The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
July 2011 – Vol. 14 Issue 5
Reflected in eye-jewel
– Dragonfly. – Issa
Many summers ago while on vacation I had the privilege of observing an incident that remains in my memory as though it were yesterday and, in fact, the reality of it deepens as time passes. On this particular day everything began as usual. Our son, then eight years old, left early in the morning for his favorite spot where the river, shrouded by the dense growth of willows and cottonwoods, widened into a quiet pool before narrowing into rivulets falling over the rocks. He loved to wade out into the water, pursuing a bullfrog whose loud splash announced its presence nearby; or trying, net in hand, to outwit one of the large dragonflies zooming by in their search for mosquitoes and gnats. Through his interest, many of the denizens of the pond were brought to our attention which otherwise might have gone unnoticed.
Before the heat grew too intense, his grandmother and I went for a walk to see how everything was going. We had just begun to relax and enjoy the restful sound of the river when we heard a cry of delight: "Mother, a dragonfly nymph. It just climbed up on a rock in the sun." A moment later, a more imperative call: "Come, I see two large eyes. It's changing!"
We continued a short distance along the wooded path, and on a rock at the edge of the stream was what appeared to be a lifeless, dark, grubby creature. As we watched, hardly daring to breathe for fear of interrupting this transformation, we observed that through a split in the back, the head of the dragonfly was coming into view; and gradually, deliberately, the whole body emerged, damp and somewhat shriveled. In the warm sun it slowly stretched to its full size, and the wings began to expand. How long we stayed and silently watched, I would not know, for we seemed to have momentarily lapsed into an interlude of timelessness, identifying for a brief spell with a Lilliputian world in which we felt the dragonfly's struggle to be born into a larger realm of air and sunlight. We sensed the perilous nature of the transition, the possible hazards along the way, and marveled at the quiet precision of this "exacting ritual" which must have been going on uninterrupted since the days of the giant coal forests.
We waited until the transition was assured, and then reluctantly left, while the dragonfly completed the final stages of adjustment before beginning its first flight, now prepared with powerful wings and more acute vision to face new and bigger challenges.
As we returned to our cabin, our thoughts were still pondering what we had seen, and we felt a deep joy in having had a share in one of Nature's mysteries. In Tennyson's inspired words:
To-day I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew:
Thro' crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.
The beauty of such an event is that to each one it brings something different, because it expresses the creative force behind manifested existence. To me, this metamorphosis tells of the continuity of all life, the always latent promise of grander fulfillment. How suggestive it all is, and what a parallel with the unfolding human consciousness! This lowly creature, beginning its cycle under water, shedding its skin and changing many times in darkness and confinement, is finally freed: still linked with its watery world, but viewing it from a higher plane, its wings shining like spun gold in the sunlight; its compound eyes catching untold reflections.
A summer's day, a young boy, a pond teeming with lives, and we have the setting for a miniature enactment of a cosmic drama. For an instant thoughts are drawn away from the commonplace into the broad sweep of time: the ephemeral dragonfly, one small facet in the jewel of life, reflecting distant peaks of attainment. Eternity, captured in a "living flash of light." – Ingrid Van Mater
Join us one Tuesday a month for informal conversations exploring major ideas that have influenced human thought and actions through the ages. This month our topic is The Big Bang Theory. We will be discussing such questions as: How did the universe originate? Why does it matter? What are the latest scientific theories and problems in this field? Is modern cosmology science or myth? How compatible is it with older visions of cosmic origins? Why are people so concerned with origin stories? Do these say more about nature or about us? What can we learn from astrophysics that makes a difference in how we live and how we see our world? We hope to see you there!
August 2: Nonviolence: Ends and Means
September: No Meeting
December: Free Will and Determinism
Qabbalah is an ancient Jewish theosophy scrupulously guarded until 1275 when Rabbi Moses de Leon of Spain published a supposedly Aramaic manuscript, soon to be known as Sepher ha-Zohar or "Book of Splendor." Central to the Qabbalah is creation: the out-flowing of divine potency from 'eyn sof, “the boundless,” through a series of ten “numbers” or sefiroth, this process being imaged in numerous ways: as a Tree of Life which took form in an Ideal or Archetypal Man; sparks from the central fire; ten vessels into which the life-stream from ‘eyn sof flows; and still again as a series of concentric spheres.
Even though it is impossible to delineate in symbol how the Eternal Mystery, the One, manifests itself in the Many, the Qabbalist sought again and again to do just this. Well aware that the infinite or boundless has no attributes or finite qualities and therefore cannot be described, the Qabbalistic mind solved the dilemma by envisioning “three veils of negative existence” between the Darkness of utter nonbeing and the Light of the manifested world. Thus we have: (1) 'ayin, “nothing,” pure nonexistence, giving way to (2) 'eyn sof, “no limit, no end,” the illimitable vastness of Space, and from these there burst forth (3) 'eyn sof 'or, “limitless light.” “What is within the Thought no one can conceive, much less can one know the ‘Eyn Sof, of which no trace can be found and to which thought cannot reach by any means. But from the midst of the impenetrable mystery, from the first descent of the ‘Eyn Sof there glimmers a faint undiscernible light like the point of a needle, the hidden recess of thought, which even yet is not knowable until there extends from it a light . . .”(Zohar 1:21a). And “amid the insup-portable brilliance of that mighty light, as it were, the likeness of a head appeareth” – this being the head of Adam Qadmon, the Ideal Man otherwise called Kether (Crown) or Sefirah, the first.
When the Divine wished to send forth a ray from itself through the “closed eye” of ‘eyn sof into the “eye, opened” of Kether, by a mysterious process of will it “concentrated its essence” into a single point. The concentration of power and energy is called tsimtsum, signifying the “contraction” and subsequent expansion characteristic of manifestation. It implies a pressing together of potency into a point of zero. “When the Unknown of the Unknown wished to manifest Itself, It began by producing a point; as long as that luminous point had not gone out of Its bosom, the Infinite was still completely unknown and diffused no light” (ibid. 1:2a). Through tsimtsum, the primordial point expanded, and a second point (“smooth or expanded point”) was produced. There “was an inner light which had no limit so that could be known, its pureness, thinness (subtility) and clearness, until it expanded itself through itself; and the expansion of this point made a palace to envelope that point … and yet it is not so thin (subtile) and clear as that first point, which is hidden and concealed” (ibid. 1:20b). The second point in turn by a continuing process of tsimtsum brought forth the succeeding sefiroth, and a universe of tenfold character unfolded into manifestation. “Come, See! At the time it came up in the Will of the Holy, Blessed be He! to create the world, He brought forth from … the very inner light (of the heart) a knot (or, chain) and lighted (emanated) the darkness from it and let it down Below. The darkness lighted in a hundred different ways and paths, small and great, and made the House (Tabernacle or Temple …) of the world” (ibid. 1: 172a). To the Qabbalist the universe was the outflow and reflection of the supernal will, the living temple of the Concealed of the Concealed which, however unknowable, nevertheless was alive in every point of his creation. Therefore his energies or rays followed definite channels or pathways of circulation, passing into and from each sefirah in turn.
How does this Qabbalistic description harmonize with that of Genesis in the Torah? Standard English translations are deceptive. For example, the first word in the Bible is re’shith (beginning, headship; the most excellent or highest of a series; wisdom) prefixed by the preposition be (in, through; by means of). The beginning of Genesis, then, may quite correctly be translated “by wisdom,” “by means of wisdom,” or “by or in a multitude.” H. P. Blavatsky maintained that: “Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, Chalcidius, Methodius, and Maimonides, on the authority of the Targum of Jerusalem, the orthodox and greatest authority of the Jews, held that the first two words in the book of Genesis . . . mean Wisdom, or the Principle. And that the idea of these words meaning ‘in the beginning’ was never shared but by the profane . . .”
If Torah and Qabbalah have yielded to many little more than the rinds of understanding, it is not the fault of the message. The lack is in ourselves, for gleams from the hidden wisdom of the ages continue to guide the earnest seeker.