In the ancient world the term "genius" essentially meant the tutelary spirit, the daimon, of every person. The philosophic conviction that each human being is guarded by his or her own spiritual genius was strongly held in Roman times. In the literature of the Renaissance, we encounter the phrase "evil genius", reflecting the growing awareness that there is a sort of specialization and concentration, a peculiar intensity that marks the perversity, cunning and cynical defiance of the person who has become his or her own conspicuous enemy. For example, a self-tormented individual may often start with a good intention and at some level wish to convey generosity out of a sincere spirit. Yet whenever such a person seeks to express his or her feeling in language or gesture, it is so twisted and truncated that it is a deformed shadow of the original intent. There is an appalling awkwardness, a tragic distortion; something compulsive intervenes. This sad state of affairs is connected with the tortuous inversions of kama manas, the rationalizing mind enslaved by nebulous desires. With the complex mutations and disillusionments of self-consciousness, the term "genius", originally applied to every individual's tutelary spirit, is pejoratively restricted to the evil embodiment of the soul of concentrated cunning. In contemporary society, a shrunken notion of genius has emerged from the egalitarian concern to categorize beings in terms of some limiting and standardized concept of intelligence. Individuals with exceptional intellectual ability or creative skill in any sphere – whether in music or mathematics or whatever – cannot be readily accounted for under the conventional rules or in routinized ways. Since these anomalies cannot be ascribed to the typical educational process and established modes of training, such persons stand apart as inexplicable phenomena or fortuitous freaks. Applied only to seeming exceptions, the word "genius" simply signifies the refusal to think more about them, for lack of any instructive explanation that pertains to human potential.
The classical conception of daimonion ti, as Plato suggested, internalizes the influences external to the spirit and objectifies its inner demands, thus maintaining a dynamic balance between man and god. The belief in daimones as mediating spirits between gods and men was customary in ancient Athens and sacrosanct in Vedic India. Socrates regarded the intervention of the daimon – what Gandhi called his "inner voice", which sometimes spoke to him and remained silent at other times to his deep despair – not so much as a command laid down on the human spirit by an external power as "an absolute law of the spirit itself", to quote Hegel's terms for the sacred task of the Delphic oracle. To make this interior voice wholly subjective is to destroy its spiritual character and distort the position claimed by Socrates and Gandhi. For a few pre-Socratic writers and for some Indian mystics, the daimon or devata was no more than the genius or overbrooding spirit unique to each person. If we adopt a facile rationalist attitude and take the daimon merely as an inflated metaphor for a familiar psychological process, thus denying it all transcendence and regarding it simply as a pathological oddity, a hallucination or a paranoid or hysterical symptom, we are, in fact, denying that it is an instrument of any meaningful communication and leaving Gandhi and Socrates, and many of the great mystics, enclosed in themselves, in a sort of autarchy, a pathetic state of self-deception. Even if we wish to deny the objective reality of the mystic's experience, which is strictly no easier than to affirm it, it is both unnecessary and presumptuous to deny categorically its subjective validity, or the veracity and testimony of the mystics.
Theosophically, there is a meticulous precision to the proper use of the word "genius". An essay by H.P. Blavatsky on the subject of genius stresses a significant distinction between manas and Buddhi. Buddhi, or divine discernment, is the centrifugal principle of expansive sympathy together with an exalted feeling for the fitness of things, for archetypal justice and for architectonic proportion. On the other hand, manas is the cool capacity for total concentration, bringing together to one centre the potential power of thought and the active energy of ideation, which in itself is unrestricted, unconditional and boundless. In individuals completely ruled by Buddhi, understood as the pure and potent diffusion of the universal Logoic light of the Atman, manas is a translucent mirror for the untrammelled manifestation of Atma-Buddhi. Such individuals are gods – luminous beings who literally are not involved in the shadowy world of manifestation through identification with the lower principles. They are, so to speak, standing above and behind their visible selves and are aloof from the mayavic masquerade in limited space and clock-time. Their consciousness is one with That, which is utterly unmanifest, while simultaneously they have a vigilant and discerning awareness of the patterns and possibilities in chains of causes and consequences inherent in the shadow-play in which their radiant personalities are apparently manifest. They are exemplars of godlike freedom. Creative genius, with its intermittent sparks, may be shown by those in whom the divine Triad is not fully activated and in total control, but who are moving significantly in that direction. When higher manas, the self-reproductive power of unconditioned consciousness or of pure, formless ideation, is able to subordinate memory patterns, references to the past, and the illusion of time broken up into little bits, then the individual is functioning as a Manushya – Man thinking. Such beings may be truly termed "geniuses", not if they merely function in this way intermittently or sporadically, but if they can do so consciously and continuously. They maintain complete control and pellucid awareness of the pleasing illusions brought to them by sense impressions and thrown up by those internal images of external impressions which are edited memory traces. They are amusedly aware of all these but are not at all bound up in them. They pass through earthly settings and scenarios without experiencing any compulsive self-involvement.
A spiritual genius is a magnanimous person able to function at all times in terms of a pure individuality that has no involvement, either through attachment or repulsion, in the myriad pairs of opposites and the many vicissitudes of change in the world. In such enlightened individuals the lower manas, the more specialized reflecting intelligence which participates in the concepts, categories and languages shared among human beings, is an obedient and precise instrument of the higher manas. A genius knows the archetypal logic of the relation between the unknowable, the unmanifest and the manifest. At the same time he could use elementary deductive logic with one part of his intelligence, observe the rules of inference, weigh in his mind the relative worth of the premises, but he would do all this with a detached lightness and timely effectiveness. He knows that it is a gross and shadowy representation, a kind of monkey trick in relation to the archetypal logic of the universe, which most people simply cannot grasp owing to their preoccupation with externalities. The spiritual genius is a thinking being who is without any adherence to past, present or future or any allegiance to name and form. He is wholly free from any inward mental involvement in the illusions of those who cling to exaggerated and emaciated tokens of reality. At the same time he can see these in perspective, without aversion or alienation, and he can participate compassionately with others in the temporal duties of mundane existence. Such a person is markedly different from what is conventionally seen as genius.
No disproportionate development in any one direction can be explained except as a throwback to skills secured in previous incarnations. Although one may suddenly be able to tap such abilities, they have no intrinsic moral significance and no internal relationship to higher consciousness. Higher manasic or spiritual genius is ever involved in the morality of all things, requiring continual reference to motivation and thought. A person in whom the daimon shines forth is aware of every thought as it arises, and of everything implicit in its translation into a series of acts. He is always able to see the difference between primary and secondary orders of causation. When most people, whether in relation to a war or a crisis in personal or collective life, are talking moralistically, they are merely being intensely emotional and wondering whom to blame. They are not functioning as fully thinking beings. Others, who are partially capable of true thought, may still be caught up in externalities, trying to explain events in terms of the linear sequence of past trends. A higher manasic being will see at the very core of this vast complexity a single and central illusion inherent in a false conception of the changing relationship between the actor, his mental framework, and other beings. Seeing that, he would know that all the rest is bound to follow.
Higher manasic genius is vitally aware of the necessities of things, while simultaneously seeing all these necessities as relative realities. They are even somewhat absurd in relation to the supreme oneness of all beings, which is behind and beyond manifestation. Consciously rooted in his constant awareness of his immortal individuality as a spirit-soul, he lives in eternity and is not ensnared by the illusions of time. One cannot reach this lofty condition merely by rushing in one direction. One may move towards it partly, but whether one moves towards it by stages or embodies it fully in all contexts, it works in every direction because it partakes of unconditional energy. There can be no hit-and-miss development along this path. Memories from previous lives could play a part in this, because one cannot fully be a genius in one way at a certain time and not at another time in a different context. Fundamentally, to be moving towards genius is for something to be happening to oneself that is omnidirectional. It connotes the ability to look at a vast collection of beings and simultaneously see in relation to any of them that which represents their own possibility of transcendence of their own relative illusions. At the same time, the daimon allows one to maintain an equal distance from every one of a multitude of relative illusions. At first, one may only be able to do this at a certain level, and cannot move from this plane suddenly to the height of genius. Even to reflect upon the myriad-minded conception of spiritual genius, the descent of the daimon, would be helpful because one could begin to use it as an authentic spiritual and occult intelligence test. It might also be called an illusion test, where one sees one's own life, makeup, and reactions in terms of the exaggerations, falsities and absurdities, as well as the partialities, that are involved in one's moral responses, emotional reactions and so-called intellectuality. When one can break up all of these and see them for what they are, one is making a beginning in the direction of spiritual genius. This may be done by taking the opaque, brittle, blurred and confused nature that one thinks is one's exclusive and only self and which we are afraid we dare not face, and confronting it with the luminous portrait of the lustrous man of spiritual genius, the true exemplar of moral excellence, mental brilliance and intuitive insight.
It is only when human beings can deliberately think away from limiting conceptions of energy, and a purely physicalist view of breathing and infusing, that they can begin to understand what was involved in the original meaning of the term "spiritual". Owing to the concretization of concepts that has taken place over a long time, it is more helpful to see the word "spiritual" in terms of its equivalent in Sanskrit, the language of the gods. The spirit is Atman. The word Atman in its etymology refers to eternal motion. Spirit is that which is eternally in movement and yet is never caught in any form nor ever expressed in any set of conditions. It may also aid in resuscitating one's conception of spirit to make a mental image, such as is sometimes evoked when one looks at the soft, mellow light over the ocean after a rain. If one looks at the ocean and sees the soft and supple light, one can gain subtle intimations of how what is showing is suggestive of something which is not being shown. This is like the mystical allusions to the bright light of the sun hidden within the dark depths. Such thoughts and images evoke an awareness that what we are seeing is like a partial yet perceptible intimation of that which can never be manifest to the mind which is modified by the sensorium.
Perpetual motion has very little relationship even to the finest and most abstract concepts in contemporary science, or to the subtlest conception of light-energy that one can possibly bring to mind. It is even subtler than that, and it can enable us to imagine better what is involved in the term "spiritual". We could think in terms of the night of non-manifestation where there are no universes, no solar systems, nothing in existence, and see that there is a tremendous rhythmic activity, in an undifferentiated medium of matter, of potential ideation which a Rishi once compared to the pulsations in the very depths of the vast unconscious ocean. Behind and beyond all the surface movements – the ebb and flow of tides, the ripples or the patterns in formation – one must try to imagine what the depths of the ocean are like, not merely at a distance out from oneself, but also at a distance downwards from the surface. We can imagine an ineffable stillness and peace which is accompanied by the most rhythmic pulsations and imperceptible movements. Then we are coming closer to understanding the conception of a boundless and changeless ocean of spiritual light, which has nothing to do with forms as we know them, with sounds as we hear them, with thoughts as we think them, with any concept of identity of existence as we normally experience it, obscuring the light and the voice of the daimon.
If one wants to make functionally meaningful the ancient classifications of human principles, it is necessary to keep moving, by a continual negation through a series of increasingly accurate approximations, to what is implicit in words like Atman, Buddhi, manas, or in a term like "spiritual". In the end one must move far away from any definable conceptions of infinity and eternity, which have a certain relativistic shadow cast upon them by all our narrower categories of space and time. The same applies even more in regard to motion and causality. One has to keep moving by trying to make an image, continuing to contemplate, to hold the mind upon an abstract idea which is unbounded. When one comes closer to it, renounce it and start all over again until one really makes void the sense of the self as the container of consciousness, which comes in one's way quite apart from what is inherited and what is shared in language. This can only be done in solitude and by closer communion with the daimon. When a person has made the effort alone, he will come to know that he has truly done it if he can also do it silently in the presence of others. It is necessarily something that has to be attempted again and again in a variety of conditions. In all of them one is experiencing an awareness of the unconditional, not of the unconditional merely as a negative contrast to particularized conditions, but as the realm of creative potentiality in terms of which all conditions are but incomplete representations. A profound and fundamental re-inversion of standpoint is needed to commence the ascent through the conditioned circles of necessity, onwards towards reunion with the spiritual daimon that was in the beginning, and to rebecome self-consciously the presiding spiritual genius of one's own evolution as an integral unit indissolubly united with the universe of nature and humanity.
Hermes, December 1977