Theosophical Encyclopedia

MAHABHARATA, THE

One of two great epic poems in Indian literature, the other being the Ramayana, the Mahabharata has more than 100,000 couplets, making it the longest epic poem in the world. It deals with the vicissitudes of the descendants (Bharatas) of the mythical first king of India, Bharata. His ninth descendant was Kuru; hence the kingdom in the story is known as Kurukshetra (Kuru's field), an area in north-central India. However, kuru is the imperative form of the Sanskrit root kr (“do, cause, make,” etc.), so its mythological interpretation deals with human behavior (from a Theosophical standpoint, with human involution and evolution). The epic is therefore less historical than metaphorical.

In this long story, the throne of the kingdom passes, generation after generation, to a younger son, rather than to the eldest, as was the custom, signifying Theosophically the involutionary cycle. At the opening of the story, the oldest brother is the blind king Dhritarastra (whose name echoes the Sanskrit word dhriti “steadfast, constant”) thus implying rigidity or conventionality. Because of his blindness, he is unfit to inherit the throne, which passes to his younger brother Pandu. Dhritarastra marries Gandhari, who blindfolds herself in order not to be superior to her husband. Therefore, their offspring are all born of blindness, symbolic of ignorance. They have a hundred sons, the eldest being Duryodana (whose name literally means "ill bred"); in fact all the sons' names begin with a Sanskrit prefix (dur-, dus-, duh-) that means "bad" (cf. Greek dys-); so they represent allegorically our bad habits or bad behavior, resulting from our ignorance or moral blindness. The "sons" of Pandu, on the other hand, are not really his offspring because he had been cursed with death if he were to have sex. Rather, they are the offspring of various Vedic gods: the eldest, Yudisthira, by Yama-Dharma, the god of righteousness; Bhima by Vayu, the wind god; Arjuna by Indra, the warrior god; and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva by the divine twin horsemen of the Sun, the Ashvins. So they are all semidivine. Being five in number, they represent symbolically our personal nature: intuition, intellect, kama-manas (lower or desire-mind), vital body (etheric double), and its "twin," the physical body. The mother of all five brothers is Kunti, the sister of Sri Krishna, who invoked the gods (with her husband's approval) by means of mantras.


Mahabarata

Naturally, Duryodana believes he should succeed to the Kuru throne rather than Yudisthira. He first tries to kill the five brothers, called Pandavas, by burning a wax house built for them when they attend a religious festival. They escape disguised as Brahmins; and during their exile in the forest, they jointly marry Draupadi (who would represent, metaphorically, the life-soul or jiva). They also gain allies, so Duryodana and his brothers, called Kauravas (i.e., descendants of Kuru), are reluctantly forced to give the Pandavas back half of their rightful kingdom. Duryodana then challenges Yudisthira to a dice game (using loaded dice) and succeeds in sending his five cousins (with their mother and common wife) back into exile for twelve years. At the end of that time, he refuses to relinquish the kingdom, so the Great War is fought on the kingdom's traditional battlefield, Kurukshetra, between the Kauravas and their allies and the Pandavas and their allies, one of whom is Sri Krishna. Arjuna, the greatest warrior of his day, leads the Pandavas; Krishna declines to fight, but agrees to act as Arjuna's charioteer and counselor. The Bhagavad-Gita (“Song of God”) is a dialog between Arjuna and Krishna at the onset of that battle, which lasts for eighteen days and involves enormous bloodshed. The Pandavas finally win, symbolizing humanity’s predestined victory over our ignorance-born imperfections (Gita 18.59-61).

Read more: MAHABHARATA, THE

BAHAI FAITH

Originating in Persia (modern Iran) in the nineteenth century, the Bahai Faith’s central figure was Mirza Hoseyn Ali Nuri (1817-92), a member of the Persian nobility, who was known as Bahaullah (or Baha Allah), a title that means "The splendor of God." The term "Bahai" means "follower of the splendor." Bahaullah’s mission was heralded by Siyyid Mirza Ali-Muhammad (the Bab) who began teaching in Shiraz in 1844 about the imminent emergence of a divine prophet foretold in all scriptures. Consequently the Bab and thousands of his followers were martyred at the urging of militant orthodox forces.

In response to the seeds of expectation that had matured through the revelation of the Bab, Bahaullah, who had been among the Bab’s ardent admirers, in 1853 confided to his followers and proclaimed publicly in 1863 that he was the prophet foretold by the Bab. In the years until his 1892 death in Akka, Palestine, Bahaullah produced a great number of treatises on mystical, spiritual, social, and ethical subjects, which he presented as divine revelations. The purpose of his revelation, he stated, was to provide the divine guidance required for humanity's spiritual and social well-being as it comes of age as a global society.

 


Bahai Temple in New Delhi, India

Bahai Beliefs. The premise of the Bahai faith is a path toward unity. Bahais acknowledge a divine purpose to creation and the existence of a creator who remains infinitely beyond the comprehension of man and thus essentially unknowable. Whatever knowledge we possess of the divine has been "dispensed" from that ultimate source by a series of prophetic figures, including the few known to history: Adam, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, and most recently the Bab and Bahaullah. This view of religious history as "progressive revelation" acknowledges the role of each of the revealed religions in the development of civilization, upholds the divine station of prophets and attributes to human error and folly the divisions and conflicts that have emerged in their names.

Read more: BAHAI FAITH

ANKH-Symbol

An Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol of life or immortality, the ankh, from an Egyptian word for “life, soul,” is also called crux ansata (Latin for “cross with a handle [by which Egyptians gods were depicted as carrying it]”). Much imaginative speculation has been given to the origin of the symbol, which remains unknown.


Ankh

An ankh-like symbol () was also used in ancient Mycenae and Cyprus and became the symbol for both copper and the goddess Aphrodite, both associated with Cyprus, and hence for the feminine (as distinct from the Mars-like sign for the masculine). It was also used by Coptic Christians instead of the Latin cross.

Blavatsky offers an interpretation of the ankh as "the man crucified in space of Plato." She sees the circle or handle as a human head (CW 10:59). In Isis Unveiled (2:557) she alludes to depictions of Krishna “holding the cruciform ankh and the chakra.”

In modern use, the ankh is a symbol of power and wisdom in neo-pagan and New Age groups or simply a lucky charm or a decoration in general use.

MANOR, THE

The Center of the Esoteric School of Theosophy in Australia, the Manor is a large private house situated in Mosman, Sydney, Australia. It overlooks picturesque Sydney Harbor and is surrounded on two sides by a national park. The building is spacious with side verandas and large rooms.


The Manor in the 1920s

The Manor was built about 1912 by a Mr. Bakewell, who owned a brick and tile factory. He had built it as a residence for his family; but, to his disappointment, the family did not wish to use the house as he had intended. A group of Theosophists lived in Mosman and some surrounding suburbs in the early 1920s. One of them, Lucius Van Gelder, had an idea for an experimental community to make life more "reasonable, cheaper, and more useful" for the families and individuals concerned. It was suggested that the group occupy the house built by Bakewell. Charles Leadbeater, a prominent Theosophist of the day and a bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church, arrived in Sydney about this time. He recognized the house's possibilities as a community home and declared his willingness to come and live there himself. Consequently, a three-year lease was signed; and on August 3, 1922, several people moved in. Leadbeater, who became the focus for the community, invited Van Gelder to assume the task of managing it; and the residence became known as "The Manor."

Read more: MANOR, THE

Conger, Arthur Latham (1872-1951)

Conger was born in Akron, Ohio, on January 30, 1872. At 18 he entered Harvard and while there discovered Theosophy. He joined the Theosophical Society (TS) on June 16, 1892, and was admitted into the Esoteric Section by William Q. Judge in 1894. After he graduated from Harvard, his parents insisted he enter the Episcopal Theological Seminary at Cambridge as a candidate for Holy Orders, when he was 22, but his Theosophical views were not tolerated, and he chose to leave rather than give up Theosophy. He went to work at the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society in New York City then under the direction of Katherine Tingley, becoming her first private secretary. In 1897 he was elected an officer of the newly formed International Brotherhood League, a Theosophical organization to work with prisoners, the less fortunate, and children. In January 1898, the Universal Brotherhood was formed as an umbrella organization for the Theosophical Society and the International Brotherhood League. Conger was one of the original signatories of the new constitution along with Basil Crump, A. E. Neresheimer, Robert Crosbie, and Joseph H. Fussell, to name a few.

Read more: Conger, Arthur Latham (1872-1951)

Cagliostro, Alessandro Conte di (Giuseppe Balsamo) (1743-1795)

A well-known occultist of the 18th century. His life is shrouded in myth and conflicting reports; he is regarded by some as a charlatan and by others as an Initiate of a high degree. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1970 Ed.) brands Cagliostro a charlatan and adventurer. Helena P. Blavatsky (CW XII:79-88) disagrees most strongly with such a verdict, claiming him to have been a wonderful and highly accomplished person. She lays much of the blame for the evil reputation he suffers on Carlyle.

Read more: Cagliostro, Alessandro Conte di (Giuseppe Balsamo) (1743-1795)

Butlerov, Alexander Michailovich (1828-1886)


Outstanding Russian chemist whose work confirmed the classical theory of chemical structure. Butlerov was interested in Spiritualism and wrote against the materialistic tendencies of the science of his time.

Helena P. Blavatsky considered Butlerov the greatest chemist of his time. In one of her letters referring to the opinion of one of the Mahatmas about William Crookes, she wrote:
"Master says, there is no one higher than him [Crookes] in chemistry in England, nor elsewhere except Butlerov who is dead. But then Butlerov spoiled his brains by Spiritualism" (Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, p. 226).

Read more: Butlerov, Alexander Michailovich (1828-1886)

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