Theosophy

The Voice of the Silence 10 (Verses 123-141)

The Voice of the Silence 10 (Verses 123-141)

John Algeo – USA

Continuing an exploration of “The Two Paths,” that is, the Path of self-perfection and the Path of service to others, verses 123 to 134 explore a theme that HPB made central to Theosophy: altruism — the willingness to live, not for oneself alone, but for others. This theme is central to the entire second fragment of the book, but is developed in these passages with special clarity.

 

Silence

A. Verses [123-134].

[123] If thou art told that to become Arhan thou hast to cease to love all beings — tell them they lie.

[124] If thou art told that to gain liberation thou hast to hate thy mother and disregard thy son; to disavow thy father and call him “householder”; for man and beast all pity to renounce — tell them their tongue is false.

[125] Thus teach the Tirthikas, the unbelievers.

[126] If thou art taught that sin is born of action and bliss of absolute inaction, then tell them that they err. Non-permanence of human action, deliverance of mind from thralldom by the cessation of sin and faults, are not for Deva Egos. Thus saith the Doctrine of the Heart.

[127] The Dharma of the “Eye” is the embodiment of the external, and the non-existing.

[128] The Dharma of the “Heart” is the embodiment of Bodhi, the permanent and everlasting.

[129] The Lamp burns bright when wick and oil are clean. To make them clean a cleaner is required. The flame feels not the process of the cleaning. “The branches of a tree are shaken by the wind; the trunk remains unmoved.”

[130] Both action and inaction may find room in thee; thy body agitated, thy mind tranquil, thy soul as limpid as a mountain lake.

[131] Wouldst thou become a Yogi of Time’s Circle? Then, O lanoo:

[132] Believe thou not that sitting in dark forests, in proud seclusion and apart from men; believe thou not that life on roots and plants, that thirst assuaged with snow from the great Range — believe thou not, O devotee, that this will lead thee to the goal of final liberation.

[133] Think not that breaking bone, that rending flesh and muscle, unites thee to thy silent Self. Think not, that when the sins of thy gross form are conquered, O victim of thy shadows, thy duty is accomplished by nature and by man.

[134] The blessed ones have scorned to do so. The Lion of the Law, the Lord of Mercy, perceiving the true cause of human woe, immediately forsook the sweet but selfish rest of quiet wilds. From Āranyaka He became the Teacher of mankind. After Julai had entered the Nirvāna, He preached on mount and plain, and held discourses in the cities, to devas, men and gods.

B.Comment.

Verse 123 refers to an “arhan” (also called an “arhat”). The term means literally “deserving respect” and is used of an enlightened person. More particularly, the arhat is one who is at the fourth stage or has taken the fourth initiation on the Path. In Southern Buddhism, the arhat is one who has attained enlightenment, not through unaided self-effort, but rather through instruction from another already enlightened being. The statement in verse 123 emphasizes a central theme of this second fragment on “The Two Paths,” the bodhisattva concept, namely that becoming enlightened does not mean cutting oneself off from one’s fellow beings. That theme is further developed in the following verses.

The term “householder” in verse 124 refers to the second of the four idealized stages (or ashramas) in a person’s life. In the Hindu tradition, there are four chronological stages through which we may pass: (1) the student stage (brahmacharya), when we are learning what we need to live in the world; (2) the householder stage (grihastha), when we set up our household, marry, produce heirs, and generally go about the world’s business; (3) the forest-dweller stage (vanaprastha), when we retire from active life and are available to give advice to those in the first two stages; and (4) the renunciant stage (sannyasa), when we have renounced all worldly concerns and are preparing ourselves for the next stage in our own pilgrimage to eternity. Not everyone goes through all four of those stages. But to call one’s father a “householder” implies that his development has been arrested, that he is stuck in a stage from which he should have progressed. HPB has a gloss on the term:

Gloss 11. Rathapāla, the great Arhat, thus addresses his father in the legend called RathapālaSutrasanne. But as all such legends are allegorical (e.g., Rathapāla’s father has a mansion with seven doors), hence the reproof, to those who accept them literally.

The point is manifold: first, we should not presume to judge the spiritual progress of another. Also we should not distance ourselves from those living in the world, creating a climate of “us” versus “them.” As HPB, says, we must not interpret literally statements that are metaphorical or symbolic. That same caution was later repeated by Pamela Travers, the author of the MaryPoppins books and a student of the Irish Theosophist George Russell (penname “AE”), who said that there are three rules for interpreting archetypes: (1) Don’t take them literally. (2) Don’t take them literally. (3) Don’t take them literally.

In verse 125, HPB has a note on the term “tirthika,” which she glosses as “Brahman ascetics.” The Theosophical Glossary has a slightly longer comment: “Heretical teachers. An epithet applied by the Buddhist ascetics to the Brahmans and certain Yogis of India.” The Sanskrit dictionary of Sir Monier Monier-Williams defines the term as a Buddhist expression for “an adherent or head of any other than one’s own creed.” That is, a tirthika is somebody with different ideas.

Verse 126 moves to a theme that is central to the Bhagavad Gita: the undesirability (and in fact impossibility) of refraining from action. If we live in this world, we must act. We are evolving beings or “Deva Egos,” a term HPB clarifies in a note as “reincarnating Egos.” As such, we can progress only by acting, which is not a source of “sin” but of opportunity.

This verse and the next two (127 and 128) restate the two doctrines or dharmas, of the Eye and the Heart. The Dharma or teaching of the Eye is exoteric knowledge about what is “external” or outer and is therefore “nonexisting” because mayavic or illusory, being not stable in itself but constantly changing and relative in its meaning and value. The Dharma or teaching of the Heart is esoteric wisdom about what is of permanent value and enduring. “Heart” here does not mean emotion or feeling or affection, but rather inner gnosis, the embodiment or expression of bodhi, which HPB notes is “true, divine Wisdom.”

Verses 129 and 130 consider the paradox of the stillness at the center of the storm as a resolution of the dichotomy between action and inaction. A hurricane is an extraordinarily strong and violent wind with rain and often associated tornados and floods from the waves of the sea encroaching on the land. But at the eye or center of the hurricane is a spot of stillness and calm. Those who have experienced a hurricane passing directly over them will know what that means. At the beginning of the hurricane, often several days ahead, the sky becomes gray and lowering; then the winds pick up and eventually become very strong and destructive, as the sky turns black. The weakest hurricane has winds of 74 miles an hour, and most are considerably stronger, often more than 100 miles an hour. When the eye of the hurricane passes over, suddenly all winds cease, there is a calmness that is an amazing contrast with the previous violence, and the sky is clear blue with the sun shining. Then the winds return, from the opposite direction and the storm continues. This phenomenon is due to the fact that a hurricane is an enormously large circular wind raging around a clear center.

Our life is like the wind of the hurricane. At its center, there is a place of calm and peace. With meteorological hurricanes, we can only wait for the storm to pass over us. With the hurricanes of our inner life, we can place ourselves at the eye of the storm, where all is clear, calm, and quiet. Surendra Narayan has an insightful exposition of this topic in “On the Watch-Tower,” Theosophist 128.10 (July 2007): 363-5.

Verses 129 and 130 offer three metaphors for this state of mind: (1) A lamp needs to have its wick trimmed and its oil needs to be cleaned if the lamp is to burn well; the flame (our inner consciousness) does not feel the trimming or cleaning, which are “violent” acts in the outward form. (2) A tree may have its branches shaken violently in a storm, but its trunk, its central core, is unmoved. (3) A lake may have its surface agitated by waves from a storm, but beneath the surface, it is still and tranquil. All of these metaphors are talking about a tranquil inner consciousness even when outer agitation disturbs the body.

In verse 131, “Time’s Circle” is a literal equivalent of the Sanskrit term Kalachakra, which is the name of one of the initiatory rites in Tibetan Buddhism but also refers more generally to the concept of cyclical time. The image of the kalachakra or Circle of Time is roughly equivalent to the Medieval and Renaissance European image of the Wheel of Fortune. The latter is an emblem of the constantly fluctuating reality in which we live, with one set of circumstances continually succeeding another. The Wheel of Fortune in the tarot cards (Trumps Major number 10) is a typical Western iconographic image of this archetype. Another is the Buddhist bhavachakra or Wheel of Becoming, which depicts graphically the Buddhist concept of “dependent origination,” that is, the causal chain that produces misery in life and constantly repeats itself.

The Yogi of “Time’s Circle” can probably be understood as anyone who is trying to attain wholeness (the goal of Yoga) within the fragmented and ever-changing circumstances of this world. To do that, we cannot set ourselves apart from the world as a hermit or an ascetic who rejects the world and the body. Instead, we should follow the example of the Buddha, who, after he attained enlightenment, went among people, teaching and ministering to their needs. This concept is set forth in verses 131 to 134.

Those verses also contain a number of glosses and a note to clarify some of the terms used in them. In verse 133, the “silent Self,” to which we as a personality must be united, is glossed as the atma or ultimate Self in us:

Gloss 12. The Higher Self, the seventh principle.

And correlatively, our “Shadows” are the physical-bodily personality, or rather personalities, since all of us have more than one persona with which we face the world:

Gloss 13. Our physical bodies are called “shadows” in the mystic schools.

In verse 134, the “Lion of the Law, the Lord of Mercy” is identified in a note as “Buddha.” Āranyaka, literally “pertaining to the forest or wilderness,” denotes one of the four types of Vedic scripture, the others being the Vedas themselves, which are hymns or mantras, the Brahmanas or guidebooks for performing ritual sacrifices, and the Upanishads or spiritual and philosophical treatises. The Āranyakas were allegorical and meditational works intended especially for ascetics who had retired to the forests; the term is also used, as here, for a sage who dwells in the forest:

Gloss 14. A hermit who retires to the jungles and lives in a forest, when becoming a Yogi.

“Julai” is said to be another name for the Buddha, either the historical Siddhartha Gautama or any of the great souls who have attained the buddhic enlightenment. It is like Thatāgata, a title meaning literally “one who has thus gone or arrived,” that is, gone over the river of illusory samsāra to arrive at the Truth of nirvāna.

Gloss 15. Julai, the Chinese name for Thatāgata, a title applied to every Buddha.

Verse 134 ends with a gloss emphasizing the basic point made throughout all of these verses, namely, that enlightenment is not for the isolated individual. It requires sharing its benefits with all humanity:

Gloss 16. All the Northern and Southern traditions agree in showing Buddha quitting his solitude as soon as He had resolved the problem of life — i.e., received the inner enlightenment — and teaching mankind publicly.

C.Meditation.

1. Think of yourself as connected with all other people in the world. You may imagine yourself as clasping hands with two others, who in turn clasp hands with yet others, until the entire globe is united by people holding hands in a living chain. Or you may envision a network around the planet, each knot in the network a person — you, one of them — and the cords of the network the connections that link us all.

2. Envision one of the images mentioned above: the eye of calm in the midst of a hurricane, a lamp whose wick and oil are trimmed and cleaned but whose flame burns steadily, a tree whose branches are swayed by the wind but whose trunk is firm, or a mountain lake, ruffled on the surface but limpid and still beneath. Identify yourself with that image.

3. Contemplate the Buddha as a model for life. He left luxuriant comfort for the life of a homeless ascetic; then he found the middle way beneath the Tree of Wisdom, and immediately returned to the life of the world to be in, but not of, it and to teach all beings that all of us can enter the same light he found.

Verses 135 to 141 continue the call to action of the altruistic verses 123-134 and introduce a new metaphor, that of the “three vestures,” which becomes a major expression of the call to action in the rest of the Voice.

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A.Verses [135-141].

[135] Sow kindly acts and thou shalt reap their fruition. Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin. Thus saith the Sage.

[136] Shalt thou abstain from action? Not so shall gain thy soul her freedom. To reach Nirvāna one must reach Self-knowledge, and Self-knowledge is of loving deeds the child.

[137] Have patience, candidate, as one who fears no failure, courts no success. Fix thy Soul’s gaze upon the star whose ray thou art, the flaming star that shines within the lightless depths of ever-being, the boundless fields of the Unknown.

[138] Have perseverance as one who doth for evermore endure. Thy shadows live and vanish; that which in thee shall live forever, that which in thee knows, for it is knowledge, is not of fleeting life: it is the man that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour shall never strike.

[139] If thou wouldst reap sweet peace and rest, disciple, sow with the seeds of merit the fields of future harvests. Accept the woes of birth.

[140] Step out from sunlight into shade, to make more room for others. The tears that water the parched soil of pain and sorrow bring forth the blossoms and fruits of Karmic retribution. Out of the furnace of man’s life and its black smoke, winged flames arise, flames purified, that soaring onward, ’neath the Karmic eye, weave in the end the fabric glorified of the three vestures of the Path.

[141] These vestures are: Nirmānakāya, Sambhogakāya, and Dharmakāya, robe sublime.

B. Comment.

Verses 135 and 136 treat the subject of karma. The word karma means literally “action” but is generally understood as referring to the results that inevitably follow any action. And so verse 135 begins with a reminder that being kind to others will result in kindness coming to you. This is the most basic and practical moral principle, one that is the subject of the opening chapter of the Dhammapada: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the wagon. . . . If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”

Immediately after that observation about karma as the fruit of action, the Voice considers the nature of action and inaction — a false dichotomy because “inaction,” as a decision not to act, is in fact a kind of action. The Voice tells us that negative virtues have little to recommend them. If we have the opportunity to do good, the failure to respond to that opportunity has bad consequences. The second sentence in verse 135, “Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin,” resumes the theme of verse 126 and echoes the plight of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Being confused about what he should do, Arjuna decided he would do nothing. But Krishna pointed out to him that the very decision not to act was an action, and thus he had committed himself by seeking to avoid commitment.

Verse 136 continues the examination of this subject by looking on the positive side. If we do not become free by avoiding action, but only more entangled, how do we become free? Verse 136 says that freedom depends on Self-knowledge, that is, on knowing who we really are. When we are ignorant of our true nature, we are bound by all the limitations of the personality and its conditioning. Only when we know the real Self within are we free. And how do we achieve that knowledge? Not, as we might suppose, by study or meditation (good as those are), but rather by a third thing: service or, as the Voice calls it, “loving deeds,” that is, right action — action prompted by love.

When we act out of love, we discover who we are. When we know who we are, we are free of the bonds that tie us to this world. What the world regards as success or failure is irrelevant to that freedom, which is the only thing that really matters. Verse 137 goes on to compare our real Self to a star, of which our personal identity is only a ray of light. In the Theosophical tradition, it is said that when a disciple becomes an adept, the Star of Initiation blazes forth. That is a symbol of the discovery of who we really are — the blazing star that shines through our personality, or as HPB puts it in a gloss:

Gloss 17. Every spiritual Ego is a ray of a Planetary Spirit, according to esoteric teaching.

The esoteric teaching referred to here is doubtless that of the cosmic seven Rays; each of us is a ray of one of those Rays. Ultimately we are all rays of the one eternal central Sun. Or, as verse 138 puts it, our temporary personalities are shadows of that one light. Shadows come and go, being impermanent:

Gloss 18. “Personalities” or physical bodies are called “shadows” as they are evanescent.

It is notable that our personality is here equated with our physical body, in and through which our personality develops. A physical body with its personality is of one lifetime only; neither survives that lifetime. What survives and is permanent (or as permanent as anything in a world that is always changing) is the individuality, which is encapsulated in the principle of pure (or higher) mind within us. That principle is the faculty by which we know what really is and especially who we are. It is also what we know, both the means and the object of knowledge:

Gloss 19. Mind (manas), the thinking Principle or Ego in man, is referred to as Knowledge itself, because the human Egos are called Mānasa-putras, the sons of (universal) Mind.

One of the characteristic features of Theosophical thought is its teaching that our individuality, expressed through the principle of manas or mind, will never cease to be. Some forms of Indic thought emphasize that, since we are expressions of the Ultimate Reality (whether it is called Brahman or Nirvāna or something else), any separate identity is mere illusion. Hence everything about us, including our individuality, is unreal.

A typical Theosophical response is that, although in truth only one ultimate Reality exists (Parabrahm or whatever we call it), the ultimate One is unknowable but manifests in the relative world in a multitude of forms, some of which are evanescent and some of which (namely the individual expressions of the monad) abide throughout manifestation and indeed even across the periods of cosmic rest called “pralayas” that separate one period of manifestation from another. Thus, practically speaking, our individuality (atma-buddhi-manas) never ceases to be, but is our inner Self “that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour [of ending] shall never strike.”

This Theosophical view is that the relationship between the absolute One and the relative Many is a mystery and a paradox. We are both all one and yet individually distinct. This paradoxical mystery is expressed in a poem by Kabir, a saintly poet from India, who uses a familiar metaphor for it, namely, the relationship between the sea and a drop of water that comes from it: “I went looking for Him / And lost myself; / The drop merged with the Sea — / Who can find it now? / Looking and looking for Him, / I lost myself; / The Sea merged with the drop — / Who can find it now?”

On the one hand, we can say that we are drops of water which come from the sea and are finally merged into it, so that we, as separate realities, are lost in the sea, returning to our source and ceasing to be, as separate units: “Who can find it [the separate drop] now?” But, on the other hand, we can also say that when we find that Ultimate Reality for which we are searching, it becomes us. We do not lose our sense of identity, but instead are immeasurably and inconceivably enriched by the knowledge (the gnosis) that we and it are one. In this sense, the drop does not merge into the sea; rather the sea merges into the drop and thus realizes its identity, both One and Many, both united and distinct. “Who can find it [the sea separate from the drop] now?”

This Theosophical view thus resolves the dichotomy of the Hindu teaching that at the core of our being there is an “atma” or self and the Buddhist teaching that at our core there is only anātman or no (an-) self (ātman). Both are true, but in different ways. We are not ultimately and absolutely separate from the One Reality (the only Ultimate and Absolute), so there is no separate self, but only anātman. However, we are an individualized expression in the relative world of the ultimate and absolute Reality, so there is a Self at the heart of our being — the same Self as at the heart of every other being, though expressed in relatively different ways in each of us. The paradox is that these apparently contradictory statements are both true: We are the Self, and we have no self.

Eastern, and especially Indic, thought is full of paradoxes like this. Another related one is the teaching of Buddhism that all life is duhkha, usually translated “pain” or “suffering” but perhaps more adequately rendered as “frustration,” “insecurity,” or “dissatisfaction,” versus the Hindu teaching that all life is an expression of ānanda, “bliss,” “delight,” or “joy.” Both are true. As verses 139 and 140 say in a series of metaphors, life is both woeful and sweet, shady and sunny, parched and blossoming, smoky and bright with light.

Verse 140 introduces another metaphor, that of the “three vestures,” which is an important theme in this and the last Fragment of the book. The three vestures are identified by name in verse 141 and two glosses refer to a gloss in Fragment 3 that discusses the subject in some detail. We will come to that gloss in its proper place, but here we can consider an overview of these vestures.

The concept of the three vestures is a Buddhist one, though interpreted somewhat differently in various schools of Buddhism. Blavatsky also thought that the way Western scholars generally understood the concept was inadequate. Because it is such an important concept in the Voice, it is worth considering in some detail. Even the literal sense of the words is noteworthy. The general term for the concept in Sanskrit is trikāya, from tri “three” and kāya, literally “body” but in this context usually translated “sheath” or “vesture,” The word kāya also refers to the trunk of a tree, among other uses. The Buddha (not just the historical Siddhartha Gautama, but the metaphysical Buddha nature or Buddha-ness that manifests in all historical Buddhas) is said to have three bodies or vestures.

The first of these is the nirmānakāya, the body or vesture of transformation. Nirmāna as an independent word means “measuring” and hence “building,” “making,” or “creating,” and, since all acts of creation involve change, it also means “transformation.” The nirmānakāya, or body of transformation and change, is usually said to be the historical Buddha in incarnation, as ordinary human beings might see him.

The second is the sambhogakāya, the body or vesture of enjoyment. Sambhoga means basically “pleasure,” “delight,” “love leading to union.” The sambhogakāya is usually understood as a heavenly or archetypal manifestation of the Buddha, as Bodhisattavas or other heavenly beings might see him, that is, as an idealized form.

The third is the dharmakāya, the body or vesture of dharma — a word for which no single English equivalent exists. It is usually translated “law,” but has many meanings, all related but depending on the context. In this context, perhaps we can think of dharma as that which abides, the Ground of all existence, the ultimate Reality, the Absolute. All of the Buddhas or enlightened beings exist in that Reality, indeed are that Reality. The dharmakāya is said to be the Buddha as the Buddha really is, in pure Buddha nature. It is beyond perception but manifests itself as the other two bodies.

Thus, these three bodies are usually understood as three ways in which the Buddha reality can be understood or three ways in which it is expressed. As such, the dharmakāya or “body of the Absolute” is unmanifest; it is the Buddha nature as the ultimate, ineffable reality, the Ground of all things. The sambhogakāya or “body of realized love” is the Buddha nature as it is seen by enlightened beings, such as the bodhisattvas; it is expressed by all the archetypal, symbolical Buddhas. The nirmānakāya or “body of making and changing” is the empirically manifested Buddha, the historical incarnations of the Buddha nature, such as Siddhartha Gautama.

Understood in this way, the doctrine of the trikāya or three bodies is that there are three levels of existence: (1) one we are all aware of and experience, an outer reality in which the Buddha nature incarnates as a human being, a teacher (the nirmānakāya); (2) one that can be seen by “the eye of faith” or experienced by the imagination, an inner reality in which the Buddha nature is expressed in great archetypal forms (the sambhogakāya); and (3) one beyond all experience, the ultimate reality, which is the very Buddha nature (the dharmakāya).

Blavatsky’s presentation of the three vestures in subsequent verses and in the last Fragment is somewhat different, as we shall see.

C. Meditation.

1. Meditate on verse 136: “Shalt thou abstain from action? Not so shall gain thy soul her freedom. To reach Nirvāna one must reach Self-knowledge, and Self-knowledge is of loving deeds the child.”

2. Envision a blazing star that beams a ray of light into the profound darkness of space. See yourself as a spark of light at the very end of that ray. Then follow the path of the ray back to its origin — to the flaming star — and say to yourself, “I am That.”

To be continued 

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