THEOSOPHY, Vol. 42, No. 11, September, 1954
(Pages 511-516; Size: 18K)
PRALAYA is a period of observation or repose -- planetary, cosmic, or universal -- the opposite of Manvantara, a period of manifestation. Pralaya is the night after the Manvantaric day. As Manvantara or manifestation is divided into seven periods, so is Pralaya or rest. Our globe is subject to seven periodical entire changes which go pari passu with the races. For the Secret Doctrine teaches that, during this present Round, there must be seven terrestrial pralayas -- three of these occasioned by the changes in the inclination of the earth's axis. In Occultism this inexorable law is referred to as "the great ADJUSTER." Planetary chains, it is said, have their "Days" and their "Nights" -- periods of activity or life, and of inertia or death -- and behave in heaven as men do on Earth. They generate their likes, get old, and become personally extinct, their spiritual principles only living in their progeny as a survival of themselves. Pralaya is thus a term applying also to each "obscuration," and even to every cataclysm that puts an end, by fire or by water in turn, to each root-race.
Lost continents are officially suspected. That worlds, also races, are periodically destroyed by fire (volcanoes and earthquakes) and water, in turn, and renewed, is a doctrine as old as man. Manu, Hermes, the Chaldees, all antiquity believed in this. Twice already has the face of the globe been changed by fire, and twice by water, since man appeared on it. As land needs rest and renovation, new forces, and a change for its soil, so does water. Thence arises a periodical redistribution of land and water, change of climate, etc., all brought on by geological revolution, and ending in a final change in the axis. This secular change in the inclination of the Earth's axis, and its appointed time, is recorded in one of the great Secret Cycles.
When a world or a system of worlds comes to the end of certain great cycles men record a cataclysm in history or tradition. Just as there are periodical minor cataclysms or partial destructions, so there is the universal evolution and involution. Forever the Great Breath goes forth and returns again. As it proceeds outwards, objects, worlds, and men appear. As it recedes all things disappear into the original source. The Great Breath is ceaseless and is, so to speak, the universal and eternal perpetuum mobile. Absoluteness of rest is counteracted by the absoluteness of Motion. There is a magnificent poem on the Pralaya, written by a very ancient Rishi, who compares the motion of the Great Breath during Pralaya to the rhythmical motions of the unconscious ocean. Believing that everything on earth is the shadow of something in space -- the Occultists believe in smaller "Breaths" as well as the Great Breath, MOTION, which, living, intelligent and independent of all but Law, blow in every direction during Manvantaric periods.
Kalpas, Yugas, Manvantaras, although applicable to cycles of various lengths apply generally to what is known in the Hindu books as the "Day of Brahmâ." The "Day" is the type of all such cyclic periods and was always understood esoterically as such. Brahmâ's year is made up of 365 such Days, and a life of Brahmâ is composed of 100 years. His "Nights" are of equal duration. The Days and Nights of Brahmâ are the prototypes of our waking days and sleeping nights as men, of our disappearance from the scene at the end of one little human life, to return again to take up the unfinished work in another life, in a new day. Hence it is taught that "at the expiration of each Night (Pralaya) Brahmâ, having been asleep, awakes, and through the sole energy of motion, causes to emanate from itself the spirit, in whose essence it is, and yet is not. The periods, when out of the Great Unknown there come forth the visible universes, are eternal in their coming and going, alternating with equal periods of silence and rest again in the unknown (Brahmâ). The object of these mighty waves is the production of perfect man. The life of the least of men pictures them in day and night, waking and sleeping, birth and death."
During Pralaya everything differentiated, as every unit, disappears from the phenomenal universe and is merged in, or rather transferred to, the One noumenal. It is dissolution of the visible into the invisible, the heterogeneous into the homogeneous -- a time of rest, therefore. Even cosmic matter, indestructible though it be in its essence, must have a time of rest, and return to its Layam state. The absoluteness of the all-containing One essence has to manifest itself equally in rest and activity. If worlds have, as the astronomers tell us, their periods of embryo, infancy, adolescence, maturity, decadence, and death, may they not, like man, have their continued existence in a sublimated or spiritual form? The Magians so affirm. They tell us that the fecund mother Earth is subject to the same laws as every one of her children. At her appointed time she brings forth all created things; in the fulness of her days she is gathered to the tomb of worlds. Her gross, material body slowly parts with its atoms under the inexorable law which demands their new arrangement in other combinations. Her own perfected vivifying spirit obeys the eternal attraction which draws it toward that central spiritual sun from which it was originally evolved, and which we vaguely know under the term GOD.
There are many kinds of Pralaya, but three chief ones are specially mentioned in old Hindu books. Of these the first is called "occasional", caused by the intervals of Brahmâ's Days; it is the destruction of creatures, of all that lives and has a form, but not of the substance which remains in statu quo till the new Dawn in that "Night." The second is that which occurs at the end of the Age or Life of Brahmâ, when everything that exists is resolved into the primal element, to be remodelled at the end of that longer night. But the third kind does not concern the Worlds or the Universe, but only the individualities of some people. It is thus individual pralaya or Nirvana; after having reached which, there is no more future existence possible, no rebirth till after the Maha-Pralaya. The latter night, though philosophically not so in truth, is long enough to be regarded as eternal, if not endless. The Bhagavata speaks of a fourth kind of pralaya, the Nitya or constant dissolution, and explains it as the change which takes place imperceptibly in everything in this Universe from the globe down to the atom -- without cessation. It is growth and decay (life and death).
The Cosmic or universal pralaya comes only at the end of one hundred years of Brahmâ's life, when universal dissolution is said to take place. "Then the eternal life symbolized by Vishnu, the Preserver, assuming the character of Rudra, the Destroyer, enters into the seven rays of the sun and drinks up all the waters of the universe. Thus fed, the seven solar Rays dilate to seven suns and set fire to the whole Cosmos." Nature and Spirit both finally resolve into SUPREME SPIRIT. This is the final Pralaya, the maha, the Great, when everything is reabsorbed into its original ONE Element -- the "gods themselves, Brahmâ and the rest" being said to die and disappear during that long Night. It is the death of Kosmos, after which its Spirit rests in Nirvana, or in THAT for which there is neither Day nor Night. All the other pralayas are periodical and follow, in regular succession, the Manvantaras, as the night follows the day of every human creature, animal, and plant. The cycle of creation of the lives of Kosmos is run down, the energy of the manifested "Word" having its growth, culmination, and decrease, as have all things temporary, however long their duration. The Creative Force is eternal as Noumenon; as a phenomenal manifestation in its aspects, it has a beginning and must, therefore, have an end. During that interval it has its periods of activity and periods of rest. But the Noumenon (Brahmâ) never rests, as IT never changes and ever IS, though IT cannot be said to be anywhere. ... Esoteric philosophy maintains that during the Sandhyas, or "twilight" periods between a Day and a Night of Brahmâ, the period between a full Manvantara, the "Central Sun" emits creative light -- passively. Causality is latent. But during the universal pralaya "Universal Mind is not," and Darkness is upon "the face of the Deep."
Vamadeva Modelyar describes the coming Night most poetically. "Strange noises are heard, proceeding from every point. ... These are the precursors of the Night of Brahma. Dusk rises at the horizon, and the sun passes away behind the thirteenth degree of Macara (sign of the Zodiac), and will no more reach the sign of Minas (zodiacal pisces, or fish). The gurus of the pagodas appointed to watch the rasichakr (Zodiac), may now break their circle and instruments, for they are henceforth useless. Gradually light pales, heat diminishes, uninhabited spots multiply on the earth, the air becomes more and more rarified. The springs of water dry up, the great rivers see their waves exhausted, the ocean shows its sandy bottom and plants die. Men and animals decrease in size daily. Life and motion lose their force, planets can hardly gravitate in space; they are extinguished one by one, like a lamp which the hand of the chokra (servant) neglects to replenish. Sourya (the sun) flickers and goes out, matter falls into dissolution (pralaya), and Brahma merges back into Dayus, the Unrevealed God, and, his task being accomplished, he falls asleep. Another day is passed, night sets in, and continues till the future dawn."
When the Universal Spirit awakes, the world revives; when he closes his eyes, all things fall upon the bed of mystic slumber. In the Persian symbolism the Phoenix is said to live a thousand years, after which, kindling a flame, it is self-consumed. Thereupon it is reborn from itself and lives another thousand years -- up to seven times seven. The Phoenix is a generic symbol used for different kinds of cycles. In like manner, as 1000 great ages constitute a Day of Brahmâ (in the original it is "1000 ages of Padmayoni -- lotus-born," not Brahmâ), so his Night consists of the same period. "Awakening at the end of which, the unborn ... creates the universe anew."
During the period of universal pralaya Cosmic Ideation is said to be non-existent, for the simple reason that there is no one, and nothing, to perceive its effects. All the variously differentiated states of Cosmic Substance are resolved back again into the primary state of "abstract potential objectivity." And there can be no manifestation of Consciousness or semi-consciousness ... except through a vehicle. Manvantaric impulse commences with the reawakening of Cosmic Ideation (the "Universal Mind") concurrently with, and parallel to the primary emergence of Cosmic Substance -- the latter being the manvantaric vehicle of the former -- from its undifferentiated pralayic state. This initial Existence (or coming forth) in the first twilight of the Maha-Manvantara (after the Maha-Pralaya), is a Conscious Spiritual Quality. In the manifested solar systems it is ... like a film from a Divine Breath to the gaze of the entranced seer. It is [Cosmic] Substance to our spiritual sight. It cannot be called so by men in their waking state; therefore they have named it in their ignorance "God-Spirit." It exists everywhere and forms the first foundation on which our solar systems are built. The Secret Doctrine teaches that the Logos ("Word" or Cosmic Ideation) is the first to appear at Renovation, and will be the last to come before Re-absorption (pralaya). Thus the "logoi" of all nations, from the Vedic Visvakarma [personified Creative Force] of the Mysteries down to the Saviour of the present civilized nations, are the "Word" who was "in the beginning" (or the re-awakening of the energizing powers of Nature) with the One ABSOLUTE. The "great Dragon of Wisdom" will appear as Maitreya Buddha, the last of the Avatars and Buddhas, in the seventh race.
In Paranirvana, when Pralaya will have reduced not only material and psychical bodies, but even the spiritual Ego(s) to their original principle -- the Past, Present, and even Future Humanities, like all things, will be one and the same. Everything will have re-entered the Great Breath. In other words, everything will be "merged in Brahma" or the divine unity. Is this annihilation? It is not. To see in Nirvana annihilation amounts to saying of a man plunged in a sound dreamless sleep -- one that leaves no impression on the physical memory and brain because the sleeper's Higher Self is in its original state of absolute consciousness during those hours -- that he, too, is annihilated. The latter simile answers to only one side of the question -- the most material; since re-absorption is by no means such a "dreamless sleep," but on the contrary absolute existence, an unconditioned unity, or a state, to describe which human language is hopelessly inadequate. The only approach to anything like a comprehensive conception of it can be attempted solely in the panoramic visions of the soul, through spiritual ideations of the divine monad.
Nor is the individuality -- nor even the essence of the personality, if any be left behind -- lost, because re-absorbed. For, however limitless -- from a human standpoint -- the paranirvanic state, it has yet a limit in Eternity. Once reached, the same monad will re-emerge therefrom, as a still higher being, on a far higher plane, to recommence its cycle of perfected activity.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
How often it is proclaimed that Naturalism, or Materialism, is dead. Yet its ghost continues to haunt the philosophers. Perhaps it has not been buried with the proper rites. In my opinion a very powerful case can be made out for Naturalism, and its opponents have good reason to view its strength with apprehension. It has an ally in the human heart, there is something in us which approves and accepts it. Let us say that there is something in us hostile to religion, and something in us friendly to it. "The soul is naturally Christian," said Tertullian. Yes, and it is naturally Pagan. It is divided against itself. Religion knows it well, this double mind: Psychology is well aware of it. But this division is not of our making. It is from nature, "the outward man," in the phrase of Paracelsus, that we inherit this double-mindedness.
Man mirrors the world and is involved in its duality, in the balanced rhythms which permeate the whole fabric of things. We shall meet the swaying forces, the crossing currents in many forms and guises. "If man is good," it has been asked, "why does he do evil? If evil, why does he love the good? Nature has decreed that he should desire incompatible things -- to have, for example, the approval of others, and yet go his own unhindered way. He seeks unity and peace with his neighbors, and at the same time to be the controller of their lives. Nature urges him to exert all his powers....
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