Some of the most important and interesting teaching on Theosophical subjects which might not otherwise have been touched upon in formal exposition were given by Dr. de Purucker in answer to direct questions sent to him from various parts of the world; and it is these that are included in this present series, which the Editors plan to run for several issues. It may be interesting to readers to know that these answers were often dictated the first thing in the morning while the Leader was having his breakfast.
WAS CHRISTIANITY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DARK AGES?
Question — Some people say, I fear after but a superficial study of the matter, that Christianity is responsible for the Dark Ages in Europe which so quickly followed the establishment of Christianity as a State religion. They also quote H. P. Blavatsky to this effect. Is this the recognised Theosophical viewpoint?
G. de P. — The statement that came from H. P. B. I think was that the downward cycle to which the questioner refers began some five hundred years before the Christian era, and that is true. But you must not suppose from this that it was Christianity, or the beginning of the Christian era, that was solely responsible for the Dark Ages then to come, for this is unjust, it is untrue. It is true, however — and I trust any Christian friends will forgive me for this plain speaking — that had Christianity remained utter true to the teachings of its grand Master, the work that Christianity set out to do would have been far better done, and the Dark Ages might have never come upon the West as actually took place.
The truth was this: that a descending cycle began some few hundred years before what is now called the beginning of the Christian era. It was a cycle going downward, what Plato would have called a beginning of a Cycle of Spiritual Barrenness: and the Christian movement, then a Theosophical movement of its time in the countries around the Mediterranean, was begun in an effort to stem the horrors that were bound to come, to throw a new wave of spirituality into the thought-life of men in the Occident. The Orient needed it not, but the Occident did. And for hundreds of years it did act as a brake, a brake on the charge of human life which was running downhill. And in ways it did good. But oh, how more blessed might have been the results if their great Master's life and teachings had been the example of his followers as their conduct in their own lives. It was a spiritual movement started in order to help mankind on a cycle running downwards before it began to reascend.
It is quite wrong and unjust, nevertheless, as some people have done, namely men whose hearts have been hurt by what they have seen of the wrong-doings of the Christian Church in the past — it has been unjust to that Church and Christianity as Christianity to blame it wholly for the Dark Ages. There were great and good men among the primitive Christians and they labored nobly. The pity of it is there were not more who labored to lift men during that cycle which a few of them at least knew was a cycle running downwards.
We Theosophists today have a similar work to do but on differing lines: a cycle beginning its rise commenced some time before H. P. B. came to the Western world; and a rising cycle, very slow now, but it will be constantly rising for a while, has set in. And the dangers here in their way are just as serious, perhaps more subtil, difficult to deal with, than are the dangers afflicting men or menacing men when the cycle runs downward. Perhaps the greatest danger facing us today in this era of universal change and overturnings generally due to cosmic causes, is the increasing outbreak of psychic eruptions from the astral light, something foretold by the Masters, about which H. P. B. warned us. We have just to look around the world to see, seeing to understand.
For my part, I would we had the backing of a great enlightened Christian organization, filled with the spirit of their Avatara-Master, which with our own organization could see and understand the dangers that menace men. With its power and wealth, and presumably accepted order and perhaps interior discipline, if it could only be fired unto a new vision of the spirit of their Master Jesus, then these Christians of the type of their Master would be working with us hand in hand, for our movements really would be one. But where, alas, alas, may we Theosophists find such a devoted organization of what I may call primitive Christians, infilled with the spirit of their great Master?
THE TEN AVATARAS OF VISHNU
Question — I have been puzzling over a list of the ten avataras of Vishnu, as given in the Brahmanical scriptures, and wondering if there is not some connexion between them and the scientific conception of evolution, Would you throw any light on this? The list follows: 1. Matsya, the Fish; 2. Kurma, the Tortoise; 3. Varaha, the Boar; 4. Narasimha, the Man-lion; 5. Vamana, the Dwarf; 6. Parasu-Rama, Rama with the Ax; 7. Rama, hero of the Ramayana; 8. Krishna, the spiritual instructor of Arjuna; 9. Buddha; 10. Kalki, the White Horse.
G. de P. — This line of avataric descents really is in the evolutionary line of progressive growth, even as European science teaches it. You have, first, the Fish, the Reptile, the Mammal, the beginnings of the humanity, young Humanity called the Boar Humanity, as such more or less developed but unspiritual; then Rama of the Moon, Chandra, showing the beginnings of the workings of mind, and then Krishna; the avataric initiate Gautama the Buddha, and finally the Kalki-Avatara, the summit or highest of all. I might add that all these names do not imply and were never intended to imply that Brahmanical esotericism taught the descent of divinities into the respective animate beings named here. These names of different animals and men are technical, and like all zoologic mythology were chosen because of certain attributes that these various animate beings have.
Now, these avataric descents do not appertain solely to a race or a root-race, nor to a globe, nor to a chain, nor to a solar-system alone. But because Nature repeats herself by analogy, for the simple reason that the little must have in it and reproduce whatever its parent the whole contains, therefore the same line of enlarging understanding, of evolutionary development, takes place in all the spheres mutatis mutandis. So that these avataric descents we can ascribe or allocate to the solar system, to the planetary chain as a whole, to a round, to a globe, to a root-race, to a sub-race therein.
It is very interesting too, that although this line of ten items, ten avataric descents, is typically Hindu, nevertheless the same scheme, suggesting growth in knowledge and wisdom and power, with all consequent spiritual and other attributes and faculties attending thereupon, were and still are found in systems of religio-philosophical and mystical thought other than the Hindu, as for instance, in Mithraism. The Mithraists had seven degrees — actually ten or twelve — seven degrees of advancing knowledge and growth in understanding. We would say seven esoteric degrees in the esoteric cycle, beginning with the lowest and rising through various degrees to the highest therein. Thus, for instance, they taught that the neophyte began his course of experience, and he was given a name, the name of a bird as I recollect. I do not remember them all in the Mithraic system, but one grade was called Corax, the crow or the raven, and the neophyte who successfully passed that grade was called technically a crow. It did not mean that he was a crow. It was a technical word (the raven in Mithraic mythology was the servant of the Sun) marking his stage of evolutionary growth, development. Just as in the avataric list the evolutionary growth is indicated from the less to the greater, from the fish through the reptile, through the mammal, headed by man, etc., etc.
The second grade in the hierarchy of the Mithraists was Cryphius, Occult, higher than the crow. The third grade was that of the soldier. The fourth grade was that of the lion; and so forth up to the highest, which was Pater, the Father or hierophant. These were technical terms marking the advancing degrees of initiation. And to show a still greater similarity to this scheme, the Mithraists said that these same seven or ten grades of growth or advancement mark the stages of the after-death journey of the excarnate being through the planets — their ladder of life, each one a stage.
Somewhat the same thing was found in Christianity. Christian neophytes were called fishes, so that they even said of themselves: "We are little fishes. Our great Fish is our Master Jesus." Why did they choose such a curious little animal to designate themselves by? For certain reasons of their own which we can easily imagine. Fishes could swim in water, and are perpetually hungry, and are going through the water, which is the astral light, signifying the material world and its temptations, and all that kind of thing; hungering for light all the time. If you catch the thought, you will see the reason why the earliest Christians called themselves little fishes.
I might add that in connexion with the highest of these avataric grades, that of the Kalki Avatara, marked by the white horse, riding the white horse: the horse is a symbol of the Sun; the bull or cow is a symbol of the moon; and you may remember how in Egypt and Persia, India, Babylonia, and other places, these animals were used as symbolic suggestions. Pictures of Egyptian buildings, temples, shrines, and those of other peoples, show the sacred cow, the sacred bull, the sacred horse, and so forth. As the horse stood for the sun, so the tenth Avatara here would be an Avatara of Vishnu or Maha-Vishnu, of the Sun.
What do we learn from this? This scheme, in addition to being the names given by human beings to the Avataras, from the first to the tenth, represents likewise the technical names given to neophytes in esoteric schools. The lowest chela was called a fish, just as in Mithraism he was called by the name of a bird. The chela who had taken the second degree successfully was called a tortoise. When he took the third successfully, he was called a boar; and the highest of all was called an incarnation of the Sun, a Son of the Sun technically, called a white horse, or a brilliant horse, a dazzling horse.
You know, we can glean something else from this line of avataric descents. If you examine this carefully, you will see in time, that these different items in the ascending list from one to ten represent the ten sub-races in any one root-race, commonly enumerated as seven. Actually there are twelve.
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