Integral Spiritual Mythology: The Divine Song (Part II)
“There is no getting away from it, it is the sad fate of truth that it must always become paradoxical in the world. Truth is not able to sit on the throne of error, therefore it sits on the throne of time, and appeals to the guardian angel of time. So great, however, is the spread of that angel's mighty wings that the individual dies within a single beat.” - Arthur Schopenhauer
In this elegant and profound observation, Schopenhauer, one of the most influential Western idealist philosophers of the modern age, who was among the first to expose the Western world to Eastern spirituality, directs our attention to a simple fact about how we must contemplate all ancient attempts to represent essential truth. We must recognize those representations are speaking from a concrete perspective in space and time - they perceived and cognized the world in a specific way - and that governs how the world appears within their imagination, and they, in turn, represent the world through their imagination. With ancient mythology, to think is to imagine. It is to perceive and connect phenomena of the world with flowing images from a variety of perspectives. When we perceive the physical around us, we are also engaging Imagination of this kind - what Coleridge called the "Primary Imagination" - but we have simply forgotten that we are so engaged in the modern age. The flowing images have calcified into frozen 'things', imprisoned by our forgetfulness and our lack of imagination.
Owen Barfield clarified that "images" must be distinguished from mere "things" if we are to begin recalling this Primary Imagination - "things" are representations which only relate to us outer surfaces and quantitative properties of 'things' in the world, while the "images" convey the fullness and richness of interiority - a wide range of inner qualities of meaning. The person who perceives a tree as a picture will only see roots, branches, leaves, color, sizes, etc., and then only a chance cross-section of those 'things' in time. The person who perceives the tree as an image will also see its flowing transformations across time; its growth and decay; its relation to other living trees nearby; its relation to our shared meaning of the word "tree"; the meaning of its trunk leading to branches, twigs, and leaves; the function of the tree in its environment; the uses of the tree for humans; and many other richly meaningful qualities. The imaginative thinker will eventually perceive the entire World from the tree, as William Blake perceived in a grain of sand, but without losing the resolution born of thinking its essence through carefully.
There is no doubting Schopenhauer's observation that essential Reality, expressed by mythologies, will appear paradoxical in a variety of ways - their truth can only be expressed in abstract symbols of the sense-world and, due to their unique perspective and the limitations of modern intellect, those abstractions will inevitably clash meanings with each other in contradictory ways. Krishna will proclaim that He is "God eternal" who is "causing all life to live", and also "The Slayer Time - the Ancient of Days - who brings all to doom". We can say these mythic assertions are "paradoxical", "irrational", or use some other label, but one thing they are certainly not - rational. What Schopenhauer failed to understand, however, is that the human mind's ideational activity is not limited to the rational intellect of the 18th-19th century. We have no reason to assume the mind which converted perceived truths into irrational symbols is not also capable of understanding, in detail, how those symbols relate back to the truths they are symbolizing.
The only reason to impose these arbitrary limitations on the human mind is to unconsciously avoid the vast spiritual implications which unfold from mythology revealed under a Light free of them. For most people alive in the Western world today, these bad habits of mind have darkened their doors because they were inherited from philosophical titans such as Kant and Schopenhauer. Kant sought to forever insulate religious faith from the light of Reason, while Schopenhauer sought to forever insulate the "strong blind man" from the "lame man who can see", i.e. religious man, who he carries on his shoulders. They were two sides of the same rigged coin - heads we have unknowable God and tails we have blind, uncaring Will. Fortunately, neither were correct - the human mind can transcend its own symbols by translating them back into their original language - the spiritual forces who made them possible in the first place. That is because, the mind is, in its essence, identical to the power of Spirit; an identity revealed clearly in the Gita.
Krishna: "I am the Sacrifice! I am the Prayer! I am the Funeral-Cake set for the dead! I am the healing herb! I am the ghee, The Mantra, and the flame, and that which burns! I am —of all this boundless Universe — The Father, Mother, Ancestor, and Guard! The end of Learning! That which purifies In lustral water! I am OM! I am Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Ved; The Way, the Fosterer, the Lord, the Judge, The Witness; the Abode, the Refuge-House, The Friend, the Fountain and the Sea of Life Which sends, and swallows up; Treasure of Worlds And Treasure-Chamber! Seed and Seed-Sower, Whence endless harvests spring! Sun's heat is mine; Heaven's rain is mine to grant or to withhold; Death am I, and Immortal Life I am..."
The verses above will likely sound as pure divine egoism to the modern intellect. Many people may be surprised that such verses can be found in ancient Hindu spiritual tradition and question this English translation. That reaction actually serves a great purpose if it is harnessed properly - it is a dim reflection of the monumental soul-transformation Arjuna himself experienced in this revelation, as the concept of the essential "I" was emerging from the depths of the communal spiritual realm into the fragmented physical one. And if we remember that "Veda" means "Word" in Sanskrit, and the "I AM" is how Divinity revealed itself to Moses in the book of Exodus, we can begin connecting these images together to form a marker which will serve us well in our future mythic explorations. For now, we can simply observe how none of the above connections will be brought to life within us by way of rational intellect alone. They all call upon the intellect to go well beyond itself for their essential meaning, and it is our choice whether we respond to that call or not.
Well-educated scientists and philosophers of the modern age have the most difficult time responding to this call, because much of their career and self-identity is interwoven with a commitment to remain in the domain of intellect. It is no wonder, then, that Schopenhauer failed to find any redemptive Spirit in mythology; that he felt a good musical composition would provide infinitely more meaning to the human soul than all the content of the world's mythologies combined. For him, the latter simply occupied humanity intellectually while its collective soul withers and dies as assuredly as the tree returns to the ground from which it grows. I too would always prefer experience of music over contemplation of mythology if I failed to perceive how the intellect can overcome itself, but we are not forced to make this conceit of the human spirit. Schopenhauer's contemporaries in German idealist philosophy, Fichte and Hegel, made no such conceit.
They recognized that what we refer to as the "I" of the human soul - also referred to as the "Spirit" - cannot be derived from anything outside of itself. The whole phenomenal world comes into being by way of the "I" recognizing its own spiritual activity, and therefore it is that spiritual activity where we always find the noumenon and phenomenon united. Steiner broadly referred to that activity as "Thinking", which includes reason, imagination, inspiration, and intuition. None of these conclusions must be accepted on Kant's blind faith or by Schopenhauer's blind will, but can be discovered through our imaginative vocation and responsibility as human souls. We can work hard and smart from the phenomenology of physical and mythical imagery, as it presents in our experience, back to the creative Spirit who gives rise to those images within us. Then we can come to the 'frightening conclusion' with Goethe that, "I am the decisive element - it is my personal approach that creates the climate; it is my daily mood that makes the weather."
The ‘I’ posits itself, and it is by virtue of this mere positing of itself; and conversely: The ‘I’ is, and posits its existence, by virtue of its mere existence. It is at the same time the one acting and the product of its action; the active one and what is brought forth by the activity; action and deed are one and the same; and therefore the ‘I am’ is the expression of an active deed. - Gottlieb Fichte, The Vocation of Man (1799) The spirit of its gratitude is accordingly tinged with the most deep-seated feelings of abjectness and of indignation. The pure I, seeing itself outside of and dissevered from itself, here finds that all continuity and community with others, everything affirmed as law, as the good, as right, has gone to rack and ruin. All equality has dissolved; for everywhere rampant is the sheerest disparity, the utter insignificance of what’s absolutely vital, the heteronomy of autonomy itself. The pure I has itself come wholly undone... Yet, as self, consciousness forthwith surmounts the contradiction—being so perfectly elastic that it in turn 'ifies' the self’s being thus 'ified', rejects the self’s being abjectly present to itself as something alien, and manages, while aghast at this way of “acquiring” a self, to be present to itself in the act of acquisition after all. - Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807)
A later 19th century thinker in the East, Fyodor Dostoevsky, observed, "the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!" Here, Dostoevsky's "Underground Man" is speaking of modern men who cannot think outside the box of modern intellect, so they condemn the enterprise of Thinking altogether. These men feel that they have reached the summit of philosophical and scientific knowledge, and are so utterly disappointed with the view which confronts them that, after much intellectual philosophizing, they feel compelled to leap off of it. Man will tear off his own skin to prove that he is not a piano-key, says Dostoevsky, which forces him to the question - "can one help being tempted to rejoice that it has not yet come off, and that desire still depends on something we don't know?" If I was forced to sum up the entire purpose of ancient mythology in one phrase, it would be this - "to help our Imagination remember our Cosmic spiritual essence - an essence we don't yet know - but are entirely capable of knowing".
It is that purpose which gets us from extreme philosophical pessimism to an imaginal realm worth pursuing. Now we will conclude our soul-exploration of the Gita. We should recall how the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, prince of the Pandavas, is being narrated to the blind King of the Kauravas, as the two clans are engaged in an epic fratricidal war. Let us also recall that the three cultural epochs prior to the fourth are mirrored reflections of the three epochs after the fourth. The Gita relates spiritual Wisdom revealed at the tail end of the third epoch transitioning into the fourth epoch. In the modern age of the fifth epoch, to describe a person as "blind" was to say he is failing to see the true state of affairs. That is, he is failing to see the noumenal reality behind the Maya of the sense-world. And so Goethe remarked, "Truth is a torch but a tremendous one; that is why we hurry past it, shielding our eyes, indeed, in fear of getting burned.” Yet, in the third epoch, the "blind" King was actually failing to see the Maya of the sense-world, which, from his ancient perspective, was still immersed in the reality of the spiritual.
This inversion of imagery is a critical point for mythic understanding. Not only are all spiritual truths, when expressed by mythic imagery, relational to the particular perspectives from which they are conceived and spoken, but the entire purpose of the spiritual mythology is relational in this same way. What was revealed to Arjuna in the eternally majestic form of Krishna flows in the exact opposite direction of what will be revealed in Divinity to future humans by the reflecting mirror of the fourth epoch - that is, we humans of the fifth to seventh epochs. The epic soul-transformation from the "we" to the "I" is now flowing back from the "I" to the "we" with scientific precision. The former flow aided Arjuna in comprehending the unfamiliar physical through the familiar spiritual, while the latter will aid future man in comprehending the unfamiliar spiritual through the familiar physical. That is the underlying reason for the development of imagery and thought as we find in the mythologies and philosophies of the East and West, and their greatest respective personalities.
We must remember to always keep this point in consideration when contemplating philosophy and mythology, because ultimately all spiritual remembrance is for the benefit of our practical lives in the present day. We cannot study these things to pump up our own knowledge so that we feel like a philosopher standing at the top of an intellectual summit, looking down on everyone else who has not yet made the hike. Instead, we are imaginatively remembering the myths so that they encourage concrete spiritual action in our lives, and so that, in turn, our example may encourage these concrete actions in others. None of what we discover in mythology matters unless it makes a practical difference in how we think, feel, and act in the world. We should absorb mythic knowledge with Arjuna's spiritual curiosity, his willingness to learn, and his sense of duty. Steiner summed it up as follows - "The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.”
Sanjaya (narrator): "Then, O King! [Krishna], so saying, Stood, to Pritha's Son [Arjuna] displaying All the splendour, wonder, dread Of His vast Almighty-head. Out of countless eyes beholding, Out of countless mouths commanding, Countless mystic forms enfolding In one Form: supremely standing ... So He showed! If there should rise Suddenly within the skies Sunburst of a thousand suns Flooding earth with beams undeemed-of, Then might be that Holy One's Majesty and radiance dreamed of!" Arjuna: "Yea! I have seen! I see! Lord! all is wrapped in Thee! The gods are in Thy glorious frame! the creatures Of earth, and heaven, and hell In Thy Divine form dwell... Darkness to dazzling day, Look I whichever way; Ah, Lord! I worship Thee, the Undivided, The Uttermost of thought, The Treasure-Palace wrought To hold the wealth of the worlds; the Shield provided To shelter Virtue's laws; The Fount whence Life's stream draws All waters of all rivers of all being: The One Unborn, Unending: Unchanging and Unblending! With might and majesty, past thought, past seeing!"
We began to look at the inversion taking place within the Gita's own mythic content at the ninth and tenth discourses in Part I, when the narrative shifts from Krishna's revelation of his spiritual splendor to Arjuna, to Arjuna's sight and understanding of Krishna in light of that revelation. In the above verses, we have reached the peak of Krishna's revelation of himself to Arjuna's clairvoyant faculty (corresponding to our imaginative thinking today). Robert Oppenheimer, when working on the Manhattan Project during World War II, thought of the imagery in the underlined verses when he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon - a test which was was given the code name "Trinity" - and he quoted Krishna when ominously remarking, "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.". That imagistic connection should give us some more appreciation for the sheer intensity of what Arjuna was witnessing as an external revelatory force in Krishna. And we are not far from spiritual truth if we imagine that this Divine revelation was fated to express itself outwardly by way of man's deadly creation in our own transformational epochs, when the flame of man's divine Light is also being kindled from within.
The physical (outward) is now a dim reflection of meaning expressed by the spiritual (inward), but our neglected imagination of the spiritual - which expands what Jung called the collective "Shadow" - has already started to become our deadliest creations in the physical. Our efforts to understand ancient mythology is an effort to proceed with abundant caution in this regard. The remainder of the Gita focuses on how Arjuna can remain truly connected with his inner spiritual essence while descending fully into the physical realm. That is how the average human soul from that time until present day has remained connected with its inner life - by setting up the surrounding environment in particular ideal configurations which allow it to make sense of itself within that environment. To structure one's external environment is also to structure one's internal psychic states. That is, for example, why we always feel more inwardly harmonized and wholesome after organizing our rooms, or, better still, tending to our gardens. This principle makes it is easier to imagine why curiosity, investigation, and knowledge of the physical world also brings about inward alignment.
A particular threefold configuration of impressions in the physical realm found special importance in ancient Hindu philosophy - that of sattva, rajas, and tamas. It is no less critical for modern man to understand this configuration as he begins to turn his attention back upward from the physical to the spiritual. When we are enveloped in the sense-world throughout the day, we become more bound to our surroundings in an unconscious and mechanistic way. Since we cannot altogether avoid the sense-world and continue to function as social personalities within it, what are we to do? It is precisely a deep penetration of the physical with our knowing faculties which orients our soul in it and teaches our soul to live more independently of it; to rise above the physical so as to discern its fluid connections with the spiritual from which it descended. That is the essence of the imaginative thinking we have been discussing in these essays and, hopefully, utilizing while we contemplate the Gita as well. Let us embrace that Imagination very firmly as we conclude this particular chapter of our mythic exploration.
Krishna: "Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, so are named The qualities of Nature, “Soothfastness,” “Passion,” and “Ignorance.” These three bind down The changeless Spirit in the changeful flesh. Whereof sweet “Soothfastness,” by purity Living unsullied and enlightened, binds The sinless Soul to happiness and truth; And Passion, being kin to appetite, And breeding impulse and propensity, Binds the embodied Soul, O Kunti's Son! By tie of works. But Ignorance, begot Of Darkness, blinding mortal men, binds down Their souls to stupor, sloth, and drowsiness. Yea, Prince of India! Soothfastness binds souls In pleasant wise to flesh; and Passion binds By toilsome strain; but Ignorance, which blots The beams of wisdom, binds the soul to sloth. Passion and Ignorance, once overcome, Leave Soothfastness, O Bharata!" Arjuna: "Oh, my Lord! Which be the signs to know him that hath gone Past the Three Modes? How liveth he? What way Leadeth him safe beyond the threefold Modes."
The tamas nature is that of the soul whose actions, feelings, and thoughts are fully interwoven with immediate sense-impressions, so that the inner life of both the perceiving soul and the world it perceives is hardly noticed. Rajas nature finds an intermediate state where the soul can enjoy sense-impressions by way of some knowledge of how they relate and function, but does not penetrate too deeply into their essence. Finally, the sattwa nature is a synthesis which always perceives the world with radiant feelings and conceives it with precise intelligence. In relation to ancient Hindu philosophy and spirituality, the tamas men were the priests who only repeated "Aum, Aum, Aum" as compensation for the lack of living soul-connection with the spiritual realm. The Rajas men sensed something in the surrounding world which was akin to their own nature - the men of "Tat" - and therefore worshipped the "That" (Cosmos) as akin to themselves. And the sattwa men had an integral sense for "Sat" - the harmonious Unity of their higher Self with the "That" of the Cosmos by way of the Spirit which pervades All-being.
That is not exactly how the ancient Indian soul would have imagined this threefold configuration of man's relation to the sense-world, but it is about the closest we can get when translating that approach into modern intellectual terms. The central purpose for understanding this configuration, however, is fundamentally the same for both ancient Indian and modern souls - to perceive the flowing and rhythmic structure of our involvement in the sense-world and thereby conceive how we, in the inner essence of our souls, are conjoined with a much higher threefold Spirit who, through our own highest and most truthful conceptions of Him, sets our souls free. It is that Spirit who gives us ears to hear and eyes to see; who tells us that we should "not love sleep lest [we] come to poverty", and to "open our eyes", so that "[we] will be satisfied with bread". The ancient proverbs of Wisdom must come to life in our imagination so that our imagination will come to fruition in our life. When we ask in the Spirit's name, we shall also receive "so that [our] joy may be full", as Arjuna's impulse into our ever-evolving myth is reflected into our own.
Krishna: "When, in this world of manifested life, The undying Spirit, setting forth from Me, Taketh on form, it draweth to itself From Being's storehouse, — which containeth all, — Senses and intellect. The Sovereign Soul Thus entering the flesh, or quitting it, Gathers these up, as the wind gathers scents... The unenlightened ones Mark not that Spirit when he goes or comes, Nor when he takes his pleasure in the form, Conjoined with qualities; but those see plain Who have the eyes to see. Holy souls see Which strive thereto. Enlightened, they perceive That Spirit in themselves; but foolish ones, Even though they strive, discern not, having hearts Unkindled, ill-informed! ... The Doors of Hell Are threefold, whereby men to ruin pass, — The door of Lust, the door of Wrath, the door Of Avarice. Let a man shun those three! He who shall turn aside from entering All those three gates of Narak, wendeth straight To find his peace, and comes to Swarga's gate. ... Threefold the faith is of mankind and springs From those three qualities, — becoming “true,” Or “passion-stained,” or “dark,” as thou shalt hear! The faith of each believer, Indian Prince! Conforms itself to what he truly is."
Krishna reveals a final paradoxical truth borne by the Guardian Angel's mighty wings of Time. The threefold doors of the sense-world which open into Hell will, in the course of Time, be reborn - transfigured - into the threefold faith which conforms itself to the true spiritual essence of man's soul. Mere intellect will never grasp this spiritual truth, for "straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life", so it will only be grasped by power of the Spirit's threefold cognition (imagination, inspiration, and intuition). What the Eastern spiritual traditions have referred to as "Maya" - that which Schopenhauer also elevated in his world-conception of blind Will - was not an absolute state of the physical world, but rather it was a reflection of our own spiritual infancy. It is we who have so far failed to raise our spiritual thinking activity to the heights needed to discern the spiritual essence of Maya from its physical images. We must always refrain from blaming the world or other souls in it for what we ourselves are failing to perceive. When our tamas nature wishes to recruit our soul to any vengeful cause, we must tell it firmly: "let he who is without sin cast the first stone".
Krishna: "Knowledge, the thing known, and the mind which knows, These make the threefold starting-ground of act. The act, the actor, and the instrument, These make the threefold total of the deed. ... [narrator] Hide, the holy Krishna saith, This from him that hath no faith, Him that worships not, nor seeks Wisdom's teaching when she speaks: Hide it from all men who mock; But, wherever, 'mid the flock Of My lovers, one shall teach This divinest, wisest, speech — Teaching in the faith to bring Truth to them, and offering Of all honour unto Me — Unto Brahma cometh he!" Arjuna: "Trouble and ignorance are gone! the Light Hath come unto me, by Thy favour, Lord! Now am I fixed! my doubt is fled away! According to Thy word, so will I do!"
Arjuna was not naively following blind will or faith, but rather the Light of knowledge revealed in Krishna. He came to know how the Spirit within him would provide his soul enough meaning to even endure fratricidal war. Put another way by Steiner - "all lamentations about an existence that does not satisfy us... must disappear before the thought that no power in the world could satisfy us if we ourselves did not first lend it that magical power by which it uplifts and gladdens us." That is the essence of philosophical and spiritual optimism. The soul who is familiar with Imagination, in its essence, will find it impossible to cast aspersions on its own thinking activity. It will rejoice in the knowledge that the violent waves of life in the sense-world recede by way of that spiritual activity, which it can summon on a moment's notice, just as Arjuna was learning to do. All the cold, rigid madness of the world will begin to soften and melt just as soon as the human soul begins to comprehend it. The Light of the shared Spirit will radiate warmth on all that surrounds the thoughtful soul. This sublime truth is what impelled Arjuna to good deeds and, with persistence, love, and knowledge, will continue working in his spiritual descendants for the epochs to come.
Returning once more to our theme of mythic inversion, let us recall from Part I how our rhythmic thinking is born, dies, and is reborn. It may seem odd that our thoughts are born in our sleep and dreams at night, that they die during the day, and that they are reborn during the next night. We may sense that goes against the modern symbols of daylight as conscious and clear thinking, and the darkness as unconsciousness or muddled thinking. That is only if we forget that, in the post-fourth epochs, it is the inverted image which holds sway. Thoughts must first die within us before they are reborn in the higher light of the Spirit. That process of "dying" is precisely the process of converting the darkness shrouding our imaginative thoughts into "sunbursts of a thousand suns" by the power of the Light within; it is the process which summons our Shadow into that searing Light of consciousness. This process is how the human soul enters into dream states with full consciousness, which then become the highest expression of its imaginative thinking.
And so we come to know that opening our eyes to the outward physical alone is not sufficient, no more so than closing our eyes to the physical for sake of the inward spiritual - only the synthesis into a still higher Unity will do. That is the synthesis which brings together flowing streams of Eastern and Western mythology into a common current of spirituality. Although this impulse was planted as a seed in the revelation of Krishna to Arjuna, it really began to grow and blossom in the central fourth epoch of the Spirit's metamorphic progression, much farther West of ancient India. It is there and then we come to a few key personalities who picked up and carried the tremendous torch of spiritual truth as it manifested in the sense-world. There is one such personality who suffered a terrible fate for the sake of carrying that torch in a world which had all but lost sight of the spiritual behind the physical. He is an ancient soul who is much closer than Arjuna to our own in the present day, and who spoke of the soul's immortality in the circumstances which were least likely to demonstrate it - in those moments which preceded his own death.
"But then, O my friends, he said, if the soul is really immortal, what care should be taken of her, not only in respect of the portion of time which is called life, but of eternity! And the danger of neglecting her from this point of view does indeed appear to be awful. If death had only been the end of all, the wicked would have had a good bargain in dying, for they would have been happily quit not only of their body, but of their own evil together with their souls. But now, inasmuch as the soul is manifestly immortal, there is no release or salvation from evil except the attainment of the highest virtue and wisdom. For the soul when on her progress to the world below takes nothing with her but nurture and education; and these are said greatly to benefit or greatly to injure the departed, at the very beginning of his journey thither. For after death, as they say, the genius of each individual, to whom he belonged in life, leads him to a certain place in which the dead are gathered together, whence after judgment has been given they pass into the world below, following the guide, who is appointed to conduct them from this world to the other: and when they have there received their due and remained their time, another guide brings them back again after many revolutions of ages. Now this way to the other world is not, as Aeschylus says in the Telephus, a single and straight path—if that were so no guide would be needed, for no one could miss it; but there are many partings of the road, and windings, as I infer from the rites and sacrifices which are offered to the gods below in places where three ways meet on earth." - Socrates (Discourse from Plato's Phaedo)