The Theosophical Society in America

The Non-Existent Princes: That Which Ought to Be Known

Originally printed in the JULY-AUGUST 2001 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Mills, Joy. “The Non-Existent Princes: That Which Ought to Be Known.” Quest  89. 4 (July-August 2001): 142-146.

By Joy Mills

Joy MillsOnce upon a time, in a city which did not exist, there lived three princes who were brave and happy. Two of them were unborn, and the third had not yet been conceived. Unfortunately all their relatives had died, so the princes left their native city to go elsewhere. In due time, they reached the banks of three rivers. Two of the rivers were dry, and in the third there was no water. Here the three princes had a refreshing bath and were able to quench their thirst. Next they came to a large city which was about to be built. Entering the city, they discovered three palaces of exceedingly great beauty. Two of the palaces had not been built, and the third had no walls. The three princes entered the palaces and found three golden plates. Of these, two had been broken in half, and the third had been pulverized. They took hold of the pulverized one, and on it they found ninety-nine minus one hundred grains of rice, which they cooked. When the rice had been cooked, they invited three holy men to be their guests. Of these holy men, two had no body, and the third had no mouth. After these holymen had eaten the food, the three princes consumed the remainder of the rice that they had cooked. The three princes were so content that they lived in that city for a very long time in peace and joy.

What shall we make of this story? The sage Vasistha told the story to Prince Rama to remind him that what we know as the creation of the world is no more real than the city in which the three nonexistent princes found such happiness, that the world is nothing other than an idea. The world and all that is within it are the thoughts of the One Thinker. There is nothing outside that One Reality; its energy pervades all things. As the sage informed Rama, "Even as an able actor plays several roles one after the other, the mind assumes several aspects one after the other . . . the mind makes one thing appear to be another by its powers of thought and ideation." The One Consciousness is everywhere and in everything; it is Knower, Known, and Knowing itself.

H. P. Blavatsky said that the fundamental proposition of the esoteric philosophy (the Wisdom Tradition we know as Theosophy) is an "omnipresent, boundless, and immutable principle." "Existence is one thing, not any collection of things linked together," HPB told her students, according to Robert Bowen's notes on her classes, and she continued, "Fundamentally there is ONE BEING. It is ALL-BEING. . . . Therefore it is clear that this fundamental ONE EXISTENCE, or Absolute Being, must be the REALITY in every form there is."

Those familiar with Annie Besant's translation of the Bhagavad Gita will recognize that the title of these remarks is a quotation from chapter 13 of that work, and will also understand why in talking about "that which ought to be known," I have begun with the text of the Yoga Vasistha and the words of HPB.Chapter 13 of the Gita begins the final section or last six chapters of the work. The first section of six chapters focuses on karma yoga, work as sacrifice, action without attachment to the results of action. The second section (chapters 7 -12) concerns the path of bhakti or the path of love. The concluding portion of the Gita (chapters 13 -18) bring us to the way of knowing, jnana yoga, the path of knowledge or wisdom.

Robert Bowen's notes also record HPB's statement that a particular kind of mental effort is required for the study of The Secret Doctrine, a mode of thinking that HPB defined as jnana yoga: "this new kind of mental effort calls for . . . the carving out of 'new brain paths,' the ranking in different order of the little brain lives." Bowen's report concludes, "The True Student of The Secret Doctrine is a Jnana Yogi." If this way of knowledge demands the "carving out" of new brain pathways, there is a deeper and more significant reason why the final chapters of the Gita should be devoted to the yoga of knowing than the casual student might assume.

At the beginning of chapter 13 of the Gita, in Annie Besant's translation, Arjuna asks:

Matter and Spirit, even the Field and the Knower of the Field, wisdom and that which ought to be known, these I would learn.

In the translation by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, the question is even more simply translated, "What is it that has to be known?" And Krishna, responding as always to every inquiry that Arjuna makes, answers directly, "I will declare that which ought to be known." Only one thing, one ultimate knowing, is essential. That which ought to be known is the One Reality, the Supreme Source, in which all is grounded, from which all arises, and to which all returns:

Everywhere are His hands, eyes, feet; His heads and His faces:
This whole world is His ear; He exists, encompassing all things;
Doing all the tasks of each sense, yet Himself devoid of the senses:
Standing apart, He sustains: He is free from the gunas but feels them.
He is within and without: He lives in the live and the lifeless:
Subtle beyond mind's grasp; so near us, so utterly distant:
Undivided, He seems to divide into objects and creatures;
Sending creation forth from Himself, He upholds and withdraws it;
Light of all lights, He abides beyond our ignorant darkness;
Knowledge, the one thing real we may study or know, the heart's
dweller.

"That which ought to be known" is the one transcendental Atman, the one Subject of all objectivity, which, being unmanifest, is neither being nor nonbeing. "That which ought to be known" is the knowledge simultaneously of the field--the whole vast universe in all its richness and variety and diversity--and the knower of the field, the singular one which is each of us as knowers. "That which ought to be known" is a unified self-knowledge and world-knowledge, which is the authentic illumination and the only wisdom.

How does this knowledge affect our conduct in our day-to-day lives? Just as Arjuna asked in the second chapter of the Gita how the individual who has a quiet mind walks and eats and sits, and then asks again in the fourteenth chapter how the fully harmonized individual acts, so our question is simply, If we truly know that which ought to be known, how do we act in the world? Is our knowing reflected in the way we engage in our normal activities, meeting and greeting and speaking with others?

The last work of the French mystic Rene Daumal, Mount Analogue, describes a magical journey:

You cannot stay on the summit forever. You have to come down again.. . . One climbs and one sees; one descends and one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself . . . by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one no longer sees, one can at least still know.

Daumal touches on an experience common to many of us. We have been inspired, perhaps by the words of a great teacher or by music or art; we have beheld a vision in deep contemplation, in the private moments of meditation,when something seemed so known as to be almost tangible. Then the events of daily life intrude, or we are disturbed by something or someone, and the inspiration, the vision, the knowing is gone as we react to the pressures of the moment. It is at such times that we must discover that "art of conducting oneself by the memory of what one saw higher up," as Daumal put it.

Another contemporary writer, Jack Kornfield, puts it this way:

After the ecstasy comes the laundry. . . . Like the monk in the ox-herding pictures, most of us have to reenter the marketplace to fulfill our realization. As we come down from the mountain, we may be shocked to find how easily our old habits wait for us, like comfortable and familiar clothes. Even if our transformation is great and we feel peaceful and unshakable, some part of our return will inevitably test us.

Kornfield's words should remind us that it is never enough to say, "Oh,yes, I know," for the circumstances of life eventually prove our knowing or not knowing. Francis Bacon wrote of those "idols of the mind," by which he meant the experiences, ideas, and attitudes that give a person the illusion of knowledge.The illusion of knowledge is revealed when our conduct is not in sync with our professed knowing.

In her New Year's message for 1888, the opening article in her magazine Lucifer for January of that year, H. P. Blavatsky wrote:

Thoreau pointed out that there are artists in life, persons who can change the color of a day and make it beautiful to those with whom they come into contact. We claim that there are adepts, masters in life who make it divine, as in all other arts. Is it not the greatest art of all, this which affects the very atmosphere in which we live? That it is the most important is seen at once, when we remember that every person who draws the breath of life affects the mental and moral atmosphere of the world, and helps to color the day for those about him. Those who do not help to elevate the thoughts and lives of others must of necessity either paralyze them by indifference, or actively drag them down.

When we genuinely know that which ought to be known—that everything is rooted in one supreme source—then we will "color the day" for ourselves and those about us with the living and vibrant hues of beauty, all of which derive from that one white light of Ultimate Reality. Knowing there is but that one"color," however broken up it may be into all the shades and tints of the world we see about us, we will appreciate the diversity of colors the world exhibits. Knowing that there is but One Life, we will recognize that whatever we do or think or feel has an impact on the entire web of existence.

How do we act? How do we conduct ourselves each day? How do we walk or sit or talk? If we know that "existence is one thing," as HPB emphasized to her students, then we will know how to conduct ourselves, not by some textbook of rules, but out of the very heart of our knowing. Consciousness is one, and we are each a part of that universal awareness, a network of thought in which each of us is coloring, so to speak, a strand in the web. How we act each day of our lives gives color to our unique thread. Whether the thread is bright and beautiful or dark and ugly is for each of us to determine.

Theodore Roszak, the well-known analyst of American culture, writing on "Our Demographic Destiny," in the Summer 2000 issue of the journal Lapis, has this to say:

Now we know that we live in a universe of enormous complexity and symbiotic subtlety where relationships rather than autonomous parts and competing agents are paramount. Today, when we think of our place in the world, we must see ourselves as not only caught up in a dense, sociological web, but afloat in an invisible sea of intricate ecological, and microbial alliances. . .. Every breath we take affirms that we are partners in the deep community of nature. . . . nothing enlivens ethics more than the feelings that come before words and underlie philosophy: the vivid, intuitive knowledge of relationship, the reality of the other, the claim of life upon life. . . . Once we were told on the highest authority that the universe was no more than atoms purposelessly adrift in the void; now we know that we live . . . amid 'patterns that interlock to infinity.' . . . Our growing sense of the depth, complexity, and organic interrelatedness of nature on both the microcosmic and the macrocosmic scale is not a minor theoretical revision in the sciences; it is radical enough to be ethically wrenching.

Roszak's concluding words, that the awareness of the fundamental relationship of all existent things is "radical enough to be ethically wrenching," echoes the Reith Lecture, given by the Prince of Wales, in which Charles emphasized the need for "working with the grain of Nature" rather than against it:

We need . . . to rediscover a reverence for the natural world, irrespective of its usefulness to ourselves; to become more aware, in Philip Sherrard's words, of "the relationship of interdependence, interpenetration and reciprocity between God, Man and Creation." . . . it is hard not to feel a sense of humility, wonder and awe about our place in the natural order. And to feel this at all stems from that inner heart felt reason which, sometimes despite ourselves, is telling us that we are intimately bound up in the mysteries of life. . . . Only by rediscovering the essential unity and order of the living and spiritual world . . . and by bridging the destructive chasm between cynical secularism and the timelessness of traditional religion, will we avoid the disintegration of our overall environment.

Underlying the interrelatedness of all life in the intricate network of existence is the one fundamental and magnificent truth, that which ought to beknown: the grounding of all manifest being in One Ultimate Reality. In that grounding Knower, Knowing, and Known are one. There is nothing outside that One Reality, One Universal Consciousness, whose living power pervades all, embraces all, enlightens all. Everywhere only It appears, though we may be like the three nonexistent princes, drinking from rivers that are but transitory images of Its ceaseless motion, entering cities that are the ever-changing outer vestures we call personalities, which serve as temporary abiding places for the One Atman, the Immortal Spirit, the only Knower in whom knowing and known are forever unified.

The path of jnana yoga, as suggested at the beginning, is the path of essential knowledge, of knowing that which ought to be known, a way that does indeed demand, as HPB told her students, the "carving out" of new brain pathways. That can only mean a complete and total transformation of one's very being. It was just such a transformation that Arjuna experienced. It was such a knowing that would enable Arjuna to say at the conclusion of the Gita:

Destroyed is my delusion, I have gained knowledge through Thy grace, O Immutable One. I am firm, my doubts have fled away. I will do according to Thy word.

That "doing" is not according to some external authority, but rather is the obedience of the personal self to the One Immortal Atman, the One Universal Self, which abides in the hearts of all beings, the One Supreme Consciousness, the Ultimate Knower and the Ultimate Known. For it is here, in the daily round of existence, in the mundane world where we move around and about, eating and walking and talking and working and resting, fighting our battles and enjoying our small victories, that we live out our knowing. When we truly know that which ought to be known, we too will be called "great-souled," Mahatma, as was Arjuna. But if we have not as yet achieved that state of full knowing, we can at least "color the day" for all about us with beauty and with love.


Joy Mills is a past president of both the American and Australian Sections of the Theosophical Society, as well as a past international Vice President. In fall 2000, she directed the School of the Wisdom at Adyar, India.