Space and Self-Consciousness
SPACE AND SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS
The Occult Catechism contains the following questions and answers:
“What is it that ever is?” “Space, the eternal Anupadaka.” “What is it that ever was?” “The Germ in the Root.” “What is it that is ever coming and going?” “The Great Breath.” “Then, there are three Eternals?” “No, the three are one. That which ever is is one, that which ever was is one, that which is ever being and becoming is also one: and this is Space.
The Secret Doctrine, i 11
The object of all training in ancient schools of Initiation was to bring the anchorite to a truer realization of the one eternal reality that abides behind the vast screen of manifest existence. Such a realization is not merely cognitional; it transcends all distinctions between subject and object, all conceptions of agent and field, and reaches beyond the range of all possible representations. In this spirit, enlightened preceptors provided chelas with appropriate texts and themes for reflection. Although these affirm positive lines of thought, and lead disciples to a fuller understanding of embodied life, they also involve negation and synthesis, for they integrate and resolve all elements of life into their ineffable, ineluctable origin in the unitive ground of the Real. A disciple who immerses his or her consciousness in these precisely constructed catechisms experiences and exemplifies their magical transforming power. But this capacity for transformation does not lie outside the disciple. Rather, the self-induced effort to engage in meditation is identical with the realization of the highest Self. That Self is the Real, and its foremost representation in Gupta Vidya is SPACE.
Authentic meditation demands a radical recentering of oneself in real Being. Hence, to the question What is it that ever is?, the Catechism responds with the affirmation, Space, the eternal Anupadaka. Anupadaka is that which is parentless and beginningless. It is That before which there was nothing else. In a conceptual sense it may seem obvious that space per Se, as distinct from its containment, is independent of the existence or non-existence of particular things that it may or may not contain. Yet existentially, it is extremely difficult to generate a sense of That which ever is. Whatever might be one’s view of the age of the universe – whether conceived in terms of tens of billions of years or a billion times greater, no measure of time is commensurate with That which ever is. Since human beings cannot easily remember yesterday or clearly perceive tomorrow, their concepts of remote ages inevitably amount to little more than concrete representations extrapolated from present sense-perceptions. Such extrapolation can never extend to That which ever is – Space.
Even if it were possible to visualize the beginning of the universe as it now seems to exist, this would only be to entertain a logical and mathematical notion connected with certain conceptual maps. It would not touch that Space wherein there is even now the possibility of myriads of other universes. Even the statistically possible multiple worlds of quantum physics are apprehended as logical abstractions, rather than as ever-present potentials in ever-present Space. Nor does it help to postulate a hypothetical set of initial conditions at the beginning moment of the universe, and then to argue that variations within this set represent the potential of all possible universes. This merely relocates conceptual multiplicity at a remote point in the past, without touching the ontological fullness of the Space that ever is. So too, if one likes to think in future time, which is of course only a manner of speaking, one may imagine a time, billions upon billions of years in the future, when there is no earth or solar system, no galaxy and, indeed, no knowable universe. But even with the complete extinction of the universe, there is still Space and still too the potential of a myriad worlds. Each of these worlds contains certain possibilities beyond itself; none of these worlds, therefore, can exhaust the reality of Space itself.
Though the first affirmation in the Occult Catechism invites contemplation, it does not readily yield its full implications. Those implications are not supported by most of our concepts, assumptions and attitudes in day-to-day living. After the initial affirmation, there is in the Catechism an apt response of the chela to the Guru, setting forth the meaning of the affirmation:
“Explain, oh Lanoo (disciple).”
“The One is an unbroken Circle (ring) with no circumference, for it is nowhere and everywhere; the One is the boundless plane of the Circle, manifesting a diameter only during the manvantaric periods.”
The circle without circumference indicates the incognizable Presence, Kosmos in Eternity, whilst the plane of this circle is the Universal Soul. These two are one – the eternal Anupadaka. The Sanskrit term Anupadaka is ordinarily translated as “parentless”, but like every Sanskrit term, it has an untranslatable resonance, a wealth of meanings that are only revealed in meditation. Sanskrit is the language of the science of the future. When one hears the word Anupadaka, one at first hears the prefix Anu. This reminds one of that which is indescribably and indivisibly atomic. Anu is also applied in reference to Brahman. Brahman is in the Anu, and Brahman is also beyond the greatest possible expansion of Brahmâ. It is the smallest of the small and the greatest of the great; it ever is and it is ever present. Once the higher imagination is aroused through the resonance of the syllable Anu, the idea is fused with pada, which has to do with measure, as well as with parentage. Together the syllables intimate that which is beyond all possible measure and without origin, that which cannot be conceived, yet cannot be absent from any conception. Because he has developed certain tools of measurement over the last few centuries, modern man has begun to resemble a brash teenager, who presumes in his ignorance to limit the whole range of possible being. But even the momentous discovery that there are millions of galaxies and billions of suns yields no conception of all modes of possible existence, or indeed of all sentient self-persistence. Nor can this reveal all possible levels and forms of matter, both phenomenal and noumenal, or all possible rhythms and ranges of ideation. Yet to the eye of the Lanoo, disciplined through meditation, the ground of all these possibilities is intimated in the mysterious Anupadaka.
Nowadays people tend to think of space – if they think of it at all – either as a property or as a possession providing a field for ego-assertion. Sometimes they merely connect it with the fantasies of science fiction. Space, in the geometric sense, is too often associated with bad memories of high school geometry classes or treated as the private preserve of erudite specialists. Yet those of the ancient world maintained an immense reverence for Space, which the Occult Catechism identifies with the eternal Anupadaka. This Space is the Maha-Akasha of Gupta Vidya. Space, in this sense, evokes a reverence comparable to the term “God”, before it became trivialized, anthropomorphized and reduced to a kind of cosmic father-figure. Before it was associated with some smiling universal patriarch, the term “Deity” called forth a tremendous reverence, even as late as early Greece, let alone much earlier in Chaldea, Egypt and certainly a million years ago in ancient Aryavarta. There, one would only whisper such terms or remain silent and try to experience that which is ineffable in the sounding of the AUM.
Next, the Occult Catechism asks the question, What is it that ever was?, and gives the response, The Germ in the Root. Perhaps the rational mind wishes to respond to this second question by saying “Space” again, because if Space ever is, of course it ever was. Yet the Catechism, through which candidates were prepared for the Mysteries by Hierophants, suggests something else. To say that Space ever is is to indicate the infinite potentiality of infinite worlds that ever exist. This limitless multiplicity is only brought together or integrated by the numinous idea of potential; our own notion of potential itself is liable to be foreshortened by our limited conceptions of the familiar world. Here, however, we are being told that there ever was, behind the multiplicity of myriad possible worlds, the Germ in the Root. This is explained by the Lanoo as follows:
The One is the indivisible point found nowhere, perceived everywhere during those periods; it is the Vertical and the Horizontal, the Father and the Mother, the summit and base of the Father, the two extremities of the Mother, reaching in reality nowhere, for the One is the Ring as also the rings that are within that Ring.
The Germ in the Root – which is sometimes called the Rootless Root – points to a single root-substance. One cannot separate even the most abstract Space from matter, albeit an extremely abstract matter. And one cannot separate abstract matter from spirit, which is sometimes called the first differentiation of the Absolute. As Mahatma K. H. explained in a letter in the nineteenth century, “Spirit is called the ultimate sublimation of matter, and matter the crystallization of spirit.” Just as one cannot separate spirit from matter, so one cannot separate spirit-matter from Space. These arcane conceptions have nothing to do with what are ordinarily labelled time, space and form. The Catechism affirms that all these fundamental conceptions exist inseparably in a root, in a germ. There is an eternal rootedness within the realm of the infinite potential of inexhaustible Space. That eternal rootedness, though transcendent, is ever present in a germinal form; that germinal form, therefore, is omnipresent.
This germ is as much present in any one point in differentiated space as in any other point. It is the mystical abstraction intimated in the Rig Vedic Hymn to Creation by the phrase “the primal seed and germ of mind”. It may be thought of as the centre of a circle or a sphere, or of a series of circles and spheres, without partiality or restriction to any one of these centres. In ancient times, men of meditation possessed a degree of natural impartiality towards all points in boundless space. Yet modern man, who is really a spiritual pygmy by comparison, finds it hard to grasp such effortless impartiality. Modern man cannot even be impartial towards his fellows; he is addicted to discrimination. The disciple can reverse this tendency by looking to the sky, and begin to associate the universe with the breadth that modern astronomy has revealed. The courageous meditator flies on the wings of the porous imagination, transcending all possible concepts of being and visualizing an infinitude of points in inexhaustible Space, each one of which is dimensionless and frictionless. Many are prone to think of points in terms of something that appears against a blank background of emptiness or nothing. The Occult Catechism, however, offers the notion of a point within which exists all the potential that we ascribe to bare space. That potential is in a germinal form. As an entire tree is implicit within a seed, so the whole Tree of Life, as the Kabbalists thought, is implicit within that point. And this point ever was in every atomic differentiated point of manifested life.
Grasping such a conception involves abandoning the ordinary suppositions of the mind. Those who have been treating their bodies cavalierly suddenly recognize that every point of Space, every point within and around the human form, is the same as every other, and that behind each point there is the Germ in the Root. This realization breaks down the sharp dichotomy between the animate and inanimate, and it shatters the notion of the self and the other. If all points are identical in their rootedness, with which point can one logically identify the Self? Is the Self the point between the eyes? Is it the point which is the light in the heart? Is it the point above the head? To ask these questions in relation to the Germ in the Root is to begin to ask what it is to be a human being and a Monad. To apprehend the Germ in the Root as that which ever was is to grasp the potential in Space of consciousness and of self-consciousness.
This represents a fundamental revolution in the very ideas of individuality and identity. As such, it goes beyond even the most advanced conceptions of twentieth century thought. Nonetheless, modern science, particularly astronomy and mathematical physics, has come to a point where it must consider the relation between many possible worlds or myriads of galaxies and that which is called human life on earth. Some contemporary cosmologists think there must be a sense in which the whole universe generates the possibility of life as we know it on earth. They recognize, therefore, that life on earth is no special case. Rather, they see their own existence as conscious spectators within a vast universe as the realization of a possibility that is inherent in the foundations of that universe itself. Earlier science sought to reduce life to a fortuitous combination of chemical elements; these newer enquiries, however, concede the fundamental reality of consciousness. Whilst this does not exclude attempts to discover life on other planets – a possibility encouraged by everything known about the chemical conditions of life on earth – it does exclude the notion of life being created by some fortuitous chemical mix. Such contemporary reflections have given rise to “the anthropic principle”, a phrase coined by Brandon Carter to designate a position between the crude anthropocentricism of pre-Copernican thought and the post-Einsteinian claim that all local conditions in time or space are merely random inhomogeneities. Between these two extremes the anthropic principle proposes that the existence of intelligent observers itself represents an inherent property and characteristic of cosmological and evolutionary existence. Cosmogenesis and anthropogenesis constitute two aspects of one unfolding impulse.
Whatever the eventual merits of the anthropic principle, it is, as yet, only a speculative abstraction applicable to the cosmos as a whole. Its distributive psychological significance to individual self-conscious human life has yet to be developed. The Occult Catechism teaches, however, that nothing ever was that did not have the Germ in the Root. There was never a time or space, or even space-time, in which there was not the Germ in the Root. There has always been the possibility of consciousness and also of self-consciousness. This certainly devastates many popular assumptions. Human fears of darkness, silence, loneliness or death – fears of being forgotten or unloved – only reflect metaphysical misconceptions at the most basic level. Human beings have begun to identify themselves with the tokens through which they are recognized in differentiated interaction. So, they must keep touching each other to reassure one another that they exist. All of this is far removed from the reality of self-conscious existence that ever was in the Germ in the Root. Through meditation one learns to see life even where there are no systems of worlds. Self-conscious life is potentially present as the Germ in the Root even in Maha Pralaya.
In the Occult Catechism the disciple is also asked What is it that is ever coming and going? and responds, The Great Breath. Phenomenal and noumenal existence are pervaded by a constant activity. This process of becoming is not only a potential element present in Space, and a permanent possibility because of the Germ in the Root – there is an actual elaboration out of all possibilities of consciousness and of self-consciousness through a continual coming and going. There seems to be something diastolic and systolic about the cosmos itself. One cannot even imagine blank space without a kind of pulsation. There is a kind of secret cosmic heart where there is an eternal inward and outward vibration, a ceaseless inbreathing and outbreathing of the Great Breath. As the Catechism explains,
Light in darkness and darkness in light: the “Breath which is eternal”. It proceeds from without inwardly, when it is everywhere, and from within outwardly, when it is nowhere – (i.e., maya, one of the centres). It expands and contracts (exhalation and inhalation). When it expands the mother diffuses and scatters; when it contracts, the mother draws back and ingathers. This produces the periods of Evolution and Dissolution, Manvantara and Pralaya.
Even in darkness, even in inexhaustible Space abstracted away from all possible worlds, there is an everlasting energy. To call it energy, however, is not to limit it in terms of ordinary notions of energy which depend upon specific connected patterns of activity and rest. Rather, it suggests an elusive field, in which conceptions of polarity do not apply. The occult notion of Fohat, particularly in its pre-cosmic existence, is thus generally inaccessible to even highly abstract field theories. Rather, one must think in terms of a sense of rhythm or alternation, which may be symbolized in terms of a breathing in and breathing out. This vibrationality transcends all our concepts of matter, mind, existence, activity and withdrawal. The phrase “Great Breath” is used because the original Sanskritic etymology of the word “breath” implies the primal vivifying power of expansion at the root of manifestation. Breath is connected with the divine perpetual motion of the Atman; even the single letter A conveys the meaning. If divine spirit is in perpetual motion, it involves a perpetual breathing in and breathing out. It cannot be visualized without the Ah and the indrawing into the M. Therefore, a deific potency grounded in the very process of becoming produces the universe, and this is linked to the attempt, in meditation, to transcend all forms and all limiting conceptions of motion, space and deity through the AUM.
This vibratory current underlying all active life in the cosmos is mirrored in the grandest cycles of Nature, as in the smallest. The Chinese held that it could be discerned in the sounds made by forests, rivers, great cities and the sea; they thought of it as the voice of Nature itself. It was likened to an imperceptible tone that one could learn to hear only by withdrawing attention from particular sounds. Many composers, including Beethoven in his “Pastoral Symphony”, have intuited the significance of the F note in Nature. The “Pastoral Symphony” conveys a sense of the unity and ubiquity of a vibration that dances in and through all the kingdoms of elementals in Nature. The symphony is formed out of all that moves and that animates all the pastoral scenes of the globe. The attentive ear can detect it in the ocean, in the whistling wind, even in the silent air. All Nature’s different sounds are resolved again and again into this great tone which intimates the reality of the transcendental Great Breath. That breath itself can work at the primal level of differentiation, at which there is a vibration in the depths of the ocean of infinite Space. There is a kind of breathing in and breathing out that does not participate in the sevenfold scale that is applicable to differentiation, whether in relation to sound or the principles of the cosmos. Ordinarily, the human ear can only take in a certain range of sounds; therefore that ear can use only a limited scale to reach beyond those sounds into the Soundless Sound. That Voice of the Silence is present in the seemingly still reverberation within the depths of the night ocean that seasoned sailors can experience during lonely watches. It is present too in the noontime glory of the sun, the one great root-vibration which is ceaselessly sounding and which is ever soundless. Every living being has a heart that moves in sympathy with this ceaseless pulsation, the one vibration that is the basis of all life and compassion. In essence, every human being is like a drop, identical to every other drop, within a vast shoreless sea of universal existence. All beings flow within the great universal rhythm of the Soundless Sound, the AUM throughout all ages.
After this third great affirmation, the Lanoo asks, Then, there are three Eternals?, and the Guru responds, No, the three are one. That which ever is is one, that which ever was is one, that which is ever being and becoming is also one; and this is Space. The apparent separation of these three highest abstractions is itself an illusion. In reality the three are one. Anupadaka, the Germ in the Root and the Great Breath are distinct in a world of relativities only so long as our consciousness is affected by contrasts between light and darkness, withdrawal and involvement, waking and sleeping. This primary dichotomy arises because our sense-organs are constantly involved in accumulating, eliminating and recapturing perceptions. Human beings are so immersed in a world that is broken and disconnected in consciousness that they have lost a sense of the fundamental unity of that world and of consciousness and of the relation between the two. It is not merely a world of multiplicity. It is a world of disconnectedness. Thus, even if many worlds existed, as some scientists suggest, they would not be related to the common concept of space on such a dualistic view, and hence we would know nothing about them. Ordinary conventions and criteria of meaning make it impossible to speak meaningfully about myriad possible worlds – unless they have some connection with our possible world of space. Yet just because we cannot talk about them if we accept these criteria, it does not follow that we cannot lay these criteria aside and think about them. It is far more important that individuals learn to meditate upon the transcendental possibility of the existence of multiple worlds than that they learn how to talk about them. Modern man is altogether too much engaged in attempting to communicate that which he does not comprehend; in so doing he forfeits the possibilities of learning. Modern civilization is caught up in “show and tell”, whereas the ancient world followed the principle of neither showing nor telling. They taught that one should close one’s mouth, one’s eyes and one’s senses, and plunge into meditation. This is hard for people who have become conditioned from early childhood by “show and tell” and who, after a point, end up cancelling all their words by the sadness and emptiness, the loneliness, in their eyes.
According to Gupta Vidya, the eyes of every human being potentially carry the wisdom of the sage and of the Pythagorean spectator, who can reflect upon each of the three hypostases, or limbs, of the Three-in-One. That Three-in-One becomes a four, because the Three-in-One plus the one becomes four, the divine Tetraktys. By thinking of each one of these distinctly, and stretching the mind beyond all formulations, one can come to think of them all together. Initially, using a phrase in each case, one must attempt to reach out into that which totally transcends the mind, seeking solidarity with the inexhaustible potential of dimensionless space which is universal consciousness and the One Life. To do this in meditation is to void the small self and to reascend in consciousness to That which ever is, ever was and ever becomes. As the Catechism explains,
The Germ is invisible and fiery; the Root (the plane of the circle) is cool; but during Evolution and Manvantara her garment is cold and radiant. Hot Breath is the Father who devours the progeny of the many-faced Element (heterogeneous); and leaves the single-faced ones (homogeneous). Cool Breath is the Mother, who conceives, forms, brings forth, and receives them back into her bosom, to reform them at the Dawn (of the Day of Brahma, or Manvantara).
Ibid., i 12
The inexhaustible potential of the Three-in-One comes to bear fruit through the idea of the Germ in the Root in the form of the living cosmos. To dissolve the difference between oneself and that permanent possibility of becoming is to draw closer to the fountainhead and origin – the fons et origo – of all possible cosmic and human creativity. It is to live self-consciously as the Great Breath, the reverberation that exists even in the night of non-manifestation when there are no universes. This vibration is within every human being; when it is withdrawn from the outer vestures, the human being must prepare to die. When the sounding of the AUM is stilled, the wise know that the moment of death is approaching. Only those who have learnt to live life in spirit and not in matter can perceive this withdrawal.
The sublime unity of the Three-in-One beyond all differentiation is the ultimate and fundamental reality called SPACE. This is not only the eternal Anupadaka, the inexhaustible matrix of infinite potential. It is not only the Germ in the Root, present in every point of space. It is also the Great Breath, the breathing in and out of the One Life itself. In contemporary thought there is a concept of superspace, a space that is more fundamental than the astronomer’s space of myriad planets and black holes. Some intuitive thinkers sense that space must be moving, like a fluidic substance, and moving not only in the extraordinary Einsteinian sense, where space moves through force upon matter. These speculations invoke a metatopological space, which is more like a torus than like a sphere, and which has a great deal of angularity, quirkiness and unusual connectedness. If holes in space are comparable to holes in doughnuts, what of the superspace that fills the holes in space? These different levels of space are constantly shifting in relation to each other, permitting various possible modes of geometry and discrete motion of matter and energy in different circumstances. All of this is quite distant from the discarded Newtonian view of space as a simple substance, as the fixed background against which the universe could be described and the pathways of all bodies traced out.
Whilst modern thought has gone far beyond this static conception, it has attained, as yet, only an embryonic sense of the full reality of SPACE. To see the container of all possibilities, the root of all consciousness and the vibration of life as one, and to see them fully, is to have transcended maya. For the human being this means coming to see oneself and all other human beings as points of sentient life. Owing to their attachment to extended forms and sensation, human beings are reluctant to reduce themselves to a point. They are, therefore, cut off from the fullness of life. Only through renunciation of the self, only through lifelong meditation, can one substantially deepen one’s sense of reality. One must break, within oneself, that which causes the modification of the mind and thought through maya. Metaphysically, there must be a universe for there to be an increased intensification of awareness, but this is at the price of breaking and making discontinuous through modification that awareness. That in the universe which modifies awareness only modifies it apparently. Though that modification might last billions upon billions of years, it can still be cancelled and transcended; there is that in every human being which is prior and posterior to all possible modifications of mind and matter.
This reality is also present in every atom, and a human being is capable of knowing what is in every atom, because the Germ in the Root is in himself or herself. It is present as an “I”, as “I-am-I” consciousness, as a ray or point. There is, therefore, a possibility of becoming self-consciously absorbed into SPACE in the ultimate sense. For this reason, Gupta Vidya commends to every aspirant daily meditation upon Space. Whatever problem the meditative seeker encounters, he is at least engaged in a process which can reduce the ignorance and misery which he creates when not meditating. The human mind is either active or passive, either moving towards self-mastery or serving as the psychic medium of universal forces made chaotic and disconnected through false identification with form. What people ordinarily call life is a mixture of living and partly living. Many people are not quite there. They drift as psychic automata conditioned by habits. They are neither fully aware of themselves nor of what they are thinking and doing. Much less are they aware of each other. They do not honour their own true thoughts, and they rarely listen to each other. Often they feel alienated and disengaged from the broader life of the human race. Sleepy, passive and acted upon by irrational forces, they are subject to constant fears about loss of identity. In short, they lack a sense of reality.
In such a world any aspirant who develops some degree of capacity for meditation in the true sense will soon be able to offer some healing help to other human beings. As soon as one tastes the joy of meditation, one will realize the truth of Krishna’s affirmation, “Even a little of this practice delivereth a man from great risk.” This wisdom is not merely for individual deliverance. It is the radiant living substance of the cosmos, and it underlies the lives of all. If the aspirant would become a true Lanoo, faithful to the Guru’s compassionate wisdom, then gratitude will transform this initial joy of realization into an irreversible will to sacrificial service. Drawing into attunement with the Tathagatas, one may become a faithful servant of Brahma Vach, a co-worker with Nature, capable of exhaustless realization (Svasamvedana) of the boundless potential of the one eternal Reality.
by Raghavan Iyer
Hermes, March 1984
Published by permission of theosophytrust.org.