THE HERMETIC METHOD
Are we the creators of our destiny, or are we the agents, unknowing, unwilling, or unwitting of a cosmic plan? To ask this is to attempt to understand the relations between the conscious the unconscious, and the self-conscious in all of us. To achieve universal self-consciousness is to dispel all illusions and to know no difference between oneself and the whole of nature. It is to make the plan of nature the very framework of one's being and the deliberate basis of one's destiny. It is like floating on the ocean of life. That is difficult enough on the physical plane, but in relation to the whole of cosmic life it is extremely difficult for us to grasp. Because we are only partly conscious, we are also partly unconscious, and therefore liable to self-deception. In another way, we face the problem of protective illusions. No man could live if he did not have some protective illusion. Each must attach a somewhat exaggerated reality to something in order to live at all. To the extent that we have to do this, we are used by the plan, because the exaggeration is eventually going to be cut down. Growing up means the removal of the protection.
Ordinarily, men replace one kind of protective illusion by another kind of protective illusion, which means they are part of the process and cannot stand outside it. To that extent free will is an illusion. If the universe is mathematically just, there is an incredible intricacy to its complex systems dynamics and, in the sense which Spinoza understood, no man is free. As long as you are a particular being, mentally separate from the whole, you are not free. What you think is freedom amounts to being determined by likes, dislikes and impulses which you do not fully choose. This is true of all of us, but to the extent to which, unlike the kingdoms below man, we can adapt ourselves to the environment and also adapt the environment to us, we are Prometheans, we are gods, we are self-determining agents.
For millennia we have been brought up in the terrible habit of dichotomous thinking, assuming that everything must be one thing or its opposite. Pythagoras actually discouraged people from even thinking in terms of the number 2. So much did the Sophists encourage it that Plato said the very method should be abandoned. In other words, when we ask whether we are creative or passive in relation to our own destiny, we should start by saying, "Yes, we are both," but then ask what it means to say we are either. What does it mean effectively for us - philosophically, or impersonally; psychologically, in the realm where we can relate it to our life; ethically, in relation to our problems; and also socially or collectively? Look at the men who make plans. As Robert Burns said:
In Tolstoy's War and Peace the most powerful men of history are still instruments. On the other hand, each of us should ask what it means to say that we create and choose, because we do take decisions which can make a tremendous difference. We have to understand to what extent we are beings who have got our heads above the waters of life and to what extent we are immersed in the process.
Even this measure is not constant or static. It is ever-changing, and hence there is growth. There is a danger of being drowned, but it is also possible for a person to come right out. This is a matter of degrees, however, and when we consider degrees of self-awareness in the highest sense, we are confronting something way beyond simple delusions and phenomenal relativities. We have to come clean and be confident enough to impose no petty prejudices or minor obsessions, to which the fullness of the universe is irrelevant, on our pathway. We have to do a preliminary therapy and cleanse ourselves before we are ready to accept the universe and before we are ready to enter the first portal.
But this, of course, recurs at a later level as well. The unavoidable trouble with so many paradigms of the Path is that they seem to suggest that the process is a linear movement. Even the analogy of climbing one mountain can be misleading. We have got to imagine a tremendous mountain range. We climb, we come down, we climb again. In other words, it is like a spiral. The problem will keep recurring. At any level, in attempting to maintain awareness, you run the risk of either seeing so much of the huge perspective that you don"t notice particular things, or of so concentrating on the particular that you forget the whole perspective.
A beautiful example of this can be found in Japanese landscape paintings. It takes time to realize that the most important thing in the paintings is blank space and its relation to the mobile trees and blades of grass. But even more, the blank space is not only the blank space in the painting. It involves the relationship to the space in the room where the painting is hanging. When you really appreciate these incredible paintings, you can appreciate pure empty space. In other words, you can begin to understand perspectives on that of which you are aware. You can be aware, at one level, of the objects in the painting, or you can move to a distance and be aware only of relations, not of forms. If you come close, then you are aware of nothing. Or, you may move to another point where you become aware of empty space. The important thing, then, is mobility in awareness.
What is true of space is also true of time. To adapt Heraclitus to a contemporary example: you are not sitting for two successive moments in the same room. The moment you come in, you come into one kind of place, and an instant later it is a different kind of place. Where the universe is ever-changing, we are never for two moments in the same point, either in a spatial or a temporal sense. From this perspective there can be no recurrence. There is only flux because nothing is ever like anything else. But from another standpoint you could take the opposite point of view, for example that of Parmenides and the Vedanta. You could say that all of these changes have no meaning. There is always a one changeless reality. But then, if you merely want to say, dogmatically, that there is one changeless reality, you cannot understand process. The problem is how can you see both - that everything is ever changeless and that everything is so constantly changing that there are no two similars.
Plato called this the problem of the "same and the other." H.P. Blavatsky says that what Plato taught is what the Wisdom-Religion teaches, terming it objective idealism. It is no subjective idealism, which says the One is the Real, and it is not that kind of materialism or realism or atomism which says the Many are Real. Nor is it any fixed relation between the One and the Many. It is a dynamic participation, but involving degrees of participation of the One in the Many and the Many in the One. As examples in our everyday life, take eating for a person who is a gourmet, or the act of love for two people who are extraordinarily proud of each other. In either case you will see there is one sense in which each instance is unique, inimitable and irreproducible. There can be no recurrence. But in another sense, there is recurrence. In effect, we have to say that at the level of particulars there can never be recurrence except in principle, and not a recurrence in a literal way. But equally, in terms of ideas or matrices there is constancy, but a constancy that is relative. What is constant in one long period of time will itself change over a longer period of time. This becomes a problem of periods of manifestation. This, then, is why all questions about human destiny and choice merely show that in the end we have to learn the dialectic, the method of analogy and correspondence. However much the term dialectic, like every sacred word, is tortured and abused, it remains the sovereign method of maintaining a mobile relationship in reference to degrees of reality, knowledge, and truth.
Students of Theosophy are helped to do this and are thus prepared for true meditation by study of The Secret Doctrine. This study is literally what it says, a study of the Secret Doctrine, not merely of a book. The Secret Doctrine is in nature and it is in every one of us. Concerning the book The Secret Doctrine, unlike almost any other book of the modern age, one could assume that every word has been chosen with great care. It is also wise to assume that there are a lot of blinds and also a lot of aids. It is meant to speak authentically to the widest possible audience, but in that code language where each one determines what he can receive. In Shelley's words, "It talks according to the wit of its companions; and no more is heard than has been felt before..."
It uses many conceptual languages and speaks in terms of many myths. No one finds all of these immediately meaningful. There is also a catechism and a hidden mathematical logic to the book, but grasping them involves the reflection of Buddhi, or intuition, in Manas, the focus of ideation.
What this means for us, first of all, is not to read the book except when in a state of calm; secondly, not to read the book with any anxiety. Put as a paradox, we give it its importance by treating it casually. We can become familiar and friendly with the book and put ourselves in the position of the writer in trying to see why there is a certain framework. We can read the contents of both volumes and try to see not the details of the framework, but the method which is in the contents. It is the Hermetic method of coming from above below, the method of analogy and correspondence, of the same and the other. It is not taught in the modern age in schools, in universities, or in our society. It includes what we call deductive reasoning and has a place for experience, but excludes induction. It really goes beyond all such divisions. It is what used to be called in the East the archetypal dialectic, Buddhi Yoga, and was also taught by Pythagoras and Plato.
The Secret Doctrine, then, involves planes of consciousness, degrees of knowledge, stairways of reality, a series of superimpositions of pictures - like pictures created with certain photographic techniques where different forms and shapes assumed by the same object are simultaneously represented. One might say of the book, and this is a paradox, that, like everything cosmic, the more we study it, the more we learn how to study it. The more we read it, but with love, the more that is worthwhile will emerge. Particularly to be enjoyed are those statements in the book which are combinations of sounds that are mathematically precise. One day there will be men who will pronounce the Stanzas and perform magic. But that will be a very different kind of humanity. Today there are men who can enter into the deeper realm of the book, even though they don"t know where they are in terms of ordinary conceptions of growth and progress. In other words, The Secret Doctrine is a book to take up again and again. We should read it up to that point where the mind is calm and not exhausted. Put it away, and preferably sleep, after one has read it. Let things happen.
Whichever method one chooses, one should not cling to it, because another method may be found that will seem more appropriate later on. This is why a simple chronological way of reading the book may not be suitable. On the other hand, too awe-inspired a reception of the Stanzas may not be appropriate either. Certainly the lower Manas cannot understand the book, and trying to "fit it together" with other things for the sake of fitting is a waste of time.
A broad and simple statement of how to approach the book is to approach the mind of the author and to see that mind in relation to Mahat, the collective mind of nature, and to see that in oneself. Put in concrete terms, a point comes in any important book where you want to ask not "Do I understand?" - which is to start off too apologetically - but "If I were this man, why would I want to be saying this?" This may sound presumptuous, but it is a legitimate way of becoming one with the author. So one says, "If what is said in the Preface is true, and if these things happened to anyone in the particular kind of instruction to which H. P. Blavatsky refers in the Proem and the Preface, then what would be the point of doing this and that?" This is a means to unite or yoke through yoga one's mind with the mind of the author. The most important clue which gives away the code language of The Secret Doctrine is in the very first words. The book begins by saying "The author - the writer, rather." Right away the book tells you that its author is not any one person. It is a very enigmatic book.
In the practice of meditation for which The Secret Doctrine prepares us, we can see the method of the dialectic in the relationship between meditation with a seed and meditation without a seed. According to Patanjali, the oldest text on meditation, whichever seed you take, you must dissolve it. To take a simple example, in the ideal school of the future, children would start very early on to take a slate, make diagrams, and wipe them out; then make different diagrams and wipe them out as well. There should be a tremendous freedom in relation to the seed that one takes and a recognition that whichever seed is taken, it is for the purpose of obliterating the seed. It is attempting to go from form to the formless, but in the formless not to be reacting against a particular form. It is a matter of repeated and various modes, and what works for one person will not work for another. Probably it is better to choose as a seed that which makes you less emotional rather than more, and this each one has to decide individually. To the extent to which it does make one emotional and involves exaggeration or protective illusions, better that the emotions are positive rather than negative. As the Buddhist meditations teach, we can make corrections for our own particular needs, and we can do this empirically within the context of our prevailing understanding of our unfolding and evolving destiny.
Hermes, April 1976