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Mirroring the Macrocosm


In the first place revere the Immortal Gods as they are established and ordained by the Law.
 Reverence the Oath. In the next place revere the Heroes who are full of goodness and light.
 Honour likewise the Terrestrial Daimons by rendering them the worship lawfully due to them.
 Honour likewise thy father and thy mother, and thy nearest relations.
 Of all the rest of mankind, make him thy friend who distinguishes himself by his virtue. Always give ear to his mild exhortations, and take example from his virtuous and useful actions. Refrain, as far as you can, from spurning thy friend for a slight fault, for power surrounds necessity.
 Never set thy hand to the work, till thou hast first prayed the Gods to accomplish what thou art going to begin.
 When thou hast made this habit familiar to thee, thou wilt know the constitution of the Immortal Gods and of men; even how far the different Beings extend, and what contains and binds them together.
 Thou shalt likewise know, in accord with Cosmic Order, that the nature of this Universe is in all things alike, so that thou shalt not hope what thou oughtest not to hope; and nothing in this world shall be hid from thee.

The Golden Verses of Pythagoras

 Spanning the centuries and continents, from the myths of hoary antiquity to the cogitations of modern man, certain primeval ideas and intuitions may be dimly discerned. These underlie the views held among different civilizations regarding hierarchies of beings and levels of evolution, the laws of nature and the central harmony of the cosmos, and human obligations which are rooted in a recognition of moral responsibility and are realized in a variety of relationships. There have been numerous theories concerning the citizen's political and social obligations; there have been innumerable formulations of the norms of individual excellence and collective progress. These provide the philosophical and ethical foundations of culture and society.

 In our century man has to re-learn the ancient, archetypal truth that he is a microcosm, a world in himself, the mirror of an invisible universe that is around and beyond him. An educated person who does not recognize the value of reverence for Nature, for Nature's laws and for one's fellow men, cannot be regarded as a cultured individual. Intuitive thinkers of our time, like Dr. Albert Schweitzer, have realized that the collapse of civilizations came about in the past when men and women had lost their reverence for life, their sense of joy in adventure, their spirit of wonder and humility.

 Reverence for life which I apply to my own existence, and reverence for life which keeps me in a temper of devotion to other existence than mine, interpenetrate each other.

 The nature of this interpenetration cannot be fully grasped unless we regard man, as did Pythagoras and Pico della Mirandola, as "the measure of all things". Man is the centre of a series of concentric circles, of little worlds extending from the "here and now" to the infinite expanse of Space and Time. Man is a microcosm in many senses and in different dimensions of his complete individuality. His family is a small macrocosm, the range and heritage and hereditary character of which he reflects in his own being. Each day in his life is like a miniature aeon during which he emanates and absorbs fresh currents of thought and energy. As a citizen, man reproduces the attitudes and characteristics of his neighbourhood, his locality, his village or city, his province and his country. As a member of present-day humanity and of the contemporary world, man embodies the trends and forces that constitute the matrix of this great macrocosm. Man's life in a particular personality reveals the spirit of the age to which he belongs.

 This manifold microcosmic nature of man gives rise to the complex of interactions between local and global, ephemeral and enduring cultures. A truly and fully cultured man is able to absorb the beneficial currents that flow from all directions and at all times; he perceives the beauty of the great macrocosm within the boundaries of the small; he enjoys the grandeur of lasting realities amidst the flux of fleeting illusions and shadows. He takes the whole universe for his province, regards the world as a city, considers humanity as his family. Like Goethe's Faust, he apostrophizes the passing moment: "Stay! How wonderful thou art!" In appreciating art, music and literature he compares the unfamiliar with the familiar and proceeds from the known to the unknown, showing an awareness, however slight, of the patterns and rhythms of Nature, the cosmic dance of the elements, the changing positions of the stars, the strange music of the spheres, the mighty magic of prakriti (matter). Recognizing that in every speck in space and in every form of matter is to be found the motion of invisible intelligences, of devas (gods) and devatas (nature spirits), he pays honour first to the Immortal Gods of whom Pythagoras spoke, of whom Plotinus wrote in his fifth Ennead:

 For them all things are transparent, and there is nothing dark or impenetrable, but everyone is manifest to everyone internally, and all things are manifest; for light is manifest to light. For everyone has all things in himself and sees all things in another; so that all things are everywhere and all is all and each is all, and the glory is infinite. Each of them is great, since the small also is great. In heaven the sun is all the stars, and again each and all are the sun. One thing in each is prominent above the rest; for it also shows forth all. There a pure movement reigns; but that which produces the movement, not being a stranger to it, does not trouble it. Rest is also perfect there, because no principle of agitation mingles with it.

 Reverencing those cosmic intelligences which we call Gods of Wisdom, we are able to see the Order that "hath established Their Choirs". We can attempt to mirror on earth that Divine Harmony or Rta and its action or Karma by reordering our social institutions in terms of Dharma, the Law of Duty, the Religion of Works, and Swaraj, the Rule of the One Self. In the memorable words of the sixth Book of The Republic of Plato:

. . . are not those who are verily and indeed wanting in the knowledge of the true being of each thing, and who have in their souls no clear pattern, and are unable as with a painter's eye to look at the absolute truth and to that original to repair, and having perfect vision of the other world to order the laws about beauty, goodness, justice in this, if not already ordered, and to guard and preserve the order of them – are not such persons, I ask, simply blind?
 For he, Adeimantus, whose mind is fixed upon true being, has surely no time to look down upon the affairs of earth, or to be filled with malice and envy, contending against men; his eye is ever directed towards things fixed and immutable, which he sees neither injuring nor injured by one another, but all in order moving according to reason; these he imitates, and to these he will, as far as he can, conform himself. Can a man help imitating that with which he holds reverential converse?

 This is a magnificent ideal, difficult to conceive, apparently impossible to achieve. In continuing to strive to draw nearer to this glorious goal, we are inspired by those "Heroes full of goodness and light" and the "Terrestrial Daimons" to whom, according to Pythagoras, we must pay "the worship lawfully due to them". Every person should endeavour to enter into inmost communion with the hero-souls of all lands and eras who still live, especially in their own immortal works. As Plutarch says, in his life of Aratus:

 But surely a man in whom, to use Pindar's words, "the noble spirit naturally displays itself as inherited from sires", and who, like those, patterns his life after the fairest examples in his family line – for such men it will be good fortune to be reminded of their noblest progenitors, ever and anon hearing the story of them, or telling it themselves. For it is not that they lack noble qualities of their own and make their reputation dependent on their praises of others, nay rather, they associate their own careers with the careers of their great ancestors, whom they hail both as founders of their line and as directors of their lives. . . . For it is the lover of himself, and not the lover of goodness, who thinks himself always superior to others.

 It is necessary to celebrate not only the lives of the "Heroes full of goodness and light" but also the thoughts and writings of the "Terrestrial Daimons" of our age and of the past. Plutarch wrote both the Lives and the Morals, the former setting forth to us, from an ideal point of view, what the ancient world had accomplished in the world of action, and the other, in like manner, what it had aimed at and accomplished in the world of thought. Even in the Lives, Plutarch is far more the moralist than the historian. A study of the archetypal ideas underlying human culture and the offering of homage to gods, adepts and geniuses are not ends in themselves but ways in which we can make of ourselves men and women of culture, of enlightenment and grace. Self-culture is in itself not the final goal, but only the means by which we can become the servants and custodians of the ideals that inspire and sustain the whole world.

 Pythagoras offered the distilled wisdom of the ancients when he said:

 Above all things, respect thyself.
 Never do anything which thou dost not understand; but learn all thou oughtest to know, and by that means thou wilt lead a very pleasant life.
 Examine all things well, leaving thyself always to be guided and directed by the understanding that comes from above, and that ought to hold the reins.

Integrity, uprightness and self-respect – these are the very roots of real culture. Intelligent, deliberative action and an awareness of the norms of goodness and beauty (of what the Greeks called arete) – these constitute the fragrance or aroma of culture, the "sweetness and light" of which Matthew Arnold wrote. The joy of silent contemplation and the repose of a lofty, well-controlled mind – these are the fruits of culture, the harvest of prolonged cultivation. Cultural development, whether individual or collective, is a continuing process, a creative activity, an exciting pursuit. As Plotinus counsels in his very first Ennead:

 Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful as yet, do as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful; he cuts away here, he smooths there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until he has shown a beautiful face upon his statue. So do you also; cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is shadowed, labour to make all glow with beauty; and do not cease chiselling your statue until there shall shine out on you the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the final goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.

 Great and enduring changes in the world in which we live cannot come through the efforts of partisan politicians unless they are inspired and directed by the wider vision of seers, poets and artists. The concept and goal of a united world community have been foreshadowed by a long line of creative writers, especially poets, from the earliest eras. In our own epoch, several leading writers have shown a lively sense of their social responsibilities. In his fine Presidential Address in 1953 to the Amsterdam Congress of the International P.E.N., Mr. Charles Morgan appealed to the writers assembled

not to take peace for granted but to live each hour of it fully and without fear. Above all let us not allow the name of peace to be taken in vain and perverted to the uses of terror. If its sands are running out, so are the sands of our lives. That is not a reason to allow our faith to disintegrate or our pens to tremble in our hands.

Admittedly, writers, like sensitive seismographs, are peculiarly responsive to the prevalent horrors and imminent terrors of our time. But the very immensity of the dangers that loom before us and the time ahead, according to Mr. Charles Morgan, should be a means of grace":

 It deprives materialism of its profit and tyranny of its power. It is a reason to love and to be at peace. It is an amnesty to all the imprisonments of the mind; it empties out all the philosophies of disintegration.

It would be a betrayal of their mission if writers refused to rise above the predicament of mankind and offer a message of comfort and courage. Mr. Lewis Mumford fully appreciated this point in his In the Name of Sanity. In the chapter entitled "Mirrors of Violence", he declared:

 If our civilization is not to produce greater holocausts, our writers will have to become something more than merely mirrors of its violence and disintegration; they, through their own efforts, will have to regain the initiative for the human person and the forces of life, chaining up the demons we have allowed to run loose, and releasing the angels and ministers of grace we have shamefacedly – and shamefully – incarcerated. For the writer is still a maker, a creator, not merely a recorder of fact, but above all an interpreter of possibilities. His intuitions of the future may still give body to a better world and help start our civilization on a fresh cycle of adventure and effort. The writer of our time must find within himself the wholeness that is now lacking in his society. He must be capable of interpreting life in all its dimensions, particularly in the dimensions the last century has neglected; restoring reason to the irrational, purpose to the defeatists and drifters, value to the nihilists, hope to those sinking in despair.


 Inquire of the earth, the air, and the water, of the secrets they hold for you. The development of your inner senses will enable you to do this.
 Inquire of the holy ones of the earth of the secrets they hold for you. The conquering of the desires of the outer senses will give you the right to do this.
 Inquire of the inmost, the one, of its final secret which it holds for you through the ages.

Light on the Path

Hermes, March 1979
by Raghavan Iyer

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