By the editors of Lucifer – the Netherlands.
[This is a reprint from Lucifer – the Messenger of Light, an original publication of I.S.I.S. Foundation, i.e. International Study-centre for Independent Search for truth. The editor is grateful for the permission given to make this important paper available for all readers of Theosophy Forward.]
In the great world religions, the same key teachings can be found.
Many of the bloodiest conflicts and most obstinate forms of hatred can be traced back to the different religions. There are countries where only one religion is allowed, with all kinds of oppression and suppression of those who wish to profess another religion. In other countries more religions are allowed, it’s true, but its followers live in discord with one another and not rarely threaten one another and often
threaten the lives of one another. Does all this have a logical foundation?
No, the cause No, the cause of this religious mania never lies in religion itself, but in the one-sided, anthropomorphic interpretation of the followers, mostly the priests, who impose their interpretation of the doctrine upon others.
Yet, the religions do not differ from one another in essence: not in ethics and not even in tenets. If followers of a religion would only obey the golden rule, which can be found in all religions. That rule is: “not to do to another what they would not like themselves. Then three quarters of evil in the world would immediately disappear. If they would then also be prepared to regard their own religion – and that of others – without prejudice — then they would discover seven Jewels of Wisdom, which give each man a hold on a meaningful and happy life.
Each religion is a more or less distorted appearance of the Divine Wisdom or Theosophia. Or, each religion results from the Universal Wisdom Religion, that flowed from the Heart of the Universe through all ages and all civilizations, and inspired the spiritually great to find the viewpoint for their specific age,which should help those whom they addressed to remember their inner divinity.
Theosophia is based on three principles: boundlessness, cyclicity, and growth or evolution. The idea of boundlessness is especially difficult for man to grasp, because the boundless per se can never be completely grasped. Therefore, in the course of ages the idea of boundlessness was explained anthropomorphically in the various religions — that is: it was reduced to human proportions. Yet, we recognize the idea of boundlessness in the various religions without too much difficulty. (1)
First of all, we see it in Hinduism. Everywhere in the Upanishads we come up against the popular statement ‘TAT twam asi’. TAT means that, and only this word could express the Boundless. ‘TAT twam asi’ means: you are that, you are the Boundless.
Likewise, a term like Parabrahman indicates boundlessness. It means beyond Brahman. And Brahman is the highest divinity of the Universe. It is like the horizon of our consciousness. But is it an ultimate destination? No, since there is still more, there is Parabrahman, beyond Brahman. There have been attempts in the world religions to find a word, that should express what cannot be grasped in
words. After all, the TAO that can be named, is not the true TAO. TAO is a Chinese notion, used by Lao tsu and mostly translated into the Path. However … the true TAO cannot be named. Or: Boundlessness cannot be captured in a name.
Different concepts that are used are for instance: Zarvan Akarana (endless duration) from Persia; Endless Deepness in Egypt. Furthermore, the original meaning of GOD in monotheistic religions is the Boundless. Hebrew words like Elohim and Adonai are also translated rather arbitrarily with the singular God. However, if we are looking at the Divine Principle, or the Abstract Divinity, then that is a synonym for Boundlessness. Later generations explained this divine notion anthropomorphically and so God came into existence as a being.
The Boundlessness of the Universe is, as it were, the eternally existing field of activity of (in essence) boundless beings, who more and more express their endless opportunities, in a cyclical process, in which they alternate periods of activity with those of rest. Symbolically the birth of a cosmic being was presented as an exhalation from the Boundless, and his death as an inhalation.
This grand idea of the continuously exhaling and inhaling universe can be specified and explained further on the basis of the seven fundamental propositions or tenets. These are far from dogmas, but hypotheses which, combined with one another, can explain all phenomena. You will not find these seven Jewels as a composite unity in any religion or Holy Book. Yet, since immemorial times they were taught by far advanced Masters of Wisdom and Compassion to their students. These teachings were passed on from generation to generation. Yet, the teachings were too esoteric to be taught as a composite unity. Only in modern theosophical literature you will find them again as a sevenfold unity.
Why they cannot be traced back as sevenfold in the old religions is hard to understand for us, living in the 21st century, in which it is common that information should be accessible to everyone. However, the seven Jewels can also be misused or misinterpreted. The seven notions with which they are defined are only key words, that hide a world of thoughts. Even the Sanskrit words, which already represent the ideas much clearer than the English translation, cannot prevent that the composite range of ideas – the seven-colored pallet of wisdom – is incorrectly explained.
Nevertheless, you can trace back these seven Jewels in all religions. Not always in a direct form, sometimes like a hint or suggestion. We will try to demonstrate that in the four religions with currently the most followers, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, these seven Jewels can be traced back. Other religious and philosophical systems from the past and present contain these principal thoughts also. However, the article would get too long if we quoted from those.
Nowadays, the Jewel of reincarnation is so familiar, that we do not have to give it more than a moment’s thought. The Sanskrit term is Punarjaman (punar means ‘next time’ or ‘again; and janman is ‘to live’). The idea is overwhelmingly well-known in Hindu tradition and is often found in the Holy Books. Even in the thousands of years old Vedas there are references to it. The Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gîtâ explain the tenet clearly:
“As the lord of this mortal frame
experiences therein infancy, youth and old age,
so in future incarnations will it meet the same.
As a man throws away old garments and puts on new,
even so the dweller in the body,
having quitted its old mortal frames,
enters into others which are new.” (2)
Buddhism, in fact an attempt of Gautama the Buddha to purify the system of tenets corrupted by the Brahmans, is also clear in disseminating the teaching of reincarnation. From the mere fact that the prince Siddartha, achieving the state of enlightenment under the Bodhi-tree, perceived all his past lives passing his spiritual eye, it appears that reincarnation is an integral part of the teaching of the Buddha.
Much less known is the fact that originally Christianity taught the idea of reincarnation too. Only during the Council of Nicaea in 351 AD this teaching was banned from the official dogmas of the Church. Yet, many scriptural passages can be found in which is referred to reincarnation. Let us suffice here with just a few examples. In John 9:1 the disciples, pointing at a man blind from birth, ask Jesus if this man or his parents sinned. It is the modern issue of heredity or evolution. Jesus does not reprimand them by saying that this man could not have sinned because he was born blind, which Jesus would have said if reincarnation was not his teaching. On the contrary, he said that the man is blind, so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
In gnostic documents, like The Secret Code of John, it is explained what is meant by this. Souls that have gathered insufficient gnosis (inner knowledge) and did not live ascetic lives and so are not perfect yet, will be cast back to the Earth to continue to learn. In the Pistis Sophia it is mentioned as follows:
“If a soul has sinned once or twice or thrice, then will he be cast back into the world again according to the type of the sins which he has committed.“ (3)
This is a clear example that reincarnation and karma were not unknown in early Christianity.
On many places in gospel history the fact that the Old Testament prophet Elijah is reincarnated as John the Baptist is pointed out (for instance in: Matthew 11:11-15 and 17:10-13). In Mark 9:13 Jesus says plainly: Elijah has come. And since Elijah had died, this can mean nothing else than that he is reincarnated again. Also in the Old Testament there are references to reincarnation. We give two quotes here:
“Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. (…) All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full; to the place the streams come from, there they return again. (…) What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (4)
Furthermore, the Lord says:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (5)
So there is life before birth in any case. Also in Islam indications can be found, that the teaching of reincarnation is not unfamiliar to this religion. Admittedly the general belief is that man enters Paradise after death. There is also talk of resurrection of the dead at the end of times. However, there have always been groups of Muslims as well, who adhered to the idea of reincarnation or tanasoech as it is called in Arabic. The Druze, Ishmaelites and some Sufis still do this. They base themselves amongst others on this verse from the Koran:
“How can you disbelieve in Allah when you were lifeless and He brought you to life; then He will cause you to die, then He will bring you to life, and then to Him you will be returned.” (6)
That the idea of reincarnation has nearly disappeared from Islam, might have to do with the many wars that were made after the activities of the Prophet Mohammed. Because of that, the Muslims were no longer instructed and guided by philosophers and mystics but by more worldly people.
However, reincarnation was never inconsistent with Islam, but there was less and less emphasis put on it. (7)
The teaching of karma is closely interwoven with that of reincarnation. In fact, the two cannot be apprehended without one another. Therefore, this twin teaching is often contained in one view.
In Hindu documents the teaching of karma is scarcely explained; it is assumed that the law of cause and effect is so generally well-known, that it does not need much discussion. For example, in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ Krishna teaches Arjuna how to transcend personal karma. The different forms of Yoga that can be found in this Holy Book are meant to transcend man beyond his personal karma. For example, we read:
“Whatever thou doest, O son of Kunti, whatever thou eatest, whatever thou sacrificest, whatever thou givest, whatever mortification thou performest, commit each unto me. Thus thou shalt be delivered from the good and evil experiences which are the bonds of action … “(8)
In order to apprehend these verses well, you have to realize that karma means ‘action’ literally. By attaching to the result of the action (karma) you tie yourself to the exterior and you will not reach liberation (Moksha). Continuously, man harvests the results of actions directed to this external world. It is this attachment, caused by blindness, that make people live in an illusionary world.
However, karma is not doom. It is not destiny, but also not happiness. It is the strict law, that each cause has a matching effect. This appears strongly in Buddhism, a religion in which the law of cause and effect is interwoven in such a way, that it is always linked to ethical consequences. In the Dhammapada, highly valued by all Buddhists, we read for instance:
“Not well done is that deed which one, having performed, has to repent; whose consequence one has to face with tears and lamentation. Well done is that deed which one, having performed, does not repent, and whose consequence one experiences with delight and contentment. So long as an evil deed does not nature (bring disastrous results), the fool thinks his deed to be sweet as honey. But,when his evil deed matures, he falls into untold misery.” (9)
This last verse clearly shows that there can be a large space of time between action and consequence. We can also read this in the next verses:
“Even the wrongdoer finds some happiness so long as (the fruit of) his misdeed does not mature; but when it does mature, then he sees its evil results. – Even the doer of good deeds knows evil (days) so long as his merit has not matured; but when his merit has fully matured, then he sees the happy results of his meritorious deeds.” (10)
In Christianity the teaching of karma is clearly present as well. Paul the Apostle writes in his epistle to the Galatians (6:7):
“For whatever a man shall sow, that also shall he reap.”
And in Revelations (13:10) we read:
“He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword.”
And a quote from the Old Testament (Job 4:8):
“As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”
Despite these convincing quotes you occasionally hear people object that in Christianity there is no room for the teaching of karma because of the fact that Jesus died at the cross for mankind. However, this so-called suffering for mankind has a quite different meaning, which also has everything to do with karma. It means that every Teacher of a Mystery School remains karmically responsible for his students. His education changed his student. Therefore, that student is capable of apprehending more of Nature and is therefore also able to influence more. If this student, despite the advice of his Teacher, misuses the knowledge for his own interest, then the Teacher – the Christos – will ‘suffer’ from this. After all, it are the consequences of his actions as a result of which the student could misuse the teaching. In Islam you also find traces of the teaching of cause and effect. In the Koran is mentioned:
“For those who do good is good (reward) and more (than this) … And (as for) those who have earned evil, the punishment of an evil is the like of it … “(11)
Interesting is also that there are two ‘recorders’, who register all human actions. (12) This would be two angels, who sit at the right and left side of the man. You should not take all this literally. On the contrary, it points to the mystic teaching that all what man, yeh, in fact every being, thinks and does is recorded by ‘Holy Recorders’. This looks a lot like the Hindu Lipikas, who also record everything and who are seen in connection to karma. You might imagine that anything that is done, makes an impression on the consciousness of the actor and of others. It makes an impression in the so-called Astral Light. Sooner or later he who made this impression will be confronted with it again. Anything we do has its consequences.
- Another source of information about the concept of Boundlessness in the several religious traditions: G. de Purucker, Esoteric Instructions, part 3 ‘Space and the doctrine of Maya’. Point Loma publications, San Diego 1987, p. 13-17. A Dutch source: Barend Voorham, Er is altijd iets (geweest). Scheppingsverhalen – deel 1’. Article in Lucifer de Lichtbrenger, vol. 30, nr. 2, April 2008, p. 37-43.
- Bhagavad-Gîtâ, ch. 2, verses 13 and 22. Translation: W.Q. Judge. www.theosociety.org/pasadena/gita/bg2.htm
- Pistis Sophia, translated by G.R.S. Mead. John M. Watkins, London 1921, ch. 103, p. 220. http://gnosis.org/library/pistis-sophia/ps108.htm
- Ecclesiastes 1:4-9.
- Jeremiah 1:5.
- Koran, 2:28. Translation: Sahih International. http://corpus.quran.com/translation.jsp?chapter=2verse=28
- See: Sylvia Cranston, Reincarnation, The Phoenix Fire Mystery. Theosophical University Press, Pasadena 1998, p. 166.
- Bhagavad-Gîtâ, ch. 9, verses 27-28.
- Dhammapada, Wisdom of the Buddha. Translated by Harischandra Kaviratna. Theosophical University Press, Pasadena 1980, Canto V, verses 67, 68 and 69. http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/dhamma/dham5.htm#Canto5
- See ref. 9, Canto IX, verses 119 and 120.
- Koran, 10:26-27. Translation: Shakir. http://corpus.quran.com/translation.jsp?chapter=10verse=26
- Koran, 50:17.
To be continued