Theosophy | Metaphysics & Ethics – 1, by Raghavan Iyer

Tat tvam asi

It is natural for us to make a firm distinction between our study and our application of Theosophy, between theory and practice. As a result, we contrast the capacities of the head and the heart, and assume that we seek and secure different kinds of nourishment from The Secret Doctrine and The Voice of the Silence. At the same time, we also know that Theosophy is essentially the Heart Doctrine, distinct from the head-learning with which our world abounds. What is more, the whole purpose of Theosophical discipline is to blend the head and the heart, to broaden our mental sympathies and to awaken and direct the intelligence of the heart. Does this simply mean that we need for conceptual clarity the dualistic view of the spiritual life as long as we remain as inwardly divided as we are, and that this dichotomy is made only so that it may be destroyed as we become rooted in the holiness that reflects an inner wholeness? It is certainly convenient to regard all conceptual distinctions and classifications as mere scaffoldings and to choose the best available at any particular stage of our growth. But in order to appreciate the distinctive significance of Theosophical classifications, we cannot merely regard them like the maps of early mariners, whose explorations needed as well as corrected their initial cartographical knowledge. We need, in fact, to acquire an entirely new and original view of the relation between true metaphysics and enduring ethics and to appreciate the profound epistemological nature and the peculiar therapeutic value of Theosophical statements as indicated in the First Item of The Secret Doctrine.

Metaphysics, as normally understood, is speculative rather than gnostic and is often the product of the propensity to subsume existing knowledge under a complete system, an imposing pattern that is then ascribed to reality with a dogmatism that pretends to a certainty that it cannot possibly possess. It is in accord with cyclic law that this kind of metaphysical system- building is suspect today and has even led to an extremist and naively positivistic reaction among die-hard empiricists. Similarly, ethics, in the everyday sense, consists of injunctions and imperatives that are rarely susceptible of rational enquiry and are either endowed with spurious absoluteness or are regarded as relativist and subjectivist preferences, from which we choose as from a menu. Given the pretentious nature of ordinary metaphysics and conventional ethics, we can understand the insistence of Hume, the sceptical Scot of the eighteenth century, that metaphysical statements are a priori assertions that are incapable of verification, that we cannot logically derive any ethical imperatives either from them or from statements of fact, and that our ethical preferences cannot possess certainty or universality or freedom from arbitrariness. The metaphysical assertion that “X is true or must be true” cannot help us to answer the question “Why ought I to do Y?” It is indeed not surprising that the speculations of most metaphysicians do not give us a basis for moral conduct and moral growth, and that the injunctions of many conventional ethical codes do not have their basis in the moral and spiritual order of our law-governed cosmos.

In Theosophical literature, however, every metaphysical statement has an ethical corollary and connotation, and every ethical injunction has a distinct metaphysical basis. It is impossible to grasp the force of any of the seven paramitas of The Voice of the Silence without a comprehension of the Three Fundamental Propositions regarding God, Nature and Man that underlie the order of reality intimated by the Stanzas of the Book of Dzyan, on which The Secret Doctrine is closely based. Theosophical literature assumes, as shown especially by Light on the Path, the truth and validity of the Socratic axiom “Knowledge is virtue.” For example, to know, with the heart as well as the head, and to be fully aware that the sin and the shame of the world are verily our own must totally transform our actions as well as our attitudes in relation to all our fellow men and also to our own sins and lower self. We cannot rely on that which is not real, in an ultimate and philosophical sense. Theosophical ethics teaches the only possible reliance — on the Divine Ground of all Being and beyond — that is available to those who become aware of the degrees of reality in an ever-evolving universe that is itself only a relatively real emanation from the Eternal Reality. Our conduct consists of emanations that cannot but harm us and others if they are not emanated in the creative and impersonal manner and with the conscious control that marks the ceaseless process of cosmic emanations from a single source — Life of our life, Force of our force. Until we are free from the dire heresy of separateness (attavada), we cannot claim to have grasped the doctrine of samvriti or of the nidanas that teaches us about the origins of delusions and chains of causation. To know is to become, and to become is truly to know.

In an illuminating passage in The Secret Doctrine on the Causes of Existence” and on the Buddhist concept of nidana and the Hindu concept of maya, H.P. Blavatsky said that …

   science and religion, in trying to trace back the chain of causes and effects, jump to a condition of mental blankness much more quickly than is necessary, for they ignore the metaphysical abstractions which are the only conceivable cause of physical concretions. These abstractions become more and more concrete as they approach our plane of existence, until finally they phenomenalise in the form of the material Universe, by a process of conversion of metaphysics into physics.

The Secret Doctrine, i 45

If we consider this even as a logical possibility, then clearly the knowledge of these metaphysical abstractions gained and given by trained Initiates is epistemologically prior to the external order of reality in the material universe. Such metaphysics, the product of intuitive apprehension and capable of patient verification by the extrasensory experiences of independently acting individuals, is different in kind from the speculative metaphysics of the ordinary variety and is more analogous to the methods of investigation of the greatest natural scientists. This is why we are told that   it is difficult to find a single speculation in Western metaphysics which has not been anticipated by Archaic Eastern philosophy. From Kant to Herbert Spencer, it is all a more or less distorted echo of the Dwaita, Adwaita, and Vedantic doctrines generally.

The Secret Doctrine, i 79

The very nature of Theosophical metaphysics is such that we cannot approach it merely with the head, independently of the heart. The purely ratiocinative and intellectualist approach to ordinary metaphysics is itself the result of “the inadequate distinctions made by the Jews, and now by our Western metaphysicians”, so that “the philosophy of psychic, spiritual, and mental relations with man’s physical functions is in almost. inextricable confusion”. Our metaphysical conceptions are clearly conditioned by our own mental development and cannot have the absolute validity that we claim for them. This is especially true of the evolution of the GOD-IDEA. Hence, says Theosophy, for every thinker there will be a “Thus far shalt thou go and no farther”, mapped out by his intellectual capacity.   Outside of initiation, the ideals of contemporary religious thought must always have their wings clipped and remain unable to soar higher; for idealistic as well as realistic thinkers, and even free-thinkers, are but the outcome and the natural product of their respective environments and periods.

The Secret Doctrine, i 326

Not merely does modern metaphysics fall far short of the truth, but even its basic concepts and usages of terms like “Absolute”, “Nature” and “matter” are shallower and cruder than their corresponding concepts propounded by the Theosophical Adepts. Initiation into Theosophical metaphysics is more than an intellectual or moral enterprise; it is a continuous spiritual exercise in the development of intuitive and cognitive capacities that are the highest available to men, a process that includes from the first a blending of the head and the heart through the interaction of viveka and vairagya, discrimination and detachment. Even our initial apprehension of a statement of Theosophical metaphysics involves an ethical as well as mental effort, just as even the smallest application of a Theosophical injunction to our moral life requires some degree of mental control and the deeper awareness, universal and impersonal in nature, that comes from our higher cognitive capacities. Moral growth, for a Theosophist, presupposes the silent worship of abstract or noumenal Nature, the only divine manifestation”, that is “the one ennobling religion of Humanity.”

Hermes, May 1975
Raghavan Iyer

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