THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 4, February, 1962
(Pages 170-174; Size: 14K)
(Number 1 of a 14-part series)

PROEM

I

BY way of introduction to The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky provides -- besides the Preface -- both an Introductory and a Proem, comparatively synonymous terms, but with an interesting distinction. In the Introductory the author prepares the reader amply for what follows: the need of such a book and what it is intended to do, the frame of mind necessary for an understanding of the work through appreciation of the antiquity of the documents and manuscripts which prove that the Secret Doctrine was "the universally diffused religion of the ancient and prehistoric world." But, by means of the Proem, the reader must prepare himself.

This calls to mind a series of articles published by Wm. Q. Judge under the title, "Hidden Hints in the Secret Doctrine." A "hint," we think of primarily as a suggestion, however remote or indirect. But "hint" has another meaning, now considered obsolete: it means opportunity or occasion, and was commonly so used, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Search into the meaning of any word is rewarding, and perhaps the word "proem" holds a hidden hint -- an unsuspected opportunity, a golden occasion.

Proem is said to be a "bookish or literary rather than a technical term, applying usually to the commencement of a discourse, especially to a formal commencement, such as the invocation to a muse in a poem." H.P.B.'s use of this precise word warrants some thought or "musing." The Muse is the Power of Poetry. The poet brings to life the mysterious power latent in the creative will: the power of words, of speech, of song, is made manifest. The ancient hymn-makers of the Rig Veda -- the first and most important of the four Vedas -- describe, with winged words, the "indescribable." How is this Muse to be invoked by the student of the Secret Doctrine?

What is the content of the Proem? "Symbolism" and a "few fundamental conceptions" -- which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought. The Proem closes with a "skeleton outline" of the STANZAS OF DZYAN, which form the thesis of every section of The Secret Doctrine. The Stanzas give an "abstract formula of evolution" which can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to all evolution: to that of our tiny earth, to that of the chain of planets of which that earth forms one, to the solar Universe to which that chain belongs, and so on, in an ascending scale, "till the mind reels and is exhausted in the effort."

This rhythm and scope of movement, the flow of the cyclic pattern in Nature -- of recurrence, of regular alternation, of sequence inevitably following cause -- is under law: the law of Periodicity. The poet embodies this rhythm in his work. Whatever the subject-matter, or the language in which it is clothed, the law prevails: the poet is transmitter of the dynamic movement of life in nature and in human experience. On this point, the Encyclopedia Britannica says: "Deeper than all the rhythm of art is that rhythm which art would fain catch, the rhythm of nature; for the rhythm of nature is the rhythm of life itself. This rhythm can be caught by prose as well as by poetry. The rhythm of verse at its highest is nothing more and nothing less than the metre of that energy of the spirit which surges within the bosom of him who speaks, whether he speak in verse or impassioned prose. Being rhythm, it is of course governed by law, but it is a law which transcends in subtlety the conscious art of the metricist and is only caught by the poet in his most inspired moods, a law which, being part of nature's own sanctions, can of course never be formulated but only expressed, as it is expressed in the melody of the bird.... Whether it is caught by prose or by verse, one of the virtues of the rhythm of nature is that it is translatable into other languages." An illustration then given is Manu's "magnificent passage about the singleness of man":

Single is each man born into the world; single he dies; single he receives the reward of his good deeds, and single the punishment of his evil deeds. When he dies his body lies like a fallen tree upon the earth, but his virtue accompanies his soul. Wherefore let man harvest and garner virtue, so that he may have an inseparable companion in traversing that gloom which is so hard to be traversed.
Other illustrations of comparable character are:
Thou canst create this "day" thy chances for thy "morrow." In the "Great Journey," causes sown each hour bear each its harvest of effects, for rigid Justice rules the World. With mighty sweep of never erring action, it brings to mortals lives of weal or woe, the karmic progeny of all our former thoughts and deeds. (Voice of the Silence.)

As a spider throws out and retracts its web, as herbs spring up in the ground....so is the universe derived from the undecaying one. (Mundaka Upanishad.)

Man, made of thought, occupant only of many bodies from time to time, is eternally thinking. His chains are through thought, his release due to nothing else. (Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita.)

Know, Conqueror of Sins, once a Sowanee hath crossed the seventh Path, all nature thrills with joyous awe and feels subdued. The silver star now twinkles out the news to the night-blossoms, the streamlet to the pebbles ripples out the tale; dark ocean waves will roar it to the rocks surf-bound, scent-laden breezes sing it to the vales, and stately pines mysteriously whisper: "A Master has arisen, a MASTER OF THE DAY." (The Voice of the Silence.)

The poet ("maker," from the Greek root, to make) is creator: his work -- the movement of a mighty energy directed by intuitive imagination. "The human Will is all powerful and the Imagination is the picture-making power of the human mind. In the ordinary average human person it has not enough training or force to be more than a sort of dream, but it may be trained. When trained it is the Constructor in the Human Workshop. It is the greatest power, after Will, in the human assemblage of complicated instruments. The modern Western definition of Imagination is incomplete and wide of the mark. It is chiefly used to designate fancy or misconception and at all times stands for unreality. It is impossible to get another term as good because one of the powers of the trained imagination is that of making an image. The word is derived from those signifying the formation or reflection of an image. This faculty used, or rather suffered to act, in an unregulated mode has given the West no other idea than that covered by 'fancy.' So far as that goes it is right but it may be pushed to a greater limit, which, when reached, causes the Imagination to evolve in the Astral substance an actual image or form which may be then used in the same way as an iron moulder uses a mould of sand for the molten iron. It is therefore the King faculty, inasmuch as the Will cannot do its work if the Imagination be at all weak or untrained." (Ocean of Theosophy.) Is it any wonder that the poet, with highest human powers developed and having caught the rhythm of Nature, can, through his creative magic quicken the imaginative faculty in other minds and draw them to dwell upon unforgettable concepts?

The word proem (French, pro and oime, song, or poem) means "before the song, or poem." And immediately following the Proem, that is, preceding the Stanzas, is the "Hymn of Creation" from Rig Veda. It is a poem of singular beauty:

Nor Aught nor Nought existed; yon bright sky
Was not, nor heaven's broad roof outstretched above.
What covered all? what sheltered? what concealed?
Was it the water's fathomless abyss?
There was not death--yet there was nought immortal,
There was no confine betwixt day and night;
The only One breathed breathless by itself,
Other than It there nothing since has been.
Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled
In gloom profound--an ocean without light--
The germ that still lay covered in the husk
Burst forth, one nature, from the fervent heat.
. . . . . . . . . . .
Who knows the secret? who proclaimed it here?
Whence, whence this manifold creation sprang?
The Gods themselves came later into being--
Who knows from whence this great creation sprang?
That, whence all this great creation came,
Whether Its will created or was mute,
The Most High Seer that is in highest heaven,
He knows it--or perchance even He knows not.

    Gazing into eternity ...
Ere the foundations of the earth were laid,
. . . . . . . . . . .
Thou wert. And when the subterranean flame
Shall burst its prison and devour the frame ...
Thou shalt be still as Thou wert before
And knew no change, when time shall be no more,
Oh! endless thought, divine ETERNITY.

Along the pathway of life, says Wm. Q. Judge, in The Ocean of Theosophy, we see here and there men who are geniuses or great seers and prophets. In these the Higher powers of Manas are active. Such are the great Sages of the past, men like Buddha, Jesus, Confucius, Zoroaster, and others. Poets, too, such as Tennyson, Longfellow, and others, are men in whom Higher Manas now and then sheds a bright ray on the man below, to be soon obscured, however, by the effect of dogmatic religious education which has given memory certain pictures that always prevent Manas from gaining full activity.

But there is another kind of "memory." In Greek mythology, the Muses were the daughters of Jupiter (identified with Zeus) and Mnemosyne (Memory). It is this memory, or reminiscence -- the memory of the Soul, that kindles the imagination, warms the heart, and throws light upon the mysteries of Life. It is to this "memory" that the Proem speaks. SYMBOLISM -- in the truest, profoundest, universal sense -- is the language of the Soul. Assimilation of the wisdom implicit in the FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPTIONS is realization of the indissoluble union between man and the universe: the identity of Man in spiritual and physical essence with both the Absolute Principle and with God in Nature, and the presence in him of the same potential powers as exist in the creative forces in Nature.

There is yet another derivation of the word "proem" -- from the Greek pro, before, and oimos, a path. In H. P. Blavatsky's first major work, Isis Unveiled, it is said: "The trinity of nature is the lock of magic, the trinity of man the key that fits it. Within the solemn precincts of the sanctuary the SUPREME had and has no name. It is unthinkable and unpronounceable; and yet every man finds in himself his god."

Assuredly, "without moving is the going on this Path."


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:

THE TRINITY IN MAN

Life is one. Spirit is one. Consciousness is one. These three are one -- a trinity -- and we are that trinity. All the changes of substance and form are brought about by Spirit and Consciousness and expressed in various forms of life. We are that One Spirit, each standing in a vast assemblage of beings in this great universe, seeing and knowing what he can through the instruments he has. We are the Trinity -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; or, in theosophical parlance, we are Atma, Buddhi, and Manas. Atma is the One Spirit, not belonging to any one, but to all. Buddhi is the sublimated experience of all the past. Manas is the thinking power, the thinker, the man, the immortal man. There is no man without the Spirit, and no man without that experience of the past; but the mind is the realm of creation, of ideas; and the Spirit itself, with all its power, acts according to the ideas that are in the mind. 


--ROBERT CROSBIE

Next article
PROEM
II
(Part 2 of a 14-part series)

Back to the
"PROEM"
series complete list of articles.

Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".



Main Page | Introductory Brochure | Volume 1--> Setting the Stage
Karma and Reincarnation | Science | Education | Economics | Race Relations
The WISDOM WORLD | World Problems & Solutions | The People*s Voice | Misc.