The Theosophical Society in America

  • We Need Your Support!

    do-nate

    Support for the Theosophical Society comes from contributors like you.
    Make a contribution to aid this web site and our work. Give, So That Others Might Know!

    Click Here to Donate
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

The Theosophical Society in America

Our mission is to encourage open-minded inquiry into world religions, philosophy, science, and the arts in order to understand the wisdom of the ages, respect the unity of all life, and help people explore spiritual self-transformation.

Understanding Impermanence: Fostering Compassionate Presence through the End-of-Life Journey

Saturday, December 2, 10:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Anagarika Jyotipala (Dhananjay Joshi)There is a great spiritual need for those suffering from terminal and long-term illnesses. A deep understanding of basic principles of impermanence can lessen suffering and evoke a compassionate acceptance. Through guided meditations, prayers, and Scripture readings, you will acquire tools for coping, accepting, and offering a helping hand to those in need.

Read more

 

 

Integral Mindfulness: A Path to Whole Body Awakening

Saturday, December 9, 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Ravi RavindraIntegral Mindfulness combines the power of mindfulness meditation with Ken Wilber’s integral approach to spirituality. Learn how to practice mindfulness in the great arenas of life: the self, relationships, the body, and mindful engagement with the world.

Read more

 

 

Upcoming Online Programs

Mahatma Letters Reading and Discussion Group
Mon Nov 20 @10:30AM - 11:30AM

The Secret Path
Tue Nov 21 @ 7:00PM - 08:00PM

Walking the Theosophical Path Online Group
Wed Nov 22 @10:30AM - 11:30AM

The Dream Circle
Wed Nov 22 @12:30PM - 01:30PM

Practical Teachings of Remarkable Men: Part II
Wed Nov 22 @ 2:00PM - 03:00PM

Friday Online Gurdjieff Study Group
Fri Nov 24 @10:00AM - 11:15AM

Nourishing the Pilgrim Soul: Spiritual Search East and West
Sat Nov 25 @10:00AM - 11:00AM

Meditation Practices and Perspectives
Sun Nov 26 @ 9:30AM - 10:30AM

Theosophical Teachings of Sri Madhava Ashish
Mon Nov 27 @ 9:00AM - 10:00AM

Hidden Wisdom in the Holy Bible - Chapter 2

CHAPTER TWO

PROBLEMS OF A LITERAL READING OF THE BIBLE AND SOME SOLUTIONS

Since comprehension and appreciation of the esoteric teachings contained in the Bible depend upon a knowledge of the sacred language, a fuller and more detailed exposition of this particular category of literature must now be given. At the outset of this task it is recognized that to those who have up to now regarded the Bible solely as a record of historical events, the idea that it was written in allegory and symbol in order to transmit universal truths may seem strange and even incredible.

Preparatory Study

Since the subject is profound, impartial examination and progressive study are essential to its comprehension. Apart from the parables of Jesus, the language of analogy, dramatic allegory and symbol is for many people a little known art form. Vocabulary, grammar and composition must, in consequence, be carefully studied before the transmitted ideas can be perceived and wholly understood. Time, too, is always required in order to become accustomed to an unfamiliar method of presentation and previously unknown aspects of truth.

In art, some training in appreciation is necessary in order to enjoy and understand a great picture and receive the artist’s message. Preparation and experience are needed in order to open the eyes and prepare the mind. This is true also of music. With the exception of those passages—perhaps the slow movements—which can be readily enjoyed, a symphony can at first hearing be difficult to comprehend.

As one begins to perceive its significance, however, the work takes on an added meaning and evokes a new delight. To a child a wonderful jewel is but a glittering toy. The child will choose just as readily any shining thing, however tawdry and cheap. A connoisseur in precious stones, on the other hand, sees in them depths of beauty hidden from others, comprehends and appreciates both the stones themselves and the craftsmanship of the jeweler.

The language of allegory and symbol may, in its turn, be regarded as an art form. One, therefore, similarly needs to acquire by practice the ability to appreciate its many and varied metaphors and emblems and to discover their secret meanings. Without such preparation, allegories and symbols may be wrongly regarded as unnecessary obstructions and their interpretations as arbitrary or, at best, far-fetched. Since profound truths are conveyed and spiritual experience, knowledge and power can be obtained by the successful interpretation of the Bible, the student’s preparations must in their turn be not only intellectual but spiritual as well. Indeed, such preparations assume the character of a vigil.

The Veil of Allegory

While many of the incidents in the Bible are doubtless founded upon fact, nevertheless, great wisdom and light are to be discovered within the scriptural record of historical and pseudohistorical events. When, however, statements are made which could not possibly be true, three courses of action present themselves. The reader can accept them unthinkingly in blind faith, discard them as unworthy of serious consideration, or study them carefully in search of possible undermeanings and revelations of previously hidden truths. Incidents such as the passage of three days and nights and the appearance on Earth of vegetation before the creation of the sun (Gen. 1:13–16 ) , and the action of Joshua in making the sun and moon stand still (Josh. 10:12–14 ) , cannot possibly have occurred. Here, as in so many other places, the Bible “piles the incredible upon the impossible.” If, however, the intention was not to record supposed astronomical or historical facts and events alone but also to reveal abstract, universal and mystical truths and to give guidance in finding and treading “the way of holiness” (Isa. 35:8 ); and if, furthermore, night, sun and moon are but concrete symbols of abstract ideas, then the outwardly meaningless narrative may reveal inward truth and light. Before that truth and light can be perceived, however, the veil of allegory must be lifted, and the symbols interpreted. For, as previously stated, partly in order to render abstract ideas comprehensible by expressing them in concrete form and also to safeguard the truth and yet reveal it when the time should be ripe, the teachers of ancient days deliberately concealed within allegory and symbol the deep, hidden wisdom of which they had become possessed. Other reasons for such unveiling were to evoke wonder and so initiate inquiry; to preserve for posterity profound spiritual and therefore power bestowing truths; and to conceal from the profane knowledge which could be misused, even while revealing it to the selfless servant of humanity.

Time as Mirror of Eternity

The authors of the scriptures saw eternal truths mirrored in events in time. For them, illumined as they were, every material happening was alight with spiritual significance. They knew the outer world for what it was—the shadow of a great reality. They could say with Elizabeth Browning: “Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God,” and with her would add, “but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.” Their records of the history of the universe and of the Earth—the scriptures of the world—portray far more than events in time; they reveal in concrete and therefore more readily understandable form eternal truth, ultimate reality, universal occurrences. Sometimes the real was more visible to them than the shadow, whereupon history took second place. At other times the record of physical events predominated. This concept of the purposes and the method of the ancient writers is advanced in this work as the key to the mystical study of the Bible, the clue to the discovery of the inexhaustible treasures of wisdom and truth concealed within the casket of exoteric scriptures.

The spiritual teachers of long ago, by using historical events as well as allegories and symbols, proved themselves able to overcome the limitations of time. They recorded history in such a way as to reveal to readers of both their own and later times the deeper truths of life. Even thousands of years after their deaths, such teachers are able to give to humankind both guidance along the pathway of spiritual illumination and the solutions of human problems. Concealment from the profane of truths which they desired to impart to the worthy, and to the worthy alone, is admitted. The motive was, as earlier stated, to safeguard both the individual and humanity from the dangers of premature discovery and possible misuse of knowledge which could bestow theurgic and thaumaturgic powers. Thus came into existence the legends, the mythologies and the scriptures of the world, many of them being pregnant with spiritual and esoteric ideas.

Some Difficulties Created by a Literal Reading of the Bible

In addition to its value as a vehicle for hidden wisdom, the sacred language can prove helpful in solving otherwise insoluble biblical problems. While belief or faith in the possibility of supernatural intervention makes some scriptural statements credible, nevertheless, physical laws and astronomical facts cannot be changed. Admittedly some miracles strain almost beyond reasonable limits one’s power to believe them. The hydrostatic pressure exerted in dividing and holding back on either side of a dry bed the waters of the Red Sea (Exod. 14:21–31 ) and the river Jordan (Josh. 3:14–17 ) must have involved the use of almost incalculable energy. Nevertheless, if direct theurgic action is presumed to have occurred, then these “miracles” would not have been impossible.

The heliocentric system, however, cannot be altered. The sun is at the center of our solar system, for which it is the source of light. Planets throughout their orbital motion around the sun revolve on their axes, without which rotation there could be no alternation of day and night. Yet in the first chapter of Genesis, it is plainly stated that there were three days and three nights before the sun, moon and stars were created. This would have been an astronomical impossibility.

Biology, Nomenclature and the Limitations of Time

In the New Testament, also, difficulties are met if a literal reading of certain passages is accepted. In the case of Jesus, some of the Evangelists affirm an immaculate conception and a virgin birth (Matt. 1:18 , Luke 1:34–35 ) —regarded as a virtual impossibility—and others do not. The genealogies of Jesus as given in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke are totally different and can hardly apply to the same person. St. Matthew traces Jesus’ descent through Joseph, which is entirely meaningless in the case of a virgin birth. St. Luke, however, traces the genealogy through Mary. Furthermore, the events of the night before the Crucifixion of Jesus are too numerous to have occurred within the prescribed time. Here is a list of them: the Last Supper; the agony in the garden; the betrayal by Judas; the questioning, first before Annas and Caiaphas, second before the Sanhedrin, third before Pilate and finally in the Hall of Judgment—regardless of the fact that the courts did not sit in the middle of the night; the visit to Herod (recorded only by St. Luke); the return to Pilate; Pilate’s speeches and his washing of his hands; the scourging, the mocking and arraying of Jesus in a purple robe; the long and painful bearing of the cross to Golgotha, followed by the Crucifixion—all these events could not possibly have occurred in so short a time. According to the estimated chronology (given in the Oxford Cyclopedic Concordance), the arrest of Jesus occurred at midnight on a Thursday, and the Crucifixion at 9:00 A.M. on Good Friday.

A Solution of the Problem

Most, if not all, of these difficulties disappear if one assumes that the author’s intention was less to record history than to reveal cosmogonical, solar and planetary ideas and to describe mystical and psychological conditions and experiences. Incredibilities and impossibilities in both the Old and New Testaments are referred to later on, and explanations and interpretations of some of them are offered.

One explanation given of these incongruities is that they were not contained in the original writings. Later interpreters, editors and translators are, by some biblical scholars, held responsible for a number of them. Belief in the literal verbal inspiration of the Bible has been applied, it is said, to these altered and translated versions and not to the original texts. While doubtless there is some truth in this view, many of the criticisms can successfully be met and most of the problems solved if the existence of the sacred language is accepted and its symbolism applied in interpretation of the scriptures. The words of Moses Maimonides, the Jewish theologian and historian, may here usefully be repeated: “Every time you find in our books a tale, the reality of which seems impossible, a story which is repugnant to both reason and common sense, then be sure that the tale contains a profound allegory veiling a deeply mysterious truth; and the greater the absurdity of the letter, the deeper the wisdom of the spirit.”

The Testimony of Early Authorities

The existence of a secret meaning of the Scriptures is again openly confessed by Clement of Alexandria (150–220 A.D. approximately) when he says that the mysteries of faith are not to be divulged to all. “But,” he says, “since this tradition is not published alone for him who perceives the magnificence of the word, it is requisite, therefore, to hide in a Mystery the wisdom spoken, which the Son of God taught.” [Stromata , Book I, Chapter XII]

Not less explicit is Origen with regard to the Bible and its symbolical fables. “If we hold to the letter,” he exclaims, “and must understand what stands written in the law after the manner of the Jews and common people, then I should blush to confess aloud that it is God who has given these laws; then the laws of men appear more excellent and reasonable.”

“What man of sense,” he writes, “will agree with the statement that the first, second and third days, in which the evening is named and the morning, were without sun, moon, and the stars, and the first day without a heaven? What man is found such an idiot as to suppose that God planted trees in Paradise, in Eden, like a husbandman, and planted therein the tree of life, perceptible to the eyes and senses, which gave life to the eater thereat; and another tree which gave to the eater thereat a knowledge of good and evil? I believe that every man must hold these things for images, under which hidden sense lies concealed.”

When, in addition, we read Paul’s unequivocal statements that the story of Abraham and his two sons is “an allegory” and that “Agar is Mount Sinai” (Gal. 4:22–26 )—then, indeed, little blame can be attached to either Christian or non-Christian who declines to accept certain portions of the Bible in any other light than that of an allegory. H. P. Blavatsky writes:

Rabbi Simeon Ben-Jochai, the compiler of the Zohar, never imparted the most important points of his doctrine otherwise than orally, and to a very limited number of disciples. Therefore, without the final initiation into the Mercavah, the study of the Kabalah will be ever incomplete, and the Mercavah can be taught only “in darkness, in a deserted place, and after many and terrific trials.”

Mercavah or Mercaba is a chariot. According to the Kabbalists, the Supreme Lord, after he had established the ten Sephiroth, used them as a chariot or throne of glory on which to descend upon the souls of humanity. Thus the word also means a hidden doctrine delivered only as a mystery, orally, “face to face and mouth to ear.” Modern kabbalistic scholarship no longer accepts the reputed authorship of the Zohar of Simeon Ben-Jochai, attributing it instead to Moses de Leon, the famous Spanish Kabbalist who wrote during the thirteenth century A.D. Since the death of these great Jewish initiates, this hidden doctrine has remained, for the outside world, an inviolate secret. Madam Blavatsky continues:

Among the venerable sect of the Tanaim, or rather the Tananim, the wise men, there were those who taught the secrets practically and initiated some disciples into the grand and final mystery. But the Mishna Hagiga, 2nd section, say that the table of contents of the Mercavah “must only be delivered to wise old ones.” The Gemara is still more dogmatic. “The more important secrets of the Mysteries were not even revealed to all priests. Alone the initiates had them divulged. And so we find the same great secrecy prevalent in every ancient religion.”

What says the Kabalah itself? Its great rabbis actually threaten him who accepts their sayings verbatim. We read in the Zohar [Zohar, Vol:III, fol. 1526]: “Woe . . . to the man who sees in the Thorah, i.e., Law, only simple recitals and ordinary words! Because if in truth it only contained these, we would even today be able to compose a Thorah much more worthy of admiration. For if we find only the simple words, we would only have to address ourselves to the legislators of the earth, to those in whom we most frequently meet with the most grandeur. It would be sufficient to imitate them, and make a Thorah after their words and example. But it is not so; each word of the Thorah contains an elevated meaning and a sublime mystery. . . . The recitals of the Thorah are the vestments of the Thorah. Woe to him who takes this garment for the Thorah itself. . . . The simple take notice only of the garments or recitals of the Thorah, they know no other thing, they see not that which is concealed under the vestment. The more instructed men do not pay attention to the vestment, but to the body which it envelops” (Secret Doctrine [SD] 5:67–68).
An Illustration

The story of the cursing of the fig tree (Matt. 21:19 , Mark 11:21 ) may be taken here as an example of an account of a somewhat unlikely event which, when interpreted as an allegory, becomes not only acceptable but also a source of illumination. It seems un-Christlike to curse the fig tree, and still more so when we realize that the act was performed in the early spring before the Passover, when, being out of season, the tree could not have had any figs upon it. Indeed, the story may rightly be regarded as self-contradictory, even absurd. In that very absurdity, however, is said to be both a clue to the meaning and an encouragement to look for the wisdom concealed within the supposed narrative of events. The world’s allegories are, in fact, less records of events in time and place than both descriptions of interior experiences and enunciations of universal laws. Simply put, the particular law here referred to is that if all living things and beings, including races, nations and human beings, do not share the fruits of their lives, they will metaphorically wither away and die. Individually applied, the person who seeks to have, to hold and to hoard the fruits of life—outer possessions and discovered wisdom, truth and power—giving nothing to others, that person will inevitably find that life, outer and inner, stagnates and atrophies.

Selfless Giving Brings Spiritual Enrichment

Attention is thus drawn to a mysterious law—it might be called “the law of flow”—under which those who wisely and unselfishly give of themselves gain a more abundant life. Obedience to this law brings not loss but gain, not death but everlasting life. Disobedience of this law brings not gain but loss, not life but death. This has been repeatedly demonstrated throughout the history of both nations and individuals.

This principle is fundamental, for it is the law by which the universe subsists. The Logos itself nourishes and sustains the solar system by the perpetual outpouring, self-giving, “self-emptying” (in Greek, kenosis) of its own life. This kenosis (the self-emptying attitude of mind and mode of life) is a key word in the Christian religion. It is applied to the life of the disciple by our Lord in the words: “he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25 ), and “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24 ). The neophyte must become “the wheat of Christ,” as a Christian mystic has said.

The poverty of the nativity of Jesus, the surrender to Pilate and to crucifixion, the exposure of the sacred heart, the endurance of open wounds and the piercing of the skin are all symbols of this attitude of uttermost selflessness towards life. Such self-emptying, such entirely self-forgetting love and such figurative death are necessary, it is said, for the attainment of more abundant life. To die to the sense of separated individuality, to outgrow egoism and possessiveness—this is to live unto life eternal. Mysterious and even contradictory though such a statement appears, it is nevertheless thought by all great mystics to be one of the greatest truths ever uttered.

Apparently we are in the presence of a strange law. In order to live the larger life in imitation of the great exemplar, the Lord of Love, we must die to self-desire: we must pour ourselves out in selfless sacrifice and service: we must surrender self for love’s sake. Universal love is the only true way to eternal life, because it involves “self-emptying” of self. Self-forgetfulness is the basis of all spirituality. Every sincere esotericist is faced with this truth and with this necessity. The renunciation seems always to be of that which we hold most dear. Applied to the Logos, these words “self-emptying” and “dying” are not to be taken as wholly expressing the truth; for, of course, the Logos does not ever become empty, nor does it ever really die. The Logos is ever self-renewed from a higher dimension. Similarly, the sun, which in esoteric philosophy is regarded as the Lord’s physical “heart,” does not exhaust itself despite its immeasurable outpouring, for proportionate inpouring occurs. This is also true in every walk of life, whether secular or spiritual.

In relating the incident of the withered fig tree, the author of the Gospel according to St. Matthew enunciated this principle in the form of a story describing a supposed action of the Lord of Love which brought about a cessation of life of a tree (Matt. 21:19 ) . A profound spiritual truth of the greatest significance to every neophyte of every age who seeks to discover the strait gate and enter upon the narrow way is thus portrayed by means of a miniature drama, an allegory concealing—to guard against unwise application of the law to necessary material possessions, for example—the all-important law that life is not lost, but fulfilled, by renunciation. This interpretation is supported by the fact that, after the incident, our Lord went on to refer to the nature and range of the tremendous powers attainable by those who enter upon the path of discipleship and initiation, saying:

Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive
(Matt. 21:21–22 ).

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and the acclamation by the crowd, commemorated by the Church as Palm Sunday, which immediately preceded the withering of the fig tree, indicated that a certain spiritual advance had been made, a triumph of the spirit over the flesh, of the Christ-power within over mind, emotions, vitality and physical body—the lower quaternary (the docile ass)—and the multitude of habits, desires and appetites (the responsive crowd) inherent in the substance of the physical and superphysical bodies. Jerusalem is a symbol of the state of awareness of the divine Self or Ego in the causal body, the universalized consciousness of an immortal spiritual being. Entry into Jerusalem portrays realization—during waking consciousness—of the Self as divine, eternal, indestructible and universal. The heavenly city, “the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22 ) is a symbol of the Augoeides (Greek), the karana sharira (Sanskrit), the Robe of Glory of the Gnostics in which the self-radiant divine fragment, the Monad-Ego, abides and is self-manifest at the level of the abstract intelligence. All these are names for the same principle—the vehicle of the reincarnating Ego at the formless levels of the mental plane.

Literal or Symbolic?

If it be objected that too much is being deduced from so simple and so briefly described an incident as the withering of the fig tree, it can first be answered that a literal reading presents one with an unacceptable attribute in the character of the Christ, who said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 ) . Second, in its literal meaning, the incident introduces a meaningless and somewhat repellent exercise of thaumaturgic power such as has been occasionally displayed, for example, by the medicine men of early peoples and by the Tohungas of the Maoris.

While it is admitted that the fact that one idea is preferable to another is no proof of its verity, the cumulative evidence obtained by similar interpretations of a very great number of Bible stories is so strong as to amount to proof. When to this is added the avowed intention of ancient writers, and the strongly worded command of the Christ to conceal from the profane, and yet reveal to the worthy power bestowing knowledge and the mysteries of the kingdom—(“pearls,” Mark 4:11 ), which could be dangerous in the wrong hands (“swine,” Matt. 7:6 )—then the case for the existence and use of the sacred language would seem to be unassailable.