THEOSOPHY, Vol. 64, No. 6, April, 1976
(Pages 166-173; Size: 24K)
THE SECRET DOCTRINE
IN PYTHAGOREAN AND PLATONIC TEACHINGS[In her article, "Old Philosophers and Modern Critics," H.P.B. remarks that although twenty-two and a half (now one more) centuries have elapsed since the death of Plato, "the great minds of the world are still occupied with his writings." Ancient teachers of the East, she says, "transmitted their indelible imprint through the intervening centuries, by means of Pythagoras, upon Plato and his school." In the three-part collation now begun, statements have been gathered from various places in The Secret Doctrine, which, taken together, show in some detail how the leading ideas of the Wisdom Religion were transmitted by the initiated Greek philosophers. Sources by volume and page are given at the end of each installment.] [Note: A link to the article referred to and quoted from above, written by HPB, has been placed at the end of this article.--Compiler.]
THE Universe was evolved out of its ideal plan, upheld through Eternity in the unconsciousness of that which the Vedantins call Parabrahm. This is practically identical with the conclusions of the highest Western Philosophy -- "the innate, eternal, and self-existing Ideas" of Plato. ... "The 'Ideal Forms' are the archetypal or formative ideas of the Neo-Platonists; the eternal and subjective concepts of things subsisting in the divine mind prior to 'becoming'."
The same puzzling problem of the "One in many" and the multitude in One, is found in other Pantheons, in the Egyptian, the Greek and the Chaldeo-Judaic. ... As time rolled on, the archaic teaching grew dimmer; and those nations more or less lost sight of the highest and One principle of all things, and began to transfer the abstract attributes of the "causeless cause" to the caused effects -- become in their turn causative -- the creative Powers of the Universe: As Thomas Taylor, the most intuitional of all the translators of Greek Fragments, shows, no nation has ever conceived the One principle as the immediate creator of the visible Universe, for no sane man would credit a planner and architect with having built the edifice he admires with his own hands. On the testimony of Damascius, they referred to it as "the Unknown DARKNESS." The Babylonians passed over this principle in silence: "To that god," says Porphyry, "who is above all things, neither external speech ought to be addressed, nor yet that which is inward...." Hesiod begins his theogony with: "Chaos of all things was the first produced," thus allowing the inference that its cause or producer must be passed over in reverential silence. Homer in his poems ascends no higher than Night, whom he represents Zeus as reverencing. According to all the ancient theologists, and to the doctrines of Pythagoras and Plato, Zeus, or the immediate artificer of the universe, is not the highest god; any more than Sir Christopher Wren in his physical, human aspect is the MIND in him which produced his great works of art. Homer, therefore, is not only silent with respect to the first principle, but likewise with respect to those two principles immediately posterior to the first, the Æther, and Chaos of Orpheus and Hesiod, and the bound and infinity of Pythagoras and Plato(1). ... Proclus says of this highest principle that it is. ... "the Unity of Unities, and beyond the first adyte. ... more ineffable than all silence, and more occult than all Essence. ... concealed amidst the intelligible gods."
This first, or rather ONE, principle was called "the circle of Heaven," symbolized by the hierogram of a point within a circle or equilateral triangle, the point being the LOGOS. The Monad, or point, is the original and is the unit from which follows the entire numeral system. This Point is the First Cause, but THAT from which it emanates, or of which, rather, it is the expression, the Logos, is passed over in silence. In its turn, the universal symbol, the point within the circle, was not yet the Architect, but the cause of that Architect; and the latter stood to it in precisely the same relation as the point itself stood to the circumference of the Circle, which cannot be defined, according to Hermes Trismegistus. Porphyry shows that the Monad and the Duad of Pythagoras are identical with Plato's infinite and finite in "Philebus." It is the latter only (the mother) which is substantial, the former being the "cause of all unity, and measure of all things." ... the Duad (Mulaprakriti, the VEIL) being thus shown to be the mother of the Logos and, at the same time, his daughter -- i.e., the object of his perception -- the produced producer and the secondary cause of it. With Pythagoras, the MONAD returns into silence and Darkness as soon as it has evolved the triad, from which emanate the remaining seven numbers of the 10 (ten) numbers which are at the base of the manifested universe....
All the creative gods, or personal Deities, begin at the secondary stage of Cosmic evolution. Zeus is born in, and out of Kronos -- Time. So is Brahmâ the production and emanation of Kala, "eternity and time," Kala being one of the names of Vishnu.
In the "Churning of the Ocean" by the gods, Amrita (immortality) is beyond any guna, for it is UNCONDITIONED per se; yet when fallen into the phenomenal creation it got mixed up with EVIL, Chaos, with latent theos in it, and before Kosmos was evolved. Hence, one finds Vishnu -- standing here for eternal Law -- periodically calling forth Kosmos into activity -- "churning out of the Primitive Ocean (boundless chaos) the Amrita of Eternity, reserved only for the gods and devas; and he has to employ in the task Nagas and Asuras -- demons in exoteric Hinduism. The whole allegory is highly philosophical, and we find it repeated in every philosophical System. Plato, having fully embraced the ideas of Pythagoras -- who had brought them from India -- compiled and published them in a form more intelligible than the mysterious numerals of the Greek Sage. Thus the Kosmos is "the Son" with Plato, having for his father and mother the Divine Thought and Matter.
The various Cosmogonies show that the Archaic Universal Soul was held by every nation as the "Mind" of the Demiurgic Creator; and that it was called the "Mother," Sophia with the Gnostics (or the female Wisdom), the Sephira with the Jews, Saraswati or Vâch, with the Hindus, the Holy Ghost being a female Principle. Hence, born from it, the Kurios or Logos was, with the Greeks, the "God, mind" (nous). "Now Koros (Kurios) signifies the pure and unmixed nature of intellect -- wisdom," says Plato in "Cratylus"; and Kurios is Mercury, the Divine Wisdom, and "mercury is the Sol" (Sun) from whom Thot-Hermes received this divine Wisdom. While, then, the Logoi of all countries and religions are correlative (in their sexual aspects) with the female Soul of the World or the "Great Deep"; the deity, from which these two in one have their being, is ever concealed and called the "Hidden One," connected only indirectly with Creation,(2) as it can act only through the Dual Force emanating from the Eternal Essence. Even Æsculapius, called the "Saviour of all," is identical, according to ancient classics, with Phta, the Egyptian Creative Intellect (or Divine Wisdom), and with Apollo, Baal, Adonis and Hercules (see Dunlap's Mystery of Adonis, pp. 23 and 95); and Phta is, in one of its aspects, the "Anima Mundi," the Universal Soul of Plato, the "Divine Spirit" of the Egyptians, the "Holy Ghost" of the early Christians and Gnostics, and the Akâsa of the Hindus, and even, in its lower aspect, the Astral Light. As "Logos-Soul," this permutation is called Phta; as Logos-Creator, he becomes Imhot-pou, his son, "the god of the handsome face." In their primitive characters these two were the first Cosmic Duad. Noot, "space or Sky," and Noo, "the primordial Waters," the Androgyne Unity, above whom was the Concealed BREATH of Kneph.
Unless the Occult teaching is accepted, we are compelled once more to face a miracle; to accept the theory of a personal, anthropomorphic Creator, the attributes and definitions of whom, as formulated by the Monotheists, clash as much with philosophy and logic, as they degrade the ideal of an infinite Universal deity, before whose incomprehensible awful grandeur the highest human intellect feels dwarfed. Let not the modern philosopher, while arbitrarily placing himself on the highest pinnacle of human intellectuality hitherto evolved, show himself spiritually and intuitionally so far below the conceptions of even the ancient Greeks, themselves on a far lower level, in these respects, than the philosophers of Eastern Aryan antiquity. ... Active "Creators" are known to exist and are believed in, because perceived and sensed by the inner man in the Occultist. Thus the latter says that an ABSOLUTE Deity, having to be unconditioned and unrelated, cannot be thought of at the same time as an active, creating, one living god, without immediate degradation of the ideal. A Deity that manifests in Space and Time -- these two being simply the forms of THAT which is the Absolute ALL -- can be but a fractional part of the whole. And since that "all" cannot be divided in its absoluteness, therefore that sensed creator (we say Creators) can be at best but the mere aspect thereof. To use the same metaphor -- inadequate to express the full idea, yet well adapted to the case in hand -- these creators are like the numerous rays of the solar orb, which remains unconscious of, and unconcerned in, the work; while its mediating agents, the rays, become the instrumental media every spring -- the Manvantaric dawn of the Earth -- in fructifying and awakening the dormant vitality inherent in Nature and its differentiated matter. This was so well understood in antiquity, that even the moderately religious Aristotle remarked that such work of direct creation would be quite unbecoming to God ... Plato and other philosophers taught the same: deity cannot set its own hand to creation....
Metaphysically and esoterically there is but One ELEMENT in nature, and at the root of it is the Deity; and the so-called seven elements, of which five have already manifested and asserted their existence, are the garment, the veil, of that deity; direct from the essence whereof comes MAN, whether physically, psychically, mentally or spiritually considered. Four elements only are generally spoken of in later antiquity, five admitted only in philosophy.
The four Elements were fully characterized by Plato when he said that they were that "which composes and decomposes the compound bodies." Hence Cosmolatry was never, even in its worst aspect, the fetishism which adores or worships the passive external form and matter of any object, but looked ever to the noumenon therein. Fire, Air, Water, Earth, were but the visible garb, the symbols of the informing, invisible Souls or Spirits -- the Cosmic gods to whom worship was offered by the ignorant, and simple, respectful recognition by the wiser. In their turn the phenomenal subdivisions of the noumenal Elements were informed by the Elementals, so called, the "Nature Spirits" of lower grades. The Elements of Plato and Aristotle, were thus the incorporeal principles attached to the four great divisions of our Cosmic World, and it is with justice that Creuzer defines those primitive beliefs "as a species of magism, a psychic paganism, and a deification of potencies; a spiritualization which placed the believers in a close community with these potencies." So close, indeed, that the hierarchies of those potencies or Forces have been classified on a graduated scale of seven from the ponderable to the imponderable. They are Septenary, -- not as an artificial aid to facilitate their comprehension -- but in their real Cosmic gradation, from their chemical (or physical) to their purely spiritual composition. Gods -- with the ignorant masses -- gods independent and supreme; dæmons with the fanatics, who, intellectual as they often may be, are unable to understand the Spirit of the philosophical sentence, in pluribus unum. With the hermetic philosopher they are FORCESrelatively "blind," or "intelligent," according to which of the principles in them he deals with. It required long millenniums before they found themselves, in our cultured age, finally degraded into simple chemical elements.
When the Occultist speaks of "Elements," and of human Beings who lived during those geological ages, the duration of which it is found as impossible to determine, according to the opinion of one of the best English geologists,(3) as the nature of matter, it is because he knows what he is talking about.
When he says "Man" and Elements, he neither means "man" in his present physiological and anthropological form, nor the elemental atoms, those hypothetical conceptions, entitative abstractions of matter in its highly attenuated state, as existing at present in scientific minds; nor, again, the compound Elements of antiquity. In Occultism the word Element means "rudiment" in every case. When we say "Elementary Man," we mean either the proëmial, incipient sketch of man, in its unfinished and undeveloped condition, hence in that form which now lies latent in physical man during his life-time, and takes shape only occasionally and under certain conditions; or that form which for a time survives the material body, and which is better known as an "Elementary."(4) With regard to "Element," when the term is used metaphysically, it means, in distinction to the mortal, the incipient divine man; and, in its physical usage, inchoate matter in its first undifferentiated condition, or in the laya state, which is the eternal and the normal condition of substance, differentiating only periodically, and is during that differentiation in an abnormal state -- in other words, a transitory illusion of the senses.
Without throwing any discredit upon time-honoured beliefs, in whatever direction, we are forced to draw a marked line between blind faith, evolved by theologies, and knowledge due to the independent researches of long generations of adepts; between, in short, faith and philosophy. There have been -- in all ages -- undeniably learned and good men who, having been reared in sectarian beliefs, died in their crystallized convictions. ... Theophilosophy proceeds on broader lines. From the very beginning of Æons -- in time and space in our Round and Globe -- the Mysteries of Nature (at any rate those which it is lawful for our races to know) were recorded by the pupils of those same now invisible "heavenly men," in geometrical figures and symbols. The keys thereto passed from one generation of "wise men" to the other. Some of the symbols, thus passed from the east to the west, were brought therefrom by Pythagoras, who was not the inventor of his famous "Triangle." The latter figure, along with the plane cube and circle, are more eloquent and scientific descriptions of the order of the evolution of the Universe, spiritual and psychic, as well as physical, than volumes of descriptive Cosmogonies and revealed "Geneses." The ten points inscribed within that "Pythagorean triangle" are worth all the theogonies and angelologies ever emanated from the theological brain. For he who interprets them -- on their very face, and in the order given -- will find in these seventeen points (the seven Mathematical Points hidden) the uninterrupted series of the genealogies from the first Heavenly to terrestrial man. And, as they give the order of Beings, so they reveal the order in which were evolved the Kosmos, our earth, and the primordial elements by which the latter was generated.
Whatever ignorance, pride or fanaticism may suggest to the contrary, Esoteric Cosmology can be shown inseparably connected with both philosophy and modern science. The gods of the ancients, the monads -- from Pythagoras down to Leibnitz -- and the atoms of the present materialistic schools (as borrowed by them from the theories of the old Greek Atomists) are only a compound unit, or a graduated unity like the human frame, which begins with body and ends with spirit. In the occult sciences they can be studied separately, but never mastered unless viewed in their mutual correlations during their life-cycle, and as a Universal Unity during Pralayas.
Philosophy, however, could never have formed its conception of a logical, universal, and absolute Deity if it had no Mathematical Point within the Circle to base its speculations upon. It is only the manifested Point, lost to our senses after its pregenetic appearance in the infinitude and incognizability of the Circle, that made a reconciliation between philosophy and theology possible -- on condition that the latter should abandon its crude materialistic dogmas. And it is because it has so unwisely rejected the Pythagorean Monad and geometrical figures, that Christian theology has evolved its self-created human and personal God, the monstrous Head from whence flow in two streams the dogmas of Salvation and Damnation. This is so true that even those clergymen who would be philosophers and who were masons, have, in their arbitrary interpretations, fathered upon the ancient sages the queer idea that "the Monad represented (with them) the throne of the Omnipotent Deity, placed in the centre of the Empyrean to indicate T.G.A.O.T.U."(5) -- read "the Great Architect of the Universe." A curious explanation this, more Masonic than strictly Pythagorean.
Nor did the "hierogram within a Circle, or equilateral Triangle," ever mean "the exemplification of the unity of the divine Essence"; for this was exemplified by the plane of the boundless Circle. What it really meant was the triune co-equal Nature of the first differentiated Substance, or the con-substantiality of the (manifested) Spirit, matter and the Universe -- their "Son," who proceeds from the Point (the real, esoteric LOGOS) or the Pythagorean MONAD. For the Greek Monas signifies "Unity" in its primary sense. Those unable to seize the difference between the monad -- the Universal Unit -- and the Monads or the manifested Unity, as also between the ever-hidden and the revealed LOGOS or the Word, ought never to meddle in philosophy, let alone the Esoteric Sciences. The Circle and the Point, which latter retires into and merges with the former, after having emanated the first three points and connected them with lines, thus forming the first noumenal basis of the Second Triangle in the Manifested World, have ever been an insuperable obstacle to theological flights into dogmatic Empyreans.
The Monad -- only the emanation and reflection of the Point (Logos) in the phenomenal World -- becomes, as the apex of the manifested equilateral triangle, the "Father." The left side or line is the Duad, the "Mother," regarded as the evil, counteracting principle (Plutarch, De Placitis Placitorum); the right side represents the Son ("his Mother's husband" in every Cosmogony, as one with the apex); at the basic line is the Universal plane of productive Nature, unifying on the phenomenal plane Father-Mother-Son, as these were unified in the apex, in the supersensuous World. By mystic transmutation they became the Quaternary -- the triangle became the TETRAKTIS.
NOTE.--The volume and page references to the Secret Doctrine in this installment are as follows: i, 281; i, 349, 425-27; i, 348; i, 352-53; ii, 158-59; i, 460-61; i, 566-67; i, 612-13-14.
[Note: Here is the link to HPB's article, entitled "Old Philosophers and Modern Critics", that was mentioned and quoted from by the Editors in the Introduction to the above article.--Compiler.]
THE SECRET DOCTRINE
IN PYTHAGOREAN AND PLATONIC TEACHINGS
[Part 2 of a 3-part series]
Back to the complete list of the
GROUPING OF HUNDREDS OF "COLLATED ARTICLES"
Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".
FIVE (5) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
(1) It is the "bound" confused with the "Infinite," that Kapila overwhelms with sarcasms in his disputations with the Brahman Yogis, who claim in their mystical visions to see the "Highest One."
Back to text.
(2) We use the term as one accepted and sanctioned by use, and therefore more comprehensible to the reader.
Back to text.
(3) In answer to a friend, that eminent geologist writes: ... "I can only say, in reply to your letter, that it is at present, and perhaps always will be, IMPOSSIBLE to reduce, even approximately, geological time into years, or even into millenniums." (Signed William Pengelly, F.R.S.)
Back to text.
(4) Plato speaking of the irrational, turbulent Elements "composed of fire, air, water, and earth," means Elementary Dæmons. (See Timæus.)
Back to text.
(5) "Science of Numbers," by the Rev. G. Oliver (p. 36.)
Back to text.