The Mahatmas on Spirit, Matter, God
The unity of spirit and matter is stressed many times in the writings of the theosophical mahatmas. In the words of mahatma Kuthumi (KH):
it is one of the elementary and fundamental doctrines of occultism that the two [spirit and matter] are one, and are distinct but in their respective manifestations, and only in the limited perceptions of the world of senses ...1
matter per se is indestructible and ... coeval with spirit.2
spirit and matter are one, being but a differentiation of states not essences ...3
force and matter, spirit and matter, and deity and nature, though they may be viewed as opposite poles in their respective manifestations, yet are in essence and in truth but one ... Purusha [spirit] and prakriti [matter] are in short the two poles of the one eternal element, and are synonymous and convertible terms.4
Matter is ‘nature herself’, says KH.5 However, the matter of which he is speaking is not the supposedly dead and inert physical matter of the materialists, but the consciousness-life-substance of the occultists, which manifests in endless degrees of materiality and ethereality. Physical matter is a highly condensed and crystallized form of this one essence or one element – which could equally well be called the one life or one consciousness. When KH speaks of the eternity and indestructibility of matter, he is therefore referring not to its ‘ever changing form, combinations and properties’6 but to its essence, sometimes called svabhavat. This eternal essence must be viewed ‘not as a compound element you call spirit-matter, but as the one element for which English has no name. It is both passive and active, pure spirit essence in its absoluteness, and repose, pure matter in its finite and conditioned state.’7
In other words, occultism recognizes ‘one element in nature (whether spiritual or physical) outside which there can be no nature since it is nature itself’. It ‘pulsates as in profound sleep’ during a planetary or solar rest period (pralaya), then rebecomes the ‘universal Proteus’ at the start of the next period of evolutionary activity (manvantara).8 Metaphysically speaking, the one element is the ‘one substratum or permanent cause of all manifestations in the phenomenal universe’.9 ‘The one element not only fills space and is space, but interpenetrates every atom of cosmic matter.’10
G. de Purucker defines svabhavat as follows:
Svabhavat is a state or condition of cosmic consciousness, where spirit and matter, which are fundamentally one, no longer are dual as in manifestation, but one: that which is neither manifested matter nor manifested spirit alone, but both are the primeval unity – spiritual akasha – where matter merges into spirit, and both now being really one, are called ‘Father-Mother,’ spirit-substance. Svabhavat never descends from its own state or condition, or from its own plane, but is the cosmic reservoir of being, as well as of beings, therefore of consciousness, of intellectual light, of life; it is the ultimate source of what science, in our day, so quaintly calls the ‘energies’ of nature universal.
The northern Buddhists call svabhavat by a more mystical term, Adi-buddhi, ‘primeval buddhi’ [spiritual intelligence]; the Brahmanical scriptures call it akasha; and the Hebrew Old Testament refers to it as the cosmic ‘waters.’11
Strictly speaking, svabhavat is a relative term (as are ‘spirit’ and ‘matter’). Every subplane, every plane, and every relatively self-contained hierarchy of seven or twelve planes has its own highest grade of consciousness-substance, sometimes called brahman-pradhana or purusha-prakriti. The terms parabrahman and mulaprakriti are often used to refer to the ‘ultimate’ root-consciousness and root-substance respectively, but these are abstractions. For contained within the infinitude of space, and in fact composing space, there is no grade of consciousness-substance so ethereal and ‘pure’ that there is none higher, and also no grade so dense and ‘gross’ that there is none lower.
KH speaks of the ‘perpetual rhythmic motion of the descending and ascending cycle of svabhavat’12 – a reference to the progressive unfoldment of increasingly dense and more differentiated states (and planes) of spirit-substance during the first half of an evolutionary cycle, followed by their progressive enfoldment and etherealization in the second half as they return to their primordial, relatively homogeneous state. A simple illustration of this process on our own plane is the transformation of water vapour into liquid water and then into solid ice, and the reverse process.13
Ancient philosophers spoke of five cosmic elements: earth, water, air, fire, and aether; two higher elements were not normally mentioned in public. On our own subplane, the first four elements correspond to the four known states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, plasma (an electrically charged gas consisting of free electrons and ions). There are also three ethereal states of matter, and beyond them more ethereal subplanes and planes. Applying the principle ‘as above, so below’, these seven states of matter can be considered ‘subelements’ or rather ‘sub-subelements’. The infinite spectrum of spirit-substance can be divided into endless elements and subelements (or planes and subplanes). The one element could be considered either as the seventh plane (or its highest ranges) – i.e. the ‘absolute’ or Brahman – of any particular hierarchy, or as Parabrahman (‘beyond Brahman’), meaning either infinitude, or any planes beyond the summit or absolute of a particular hierarchy.14
KH emphatically rejects the idea of an omnipotent, selfconscious, extra-cosmic ‘God’, ‘a self-existent pure spirit independent of matter’,15 a thinking being who creates matter and governs the material world. He asks why ‘it is more impossible that matter should produce spirit and thought, than spirit or the thought of God should produce and create matter’.16 He rejects both the theistic theory (‘the production of molecular motion by consciousness’) and the materialistic ‘automaton theory’ (the idea that ‘states of consciousness are produced by the marshalling of the molecules of the brain’).17 Instead of spirit, or God, creating matter, or of matter creating spirit, i.e. of one thing somehow giving rise to something fundamentally different, KH is saying that spirit and matter are in essence one, but exist in innumerable degrees of density.
In another letter he writes:
[Pure spirit] is a nonentity, a pure abstraction, an absolute blank to our senses – even to the most spiritual. It becomes something only in union with matter – hence it is always something since matter is infinite and indestructible and non-existent without spirit, which in matter is life. Separated from matter it becomes the absolute negation of life and being, whereas matter is inseparable from it. ... Spirit, life and matter are not natural principles existing independently of each other, but the effects of combinations produced by eternal motion in space ...18
Theosophy therefore rejects both materialism (which regards consciousness as a byproduct of the activity of physical brain matter) and absolute idealism (which maintains that spirit is the ultimate reality and matter merely an illusory byproduct). Theosophic philosophy is often called ‘objective idealism’,19 and has also been called ‘transcendental materialism’:20 it recognizes many different grades of matter while acknowledging that matter cannot produce consciousness; both substance and consciousness are infinite, eternal, uncreated, and essentially one – a single unfathomable mystery. Every concrete manifestation of consciousness-substance is however finite, subject to change, and of temporary duration, and in that sense ‘illusory’ (maya).
The ‘mystery of mind’ was solved by occultism ages ago, says KH. Thought is matter (i.e. consciousness-substance) ‘in its highest seventh state’. He goes on:
In other words we believe in matter alone, in MATTER as visible nature and matter in its invisibility as the invisible omnipresent omnipotent Proteus with its unceasing motion which is its life, and which nature draws from herself since she is the great whole outside of which nothing can exist. ...
The existence of matter then is a fact; the existence of motion is another fact, their self-existence and eternity or indestructibility is a third fact. And the idea of pure spirit as a being or an existence – give it whatever name you will – is a chimera, a gigantic absurdity.21
KH repeats the latter point elsewhere: ‘To regard God as an intelligent spirit, and accept at the same time his absolute immateriality is to conceive of a nonentity, a blank void.’22 ‘The idea ... either of a finite or infinite nothing is a contradiction in terms.’23 ‘[W]e deny God both as philosophers and as Buddhists,’ says KH. He adds: ‘We know there are planetary and other spiritual lives’24 – often called planetary spirits or dhyani-chohans (a term that usually refers to beings who have evolved beyond the human kingdom). But they are certainly not ‘extra-cosmic’ or ‘supernatural’ spirits devoid of any substantial nature. ‘Intelligence as found in our dhyan chohans,’ he says, ‘is a faculty that can appertain but to organized or animated being – however imponderable or rather invisible the materials of their organizations.’25 The organisms of the highest planetary spirits or dhyani-chohans are composed of matter in its seventh state. Even the lowest planetary spirits are made of matter ‘so impalpable ... that science calls it energy and force’.26
Most of the mahatmas are said to be advanced fifth-rounders, meaning that they have developed their consciousness to a level that most humans will not attain until far into the fifth round of the earth’s evolution. Gautama Buddha is described as a sixth-rounder.27 KH writes:
When our great Buddha – the patron of all the adepts, the reformer and the codifier of the occult system – reached first nirvana on earth, he became a planetary spirit; i.e. his spirit could at one and the same time rove the interstellar spaces in full consciousness, and continue at will on earth in his original and individual body. ... [T]hat is the highest form of adeptship man can hope for on our planet. But it is as rare as the buddhas themselves ...28
‘The God of the theologians,’ says KH, ‘is an imaginary power ...’
Our chief aim is to deliver humanity of this nightmare, and to teach man virtue for its own sake, and to walk in life relying on himself instead of leaning on a theological crutch, that for countless ages was the direct cause of nearly all human misery. Pantheistic we may be called – agnostic NEVER.29
The one life of which occultists speak is anything but an extra-cosmic deity. Infinite and all-pervading, it is ‘the essence of every atom of matter’ in infinite space and is in fact ‘matter itself’.30
[W]ho but a theologian nursed on mystery and the most absurd supernaturalism can imagine a self-existent being of necessity infinite and omnipresent outside the manifested boundless universe? ... We deny the absurd proposition that there can be, even in a boundless and eternal universe, two infinite eternal and omnipresent existences.31
Commenting on the behaviour of Jehovah as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible, KH says:
he who reads our Buddhist scriptures written for the superstitious masses will fail to find in them a demon so vindictive, unjust, so cruel and so stupid as the celestial tyrant upon whom the [orthodox] Christians prodigally lavish their servile worship and on whom their theologians heap those perfections that are contradicted on every page of their Bible.32
Ignorance created Gods and cunning took advantage of the opportunity. ... [T]he sum of human misery will never be diminished until that day when the better portion of humanity destroys in the name of truth, morality, and universal charity, the altars of their false gods.33
The human mind or will can operate either automatically and subconsciously (associated with the brain’s cerebellum), or volitionally and selfconsciously (associated with the cerebrum). Our automatic will (autonomic nervous system) controls our involuntary bodily functions, such as respiration, heart rate and blood circulation, while our selfconscious mind is the source of our free will. According to KH, the idea that the universal or infinite mind – the collective mind of higher intelligences – can operate selfconsciously ‘will remain for ever a mere hypothesis’; even the highest planetary spirits are familiar only with the functions of its cerebellum, i.e. its automatic, instinctive operations.34 The planetary spirits can penetrate beyond the ‘primitive veil of cosmic matter’ (i.e. ‘primordial’ matter, akasha, the first differentiation of the one element35), just as the mahatmas can penetrate behind the veil of the gross physical world, but
the infinite mind displays to them as to us no more than the regular unconscious throbbings of the eternal and universal pulse of nature, throughout the myriads of worlds within as without the primitive veil of our solar system.36
The ‘laws of nature’ (or rather nature’s habits) are an expression of the ‘involuntary mechanical power’ of the universal mind – which the mahatmas also call ‘infinite FORCE’. Force (fohat) is ‘matter in one of her highest states’.37 Fohat moves and shapes matter by acting ‘faithfully in accordance with the prototypes as conceived in the eternal mind’38 – prototypes derived from previous cycles of evolution. The one, universal, omnipotent force is basically synonymous with the one life or one element. It is inseparable from universal perpetual motion, which never ceases or slackens even during pralayas, and is ‘the only eternal and uncreated Deity we are able to recognise’.39 ‘Motion is eternal because spirit is eternal,’ says KH. ‘But no modes of motion can ever be conceived unless they be in connection with matter.’40
KH says that endowing God with intelligence in the face of blind, brutal evil is ‘to make of him a fiend’.41 As for the hypothesis that evil and suffering might be ‘the wise scheme of the moral governor of the universe’, KH dismisses it as ‘childish speculation’. He points out that ‘the best adepts have searched the universe during millenniums and found nowhere the slightest trace of such a Machiavellian schemer – but throughout, the same immutable, inexorable law’.42 The mahatmas recognize only one fundamental ‘law’: ‘the law of harmony, of perfect EQUILIBRIUM’.43 Nature has an inherent tendency to restore disturbed equilibrium – a process known under the general name of karma.
The ageless wisdom or occult philosophy existed ‘an eternity before the strutting game cock, modern science, was hatched’. It is an ‘exact science’, based on ‘millenniums of observations and experience’,44 and its field of investigation extends far beyond the outer physical shell of nature.
- The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett [ML2], 2nd ed., 141; The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett [MLC], chron. ed., 282.
- ML2 142, MLC 283.
- ML2 63, MLC, 168.
- Article by KH in H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, 4:225-6.
- ML2 55, MLC 272.
- ML2 55, MLC 272.
- ML2 60, MLC 165.
- ML2 63, MLC 168.
- ML2 90-1, MLC 182.
- ML2 97, MLC 187.
- G. de Purucker, Occult Glossary, 2nd ed., 171.
- ML2 98, MLC 108.
- ML2 142, MLC 283.
- Cf ML2 90-2, MLC 182-3; G. de Purucker, Fountain-Source of Occultism [FSO], 223-37.
- ML2 55, MLC 272.
- ML2 55-6, MLC 273.
- ML2 56, MLC 273.
- ML2 158-9, MLC 315-7.
- H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 1:631; G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, 34; FSO 104.
- Sven Eek, Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement, 437.
- ML2 56, MLC 273.
- ML2 138, MLC 280.
- ML2 54, MLC 271.
- ML2 52, MLC 270.
- ML2 55, MLC 272.
- ML2 56, MLC 273.
- FSO 512-6.
- ML2 43, MLC 62.
- ML2 53, MLC 270.
- ML2 53, MLC 271.
- ML2 53, 55; MLC 270, 272.
- ML2 54, MLC 271.
- ML2 58, MLC 274-5.
- ML2 137, MLC 279.
- ML2 45, 93; Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett [LBS], 379-80; MLC 63, 184, 511.
- ML2 138, MLC 279.
- ML2 164, MLC 321.
- LBS 380, MLC 512.
- ML2 138, 159; MLC 279, 316.
- ML2 142, MLC 283.
- ML2 138-9, MLC 280.
- ML2 142-3, MLC 283.
- ML2 141, MLC 282.
- ML2 144, 160; MLC 285, 317.
KH letters cited:
Mahatma Letters (2nd ed.) Mahatma Letters (chron. ed.) Date no. pages no. pages 9 38-51 18 56-69 Jul 1881 11 59-66 65 165-170 Jun 1882 15 88-99 67 180-189 Jul 1882 10 52-59 88 269-276 Sep 1882 22 137-144 90 278-285 Oct 1882 23b 149-178 93b 308-332 Oct 1882
by David Pratt. February 2012.
Spirit and matter
God and religion
Key concepts of theosophy