The Logos Doctrine
Theosophical Quarterly, January, 1923
Let us begin by trying to translate as literally as possible the opening passage of Saint John’s Gospel, retaining the more important Greek words:
“In Arkhê, in Primal Being, was the Logos, and the Logos was together with the Theos, and Theos was the Logos. That was in Primal Being, together with the Theos.
“Through This, the All came to birth, and without This came to birth not one thing which has come to birth.
“In This, Life was, and the Life was the Light of men; and the Light shineth in the Darkness, and the Darkness comprehended It not.
“This was the Light, the true, which lighteth every man coming into the World. In the World, This was, and the World through This came to birth, and the World knew not This.
“And the Logos became flesh, and tabernacled among (or, in) us, and we beheld His Radiance, the Radiance as of the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of Grace and Truth.”
This is the central expression of the Logos doctrine, with millenniums of development behind it, and centuries of application after it. Let us see whether we can lead up to an understanding of it, beginning with the simplest things in the consciousness of each one of us.
Before me is a sheet of white paper. I see it, I am conscious of it. If I reflect, I am conscious of seeing it. If I reflect still further, I am conscious of myself as perceiver. These two added perceptions, of the seeing and the seer, are the consequence of the rebound from the first perception, the thing seen, the sheet of white paper.
The three, the thing perceived, the perceiving, and the perceiver, are of necessity linked together. Yet it is a curious fact, though none the less true, that the strict materialist rests in the thing perceived, pays little attention to the perceiving, and practically ignores the perceiver; never seeking to discover the true character and nature of the perceiving consciousness, never looking steadily at it.
We are first conscious of the thing perceived. Consciousness of perceiving and of the perceiver comes later, as the result of a rebound from the thing perceived. This is, perhaps, the justification of the objective world, the whole process of manifestation. It is the starting point, the source and cause of all our present conscious perception. The world is a means for waking up our consciousness.
We have taken seeing as the type of perception. But there is hearing also. For example, as I write, I hear the clock ticking; I hear the wind outside, among the branches. And the I who hears is the same as the I who sees. So with the other modes of perceiving.
There are, if we so number them, five phases of things perceived; five modes of perceiving; five attitudes of the perceiver, who is, nevertheless, consciously one. All modes of perceiving come to a focus in the same consciousness and are there harmonized and unified. The perceiving I is one.
Meanwhile the sheet of paper has been covered with writing, the type of a different kind of activity, this time not perceptive but active. Once more we have a group of three: what is written, the act of writing, and the impelling consciousness, the writer.
As before, we may let this represent all forms of action, such as speech and voluntary muscular activity. There are always the three: the thing done, the doing, the doer. And the purposing and impelling doer is the same in all actions. The I who speaks is the same as the I who writes; the same also as the I who perceives.
We come now to our first application of these very simple and familiar facts. If we consider the matter, we shall find that the world of each one of us, beginning with our intimate thoughts, including our sense of bodily existence, and going out to the room in which we may be, the landscape in the midst of which we find ourselves, even to the rim of the sky, to the sun and the stars and the Galaxy, is made up of the sum of the perceiving and of the impulses to action which hold the field of our consciousness. In this sense, the world of each one of us grows out of our consciousness.
From the perceiving powers we gain the sense of the colouring of our world, the rooms in which we live, the splendid pageantry of dawn and noonday and sunset and the stars, of green fields and trees and the white hills of winter, of the multitudinous turmoil of the streets.
Through the acting powers we gain the sense of space, of form, of consistence. Pressing a hand upon the table, we get the sense of solidity. Walking across the room, we measure it by our effort, so many steps to be taken, and gain a realization of space. Both space and solidity come to us as modes of our consciousness.
This is true also, as we have suggested, of our sense of bodily existence. It is built up from phase’s of our consciousness.
It may be interesting to quote, for comparison, a recent expression of the same thought. It forms the conclusion of a review, in The Spectator, of the address of the President of the British Association:
“Might we not say, regarding the hierarchy of pure mind, subconscious mind, reflex action of nerves, nervous tissue and body tissue, that the body is in some sort an emanation of the mind? We have, perhaps, in the past laid too much stress upon the importance of the quality of tangibility.”
True, for the quality of tangibility itself is simply the expression of one of our modes of perceiving, the sense of touch. It is, therefore, an outcome of our consciousness, an “emanation of mind.”
We see, then, that in the strictest sense the world of each one of us is built up of the sum of our perceiving and acting. Our world has come to birth through the activity of our consciousness, and there is in it not one thing which has not come to birth through the activity of our consciousness; through that conscious mind which unifies our perceiving and impels our acting.
Have we not here a clue to an understanding of at least a part of the Logos doctrine? If the world of each one of us comes to birth through the activity of our consciousness, may not the whole manifest universe have come to birth through the activity of that greater consciousness, the Logos? If the body be in some sort an emanation of the mind, may not the body of the universe be equally an emanation of the Logos, the Mind of God? And in this thought of the body as an emanation of the mind, have we not a clue to the way in which the Logos becomes flesh?
We have thus been able, perhaps, to gain some little understanding of the Logos as the principle of manifestation, through considering our own conscious minds as manifesting the world in which each one of us dwells.
There are two other sides of the Logos doctrine which we shall now try to approach: first, the moral depth of the Logos, of which we have so far taken only a pictorial view; and, second, the threefold division of the Logos, with Primal Being beyond.
Perhaps we may come to the element of moral depth by way of certain thoughts from one of the ancient Indian presentations of the Logos doctrine, the Sankhya philosophy of the sage Kapila.
In both our perceiving and our acting, we have found a set of three. These correspond to one aspect of the Three Gunas, as set forth in the Sankhya Sutras.
The self which receives perceptions and impels actions, the conscious mind, corresponds to the first of the Three Gunas, Sattva, which means both Goodness and Substance; for in Sanskrit, both Sattva, goodness, and Satya, truth, are derived from Sat, being, reality. Goodness and truth both draw their essence from reality. The conscious and impelling mind, therefore, corresponds to Sattva. The activity of perceiving and the impulse of acting, the middle terms of our sets of three, correspond to Rajas, Passion, or impelling Force, the word meaning originally the middle zone of the air between earth and the clear sky, the region of cloud and storm. The thing perceived, from which the perceiving consciousness rebounds, or the thing acted on, like the top of the table when we press it, corresponds to Tamas, which means Darkness, and has the quality of resistance, of inertia.
It is worth noting, at this point, that the middle term in either set of three has the character of conscious Force, of Desire in the widest sense. It is quite easy to see this in the case of the impulse to act; this has of necessity the quality of force, the desire that something shall be accomplished. But it would seem to be equally true of perceiving; that in a large and deep sense we see what we desire to see.
For example, if, while reading the printed words of this page, the reader’s mind has been following a more interesting train of thought, he will find, at the end of the page, that there has been no true reading. The eyes may have seen the words, but the conscious mind has not apprehended them. It has been fixed instead on the mind-images of its own train of thought. The conscious mind has seen only what it has desired to see.
Numberless illustrations of this may be found. A geologist who travels through mountainous country by railroad will note the rocks unrolled before him, granite, limestone, red sandstone, with the direction of the strata, and the relation of the rocks to each other, and to the features of the country. A fellow traveller, looking through the same window, will see only the landscape, perhaps not even that. A botanist who is something of an artist will rejoice in the colours and forms and manifold beauty of the flowers. A hillside covered with wild roses, a spired lily in the woods, a field of scarlet poppies, an overhanging rock veiled in bluebells, become permanent riches. In these days of crowded city life, it is likely that millions never look up at the stars. But those who study the stars watch their succession with delight and awe, adding them to their thought of the wider world in which they dwell.
So we see what we desire to see, just as we do what we desire to do. Not only does each of us make his world; he makes it exactly according to his desire.
Perhaps it is in this sense that one of the great Upanishads says:
“Man verily is formed of desire; as his desire is, so is his will; as his will is, so he works; and whatever work he does, in the likeness of it he grows.”
So the middle term of our two sets of three, whether it be the activity of perceiving or of acting, corresponds in this real sense with Rajas, Passion, the principle of Desire and impelling Force. We have built up our world. The quality of that world is derived from the quality of our desire.
To the conscious mind, the unifying power which perceives and impels, the Sankhya Sutras give two names: Manas, and Antahkarana, the second name meaning literally the Inner Working. But the conscious mind itself, according to this philosophy, is derived from a power or being above it, to which is given the name of Buddhi, the root meaning of which is Awakeness, just as Buddha means the Awakened, somewhat in Shelley’s sense: “He hath awakened from the dream of life.” Of this power, it is said that “Buddhi is pure Sattwa, that is, pure Substance, or pure Goodness; it is the source of Righteousness, Wisdom, Purity, Divine Power.”
Once again, let us try to discover the meaning of this by considering quite simple things. In the conscious mind, besides the power of perception, we find the power of recognition. Memory is its simplest form. We recognize what we have seen before. We bring the present image and the earlier image together in our minds, and we see that they are the same.
But this power of recognition pronounces not only on appearances, but also on qualities. It recognizes Truth, the relation between what is perceived and our inherent standard of Reality. It also recognizes Beauty, that divine essence which calls forth a certain pure joy, whether it be joy in the beauty of a violet, or in the clear force of some expression of truth, or in the beauty of holiness. It recognizes Holiness, that compelling power which awakens reverence, inspiring us to subject the lower to the higher, the worse to the better, to bring the wills of self into obedience to the Divine Will, the Will of the Master. This power to recognize Truth and Beauty and Holiness touches the conscious mind from above. The conscious mind lays its questions before it, as before an incorruptible judge.
But this divine power is the source of something more, in addition to a judgment that what we are considering is true, or beautiful, or good. It is also a potent creative energy. Phidias and Leonardo da Vinci perceived beauty; but they did more, they created permanent forms of beauty. Buddha and Christ not only discerned the laws of truth and holiness, they embodied these divine inspirations in their lives and inspired them in the lives of their disciples.
The mind is so placed within the rays of these divine and creative energies, that it may and should draw them into its perceiving and acting, building up its world of true perception, and holy aspiration, and realization wrought with beauty, a world that shall make manifest the spiritual realities which are above it. And it appears that, when some real effort to do this has been made, there arises a sense of kinship with these divine powers, as something in no sense alien but in a deep and half-understood way really belonging to us and at one with us, the promise of a more profound, more real self, drawing nearer to which we have the sense of coming home. And that home-coming brings with it the realization of immortality. This deeper and more real self, compounded of Truth and Beauty and Holiness, perceiving these divine essences and creatively manifesting them, bears the imprint of the immortal. So Buddhi, as the Sankhya Sutras say, is the source of Righteousness, Wisdom, Purity, Divine Power.
But why is our common experience so different from this? The Sankhya Sutras suggest the reason: “But when Buddhi is reversed, through being tinged with Rajas and Tamas, it becomes vile, with the character of Unrighteousness, Unwisdom, Impurity, lack of Divine Power.” The word translated “tinged” means “stained red”; so we have the thought, well known to students of Theosophy, of Buddhi inverted and manifested as Kama, the principle of passional Desire.
In what way is Buddhi tinged with Rajas and Tamas? Perhaps we can make this intelligible by going back to our groups of three. The conscious mind may become so absorbed and immersed in things perceived, that it grows altogether oblivious of the divine powers which should stream into it continually from above, and may even lose the sense of its own consciousness, like a gross feeder absorbed in eating. It is drugged and infatuated by the power of Tamas, and is literally inverted, resting on what is below, instead of what is above. Or it may be so entangled in the thrill of perceiving and impelling to action, saturated with the sense of its feelings and inebriated with them, that it once more becomes oblivious of reality, and falls completely under. the thraldom of Rajas. Losing the freely flowing inspiration from above, it is full of Unrighteousness, Unwisdom, Impurity, and devoid of Divine Power.
We saw how the rebound of our consciousness from things perceived wakes us up to the consciousness of perception, and of ourselves as perceivers. This rebound seems to carry with it into our consciousness the image and feeling of our bodily existence; and this image becomes the basis of our sense of personality.
It would seem that the divine plan was that the consciousness, thus made concrete, should immediately draw on the powers which irradiate it from above, the divine, creative powers of Truth and Beauty and Holiness; that the man should become the servant of the God, as set forth with such convincing truth and beauty in that wonderful book, Through the Gates of Gold. But it too often happens that, instead of looking upward for continuous inspiration, the consciousness, under the sway of Tamas and Rajas, falls to worshipping the image of the body in the mind and offering sacrifices to it.
This is Bondage in the meaning of the Sankhya Sutras, and the declared purpose of that teaching is, to enable the man to see his bonds and to break them, to set him free, that he may realize and make manifest the divine powers of his immortality. For immortality is inherent in that deeper consciousness, and man doubts it only when he has become so immersed in things perceived, that he has thought himself into identity with their transitoriness.
So, calling to our aid the divine powers that touch our consciousness from above, we are once more to reverse the inversion of Buddhi; to invoke our inherent sense of Truth, that we may see things as they really are, and may then break the fascination of things perceived and the thrill of feeling; that we may also discern the true character of the usurping and tyrannous personal self and invoke the power of the God within us, and all co-operating divine powers, to break the tyrant’s domination, so that the man may rightly worship and render obedience to the God. We are to invoke the divine powers of Beauty and Holiness, perpetually shining on our consciousness from above, in order that we may be so enkindled with the beauty of holiness, that we may be not only willing, but ardently eager, progressively to subject the lower in us to the higher, the worse to the better.
We are so enthralled and fascinated that we cannot perceive the need of doing this, or gain the power to set about it, without the active intervention of Divine Powers. But the Divine Powers ceaselessly seek the opportunity to do this, if we only show ourselves willing to respond. Again and again in our human history, the Divine Powers have made themselves objectively manifest, incarnate Truth and Beauty and Holiness, in order to inspire and help us; such are Buddha and Christ, in whom “the Logos becomes flesh” in the literal sense of Saint John’s phrase. And all that, in our highest moments of inspiration, we dimly divine of the better self above our conscious minds, and a thousandfold more, is made clearly visible in these Divine Incarnations, these visible embodiments of the Logos.
Let us now try to apply to the doctrine of the threefold Logos resting in Primal Being, what we have gathered from our survey of things familiar and near at hand.
We have, first, the marvelous centre of manifold perceptions and actions, the conscious mind which builds the world in which each one of us dwells. Our very familiarity with it blinds us to the continual wonder and miracle of its powers. But this much we see: that through the continuous activity of these powers, the world in which we dwell, the world built up of our perceptions and actions, is made manifest. It may be that we have here a correspondence with the Third Logos of The Secret Doctrine, the basis of the universe in manifestation.
Then we have that power which touches our conscious minds from above, ready to impart to us both inspiration and creative energy, as soon as we have firmly resolved to dethrone the usurping personality and enthrone the God; a resolution we are hardly likely to make, or even to conceive, without the active interposition of those Divine Powers on which we are so continuously dependent, but which can effectively aid us only in the measure of our sincere co-operation. Perhaps this region of manifested Divine Power immediately above us corresponds to the Second Logos.
But by abstraction we can conceive of the bare essence and potentiality of Divine Powers, not revealed, not made manifest. And this abstraction, necessarily very vague and tenuous, may be as much as we can at present conceive of the First, the Unmanifested Logos, which is, perhaps the Theos of Saint John’s verses.
Finally, by a second abstraction, we arrive at the thought of Being itself, the Primal Reality through which all exists. While we can postulate this absolute Be-ness as an abstraction, it is necessarily inconceivable and unknowable. For to know this, would mean that we know why there is Being, why there is a universe; and it is clearly impossible that anything within the universe and a part of it, could ever answer that question. Yet this very Unknowable, this inscrutable Being, is the very essence of us, now and for ever. We can never conceivably know That; but we are That, and that fundamental oneness is inescapable. So we may, perhaps, gain some faint and shadowy understanding of the Logos doctrine, the teaching of the threefold Logos, resting on Primal Being; confident that, as our light grows stronger through loyal obedience and service of the light, we may come to discern more clearly what is now so vague an outline.
So far we have for the most part considered life as though it were single, the adventure of one personality only. But there are three directions in which the very nature of our being perpetually impels us to break down our individual limits and go beyond them. There is, first, the natural impulse of exploration in the outer world. We have not only feet to carry us, we have also the impulse to use them which every child puts into action. The child views its immediate surroundings, but it feels instinctively, through the driving force of its inherent powers, that what it knows is not all the world, and it sets forth eagerly to make discoveries. Later on, this same power, this inherent conviction that there is more beyond, will impel it to explore new lands and continents, even to try to find the verge of the solar system, to send its thought forth to search the vast, mysterious spaces among the stars.
There is a second direction in which we are impelled by the inherent conviction that there is more beyond; the direction of our other selves, which rests on our intuitive certainty of the genuine being and consciousness of those about us. We are acquainted primarily with the consciousness of our own minds. But we know that there is also consciousness beyond the verge of our own minds, stretching away without limit. Whatever a man’s formulated creed may be, this intuitive certainty is what he invariably acts on.
We are destined to do far more than act almost blindly and unconsciously on this intuition of “more consciousness” outside our own minds, extending, indeed, like space itself, beyond the horizon. This too we shall one day set forth to explore, under the same impulse to go beyond known limits which sends the child out to seek new worlds. Perhaps Sophocles and Shakespeare have their uses at this very point; they portray many types of our other selves which we can read ourselves into imaginatively, and thus gain practice for real life, exercising ourselves in the broadening of our consciousness, so that we may the more easily gain a genuine understanding of others.
But we shall not make much real headway in this direction until we have in some measure recognized and followed the third roadway which leads us out of ourselves, the direction upward, toward the Divine Power which touches the conscious mind from above. We must gain some entry there, we must catch something of that celestial light, before we can have any true understanding of the consciousness of our other selves. Without some gleam of the celestial light, we may go out toward the consciousness of others only to be submerged among other lives as dark as our own. We may be swamped by some form of mob-consciousness, deeply tinged with Rajas and Tamas, like the earth-hungry consciousness of the Russian peasants.
But if lit by some glimmer of the heavenly light we seek beyond ourselves in the consciousness of others, we may be rewarded by finding souls far more receptive of that light, far more obedient to it, than are our own souls. We may thus gain divine help on our onward journey.
The impulse to open the gate of the child’s garden, to open the gate of the constricted heart, to open the gate of the burdened soul to the light and life from above, is a threefold admonition to us of vast reaches of being beyond ourselves; vast expanses of natural life, of human life, of spiritual and divine life. And this perception carries us from the diminutive representation of the Logos in our own consciousness, outward and upward toward the immensity and depth and splendour of the heavenly Logos.
If we are able thus to approach a philosophical understanding of the Logos doctrine, we shall be wise straightway to turn it to practical ends, for only thus can divine powers really come into action. We must invoke the spirit of Truth which illumines our minds from above, to the end that we may perceive the truth concerning the personal self that we have built up within our consciousness, a bedecked image of the body in the mind, which fascinates us and usurps our service. Here, it is not ill luck, but supreme good fortune, to break the mirror and so dispel the image of self; for only as the personality is dissolved, can we again become receptive of the creative light and power from above. The false personality, the hugely admired image of the body in the mind, is at first a source of intense enjoyment, as a youthful natural body with all its untried powers may be. But in old age the natural body, limp and torpid and flaccid, laden down with infirmity and the wear and tear of time, may become nothing but a source of weariness. So through the painful experiences of human life the false personality may come to be an intolerable burden, in spite of the residue of vanity that decks it. When that revulsion comes, there is hope that, inspired by the Divine Powers above and the succouring Divine Powers about us, we may dethrone our tyrant, and begin through painful, courageous effort, to live from above, struggling upward toward the light. This is that “new birth,” or “birth from above,” which Saint John records, through which we are born into the “kingdom of Heaven”, the region of Divine Powers above us.
We should remember that all the powers, both perceptive and active, which have built up our life, are in origin powers of the Logos. Even when deflected to evil ends, as in the building and feeding of the false personality, they are divine powers warped. For this very reason the false personality is strong and intensely resistant; the combat to dethrone it can never be easy, can never be less than a fight to the death. It is the more imperative to wage it courageously.
It is philosophically interesting to notice how much of divine power misdirected has gone into the building of the false personality. Both its perceiving and acting are creative, because these powers are derived from the Logos. And it has caught a reflection even of the Absolute, in virtue of which the personality instinctively regards itself as absolute, the real centre of the universe, for whose uses everything else exists. To see through the usurper’s pretenses and to dethrone him, is our practical problem. It is possible only because divine forces acting rightly and truly are stronger than divine forces warped and turned aside.