The Middle Pillar

The Three Pillars

The three pillars of the Cabala Tree of Life represent the process of manifestation from God to the World, and also the path back. On the principle that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, the Tree of Life also refers to our inner structure.

The right pillar is masculine and the left pillar is feminine. The middle pillar, then, is the reconciling force, as it synthesizes the right and left paths. In the Meditations on the Tarot, Valentin Tomberg refers to four syntheses, represented by the Sephiroth on the Middle Pillar:

  • Malkuth is the synthesis the entire paths in the world of action
  • Yesod is the synthesis of romantic love between the sexes
  • Tiphareth is the synthesis revealed through artistic creativity
  • Daath is the synthesis of Intelligence and Wisdom in the act of knowledge, or gnosis

Daath and Kether

Daath is a crypto-sephirah, that is, it is not one of the 10 sephiroth. That is because it is not given to us by natural birth, but is something that must be created in a second birth. It arises via the synthesis of Intelligence and Wisdom. Tomberg defines it this way:

Daath is therefore the state of consciousness where intelligence and wisdom — acquired and acquirable knowledge, on the one hand, and latent and actualisable knowledge, on the other hand — become one.

Daath Chokmah Binah
Since Daath is the image of Kether, they should not both be represented in the Tree together. Either one or the other is shown. This means that the Sephiroth of Binah and Chokmah, when Kether is omitted, both derive from Daath, as shown in this diagram.

Intelligence

Intelligence is knowledge we acquire about the world. That is why it is feminine, or lunar. It does not provide its own light, but can only reflect on things. Regarding the higher things, it is capable of understanding God as the Absolute and the Infinite, even if those terms are commonly misunderstood. For example, the Infinity of God is often interpreted in mathematical terms, which leads to incorrect ideas.

Through natural intelligence, God can also be known as the First Cause, Unmoved Mover, etc. However, God cannot be known as Spirit, as an “I”. For that, it must be illumined through a spiritual marriage with Wisdom. Our feminine age is overly intellectual and rejects the other ways of knowing that are revealed in the Cabala.

Wisdom

Wisdom represents knowledge that is latent or virtual, and it must be actualized. Man is not a tabula rasa, and is not as malleable as those on the left hand path would like. There is instinctual knowledge, as Henri Bergson points out, that needs to rise to the level of intelligence. There is a nagging forgetfulness, both horizontal and vertical, that must be brought up into the light of consciousness. This vague memory of a different world is what drives the religious impulse. Whatever might seem absurd to natural Intelligence, is actually a natural challenge to the presumed and hubristic superiority of Intelligence. In The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, Bergson explains:

Since instinct no longer exists except as a mere vestige or virtuality, since it is not strong enough to incite to action or prevent it, it must arouse an illusory perception, or at least a counterfeit of recollection so clear and striking that intelligence will come to a decision accordingly. … religion is then a defensive reaction of nature against the dissolvent power of intelligence.

At its best, religion will force the Intelligence out of its box in order to confront something higher. In the synthesis with Wisdom, Tomberg says:

the intelligence unites with and understands things that it would never have understood from within itself. It is therefore “illumined”.

At its worst, this defensive reaction of the instincts may devolve into superstitions and illusions. Practices arise with the aim of producing mere sensory phenomena, which are then misconstrued as spiritual enlightenment. Of course, certain phenomena may arise as side effects, as we see in some saints, but they should never be the primary aim. Tomberg points out that breathing exercises, postures, etc. cannot, on their own, lead to inspiration.

Direction of the Middle Pillar

The directions of the paths of the left and right pillars of the Cabala are downward, whereas that of the middle pillar is upward. The left and right pillars bring divine governance down to the world. Then the synthesis of the two paths results on Malkuth, or the Kingdom. Between the sephiroth of Kether (the Crown) and Malkuth (the Kingdom), there are three levels that represent the soul activities of thinking, feeling, and willing. In the Letter on the Hanged Man, we read:

the normal relationship between thought, feeling and the will for a civilised and educated man is such that his thought awakens feeling and directs the will. Thought plays a stimulating role, by means of imagination, towards feeling, and an educative role, by means of imagination and feeling, towards the will. Having to act. one thinks, one imagines, one feels, and —lastly—one desires and acts.

So, on the left pillar, the organ of thought is the Intellect and on the right, the organ of thought is Revelation. However, looking at the Middle pillar, the place that thought should occupy – namely Daath – is missing. Hence, it cannot be the beginning of the path, but rather the terminus. This is represented by the Hanged Man, where we read this explanation:

For [the “spiritual man”] it is the will which plays the stimulating and educative role towards feeling and thought. He acts first, then he desires, then he feels the worth of his action, and lastly he understands.

This means that on the Middle Path, the return to God, the spiritual man must act first before he fully understands. On the upward path, Will changes from “my will” to “thy will” be done. The will begins in obedience. Ultimately, the path leads to Daath, intuition, gnosis. Here we see the truth of St Augustine’s saying:

crede, ut intelligas

Meeting Notes for 8 May 2017

We discussed the task about moods. For this week, choose any task, e.g., doorways, handling keys, or whatever works. When awareness comes, observe the body for any signs of tension. E.g., in the feet, clenched fists, crossed arms, hunched shoulders, etc. See if the body begins to relax as the awareness is intensified. All that tension throughout the day is not healthy.

It was noted that moods can colour our mentality. We might feel gloomy one day, yet positive another. This rhythm is consistent throughout life. This is a ripple from the Fall of Man: the desire to know good and evil. Hence, we tend to view life from one perspective or another. Thus, we adopt the “original sin” as our own, thus recapitulating the original fall. This is what is meant the Fall being “mythological”: “a symbol expressing correspondences between archetypes in the past and their manifestations in the present”, as described in the meditation on Letter I: The Magician. The way back is the alchemical marriage of opposites, rather than the seesaw effect of our common life.

In relation to the reading, our normal waking state of semi-awareness is like the darkness, i.e., unconscious. The task then is to look for signs of intelligent life in that darkness.

We read about Daath starting on page 506 and ended at page 509 of Meditations on the Tarot with the Third Great Arcanum. Next time, we will continue with the following paragraph about the Second Great Arcanum.

(NOTE about the translation: the word “geniality” is misleading in English, as it does not mean the same thing as its French cognate. It really means something like “brilliant” or ingenious, not being a pleasant person.)

Daath is not one of the Sephiroth, since we are not born with it. It is something that needs to be created, that is, it is related to the second birth. Traditionally, it was called the “intellect illuminated by grace.” Grace actualizes the knowledge of being in the “image and likeness of God”, which otherwise is merely latent. This certainly accords with empirical experience. If we were born with that knowledge, then there would be no denial of God. Compare to our inborn need for food, water, and air.

Daath is the union of intelligence and wisdom. Or the union of discursive knowledge and the revelations known by faith.

It Scholastic terms, there are likewise three stages:

  • Metaphysics: discursive knowledge (i.e., its highest expression), what can be known by thinking, i.e., purely human wisdom.
  • Theology: the knowledge revealed by faith
  • Mystical Theology: the experiential knowledge of God, direct gnosis, beyond both reason and faith.

    At lower levels – that is, what the Kabbalah refers to as worlds – there is a foreshadowing of gnosis in artistic creation and in love between the sexes. Few reach the knowledge of Daath. More – but still relatively few – are able to experience aesthetic ecstasy in great poetry, literature, music or art. Yet, love between the sexes seems within reach for most people, so there is always a desperate and frenzied search for it, even for ersatz imitations of it. If you’ve ever been in love, or experienced sexual pleasure, you know how fleeting it is, or even, unfortunately, how it may devolve into pain.

    Vraiment commencent amours en joie et finissent en douleurs. ~ Merlin

    Imagine, then, how much more satisfying gnosis is.

Prophets of Electrum

Consciousness in man is pre-eminently intellect. It might have been, it ought, so it seems, to have been also intuition. Intuition and intellect represent two opposite directions of the work of consciousness: intuition goes in the very direction of life, intellect goes in the inverse direction, and thus finds itself naturally in accordance with the movement of matter. A complete and perfect humanity would be that in which these two forms of conscious activity should attain their full development. ~ Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

Here is the difference between the nature of intelligence and that of intuition of faith, between the principle of autumn and that of spring. The former is understanding of that which is; the latter is participation in the becoming of that which is to be. ~ Meditations on the Tarot, Letter XVIII The Moon

[There is] a centre from which worlds shoot out like rockets in a fireworks display—provided, however, that I do not present this centre as a thing, but as a continuity of shooting out. God thus defined, has nothing of the already made; He is unceasing life, action, freedom. Creation, so conceived, is not a mystery; we experience it in ourselves when we act freely. ~ Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

According to Valentin Tomberg, one of the tasks of Hermetism is to accomplish the alliance of intelligence and the intuition of faith—the alchemical marriage of the moon and the sun. Another way to put it is to obtain the alloy of silver and gold, which is called Electrum. Although some have come close to this ideal, it is a task still incomplete. Tomberg mentions several thinkers who have come close; these we will call the Prophets of Electrum.

At the top of those prophets is St. Thomas Aquinas whose thought is silvered gold. More common is gilded silver as expressed by Origen, Dionysius the Areopagite, Jacob Boehme, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, Vladimir Solovyov, Nicolas Berdyaev, Henri Bergson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The importance of Thomas Aquinas cannot be overestimated, even for Hermetists. The raison d’être of scholasticism is the union of faith and intelligence. Following his conversion to Catholicism, Tomberg wrote his graduate thesis on International Law from a Thomist perspective, so he is quite familiar with his work. Tomberg offers this insight, describing Thomism as the combustible that, when enflamed, gives rise to contemplation (given the influence of John of the Cross, we can assume this is the fruition of personal experience):

St. Thomas Aquinas was not the only one. Just as he arrived at contemplation through scholastic reasoning, so did the peak of the scholastic wave reach gnosis [mystique], that is to say, intuition or the state of union of faith and intelligence, which is the aim of scholasticism. A Meister Eckhart, a Ruysbroeck, the Admirable Doctor, a St. John of the Cross are in fact spirits amongst whom you will search in vain for a spirit of opposition to scholasticism. For them also it was true that scholasticism was “like straw”, but they knew at the same time from their own experience that this straw is an excellent combustible. They certainly surpassed scholasticism, but after having attained its aim. For the aim of scholastic effort is contemplation, and it is gnosis [mystique] which is the fruit of the scholastic tree. ~ Valentin TombergLetter XIX The Sun

I have written about Nicolas Berdyaev here. For a brief summary of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, see The Hidden Tradition. For Jacob Boehme, see Christian Gnosis: Jacob Boehme. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is the scientist who approaches the ideal. He restored the subjective element to scientific objectivity, in his claim that there is an “inside” as well as an “outside” to everything. Any complete understanding of the world process needs to take that into account. I was astounded by the novelty and originality of The Phenomenon of Man when I read it several decades ago; I wish I could recapture that experience.

Although Tomberg writes extensively about Henri Bergson, I’d like to add a little more background. Finally, I’ll conclude with the influence of Vladimir Solovyov which, I believe, provides a view into Tomberg’s motivation.

Henri Bergson

Henri Bergson’s philosophy was born in the atmosphere of French spiritualism, a form of idealism prominent in Italy and France at the time. One influence, for example, was Emile Boutroux who in the Contingency of Physical Laws, claimed that life, feeling, and freewill need to be part of any understanding of Physical Laws. He rejected determinism, and instead claimed that natural laws as a sort of “habit” of things: what originally was also able to be a free act, in repeating itself, automatizes, and mechanizes itself and ends up appearing to be a necessity. A fortiori, this applies to human beings, who cannot be determined by environment, race, etc.

Bergson married a cousin of Marcel Proust and his brother-in-law was Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, a founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Although born Jewish, Bergson felt closer to Catholicism, which he regarded as the fulfillment of Judaism. He never officially converted, however, because of the rise of National Socialism.

Although from a strictly logical point of view, his philosophical system can be refuted. The Church even banned his books. Rene Guenon, too, was critical of Bergson. However, that is not the Hermetic reading of Bergson, which is more concerned with Bergson’s insights than its logical presentation. Any useful critique of his thought would have to advance the alliance of intelligence and intuition. The standard critiques remain on one or the other side of that alliance, and therefore fall short of what is necessary.

In Bergson’s view, the intellect treats matter as inert, and is unable to discern the life that animates it. It chops Being up into pieces, so that “whatever is fluid in the real will escape it”. We see this starkly in the abortion debate: science cannot determine when “life begins in the womb”. The intelligent course of action in this case would be to admit that shortcoming of “science” and rely on one’s intuition. That seldom happens, so the modern world loves death and sterility.

Solovyov and Egyptian Theosophy

In a footnote to Lecture Six of Divine Humanity, Vladimir Solovyov informs us:

Although the close inner connection between Alexandrian theosophy and the Christian doctrine is one of the firmly established theses of Western scholarship, for one reason or another, this perfectly correct thesis does not enjoy common acknowledgement in our theological literature. Therefore, I consider it necessary to devote to this question a special appendix at the end of these lectures, where I will touch upon the significance of the native Egyptian theosophy (the revelations of Thoth or Hermes Trismegistus) in its relation to both the doctrines mentioned.

Unfortunately, this pregnant quotation is the theological equivalent of Fermat’s Last Theorem, since the promised appendix was never published. This section will try to begin the proof. First of all, the two doctrines in question are the dogmas of the Logos and the Trinity. These doctrines were developed metaphysically by Egyptian Neoplatonists from Philo to Plotinus independent of Christian revelation. What Christianity brought was the revelation that this divine life appeared as a fact, as an historical reality. Only later was this fact connected to Neoplatonic metaphysics. Now we see how Solovyov became a prophet of Electrum, uniting the intuition of faith with the intelligence of metaphysics.

So, how does this relate to Valentin Tomberg? In a lecture Inner Impulses of Evolution, Rudolf Steiner mentions Solvyov in relation to Ernest Renan and David Strauss. Renan wrote a Life of Christ that presumes that Jesus was simply a man living in Palestine at a certain historical time. Hence, he strips out all supernatural and miraculous elements from the Gospels.

Strauss’ Life of Christ, on the other hand, wrote from the perspective of Jesus’ followers. The miracles, for example, were mythical, i.e., creations of the early Christians to express their developing conception of Jesus. Since Strauss was a Hegelian, he did not deny spiritual reality in itself. Steiner interprets Strauss like this:

As Strauss sees it, in the course of mankind’s earthly development, from the times of the first beginnings of the earth to its final end, mankind has and always will have a higher power in it than the merely external power that develops on the physical plane. A power runs right through mankind that will forever address itself to the super-earthly; this super-earthly finds expression in myths. We know that man bears something super-sensible within him that seeks to find expression in myth since it cannot be expressed in external physical science. Thus, Strauss does not see Jesus in the single individual, but rather the Christ in all men.

Solovyov, on the other hand, focuses on Christ rather than Jesus, but on Christ as a living being, not as a Straussian abstract idea. Steiner describes it this way, perhaps with some exaggeration:

When we come to Soloviev, behold, Jesus is no more, but only the Christ. Nevertheless, it is the Christ conceived as living. Not working in men as an idea, with the consequence that its power is transformed in him into a myth, but rather working as a living Being who has no body, is always and ever present among men, and is, in effect, positively responsible for the external organization of human life, the founder of the social order.

Steiner’s lecture made quite an impression on the young Tomberg, who was inspired to study Solovyov in depth. Tomberg describes that encounter:

A result was the conviction that this author had never encountered a work written before the time of Rudolf Steiner that contained such a profound concept of the nature and mission of Jesus Christ, a view presented against the background of cosmic history.

The obvious question is how did Solovyov arrive at such a deep understanding. This perplexed Tomberg, since Solovyov certainly did not argue himself into his understanding, despite presenting his understanding in a logical way to others. Solovyov does mention three divine experiences of Sophia, including one in the Egyptian desert. We don’t know exactly what he was doing in Egypt, but we do know that Solovyov had become quite familiar with both the Kabbalah and Hermetism. He regarded Paracelsus, Boehme, and Emmanuel Swedenborg as “substantial individuals”. He was also familiar with Johann Gichtel, so he would have known of Gichtel’s correspondence of the chakras with the planets.

So we can read the Letters on the Tarot as the promised appendix to Divine Humanity. Tomberg explains in the foreward:

these Letters are intended only to serve, to sustain, and to support the Hermetic tradition — from its first appearance in the epoch of Hermes Trismegistus, lost in the remoteness of antiquity and become legendary

 

The Descent into Hell

Since the Fall, Earth’s karma is death. Everything we do will result in decay, disappointment, or death. It is a common misunderstanding that the ancients believed the Earth to be a privileged place, at the centre of the universe. That is not true. Esoterically, Earth not centre of universe, but rather quite far from God. It is separated from it by the hierarchy of angels, the astral layer and the planetary layers. Moreover, Earth is closest to Hell, located at its very centre.

Knowing this, the secular world dares not to hope for more. On the contrary, the world worships death and sterility. It denies that human life is breathed into matter by a living god. Rather, it claims that the human spirit spontaneously arises from matter. Its goal is the creation of a golem, the artificial man. It wants to overcome death by technology, like the Frankenstein monster. Ultimately, the goal is the replacement of human beings by androids as though, somehow, a soul will spontaneously arise out of electronic circuitry and Python code. Only mechanical and logical memory matter, as there is not even an awareness of moral and vertical memory.

That is the world Jesus is incarnated into.

The Death of Jesus

The incarnation must include death as the end of life. However, although death is a fact, it is not a positive principle willed by God. The spirit cannot die, so it is more appropriate to refer to death as “dormition”.

Since Jesus is not subject to Adam’s curse, his death is voluntary. Death did not end his earthly ministry; the time of the entombment is analogous to the Sabbath rest. Since his death was voluntary, i.e., not necessary, it is thereby sacrificial and redemptive.

Human death is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body. The animal soul does not possess immortality, so, at death, the soul receives the life principle from the spirit. Yet is also retains the possibility of death due to sin. Without the body, the soul is mere potency, so it becomes petrified, retaining what it accumulated during life. This is illustrated in the novel Laurus:

Arseny’s soul wanted to touch Ursina’s soul … Get used to separation, said Death, it is painful, even if it is only temporary. Will we recognize each other in eternity? asked Arseny’s soul. That depends in large part on you, said Death: souls often harden during the course of life and then they barely recognize anyone after death.

That is, the soul has forgotten its life. In the Meditation on the Arcanum of Death, this is related to the loss of mechanical and logical memory. To the extent that the soul, during its life, had a strong moral memory, the soul will not have become so hard. Thus, the soul can either burden the spirit after death or else leave it free for its postmortem being. Death is the entry into the spiritual world, so it is both initiatic and cathartic. As such, it is not just a punishment, but also a blessing.

As Hermetists, we desire initiation while alive, understanding initiation as the entry into the spiritual world. This is facilitated through “vertical memory”, “which links the plane of ordinary consciousness to planes or states of consciousness higher than that of ordinary consciousness”. It provides us with the certainty of God and the spiritual world.

Christ experienced this human death. The cry of “into thy hands I commend my spirit” refers to the separation of the body from the spirit. The body was then buried in the cave. In the postmortem state, Christ descended into Hell. Hell referred to the postmortem state of all human souls before Christ; this is the case not just in the Old Testament, but also in paganism.

Of course, hell is not a “place” in the sense that Ohio is a place, so the descent was not a movement from one place to another. Rather, it is the movement from one state of being to another. Since Christ’s divine nature never separated from this human nature, his ministry continued after death, including to those who had previously died. Like the two thieves, there are two possible destinies for those souls in hell: continuation in hell or else in paradise.

Even though Christ’s body was incorruptible, it was nevertheless a real experience of death. This is revealed by the descent into hell, i.e., the separation of the soul from the body. Death was voluntary, and that is why it had to be an unnatural death, viz., death by execution.

The Possibilities

If our karma is death, we must learn to act without concern for results. That is, the act may not bear fruit right away, not until certain obstacles will have fallen away. There is the tendency today to expect instant results, irrespective of the karmic possibilities, or the facticity, of the moment. If we believe that death has been overcome, we can be assured that “everything sown in the field of death will rise again one day” [~ Valentin Tomberg]


References
Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God: The Death of Christ and His Descent into Hell
Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot: Letter XIII Death
Eugene Vodolazkin, Laurus

Death and Resurrection

Amen, amen I say to you, you shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. ~ John 1:51

The revelation of the spiritual world in death is the greatest joy and an ineffable triumph for all those who, in this life, yearned for this spiritual world from which they had been exiled. But death is an inexpressible horror, anguish, and torment for those who did not want this spiritual world, did not know it, rejected it. ~ Sergius Bulgakov

Fall

Before meditating on the seven stages of the passion, we should, as the Meditations suggest, first clarify the story of Creation and the Fall. Then the meaning of Redemption can be understood in the context of the restoration of the state of being prior to the Fall. The Fall is an historical event, although not an empirical event. That is, there is no physical or archeological trace of it, but just a nearly forgotten memory that sometimes intrudes into consciousness.

Because of the lack of a corporeal body, the fall of the angels was conscious, deliberate, and self-willed. The demons are pure evil, revolt against God. The effects have been a perversion of creation, as the demons interacted with the world. They brought a sickness into creation, affecting the natural, the animal, as well as the human world.

Adam and Eve, before the Fall, were aware of living in God’s presence and the angels “ascending and descending”. Nevertheless, they have their “own” world over which they were given dominion. In some ways, this world seems to persist apart from God so that God has become today, if at all, a matter of faith. Since man had tasks to perform, he was not complete.

So even though there was the possibility of believing in a world apart from God, the Fall of man did not originate in his own consciousness, but rather from an external source. This was the whispered temptation of the serpent, itself a result of the Fall of the angels. Nevertheless, unlike their Fall, man’s Fall was not the result of a fully conscious rejection of God. Rather it was the result of deception, gullibility, and misunderstanding.

First there was the subtlety of the serpent’s deception and the naïveté that believed it. The misunderstanding was that knowledge could be achieved horizontally within the world (eating the fruit of the tree) without reference to any higher world. Man then came to know good and evil, i.e., a mixture: he was no longer fully good, yet he was still not fully evil.

The consequence was that the awareness of God and the spiritual world because obscured. The “garments of animal skins” refers to a densification of human existence. The center of gravity of the soul life descended in the direction from the spirit to corporeality.  This new center was in the lowest three chakras, i.e., the animal life of man’s soul. These centers represent:

  • Fear, anxiety, worry, and shame
  • Sexuality, sensuality, and an attachment to the glamour of the world
  • Hunger, the desire to take

This can be verified by meditation on the Creation and Fall. As we learned in the Letter on the Magician, Adam and Eve are archetypes, which “manifest themselves endlessly in history and in each individual biography”. Thus it becomes a matter of remembering what had been forgotten.

Death

So now we can understand the purpose of death. The only way back to the awareness of higher worlds is total separation of the soul from the body, so it can reunite with the spirit. Obviously, this is what we call “death”. It is a harsh measure, yet the only effective option.

At death, the soul carries with it all its experiences of life, its acts and omissions, its sins and merits. It will become aware once again of the spiritual world and will know Christ as judge. It will then understand its life in its wholeness. Of course, an effort at that self-understanding should be made part of our spiritual task, in preparation for death.

If the soul’s mystical union with God is forgetting of the phenomenal world and recollection of God, death is simultaneously the call from above and forgetting what is below. As such, death is more like a dormition, a leaving behind of earthly life in anticipation of a return. The soul becomes the new body of the spirit, sort of an “astral” body. Yet the soul is also the form of the corporeal body, so at some point it will be the form of another corporeal body, a resurrection body.

The Redemption, then, aims at the elimination of death as the path of return to the state prior to the Fall.

As a reminder, these are the seven phases of the Passion. The meditations will being with the “washing of the feet”.

  1. Washing of the feet
  2. The scourging
  3. Crown of thorns
  4. The way of the cross
  5. The crucifixion
  6. The entombment
  7. The resurrection

Washing of the Feet

for some the superman has more attraction than the Son of Man, and because he promises them a career of increasing power, whilst the Son of Man offers only a career of “foot washing” ~ From Letter VII, The Chariot

Several years ago, at a Maundy Thursday mass, I was selected as one of the men whose feet would be washed by the priest. In my meditations, the memory of that event came back to me. I recall that I felt quite awkward and embarrassed. I was slow getting my sock and shoe off, forcing the priest to wait. The experience was unpleasant.

Like Adam and Eve, who felt ashamed in the presence of God and had to cover themselves, I likewise felt ashamed in baring my foot. Yet, if one’s whole being – spirit, soul, and body – is to be redeemed, then Christ has to descend all the way down to the feet. It is one thing to illumine the intellect or the heart, another one to bring it down to the feet, i.e., all of terrestrial life. In an early work, Valentin Tomberg explains:

The general effect of meditation consists in the fact that what is spiritual in a human being descends … into the human personality… Just as Christ bowed down before his disciples and washed their feet, so in every meditation the angel bows down and washes the feet of the meditator.

Once again, we “see” the angels ascending and descending.


References:
Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot
Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb
Valentin Tomberg, Inner Development

Stages of Hermetic Meditation

The Aim of Meditation

In the Letter on the Fool, we learn that Christian meditation pursues the aim of deepening the two divine revelations:

  • Holy Scripture
  • Creation

Ultimately, this will awaken a consciousness and appreciation of Christ’s work of Redemption. Hence, our meditation will lead to contemplation of the seven stages of the Passion. That task will be a follow up to this essay.

Sacrifice

To understand the Redemption, it is first necessary to start with understanding the cosmic significance of the idea of Sacrifice. In the Letter on the Emperor, we learn of two sacrifices:

  • Creation is a sacrifice: to allow freedom
  • Incarnation is a sacrifice: the fact of freedom

Creation is effected by a divine contraction and by voluntary divine powerlessness, which is akin to crucifixion. Freedom is the key to understanding Providence in history. On the one hand, without freedom, God would be a “divine tyrant”; yet on the other hand, because of man’s freedom, God’s power may be falsely doubted. Tomberg summarizes it:

God is all-powerful in history inasmuch as there is faith; he is crucified insofar as one turns away from him.

The fact of freedom led to the Incarnation. The sacrifice is not limited to the cross, since the Incarnation itself was a sacrifice. Sergius Bulgakov in Sophia: The Wisdom of God describes it this way.

Christ underwent all the limitations and infirmities of human life. He was subject to every human propensity: he experienced hunger and thirst, exhaustion, grief, temptation. … The agony [of the cross] provides clear evidence at once of the reality of his human nature and of the depth of his self-abasement.

Moreover, his understanding of man’s nature was not sugar-coated as it so often is today. Christ was fully aware of the human race living in spiritual darkness with stupidity, weakness, sloth, lust, injustice, disease … in short, sin. This was accompanied by the awareness of God’s wrath. Bulgakov concludes:

in his human nature the representative human feels the force of the sin of the whole world pressing upon him, the horror, for the one sinless being, of contact with sin, and of the justice of God outraged thereby.

Stages of Meditation

Tomberg describes three stages of meditation, above our ordinary waking consciousness. These stages, in a sense, correspond to the four levels of interpretation of sacred writings. These are summarized in the following table:

Stage Object Experience Interpretation
Objective Consciousness External images and sounds Sensory phenomena Literal
Imagination Concentration on an inner image Perception of spiritual phenomena Allegorical
Inspiration Inner silence, listening Spiritual communications Moral
Intuition Beyond words and thoughts Spiritual identification Anagogical

In our ordinary state of objective consciousness, we learn the faith through sensory images and hearing. Exoteric faith is learned through images such as icons, statues, stained glass, art work, and the like. It is also taught by an authority.

Imagination

The beginning of meditation is our imagination (which Tomberg also calls “vision”) by which we try to concentrate on interior images. We try to visualize the events, perhaps even placing ourselves in them. Tomberg describes this as augmenting our experience. Objective consciousness is passive in respect to experiences, but the imagination is active. This may lead to the perception of spiritual phenomena, as described by several saints and venerables. Anne Catherine Emmerich and  Maria d’Agreda have been such visionaries.

St. Francis de Sales describes this stage as the mind meditating on a subject with the aid of the imagination and discourse or reasoning.

Inspiration

In inspiration, we try to quiet the mind, listening silently. Whereas imagination requires effort, this stage is the beginning of concentration without effort. In silence, the gifts of understanding or wisdom may be received. Ideas or dogmas that seemed to be difficult to understand begin to make sense. Sometimes, issues in your own life will be cleared up. You may find that things “just happen” favourably. Not necessarily in your material life, but more so in your spiritual life, as one depends more and more on this for moral guidance.

Intuition

At the stage of ordinary consciousness, the source of knowledge or faith is from beyond one’s own being. Even at the stage of imagination, the images are still in a sense external, as something the I actively creates and envisions. There is still some of that in inspiration, although the process is passive rather than active; the source is beyond the I. In other words, there is the I, or Self, confronting an experience, whether sensory or spiritual.

In the stage of intuition, however, all images, words, and thoughts are relinquished. This may even feel like a “dark night”, a time of abandonment.  The consolations of spiritual visions and communications seem to disappear. That is because the I itself must go. It is not a matter of a new and elevated experience, but rather a transformation of one’s very being.

Tomberg gives us the example of St Paul on the road to Damascus, to illustrate the three stages of vision, inspiration, and imagination:

  • Vision: He had the vision of Christ
  • Inspiration: He received communication
  • Intuition: No longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me

Purgation of the Senses and the Spirit

Given the importance of St. John of the Cross in the Meditations, it is worthwhile to learn from him. On the path to the Unitive Way, two conversions are necessary based on the purgation of the senses and the purgation of the spirit. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” (Luke 10:27) According to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange in The Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life, this requires loving God for His own sake, not from self-interest or attachments. To love God with your whole mind means that your love is not affected by the ebb and flow of our experiences. This awareness will counteract the feeling of abandonment on the way to Union.

Hermetically, the path through the stages of mediations involves an alchemical transformation of the spirit, soul, and matter. This transformation is summed up by this pattern:

  • From the state of primordial purity before the Fall
  • To the state after the Fall
  • To Reintegration

Hence, there are a series of meditations suggested by Tomberg, that start by meditating on the state of primordial purity, concluding ultimately on the meditation on the Passion. This is the proposed sequence of meditations:

  • The seven days of creation
  • The seven stages of the Fall
  • The seven miracles of St. John’s Gospel
  • The seven “I am” sayings of Christ
  • The seven last words of Christ
  • The seven stages of the passion

The third stage is reached following the understanding of the Passion and then the Resurrection. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange summarizes the stages, based on the three conversions of the Apostles:

  • First Conversion: They became disciples of the Master, attracted by the sublime beauty of His teaching.
  • Second Conversion: This came at the end of the Passion, which had enabled them to divine the fecundity of the mystery of the Cross, enlightened by the Resurrection which followed it;
  • Third Conversion: It filled them with the profound conviction of this mystery. This resulted in a complete transformation of their souls.

The events of the Passion that are fruitful for meditation are these:

  1. Washing of the feet
  2. The scourging
  3. Crown of thorns
  4. The way of the cross
  5. The crucifixion
  6. The entombment
  7. The resurrection

A more detailed examination of each of these will follow during the week.

Epilog on Love

The Scripture readings for Quinquagesima Sunday illustrate the first and third conversion. The Gospel was about the blind man by the side of the road (Luke 18:31-43) St. Gregory the Great understood this as an allegory about the human race, which was in a state of darkness following the Fall, but then came into the light.

The other text was from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the famous sermon on Love, or actually on Charity. Everyone seems today to know what love is, without realizing how difficult it is, what is worth loving, or even how to go about loving. Charity means “love” in the sense of the commandment to love God and your neighbor as yourself. As such, charity is the goal, not the beginning. The gifts of the Holy Spirit lead to Charity. It requires understanding and wisdom to know what to love. It takes strength to love in the face of adversity. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange sums it up like this:

It is impossible to have a high degree of charity without having at the same time and in a proportionate degree the gifts of understanding and wisdom, gifts which, together with faith, are the principle of the infused contemplation of revealed mysteries.

Moral Logic

Meeting notes for 13 February 2017.

In Letter XXI The Fool, the idea of moral logic comes up again. In particular, it is contrasted with formal logic and organic logic. Assuming that formal logic starts with the head, or intellectuality, moral logic makes sense primarily for those whose head and heart are united. In an intriguing re-reading of Immanuel Kant, Valentin Tomberg interprets the critiques as a spiritual path to move from formal to moral logic. He explains:

it was not a logical conclusion or an argument of discursive thought which gave Kant certainty of God, freedom and immortality, but rather the real and intimate experience that he had when he practised his transcendental method. This latter evidently proved itself to be an authentic spiritual exercise, which led Kant to arrive at experience of the kernel of his being—just as Descartes arrived there—and from which he drew the threefold certainty: the reality of God, the reality of moral freedom and, lastly, the reality of the soul’s immortality.

The following chart summarizes the three logics.

Logic Matter Critique
Formal Quantity Pure Reason
Organic Function Judgment
Moral Values Practical Reason

Pure Reason

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant starts with the premise that knowledge begins with sense experience, which is enhanced with formal logic. The conclusion reached is that this methodology cannot lead to knowledge of the “real” world, but only to knowledge of the appearances of the sensual world. That is, the “noumenal” world that is the substrate to the phenomena is opaque.

In ordinary life, our thinking is directed toward objects, people, circumstances, events, etc., around us. What Kant did was to make thought itself the object, i.e., thinking about thinking. Kant’s method, according to Tomberg, is the philosophical equivalent of the Hermetic method described in the Letter on the Moon, but this is not the place to discuss that.

What Kant discovered is that thought imposes its own a priori categories onto its understanding of the world. Normally, we don’t realize that, since the image of the world arises spontaneously in consciousness. This is how we experience the phenomenal world of nature, beings, artifacts, and all material things.

The situation is exacerbated with regard to the non-material world. When it comes to our relationships to other people, to society, to a political system, or to God, our thought again creates a representation. In analogy to our experience of the phenomenal world, these representations likewise seem to appear spontaneously in consciousness. Hence, we tend to take them as real pictures of others, society, politics, religion, etc. They are actually just points of view, part of samsara. Now there are everywhere lively debates about which worldviews are better, or a higher stage of development, and the like, but these are all relative. The Hermetic task does not give us a “better” point of view. Rather, we try to transcend such points of view. Hence, we do various attention exercises to bring some detachment from our thinking.

In the most consistent and extreme forms of formal logic, there is even the denial of consciousness itself. Mental events are considered to be mere epiphenomena of biochemical processes in the brain. Of course, this would mean the destruction of all human life, so no one really lives as though that were true.

Judgment

There are two fundamental barriers to higher thought from formal logic:

  1. It is deductive, so that everything must follow from first principles. The conclusion is hidden in the premises, so there is no space for novelty or creativity, beyond discovering new principles to explain “what is”. Deduction does not go anywhere, so the idea of purpose has no meaning.
  2. It is quantitative, not qualitative. Hence, there is the tendency toward the rejection of hierarchy in favor of egalitarianism. Human differences are denied.

Of course, the laws of thought make it difficult to hold such views consistently, but serious thinkers manage to do so. Kant noted four aesthetic judgments: the agreeable, the beautiful, the sublime, the good. The “agreeable” is also known as the infamous facebook “like”, which made Zuckerberg wealthy. It is ubiquitous since most people will make judgments based on whether they “like” something or not, whether it brings pleasure or not. The ability the judge the beautiful, the sublime, and the good accurately is much rarer.

However, for organic logic, teleology is the more appropriate concept. For Kant, there are things (e.g., living beings) “whose parts exist for the sake of the whole and the whole for the sake of the parts.” Formal logic wants to treat the parts as identical and interchangeable.

In the Letter on the Moon, we read about David’s census of the Israelis and again of the census of Caesar Augustus. These enumerations treat human beings as inanimate things. It ignores that people have different functions and roles within a society. That is the predominant view today, since differences in people are held to be merely cosmetic.

It is said that the Kali Yuga will be an era of undifferentiation in which distinctions will be harder to maintain. Organic and objective distinctions are giving way to subjective preferences.

Practical Reason

Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence. ~ Immanuel Kant

If pure reason, as reflecting on thought is lunar, then moral logic is solar; formal logic is cold, moral logic introduces warmth. So when Kant turns his attention away from the external world, and focuses it on his own existence, he is beginning the process of uniting the head and the heart. There he becomes aware of the “categorical imperative”, i.e., the moral law written in his heart.

The categorical imperative is an unconditional moral obligation. Kant’s formulated it in the maxim, “act as though your action should be an universal law.” It also implies that others should never be treated merely as means, but as ends in themselves. Moreover, the categorical imperative is self-imposed, and not imposed by force from the outside.

Tomberg does not regard this as mere theory, since he claims that “moral logic is the human analogy of the Logos that enlightens every man.” Moreover, that means the categorical imperative is the “divine image” in man. This is the same as Dharma in Hinduism.

The spiritual experience of moral logic postulates the existence of God, free will, and the immortality of the soul. This is not a logical or scientific proof. Tomberg explains:

What are initially postulates of moral logic are confirmed, amplified and deepened through spiritual experience, which will not hesitate to come to the aid of thought, when head and heart are equally engaged. Because moral logic is the language of the spiritual world, and to make use of moral logic is to begin a dialogue with the spiritual world. For the latter does not remain mute and indifferent when addressed in its own language.

Ultimately, moral logic is the “logic of faith, i.e., thought which participates in revelation.”

Christianisation of Mankind

We read that the fusion of intellectuality and spirituality is the germination of the Christic seed in human nature and consciousness. This Christianisation of mankind is not merely quantitative, but means the qualitative transformation of human nature and consciousness. This will work itself out in conformity with this law:

Aspiration and general languor—the culmination of success in an individuality—a general diffusion over a number of generations. That is, the climate of general expectation leading to the particular realization, which then becomes general.

This aspiration is not necessarily explicitly Christian, since the Hindus expect the Kalki Avatar and the Buddhists expect Maitreya. In an individual, the realization will require the fusion of prayer and meditation. This Buddha-Avatar will not operate solely on the material plane. Rather, as it was pointed out last night, it must also take place on the etheric and astral planes. Ultimately, the teaching will be for the “I”, the consciousness of one’s own existence as it was for Kant. Yet, it will not be a new or novel teaching or religion. Tomberg explains it this way:

The mission of the Buddha-Avatar to come will therefore not be the foundation of a new religion, but rather that of bringing human beings to firsthand experience of the source itself of all revelation ever received from above by mankind, as also of all essential truth ever conceived of by mankind. It will not be novelty to which he will aspire, but rather the conscious certainty of eternal truth.

The Man of Heart

Being the meeting notes from 6 February 2017.

We discussed our experiences with the prayer of the heart. If it is difficult to bring attention to the heart, then the hands or another external body part can be used. The question arose about the meaning of attention “on” the heart. Patricia suggested that it actually means to bring attention “in” the heart. In other words, the heart becomes the center of awareness, not the object of awareness.

The Law of the Heart

In the Meditation on the Hermit, we come to see that the heart is where “contemplation and will are united, where knowledge becomes will and where will becomes knowledge.” It is important to keep in mind that the “heart”, in this context, does not at all signify the centre of emotions and passions as it does in the popular imagination. Rather, it is the middle centre, or chakra, of man’s psychic and vital constitution. It does signify “love” however, making it the most human of the centers. “Knowledge” is what man knows, “will” is what a man can do, but “heart” is what he is.

The great work of the man of heart is the transmutation of the substance of other chakras into the substance of the heart. It was mentioned in the meeting that Seyyed Nasr wrote that the heart is the only organ that connects the human state to a transcendent state. This notion is confirmed by Valentin Tomberg when he explains that the heart, alone of all the centres, is not attached to the organism. Hence, it can go out of the organism and live.

The Planets and the Chakras

The heart, as the central chakra, is therefore the “sun” of the microcosm. Oscar Hinze, in his book Tantra Vidya, shows that in the ancient esoteric astronomy, the traditional planets correspond to the chakras of Tantra Yoga, in short, the macrocosm corresponds to the microcosm. Moreover, he shows how similar ideas were part of the progress of initiation in Mithraism. But, even more interestingly, Hinze notes that the mystic Johann Gichtel, a student of Jacob Boehme, was aware of the same correspondence as revealed in his book Theosophia Practica. The following table shows the correspondences. The table also includes the “I am” saying associated with the chakra, and the transformation that occurs with its awakening, as described in the Letter on the Hermit.

Chakra and Planetary Correspondences
Chakra Planet Transformation I am
Sahasrara
8/1000 petals
Saturn Abstract and transcendent wisdom → Full of warmth like the fire of Pentecost The resurrection and the life
Ajna
2 petals
Jupiter Intellectual initiative → compassion-filled insight into the world The light of the world
Visuddha
16 petals
Mars Creative word → magical: illumining, consoling, healing The good shepherd
Anahata
12 Petals
Sun Love → Exteriorisation of love. The bread of life
Manipura
10 petals
Venus Science → conscience The door
Svadhisthana
6 petals
Mercury Center of health → holiness, i.e., harmony of spirit, soul, body The way, the truth, and the life
Muladhara
4 petals
Moon Creative force → source of energy and élan The true vine

7 centers of energy
Remarkably, Gichtel claimed to have discovered the subtle centers in the body and their correspondence to the planets through his own contemplations and experience. In the Tantric system, each chakra is represented by a lotus with a unique set of petals. Hinze demonstrates that the number of petals corresponds to the “gestalt number” of each planet. These numbers are derived from the way the ancient astrologers experienced the sky. For example, the gestalt number of the Moon is 4, which represents its phases. Hence, the Muladhara chakra has four petals.

In the chart, the column labeled “Transformation” shows the changes that occur when the chakra is transformed by the heart. The column labeled “I am” shows Jesus’ “I am” saying that is associated with each chakra.

Waking Up

When the chakras are asleep a man becomes dominated by instinctual life, motivated by fear (muladhara), sex (svadhisthana), and hunger (manipura), interspersed with random eruptions from higher chakras. Another way of saying this, following Gichtel’s diagram, is that the human being is under the influence of the planets, hence subjected to sponaneous forces beyond his knowledge and control.

So the obvious question is how to “awaken” the higher chakras. That puts us in a bind, since Hermetism rejects any mechanical process or technique to do so. By analogy, we can look at how you wake up from a night’s sleep. Who is doing the awakening? Commonly, it may be the result of an outside stimulation, or enough it comes about after a “crisis point” in a dream.

So, analogously, we could say that “waking up” into a higher state of consciousness are reaching certain “crises”, as described in the Letter on the Tower of Destruction. Such a crisis may result from either an internal or external event. Example, perhaps, are the boundary situations described by Karl Jaspers, which often arise from chance, traumatic events. Of course, the Hermetist may choose boundary situations deliberately, by meditating on a particular topic. Perhaps, in this case, a meditation on one of the “I am” sayings would be helpful. I think it is a bit of a mystery for the “sleeping” person to try to wake up. All the forces that lead to that, need to be encouraged. Ultimately, it is a matter of grace from above.

The Christianisation of the Chakras

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (II Corinthians v, 17)

Valentin Tomberg mentions the traditional Tantric method of awakening the chakras through their corresponding mantras: Om, Ham, Yam, and so on. That will awaken the chakras as they are. The Hermetist, however, has a different aim: the Christianisation of the centres, i.e., their transformation in conformity with their divine-human prototype. In other words, the aim is to make of oneself a new creation. The corresponding “I am” saying can be used as a mantra in the process of the Christianisation of the chakras.

The Christianisation of the inner organization is the transformation of the human being into a man of heart. The heart is the third, or neutralizing, force mediating “knowledge” and “will”. This leads to three transformational moments.

Intellectual intuition Feeling for truth Subordinate spontaneous movements of thought as well as the directing intellectual initiative to the heart of thought
Moral intuition Feeling for beauty Subordinate both spontaneous imagination and actively directed imagination to the direction of the heart
Practical intutition Feeling for good Subordinate spontaneous impulses and designs directed from the will to the feeling of practical intution

Note that there are two stages of subordination to the heart:

  • Spontaneous arisings
  • Directed mental activities

We have dealt with spontaneous arisings extensively in the past. We have noticed that, in our normal waking state—which is usually far from fully conscious—thoughts, images, and impulses spontaneous arise, most often in a very negative way. We have used them as “crises” to lead to a moment of awareness, since they need to be brought under conscious control. In the past, we have used the exterior parts of the body, e.g., hands, feet, etc., as our objects of concentration and attention. Perhaps, now, we can begin to bring attention to the heart rather than a body part.

Next, there can be deliberate and consciously directed thoughts, images, and plans. Those are recognizably human activities since they are self-directed and self-willed. However, for them to be Christianised, then they, too, must be subordinated to the heart.

The goal of the Christianisation of the centres is to transform the human being into a man or woman of heart.


Scientific Postscript

Although secular science is not the last word for us, it should not be surprising to learn that the heart has neurons. The HeartMath Solution, by Doc Childre and Howard Martin develops the idea of the heart as the central intelligence of the body. We do not consider this a “proof” for the man of heart, but an effect. Nevertheless, some of you, perhaps in the healing professions, may be interested in such topics. The downside is that, like all new age teachings, it sees the “knowledge of the heart” strictly in instrumental terms, as the means to an end, be it inner calm, physical health, treatment for psychological problems. We, on the other hand, consider becoming a man or woman of the heart is an end it itself.

Prayer of the Heart

Meeting notes for 30 January 2017.

Br. Erik initiated a discussion on the Prayer of the Heart based on the essay Essence of the Prayer of the Heart. It is recommended that this be part of your daily prayers and meditations. Christians can recite the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The author, Olga Louchakova, points out that the prayer of the heart is also part of other traditions; so non-Christians can find their own mantra.

To do the exercise, place your attention on the prayer while reciting it interiorly. Simultaneously, keep attention on the body. Ultimately, attention will be placed on the heart, specifically the upper right ventricle. In the interim, keep attention on another body part, e.g., the hands. It may be of interest to refer to the insights of Oscar Hinze regarding the Heart Chakra.

There are several points in Letter XXI that can be discussed for next time, beginning on page 613. The most important, of course, is the role of Christ. He is neither an Avatar bringing a Divine message down to mankind, nor a Buddha, who rises up from the human condition. According to Tomberg, Christ brought not just a divine birth but also a divine death, an expiatory sacrifice. This leads to the idea of an alchemical transformation of the world, not merely liberation from it.

Jesus Christ is the complete unity of intellectuality and spirituality, which is the “germination of the Christic seed in human nature and consciousness.” Tomberg calls this the Christianisation of mankind, by which is meant “a qualitative transformation of human nature and consciousness”. It is possible that Tomberg here is a bit too sanguine, even if a Bodhisattva comes to save us.

The reference to St. Ignatius of Loyola is intriguing, since he maintained “a perfect equilibrium between the world of mystical revelations and the world of human tasks and actions”. That is a useful model to follow.

Tomberg makes a fruitful distinction of three levels of logic.

  • Formal logic deals with logical and mathematical relationships based on quantity while ignoring the qualitative aspects. This is what is meant by logic today in academic circles.
  • Organic logic takes functional differences into account. For example, people cannot be treated as though they were identical hydrogen atoms or mathematical points. Rather each one has a functional relationship to a larger whole.
  • Moral logic goes beyond the preceding two to the realm of values and qualitative differences. A postulate of formal logic is that “you cannot derive an ‘is’ from an ‘ought’”. Moral logic approaches it a different way: Given the existence of moral values and duties (‘ought’), what must the world be like (‘is’)? Kant, for example, inferred the existence of God, free will, and the immortality of the soul from his experience of the Categorical Imperative. Tomberg asserts that is simply the divine image in man.

    For those of a philosophical bent, the idea of a moral logic can be found in some recent works, even if not so explicitly stated. John Leslie, in Infinite Minds, basing himself on the Platonic notion of God as the Good, postulates that the cosmos exists because there is an ethical need for it. Thomas Nagel, in Mind and Cosmos, speculates about the nature of a cosmos in which exists a “moral realism”, i.e., an objective moral code.

Finally, Tomberg ends the letter with an extended discussion of prayer and meditation, whose union is the “alchemical marriage”. We began with the prayer of the heart; I hope soon we can consider the Three Conversions in the spiritual life as described primarily by St. John of the Cross. He has a prominent role in the Letters. That will lead to the topic of meditation, particularly what Tomberg writes about the contemplation of the seven stages of the passion.

The Avatar and the Bodhisattva

Whensoever there is the fading of the Dharma and the uprising of unrighteousness, then I loose myself forth into birth. For the deliverance of the good, for the destruction of the evil-doers, for the enthroning of the Right I am born from age to age. He who knoweth thus in its right principles my divine birth and my divine work, when he abandons his body, comes not to rebirth, he comes to Me, Arjuna. Delivered from liking and fear and wrath, full of me, taking refuge in me, many purified by austerity of knowledge have arrived at my nature of being. As men approach me, so I accept them to my love; men follow in every way my path …  ~ Bhagavad Gita

The Incarnations of Vishnu
Historically—according to Valentin Tomberg—the long expected Bodhisattva and Avatar will manifest as one Being. Analogously, that applies to the individual’s inner life. We previously discussed Tomberg’s idea of the Bodhisattva, starting from below; that is, from the full awareness of the human condition. The second part is the idea of the Avatar, that is, a revelation from above. So this week we focused on the Avatar, as described by Aurobindo Ghose. Matthew Smallwood led our discussion.

We started with Chapter XV: The Possibility and Purpose of Avatarhood, from Essays on the Gita. The supreme Divinity becomes manifest within us as Lord of our being and action. This is the “highest secret” so that the Yoga of the Gita is the “highest synthetic and integral Yoga directing Godward all the powers of our being. However, it is not a one way street. Aurobindo explains the two aspects:

For there are two aspects of the divine birth; one is a descent, the birth of God in humanity, the Godhead manifesting itself in the human form and nature, the eternal Avatar; the other is an ascent, the birth of man into the Godhead, man rising into the divine nature and consciousness; it is the being born anew in a second birth of the soul. It is that new birth which Avatarhood and the upholding of the Dharma are intended to serve.

Without this ascent, or second birth, Aurobindo says the true meaning of the Gita is lost:

Otherwise the Avatar idea would be only a dogma, a popular superstition, or an imaginative or mystic deification of historical or legendary supermen, not what the Gita makes all its teaching, a deep philosophical and religious truth and an essential part of or step to the supreme mystery of all, the highest secret.

Moreover, without this ascent, the world process would not be dependent on Transcendence, but would be a mere natural process:

If there were not this rising of man into the Godhead to be helped by the descent of God into humanity, Avatarhood for the sake of the Dharma would be an otiose phenomenon, since mere Right, mere justice or standards of virtue can always be upheld by the divine omnipotence through its ordinary means, by great men or great movements, by the life and work of sages and kings and religious teachers, without any actual incarnation.

While Aurobindo considers Krishna, Buddha, and Christ to be three avatars, Tomberg rejects that idea. Rather, of those three, only Krishna is to be understood as the Avatar par excellence, representing the descent of the Divine. Buddha, then, shows the path of ascent from the human condition until he reached the final stage of liberation, having nothing to do with the “revelation from above by prophets and Avatars”. Jesus Christ represents something higher, the transformation of the world and not just liberation from the world.

Maya

Aurobindo accepts a form of panpsychism, i.e., the position that consciousness exists throughout the manifested world:

nor is Matter anywhere really void of consciousness, for even in the atom, the cell there is, as is now made abundantly clear in spite of itself by modern Science, a power of will, an intelligence at work; but that power is the power of will and intelligence of the Self, Spirit or Godhead within it, it is not the separate, self-derived will or idea of the mechanical cell or atom.

Although the universal will and intelligence draws nearest to the Divine in man, he is only obscurely conscious of that Divinity. That is because:

there is that imperfection of the manifestation which prevents the lower forms from having the self-knowledge of their identity with the Divine. For in each limited being the limitation of the phenomenal action is accompanied by a limitation also of the phenomenal consciousness which defines the nature of the being and makes the inner difference between creature and creature.

The imperfect action of the creature is due to its subjection to the mechanism of Prakriti and its limitation by the self-representation of Maya. Maya is not exactly illusion, since it is “the divine consciousness in its power of various self-representation of its being.” Those unaware of the of the “Divine lodged in the human body” are so because they are subject to the mechanism of Prakriti (“nature”) that deludes the will with desire and bewilders the intellect with egoism.

Avatars and Evolution

Many commentators have pointed out that the ten Hindu Avatars can be read as a parable of the Evolution of the World Process. Rather, it illustrates the process of Involution, that is, the incarnations of the Divine into the world process that manifests as the phenomenal world (the “self-representation of the divine consciousness.” In Letters on Yoga Aurobindo describes this process;

Avatarhood would have little meaning if it were not connected with the evolution. The Hindu procession of the ten Avatars is itself, as it were, a parable of evolution. First the Fish Avatar, then the amphibious animal between land and water, then the land animal, then the Man-Lion Avatar, bridging man and animal, then man as dwarf, small and undeveloped and physical but containing in himself the godhead and taking possession of existence, then the rajasic, sattwic, nirguna Avatars, leading the human development from the vital rajasic to the sattwic mental man and again the overmental superman. Krishna, Buddha and Kalki depict the last three stages, the stages of the spiritual development–Krishna opens the possibility of overmind, Buddha tries to shoot beyond to the supreme liberation but that liberation is still negative, not returning upon earth to complete positively the evolution; Kalki is to correct this by bringing the Kingdom of the Divine upon earth, destroying the opposing Asura forces. The progression is striking and unmistakable.

As for the lives in between the Avatar lives, it must be remembered that Krishna speaks of many lives in the past, not only a few supreme ones, and secondly that while he speaks of himself as the Divine, in one passage he describes himself as a Vibhuti (a descendent of Vishnu). We may therefore fairly assume that in many lives he manifested as the Vibhuti veiling the fuller Divine Consciousness. If we admit that the object of Avatarhood is to lead the evolution, this is quite reasonable, the Divine appearing as Avatar in the great transitional stages and as Vibhutis to aid the lesser transitions.

Vibhuti and Greatness

Why should the Divine not care for the outer greatness? He cares for everything in the universe. All greatness is the Vibhuti of the Divine. ~ Bhagavad Gita

Besides the Avatars, the Divine may also be made manifest as Vibhutis which includes spiritual teachers, prophets, intellectuals, scientists, artists, poets, etc. They are not unlike the Representative Men of Ralph Waldo Emerson, or the Heroes of Thomas Carlyle. Moreover, Vibhutis may not necessarily be of strong moral character, yet are great nevertheless.

A fuller exposition of this idea will be forthcoming.

Spirituality and Intellectuality

The two Aurobindo books have intellectual depth and are worth close study. However, such book knowledge must go hand in hand with spiritual depth. Be sure to continue with daily prayer and meditation, develop consciousness without effort throughout the day, and engage in spiritual combat to guard and purify the intellect and will.

Most on the Hermetic path are following the path of knowledge. Beyond that, there is the possibility of greatness if you develop all your human possibilities.