The Hindûs give this "Existence" various names, one of which is Svayambhû, or Self-Existent. This Svayambhû emanates from itself the creative faculty, or Svâyambhuva – the "Son of the Self-Existent" – and the One becomes Two; this in its turn evolves a third principle with the potentiality of becoming Matter which the orthodox call Virâj, or the Universe.2 This incomprehensible Trinity became later anthropomorphized into the Trimûrti, known as Brahmâ, Vishnu, Shiva, the symbols of the creative, the preservative, and the destructive powers in Nature – and at the same time of the transforming or regenerating forces, or rather of the three aspects of the one Universal Force. It is the Tridanda, the triply manifested Unity, which gave rise to the orthodox AUM, which with them is but the abbreviated Trimûrti. It is only under this triple aspect that the profane masses can comprehend the great mystery. When the triple God becomes Shârîra, or puts on a visible form, he typifies all the principles of Matter, all the germs of life, he is the God of the three visages, or triple power, the essence of the Vedic Triad. "Let the Brâhmans know the Sacred Syllable [Aum, the three words of the Sâvitrî, and read the Vedas daily."3
After having produced the universe, He whose power is incomprehensible vanished again, absorbed in the Supreme Soul. . . . Having retired into the primitive darkness, the Great Soul remains within the unknown, and is void of all form. . . .
When having again reunited the subtile elementary principles, it introduces itself into either a vegetable or animal seed, it assumes at each a new form.
He who has studied the speculations of Pythagoras on the Monad, which, after emanating the Duad, retires into silence and darkness, and thus creates the Triad, can realize whence came the Philosophy of the great Samian Sage, and after him that of Socrates and Plato. The mystic Decad (1+2+3+4=10) is a way of expressing this idea. The One is God; the Two, Matter; the Three, combining Monad and Duad and partaking of the nature of both, is the phenomenal World; the Tetrad, or form of perfection, expresses the emptiness of all; and the Decad, or sum of all, involves the entire Kosmos.
Let us see how the Brâhmanical ideas tally with the pre-Christian Pagan Philosophies and with Christianity itself. It is with the Platonic Philosophy, the most elaborate compend of the abstruse systems of ancient India, that we had better begin.
Although twenty-two and a half centuries have elapsed since the death of Plato, the great minds of the world are still occupied with his writings. He was, in the fullest sense of the word, the world's interpreter. And the greatest Philosopher of the pre-Christian era faithfully mirrored in his works the spiritualism of the Vedic Philosophers, who lived thousands of years before himself, with its metaphysical expression. Vyâsa, Jaimini, Kapila, Patanjali, and may others, will be found to have transmitted their indelible imprint through the intervening centuries, by means of Pythagoras, upon Plato and his school. Thus is warranted the inference that to Plato and the ancient Hindu Sages the same wisdom was alike revealed. And so surviving the shock of time, what can this wisdom be but divine and eternal?
Plato taught of justice as subsisting in the soul and as being the greatest good of its possessor. "Men, in proportion to their intellect, have admitted his transcendent claims"; yet his commentators, almost with one consent, shrink from every passage which implies that his Metaphysics are based on a solid foundation, and not on ideal conceptions.
But Plato could not accept a Philosophy destitute of spiritual aspirations; with him the two were at one. For the old Grecian Sage there was a single object of attainment: REALKNOWLEDGE. He considered those only to be genuine Philosophers, or students of truth, who possess the knowledge of the really-existing, in opposition to mere objects of perception; of the always-existing, in opposition to the transitory; and of that which exists permanently, in opposition to that which waxes, wanes, and is alternately developed and destroyed.
Beyond all finite existences and secondary causes, all laws, ideas, and principles, there is an INTELLIGENCE or MIND [NNous, the Spirit the first principle of all principles, the Supreme Idea on which all other ideas are grounded; the ultimate substance from which all things derive their being and essence, the first and efficient Cause of all the order, and harmony, and beauty, and excellency, and goodness, which pervade the universe – who is called, by way of preëminence and excellence, the Supreme Good, the God "the God over all" 5
These forms are time, space and causality. Through time and space the idea varies in its numberless manifestations.
Thus, if Theology has often disfigured ancient Theosophy, Modern Psychology and Modern Science have disfigured Ancient Philosophy. Both borrowed without any acknowledgement from the Ancient Wisdom and reviled and belittled it whenever they could. But, for lack of comprehension of the great philosophical and theosophical principles, the methods of Modern Science, however exact, must end in nullity. In no one branch can it demonstrate the origin and ultimate of things. Instead of tracing the effect from its primal source, its progress is the reverse. Its higher types, it teaches, are all evolved from antecedent lower ones. It starts from the bottom of the cycle, led on step by step in the great labyrinth of Nature, by a thread of Matter. As soon as this breaks, the clue is lost, and it recoils in affright from the Incomprehensible, and confesses itself powerless. Not so did Plato and his disciples. With them, as with us, the lower types were but the concrete images of the higher abstract types. The Spirit, which is immortal, has an arithmetical, as the body has a geometrical, beginning. This beginning, as the reflection of the great universal Archæus, is self-moving, and from the centre diffuses itself over the whole body of the microcosm.
Almost a century separated Plato from Pythagoras,9 so that they could not have been acquainted with each other. But both were Initiates, and therefore it is not surprising to find that both teach the same doctrine concerning the Universal Soul. Pythagoras taught his disciples that God is the Universal Mind diffused through all things, and that this Mind by the sole virtue of its universal sameness could be communicated from one object to another, and be made to create all things by the sole will-power of man. With the ancient Greeks, too, Kurios was the God-Mind (Nous). "Now, Koros (Kurios) signifies the pure and unmixed nature of intellect – wisdom," says Plato in the Cratylus. Thus we find all the great philosophers, from Pythagoras through Timæus of Locris and Plato down to the Neo-Platonists, deriving the Mind-Soul of man from the Universal Mind-Soul.
Of myths and symbols, the despair of modern Orientalism, Plato declares, in the Gorgias and Phædo, that they were the vehicles of great truths well worth seeking. But commentators are so Little en rapport with the great Philosopher as to be compelled to acknowledge that they are ignorant where ' the doctrinal ends, and the mythical begins." Plato put to flight the popular superstitions concerning magic and dæmons, and developed the exaggerated notions of the time into rational theories and metaphysical conceptions. Perhaps these would not quite stand the inductive method of reasoning established by Aristotle; nevertheless they are satisfactory in the highest degree to those who apprehend the existence of the higher faculty of insight or intuition, as affording a criterion for ascertaining truth. For there are few myths in any religious system but have an historical as well as a scientific foundation. Myths, as Pococke ably expresses it,
Basing all his doctrines upon the presence of the Supreme Mind, Plato taught that the Nous, Spirit, or Rational Soul of man, being "generated by the Divine Father," possessed a nature kindred to, or even homogeneous with, the Divinity, and capable of beholding the eternal realities. This faculty of contemplating reality in a direct and immediate manner belongs to God alone; the aspiration for this knowledge constitutes what is really meant by Philosophy – the love of wisdom. The love of truth is inherently the love of good: and predominating over every desire of the soul, purifying it and assimilating it to the divine, thus governing every act of the individual, it raises man to a participation and communion with Divinity, and restores him to the likeness of God. Says Plato in the Theætetus:
This flight consists in becoming like God, and this assimilation is the becoming just and holy with wisdom.
The basis of this assimilation is always asserted to be the preexistence of the Spirit or Nous. In the allegory of the chariot and winged steeds, given in the Phædrus, he represents the psychical nature as composite or two-fold; the thumos, or epithumetic part, formed from the substances of the world of phenomena; and the thumoeides , the essence of which is linked to the eternal world. The present earth-life is a fall and a punishment. The Soul dwells in "the grave which we call the body," and in its incorporate state, and previous to the discipline of education, the noëtic or spiritual element is "asleep." Life is thus a dream, rather than a reality. Like the captives in the subterranean cave, described in the Republic, our backs being turned to the light, we perceive only the shadows of objects, and think them the actual realities. Is not this the idea of Mâyâ, or the illusion of the senses in physical life, which is so marked a feature in the Hindû Philosophy? But these shadows, if we have not given ourselves up absolutely to the sensuous nature, arouse in us the reminiscence of that higher world that we once inhabited.
The interior spirit has some dim and shadowy recollection of its antenatal state of bliss, and some instinctive and proleptic yearnings for its return.
It is the province of the discipline of Philosophy to disenthral the Soul from the bondage of sense, and to raise it into the empyrean of pure thought, to the vision of eternal truth, goodness, and beauty, thus uniting it to Spirit.
The soul cannot come into the form of a man if it has never seen the truth. This is a recollection of those things which our soul formerly saw when journeying with Deity, despising the things which we now say are, and looking up to that which really is. Wherefore the nous, or spirit, of the Philosopher [or student of the higher truth alone is furnished with wings; because he, to the best of his ability, keeps these things in mind, of which the contemplation renders even Deity itself divine. By making the right use of these things remembered from the former life, by constantly perfecting himself in the perfect mysteries, a man becomes truly perfect – an initiate into the diviner wisdom.
The Philosophy of Plato, we are assured by Porphyry of the Neoplatonic School, was taught and illustrated in the MYSTERIES.11 Many have questioned and even denied this; and Lobeck, in his Aglaophomus, has gone to the extreme of representing the sacred festivals as little more than an empty show to captivate the imagination. As though Athens and Greece would for twenty centuries and more have repaired every fifth year to Eleusis to witness a solemn religious farce! Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, has exploded such assertions. He declares that the doctrines of the Alexandrian Platonists were the original Esoteric doctrines of the first followers of Plato, and describes Plotinus as a Plato reïncarnated. He also explains the motives of the great Philosopher for veiling the interior sense of what he taught.
Hence we may understand why the sublimer scenes in the Mysteries were always in the night. The life of the interior Spirit is the death of the external nature; and the night of the physical world denotes the day of the spiritual. Dionysus, the night-sun, is, therefore, worshipped rather than Helios, orb of day. In the Mysteries were symbolized the preëxistent condition of the Spirit and Soul, and the lapse of the latter into earth-life and Hades, the miseries of that life, the purification of the Soul, and its restoration to divine bliss, or reunion with Spirit. Theon, of Smyrna, aptly compares the philosophical discipline to the mystic rites, and his views may be summarized from Taylor as follows:
Philosophy may he called the initiation into the true arcana, and the instruction in the genuine Mysteries. There are five parts of this initiation: I. the previous purification; II. the admission to participation in the arcane rites; III. the epoptic revelation; IV. the investiture or enthroning; V. – the fifth, which is produced from all these, is friendship and interior communion with God, and the enjoyment of that felicity which arises from intimate converse with divine beings. . . . Plato denominates the epopteia, or personal view the perfect contemplation of things which are apprehended intuitively, absolute truths and ideas. He also considers the binding of the head and crowning as analogous to the authority which anyone receives from his instructors, of leading others into the same contemplation. The fifth gradation is the most perfect felicity arising from hence, and, according to Plato an assimilation to divinity as far as is possible to human beings.12
Such is Platonism. "Out of Plato," says Ralph Waldo Emerson, 'come all things that are still written and debated among men of thought. He absorbed the learning of his time – that of Greece from Philolaus to Socrates; then that of Pythagoras in Italy; then what he could procure from Egypt and the East. He was so broad that all Philosophy, European and Asiatic, was in his doctrines; and to culture and contemplation he added the nature and qualities of the poet.
The followers of Plato generally adhered strictly to his psychological theories. Several, however, like Xenocrates, ventured into bolder speculations. Speusippus, the nephew and successor of the great Philosopher, was the author of the Numerical Analysis,a treatise on the Pythagorean Numbers. Some of his speculations are not found in the written Dialogues; but as he was a listener to the unwritten lectures of Plato, the judgment of Enfield is doubtless correct, that he did not differ from his Master. Though not named, he was evidently the antagonist whom Aristotle criticized, when professing to cite the argument of Plato against the doctrine of Pythagoras, that all things were in themselves numbers, or rather, inseparable from the idea of numbers. He especially endeavoured to show that the Platonic doctrine of ideas differed essentially from the Pythagorean, in that it presupposed numbers and magnitude to exist apart from things. He also asserted that Plato taught that there could be no real knowledge, if the object of that knowledge was not carried beyond or above the sensible.
But Aristotle was no trustworthy witness. He misrepresented Plato, and he almost caricatured the doctrines of Pythagoras. There is a canon of interpretation, which should guide us in our examination of every philosophical opinion: "The human mind has, under the necessary operation of its own laws, been compelled to entertain the same fundamental ideas, and the human heart to cherish the same feelings in all ages." It is certain that Pythagoras awakened the deepest intellectual sympathy of his age, and that his doctrines exerted a powerful influence upon the mind of Plato. His cardinal idea was that there existed a permanent principle of unity beneath the forms, changes, and other phenomena of the universe. Aristotle asserted that he taught that "numbers are the first principles of all entities." Ritter has expressed the opinion that the formula of Pythagoras should be taken symbolically, which is entirely correct. Aristotle goes on to associate these numbers with the "forms" and "ideas" of Plato. He even declares that Plato said: "forms are numbers," and that 'ideas are substantial existences – real beings." Yet Plato did not so teach. He declared that the final cause was the Supreme Goodness – .
It is recognized by Modern Science that all the higher laws of Nature assume the form of quantitative statement. What is this but a fuller elaboration or more explicit affirmation of the Pythagorean doctrine? Numbers were regarded as the best representations of the laws of harmony which pervade the Kosmos. In Chemistry the doctrine of atoms and the laws of combination are actually, and, as it were, arbitrarily defined by numbers. As Mr. W. Archer Butler has expressed it:
The world is, then, through all its departments, a living arithmetic in its development, a realized geometry in its repose.
The key to the Pythagorean dogmas is the general formula of unity in multiplicity, the One evolving the many and pervading the many. This is the ancient doctrine of emanation in a few words. Even the apostle Paul accepted it as true. – Out of him and through him and for him all things are – though the pronoun "him" could hardly have been used with regard to the Universal Mind by an Initiate – a "Master Builder."
The greatest ancient Philosophers are accused of shallowness and superficiality of knowledge as to those details in exact Science of which the moderns boast so much; and Plato cannot escape the common fate. Yet, once more his modern critics ought to bear in mind, that the Sodalian Oath of the Initiate into the Mysteries prevented his imparting his knowledge to the world, in so many plain words. As Champollion writes:
It was the dream of his [Plato's life to write a work and record in it, in full, the doctrines taught by the Egyptian hierophants; he often talked of it, but found himself compelled to abstain on account of the solemn oath.
Plato is declared by his various commentators to have been utterly ignorant of the anatomy and functions of the human body; to have known nothing of the uses of the nerves for conveying sensations; and to have had nothing better to offer than vain speculations concerning physiological questions. He has simply generalized the divisions of the human body, they say, and given nothing reminding us of anatomical facts. As to his own views on the human frame, the Microcosmos being, in his mind, the image in miniature of the Macrocosmos, they are much too transcendental to obtain the least attention from our exact and materialistic sceptics. The idea of this frame being formed out of triangles, like the universe, seems preposterously ridiculous to several of his translators. Alone of the latter, Professor Jowett, in his introduction to the Timæus, honestly remarks that the modern Physical Philosopher
forgetting how much the Metaphysics of olden times have helped the "physical" Sciences of the present day. If, instead of quarrelling with the insufficiency and at times the absence of strictly scientific terms and definitions in Plato's works, we analyze them carefully, the Timæus alone will be found to contain within its limited space the germs of every new discovery. The circulation of the blood and the law of gravitation are clearly mentioned, though the former fact, it may be, is not so clearly defined as to withstand the reiterated attacks of Modern Science; for, according to Prof. Jowett, the specific discovery that the blood flows out from one side of the heart through the arteries, and returns to the other through the veins, was unknown to him, though Plato was perfectly aware "that blood is a fluid in constant motion."
Plato's method, like that of Geometry, was to descend from universals to particulars. Modem Science vainly seeks a First Cause among the permutations of molecules; but Plato sought and found it amid the majestic sweep of worlds. For him it was enough to know the great scheme of creation and to be able to trace the mightiest movements of the Universe through their changes to their ultimates. The petty details, the observation and classification of which have so taxed and demonstrated the patience of modern Scientists, occupied but little of the attention of the old Philosophers. Hence, while a fifth-form boy of an English school can prate more learnedly about the little things of Physical Science than Plato himself, yet, on the other hand, the dullest of Plato's disciples could tell more about great cosmic laws and their mutual relations, and could demonstrate a greater familiarity with and control over the Occult Forces which lie behind them, than the most learned professor in the most distinguished Academy of our day.
This fact, so little appreciated and never dwelt upon by Plato's translators, accounts for the self-laudation in which we moderns indulge at the expense of that Philosopher and his compeers. Their alleged mistakes in Anatomy and Physiology are magnified to an inordinate extent in order to gratify our self-love, until, in acquiring the idea of our own superior learning, we lose sight of the intellectual splendour which adorns the ages of the past; it is as if one should, in fancy, magnify the solar spots until he should believe the bright luminary to be totally eclipsed.
The wholesale accusation that the ancient Philosophers merely generalized, and that they practically systematized nothing, does not prove their "ignorance," and further it is untrue. Every Science having been revealed in the beginning of time by a divine Instructor, became thereby sacred, and capable of being imparted only during the Mysteries of Initiation. No initiated Philosopher, therefore – such as Plato – had the right to reveal it. Once postulate this fact, and the alleged "ignorance" of the ancient Sages and of some initiated classic authors, is explained. At any rate, even a correct generalization is more useful than any system of exact Science, which only becomes rounded and completed by virtue of a number of "working hypotheses" and conjectures. The relative practical unprofitableness of most modern scientific research is evinced in the fact that while our Scientists have a name for the most trivial particle of mineral, plant, animal, and man, the wisest of them are unable to tell us anything definite about the Vital Force which produces the changes in these several kingdoms. It is unnecessary to seek further than the works of our highest scientific authorities themselves for corroboration of this statement.
It requires no little moral courage in a man of eminent professional position to do justice to the acquirements of the Ancients, in the face of a public sentiment which is content with nothing less than their abasement. When we meet with a case of the kind we gladly give the bold and honest scholar his due. Such a scholar is Professor Jowett, Master of Baliol College, and Regius Professor of Greek in the University of Oxford, who, in his translation of Plato's works! speaking of "the physical philosophy of the ancients as a whole," gives them the following credit: 1. "That the nebular theory was the received belief of the early physicists." Therefore it could not have rested, as Draper asserts,15 upon the telescopic discovery made by Herschel. 2. "That the development of animals out of frogs who came to land, and of man out of animals, was held by Anaximenes in the sixth century before Christ." Professor Jowett might have added that this theory antedated Anaximenes by many thousands of years, as it was an accepted doctrine among the Chaldeans, who taught it exoterically, as on their cylinders and tablets, and esoterically in the temples of Ea and Nebo – the God, and prophet or revealer of the Secret Doctrine.16 But in both cases the statements are blinds. That which Anaximenes – the pupil of Anaximander, who was himself the friend and disciple of Thales of Miletus, the chief of the "Seven Sages," and therefore an Initiate as were these two Masters – that which Anaximenes meant by 'animals'' was something different from the animals of the modern Darwinian theory. Indeed the eagle-headed men, and the animals of various kinds with human heads, may point two ways: to the descent of man from animals, and to the descent of animals from man, as in the Esoteric Doctrine. At all events, even the most important of the present-day theories is thus shown to be not entirely original with Darwin. 3. Professor Jowett goes on to show "that, even by Philolaus and the early Pythagoreans, the earth was held to be a body like the other stars revolving in space." Thus Galileo – studying some Pythagorean fragments, which are shown by Reuchlin to have still existed in the days of the Florentine mathematician,17 being, moreover, familiar with the doctrines of the old Philosophers – but reasserted an astronomical doctrine which prevailed in India in the remotest antiquity. 4. The Ancients "thought that there was a sex in plants as well as in anima1s." Thus our modern Naturalists had but to follow in the steps of their predecessors. 5. "That musical notes depended on the relative length or tension of the strings from which they were emitted, and were measured by ratios of number." 6. "That mathematical laws pervaded the world and even qualitative differences were supposed to have their origin in number." 7. "That the annihilation of matter was denied by them, and held to be a transformation only." "Although one of these discoveries might have been supposed to be a happy guess," adds Prof. Jowett, "we can hardly attribute them all to mere coincidences." We should think not; for, from what he says elsewhere, Prof. Jowett gives us a full right to believe that Plato indicates (as he really does) in Timæus, his knowledge of the indestructibility of Matter, of the conservation of energy, and the correlation of forces. Says Dr. Jowett:
In short, the Platonic Philosophy was one of order, system, and proportion; it embraced the evolution of worlds and species, the correlation and conservation of energy, the transmutation of material form, the indestructibility of Matter and of Spirit. The position of the Platonists in the latter respect was far in advance of Modern Science, and bound the arch of their philosophical system with a keystone at once perfect and immovable.
Finally few will deny the enormous influence that Plato's views have exercised on the formation and acceptance of the dogmas of Christianity. But Plato's views were those of the Mysteries. The philosophical doctrines taught therein are the prolific source from which sprang all the old exoteric religions, the Old and partially the New Testament included, belonging to the most advanced notions of morality, and religious "revelations." While the literal meaning was abandoned to the fanaticism of the unreasoning lower classes of society, the higher classes, the majority of which consisted of Initiates, pursued their studies in the solemn silence of the temples, and also their worship of the One God of Heaven.
The speculations of Plato, in the Banquet, on the creation of the primordial men, and the essay on Cosmogony in the Timæus, must be taken allegorically, if we accept them at all. It is this hidden Pythagorean meaning in Timæus, Cratylus and Parmenides, and other trilogies and dialogues, that the Neo-Platonists ventured to expound, as far as the theurgical vow of secrecy would allow them. The Pythagorean doctrine that God is the Universal Mind diffused through all things, and the dogma of the soul's immortality, are the leading features in these apparently incongruous teachings. Plato's piety and the great veneration he felt for the Mysteries, are sufficient warrant that he would not allow his indiscretion to get the better of that deep sense of responsibility which is felt by every Adept. "Constantly perfecting himself in perfect Mysteries, a man in them alone becomes truly perfect," says he in the Phædrus.19
Those, therefore, who can discern the true spirit of Plato's Philosophy, will hardly be satisfied with the estimate which Prof. Jowett, in another part of his work, lays before his readers. He tells us that the influence exercised upon posterity by the Timæus is partly due to a misunderstanding of the doctrine of its author by the Neo-Platonists. He would have us believe that the hidden meanings which they found in this Dialogue, are "quite at variance with the Spirit of Plato." This is equivalent to the assumption that Prof. Jowett understands what this spirit really was; whereas his criticism upon this particular topic rather indicates that he does not penetrate it at all. If, as he tells us, the Christians seem to find in his work their Trinity, the Word, the Church, and the creation of the World, in a Jewish sense, it is because all this is there, and therefore it is but natural that they should have found it. The outward building is the same; but the spirit which animated the dead letter of the Philosopher's teaching has fled, and we would seek for it in vain through the arid dogmas of Christian theology. The Sphinx is the same now, as it was four centuries before the Christian era; but the Œdipus is no more. He is slain because he has given to the world that which the world was not ripe enough to receive. He was the embodiment of truth, and he had to die, as every grand truth must, before, like the Phoenix of old, it revives from its own ashes. Every translator of Plato's works has remarked the strange similarity between the Philosophy of the Esoteric and the Christian doctrines, and each of them has tried to interpret it in accordance with his own religious feelings. So Cory, in his Ancient Fragments, tries to prove that it is but an outward resemblance; and does his best to lower the Pythagorean Monad in the public estimation and exalt upon its ruins the later anthropomorphic deity. Taylor, advocating the former, acts as unceremoniously with the Mosaic God. Zeller boldly laughs at the pretensions of the Fathers of the Church, who, notwithstanding history and chronology, and whether people will have it or not, insist that Plato and his school have robbed Christianity of its leading features. It is as fortunate for us as it is unfortunate for the Roman Church that such clever sleight-of-hand as that resorted to by Eusebius is rather difficult in our century. It was easier to pervert chronology, "for the sake of making synchronisms," in the days of the Bishop of Cæsarea, than it is now, and while history exists, no one can help people knowing that Plato lived six hundred years before Irenæus took it into his head to establish a new doctrine from the ruins of Plato's older Academy.
* * *
This doctrine of the Universal Mind diffused through all things underlies all ancient Philosophies. The tenets of Bodhism, or Wisdom, which can never be better comprehended than when studying the Pythagorean Philosophy – its faithful reflection – are derived from this source, as are the exoteric Hindu religion and early Christianity. The purifying process of reïncarnations – metempsychoses – however grossly anthropomorphized at a later period, must only be regarded as a supplementary doctrine, disfigured by theological sophistry, with the object of getting a firmer hold upon believers through a popular superstition. Neither Gautama Buddha nor Pythagoras, nor yet Plato, intended to teach this purely metaphysical allegory literally. None of them addressed himself to the profane, but only to their own followers and disciples, who knew too much of the symbological element used even during public instruction to fail to understand the meaning of their respective Masters. Thus they were aware that the words metempsychosis and transmigration meant simply reïncarnation from one human body to another, when this teaching concerned a human being; and that every allusion of this or another sage, like Pythagoras, to having been in a previous birth a beast, or of transmigrating after death into an animal, was allegorical and related to the spiritual states of the human soul. It is not in the dead letter of the mystic sacred literature that scholars may hope to find the true solution of its metaphysical subtleties. The latter weary the power of thought by the inconceivable profundity of their ratiocination: and the student is never farther from truth than when he believes himself nearest its discovery. The mastery of every doctrine of the perplexing Buddhist and Brâhmanical systems can he attained only by proceeding strictv according to the Pythagorean and Platonic method; from universals down to particulars. The key to them lies in the refined and mystical tenets of the spiritual influx of divine life. "Whoever is unacquainted with my law." says Buddha. "and dies in that state, must return to the earth till he becomes a perfect Samanean. To achieve this object, he must destroy within himself the trinity of Mâyâ. He must extinguish his passions, unite and identify himself with the law [the teaching of the Secret Doctrine, and comprehend the religion of annihilation," i.e,. the laws of Matter, and those of Karma and Reïncarnation.
Plato acknowledges man to he the toy of the element of necessity – which is Karma under another name – in appearing in this world of matter. Man is influenced by external causes, and these causes are daimonia, like that of Socrates. Happy is the man physically pure, for if his external soul (astral body, the image of the body) is pure, it will strengthen the second (the lower Manas), or the soul which is termed by him the higher mortal soul, which, though liable to err from its own motives, will always side with reason against the animal proclivities of the body. In other words, the ray of our Higher Ego, the lower Manas, has its higher light, the reason or rational powers of the Nous, to help it in the struggle with Kâmic desires. The lusts of man arise in consequence of his perishable material body, so do other diseases, says Plato; but though he regards crimes as involuntary sometimes, for they result, like bodily disease, from external causes, Plato clearly makes a wide distinction between these causes. The Karmic fatalism which he concedes to humanity does not preclude the possibility of avoiding them, for though pain, fear, anger, and other feelings are given to men by necessity,
Who lived well during his appointed time would return to the habitation of his star, and there have a blessed and suitable existence. But if he failed in attaining this in the second generation he would pass into a woman [become helpless and weak as a woman, and should he not cease from evil in that condition he would be changed into some brute, which resembled him in his evil ways, and would not cease from his toils and transformations [i.e., rebirths or transmigrations, until he followed the original principle of sameness and likeness within him, and overcame, by the help of reason, the latter secretions of turbulent and irrational elements [elementary dæmons composed of fire and air, and water and earth, and returned to the form of his first and better nature.25
These are the teachings of the Secret Doctrine, of the Occult Philosophy. The possibility of man losing, through depravity, his Higher Ego was taught in antiquity, and is still taught in the centres of Eastern Occultism. And the above shows quite plainly that Plato believed in Reïncarnation and in Karma just as we do, though his utterances in respect to the subject were in a mythical form.
There was not a Philosopher of any notoriety who did not hold to this doctrine of metempsychosis, as taught by the Brâhmans, Buddhists, and later by the Pythagoreans, in its Esoteric sense, whether he expressed it more or less intelligibly. Origen and Clemens Alexandrinus, Synesius and Chalcidius, all believed in it; and the Gnostics, who are unhesitatingly proclaimed by history as a body of the most refined, learned, and enlightened men,26 were all believers in metempsychosis. Socrates entertained opinions identical with those of Pythagoras; and, as the penalty of his divine Philosophy. was put to a violent death. The rabble has been the same in all ages. These men taught that men have two souls of separate and quite different natures: the one perishable – the Astral Soul, or the inner, fluidic body – which must not be confused with the Astral Body or "double"; the other incorruptible and immortal – the Augoeides, or portion of the Divine Spirit – Atmâ-Buddhi: that the mortal or Astral Soul perishes at each gradual change at the threshold of every new sphere, becoming with every transmigration more purified. The Astral Man, intangible and invisible as he may be to our mortal, earthly senses, is still constituted of matter, though sublimated.
Now, if the latter means anything at all, it means that the above teaching about the "two souls" is exactly that of the Esoteric, and of many exoteric, Theosophists. The two souls are the dual Manas: the lower, personal "Astral Soul," and the Higher Ego. The former – a Ray of the latter falling into Matter, that is to say animating man and making of him a thinking, rational being on this plane – having assimilated its most spiritual elements in the divine essence of the reïncarnating Ego, perishes in its personal, material form at each gradual change, as Kâma Rûpa, at the threshold of every new sphere, or Devachan, followed by a new reïncarnation. It perishes, because it fades out in time, all but its intangible, evanescent photography on the astral waves, burnt out by the fierce light which ever changes but never dies; while the incorruptible and the immortal "Spiritual Soul," that which we call Buddhi-Manas and the individual SELF, becomes more purified with every new incarnation. Laden with all IT could save from the personal Soul, it carries it into Devachan, to reward it with ages of peace and bliss. This is no new teaching, no "fresh development," as some of our opponents have tried to prove; and even in Isis Unveiled, the earliest, hence the most cautious of all the modern works on Theosophy, the fact is distinctly stated (Vol. i, p. 432 and elsewhere). The Secret Doctrine does not concede immortality to all men alike. It declares with Porphyry that only
Through the highest purity and chastity we shall approach nearer to [our God, and receive, in the contemplation of Him, the true knowledge and insight.
If the human soul has neglected during its life-time to receive its illumination from its Divine Spirit, our personal God, then it becomes difficult for the gross and sensual man to survive his physical death for a great length of time. No more than the misshapen monster can live long after its physical birth, can the soul, once that it has become too material, exist after its birth into the spiritual world. The viability of the astral form is so feeble, that the particles cannot cohere firmly when once it is slipped out of the unyielding capsule of the external body. Its particles, gradually obeying the disorganizing attraction of universal space, finally fly asunder beyond the possibility of reäggregation. Upon the occurrence of such a catastrophe, the personal individual ceases to exist; his glorious Augoeides, the immortal SELF, has left him for Devachan, whither the Kâma Rûpa cannot follow. During the intermediary period between bodily death and the disintegration of the astral form, the latter, bound by magnetic attraction to its ghastly corpse, prowls about and sucks vitality from susceptible victims. The man having shut out of himself every ray of the divine light, is lost in darkness, and, therefore, clings to the earth and the earthy.
No Astral Soul, even that of a pure, good and virtuous man, is immortal in the strictest sense: "from elements it was formed- to elements it must return." Only, while the soul of the wicked vanishes, and is al sorbed without redemption – i.e., the dead man has impressed nothing of himself on the Spirit-Ego – that of every other person, even moderately pure, simply changes its ethereal particles for still more ethereal ones. While there remains in it a spark of the Divine, the personal Ego cannot die entirely, as his most spiritual thoughts and aspirations, his "good deeds," the efflorescence of his "I-am-ship," so to speak, is now at one with his immortal Parent. Says Proclus:
After death the soul [the spirit continueth to linger in the aërial body [astral form, till it is entirely purified from all angry and voluptuous passions . . . then doth it put off by a second dying the aërial body as it did the earthly one. Whereupon, the ancients say that there is a celestial body always joined with the soul, which is immortal, luminous, and star-like.
Between Pantheism and Fetichism, we have been repeatedly told, there is but an insignificant step. Plato was a Monotheist, it is asserted. In one sense, he was that, most assuredly; but his Monotheism never led him to the worship of one personal God, but to that of a Universal Principle and to the fundamental idea that the absolutely immutable or unchangeable Existence alone, really is, all the finite existences and change being only appearance, i.e., Mâyâ.27 His Being was noumenal, not phenomenal. If Heracleitus postulates a World-Consciousness, or Universal Mind; and Parmenides an unchangeable Being, in the identity of the universal and individual thought; and the Pythagoreans, along with Philolaus, discover true Knowledge (which is Wisdom or Deity) in our consciousness of the unchangeable relations between number and measure – an idea disfigured later by the Sophists – it is Plato who expresses this idea the most intelligibly. While the vague definition of some philosophers about the Ever-Becoming is but too apt to lead one inclined to argumentation into hopeless Materialism, the divine Being of some others suggests as unphilosophical an anthropomorphism. Instead of separating the two, Plato shows us the logical necessity of accepting both, viewed from an Esoteric aspect. That which he calls the "Unchangeable Existence" or "Being" is named Be-ness in Esoteric Philosophy. It is SAT, which becomes at stated periods the cause of the Becoming, which latter cannot, therefore, be regarded as existing, but only as something ever tending – in its cyclic progress toward the One Absolute Existence – to exist, in the "Good," and at one with Absoluteness. The "Divine Causality" cannot be a personal, therefore finite and conditioned, Godhead, any more with Plato than with the Vedântins, as he treats his subject teleologically, and in his search for final causes often goes beyond the Universal Mind, even when viewed as a noumenon. Modern commentators have attempted on different occasions to prove fallacious the Neo-Platonic claim of a secret meaning underlying Plato's teachings. They deny the presence of "any definite trace of a secret doctrine" in his Dialogues;
As, however, no one would deny that Plato had been initiated into the MYSTERIES, there is an end to the other denials. There are hundreds of expressions and hints in the Dialogues which no modem translator or commentator – save one, Thomas Taylor – has ever correctly understood. The presence, moreover, of the Pythagorean number-doctrine and the sacred numerals in Plato's lectures settles the question conclusively.
He who has studied Pythagoras and his speculations on the Monad, which, after having emanated the Duad, retires into silence and darkness, and thus creates the Triad, can realize whence came the Philosophy of the great Samian Sage, and after him that of Socrates and Plato.
Xenocrates expounded many of the unwritten theories and teachings of his master. He, too, held the Pythagorean doctrine, with its system of numerals and mathematics, in the highest estimation. Recognizing but three degrees of knowledge – Thought, Perception, and Envisagement (or knowledge by Intuition), he made Thought busy itself with all that which is beyond the heavens; Perception with things in the heavens; Intuition with the heavens themselves. The source of these three qualities is found in the Hindu Manava Dharma Shâstra, speaking of the formation (creation, in vulgar parlance) of man. Brahmâ – who is Mahat, or the Universal Soul – draws from its own essence the Spirit, the immortal breath which perisheth not in the human being, while to the (lower) soul of that being, Brahma gives the Ahankara, consciousness of the Ego. Then is added to it "the intellect formed of the three qualities."
These three qualities are Intelligence, Conscience and Will; answering to the Thought, Perception and Envisagement (Intuition) of Xenocrates, who seems to have been less reticent than Plato and Speusippus in his exposition of soul. After his master's death Xenocrates travelled with Aristotle, and then became ambassador to Philip of Macedonia. But twenty-five years later he is found taking charge of the Old Academy, and becoming its President as successor of Speusippus, who had occupied the post for over a quarter of a century, and devoting his life to the most abstruse philosophical subjects. He is thought more dogmatic than Plato, and therefore must have been more dangerous to the schools which opposed him. His three degrees of knowledge, or three divisions of Philosophy, the separation and connection of the three modes of cognition and comprehension, are more definitely worked out than by Speusippus. With him, Science is referred to "that essence which is the object of pure thought, and is not included in the phenomenal world" – which is in direct opposition to the Aristotelian-Baconian ideas; sensuous perception is referred to that which passes into the world of phenomena; and conception, to that essence "which is at once the object of sensuous perception and, mathematically, of pure reason – the essence of heaven and the stars." All his admiration notwithstanding, Aristotle never did justice to the Philosophy of his friend and co-disciple. This is evident from his works. Whenever he is referring to the three modes of apprehension as explained by Xenocrates, he abstains from any mention of the method by which the latter proves that scientific perception partakes of truth. The reason for this becomes apparent when we find the following in a biography of Xenocrates:
It is probable that what was peculiar to the Aristotelian logic did not remain unnoticed by him (Xenocrates); for it can hardly be doubted that the division of the existent into the absolutely existent and the relatively existent, attributed to Xenocrates. was opposed to the Aristotelian table of categories.
This shows that Aristotle was no better than certain of our modem Scientists, who suppress facts and truth in order that these may not clash with their own private hobbies and "working hypotheses."
The dæmons, according to this theory, are intermediate beings between the divine perfection and human sinfulness,40 and he divides them into classes, each subdivided into many others. But he states expressly that the individual or personal soul is the leading guardian dæmon of every man, and that no dæmon has more power over us than our own. Thus the Daimonion of Socrates is the God or Divine Entity which inspired him all his life. It depends on man either to open or close his perceptions to the Divine voice. Like Speusippus, he ascribed immortality to the psychical body, or irrational soul. But some Hermetic philosophers have taught that the soul has a separate continued existence only so long as in its passage through the spheres any material or earthly particles remain incorporated in it; and that when absolutely purified, the latter are annihilated, and the quintessence of the soul alone becomes blended with its divine Spirit, the Rational, and the two are thenceforth one.
This must be so, since we find men like Cicero and Panætius, and before them, Aristotle and Theophrastus his disciple, expressed the highest regard for Xenocrates. His writings – treatises on Science, on Metaphysics, Cosmology and Philosophy – must have been legion. He wrote on Physics and the Gods; on the Existent, the One and the Indefinite; on Affections and Memory; on Happiness and Virtue; four books on Royalty, and numberless treatises on the State; on the Power of Law; on Geometry, Arithmetic, and finally on Astrology. Dozens of renowned classical writers mention and quote from him.
Crantor, another philosopher associated with the earliest days of Plato's Academy, conceived the human soul as formed out of the primary substance of all things, the Monad or the One, and the Duad or the Two. Plutarch speaks at length of this Philosopher, who, like his Master, believed in souls being distributed in earthly bodies as an exile and punishment.
In the Epinomis is fully stated the doctrine of the Pythagorean numbers in relation to created things. As a true Platonist, its author maintains that wisdom can only be attained by a thorough enquiry into the Occult nature of the creation; it alone assures us an existence of bliss after death. The immortality of the soul is greatly speculated upon in this treatise; but its author adds that we can attain to this knowledge only through a complete comprehension of numbers; for the man unable to distinguish the straight line from the curved will never have wisdom enough to secure a mathematical demonstration of the invisible, i.e., we must assure ourselves of the objective existence of our soul before we learn that we are in possession of a divine and immortal Spirit. Iamblichus says the same thing; adding, moreover, that it is a secret belonging to the highest Initiation. The Divine Power, he says, always felt indignant with those "who rendered manifest the composition of the icostagonus," viz., who delivered the method of inscribing in a sphere the dodecahedron.
The idea that "numbers" possessing the greatest virtue produce always what is good and never what is evil, refers to justice, equanimity of temper, and everything that is harmonious. When the author speaks of every star as an individual soul, he only means what the Hindû Initiates and Hermetists taught before and after him, viz., that every star is an independent planet, which, like our earth, has a soul of its own, every atom of Matter being impregnated with the divine influx of the Soul of the World. It breathes and lives; it feels and suffers as well as enjoys life in its way. What naturalist is prepared to dispute it on good evidence? Therefore, we must consider the celestial bodies as the images of Gods; as partaking of the divine powers in their substance; and though they are not immortal in their soul-entity, their agency in the economy of the universe is entitled to divine honours, such as we pay to minor Gods. The idea is plain, and one must be malevolent indeed to misrepresent it. If the author of Epinomis places these fiery Gods higher than the animals, plants, and even mankind, all of which, as earthly creatures, are assigned by him a lower place, who can prove him wholly wrong? One must needs go deep indeed into the profundity of the abstract metaphysics of the old Philosophies, who would understand that their various embodiments of their conceptions are, after all, based upon an identical apprehension of the nature of the First Cause, its attributes and method.
When the author of Epinomis, along with so many other Philosophers, locates between the highest and the lowest Gods three classes of Daimons, and peoples the Universe with hosts of sublimated Beings, he is more rational than the modern Materialist. The latter, making between the two extremes – the unknown and the invisible, hence, according to his logic, the non-existent, and the objective and the sensuous – one vast hiatus of being and the playground of blind forces, may seek to explain his attitude on the grounds of "scientific Agnosticism"; yet he will never succeed in proving that the latter is consistent with logic, or even with simple common sense.
11 "The accusations of atheism, the introducing of foreign deities, and corrupting of the Athenian youth, which were made against Socrates, afforded ample justification for Plato to conceal the arcane preaching of his doctrines. Doubtless the peculiar diction or 'jargon' of the alchemists was employed for a like purpose. The dungeon, the rack, and the faggot were employed without scruple by Christians of every shade, the Roman Catholics especially, against all who taught even natural science contrary to the theories entertained by the Church. Pope Gregory the Great even inhibited the grammatical use of Latin as heathenish. The offence of Socrates consisted in unfolding to his disciples the arcane doctrine concerning the gods, which was taught in the Mysteries and was a capital crime. He was also charged by Aristophanes with introducing the new god Dinos into the republic as the demiurgos or artificer, and the lord of the solar universe. The Heliocentric system was also a doctrine of the Mysteries; and hence, when Aristarchus, the Pythagorean taught it openly, Cleanthes declared that the Greeks ought to have called him to account and condemned him for blasphemy against the gods." But Socrates had never been initiated, and hence divulged nothing which had ever been imparted to him. back to text