A dream, a dream is all our lifetime here! Shadows on wave we toss and disappear; And mark by time and space our weary way, And are, but know not, in eternity!
— Johann Gottfried von Herder 1
Idealists are not starry-eyed folks who live in cloud-land day-dreaming. They live their dream. They are the true romantics, “longing for something non-existent [with] a propensity for dream and vision.” 2
The god or hero of the sculptor is always represented in a transition from that which is representable to the senses, to that which is not. Then first it ceases to be a stone. The same remark holds of painting. And of poetry, the success is not attained when it lulls and satisfies, but when it astonishes and fires us with new endeavours after the unattainable.3
“Did you know that heroes are demigods?” asks Socrates, and then proceeds explaining to Hermogenes that heros is only a mask for eros:
All of them were doubtless generated either from the love of a god towards a mortal maid, or from the love of a man towards a goddess. If, therefore, you consider this matter according to the ancient Attic tongue, you will more clearly understand the truth of this derivation: for it will be evident to you that the word hero [heros] is derived from love [eros], with a trifling mutation for the sake of the name: or you may say, that this name is deduced from their being wise and rhetoricians, sagacious and skilled in dialectic, and sufficiently ready in interrogating; for ειρην is the same as to speak.4
Master KH suggested to AP Sinnett that he might have ended Esoteric Buddhism 5 “with the following lines of Lord Tennyson’s Wakeful Dreamer”:
How could ye know him? Ye were yet within The narrower circle; he had well-nigh reached The last, which with a region of white flame, Pure without heat, into a larger air Up-burning, and an ether of black blue, Investeth and ingirds all other lives. . . . 6
These lines are indeed Tennyson’s; however, they were published under a different title, The Mystic. 1 Whether The Wakeful Dreamer was an earlier title, or perhaps a more fitting description by a Master of Wisdom, it is not known. One thing is certain though, that the Mahatmas or Great Souls portrayed in this poem are wakeful dreamers. They are the Idealists who renounced worldly life and nirvanic rest to save humanity from itself. As Lord Tennyson remarked elsewhere, loss of personal existence is “no extinction but the only true life.” 2 Light on the Path dispels the erroneous and ghastly associations of sacrifice with death and annihilation:
[The Adept] serves humanity and identifies Himself with the whole world: He is ready to make vicarious sacrifice for it at any moment — by living, not by dying for it. 3
By casting aside the transient and the personal, we can all lend a helping hand to each other in any way we can and assist those who “are born along with thee, rejoice and weep from life to life, chained to thy previous actions.” 4 Otherwise, we would have lived in vain. The musings of Blavatsky and Emerson on the Masters of the Eastern Wisdom are illuminating:
Amid the increasing splendours of a progress purely material, of a science that nourished the intellect, but left the spirit to starve, Humanity, dimly feeling its origin and presaging its destiny, has stretched out towards the East empty hands that only a spiritual philosophy can fill. Aching from the divisions, the jealousies, the hatreds, that rend its very life, it has cried for some sure foundation on which to build the solidarity it senses, some metaphysical basis from which its loftiest social ideals may rise secure. Only the Masters of the Eastern wisdom can set that foundation, can satisfy at once the intellect and the spirit, can guide Humanity safely through the night to “the dawn of a larger day.” 5
Great men are thus a collyrium to clear our eyes from egotism, and enable us to see other people and their works. . . . Yet, within the limits of human education and agency, we may say, great men exist that there may be greater men. The destiny of organised nature is amelioration, and who can tell its limits? It is for man to tame the chaos; on every side, whilst he lives, to scatter the seeds of science and of song, that climate, corn, animals, men, may be milder, and the germs of love and benefit may be multiplied.6
Spiritual knowledge can only blossom out from experience. It cannot be bought or learned by rote. The ideals, principles, and virtues of the Great Ones should inform and inspire self-giving action, not vacuous philosophising and dilly-dallying. And since “every action without exception is comprehended in spiritual knowledge,” 1 faith in Self and selfless action nourish the tree of life, the Olympian body of Knowledge. Reliance on the lunar mind for true knowledge is misplaced, subject to doubt, forgetfulness and total loss at death. Those pledged “to live the life prescribed by Theosophy,” 2 by purity and “unhelped exertions,” 3 . . .
They have to bring their Divine Self to guide their every thought and action, every day and at every moment of their lives. A true Theosophist ought “to deal justly and walk humbly.” 4
Duality’s plot, where fact means truth, thickens. In many quarters truth is now degraded to negotiable targets. The list of impulses, which are often mistaken for the Voice of Truth,5 would be incomplete without the siren voices of the desire-mind masquerading as divine inspiration. Blavatsky points out that a serious impediment to spiritual progress is an intellect beset with its own importance and run by cherished passions:
Self-abnegation is possible only to those who have learnt to know themselves; to such as will never mistake the echo of their own inner voice — that of selfish desire or passion — for the voice of divine inspiration, or an appeal from their MASTER. 6
Porphyry refers to senses as “the metropolis of that foreign colony of passions which we contain” 7 and quotes Plato as likening desire-thoughts with psychic nails that pin souls to bodies: “ . . . sense is a nail by which the soul is fastened to bodies, through the agglutination of the passions, and the enjoyment of corporeal delight.” 8
In Apuleius’ Golden Ass, the menacing bandits that Lucius thought he had slayed with his sword, turned out to be three goatskin bags that the sorceress Pamphile had metamorphosed earlier into humans. Photis, Lucius’ lover, teased him: “You laid low your enemies without shedding a drop of blood, so I now embrace not a homicide but an utricide.” 9 How often does the melodrama of this striking incident is relived by those who, in the twilight, have mistaken a coiled rope for a snake? or their shadow for a foe?
There are several good reasons why we, ordinary folks, should remain nonjudgemental. Perhaps the most prosaic is that, so long as personal concerns tarnish impartiality, our judgements are more likely to be wrong than right. Errare humanum est. When even professional judges, who sit on high pedestals presumably to indicate that they are above prejudice, fail to administer justice — despite their mighty powers to probe motives and truthfulness — what chances have we to be fair and impartial in our own verdicts?
The soul, considered as the seat of the passions, is presented in its turn, under the three faculties of the rational, irascible or appetent soul. Now, in the opinion of Pythagoras, the vice of the appetent faculty of the soul is intemperance or avarice; that of the irascible faculty is cowardice; and that of the rational faculty is folly. The vice which reaches these three faculties is injustice. In order to avoid these vices, the philosopher commends four principal virtues to his disciples: temperance for the appetent faculty, courage for the irascible faculty, prudence for the rational faculty, and for these three faculties together, justice, which he regards as the most perfect virtue of the soul.1
What then defiles our judgement and keeps us disunited and disconnected from our companions along the same journey? It is Selfishness, bare Selfishness. So irresistible and bewitching is its glamour that it is often celebrated as “personality” rather than decried. “A man who becomes selfish isolates himself, grows less interesting and less agreeable to others. The sight is an awful one, and people shrink from a very selfish person at last as from a beast of prey.” 2 Selfishness is the outcome of “the great dire heresy of separateness that weans thee from the rest. . . . the heresy of the belief in Soul or rather in the separateness of Soul or Self from the One Universal, infinite SELF.” 3 And it is precisely because we regard ourselves as separate entities that we are not concerned with the woes of others. In this self-imposed isolation, suspicions and doubts prevail. Reason gives away its inherent delusion when trust and faith in our kith and kin are swept aside by the “malignant fever of scepticism.” 4 Yet, of the virtues requisite for the Path of Renunciation, faith ranks highest.
. . . The trunk of the ASHVATTHA (the tree of Life and Being, the ROD of the caduceus) grows from and descends at every Beginning (every new manvantara) from the two dark wings of the Swan [HANSA] of Life. The two Serpents, the ever-living and its illusion (Spirit and matter ) whose two heads grow from the one head between the wings, descend along the trunk, interlaced in close embrace. The two tails join on earth (the manifested Universe) into one, and this is the great illusion, O Lanoo!
— The Secret Doctrine 1
Absoluteness or Parabrahman is the ultimate Unknown and Unknowable to us and even to Itself. 2 It “learns” about Itself by radiating “aspects” of Its essence that fall seed-like from heaven to the delimited intellect of men.
Starting upon the long journey immaculate; descending more and more into sinful matter, and having connected himself with every atom in manifested Space — the Pilgrim, having struggled through and suffered in every form of life and being, is only at the bottom of the valley of matter, and half through his cycle, when he has identified himself with collective Humanity. This, he has made in his own image. In order to progress upwards and homewards, the “God” has now to ascend the weary uphill path of the Golgotha of Life. It is the martyrdom of self-conscious existence. Like Vishvakarman he has to sacrifice himself to himself in order to redeem all creatures, to resurrect from the many into the One Life. Then he ascends into heaven indeed; where, plunged into the incomprehensible absolute Being and Bliss of Parinirvana, he reigns unconditionally, and whence he will re-descend again at the next “coming,” which one portion of humanity expects in its dead-letter sense as the second advent, and the other as the last “Kalki-Avatara.” 3
This continuum of “self-analysing reflection” 4 has been symbolised as a tree upside down: with roots in heaven and branches spreading forth “some above and some below; and those roots which ramify below in the regions of mankind are the connecting bonds of action.” 5 This awe-inspiring journey of Consciousness “through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas, from mineral and plant, up to the holiest archangel” 6 has been made possible by Divine Beings giving up their majesty so that animal men can become gods. Once this profound mystery is understood, Their boundless love will overwhelm the human heart with gratitude and transmute the madness of personal ambition into action for the common good.
Think not the Eternal Good Is measured by man’s rood, His thoughts scanned, as the stars are, one by one; No prophet, saint, or sage Shall sum up Truth, or gauge God’s purpose ripening while the ages run.1
The keynote of the world process is to raise monadic consciousness to higher and higher vistas of self-awareness through a cyclic pilgrimage from a summit of heavenly subjectivity down to the abyss of earthly objectivity and up again — thus giving rise to gyrating cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. Occultism admits neither dead, “inorganic” matter,2 nor death anywhere.3 All is alive, organic, and well. The image of a revolving wheel of birth and death (samsara chakra) is produced by the recurring sacrifice of Spirit so that its soul can “live” in matter, a “birth.” When fulfilment is reached, the soul breaks loose from the clutches of matter bringing about a palindromic “rebirth” in Spirit. The circle is squared.
The seed is put into the earth, not for the purpose of finding its final object in enjoying itself in the earth, but to gradually die and become transformed while it lives; to die as a seed, while developing into a plant, whose body is raised out of the dark earth into the light and air, and whose form bears no trace of the original form of the seed; nor has the seed been put into the ground to die and to rot before becoming a plant. Thus the spiritual regeneration of man is to be effected now, and while he lives in the body, and not after that body, which is necessary for such a transformation to take place, has died and is eaten up by worms or destroyed by fire.4
Shiva-Rudra is the Destroyer, as Vishnu is the preserver; and both are the regenerators of spiritual as well as of physical nature. To live as a plant, the seed must die. To live as a conscious entity in the Eternity, the passions and senses of man must first DIE before his body does. “To live is to die and to die is to live,” has been too little understood in the West. Shiva, the destroyer, is the creator and the Saviour of Spiritual man, as he is the good gardener of nature. He weeds out the plants, human and cosmic, and kills the passions of the physical, to call to life the perceptions of the spiritual, man.5
For, as Pythagorean Democrates adds,
To live badly, and not prudently, temperately, and piously, is not to live in reality, but to die for a long time.1
When we realise that we are the leaves and flowers of this majestic tree, our ascension tracing our roots in heaven is about to begin.
The ladder by which the candidate ascends is formed of rungs of suffering and pain; these can be silenced only by the voice of virtue. Woe, then, to thee, Disciple, if there is one single vice thou has not left behind. For then the ladder will give way and overthrow thee; its foot rests in the deep mire of thy sins and failings, and ere thou canst attempt to cross this wide abyss of matter thou has to lave thy feet in Waters of Renunciation. Beware lest thou should’st set a foot still soiled upon the ladder’s lowest rung.2
But before setting foot on the first rung, the disciple must hew down “with the strong axe of dispassion this Ashvattha tree with its deeply-imbedded roots” 3 Krishna counsels Arjuna. It served its purpose: it is time to let it go and walk on.
This is the Tree of Life, the Ashvattha tree, only after the cutting of which the slave of life and death, MAN, can be emancipated.4
You cannot be one with ALL, unless all your acts, thoughts and feelings synchronise with the onward march of nature.5
In the following selections, HP Blavatsky interprets the symbolism of the Ashvattha and its parts, and suggests that perennial trees have long been favourite allegories of consciousness’ ceaseless rhythm.
. . . The Occult reason why the Norse Yggdrasils, the Hindu Ashvattha, the Gogard, the Mazdean tree of life, and the Tibetan Zampun, are one with the Kabbalistic Sephirothal Tree, and even with the Holy Tree made by Ahura-Mazda, and the Tree of Eden — who among the western scholars can tell? Nevertheless, the fruits of all those “Trees,” whether Pippala 6 or Haoma or yet the more prosaic apple, are the “plants of life,” in fact and verity.7
Thus, the Ashvattha, tree of Life and Being, whose destruction alone leads to immortality, is said in the Bhagavadgita to grow with its roots above and its branches below.8 The roots represent the Supreme Be- ing, or First Cause, the LOGOS; but one has to go beyond the roots to unite oneself with Krishna, who, says Arjuna, is “greater than Brahman, and First Cause . . . the indestructible, that which is, that which is not, and what is beyond them.” 1 Its boughs are Hiranyagarbha (Brahma or Brahman in his highest manifestations, say Sridhara and Madhusudana), the highest Dhyani-Chohans or Devas. The Vedas are its leaves. He only who goes beyond the roots shall never return, i.e., shall reincarnate no more during this “age” of Brahma. . . . It is only when its pure boughs had touched the terrestrial mud of the garden of Eden, of our Adamic race, that this Tree got soiled by the contact and lost its pristine purity; and that the Serpent of Eternity — the heaven-born LOGOS — was finally degraded.2
. . . the Bo-tree (Ashvattha) . . . is also the name of particular state of Samadhi (bodhi),3 the trance in which the subject reaches the culmination of spiritual knowledge. The Ashvattha-tree character of the Universe is realised. The small seed sends forth the big tree, which sends down from its branches the peculiar roots which re-enter the earth and support the tree of knowledge.4 . . . this vital Force, that makes the seed germinate, burst open and throw out shoots, then form the trunk and branches, which, in their turn, bend down like the boughs of the Ashvattha, the holy Tree of Bodhi, throw their seed out, take root and procreate other trees — this is the only FORCE that has reality for him, as it is the never-dying breath of life.5 . . . But to the follower of the true Eastern archaic Wisdom, to him who worships in spirit nought outside the Absolute Unity, that ever-pulsating great Heart that beats throughout, as in every atom of nature, each such atom contains the germ from which he may raise the Tree of Knowledge, whose fruits give life eternal and not physical life alone.6
“If thou wouldst believe in the Power which acts within the root of a plant, or imagine the root concealed under the soil, thou hast to think of its stalk or trunk and of its leaves and flowers. Thou canst not imagine that Power independently of these objects. Life can be known only by the Tree of Life. . . . ” 7
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