FOOTNOTES AND COMMENT ON “ULTIMATE PHILOSOPHY”
[Lucifer, Vol. II, No. 8, April, 1888, pp. 136-141]
[The following footnotes and closing Editorial Note are appended by H.P.B. to an article of Herbert L. Courtney, on the general subject of Hylo-Idealism:]
[is there aught beyond consciousness?] Most decidedly not. “There is naught beyond consciousness,” a Vedantin and a Theosophist would say, because Absolute Consciousness is infinite and limitless, and there is nothing that can be said to be “beyond” that which is ALL, the self-container, containing all. But the Hylo-Idealists deny the Vedantic idea of non-separateness, they deny that we are but parts of the whole; deny, in common parlance, “God,” Soul and Spirit, and yet they will talk of “apprehension” and intuition—the function and attribute of man’s immortal Ego, and make of it a function of matter. Thus they vitiate every one of their arguments.
[let “I am” = consciousness—or “sensation” or any other word . . . so that it includes all thought . . . . all connected with the ego in itself] In this paragraph we find the old crux of philosophy—the question as to whether there is any “external reality” in nature—cropping up again. The solution offered is a pure assumption, reached by ignoring one of the fundamental facts of human consciousness, the feeling that the cause of sensation, etc., lies outside the limited, human self. Mr. Courtney, we believe, aims at expressing a conception identical with that of the Adwaita Vedantins of India. But his language is inaccurate and misleading to those who understand his words in their usual sense, e.g., when he speaks of the “I am” outside of which nothing can exist, he is stating a purely Vedantin tenet; but then the “I” in question is not the “I” which acts, feels or thinks, but that absolute consciousness which is no consciousness.
It is this confusion between the various ideas represented by “I” which lies at the root of the difficulty—the only philosophical explanation of which rests in the esoteric Vedantin doctrine of “Maya,” or Illusion.
[How can I be self and yet not self at the same time?] Very easily. You have only to postulate that self is one, eternal and infinite, the only REALITY; and your little self a transient illusion, a reflected ray of the SELF, therefore a not-Self. If the Vedantin idea is “meaningless” to the writer, his theory is still more so—to us.
[Beyond consciousness all is (to me) a blank, and all that enters consciousness becomes part of myself thereby] This phrase is an admirable illustration in proof of the remarks made in the last foot-note. “Things enter consciousness,” says Mr. Courtney, and it is no word-splitting to point out to him, that not only is it impossible for him to speak without these words or others equivalent to them, but further that he cannot think at all except in terms of these conceptions. It follows that, since he is not talking nonsense, he is trying to express in terms of the mind, what properly transcends mind—in other words we are brought back to the ancient doctrine of “Maya” again.
Daily experience shows him that things do enter consciousness and, in some sense, become part of himself—but where and what were they, before entering his consciousness? Let him study the doctrine of limitation and “reflected” centres of consciousness, and he will understand himself more clearly.
[upon the fact of its own existence the ego cannot reason] A Mystic would take exception to this statement, at least if the word “reason” is used by Mr. Courtney in the sense of “know”:—for his great achievement is “Self”-knowledge, meaning not only the analytical knowledge of his own limited personality, but the synthetical knowledge of “ONE” EGO from which that passing personality sprang.
[O, light divine, thy reproduction is impossible] How are we to understand “light divine” in the thought of a Hylo-Idealist, who limits the whole universe to the phantasms of the grey matter of the brain—that matter and its productions being alike illusions? In our humble opinion this philosophy is twin sister to the cosmogony of the orthodox Brahmins, who teach that the world is supported by an elephant, which stands upon a tortoise, the tortoise wagging its tail in absolute Void. We beg our friends, the Hylo-Idealists’, pardon; but, so long as such evident contradictions are not more satisfactorily explained, we can hardly take them seriously, or give them henceforth so much space.
The editors were kindly informed by Dr. Lewins that Miss C. Naden was on her way to India via Egypt (whence she sent us her excellent little letter published in the February Lucifer), well furnished with letters from Professor Max Müller to introduce her to sundry eminent “Sanskrit Pundits in the Three Presidencies for the purpose of studying Occultism on its native soil,” as Dr. Lewins explains. We heartily wish Miss Naden success; but we feel as sure she will return not a whit wiser in Occultism than when she went. We lived in India for
many years, and have never yet met with a “Sanskrit Pundit”—officially recognised as such—who knew anything of Occultism. We met with several occultists in India who will not speak; and with but one who is a really learned Occultist (the most learned, perhaps, of all in India), who condescends occasionally to open his mouth and teach. This he never does, however, outside a very small group of Theosophists. Nor do we feel like concealing the sad fact, that a letter from Mr. Max Müller, asking the pundits to divulge occult matter to an English traveller, would rather produce the opposite effect to the one anticipated. The Oxford Professor is very much beloved by the orthodox Hindus, innocent of all knowledge of their esoteric philosophy. Those who are Occultists, however, feel less enthusiastic, for the sins of omission and commission by the great Anglo-German Sanskritist are many. His ridiculous dwarfing of the Hindu chronology, to pander to the Mosaic, probably, and his denying to the Ancient Aryas any knowledge of even Astronomy except through Greek channels—are not calculated to make of him a new Rishi in the eyes of Aryanophils. If learning about Occultism is Miss Naden’s chief object in going to India, then, it is to be feared, she has started on a wild-goose’s chase. Hindus and Brahmins are not such fools as we Europeans are, on the subject of the sacred sciences, and they will hardly desecrate that which is holy, by giving it unnecessary publicity.