A Study in
George Sidney Arundale
First published 1926
Dr Arundale was International President of
the Theosophical Society (Adyar) from 1933 to 1945
A Note By
FROM AN ADDRESS TO THE
BRAHMAVIDYA ASHRAMA ON
“PHILOSOPHY: OR GOD
MANIFESTING AS UNDERSTANDING”
AND this leads me to say one word which, I think, you will have to keep as a steady thought right through, in all the questions that you meet in the various philosophies as to the meaning of “absorption,” the Nirvana of the Buddhist, and the various ideas of Moksha, the true Nirvana of the Hindu. In all of these, if you wish to have the nearest approach to the truth that human limited intelligence and consciousness can gain, you must not think of what is called the drop merging in the ocean, that is, of the drop disappearing, which is the idea that the western student of eastern Philosophy usually adopts. What you have to think of (though it seems a contradiction) is the drop expanding into the ocean, and still keeping its own centre. It would not be much use
building up individuality if, at the end, all was to be thrown away, and the individual was to be the same on returning to “the bosom of the Father,” as when he came from it. That is not the view which comes from an increasing knowledge of the expansions of consciousness, which is, after all, all that we have to guide us in our own experience. If you take the consciousness of the Higher Ego, you have a very strongly marked Individuality, a very distinct separating body - using that word for a kind of permanent enclosure of matter in which resides a certain stage of consciousness, which is essentially the I developing its I-ness, intensifying that sense of the I, by contrast with the universe around, in which the I does not find that its own consciousness is working.
He is looking at it from outside, not from within it; and so he feels intensely the sharp separation between the I and the Not-I. But when the I-ness drops his causal body, his material from the higher mental plane, and passes on into the Buddhic, there is an immense expansion of consciousness, but there is no loss of that centre; he expands so as to include any of the consciousnesses which are acting on that plane. In a sense, he becomes all of them, and yet he never loses the sense of his own centre. He identifies himself with another with a closeness of identity that we know nothing of below that plane.
But still there is the subtle memory of past experiences which gives it a little different hue, or colour, or fragrance, or whatever delicate word you can use to symbolise an existence which is almost impalpable and yet that remains, colouring, as it were, the Buddhic consciousness. There is that tremendous expansion; and if, when you are studying the various philosophies, you keep that in mind, you will find every now and then a phrase which becomes intelligible when you have that thought in your mind. In Plotinus, you will find a wonderful description of Buddhic consciousness, in which he speaks of the Star which is itself and all the other Stars, as the striking fact of what we should now call the Buddhic body - or rather, the Buddhic sheath, to make a distinction between the enclosure and the appropriation of matter which does not separate. The Buddhic sheath is a radiating Star, not an enclosure. If you see a person in the Buddhic body on the Buddhic plane, you do not see an enclosure; you see a Star radiating out in all directions, whose rays pierce your consciousness so that you feel it to be a part of yourself, and yet not quite.
It is almost impossible, except by a series of contradictions, to describe states of consciousness to which our language does not adapt itself. Of course, in Sanskrit, you get an enormously more developed form of language, from the philosophical standpoint, than in English; yet in trying to make people understand, you must use a language that they will understand, the Sanskrit is known by comparatively few people in the West.
We are rather trying to eliminate the Sanskrit terms without loss of accuracy. The experience of the Buddhic plane is not translatable into words down here but you do get indications of it, and they are generally called (when people read of them with no realisation of what they mean) “obscure,”“vague,” “indeterminate,” etc. But it is quite clear, and not vague to anyone who touches it. It is one of the great facts of consciousness that you can never understand a stage which you have not reached. You cannot understand consciousness by looking at it from outside. I was answering a letter yesterday in which there was the question: “Why did God make the universe?” I suggested that there were many possible reasons, but that a kitten cannot understand why a man spends his time reading a book instead of running after a leaf on the ground, because the consciousness of the kitten is not developed enough to read a book; and we are all nearer to the kitten than to Ishvara in one sense, in our comprehension of His nature. It is quite true that
Closer is He than breathing
Nearer-than hands and feet;
but you have to stretch your consciousness to accept contradictions.On the other hand, when the consciousness begins to dawn, as it has to dawn, through the help of some one greater than yourself (otherwise it would shatter you), when, enveloped in the consciousness of another, you may touch the next plane, then the sense of absolute unity comes upon you, and you may say that the difference does disappear, but it disappears by expansion and not by extinguishment. That is why I said that, if you would think of the drop expanding into the ocean and sharing the consciousness of the ocean, you would have a truer idea of Nirvana, which so many western writers call annihilation, though it is the fulness of Life.
I said the consciousness would be shattered. If you think for a moment of films of matter, however fine they may be, you will find that they have a certain limit of vibration, and that they can answer to and reproduce certain other limits of vibration. You also find that, if you take a very much more rapid rate of vibration, you break the enclosure, shatter it to pieces. That is true of all aggregations of matter, so far as we know them. There is a limit beyond which they cannot respond, and then they are simply shattered. That would be the effect if you were suddenly to find yourselves on the Nirvanic plane, if not prepared for it. You would simply have to burst, like a bubble vanishing. It is a very long job to build it again, the film of the bubble.
Therefore people are prevented from going into it, unless it may happen that persons may be taken into it, to show them certain occurrences, certain truths, and then they are shielded, just as a diving-dress is given to the man who goes into water. Protective sheaths are possible all the way up.
There is, in the Buddhist Philosophy, a wonderful sentence of the Lord Gautama Buddha, where He is striving to indicate in human language something that would be intelligible about the condition of Nirvana. You find it in the Chinese translation of the Dhammapada, and the Chinese edition has been translated into English in the series of books known as “Trubner’s Series”. He puts it there that, unless there was Nirvana, there could be nothing; and He uses various phrases in order to indicate what He means, taking the uncreated and then connecting with it the created; taking the real and then connecting with it the unreal.
He sums it up by saying that Nirvana is; and that if it were not, naught else could be. That is an attempt (if one may call it so with all reverence) to say what cannot be said. It implies that unless there existed the Uncreated, the Invisible and the Real, we could not have a universe at all. You have there, then, the indication that Nirvana is a plenum, not a void. That idea should be fundamentally fixed in your mind, in your study of every great system of Philosophy. So often the expressions used may seem to indicate a void.
Hence the western idea of annihilation. If you think of it as fulness, you will realise that the consciousness expands more and more, without losing utterly the sense of identity; if you could think of a centre of a circle without a circumference, you would glimpse the truth.
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