Madame Blavatsky on Indian Metaphysics
The (London) Spiritualist, March 22, 1878
Sir,—Two peas in the same pod are the traditional symbol of mutual resemblance, and the time-honoured simile forced itself upon me when I read the twin letters of our two masked assailants in your paper of February 22nd. In substance they are so identical that one would suppose the same person had written them simultaneously with his two hands, as Paul Morphy will play you two games of chess, or Kossuth dictate two letters at once. The only difference between these two letters—lying beside each other on the same page, like two babes in one crib—is, that “M. A. (Cantab’s)” is brief and courteous, while “Scrutator’s” is prolix and uncivil.
By a strange coincidence both these sharpshooters fire from behind their secure ramparts, a shot at a certain “learned occultist” over the head of Mr. C. C. Massey, who quoted some of that personage’s views, in a letter published May 10th, 1876 [p. 117]. Whether in irony or otherwise, they hurl the views of this “learned occultist” at the heads of Colonel Olcott and myself, as though they were missiles that would floor us completely. Now, the “learned occultist” in question is not a whit more or less learned than your humble servant, for the very simple reason that we are identical. The extracts published by Mr. Massey, by permission, were contained in a letter from myself to him. Moreover, it is now before me, and, save one misprint of no consequence, I do not find in it a word that I would wish changed. What is said there I repeat now over my own signature; the theories of 1876 do not contradict those of 1878 in any respect, as I shall endeavour to prove, after pointing out to the impartial reader the quaking ground upon which our two critics stand. Their arguments against Theosophy—certainly “Scrutator’s”—are like a verdant moss, which displays a velvety carpet of green, without roots, and with a deep bog below.
When a person enters a controversy over a fictitious signature, he should be doubly cautious, if he would avoid the accusation of abusing the opportunity of the mask to insult his opponents with impunity. Who or what is “Scrutator”? A clergyman, a medium, a lawyer, a philosopher, a physician (certainly not a metaphysician), or what? Quien sabe? [“Who knows?”] He seems to partake of the flavour of all, and yet to grace neither. Though his arguments are all interwoven with sentences quoted from our letters, yet in no case does he criticize merely what is written by us, but what he thinks we may have meant, or what the sentences might imply. Drawing his deductions, then, from what existed only in the depths of his own consciousness, he invents phrases, and forces constructions upon which he proceeds to pour out his wrath. Without meaning to be in the least personal—for, though propagating “absurdities” with “utmost effrontery,” I would feel sorry and ashamed to be as impertinent with “Scrutator” as he is with us—yet, hereafter, when I see a dog chasing the shadow of his own tail, I will think of his letter.
In my doubts as to what this assailant might be, I invoked the help of Webster to give me a possible clue in the pseudonym. “Scrutator,” says the great lexicographer, “is one who scrutinizes,” and “scrutiny” he derives from the Latin scrutari, “to search even to the rags”; which scrutari itself he traces back to a Greek root, meaning “trash, trumpery.” In this ultimate analysis, therefore, we must regard the nom de plume, while very applicable to his letter of February 22nd, very unfortunate for himself; for at best it makes him a sort of literary chiffonnier, probing in the dust-heap of the language for bits of hard adjective to fling at us. I repeat that, when an anonymous critic accuses two persons of “slanderous imputations” (the mere reflex of his own imagination), and of “unfathomable absurdities,” he ought, at least, to make sure (1) that he has thoroughly grasped what he is pleased to call the “teachings” of his adversaries; and (2) that his own philosophy is infallible. I may add, furthermore, that when that critic permits himself to call the views of other people—not yet half-digested by himself—”unfathomable absurdities,” he ought to be mighty careful about introducing as arguments into the dissension sectarian absurdities far more “unfathomable,” and which have nothing to do with either science or philosophy. “I suppose,” gravely argues “Scrutator,” “a babe’s brain is soft, and a quite unfit tool for intelligence, otherwise Jesus could not have lost His intelligence when He took upon Himself the body and the brain of a babe.” (!!?) The very opposite of Oliver Johnson evidently, this Jesus-babe of “Scrutator’s.”
Such an argument might come with a certain force in a discussion between two conflicting dogmatic sects, but if picked “even to rags,” it seems but “utmost effrontery”—to use “Scrutator’s” own complimentary expression—to employ it in a philosophical debate, as if it were either a scientific or historically proved fact! If I refused, at the very start, to argue with our friend “M. A. (Oxon.),” a man whom I esteem and respect as I do few in this world, only because he put forward a “cardinal dogma,” I shall certainly lose no time in debating Theosophy with a tattering Christian, whose “scrutinizing” faculties have not helped him beyond the acceptance of the latest of the world’s Avatars in all its unphilosophical dead-letter meaning, without even suspecting its symbolical significance. To parade in a would-be philosophical debate the exploded dogmas of any church, is most ineffectual, and shows, at best, a great poverty of resource. Why does not “Scrutator” address his refined abuse, ex cathedra, to the Royal Society, whose Fellows doom to annihilation every human being, Theosophist or Spiritualist, pure or impure?
With crushing irony he speaks of us as “our teachers.” Now, I remember having distinctly stated in a previous letter that we have not offered ourselves as teachers, but, on the contrary, decline any such office—whatever may be the superlative panegyric of my esteemed friend, Mr. O’Sullivan, who not only sees in me “a Buddhist priestess” (!) but, without a shadow of warrant of fact credits me with the foundation of the Theosophical Society and its Branches! Had Colonel Olcott been half as “psychologised” by me as a certain American Spiritualist paper will have it, he would have followed my advice and refused to make public our “views,” even though so much and so often importuned in different quarters. With characteristic stubbornness, however, he had his own way, and now reaps the consequence of having thrown his bomb into a hornet’s nest. Instead of being afforded opportunity for a calm debate, we get but abuse, pure and simple—the only weapon of partisans. Well, let us make the best of it, and join our opponents in picking the question “to rags.” Mr. C. C. Massey comes in for his share, too, and, though fit to be a leader himself, is given by “Scrutator” a chief!
Neither of our critics seems to understand our views (or his own) so little as “Scrutator.” He misapprehends the meaning of elementary, and makes a sad mess of spirit and matter. Hear him say that elementary “is a new-fangled and ill-defined term . . . not yet two years old!” This sentence alone proves that he forces himself into the discussion, without any comprehension of the subject at issue. Evidently, he has neither read the mediæval nor modern Kabalists. Henry Khunrath is as unfamiliar to him as the Abbé Constant. Let him go to the British Museum, and ask for the Amphitheatrum Sapientiæ Æternæ of Khunrath. He will find in it illustrative engravings of the four great classes of elementary spirits, as seen during an evocation of ceremonial magic, by the Magus who lifts the Veil of Isis. The author explains that these are disembodied vicious men, who have parted with their divine spirits, and become as beasts. After reading this volume, “Scrutator” may profitably consult Éliphas Lévi, whom he will find using the words “Elementary Spirits” throughout his Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, in both senses in which we have employed it. This is especially the case where (Vol. I, p. 262 et seq.) he speaks of the evocation of Apollonius of Tyana by himself.
Quoting from the greatest Kabalistic authorities, he says:
“When a man has lived well, the astral cadaver evaporates like a pure incense as it mounts towards the higher regions; but if a man has lived in crime, his astral cadaver, which holds him prisoner, seeks again the objects of his passions, and desires to resume its earthly life. It torments the dreams of young girls, bathes in the vapour of spilt blood, and wallows about the places where the pleasures of his life flitted by; it watches without ceasing over the treasures which it possessed and buried; it wastes itself in painful efforts to make for itself material organs (materialize itself) and live again. But the astral elements attract and absorb it; its memory is gradually lost, its intelligence weakens, all its being dissolves . . . The unhappy wretch loses thus in succession all the organs which served its sinful appetites. Then it (this astral body, this “soul,” this all that is left of the once living man) dies a second time and for ever, for it then loses its personality and its memory. Souls which are destined to live, but which are not yet entirely purified, remain for a longer or shorter time captive in the astral cadaver, where they are refined by the odic light, which seeks to assimilate them to itself and dissolve. It is to rid themselves of this cadaver, that suffering souls sometimes enter the bodies of living persons, and remain there for a time in a state which the Kabalists call embryonic (embryonat). These are the aerial phantoms evoked by necromancy (and I may add, the “materialized Spirits” evoked by the unconscious necromancy of incautious mediums, in cases where the forms are not transformations of their own doubles); these are larvæ, substances dead or dying with which one places himself in rapport.”
Further Lévi says (op. cit., p. 164):
“the astral light is saturated with elementary souls . . . Yes, yes, these spirits of the elements do exist. Some wandering in their spheres, others trying to incarnate themselves, others, again, already incarnated and living on earth; these are vicious and imperfect men.”
And in the face of this testimony (which he can find in the British Museum, two steps from the office of The Spiritualist!) that since the Middle Ages the Kabalists have been writing about elementaries, and their potential annihilation, “Scrutator” permits himself to arraign Theosophists for their “effrontery” in foisting upon Spiritualists a “new-fangled and ill-defined term” which is “not yet two years old”!!
In truth, we may say that the idea is older than Christianity, for it is found in the ancient Kabalistic books of the Jews. In the olden time they defined three kinds of “souls”—the daughters of Adam, the daughters of the angels, and those of sin; and in the book of The Revolution of the Souls three kinds of “spirits” (as distinct from material bodies) are shown—the captive, the wandering, and the free spirits. If “Scrutator” were acquainted with the literature of Kabalism, he would know that the term elementary applies not only to one principle, or constituent part, to an elementary primary substance, but also embodies the idea which we express by the term elemental—that which pertains to the four elements of the material world, the first principles or primary ingredients. The word “elemental,” as defined by Webster, was not current at the time of Khunrath, but the idea was perfectly understood. The distinction has been made, and the term adopted by Theosophists for the sake of avoiding confusion. The thanks we get are that we are charged with propounding, in 1878, a different theory of the “elementaries” from that of 1876!
Does anything herein stated, either as from ourselves, or Khunrath, or Lévi, contradict the statement of the “learned occultist” that: “each atom, no matter where found, is imbued with that vital principle called spirit;” or that “each grain of sand, equally with each minutest atom of the human body, has its inherent latent spark of the divine light”? Not in the least. “M. A. (Cantab.)” asks, “How then, can a man lose this divine light, in part or in whole, as a rule, before death, if each minutest atom of the human body has its inherent latent spark of the divine light?” Italicizing some words, as above, but omitting to emphasize the one important word of the sentence, i.e., “latent,” which contains the key to the whole mystery. In the grain of sand, and each atom of the human material body, the spirit is latent, not active; hence, being but a correlation of the highest light, something concrete as compared with the purely abstract, the atom is vitalized and energized by spirit, without being endowed with distinct consciousness. A grain of sand, as every minutest atom, is certainly “imbued with that vital principle called spirit.” So is every atom of the human body, whether physical or astral, and thus every atom of both, following the law of evolution, whether of objective or semi-concrete astral matter, will have to remain eternal throughout the endless cycles, indestructible in their primary, elementary constituents. But will “M. A. (Cantab.)” for all that, call a grain of sand, or a human nail-paring, consciously immortal? Does he mean us to understand him as believing that a fractional part, as a fraction, has the same attributes, capabilities, and limitations as the whole? Does he say that because the atoms in a nail-paring are indestructible as atoms, therefore the body, of which the nail formed a part, is of necessity, as a conscious whole, indestructible and immortal?
Our opponents repeat the words Trinity, Body, Soul, Spirit, as they might say the cat, the house, and the Irishman inhabitating it—three perfectly dissimilar things. They do not see that, dissimilar as the three parts of the human trinity may seem, they are in truth but correlations of the one eternal essence—which is no essence; but unfortunately the English language is barren of adequate expression—and, though they do not see it, the house, the physical Irishman, and the cat are, in their last analysis, one. I verily begin to suspect that they imagine that spirit and matter are two, instead of one! Truly says Vishnu Bawa Brahmachâri, in one of his essays in Marathi (1869), that “the opinion of the Europeans that matter is ‘Padârtha’ (an equivalent for the ‘pada,’ or word ‘Abháva,’ i.e., Ahey, composed of two letters, ‘Ahe,’ meaning is, and ‘nahin,’ not), whereas ‘Abhâva’ is no ‘Padârtha,’” is foolishly erroneous! Kant, Schopenhauer, and Hartmann seem to have written to little effect, and Kapila will be soon pronounced an antiquated ignoramus. Without at all ranging myself under Schopenhauer’s banner, who maintains that in reality there is neither spirit nor matter, yet I must say that if ever he were studied, Theosophy would be better understood.
But can one really discuss metaphysical ideas in an European language? I doubt it. We say “spirit,” and behold, what confusion it leads to? Europeans give the name spirit to that something which they conceive as apart from physical organization, independent of corporeal, objective existence; and they call spirit also the airy, vaporous essence, alcohol. Therefore, the New York reporter who defined a materialized spirit as “frozen whiskey,” was right, in his way. A copious vocabulary, indeed, that has but one term for God and for alcohol! With all their libraries of metaphysics, European nations have not even gone to the trouble of inventing appropriate words to elucidate metaphysical ideas. If they had, perhaps one book in every thousand would have sufficed to really instruct the public, instead of there being the present confusion of words, obscuring intelligence, and utterly hampering the Orientalist, who would expound his philosophy in English. Whereas, in the latter language, I find but one word to express, perhaps, twenty different ideas; in the Eastern tongues, especially Sanskrit, there are twenty words or more to render one idea in its various shades of meaning.
We are accused of propagating ideas that would surprise the “average” Buddhist. Granted, and I will liberally add that the average Brahminist might be equally astonished. We never said that we were either Buddhists or Brahminists in the sense of their popular exoteric theologies. Buddha, sitting on his lotus, or Brahma, with any number of teratological arms, appeal to us as little as the Catholic Madonna, or the Christian personal God, which stare at us from cathedral walls and ceilings. But neither Buddha nor Brahma represent to their respective worshippers the same ideas as these Catholic icons, which we regard as blasphemous. In this particular, who dares say that Christendom, with its boasted civilization, has outgrown the fetishism of the Fijians? When we see Christians and Spiritualists speaking so flippantly and confidently about God and the materialization of “spirit,” we wish they might be made to share a little in the reverential ideas of the old Aryas.
We do not write for “average” Buddhists, or average people of any sort. But I am quite willing to match any tolerably educated Buddhist or Brahman against the best metaphysicians of Europe, to compare views on God and on man’s immortality.
The ultimate abstract definition of this—call it God, force, principle, as you will—will ever remain a mystery to humanity, though it attain to its highest intellectual development. The anthropomorphic ideas of Spiritualists concerning spirit are a direct consequence of the anthropomorphic conceptions of Christians as to the Deity. So directly is the one the outflow of the other, that “Scrutator’s” handiest argument against the duality of a child and potential immortality is to cite “Jesus who increased in wisdom as his brain increased.” Christians call God an Infinite Being, and then endow Him with every finite attribute, such as love, anger, benevolence, mercy! They call Him All-Merciful, and preach eternal damnation for three-fourths of humanity in every church; All-Just, and the sins of this brief span of life may not be expiated by even an eternity of conscious agony. Now, by some miracle of oversight, among thousands of mistranslations in the “Holy” Writ, the word “destruction,” the synonym of annihilation, was rendered correctly in the King James’ version, and no dictionary can make it read either damnation, or eternal torment. Though the Church consistently put down the “destructionists,” yet the impartial will scarcely deny that they come nearer than their persecutors to believing what Jesus taught and what is consistent with justice, in teaching the final annihilation of the wicked.
To conclude, then, we believe that there is but one indefinable principle in the whole universe, which being utterly incomprehensible by our finite intellects, we prefer rather to leave undebated, than to blaspheme its majesty with our anthropomorphic speculations. We believe that all else which has being, whether material or spiritual, and all that may have existence, actually or potentially in our idealism, emanates from this principle. That everything is a correlation in one shape or another of this Will and Force; and hence, judging of the unseen by the visible, we base our speculations upon the teachings of the generations of sages who preceded Christianity, fortified by our own reason.
I have already illustrated the incapacity of some of our critics to separate abstract ideas from complex objects, by instancing the grain of sand and the nail-paring. They refuse to comprehend that a philosophical doctrine can teach that an atom imbued with divine light, or a portion of the great Spirit, in its latent stage of correlation, may, notwithstanding its reciprocal or corresponding similarity and relations to the one indivisible whole, be yet utterly deficient in self-consciousness. That it is only when this atom, magnetically drawn to its fellow-atoms, which had served in a previous state to form with it some lower complex object, is transformed at last, after endless cycles of evolution, into man—the apex of perfected being, intellectually and physically, on our planet—in conjunction with them becomes as a whole a living soul, and reaches the state of intellectual self-consciousness. “A stone becomes a plant, a plant an animal, an animal a man, and man a spirit,” say the Kabalists. And here again, is the wretched necessity of translating by the word “spirit” an expression which means a celestial, or rather ethereal, transparent man—something diametrically opposite to the man of matter, yet a man. But if man is the crown of evolution on earth, what is he in the initiatory stages of the next existences—that man who, at his best, even when he is pretended to have served as a habitation for the Christian God, Jesus, is said by Paul to have been “made a little lower than the angels”? But now we have every astral spook transformed into an “angel”! I cannot believe that the scholars who write for your paper—and there are some of great intelligence and erudition who think for themselves; and whom exact science has taught that ex nihilo nihil fit [“out of nothing, nothing comes”]; who know that every atom of man’s body has been evolving by imperceptible gradations, from lower into higher forms, through the cycles—accept the unscientific and illogical doctrine that the simple unshelling of an astral man transforms him into a celestial spirit and “angel” guide.
In Theosophical opinion a spirit is a ray, a fraction of the whole; and the Whole being Omniscient and Infinite, its fraction must partake, in degree, of the same abstract attributes. Man’s “spirit” must become the drop of the ocean, called “Iśvara-Bhava”—the “I am one body, together with the universe itself” (I am in my Father, and my Father is in me), instead of remaining but the “Jiva-Bhava,” the body only. He must feel himself not only a part of the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, but of the soul of the three, the Parabrahma, who is above these, and is the vitalizing, energizing, and ever-presiding Spirit. He must fully realize the sense of the word “Sahajanund,” that state of perfect bliss in Nirvâna, which can only exist for the It, which has become co-existent with the “formless and actionless present time.” This is the state called “Vartamana,” or the “Ever Still Present,” in which there is neither past nor future, but one infinite eternity of present. Which of the controlling “spirits,” materialized or invisible, have shown any signs that they belong to the kind of real spirits known as the “Sons of Eternity”? Has the highest of them been able to tell even as much as our own Divine Nous can whisper to us in moments when there comes the flash of sudden pre-vision? Honest communicating “intelligences” often answer to many questions: “We do not know; this has not been revealed to us.” This very admission proves that, while in many cases on their way to knowledge and perfection, yet they are but embryonic, undeveloped “spirits”; they are inferior even to some living Yogis who, through abstract meditation, have united themselves with their personal individual Brahma, their Atman, and hence have overcome the “Ajñâna,” or lack of that knowledge as to the intrinsic value of one’s “self,” the Ego, or self-being, so recommended by Socrates and the Delphic commandment.
London has been often visited by highly intellectual, educated Hindus. I have not heard of any one professing a belief in “materialized spirits”—as spirits. When not tainted with Materialism, through demoralizing association with Europeans, and when free from superstitious sectarianism, how would one of them, versed in the Vedânta, regard these apparitions of the circle? The chances are that, after going the rounds of the mediums, he would say: “Some of these may be survivals of disembodied men’s intelligences, but they are no more spiritual than the average man. They lack the knowledge of ‘Dhyânânta,’ and evidently find themselves in a chronic state of ‘Mâyâ,’ i.e., possessed of the idea that ‘they are that which they are not.’ The ‘Vartamana’ has no significance for them, as they are cognizant but of the ‘Vishama’ (that which, like the concrete numbers in mixed mathematics, applies to that which can be numbered). Like simple, ignorant mortals, they regard the shadow of things as the reality, and vice versa, mixing up the true light of the ‘Vyatireka’ with the false light or deceitful appearance—the ‘Anvaya.’ . . . In what respect, then, are they higher than the average mortal? No; they are not spirits, not ‘Devas,’ . . . they are astral ‘Dasyus.’”
Of course, all this will appear to “Scrutator” “unfathomable absurdities,” for, unfortunately, few metaphysicians shower down from Western skies. Therefore, so long as our English opponents will remain in their semi-Christian ideas, and not only ignore the old philosophy, but the very terms it employs to render abstract ideas; so long as we are forced to transmit these ideas in a general way—particularly being impracticable without the invention of special words—it will be unprofitable to push discussion to any great length. We would only make ourselves obnoxious to the general reader, and receive from other anonymous writers such unconvincing compliments as “Scrutator” has favoured us with.
H. P. Blavatsky.
New York, March 7th, 1878.