlightenment, is of course the only God recognized by esoteric knowledge, and no personification of this can be otherwise than symbolical.
And yet, in truth, esoteric knowledge, giving life and reality to ancient symbolism in one direction, as often as it conflicts with modern dogma in the other, shows how far from absolutely fabulous are even the most anthropomorphic notions of Deity associated by exoteric tradition with the beginning of the world. The Planetary Spirit, actually incarnated among men in the first round, was the prototype of personal deity in all subsequent developments of the idea. The mistake made by uninstructed men in dealing with the idea is merely one of degree. The personal God of an insignificant minor manvantara has been taken for the creator of the whole cosmos, a most natural mistake for people forced, by knowing no more of human destiny than was included in one objective incarnation, to suppose that all beyond was a homogeneous spiritual future. The God of this life, of course, for them, was the God of all lives and worlds and periods.
The reader will not misunderstand me, I trust, to mean that esoteric science regards the Planetary Spirit of the first round as a god. As I say, it is concerned with the working of Nature in an immeasurable space, from an immeasurable past, and all through immeasurable future. The enormous areas of time and space in which our solar system operates is explorable by the mortal adepts of esoteric science. Within those limits they know all that takes place, and how it takes place, and they know that everything is accounted for by the constructive will of the collective host of the Planetary Spirits, operating under the law of evolution that pervades all Nature. They commune with these Planetary Spirits, and learn from them that the law of this, is the law of other solar systems as well, into the regions of which the perceptive faculties of the Planetary Spirits can plunge as the perceptive faculties of the adepts themselves can plunge into the life of other planets of this chain. The law of alternating activity and repose is operating universally; for the whole cosmos, even though at unthinkable intervals, pralaya must succeed manvantara, and manvantara, pralaya.
Will any one ask to what end does this eternal succession work? Is it better to confine the question to a single system, and as to what end does the original nebula arrange itself in planetary vortices of evolution, and develop worlds in which the universal spirit, reverberating through matter, produces form and life and those higher states of matter in which that which we call subjective or spiritual existence is provided for. Surely it is end enough to satisfy any reasonable mind that such sublimely perfected beings as the Planetary Spirits themselves come thus into existence, and live a conscious life of supreme knowledge and felicity, through vistas of time which are equivalent to all we can imagine of eternity. Into this unutterable greatness every living thing has the opportunity of passing ultimately. The Spirit which is in every animated form, and which has even worked up into these, from forms we are generally in the habit of calling inanimate, will slowly but certainly progress onwards until the working of its untiring influence in matter has evolved a human soul. It does not follow that the plants and animals around us have any principle evolved in them as yet which will assume a human form in the course of the present manvantara; but though the course of an incomplete evolution may be suspended by a period of natural repose, it is not rendered abortive. Eventually every spiritual monad - itself a sinless unconscious principle, will work through conscious forms on lower levels, until these, throwing off one after another higher and higher forms, will produce that in which the God-like consciousness may be fully evoked. Certainly it is not by reason of the grandeur of any human conceptions as to what would be an adequate reason for the existence of the universe, that such a consummation can appear an insufficient purpose, not even if the final destiny of the planetary spirit himself, after periods to which his development from the mineral forms of primćval worlds is but a childhood in the recollection of the man, is to merge his glorified individuality into that sum total of all consciousness, which esoteric metaphysics treat as absolute consciousness, which is non-consciousness. These paradoxical expressions are simply counters representing ideas that the human mind is not qualified to apprehend, and it is waste of time to haggle over them.
These considerations supply the key to esoteric Buddhism, a more direct outcome of the universal esoteric doctrine than any other popular religion, for the effort in its construction has been to make men love virtue for its own sake and for its good effect on their future incarnations, not to keep them in subjection to any priestly system or dogma by terrifying their fancy with the doctrine of a personal judge waiting to try them for more than their lives at their death. Mr Lillie is mistaken, admirable as his intention has been, and sympathetic as his mind evidently is with the beautiful morality and aspiration of Buddhism, in deducing from its
No such conception enters
into the great esoteric doctrine of Nature, of which this volume has furnished
an imperfect sketch. Not even in reference to the farthest regions of the
immensity beyond our own planetary system, does the adept exponent of the
esoteric doctrine tolerate the adoption of an agnostic attitude. It will not
suffice for him to say, “As far as the elevated senses of planetary spirits,
whose cognition extends to the outermost limits of the starry heavens - as far
as their vision can extend, Nature is self-sufficing; as to what may lie
beyond, we offer no hypothesis.” What the adept really says on this head is,
“The universe is boundless, and it is a stultification of thought to talk of
any hypothesis setting in beyond the boundless - on the other side of the
limits of the limitless.”
That which antedates every manifestation of the universe, and would lie beyond the limit of manifestation, if such limits could ever be found, is that which underlies the manifested universe within our own purview - matter animated by motion, its Parabrahm or Spirit. Matter, space, motion, and duration, constitute one and the same eternal substance of the universe. There is nothing else eternal absolutely. That is the first state of matter, itself perfectly uncognizable by physical senses, which deal with manifested matter, another state altogether.
But though thus in one sense of the word materialistic, the esoteric doctrine, as any reader of the foregoing explanations will have seen, is as far from resembling the gross narrow-minded conception of Nature, which ordinary goes by the name of Materialism, as the North Pole looks away from the South. It stoops to Materialism, as it were, to link its methods with the logic of that system, and ascends to the highest realms of idealism, to embrace and expound the most exalted aspirations of Spirit. As it cannot be too frequently or earnestly repeated - it is the union of Science and Religion - the bridge by which the most acute and cautious pursuers of experimental knowledge may cross over to the most enthusiastic devotee, by means of which the most enthusiastic devotee may return to Earth and yet keep Heaven still around him.
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