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Enlightenment

ENLIGHTENMENT


The "last vibration of the Seventh Eternity" was "fore-ordained" – by no God in particular, but occurred in virtue of the eternal and changeless LAW which causes the great periods of Activity and Rest, called so graphically, and at the same time so poetically, the "Days and Nights of Brahma." The expansion "from within without" of the Mother, called elsewhere the "Waters of Space," "Universal Matrix," etc., does not allude to an expansion from a small centre or focus, but, without reference to size or limitation or area, means the development of limitless subjectivity in to as limitless objectivity. "The ever (to us) invisible and immaterial Substance present in eternity, threw its periodical shadow from its own plane into the lap of Maya."

The Secret Doctrine, i 62-63

  The transcendence of maya, the awakening of wisdom and the realization of immortality are three in one. Though they may be distinguished for the sake of understanding and therapeutic meditation, they are in truth but aspects of unified perfection. Like the triple hypostases of the Atman, they form a purely noumenal matrix hinting at the inconceivable ideal of full enlightenment. That enlightenment has no specific ground, is not a state and is no event. Tautologically, it is the realization of the Real. Philosophically, it is the consummation of philos in sophia, the two becoming one, the extinction of divisions between subject and object. Inaccessible through mere affirmation or even negation, it is the One Truth (SAT) beyond all illusion, ignorance and death. It may be approached only by following the small, old path, the path that begins and ends outside of self. One must first become the path to enter it, and then one must realize that one travels on that path "without moving".

  Ultimately, there can be no true comprehension of enlightenment or of the path outside of enlightenment itself. Mortality cannot judge of immortality; avidya cannot conceive of vidya. The insubstantial self of mayavic matter cannot encompass the boundlessness of the Real. The shadow cannot comprehend the light that casts it. Whether understood in terms of the attraction and repulsion of tanha that constricts motivation and the will, or in terms of the delusion of the mind through dichotomies, the lesser and partial cannot comprehend the supreme and complete. Nonetheless, there is latent in every human being the precious seed of enlightenment, bodhichitta. Consubstantial with the highest planes of cosmic substance, it is the core of that consciousness perfected by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It is the immutable ground of immortality, inseparable from the One Life or the Rootless Root of all manifestation. To begin to understand the permanent possibility of enlightenment pervading manifested life, one must ponder the ontological status of that unmanifest wisdom, the possibility of which is envisaged by esoteric philosophy.

  In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that there is no non-existence for that which is, and no existence for that which is not. If supreme and boundless unmanifest wisdom constitutes reality, there can be no non-existence of wisdom bound up with what are called illusion, ignorance and death. Similarly, if these three themselves are not reality, then they are nothing which can pass into non-existence with the awakening of wisdom. If unmanifest wisdom is without antecedent, it is also without residue. Typically, however, human beings conceive of enlightenment as some sort of real change – a contradiction in terms. Put crudely, they suppose either that eternal wisdom has somehow become real, or that the unreal realm of maya has somehow become non-existent. Too objective a mind will produce the first misconception, too subjective a turn of mind will produce the second. In either case, the theoretical and, what is the same thing, the practical possibility of enlightenment is obscured. This root imbalance or eccentricity in the soul's vestures and in human understanding is multiplied a myriad times, affecting every arena of mundane thought and action.

  In order to ameliorate this condition, H.P. Blavatsky devoted considerable attention in The Secret Doctrine to the emerging phases of manifestation from the long night of Pralaya. Whilst these considerations are so abstract as to be of immediate interest only to the highest Adepts, they nevertheless have a direct relevance to all who seek to enter the path. If absolute abstract Space, unconditioned Consciousness and boundless Duration are the fundamental terms in the equation of manifestation, then they must also be the ultimate factors in any adequate conception of self-reference, self-regeneration and self-realization. Through meditation upon Mulaprakriti and Prakriti, Parabrahm and Mahat, boundless Duration and conditioned Time, the mind can be balanced and brought into proper orientation to the problem of Self and non-self. As this inner posture is steadied by devotion, entry onto the path will come through intuition and a strengthening of the heart.

  Non-self has its roots in a process which H.P. Blavatsky characterized as "the development of limitless subjectivity into as limitless objectivity". Put more symbolically, in terms of Mulaprakriti,

the ever (to us) invisible and immaterial Substance present in eternity, threw its periodical shadow from its own plane into the lap of Maya.

Ibid., 62–63

Mulaprakriti is pre-cosmic Root Substance, the noumenal origin of all differentiations and types of matter – the latter term referring to the aggregate of objects of possible perception. Mulaprakriti is wholly noumenal and so subjective that it cannot remotely be imagined by the human mind through extrapolation from a world of phenomenal objects. Even the subtlest abstractions employed in the sciences, involving intra-atomic particles and fields, will not yield a conception of the abstractness of Mulaprakriti.

  To be able to visualize Mulaprakriti, one must imagine the disappearance of all worlds, all planets and all galaxies, a dissolution so complete that no thing remains. When this negation is pushed to the fullest cosmic level, one must visualize in what may be called absolute abstract Space a primordial substratum or field. At that level of abstraction, space and substance mutually imply each other. This inconceivable degree of abstract homogeneity and limitless subjectivity is prior to all worlds and continues to be at the hidden root whilst all worlds manifest and are dissolved. Therefore, it is eternal. Having no reference to change, it is unchangeable and thus ever exists in eternity. Mulaprakriti, unmodified homogeneous prima materia, must not be confused with the objectivized conception of prime matter entertained by nineteenth century scientists, for it represents the most noumenal and primal conception of substance, beyond all objectivized universals. That it cannot be imagined is attested even by contemporary cosmology with its limited notion of beginnings and endings, or of one specific Big Bang. Other more audacious astronomers will not surrender to a belief in temporal finitude.

  Once one can begin to conceive of Mulaprakriti as an invisible and immaterial substance present in eternity, and by definition unrelated to time, one must consider its relationship to matter in any possible system of worlds. In an objective world, even the most subtle abstract manifesting or manifested matter at the sub-atomic level is only a shadow. It is, in the words of the Commentaries, a shadow thrown from that homogeneous eternal realm into the lap of maya. One analogous approach is to think first of darkness and light, then of a series of reflections. But even such analogies are inadequate because they are based upon a conditioned view of space as characterized by extension, and of time as characterized by succession. Such assumptions, rooted in the illusion of a separative personal existence, cannot comprehend pure primal pre-cosmic Mulaprakriti. Such limiting conceptions obscure recondite questions in contemporary science about the reversibility of events. But they also obscure the Divine Darkness, which is only a metaphorical expression for this invisible and immaterial substance, that is mystically said to cast a periodical shadow. The casting of this shadow already assumes the emergence of a world of seeming objectivity divided into planes and rays. Even at the most primordial level of this assumed division into what are called the primary seven Dhyan Chohans, comparable to the Ah-Hi, there is the assumption of a kind of shadowy partial existence. And that shadowing continues, replicating itself a myriad times, so that on the densest possible plane of objective matter the one primal substance is shadowed by a dazzlingly complex panorama of forms, changing and interacting, scintillating in ceaseless transformation.

  To gain an accurate conception of the ontological status of this boundless plane of seeming objectivity arisen from limitless subjectivity, absolute abstract Space, one must take account of the potency of ideation and intelligence in the unfolding of cosmic process. If one overlooks noetic intelligence and pursues only matter and substance, the immense realm of prakriti, one will derive the impression that all these forms of matter are ultimately shadowy by reference to Mulaprakriti, which is timeless, without immanence and involvement even in the vastest periods of time. It is beyond them; thus it has been called a veil upon the Absolute, a veil upon Parabrahm, almost indistinguishable from the Absolute. Just as the Absolute, if it is to be truly the Absolute, cannot enter any possible relationship with anything relative, so too Mulaprakriti cannot possibly be converted into anything else. It cannot possibly be related to any form of prakriti. This puzzling and challenging fact must be counterbalanced by similar considerations with regard to intelligence.

  At the level of immaterial Root Substance, there must also be a pre-cosmic Ideation which is pure subjectivity, unconditioned, unmodified consciousness. This pure potential subjectivity is prior to any modified consciousness restricted by any object, by any relations between objects, or by any limited modes of self-reference. In gestating pure subjectivity, one comprehends that a totally negative field is ontologically prior to the act of negation. Again, one should ask what conceivable relationship there could be between this pure limitless subjectivity and the limitless realm of objective existence. In the abstruse metaphysics of the ancient Hindu schools, it is taught that the Absolute, Parabrahm, could be viewed as nirguna – attributeless. As soon as one predicates attributes of the Absolute, one has obscured the attributeless Absolute, Nirguna Brahman. To remain true to the pure thread of philosophic thought, one must withhold all qualifications and predications of the Absolute. One cannot even say that It was, It is or It will be.

  What Mulaprakriti is to prakriti – primal Root Substance to noumenal matter – Nirguna Brahman, the attributeless Absolute, is to Mahat or cosmic mind. To gain any intuition of the profound meaning of this paradigmatic truth, one must meditate upon the early passages from the Stanzas of Dzyan, which characterize the long night of non-manifestation – Maha Pralaya.

THE ETERNAL PARENT (Space), WRAPPED IN HER EVER INVISIBLE ROBES, HAD SLUMBERED ONCE AGAIN FOR SEVEN ETERNITIES.
TIME WAS NOT, FOR IT LAY ASLEEP IN THE INFINITE BOSOM OF DURATION.
UNIVERSAL MIND WAS NOT, FOR THERE WERE NO AH-HI TO CONTAIN IT.

These Stanzas attempt the virtually impossible task of characterizing an immense period of total non-manifestation, wherein matter, mind and time were not. Whilst these Stanzas have a vital significance for those at certain high levels of abstract meditation striving after universal self-consciousness, they also have a great theoretical importance for human beings merely trying to emancipate themselves from fragmented consciousness in a world of objects.

  The apprentice at meditation must begin by considering non-manifestation metaphysically. One must first conceive of the possibility, and then proceed to ponder further questions, which may be resolved through the instruction of the Stanzas. From total non-manifestation, where the Absolute is as much as during a period of manifestation, there is an anticipation of manifestation as a whole. Something analogous to this may be experienced in the early morning hours, in the passage from extreme darkness to a noumenal participation in the progressive dawn. Because embodied human beings are already subjects and objects, minds in forms, they can conceive of this process in two ways: by visualizing Nirguna Brahman, the attributeless Absolute, generating the possibility of universal mind, which in turn becomes Mahat, the cosmic mind of a particular system; or by visualizing Mulaprakriti, primordial pre-cosmic Substance, becoming the noumenon of matter in relation to a sphere of potential existence. We may move either from unlimited pre-cosmic Ideation or from unlimited pre-cosmic Substance through the most abstract sense of limit – limit in the most extreme degree applying to millions upon millions of years and to myriads of worlds within worlds.

  The purpose of this profound meditation is to shatter the association of space with extension and of time with succession. These conceptions must be destroyed at the root, so that one may return to the deepest possible ground of pure potential universal awareness. At every point, there is, predictably, the risk that the deepening of consciousness may be arrested through identification with material forms, even the most subtle. But there is another and equally profound risk, the fundamental nature of which can be readily grasped by those who have spent some time with the Indian schools of philosophy, especially Vedanta. H.P. Blavatsky noted that:

  With some schools, Mahat is "the first-born" of Pradhana (undifferentiated substance, or the periodical aspect of Mulaprakriti, the root of Nature), which (Pradhana) is called Maya, the Illusion.

Ibid., 62

  Unlike the various Vedantin doctrines, the esoteric teachings do not hold that Mahat is derived from the illusory or periodic aspect of Mulaprakriti. As H.P. Blavatsky explained, the Wisdom-Religion holds that

while Mulaprakriti, the noumenon, is self-existing and without any origin – is, in short, parentless, Anupadaka (as one with Brahman) – Prakriti, its phenomenon, is periodical and no better than a phantasm of the former, so Mahat, with the Occultists, the first-born of Gnana (or gnosis) knowledge, wisdom or the Logos – is a phantasm reflected from the Absolute NIRGUNA (Parabrahm, the one reality, "devoid of attributes and qualities"; see Upanishads); while with some Vedantins Mahat is a manifestation of Prakriti, or Matter.

Ibid., 62

Because these idealistic schools of thought strongly stress the need for union between the individual Jivatman and the Paramatman, one with Parabrahm, they also seem to suggest that the whole world is an illusion, from that philosophical standpoint which sees even the cosmic mind – Mahat – as only an outgrowth or outcome of prakriti, or matter. Yet if it is only an outgrowth of matter, it becomes totally unreal. Earlier in The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky discussed a similar divergence between the views of the Yogachara and Madhyamika schools of Mahayana Buddhism, concerning their understanding of the terms Paramartha and Alaya. Calling the Yogacharas the great spiritualists and the Madhyamikas the great nihilists, she again drew a distinction between too vehement idealism and the Teachings of Theosophia or Brahma Vak.

  If Mahat is prior to prakriti, one might be tempted to ask whether Mahat is prior to Mulaprakriti. But Mahat is to Nirguna Brahman as prakriti is to Mulaprakriti, which is Anupadaka. The precedence of Mahat to prakriti is the key; ideation and consciousness are prior to everything else, save the veil over Parabrahm. If an individual human being ardently longs to attain to universal self-consciousness, he or she must be able to reduce everything to its homogeneous essence, to see through the relative reality and unreality of the world, yet acknowledge that in the world of unreal time there is that which is consubstantial with the Absolute. In the language of Ishopanishad, it is erroneous to reject either the Transcendent or the Immanent. The Absolute is neither. One must come to sense the Transcendent in the Immanent, and, as a first step in meditation, the Immanent in the Transcendent. Parabrahm is neither Being nor Non-Being; IT IS BE-NESS.

  To gain universal self-consciousness one has to experience the continuity of consciousness from the highest to the lowest, from the most boundless to the most limited. This is perhaps the hidden intent of Vedanta, all too often obscured by schools of idealism, which emphasize the subjective approach to metaphysics. Subjective idealists like Berkeley, phenomenalists, even German phenomenologists – all, like Vedanta, are fundamentally concerned with the distinction between Being and Becoming. All require a doctrine of maya which involves either saying that maya is a superimposition or that it is an unreal shadow. But whatever it is, it leaves intact the fundamental ground, and therefore one has to cancel everything out and go back to that fundamental ground to gain enlightenment. Unfortunately, this view could become a justification for those who want to become absorbed in the whole, negating everything, without gaining universal self-consciousness and coming back into the world with that self-consciousness intact. Yet, it is just this process which enshrines clues to the sacred mystery of incarnation, especially of the Avatar.

  To convey something of the development of limitless objectivity out of limitless subjectivity, it is helpful to employ concepts like expansion and contraction. When talking at the most macrocosmic level of the unmanifest and the manifest, non-being and being, it would be better to avoid such terms. To understand the Stanzas when they speak of an expansion "from within without", it is necessary to purge the notion of expansion of any spatial reference. The entire range of mundane experience equally constrains the capacity to devise diagrams and models. For the expansion of the Stanzas is purely metaphysical and has no relation to objective space. It is best intimated by the lotus, which is phanerogamous, i.e., contains in its seed form the complete flower in miniature, just as an embryo develops into a human being. Because it is completely present in prototype, the unfoldment of the lotus is merely an elaboration of what is already present. This is the closest analogy to the unfoldment from the prototypic universal ideas in the cosmic mind into the world of many types and forms. But becoming accustomed to so lofty a conception is like acclimatizing oneself to the rarefied altitude of high mountains. Just as one must learn to breathe the thin air, while maintaining activity, so one must in meditation learn to give a sense of reality on the mental plane where there are no forms and beings but only Darkness. This cannot be done without purging all those notions that have been acquired through manifested existence in a world circumscribed by limited space and time.

  Just as the cosmic lotus flowers in a space without extension, so too it flowers in a time without succession. Thus, the esoteric philosophy

divides boundless duration into unconditionally eternal and universal Time and a conditioned one (Khandakala). One is the abstraction or noumenon of infinite time (Kala); the other its phenomenon appearing periodically, as the effect of Mahat (the Universal Intelligence limited by Manvantaric duration).

Ibid., 62

These two different dimensions of time – Kala and Khandakala – stand to each other as Parabrahm and Mulaprakriti to Mahat and prakriti. It is possible to recognize that there is an unconditional, eternal and universal time that has nothing to do with clocks and chronometers. It is a time that has to do with consciousness, but not with embodied, differentiated and externalizing consciousness. When through meditation consciousness is deliberately turned inward, when it can do what Nature does when Pralaya comes, then it is possible to approach unconditional, eternal, universal time. But one must recognize that conditioned time is merely an effect of Mahat and a characteristic of prakriti. Boundless Duration is prior to Mahat, and therefore closer to Mulaprakriti and Parabrahm.

  To understand this and to make it the basis of meditation, it is helpful to ponder upon the process of universal dissolution. The powerful mythic and poetic descriptions of the onset of the night of Pralaya in a variety of Indian texts can be made the basis of a purifying and meditative discipline. One can learn to experience within oneself the progress of universal dissolution, experiencing the destruction and absorption of the element of earth into water, the absorption of water into fire, of fire into air, and of air into ether – the rudimentary property of which is sound. Even that is dissolved into what may be called a seed of consciousness on the plane of Mahat, the primary property of which is Buddhi at the universal level. Even that must ultimately be transcended. All the elements are progressively gathered back into one element, and that is converted from a single universal field of sound through a root or germ of consciousness back into a field of pure ideation – and beyond. Hence the potency of A-U-M, merging back into the soundless OM. If one sees all manifestation as one vast golden egg of Brahma, in that luminous egg (Hiranyagarbha) the same process is ever taking place.

  The Dawn of manifestation and the Twilight of the onset of Pralaya are not to be thought of as two points of sequential time separated by vast intervals. They are metaphysically fused in boundless duration as ceaseless creation – Nitya Swarga – and ceaseless dissolution – Nitya Pralaya. The individual who, through meditation upon these ideas, arouses intuition can reverse all that has happened since entering the mother's womb. Having experienced the shock of being thrown into the womb, and having progressively become involved through a series of identifications and limitations, human beings may be seen as fallen gods. Therefore, to overcome the bonds of illusion, ignorance and death, it is necessary to reverse this process, but not at the crude concretized level of those who talk of the primal scream and going back to the womb. It must be reversed cosmically, because nothing can ever be done fundamentally at the individual level unless it is understood cosmically.

  This is the indispensable foundation of the Wisdom-Religion, of Brahma Vidya. As above, so below. As below, so above. In the below one must reach for the above; one must concern oneself with all humanity, on a metaphysical level, before any fundamental and irreversible change can be made in oneself. To understand this intuitively is to see that when one withdraws in meditation, at a steady and high level of abstraction, one is striving to experience the night of non-manifestation, where there are no worlds. To be able to do this is to empty and reabsorb all elements, dissolving everything elementally and at the level of ideation. To transcend the veils of conditioned existence whilst retaining full awareness is to realize the one primal Root Substance in boundless Duration. That is pure self-consciousness – Atma Vidya, one with the supreme attributeless unmanifest wisdom in Parabrahm.

 Say not that It is One, as there can be no second, nothing other than That. There is neither uniqueness nor commonality, neither entity nor non-entity; this secondless One is neither void nor plenum. How can I convey this supreme wisdom?

SHRI SHANKARACHARYA

Hermes, March 1983
by Raghavan Iyer

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