Christopher P. Holmes
Kemptville, Ontario, Canada: Zero Point Institute for Mystical and Spiritual Science, 2010. xi + 330 pp., paper, $24.95.
In God, Science, and "The Secret Doctrine," Christopher P. Holmes endeavors to show parallels between the cosmogenesis of H.P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine and the cosmology of today. He contends that scientific cosmology is catching up with the massive Theosophical work published in 1888. The parallels are often stunning. Consider lines like these:
"Matter is eternal," says the Esoteric Doctrine. But the matter the Occultists conceive of in its laya, or zero state, is not the matter of modern science. . . for it is PRADHANA ("original base"), yet atoms are born at every new manvantara, or reconstruction of the universe . . . There is a difference between manifested and unmanifested matter. (The Secret Doctrine, 1:545; cf. Holmes, 115)
Or, as Blavatsky also wrote:
By "that which is and yet is not" [before the manifestation of the universe] is meant the Great Breath itself, which we can only speak of as absolute existence, but cannot picture to our imagination as any form of existence that we can distinguish from Nonexistence. (Secret Doctrine, 1:43)
For comparison, Holmes cites the 1985 book Perfect Symmetry by the distinguished physicist Heinz Pagels:
The nothingness"before" the creation of the universe is the most complete void that we can imagine no space, time or matter existed. It is a world without place, without duration or eternity, without number it is what the existence a necessary consequence of physical laws. Where are these laws written into that void? What"tells" the void that it is pregnant with a possible universe? It would seem that even the void is subject to law, a logic that exists prior to space and time.
Holmes's analysis deals not only with the laya or"zero point" state prior to what has more recently been called the Big Bang, but likewise with the curved space and time of Einsteinian relativity, holographic space, the space-time-matter-energy continuum, quantum phenomena, multiple universes, the formation of subatomic particles, atoms, and finally stars and galaxies in the postâ€“Big Bang"inflation." In all this, through extensive quotations from The Secret Doctrine and recent scientific writers like Pagels, Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, Carl Sagan, and others, Holmes illumines the convergences.
That the meetings of meaning are not always evident to those dipping into the Theosophical classic is, first of all, due to Blavatsky's use of anthropomorphic or mythological language to describe what the scientists would phrase in more impersonal and objective terms. When Pagels asks,"What â€˜tells' the void that it is pregnant with a possible universe?" the answer is the Great Breath, and the"pregnancy" might be taken more literally than he intended. Blavatsky writes:"The last vibration of the seventh eternity thrills through infinitude. The Mother swells, expanding from within without, like the bud of the lotus" (Secret Doctrine, 1:62).
The Secret Doctrine uses this apparent anthropomorphism because it adds to the cosmological process the element of consciousness, or more precisely, the unimaginable cosmic levels of what is known in us as human consciousness. Granting that what is inside us may also be outside makes it acceptable, and often profoundly satisfying, to summon up correspondences between cosmic and human creativity, up to the mathematicians call"the empty set." Yet this unthinkable void converts itself into the plenum of metaphorical, and perhaps more than metaphorical, evocation of giving birth. But long and bitter battles between science and religion have left many in the former camp exceedingly wary of"mysticism" about the cosmos, by which they mean any attempt to universalize consciousness beyond the human plane. In such a universe of thought, Blavatsky's"Eternal Parent Wrapped in Her Ever-Invisible Robes,""Radiant Child,""Fohat" hardening the atoms, and conscious"Builders" working through stars and systems of stars, sound medieval or worse."Science" may insist instead that the beginning of the universe was a mindless accident or a random incident.
Nonetheless, from several directionsâ€”the mysteries of quantum phenomena, the logic of mathematics, the quandary of the anthropic universeâ€”consciousness, or its universal ground, seems waiting to come back in as a fifth cosmological constituent, along with space, time, matter, and energy. Some recent thought along this line has suggested that the universe resembles nothing so much as a computer simulation. Holmes's study makes it evident that The Secret Doctrine provides a model for a consciousness-guided universe far removed from the theological bugbears that understandably annoy scientific thinkers, while allowing for an inside as well as an outside to the cosmos from the beginning.
God, Science, and The Secret Doctrine is not the only attempt to correlate Blavatsky and contemporary physics and cosmology. One could mention papers presented at the 1984 symposium on H.P. Blavatsky and at the 2007 United Lodge of Theosophists' conference,"Theosophy and New Frontiers of Science." But Holmes does us the service of bringing much of this thought together in a book broadly following the structure of The Secret Doctrine, updating, as it were, the scientific as well as esoteric commentary Blavatsky so ably provided in terms of the science of her day.
Holmes's academic training is in clinical psychology, so professional physicists and astronomers, as well as scholars of The Secret Doctrine and its sources, may find issues to raise in his bold treatment of their material. But Holmes's virtue is that he writes from the standpoint of an enthusiastic inquirer like most of us, communicating the remarkable new importance of as a guidebook in the cosmic explorations of our day. As such, it is recommended, along with traditional commentaries, for Theosophical study.
The reviewer is former vice-president of the Theosophical Society in America.