Theosophy | METAPHYSICS AND ETHICS – II, by Raghavan Iyer

Tat tvam asi

   Despite its contempt for metaphysics and for ontology, materialistic science is honeycombed with metaphysical and contradictory implications, and even its “atoms” are “entified abstractions”. “To make of Science an integral whole necessitates, indeed, the study of spiritual and psychic, as well as physical Nature.” But although real science is inadmissible without metaphysics, and those scientists who trespass on the forbidden grounds of metaphysics, who lift the veil of matter and strain their eyes to see beyond, are “wise in their generation”, H.P. Blavatsky declared towards the end of The Secret Doctrine that the man of exact science must realize that

   he has no right to trespass on the grounds of metaphysics and psychology. His duty is to verify and to rectify all the facts that fall under his direct observation; to profit by the experiences and mistakes of the Past in endeavouring to trace the working of a certain concatenation of cause and effects, which, but only by its constant and unvarying repetition, may be called A LAW. . . . Any sideway path from this royal road becomes speculation.

The Secret Doctrine, ii 664

   It is a sign of advance that scientists today are less given than their predecessors in the latter half of the nineteenth century to “metaphysical flights of fancy”. Bad metaphysics is clearly worse than none. On the other hand, as modern psychology becomes less materialistic and as race evolution proceeds, a greater appreciation of the higher intuitive and cognitive capacities will emerge and may enable the most intuitive scientists to venture more effectively into metaphysics.

It is, therefore, necessary for students of Theosophy to see the fundamental difference between what goes by the name of metaphysics and has rightly become suspect today, and the “metaphysics, pure and simple”, with which The Secret Doctrine is concerned. We cannot, however, grasp the metaphysics given in Theosophical teachings unless we perceive its close and inseparable connection with Theosophical ethics. We are told in The Secret Doctrine that the “highly philosophical and metaphysical Aryans” were the authors of “the most perfect philosophical systems of transcendental psychology” and of “a moral code (Buddhism), proclaimed by Max Müller the most perfect on earth”. Without a proper understanding of Theosophical psychology and the teachings regarding the nature and constitution of man and the working of karmic law, we cannot appreciate the metaphysical basis of Theosophical ethics or the ethical significance of Theosophical metaphysics. Hence the importance of a careful study and application, from the first, of the Ten Items from Isis Unveiled or the Propositions of Oriental Psychology, and of the Aphorisms on Karma by W.Q. Judge. Until this is done, we cannot begin to see the ethical import of the statements in The Secret Doctrine or the metaphysical basis of the statements in The Voice of the Silence and Light on the Path.

We are told explicitly in The Secret Doctrine that “to make the workings of Karma, in the periodical renovations of the Universe, more evident and intelligible to the student when he arrives at the origin and evolution of man, he has now to examine with us the esoteric bearing of the Karmic Cycles upon Universal Ethics”. Our ethical progress depends on an increasing awareness of the “cycles of matter” and the “cycles of spiritual evolution”, and of racial, national and individual cycles. The kernel of Theosophical ethics is contained in the statement that “there are external and internal conditions which affect the determination of our will upon our actions, and it is in our power to follow either of the two”. This contains a great metaphysical and psychological truth, which is illuminated by the seminal article on “Psychic and Noetic Action”, written, late in life, by H.P. Blavatsky, the Magus-Teacher of the 1875 cycle.

Theosophical ethics is in the end no easier to understand properly than Theosophical metaphysics. It can no more be grasped by the mentally lazy than Theosophical metaphysics can be comprehended by the morally obtuse. There is nothing namby-pamby about Theosophical ethics and it is as fundamentally different from conventional ethics as Theosophical metaphysics is from conventional metaphysics. Just as modern metaphysics is a shadowy distortion of archaic metaphysics, modern ethics is a sad vulgarization of the archaic ethics taught by the early religious Teachers of humanity. It is to be welcomed that more and more questioning people today are less and less prepared to accept blindly conventional ethical codes merely because they are traced back to so-called scriptural revelations, just as they have little use for the metaphysical speculations of even the formidable minds of the past. If the ethical nihilism of today is even more repugnant to the Theosophist than sterile positivism, he would do well to regard both as the karmic price we have to pay for the moral and metaphysical dogmatism of the past.

Although we may talk of Theosophical metaphysics and Theosophical ethics, and classify texts broadly under these heads, we must get beyond the conventional distinction between metaphysical and ethical statements and grasp central concepts, such as Dharma and Karma, which are protean in scope and profound in content, and incapable of being regarded as purely metaphysical or exclusively ethical. It is significant that the supposedly anti-metaphysical and superbly moral teaching of the Buddha was centred in the complex concept of Dharma rather than in Brahman or moksha, in the stern law of moral compensation and universal causality, rather than in a conception of infinite Deity constructed by the finite mind of man or in any notion of salvation or redemption which caters to the spiritual selfishness of the individual.

In the European tradition, a natural reaction to theocentric systems of thought was the Cartesian affirmation of the autonomy of the individual in relation to knowledge and the later Kantian proclamation of the autonomy of the individual in relation to morality. The Theosophist, however, holds to the Pythagorean and ancient Eastern maxim that man is the mirror and microcosm of the macrocosm. It is in this context that he must evolve from egoism to egoity, from personal self-love to individual self-consciousness, which is impossible without a heart-understanding of the Law of Universal Unity and Moral Retribution. The close connection between metaphysics and ethics in Theosophy is ultimately based on the workings of Universal Law, which affects the exact and occult correspondences between the constituents of man and of the cosmos. This ancient doctrine of correspondences has been ignored by modern metaphysicians and moralists, but it was known to modern mystics and poets from Boehme to Swedenborg, Blake to Baudelaire.

Hermes, May 1975
Raghavan Iyer

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