THEOSOPHY, Vol. 19, No. 9, July, 1931
(Pages 392-397; Size: 19K)
(Number 42 of a 59-part series)
HISTORY AND MYTHS
WE must start with the primary division of all knowledge into three compartments: (1) Sruti -- Revelation; (2) Smriti -- Laws and Tradition; (3) Itihasa and Purana -- History and Mythology. Sruti contains the Vedic lore; Smriti is composed of codes of laws; the third consists of the Epics and the Puranas. However, it will facilitate our work to survey them in the reverse order, beginning with the third compartment.
The main divisions of this third class are two: (a) Itihasa -- History; (b) Puranas -- Myths; both contain stories innumerable. These are mostly allegories of cosmical and psychological facts especially meant for the less educated portion of the community unable to read the Sruti (Vedas, etc.), or the Smriti (Law-Codes). In every Indian village, even to-day, stories are told under the shady tree. Many are the favourite tales of the peerless Sita, of the devoted Savitri, of the sin of Kaikeyi, heard by the girls, while their brothers enjoy tales of the playfulness of Krishna, the Divine Cowherd, the prowess of Arjuna, the degrading destruction of the evil-minded Duryodhana.
The art of story-telling (actually telling by word of mouth) is almost perfect among the illiterate, but by no means uncultured, villagers, and especially among the women-folk. This has given rise to a very rich folk-lore, and there are stories short and long which give not only mundane but also spiritual knowledge -- every one of them is aptly adorned with a moral. In these folk-lore tales Indian proverb-stories should be included. All of these are full of wit, humor and charm and have proven a veritable grace which purifies and uplifts the heart of the simple men and women. A special department of this should also be referred to in passing. Wandering Sadhus and others, especially those gifted with a voice for song and a quick wit perform kalakshepams and Hari-Kathas -- speak of Hari the Great Lord in story and song. This is the only form of drama and concert which Indian villagers in their millions ever hear or know about. Their educative value is greater than is ordinarily suspected, for among such workers are sometimes servant-chelas of Great Masters.
(a) Itihasa or History consists of epics in which are narrated actual historical events and happenings and in which also, the psychological, the mythical, and the philosophical moral of each is well and carefully drawn. The epics are the well-known Ramayana and Mahabharata, most likely the originals of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Myths represent the living soul of history; the former help men to image forth the future, as history enables them to visualize the past. Myths deal with the whole man, history only with the visible part of him. Therefore has Myth the power to prognosticate. Myths may be rightly regarded as records of souls, and in India their practical application is constantly sought and made.
The Ramayana deals with the historical period of the first King of the Divine Dynasty. Says the Secret Doctrine (II, p. 495):The whole History of that period is allegorized in the Ramayana, which is the mystic narrative in epic form of the struggle between Rama -- the first King of the divine dynasty of the early Aryans -- and Ravana, the symbolical personation of the Atlantean (Lanka) race. The former were the incarnations of the Solar Gods; the latter, of the lunar Devas. This was the great battle between Good and Evil, between white and black magic, for the supremacy of the divine forces, or of the lower terrestrial, or cosmic powers.But both history and myth are intermingled and the latter aspect also is dealt with in the Secret Doctrine (II, p. 163):In the Ramâyana, when Hanuman is reconnoitering the enemy in Lanka, he finds there Rakshasas, some hideous, "while some were beautiful to look upon," and, in Vishnu Purâna, there is a direct reference to their becoming the Saviours of "Humanity," or of Brahmâ.Similarly, the Mahabharata deals with the historical event of the Great War on the battle-field of Kurukshetra, which event is allegorized as the Psychological War on Dharmakshetra, the field of Duty. This Mahabharata War marked the closing epoch which the Ramayana War opened, for "the Aryan races had never ceased to fight with the descendants of the first giant races." This last war coincided with Kaliyuga which began 5,000 years ago.
The allegory is very ingenious. Great intellect and too much knowledge are a two-edged weapon in life, and instruments for evil as well as for good. When combined with Selfishness, they will make of the whole of Humanity a footstool for the elevation of him who possesses them, and a means for the attainment of his objects; while, applied to altruistic humanitarian purposes, they may become the means of the salvation of many. At all events, the absence of self-consciousness and intellect will make of man an idiot, a brute in human form. Brahmâ is Mahat -- the universal Mind -- hence the too-selfish among the Rakshasas showing the desire to become possessed of it all -- to "devour" Mahat. The allegory is transparent.
Both these Epics are wonderful spiritual treatises -- "every line of which has to be read esoterically" says the Secret Doctrine. They disclose "in magnificent symbolism and allegory the tribulations of both man and soul." (Secret Doctrine, II, p. 496.) But let them not be regarded as unscientific; says the Secret Doctrine (II, p. 680):The Evolutionists stand firm as a rock on the evidence of similarity of structure between the ape and the man. The anatomical evidence, it is urged, is quite overpowering in this case; it is bone for bone, and muscle for muscle, even the brain conformation being very much the same.Whence all this knowledge of physiology, psychology and anthropology, not to mention astronomy, mechanics and mathematics? The Secret Doctrine tells us (II, p. 426):
Well, what of it? All this was known before King Herod; and the writers of the Ramayana, the poets who sang the prowess and valour of Hanuman, the monkey-God, "whose feats were great and Wisdom never rivalled," must have known as much about his anatomy and brain as does any Haeckel or Huxley in our modern day. Volumes upon volumes were written upon this similarity, in antiquity as in more modern times.It is from the Fourth Race that the early Aryans got their knowledge of "the bundle of wonderful things," the Sabha and Mayasabha, mentioned in the Mahabhârata, the gift of Mayâsur to the Pándavas. It is from them that they learnt aëronautics, Viwán Vidya (the "knowledge of flying in air-vehicles"), and, therefore, their great arts of meteorography and meteorology. It is from them, again, that the Aryans inherited their most valuable science of the hidden virtues of precious and other stones, of chemistry, or rather alchemy, of mineralogy, geology, physics and astronomy.(b) The Puranas are eighteen in number. The attention of the student of Occultism may once more be drawn to this oft-recurring number -- 18 Chapters of the Gita, 18 days of the Great War, both of which form part of the 18 books of the Mahabharata, etc., and now the 18 Puranas. The name Purana means "Ancient"(2) signifying that it is the ancient lore which is re-told in a new form. The birth and dissolution of the Cosmos with its many systems; the numerous marvels of anthropogenesis; the appearance and actions of Great Incarnations, Avataras; the intimate relation between the Invisible worlds of Devas and Dhyan-Chohans and their creatures the Devatas or Elementals on the one hand, and the visible earth on which men live and labour affecting and affected by crystals and metals, by giant trees and flowering shrubs, by the bird, the beast, the reptile, on the other; the sage advice of Deva-Rishis, the example of sacrifice of the Raja-Rishis -- all this and more is to be found in the Puranas. These Chronicles are certainly more valuable than they are given credit for, generally speaking.
H. P. Blavatsky reiterates the value of the Puranas to the student of esoteric science, pointing out that they are but attempts at the repetition of the tenets of the esoteric doctrine under exoteric form of national symbols, for the purpose of cloaking these tenets. (S.D. II, p. 455.) We cannot do better than give her own words, selecting only a few from the many passages on the subject:By the scholar who studies the Hindu religion from the Purânas, one thing is to be especially noted. He must not take literally, and in one sense only, the statements therein found; since those which especially concern the Manvantaras or Kalpas have to be understood in their several references. (I. p. 369).The Puranic lore has remained unexplored. However late the era in which they were transcribed to writing, the Puranas are ancient historical records which deal with the "story of creation" of stars and souls, of gods and demons, and finally of humans, separating into men and women. We cannot close this instalment more fitly than by repeating the advice H. P. Blavatsky gave to young Indians, which has not yet been accepted. She wrote (I, p. 522-3):
It is evident that, taken in their dead letter, the Purânas read as an absurd tissue of fairy tales and no better. But if one reads chapters I., II. and III. from Book II. (Vol. II.) of Vishnu Purâna and accepts verbatim its geography, geodesy, and ethnology, in the matter of Priyavrata's seven sons, among whom the father divides the seven Dwipas (Continental Islands); and then proceeds to study how the eldest son, the King of Jambu-dwipa, Agnidhra, apportioned Jambu-dwipa among his nine sons; and then how Nabhi his son, who had a hundred sons and apportioned all these in his turn -- then the reader is likely to throw the book away and pronounce it a farrago of nonsense. But the esoteric student will understand that, in the days when the Purânas were written, the true meaning was clear only to the Initiated Brahmins, who wrote those works allegorically and would not give the whole truth to the masses. (II, p. 320).
...in the Purânas one may find the most scientific and philosophical "dawn of creation," which, if impartially analyzed and rendered into plain language from its fairy tale-like allegories, would show that modern zoology, geology, astronomy, and nearly all the branches of modern knowledge, have been anticipated in the ancient Science, and were known to the philosophers in their general features, if not in such detail as at present!
Purânic astronomy, with all its deliberate concealment and confusion for the purpose of leading the profane off the real track, was shown even by Bentley to be a real science; and those who are versed in the mysteries of Hindu astronomical treatises, will prove that the modern theories of the progressive condensation of nebulae, nebulous stars and suns, with the most minute details about the cyclic progress of asterisms -- far more correct than Europeans have even now -- for chronological and other purposes, were known in India to perfection.
If we turn to geology and zoology we find the same. What are all the myths and endless genealogies of the seven Prajâpati, and their sons, the seven Rishis or Manus, and of their wives, sons and progeny, but a vast detailed account of the progressive development and evolution of animal creation, one species after the other? Were the highly philosophical and metaphysical Aryans -- the authors of the most perfect philosophical systems of transcendental psychology, of Codes of Ethics, and such a grammar as Pânini's, of the Sankhya and Vedanta systems, and a moral code (Buddhism), proclaimed by Max Müller the most perfect on earth -- such fools, or children, as to lose their time in writing fairy tales; such tales as the Purânas now seem to be in the eyes of those who have not the remotest idea of their secret meaning? What is the fable, the genealogy and origin of Kasyapa, with his twelve wives, by whom he had a numerous and diversified progeny of nagas (serpents), reptiles, birds, and all kinds of living things, and who was thus the father of all kinds of animals, but a veiled record of the order of evolution in this round? So far, we do not see that any Orientalist ever had the remotest conception of the truths concealed under the allegories and personifications. (II, p. 253.)
Just as in old alchemical works the real meaning of the substances and elements meant are concealed under the most ridiculous metaphors, so are the physical, psychic, and spiritual natures of the Elements (say of fire) concealed in the Vedas, and especially in the Purânas, under allegories comprehensible only to the Initiates. Had they no meaning, then indeed all those long legends and allegories about the sacredness of the three types of fire, and the forty-nine original fires -- personified by the Sons of Daksha's daughters and the Rishis, their husbands, "who with the first son of Brahmâ and his three descendants constitute the forty-nine fires" -- would be idiotic verbiage and no more. But it is not so.... Science has no speculations to offer on fire per se; Occultism and ancient religious science have. This is shown even in the meagre and purposely veiled phraseology of the Purânas, where (as in the Vâyu Purâna) many of the qualities of the personified fires are explained....the writers of the Purânas were perfectly conversant with the "Forces" of Science and their correlations; moreover, with the various qualities of the latter in their bearing upon those psychic and physical phenomena which receive no credit and are unknown to physical science now. Very naturally, when an Orientalist, -- especially one with materialistic tendencies -- reads that these are only appellations of fire employed in the invocations and rituals, he calls this "Tantrika superstition and mystification"; and he becomes more careful to avoid errors in spelling, than to give attention to the secret meaning attached to the personifications, or to seek their explanation in the physical correlations of forces, so far as known. So little credit, indeed, is given to the ancient Aryans for knowledge, that even such glaring passages as in Book I, chap. ii, Vishnu Purâna, are left without any notice. (I, p. 520-21.)
...the Hindu Purânas give a description of wars on continents and islands situated beyond Western Africa in the Atlantic Ocean; if their writers speak of Barbaras and other people such as Arabs -- they who were never known to navigate, or cross the Kala pani (the black waters of the Ocean) in the days of Phoenician navigation -- then their Purânas must be older than those Phoenicians.... (II, p. 406.)Truly the young Brahmin who graduates in the universities and colleges of India with the highest honours; who starts in life as an M.A. and an LL.B., with a tail initialed from Alpha to Omega after his name, and a contempt for his national gods proportioned to the honours received in his education in physical sciences; truly he has but to read in the light of the latter, and with an eye to the correlation of physical Forces, certain passages in his Purânas, if he would learn how much more his ancestors knew than he will ever know -- unless he becomes an occultist.
CODES OF DUTY
(4 of 6)
(Part 43 of a 59-part series)
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TWO (2) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
(1) Isis Unveiled, II, p. 30.
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(2) Midrashim of the Hebrews, who in so many respects, especially in mystical and ritualistic, have copied ancient Brahmanas, but invariably corrupting and animalizing them.
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