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Studies in The Secret Doctrine
[First Series] 

by B. P. Wadia 

© 2001 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet Malmö 

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WE have made more than one reference to absoluteness of knowledge as distinctive from its relativity. The Absolute as a basic fundamental, as a positive principle, still remains an unsolved conundrum in western metaphysics and philosophy. As a prefix ”absolute” is used to denote that aspect which is other than all covered by the term relativity; but even in this the nature of the differences which exist is more than verbal. Ours is not a philosophical age, and ordinary folk are apt to use terms and expressions very loosely, thus the confusion of debate growing worse confounded.

As an expression, ”Absolute Knowledge” is bound to confuse students. In The Secret Doctrine, the term Absolute is used as a Fundamental Principle, which is beyond all pairs of opposites and is not one of any pair. It is neither rest nor motion, neither light nor darkness, neither spirit nor matter, neither being nor non-being. It is therefore neither knowledge nor nescience. As the Commentary quoted clearly shows: ”The Absolute is not to be defined, and no mortal or immortal has ever seen or comprehended it during the periods of Existence. The mutable cannot know the Immutable, nor can that which lives perceive Absolute Life.” (Vol. II, p. 34.) Therefore, when we speak of Absolute Knowledge, we do not mean knowledge of or about the Absolute; nor do we imply the knowledge hidden in the Absolute; nor Knowledge which is Absolute Beness. Of that Absolute-Beness-Knowledge-Nescience it is futile to talk; from that ”all speech with the mind turns away, unable to reach it,” as the Taittiriya Upanishad has it; all that we can say of That is, ”Naiti, naiti,” ”not this, not this”–

”Who asks doth err,
Who answers, errs. Say naught!”
The Secret Doctrine accepts the relativity of the universe of phenomena.
Everything is relative in this Universe, everything is an illusion. But the experience of any plane is an actuality for the percipient being, whose consciousness is on that plane; though the said experience, regarded from the purely metaphysical standpoint, may be conceived to have no objective reality. But it is not against metaphysicians, but against physicists and materialists that Esoteric teachings have to fight,... (Vol. I, pp. 295-296.)
This universe of phenomena, illusions, maya, is the universe of relativity. Mathematicians and metaphysicians, however, posit a universe other than and beyond that of relativity and which is sometimes mistaken by Theosophical students for the Absolute of The Secret Doctrine. This other universe, as opposed to and distinct from that of relativity, is the world of noumena, of unity of ideas, of things-in-themselves, about which we have been speaking. The Absolute is neither the universe of noumena nor of it; nor is It the universe of phenomena or of it; – THAT is above and beyond and behind absoluteness and relativity, of knowledge, of ethics and of everything else.

The worlds of noumena and of phenomena constitute a pair like spirit-matter, light-darkness, day-night, rest-motion, cause-effect and all others, and they are aspects or phases in manifestation which enable us to posit the Absolute-Beness. Knowledge-nescience is also one such pair.

In the condition of pralaya ”the seven ways to bliss were not” and ”the seven sublime lords and the seven truths had ceased to be”; [S.D., Vol. I, p. 27.] at the dawn of Manvantara the ”Primordial Seven, the First Seven Breaths of the Dragon of Wisdom” [S.D., Vol. I, p. 31] take their place in manifestation. Thus knowledge as a factor in manvantaric manifestation and pralayic rest is recognized by The Secret Doctrine.

We must be clear in our grasp of the fact that Absoluteness of Knowledge is not knowledge of the Absolute. Absoluteness of Knowledge spoken of in modern philosophy and metaphysics (e.g., ”Absolute Ethics” of Herbert Spencer in his Data of Ethics), is not the Absolute of The Secret Doctrine. Absoluteness of Knowledge is what is described in The Secret Doctrine as Dzyu, and its ”antithesis is Dzyu-mi, that which deals with illusions and false appearances only,” [S.D., Vol. I, p. 108.] which is what we term relative knowledge.

In considering the double aspect of knowledge we referred to the world of Unity of Pythagoras, to that of Ideas of Plato, to that of Things-in-themselves of Kant. In the very nature of things relativity of knowledge implies a plurality of worlds, two of which modern philosophy accepts, if not for purposes of practical application, at least for those of speculation and debate. These are the worlds (1) of senses and sense-impressions, and (2) of mind and understanding. The inter-relationships of these two worlds – which one gave birth to the other, which is of more value to the advancement of knowledge, in the processes of experience, for the growth in learning, etc. – are all subjects of vital interest; but while these problems are being discussed and the worlds of sense- and mind-phenomena are being investigated, the world of noumena has ceased to exist for scientist and philosopher alike as far as practical application is concerned. We must leave them to settle their differences as to the relative values of senses and reason. In their exact wisdom they have not even approached the point which the Stoics had reached when Carneades attacked them with his persistent criticism. In establishing the criteria of knowledge the Stoics and their opponents sometimes forgot and more often misunderstood the world of noumenon. What has been twenty-four centuries ago again is and the depth reached is a profounder one, such is the mysterious recurrence of ideas in civilizations, especially in our Kali Yuga. As men return to earth they are accompanied by their thoughts and arguments. From the world of relativity to the world of relativity they ever go.

Let us turn our thoughts to the absoluteness of knowledge and the world of noumenon. Pythagoras conceived the Unity underlying diversity and the knowledge of that Unity was the objective of those who were guided by his wisdom. Following him, Plato described the World of Ideas from which all forms proceed. These two, we are informed, were initiated into ”perceptive mysteries,” and while the influence of the former on European civilization is not so well known as that of Plato, we must not overlook the fact of Pythagoras being the Father of European Esotericism. The abstruse metaphysics, the philosophy of numbers, the science of music and forms, the symbolism of virtues, forces and gods, which Pythagoras taught in the silence of the sanctuary, have naturally escaped the attention of the concrete mind of the race to which we belong. Plato, however, fortunately for the West, does not share the same fate and his influence on European civilization has not only been immense and lasting but is also traceable and recognized.

”Out of Plato come all things that are still written and debated among men of thought,” wrote Emerson, an intuitive seer greatly influenced by Asiatic and especially Indian thought. Kant's world of things-in-themselves, Spencer's Absolute Ethics as distinguished from relative ethics, are the outcome of the influence which Plato's Ideas exerted and still continue to exert on modern thought.

For the old Grecian Sage [Plato] there was a single object of attainment: REAL KNOWLEDGE. He considered those only to be genuine Philosophers, or students of truth, who possess the knowledge of the really-existing, in opposition to mere objects of perception; of the always-existing, in opposition to the transitory; and of that which exists permanently, in opposition to that which waxes, wanes, and is alternately developed and destroyed.
[ H.P.B. in Lucifer, July, 1892; see THEOSOPHY, Vol. V., p. 105, January, 1917.] 
The Secret Doctrine teaches that all phenomena are rooted in noumena. Every phenomenon has its noumenal counterpart. The entire phenomenal world is a reflection of the noumenal world. The world of noumena is the world of Pythagorean Unity which underlies all diversity of the world of phenomena; nay, makes it possible. It is the world of Platonic Ideas from which all forms in the world of phenomena proceed. It is the world of Kant's Things-in-Themselves which makes possible the world of things-as-they-seem, i.e., phenomena.

The knowledge of this world of noumena is the Absolute Knowledge referred to above – spoken of as Dzyu in The Secret Doctrine. The knowledge of the world of phenomena is relative and is spoken of as Dzyu-mi in The Secret Doctrine. We want to understand the World of the Real, the world of Dzyu.

The Theosophical teachings about planes, worlds, globes, and spheres, have been often misunderstood. Tendencies begotten of theological creeds and beliefs are inherent in most of us and these unconsciously to ourselves color our imagination, our image-making faculty, which is an aid in our understanding of Theosophical truths about worlds – physical, psychical, spiritual. We are very apt to picture hell beneath our feet and heaven on the other side of the blue sky though we name them Kama-loka and Devachan. Our theological and Theosophical geographies get mixed. Next, our scientific education inoculates us with the serum of materialism and although we do not know it we have a strong tendency in the direction of materializing Theosophical teachings, so that we may be ”able to sense the meaning of it all,” as people so often put it. Metaphysical concepts are not to be sensed – they cannot be seen either by telescope or microscope; they have to be conceived in the womb of mind and what is conceived must be reflected upon. The conception of truths followed by a reflection upon them are two definite steps in the process of understanding Theosophical teachings. Reflecting upon what is conceived is a difficult practice; conceiving is a process which involves the thinker and his instrument of thought, the man and his mind, and it produces a definite relationship between them. Conception takes place in the womb of mind and reflection is the energizing power of the man himself, who feeds, nourishes and sustains what has been conceived.

We have thought it necessary to digress a little and refer to this because we are aware of the difficulty in the way of the earnest student of The Secret Doctrine. Its teachings cannot be sensed – that is, that part of our cerebral hemisphere which learns from impressions from without and by its powers of co-ordination of impressions makes sense out of it all, if used in grasping of the Secret Doctrine truths, is bound to materialize and thus distort them. Many so-called Theosophical teachings are such materializations and distorted materializations at that. In the case of worlds and planes, globes and chains of globes, such materializations tinged with theological complexes have produced geographical localities, measured and mapped, minutely described, whose inhabitants are classified according to the color of their astral-skins (named auras) and who live in purgatory and paradise. The metaphysical concepts of states of consciousness and subjective processes which take place therein are misunderstood and wrongly explained. Let us not forget that that is not the Path of Wisdom which takes us from matter physical to matter super-physical, but that is the true one which takes us from matter to spirit, from form to life, from consciousness to self-consciousness, from self-consciousness to All-Self-Consciousness.

With this necessary warning, let us proceed with our study.

There are two worlds – the world of noumenon and that of phenomena. Theologians, scientists and philosophers from time immemorial have classified and explained them in many ways, sometimes rightly, more often incorrectly. Mystics, occultists and Theosophists of all ages and every clime have solved their mystery and have taught in parables and by emblems and symbols the earnest in heart and mind.

The principle underlying this teaching is clearly set forth in the following:

Two contrary Forces ... transfers Kosmos from the plane of the Eternal Ideal into that of finite manifestation, or from the Noumenal to the phenomenal plane. Everything that is, was, and will be, eternally IS, even the countless forms, which are finite and perishable only in their objective, not in their ideal Form. They existed as Ideas, in the Eternity, and, when they pass away, will exist as reflections. (Vol. I, p. 282.)
A footnote to the above says:

Occultism teaches that no form can be given to anything, either by nature or by man, whose ideal type does not already exist on the subjective plane. More than this; that no such form or shape can possibly enter man's consciousness, or evolve in his imagination, which does not exist in prototype, at least as an approximation.
Now, Theosophy or the Wisdom-Religion, has divided the world of phenomena in seven divisions, each of which is a counterpart-reflection of the world of noumena. These seven divisions are further subdivided by seven in almost endless directions. Let not the student be disturbed by the presentation in The Secret Doctrine of classifications which are other than sevenfold. While emphasizing and adhering to the sevenfold scheme of manifestation and evolution, the book examines other schemes and systems, points out their errors or their merits and unveils truths, half-truths and falsehoods.

The world of noumena may be described as the subjective aspect of the world of phenomena which is objective. The chief characteristic of the former is its basic and fundamental unity, as diversity is that of the latter. Many similar things are reflections of the same being, just as many thoughts flow from a single ideation. These two worlds are not geographical areas, one lying within or above the other. An insignificant-looking but important footnote says:

A world when called ”a higher world” is not higher by reason of its location, but because it is superior in quality or essence. Yet such a world is generally understood by the profane as ”Heaven,” and located above our heads. (Vol. I, p. 221.)
The world of noumena, of unity, of ideas, of things-in-themselves, and that of phenomena, diversity, forms and things, are like spirit-matter: the latter does not exist without the former. Even a short reflection on the following extract will reveal the true relationship subsisting between them:

The life-principle, or life energy, which is omnipresent, eternal, indestructible, is a force and a PRINCIPLE as noumenon, atoms, as phenomenon. It is one and the same thing, and cannot be considered as separate except in materialism. (Vol. II, pp. 672-673; also compare Vol. I, p. 177.)
There are two conditions or states at every point of space and at every second of time throughout manifestation and they are designated worlds. The term plane is often misused and the impression is given and accepted by many that a plane is a material locality, while, truly speaking, it is a state of consciousness. If we keep this explanation in our thoughts, the true meaning of the two worlds of noumena and phenomena will become clear. Reaching or living in the world of noumena, therefore, is a condition of consciousness to be realized, not a movement in matter. The two states – noumenal and phenomenal – are everywhere present all the time.

Just as the Absolute is sometimes spoken of for purposes of explanation as the World of the Absolute, so also the world of primal subjective differentiation is described as the archetypal world in and from which all beings and all things are conceived and formed.

Some confusion exists in the minds of many students because the world of noumena is sometimes spoken of as the archetypal world. That expression has been used in more than one sense, and it is necessary in the pursuit of our study to clear our minds of that confusion.

The archetypal world is an expression of Platonic philosophy – the world as it exists in the mind of the Deity. [Cf. S.D., Vol. I, p. 200.] The world, the mind and the Deity are different aspects of one and the same Principle-Substance. The Deity conceives in Its mind a world by reflecting Itself therein. Deity is the creator, Its mind is the retainer, sustainer, preserver, of ideas or archetypes which are objective (or a world) to their creator. This mind of Deity which holds in its embrace the ideas is the first Mother – the primal womb, in which the Father begets the Son – the world. The son has in him embedded father-mother; the mother has in her womb father-son; the father has in his ideation mother-son. The world has in it embedded the Deity and Its mind; the mind has in its womb the Deity and the world; the Deity has in Its ideation Its mind and world. The archetypal world is the world in which the three states or conditions or planes manifest and are still one.

A note of warning and explanation as to the word mind, in the expression, ”the world as it existed in the mind of the Deity”: Elsewhere, for instance in one of the most important passages in Vol. I, p. 328, a different terminology is used. In passing we may point out that Cosmic Ideation, Cosmic Energy and Cosmic Substance correspond to Deity, mind and world of the equally important footnote on p. 200 of Vol. I.

This world in the mind of the Deity, this cosmic substance which is energized by cosmic ideation, is the world of noumena, in which inheres, in which lives, the world of phenomena, in its abstract and archetypal aspects.

In Shankara's metaphysical system of thought Ishvara, Shakti and Maya are the Deity-Father, Mind-Mother and World-Son. As our Theosophical students are more familiar with the Gita let us draw their attention to the seventh discourse, where Sri Krishna (Deity-Father-Ishvara) speaks of His dual nature – inferior and superior – and describes the latter as the ”womb” in which ”creation springs” (Mind-Mother-Shakti) and the lower, the source of matter (World-Son-Maya). This latter is Mulaprakriti as the higher (Mind-Shakti) is the ”Daiviprakriti, the Light of the Logos” of which The Secret Doctrine speaks ever and anon. It is also Fohat and the female-side of manifestation, Virgin who becomes Mother and yet remains Virgin. It is Sophia wedded to Theo, Bodhi wedded to Bodha, whose progeny is the Christ and the Buddha, the Anointed One and the Enlightened One. This digression has been necessary in our attempt to show how the world of noumena – archetypes – is the world of Absolute-Knowledge and enables us to draw the logical conclusion that the world of phenomena gives knowledge which is relative.

We need not attempt here to expound and discuss or describe and explain the origin of this world or state; nor to compare and differentiate between the first, or World of the Absolute, and the second, or archetypal world. We must leave the student to study the teachings and see the picture which emerges from the diagram and description on p. 200 of Vol. I. Suffice it to point out that the archetypal world mentioned in the diagram is not the world of noumena – the archetypes of which we have been speaking. That world is the second of ”the three higher planes of the Septenary Kosmos”; and that brings us to the second meaning of the expression, archetypal world. The builders build models after the patterns in the mind of the Deity. The world of models is also the model world; it is made up of models and is in itself the model of succeeding worlds in or on which forms succeed models. This model world is called archetypal world and all models on it or in it are called archetypes. The same footnote quoted above speaks of ”a world made as a first model, to be followed and improved upon by the worlds which succeed it physically – though deteriorating in purity.” The diagram on the same page indicates the position of this archetypal world.

The relation existing between these two, the first of which we shall call the noumenal world and the second the archetypal world, will become clear to the thoughtful student of the following extracts:

For, as soon as DARKNESS – or rather that which is ”darkness” for ignorance – has disappeared in its own realm of eternal Light, leaving behind itself only its divine manifested Ideation, the creative Logoi have their understanding opened, and they see in the ideal world (hitherto concealed in the divine thought) the archetypal forms of all, and proceed to copy and build or fashion upon these models forms evanescent and transcendent.

At this stage of action, the Demiurge is not yet the Architect. Born in the twilight of action, he has yet to first perceive the plan, to realise the ideal forms which lie buried in the bosom of Eternal Ideation, as the future lotus-leaves, the immaculate petals, are concealed within the seed of that plant.... (Vol. I, p. 380.)
 [Compare also Vol. II, p. 36.]

Many will probably read all that is said with an air of abstraction and regard the noumena and archetypes as cold and distant, and abstruse metaphysical concepts, beyond their mortal minds. Let us try to vitalize them and make them living.

It is said, as above, so below, and to make an application of the axiom would be a profitable task in the study of our subject. Ideas in archetypal regions produce idols in concrete worlds. Tables are seen and used on earth because tabularity exists in its archetypal counterpart. Manifestations on this plane are reflections of their archetypes on a subtler plane. Suicides and murders on the physical plane are symbols of those on higher ones with which ”lost souls” are related; maternal love typifies the compassionate love of the Great Ones for the child humanity; conjugal love represents the union of the lower and higher selves; day and night signify manvantara and pralaya; birth and death indicate manifestation and disintegration of atoms and systems; earthly man stands for Heavenly Man; private societies and secret fraternities betoken the sacred and little-known Brotherhood, as ceremonial entrance into the former copies the Great Initiations in the latter; the frauds and charlatans of Occultism point silently to the existence of the White Magician; and so in all departments and provinces of Nature in an endless range of succession, till we feel overpowered by and bewildered at the plumbless depth and unscalable height and marvelous expansion on every side.


THEOSOPHY, Vol. 11, No. 4, February, 1923, pages 160-167.
(Number 4 of a 25-part series)


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