Do you believe in God?
That depends on what you mean by the term.
I mean the God of the Christians, the Father of Jesus, and the Creator: the Biblical God of Moses, in short.
In such a God we do not believe. We reject the idea of a personal, or an extra-cosmic and anthropomorphic God, who is but the gigantic shadow of man, and not of man at his best, either. The God of theology, we say -and prove it- is a bundle of contradictions and a logical impossibility. Therefore, we will have nothing to do with him.
State your reasons, if you please.
They are many, and cannot all receive attention. But here are a few. This God is called by his devotees infinite and absolute, is he not?
I believe he is.
Then, if infinite -i.e., limitless- and especially if absolute, how can he have a form, and be a creator of anything? Form implies limitation, and a beginning as well as an end; and, in order to create, a Being must think and plan. How can the ABSOLUTE be supposed to think -i.e., to have any relation whatever to that which is limited, finite and conditioned? This is a philosophical, and a logical, absurdity. Even the Hebrew Kabala rejects such an idea, and therefore, makes of the one and the Absolute Deific Principle and infinite Unity called Ain-Soph. In order to create, the Creator has to become active; and as this is impossible for ABSOLUTENESS, the infinite principle had to be shown becoming the cause of evolution (not creation) in an indirect way -i.e., through the emanation from itself (another absurdity, due this time to the translators of the Kabala) of the Sephiroth.
How about those Kabalists, who, while being such, still believe in Jehovah, or the Tetragammaton?
The are at liberty to believe in what they please, as their belief or disbelief can hardly affect a self-evident fact. The Jesuits tell us that two ant two are not always four to a certainty, since it depends on the will of God to make 2 X 2 = 5. Shall we accept their sophistry for all that?
Then you are Atheists?
Not that we know of, and not unless the epithet of "Atheist" is applied to those who disbelieve in an anthropomorphic God. We believe in a Universal Divine Principle, the root of ALL, from which proceeds, and within which all shall be absorbed at the end of the great cycle of Being.
This is the old, old claim of Pantheism. If you are Pantheists, you cannot be Deists; and if your are not Deists, then you have to answer to the name of Atheists.
Not necessarily so. The term "Pantheism" is again one of the many abused terms, whose real and primitive meaning has been distorted by blind prejudice and a one-sided view of it. If you accept the Christian etymology of this compound word, and for it of pan, "all," and theos, "god," and then imagine and teach that this means that every stone and every tree in Nature is a God or the ONE God, then, of course, you will be right, and make of Pantheists fetish-worshoppers, in addition to their legitimate name. But you will hardly be as successful if you etymologise the word Pantheism esoterically as we do.
What is, then, your definition of it?
Let me ask you a question in my turn. What do you understand by Pan, or Nature?
Nature is, I suppose, the sum total of things existing around us; the aggregate of causes and effects in the world of matter, the creation or universe.
Hence the personified sum and order of known causes and effects; the total of all finite agencies and forces, as utterly disconnected from an intelligent Creator or Creators, and perhaps "conceived of as a single and separate force" -as in your cyclopaedias?
Yes, I believe so.
Well, we neither take into consideration this objective and material nature, which we call an evanescent illusion, nor do we mean by pan Nature, in the sense of its accepted derivation from the Latin Nature (becoming, from nasci, to be born). When we speak of the Deity and make it identical, hence coeval, with Nature, the eternal and uncreated nature is meant, and not your aggregate of flitting shadows and finite unreality's. We leave it to the hymn-makers to call the visible sky or heaven, God's Throne, and our earth of mud His footstool. Our DEITY is neither in a paradise, nor in a particular tree, building or mountain; it is everywhere, in every atom of the visible as of the invisible Cosmos, in, over, and around every invisible atom and divisible molecule; for IT is the mysterious power of evolution and involution, the omnipresent, omnipotent, and even omniscient creative potentiality.
Stop! Omniscience is the prerogative of something that thinks, and you deny to your Absoluteness the power of thought.
We deny it to the ABSOLUTE, since thought is something limited and conditioned. But you evidently forget that in philosophy absolute unconsciousness is also absolute consciousness, as otherwise it would not be absolute.
Then your Absolute thinks?
No, IT does not; for the simple reason that it is Absolute Thought itself. Nor does it exist, for the same reason, as it is absolute existence, and Be-ness, not a Being. Read the superb Kabalistic poem by Solomon Ben Jehudah Gabirol, in the Kether-Malchut, and you will understand:
"Thou art one, the root of all numbers, but not as an element of numeration; for unity admits not of multiplication, change or form. Thou art one, and in the secret of thy unity the wisest of men are lost, because they know it not. Thou art one, and Thy unity is never diminished, never extended, and cannot be changed. Thou art one, and no thought of mine can fix for Thee a limit, or define Thee. Thou ART, but not as one existent, for the understanding and vision of mortals cannot attain to Thy existence, nor determine for Thee the where, the how and the why."
In short, our Deity is the eternal, incessantly evolving, not creating, builder of the universe; that universe itself unfolding out of its own essence, not being made. It is a sphere, without circumference, in its symbolism, which has but one ever-acting attribute embracing all other existing or thinkable attributes - ITSELF. It is the one law giving the impulse to manifested, eternal and immutable laws, within that never-manifesting, because absolute LAW, which in its manifesting periods is The ever-Becoming.
I once heard one of your members remarking that Universal Deity, being everywhere, was in vessels of dishonor, as in those of honor, and therefore, was present in every atom of my cigar ash! Is this rank blasphemy?
I do not think so, as simple logic can hardly be regarded as blasphemy. Were we to exclude the Omnipresent Principle from one single mathematical point of the universe, or from a particle of matter occupying any conceivable space, could we still regard it as infinite?
Is it Necessary to Pray?
Do you believe in prayer, and do you ever pray?
We do not. We act, instead of talking.
You do not offer prayers even to the Absolute Principle?
Why should we? Being well-occupied people, we can hardly afford to lose time in addressing verbal prayers to a pure abstraction. The Unknowable is capable of relations only in its parts to each other, but is non-existent as regards any finite relations. The visible universe depends for its existence and phenomena on its mutually acting forms and their laws, not on prayer or prayers.
Do you not believe at all in the efficacy of prayer?
Not in prayer taught in so many words and repeated externally, if by prayer you mean the outward petition to an unknown God as the adressee, which was inaugurated by the jews popularized by the Pharisees.
Is there any other kind of prayer?
Most decidedly; we call it WILL-PRAYER, and it is rather an internal command than a petition.
To whom, then, do you pray when you do so?
To "our Father in heaven" -in its esoteric meaning.
Is that different from the one given to it in theology?
Entirely so. An Occultist or a Theosophist addresses his prayer to his Father which is in secret (read, and try to understand Matthew 6:6), not to an extra-cosmic and therefore finite God: and that "Father" is in man himself.
Then you make of man a God?
Please say "God" and not a God. In our sense, the inner man is the only God we can have cognizance of. And how can this be otherwise? Grant us our postulate that God is a universally diffused, infinite principle, and how can man alone escape from being soaked through, by, and in, the Deity? We call our "Father in heaven" that deific essence of which we are cognizant within us, in our heart and spiritual consciousness, and which has nothing to do with the anthropomorphic conception we may form of it in our physical brain or its fancy: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of (the absolute) God dwelleth in you?" Yet, let no man anthropomorphize that essence in us. Let no Theosophist, if he would hold to divine, not human truth, say that this "God in secret" listens to, or is distinct from, either finite man or the infinite essence -for all are one. Nor, as just remarked, is prayer a petition. It is a mystery rather; an occult process by which finite and conditioned thoughts and desires, unable to be assimilated by the absolute spirit which is unconditioned, are translated into spiritual wills and the will; such process being called "spiritual transmutation." The intensity of our ardent aspirations changes prayer into the "philosopher's stone," or that which transmutes lead into pure gold. The only homogeneous essence, our "will-prayer" becomes the active or creative force, producing effects according to our desire.
Do you mean to say that prayer is an occult process bringing about physical results?
I do. Will-Power becomes a living power. But woe unto those Occultists and Theosophists, who, instead of crushing out the desires of the lower personal ego or physical man, and saying, addressing their Higher Spiritual EGO immersed in Atma-Buddhic light, "Thy will be done, not mine," etc., send up waves of will-power for selfish or unholy purposes! For this is black magic, abomination, and spiritual sorcery. Unfortunately, all this is the favorite occupation of our Christian statesmen and generals, especially when the latter are sending two armies to murder each other. Both indulge before action in a bit of such sorcery, by offering perspective prayers to the same God of Hosts, each entreating his help to cut its enemies' throats.
David prayed to the Lord of Hosts to help him smite the Philistines and slay the Syrians and the Moabites, and "the Lord preserved David whithersoever he went." In that, we only follow what we find in the Bible.
Of course you do. But since you delight in calling yourselves Christians, not Israelites or Jews, as far as we know, why do you not rather follow that which Christ says? And he distinctly commands you not to follow "them of old times," or the Mosaic law, but bids you do as he tells you, and warns those who would kill by the sword that they, too, will perish by the sword. Christ has given you one prayer of which you have made a lip prayer and a boast, and which none but the true Occultist understands. In it you say, in your dead-sense meaning: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," which you never do. Again, he told you to love your enemies and do good to them that hate you. It is surely not the "meek prophet of Nazareth" who taught you to pray to your "Father" to slay, and give you victory over your enemies! This is why we reject what you call "prayers."
But how do you explain the universal fact that all nations and peoples have prayed to, and worshipped a God or Gods? Some have adored and propitiated devils and harmful spirits, but this only proves the universality of the belief in the efficacy of prayer.
It is explained by that other fact that prayer has several other meanings besides that given it by the Christians. It means not only a pleading or petition, but meant, in days of old, far more an invocation and incantation. The mantra, or the rhythmically chanted prayer of the Hindus, has precisely such a meaning, as the Brahmins hold themselves higher than the common devas or "Gods." A prayer may be an appeal or an incantation for malediction, and a curse (as in the case of two armies praying simultaneously for mutual destruction) as much as for blessing. And as the great majority of people are intensely selfish, and pray only for themselves, asking to be given their "daily bread" instead of working for it, and begging God not to lead them "into temptation" but to deliver them (the memorialists only) from evil, the result is, that prayer, as now understood, is doubly pernicious: (a) It kills in man self-reliance: (b) It develops in him a still more ferocious selfishness and egotism than he is already endowed with by nature. I repeat that we believe in "communion" and simultaneous action in unison with our "Father in secret"; and in rare moments of ecstatic bliss, in the mingling of our higher soul with the universal essence, attracted as it is towards its origin and center, a state, called during life Samadhi and after death, Nirvana. We refuse to pray to created finite beings -i. e., gods, saints, angels, etc., because we regard it as idolatry. We cannot pray to the ABSOLUTE for reasons explained before; therefore, we try to replace fruitless and useless prayer by meritorious and good-producing actions.
Christians would call it pride and blasphemy. Are they wrong?
Entirely so. It is they, on the contrary, who show Satanic pride in their belief that the Absolute or the Infinite, even if there was such a thing as the possibility of any relation between the unconditioned and the conditioned -will stoop to listen to every foolish or egotistical prayer. And it is they again who virtually blaspheme in teaching that an Omniscient and Omnipotent God needs uttered prayers to know what he has to do! This -understood esoterically- is corroborated by both Buddha and Jesus. The one says "seek naught from the helpless Gods -pray not! but rather act; for darkness will not brighten. Ask naught from silence, for it can neither speak nor hear." And the other -Jesus- recommends: "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name (that of Christos) that will I do." Of course, this quotation, if taken in its literal sense, goes against our argument. But if we accept it esoterically, with the full knowledge of the meaning of the term, "Christos," which to us represents Atma-Buddhi-Manas, the "SELF," it comes to this: the only God we must recognize and pray to, or rather act in unison with is that spirit of God of which our body is the temple, and in which it dwelleth.
Prayer Kills Self-Reliance
But did not Christ himself pray and recommend prayer?
It is so recorded, but those "prayers" are precisely of that kind of communion just mentioned with one's "Father in secret." Otherwise, and if we identify Jesus with the universal deity, there would be something too absurdly illogical in the inevitable conclusion that he, the "very God himself" prayed to himself, and separated the will of that God from his own!
One argument more, an argument, moreover, much used by some Christians. They say "I feel that I am not able to conquer any passions and weaknesses in my own strength. But when I pray to Jesus Christ, I feel that he gives me strength and that, in His power, I am able to conquer."
No wonder. If "Christ Jesus" is God, and one independent and separate from him who prays, of course everything is, and must be possible to "a mighty God." But then, where's the merit, or justice either, of such a conquest? Why should the pseudo-conqueror be rewarded for something done which has cost him only prayers? Would you, even a simple mortal man, pay your laborer a full day's wage if you did most of his work for him, he sitting under an apple tree, and praying to you to do so, all the while? This idea of passing one's whole life in moral idleness, and having one's hardest work and duty done by another -whether God or man- is most revolting to us, as it is most degrading to human dignity.
Perhaps so, yet it is the idea of trusting in a personal Savior to help and strengthen in the battle of life, which is the fundamental idea of modern Christianity. And there is no doubt that, subjectively, such belief is efficacious; i. e., that those who believe do feel themselves helped and strengthened.
Nor is there any more doubt that some patients of "Christian" and "Mental Scientists" -the great "Deniers"- are also sometimes cured; nor that hypnotism and suggestion, psychology, and even mediumship, will produce such results as often, if not oftener. You take into consideration and string on the thread of your argument, successes alone. And how about ten times the number of failures? Surely you will not presume to say that failure is unknown even with a sufficiency of blind faith among fanatical Christians?
But how can you explain those cases which are followed by full success? Where does a Theosophist look to for power to subdue his passions and selfishness?
To his Higher Self, the divine spirit, or the God in him, and to his Karma. How long shall we have to repeat over and over again that the tree is known by its fruit, the nature of the cause by its effects? You speak of subduing passions, and becoming good through and with the help of God or Christ. We ask, where do you find more virtuous, guiltless people, abstaining from sin and crime, in Christendom or Buddhism -in Christian countries or in heathen lands? Statistics are there to give the answer and corroborate our claims. According to the last census in Ceylon and India, in the comparative table of crimes committed by Christians, Mussulmen, Hindus, Eurasians, Buddhists, etc., on two millions of population taken at random from each and covering the misdemeanors of several years, the proportion of crimes committed by the Christian stands as 15 to 4 against those committed by the Buddhist population. No Orientalist, no historian of any note, or traveler in Buddhist lands, from Bishop Bigandet and Abbe Huc, to Sir William Hunter and every fair-minded official, will fail to give the palm of virtue to Buddhists before Christians. Yet the former (not the true Buddhist Siamese sect, at all events) do not believe in either God or a future reward outside of this earth. They do not pray, neither priests nor laymen. "Pray!" they would exclaim in wonder, "to whom, or what?"
Then they are truly Atheists.
Most undeniably, but they are also the most virtue-loving and virtue-keeping men in the whole world. Buddhism says: Respect the religions of other men and remain true to your own; but Church Christianity, denouncing all the gods of other nations as devils, would doom every non-Christian to eternal perdition.
Does not the Buddhist priesthood do the same?
Never. They hold too much to the wise precept found in the Dammapada to do so, for they know that, "If any man, whether he be learned or not, consider himself so great as to despise other men, he is like a blind man holding a candle -blind himself, he illumines others."
On the Source of the Human Soul
How, then, do you account for man being endowed with a Spirit and Soul? Whence these?
From the Universal Soul. Certainly not bestowed by a personal God. Whence the moist element of the jelly-fish? From the Ocean which surrounds it, in which it lives and breathes and has its being, and whither it returns when dissolved.
So you reject the teaching that Soul is given, or breathed into man, by God?
We are obliged to. The "Soul" spoken of in Chapter II of Genesis (v. 7) is, as therein stated, the "living Soul" or Nephesh (the vital, animal soul) with which God (we say "nature" and immutable law) endows man like every animal. It is not at all the thinking soul or mind; least of all is it the immortal Spirit.
Well, let us put it otherwise: is it God who endows man with a human rational Soul and immortal Spirit?
Again, in the way you put the question, we must object to it. Since we believe in no personal God, how can we believe that he endows man with anything? But granting, for the sake of argument, a God who takes upon himself the risk of creating a new Soul for every new-born baby, all that can be said is that such a God can hardly be regarded as himself endowed with any wisdom or prevision. Certain other difficulties and the impossibility of reconciling this with the claims made for the mercy, justice, equity and omniscience of that God, are so many deadly reefs on which this theological dogma is daily and hourly broken.
What do you mean? What difficulties?
I am thinking of an unanswerable argument offered once in my presence by a Cingalese Buddhist priest, a famous preacher, to a Christian missionary -one in no way ignorant or unprepared for the public discussion during which it was advanced. It was near Colombo, and the Missionary had challenged the priest Megattivati to give his reasons why the Christian God should not be accepted by the "heathen." Well, the Missionary came out of that forever memorable discussion second best, as usual.
I should be glad to learn in what way.
Simply this: the Buddhist priest premised by asking the padri whether his God had given commandments to Moses only for men to keep, but to be broken by God himself. The missionary denied the supposition indignantly. Well, said his opponent, "you tell us that God makes no exceptions to this rule, and that no Soul can be born without his will. Now God forbids adultery, among other things, and yet you say in the same breath that it is he who creates every baby born, and he who endows it with a Soul. Are we then to understand that the millions of children born in crime and adultery are your God's work? That your God forbids and punishes the breaking of his laws; and that, nevertheless, he creates daily and hourly souls for just such children? According to the simplest logic, your God is an accomplice in the crime, since, but for his help and interference, no such children of lust could be born. Where is the justice of punishing not only the guilty parents but even the innocent babe for that which is done by that very God, whom yet you exonerate from any guilt himself?" The missionary looked at his watch and suddenly found it was getting too late for further discussion.
You forget that all such inexplicable cases are mysteries, and that we are forbidden by our religion to pry into the mysteries of God.
No, we do not forget, but simply reject such impossibilities. Nor do we want you to believe as we do. We only answer the questions you ask. We have, however, another name for your "mysteries."
The Buddhist Teachings on the Above
What does Buddhism teach with regard to the Soul?
It depends whether you mean exoteric, popular Buddhism, or its esoteric teachings. The former explains itself in the Buddhist Catechism in this wise: "Soul it considers a word used by the ignorant to express a false idea. If everything is subject to change, then man is included, and every material part of him must change. That which is subject to change is not permanent, so there can be no immortal survival of a changeful thing" This seems plain and definite. But when we come to the question that the new personality in each succeeding re-birth is the aggregate of "Skandhas," or the attributes, of the old personality, and ask whether this new aggregation of Skandhas is a new being likewise, in which nothing has remained of the last, we read that: "In one sense it is a new being, in another it is not. During this life, the Skandhas are continually changing, while the man A. B. of forty is identical as regards personality with the youth A . B. of eighteen, yet by the continual waste and reparation of his body and change of mind and character, he is a different being. Nevertheless, the man in his old age justly reaps the reward or suffering consequent upon his thoughts and actions at every previous stage of his life. So the new being of the re-birth, being the same individuality as before (but not the same personality), with but a changed form, or a new aggregation of Skandhas, justly reaps the consequences of his actions and thoughts in the previous existence." This is abstruse metaphysics, and plainly does not express disbelief in Soul by any means.
Is not something like this spoken of in Esoteric Buddhism?
It is, for this teaching belongs both to esoteric Budhism or Secret Wisdom, and to the exoteric Buddhism, or the religious philosophy of Gautama Buddha.
But we are distinctly told that most of the Buddhists do not believe in the Soul's immortality?
No more do we, if you mean by Soul the personal Ego, or life-Soul -Nephesh. But every learned Buddhist believes in the individual or divine Ego. Those who do not, err in their judgment. They are as mistaken on this point, as those Christians who mistake the theological interpolations of the later editors of the Gospels about damnation and hell-fire, for verbatim utterances of Jesus. Neither Buddha nor "Christ" ever wrote anything themselves, but both spoke in allegories and used "dark sayings," as all true initiates did, and will do for a long time yet to come. Both Scriptures treat of all such metaphisical questions very cautiously, and both, Buddhist and Christian records, sin by the excess of exotericism; the dead letter meaning far overshooting the mark in both cases.
Do you mean to suggest that neither the teachings of Buddha nor those of Christ have been heretofore rightly understood?
What I mean is just as you say. Both Gospels, the Buddhist and the Christian, were preached with the same object in view. Both reformers were ardent philanthropists and practical altruists -- preaching most unmistakably Socialism of the noblest and highest type, self-sacrifice to the bitter end. "Let the sins of the whole world fall upon me that I may relieve man's misery and suffering!" cries Buddha; . . . "I would not let one cry whom I could save!" exclaims the Prince-beggar, clad in the refuse rags of the burial-grounds. "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest," is the appeal to the poor and disinherited made by the "Man of Sorrows," who hath not where to lay his head. The teachings of both are boundless love for humanity, charity, forgiveness of injury, forgetfulness of self, and pity for the deluded masses; both show the same contempt for riches, and make no difference between meum and tuum. Their desire was, without revealing to all the sacred mysteries of initiation, to give the ignorant and the misled, whose burden in life was too heavy for them, hope enough and an inkling into the truth sufficient to support them in their heaviest hours. But the object of both Reformers was frustrated, owing to excess of zeal of their later followers. The words of the Masters having been misunderstood and misinterpreted, behold the consequences!
But surely the Buddha must have repudiated the soul's immortality, if all the Orientalists and his own Priests say so!
THe Arhats began by following the policy of their Master and the majority of the subequent priests were not initiated, just as in Christianity; and so, little by little, the great esoteric truths became almost lost. A proof in point is that, out of the two existing sects in Ceylon, the Siamese believes death to be the absolute annihilation of individuality and personality, and the other explains Nirvana, as we theosophists do.
But why, in that case, do Buddhism and Christianity represent the two opposite poles of such belief?
Because the conditions under which they were preached were not the same. In India the Brahmins, jealous of their superior knowledge, and excluding from it every caste save their own, had exuberance of unhealthy fancy and fanatical superstition resulting from ignorance, such as has rarely been known before or after. Better a philosophical atheism than such ignorant worship for those --
"Who cry upon their gods and are not heard,
Or are not heeded --"
and who live and die in mental despair. He had to arrest first of all this muddy torrent of superstition, to uproot errors before he gave out the truth. And as he could not give out all for the same good reason as Jesus, who reminds his disciples that the Mysteries of Heaven are not for the unintelligent masses, but for the elect alone, and therefore "spake he to them in parables" (Matt. xiii. 11) -- so his caution led Buddha to conceal too much. He even refused to say to the monk Vacchagotta whether there was, or was not an Ego in man. When pressed to answer, "the Exalted one maintained silence."
This refers to Guatama, but in what way does it touch the Gospels?
Read history and think over it. At the time the events narrated in the Gospels are alleged to have happened, there was a similar intellectual fermentation taking place in the whole civilized world, only with opposite results in the East and the West. The old gods were dying out. While the civilized classes drifted in the train of the unbelieving Sadducees into materialistic negations and mere dead-letter Mosaic form in Palestine, and into moral dissolution in Rome, the lowest and poorer classes ran after sorcery and strange gods, or became hypocrites and Pharisees. Once more the time for a spiritual reform had arrived. The cruel, anthropomorphic and jealous God of the Jews, with his sanguinary laws of "an eye for eye and tooth for tooth," of shedding blood and animal sacrifice, had to be relegated to a secondary place and replaced by the merciful "Father in Secret." The latter had to be shown, not as an extra-Cosmic God, but as a divine savior of the man of flesh, enshrined in his own heart and soul, in the poor as in the rich. No more here than in India, could the secrets of initiation be divulged, lest by giving that which is holy to the dogs, and casting pearls before swine, both the Revealer and the things revealed should be trodden under foot. Thus, the reticence of both Buddha and Jesus -- whether the latter lived out the historic period allotted to him or not, and who equally abstained from revealing plainly the Mysteries of Life and Death -- led in the one case to the blank negations of Southern Buddhism, and in the other, to the three clashing forms of the Christian Church and the 300 sects in Protestant England alone.