By Joy Mills
Originally printed in the Winter 2009 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Mills, Joy. “On Fohat.” Quest 97. 1 (Fall 2009): 17-19, 29.
The central principle of Theosophy is the fundamental oneness and wholeness of the universe. The ways in which the multiplicity of beings, with their almost infinite variety of expression and experience, arise out of this oneness constitute the metaphysics of Theosophy, and upon that depends in turn the inner consistency of its worldview. All the grand ideas, the wealth of fascinating detail, the rich symbolic imagery, the varying terminologies, and the enormous sweep of historical vision that we find expressed in Theosophical literature need to be ordered in terms of that inner consistency.
Much of the ordering has been done during the past century in terms of the mode or system that seemed best suited to the occasion or teacher. This is perfectly understandable, for the task is not an easy one, partly because the development of the One into the Many is at once subtle, complicated, and ambiguous, partly because there are many different ways of viewing the process, and partly because there are so many critical gaps in our knowledge. Nevertheless, we have one very important advantage: the world today is much more receptive to Theosophical metaphysics, which is certainly gaining support on many fronts, most importantly, science. Whether it is recognized as such or not is irrelevant.
Nonetheless, our task would be simpler if we could identify some of the really big questions that we must put to the literature in order to discover what we may call the “essence of Theosophy.” One of the documents that I have found most significant for this purpose is called “Cosmological Notes,” which is attributed to the Mahatma Morya and first appeared as an appendix to The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett. In it, Sinnett and his friend A. O. Hume pose some critical questions: What are the two kinds of knowledge? What is real knowledge? Who possesses it? What is primal?
In response, the Mahatma makes several statements that to my mind clearly identify the basic metaphysics. The first is this: “Everything in the occult universe, which embraces all the primal causes, is based upon two principles—Kosmic energy (Fohat or breath of wisdom) and Kosmic ideation.” In this one sentence, the Mahatma establishes both the primacy of consciousness (“Kosmic ideation”) and its principle of action (“Fohat”).
The next question follows immediately: What is the one eternal thing in the universe that is independent of every other thing? To this the answer is space. But what is space, so conceived? While the writer of the notes does not expatiate, it is made clear elsewhere in the literature that not only is space the universal field of both existence (plenum) and nonexistence (void), but that it is equated with universal consciousness, which is thus the absolute condition of being. In Letter 119 of The Mahatma Letters (chronological edition), for instance, the Mahatma Koot Hoomi writes: “Space is infinity itself. It is formless, immutable and absolute. Like the human mind, which is the exhaustless generator of ideas, the Universal Mind or Space has its ideation which is projected into objectivity at the appointed time; but space itself is not affected thereby.”
This is the root of what is known as the Logos Doctrine. Space is thus the ultimate, universal, unified field. Lama Anagarika Govinda points out that in the Indian tradition space is called akasha, that through which things step into visible appearance, i.e.,through which they possess extension or corporeality. Akasha comprises all possibilities of movement, not only physical but also spiritual, and also comprises infinite dimensions; it is called “the space of consciousness” (Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, 137). In the Western theosophical tradition, the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus held that motion or movement derived from space.
I may seem to have devoted too much attention to space, but if one is to understand the nature of Fohat, it seems necessary to consider its mode or power of objectivity. This indicates the cosmological sequence which the Mahatma Morya affirms in his answer to the next question in the “Cosmological Notes”: “What things are co-existent with space?” The reply is: (1) duration; (2) matter; (3) motion. The Mahatma explains by continuing, “for this is the imperishable life (conscious or unconscious as the case may be) of matter, even during the pralaya, or night of mind.” What a lot in a very few words! Thus it is that from the eternal imperceptible rhythmic motion of space, Fohat, cosmic energy, springs into being, electrifying primordial matter into life.
Before we continue with our discussion of this universal force and its implications, it may be useful to reach a consensus regarding terminology on philosophical as well as on practical grounds. In science, the term “energy” is usually restricted to what is considered the measurable conserved quantity of thermodynamics. Therefore it could seem to be inappropriate to use the term when referring to “higher” or “nonmaterial” energies. But if we accept the broad definition of energy as the measurement of activity (which is a form of motion), we can reasonably defend the use of the term to define the measurement of activity at any and all levels, both universal and particular—whether it be vital, emotional, or psychodynamic, mental, or cosmic. Besides, we have no satisfactory substitute if we are to try to work with what the literature postulates about Fohat: that there is but one fundamental energy in the universe, whose varying manifestations lie along a spectrum that comprehends all known forms of energy (including the biological and the psychological) as well as a great many yet unknown.
To return to our theme, Theosophical metaphysics postulates one unified, universal field—space/consciousness—and one universal force or energy—Fohat—acting within that field. Theosophical doctrine holds that the original Fohatic energy is a tremendous power, vast enough to have caused the primal explosion that gave birth to the universe. The nature of such a formidable power is wholly beyond our experience, although it is certainly not beyond the limits of the scientific imagination. Of it the Mahatma Koot Hoomi says: “There is a force as limitless as thought, as potent as boundless will, as subtle as the essence of life, so inconceivably awful in its rending force as to convulse the universe to its centre, were it but used as a lever” (Mahatma Letter 90). The Secret Doctrine also reiterates that all the forms of energy known to science are but different expressions of the same original Fohatic power. Motion, sound, light, color, heat, cohesion, electricity, and magnetism are specifically mentioned; nuclear energy had, of course, not been discovered at the time HPB wrote. Just as all other fields are held to be manifestations of the one universal field of space/consciousness, so all the energies which activate the different fields (planes of nature) lie along one continuous Fohatic spectrum. Or, to put it differently, they constitute aspects of one basic, universal energy exhibiting itself under specific guises within given fields.
Many of these fields and energies are described in metaphorical terms in the literature, since they have hitherto lain outside the range of scientific observation. Today the phenomenon of life is coming within that range. Fohat is called the “animating principle electrifying every atom into life,” thus establishing the basic Theosophical position that there is no such thing as inert or totally lifeless matter. Fohat is identified with prana or life energy in the Mahatma M.’s first statement, when he calls it the “breath of wisdom.” It is not merely the vital or negentropic force in all living creatures, the push of sexual energy, and the mysterious “nerve force” of kundalini, but the fundamental cosmic “breath” which vivifies all of nature. And, as Lama Govinda has observed, “prana is not only subject to constant transformation, but is able at the same time to make use of various mediums of movement without interrupting its course” (FTM, 147).
The Secret Doctrine also stresses that Fohat is not a mechanical but an intellectual force—thus the breath of wisdom. This may be difficult for us to comprehend unless we see it as the dynamic link between cosmic mind and cosmic matter, created by their polar relationship and partaking of the character of both. Without this link, both would be incapable of activity or of being acted upon, so Fohat is itself the multidimensional, many-faceted measure of that activity. By means of Fohat, divine thought is directed outward, impressing itself on matter, which it thus shapes, electrifies, and organizes in the direction of order—which is characteristic of cosmic mind. Quite obviously, therefore, this cosmic energy is at every level associated with mind in the universal sense, and with minds and mental energy in particular. The implication is that all thought can be seen in terms of mental energy; that is, as the modification of mind— the measurement of its internal motion or activity vis-à-vis the world external to individual consciousness.
Another implication stems from another fundamental of Theosophical metaphysics: the natural unfoldment of the One into the Many occurs hierarchically according to the harmonic principle whereby one becomes two and then three, eventuating in a sevenfold order unfolding itself from within without. “As above, so below,” is the statement, although it is often misread. To be consistent with this view, those energies which lie closest to their divine source are “purest,” i.e., less adulterated or constricted by their confinement in dense matter, and they are therefore at once freer and more potent. This hierarchical principle, it seems, could furnish the rationale whereby the so-called higher energies impress themselves upon, and thus transform or vivify, the lower energies associated with physical matter. (It is thus, for example, that yogis control their biological energies.) And it is the release of such higher energies that accomplishes the process of healing the body on the physical level as well as transforming the personality on the psychological level. What are the divine powers or siddhis but these higher energies brought under conscious control and used for the transformation of the self and the realization of oneness? Since this mysterious force acts upon all forms of matters, transformation must take place at every level, which is, of course, the fundamental purpose of true yoga.
The study of Fohat has other far-reaching implications. It cannot be considered purely as an impersonal force, even in its role as the “transcendental binding unity” of the cosmos. Significantly, The Secret Doctrine also equates it with eros, the power of love, the child of Chaos and the third person in the primeval trinity of Chaos, Gaea, Eros, in which Chaos is space, the void (akasha) without points of intensification or objectification, and Gaea is nature (primordial matter; see The Secret Doctrine I, 109; II, 65). It must be understood, however, that in this context eros is not merely the sensual, personal emotion it is usually conceived to be, although this too is an aspect of its power. It is rather love in its primitive sense of divine will, the awakening in space/consciousness (chaos) of the desire to manifest itself through visible creation, which is cosmos. Hence Fohat as eros becomes on earth the great power or spirit of “life-giving,” with all that this implies. It is the fundamental creative power in the universe at all levels, in the sense that creation is the miraculous act of self-offering and self-bestowing, the compelling impulse to give expression to that which lies in the depths of consciousness (space), whether it be a philosophical or scientific truth, a work of art, a religious insight, or simply the gift of one’s heart to others. It is the binding force of opposites that creates our polar universe—the inherent dynamism of the yang-yin and also the binding force within the atom. It is the power that makes spirit incarnate in flesh; it is also the rush of compassionate feeling that surrenders personal desire for the benefit of others. Its association with kundalini and the creative power of sexual energy scarcely needs be mentioned. We are inclined to think of love merely in physical and emotional terms, but The Secret Doctrine makes it quite clear that Fohat as eros is not only love for the world that Divine Mind has created through its action, but also agape,the spiritual hunger for union with the Divine Source that dissolves all separateness, impels toward oneness and, finally, unifies the worlds into one cosmic whole. It is the inspiration that makes possible insight into truth, of which the Buddha spoke when he said that love is the illumination of the mind: light without shadow. And on the highest level, it is the transformative power of spiritual aspiration, the ultimate longing for union with the Divine, or the supreme tapas, which Lama Govinda described as:
The fire or spiritual integration which fuses all polarities—which arouses man from the slumber of worldly contentment. It is creative as well as liberating; in its lowest form it is at the bottom of desire for sensual love; in its highest, inspiration, the desire for Truth—the self-surrender which in religious life becomes ecstasy, trance, absorption, vision (FTM, 161-62).
Fohat is all this, and much more. In some utterly mysterious way, logos and eros are not only polar and opposing universal forces (like positive and negative electromagnetism), but also identical in their creative power to act upon and within nature. It is as though the very idea of a bud or a fish or a man or a god could never come into being except through the rush of love and longing for that which is other than the divine so that the mysterious Selfhood of the divine may be realized.
If logos (as the ordering principle) can be thought of as the creative power of nous, the Divine Mind, so Fohat/eros is the creative ability of nature to receive and absorb that power, to embrace it and to become pregnant with it, to become one with it. The yinis just as potent a force as the yangin this relationship. So the interaction of the divine ideation upon matter is not merely a one-way process, a pure outflowing; it is a true act of love in that the giver is itself miraculously enriched and transformed thereby. It seems that the myth of Chaos, Gaea, Eros may hold a clue to the oft-posed question: Is it possible that the long struggle of the individual soul toward perfection could contribute anything to that perfection? In this context, the answer would be inevitably a resounding yes.
Barker, A. Trevor, ed. The Letters of H .P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett. Pasadena, Calif.: Theosophical University Press, 1973.
Blavatsky, H. P. The Secret Doctrine. Three volumes. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1979.
Chin, Vicente Hao. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett in Chronological Sequence. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1998.
Govinda, Lama Anagarika. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. London: Rider, 1959.
Joy Mills has studied Theosophy for over sixty years. She has served as president of the American and Australian Sections of the Theosophical Society, international vice-president of the TS, director of the School of Wisdom in Adyar, and director of the Krotona School of Theosophy. A collection of her essays, The One True Adventure: Theosophy and the Quest for Meaning, was published by Quest Books in 2008.