The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
October 2015 – Vol. 18 Issue 8
Eastern mysticism sees the universe as a whole, as an organism. All things are interconnected, links in a chain of beings permeated by consciousness which threads them together. This consciousness is the one life-force, originator of all the phenomena we know under the heading of nature, and it dwells within its emanations, urging them as a powerful inner drive to grow and evolve into ever more refined expressions of divinity. The One manifests, not only in all its emanations, but also through those emanations as channels: it is within them and yet remains transcendent as well.
If consciousness is the subjective aspect of life in contrast to the objective – everything seen as separate objects – then this consciousness can only be experienced, and no amount of analysis can reveal the soul of Reality. To illustrate: for the ancient Egyptians, their numerous "gods" were aspects of the primal energy of the Divine Mind (Thoth) which, before the creation of our universe, rested, a potential in a subjective state within the "waters of Space." It was through these gods that the qualities of divinity manifested.
A question still being debated runs: "How does the One become the many?" meaning: if there is a God, how do the universe and the many entities composing it come into being? This question does not arise among those who perceive the One to dwell in the many, and the many to live in the One from whom life and sustenance derive. Despite our Western separation of Creator and creation, and the corresponding distancing of God from human beings, Western mystics have held similar views to those of the East, e.g. Meister Eckhart, the Dominican theologian and preacher, who was accused of blasphemy for daring to say that he had once experienced nearness to the Godhead. His friends and followers were living testimony to the spiritual magnetism of those who live the life of love for fellow beings: Johannes Tauler, Heinrich Suso, the "admirable Ruysbroeck," who expressed views similar to those of Eastern exponents of the spiritual path.
In old China, the universe was described as appearing first as qi, an emanation of Light or divine essence sometimes called Tien, Heaven, in contrast to Earth. The qi energy polarized as yang and yin, positive and negative electromagnetism. From the action and interaction of these two sprang the "10,000 things": the universe, our world, the myriads of beings and things as we perceive them to be. In other words, the ancient Chinese viewed our universe as one of process, the One energy, qi, proliferating into the many.
In their paintings Chinese artists depict man as a small but necessary element in gigantic natural scenes. And since we are parts of the cosmos, we are embodiments of all its potentials and our relationship depends upon how we focus ourselves: (1) harmoniously, i.e., in accord with nature; or (2) disharmoniously, interfering with the course of nature. We therefore affect the rest: our environment, all other lives, and bear full responsibility for the outcome of our thoughts and acts, our motivations, our impacts. Matter, energy, space, are all manifestations of qi and we, as parts thereof, are intimately connected with all the universe.
In India, the oneness of life was seen through the prism of successive manifestations of Brahman, the equivalent of what Eckhart called the Godhead. Brahman is the source of the creative power, Brahma, Eckhart’s Creator; and also the origin of the sustaining and supporting energy or Vishnu, and of the destructive/regenerative force or Shiva. As these three operate through the cosmos, so do they also through ourselves on a smaller scale according to our capacity. Matter is perceived to be condensed energy, chit or consciousness itself. A Hindu scripture stated that when Brahma awakened from his period of rest between manifestations, he desired to contemplate himself as he is. By gazing into the awakening matter particles as into a mirror, he stirred them to exhibit their latent divine qualities. Since this process involves a continuous unfoldment from the center within, an ever-becoming, there can never be an end to the creativity – universal "days" comprising trillions of our human years, followed by a like number of resting "nights." We feel within ourselves the same driving urge to grow that runs through the entire, widespread universe, to express more and more of what is locked up in the formless or subjective realm of Be-ness, awaiting the magic moment to come awake in our phase of life.
Tibetan metaphysics embraces all of this in discussing Shunyata, which can be viewed as emptiness if we use only our outer senses, or as fullness if we inwardly perceive it to be full of energies of limitless ranges of wave-lengths/frequencies. This latter aspect of Space is the great mother of all, ever fecund, from whose "heart" emerge endless varieties of beings, endless forces, ever-changing.
Indeed, there is a growing recognition that consciousness is more than another word for awareness, more than a by-product of cellular activity (or of atomic or subatomic vibrations). For instance, Jack Sarfatti, a quantum physicist, has said that signals pul-sating through space provide instant communication between all parts of the cosmos: "These signals can be likened to pulses of nerve cells of a great cosmic brain that permeates all parts of space." – I. M. Oderberg
The Jains consider jivas, the “life” or noncorporeal entity at the heart of every object or being, as endowed with cognition, will, and feeling. Uncreated, and hence indestructible, these souls or jivas manifest in physical bodies in this concrete world, and thus imprisoned they have to depend on the sense organs to acquire knowledge from the objective world. In this way the jiva becomes the enjoyer of the fruits of its good and evil actions, and remains entangled in the cyclings of embodied existence, creating a karmic body which does not leave it until the final liberation of the soul from the bondage of births and deaths.
Pudgala, dharma, adharma, akasha and kala are the five dravyas or "substances" of Jainism, which together are said to produce a harmonious cosmos. In Part I, we have already considered pudgala as primordial matter or the aggregate of atoms. Dharma and adharma are used technically by the Jains, with a peculiar meaning, and should not be confused with the Hindu connotation of righteousness, duty, or their opposites, unrighteousness, etc. In Jain philosophy, dharma means the principle of action. Pervading the whole universe, it is always connected with akasha or space, and is responsible for all the movements in the organic and inorganic spheres. To clarify its true nature, the following illustration is used: although the fish is endowed with the necessary abilities to swim, if there is no pond with water, it cannot do so. The function of dharma is compared to the presence of water in the pond.
Its opposite, , is also a dravya devoid of form. It is the principle of rest and is likened to the branch of a tree on which a bird can perch when it wishes to stop its flight. Dharma and adharma are not causal, but rather non-operative conditions which allow motion and rest; yet the latter are determined by the jivas or ajivas which possess the intrinsic potency to move or rest. As said, they are non-atomic and non-corporeal states invisible to the senses, and are co-extensive with akasha or space. According to Jainism, without these two principles the world would disintegrate without form or order into infinitesimal atoms, into chaos without the systematic constitution of the cosmos. Among Indian philosophers, only the Jains expounded these two categories of motion and rest.
Akasha dravya or space is the category which gives accommodation to the others. It is infinite in extent and divided into two: the space which encompasses the visible universe with all its jivas and ajivas, and the space which may be termed the void or the beyond. The last dravya is kala or time, without which the change which everything in the universe undergoes in the course of evolution and involution cannot be understood.
When jiva (spirit) is dominated by pudgala (matter), it becomes chained to the wheel of birth and death, the process by which each individual attracts to itself the subtle karmic molecules which shroud its pure, intrinsic intelligence (atman). When the jiva realizes its true nature, it immediately resolves to extricate itself from the bonds of this karmic body. By practice and discipline, meditation and austerity, the aspirant begins the upward march, and his attention is concentrated on destroying the accumulated karma of the past. When at last the spirit is free from the shackles of matter, it rises naturally to higher realms and abides in its inalienable state of infinite bliss, infinite wisdom, infinite power and eternal peace. In this manner every jiva has the potential of becoming an omniscient jina or “conqueror.”
There is no room in this thought system for the introduction of an artificial creator who is responsible for the creation of the universe. We are the creators of our own selves. Even the tiniest atom is itself a universe of life. Mahavira pointed out that myriads of tiny microscopic jivas exist within an atom and that the whole world of life is struggling for final emancipation from the domination of matter.
Jains were the first to attempt a scientific study of ancient biology. They regarded even the plants as having souls, and classified them as one-sense jivas. They described the universe as a unity in multiplicity. Spirit and matter, though opposed to each other, are coexistent eternal categories that can never be totally destroyed, for while there may be impermanence of external forms, the substantiality of matter per se never undergoes destruction.
The Jains have two different codes of ethics, for laymen and monks. To realize final emancipation or nirvana, first and foremost, householders and ascetics must both adhere to the rules of ahimsa or non-injury, and then the three jewels: right belief, right knowledge, and right conduct. These virtues should be practiced simultaneously as one follows the path which leads to ultimate liberation. A more rigorous code of disciplinary ethics is prescribed for monks and nuns.