A PUZZLE IN ESOTERIC BUDDHISM
[Lucifer, Vol. II, No. 9, May, 1888, pp. 254-260]
To the Editor of Lucifer.
Since the two Editors repeatedly assert their willingness in their great impartiality to publish even “personal remarks” upon themselves (Vide Lucifer, Vol. I, February, 1888, p. 432), I avail myself of the opportunity. Having read Esoteric Buddhism with much interest and general approval of the main drift of its teachings, I am anxious, with your kind permission, to formulate an objection to some points in Mr. Sinnett’s view of Evolution which have completely staggered my friends and myself. They appear to upset once and for all the explanation of the origin of man propounded by that popular author. Mr. Sinnett has, however, so uniformly expressed his willingness to answer honest criticism that I may, perhaps, hope for his assistance in solving this difficulty. Meanwhile, despite my favourable bias towards Theosophy, I must, perforce, express my conviction that one aspect of the Esoteric Doctrine—supposing of course that Mr. Sinnett is to be regarded as absolutely authoritative on the point—is opposed to Science. The point is one of fundamental importance as will be readily recognised by all —except, perhaps, by some too . . . . well, too admiring Theosophists.
In Esoteric Buddhism we are confronted with a general acceptance of Darwinism. Physical Man, in particular, is said to have been evolved from ape ancestors.
“Man, says the Darwinian, was once an ape. Quite true; but the ape known [??] to the Darwinian will never become a man—i.e., the form will not change from generation to generation till the tail disappears and the hands turn into feet, and so on . . . if we go back far enough, we come to a period at which there were no human forms ready developed on earth. When spiritual monads, travelling on the earliest or lowest human level, were thus beginning to come round [the Planetary
ALFRED PERCY SINNETT
Reproduced from The Theosophist, Vol. XXX, September, 1909.
chain to this globe], their onward pressure in a world at that time containing none but animal forms provoked the improvement of the highest of these into the required form—the much-talked-of missing link.”—(Esoteric Buddhism, 5th ed. pp. 82-3.)
“. . . the mineral kingdom will no more develop the vegetable kingdom . . . until it receives an impulse from without, than the earth was able to develop man from the ape till it received an impulse from without.” (Ibid., p. 89.)
The theory here broached is to the effect that the development of the ape into man was brought about by the incarnation of Human Egos from the last planet in the septenary chain of globes. I may here remark that in referring to our supposed animal progenitors as the apes “known” to the Darwinian, Mr. Sinnett exceeds in audacity the boldest Evolutionist. For this hypothetical creature is not known at all, being conspicuous by its absence from any deposits yet explored. This, however, is a minor point. The real indictment to which I have been leading up is to follow.
We are told that occultists divide the term Human existence on this planet into seven Race Periods. At the present time the 5th of these races, the Aryan, is in the ascendant, while the 4th is still represented by teeming populaces. The 3rd is almost extinct. Now on page 106 of Esoteric Buddhism we are told regarding the 4th Race men that:—
“In the Eocene Age . . . . even in its very first part, the great cycle of the fourth race men, the Atlanteans, had already reached its highest point.”
Here, then, is a distinct landmark in the Esoteric Chronology pointed out to us. Summarizing these data we find ourselves confronted with the following propositions:
(1) Humanity was developed physically from apes.
(2) The 4th Race reached its prime at the commencement of the Eocene Age of Geology.
(3) The three first Races (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) must therefore have antedated the Eocene Age by an enormous extent of time, even if we allow a much shorter period for their development than for the 4th and 5th. The 1st race, in fact, must have preceded the Tertiary Period by several millions of years.
(4) This pre-Tertiary 1st Race was therefore derived from a still earlier ape stock.
At this point the fabric of theory collapses. It is necessary to say that Science has been unable to find a trace of an anthropoid ape previous even to the relatively late Miocene Age? Now the Eocene precede the Miocene rocks, and the 1st Race, as already shown, must have antedated even the era of the Eocene; it must have stretched far back into that dim and distant past when the chalk cliffs of the Secondary period
were deposited! How then can Mr. Sinnett claim his view of Human Evolution as merely “complementary” to Darwin’s, when he binds himself to a chronology compared with the duration of which the Evolutionist one sinks into insignificance? Palaeontologists unanimously refuse to admit the existence of the higher apes previous to the Tertiary Period, and Darwin would have smiled at the notion. As a matter of fact, only the very lowest mammalians had made their appearance before the Eocene strata were formed. This is the view of the Science to which Mr. Sinnett invites us to bow with due reverence. Apparently he has been unconsciously nursing a viper in his bosom, for the same Science now “turns and strikes him.” I ask, HOW THEN WAS THE 1ST RACE EVOLVED FROM APES AEONS OF YEARS BEFORE SUCH APES EXISTED? If Mr. Sinnett will kindly return a satisfactory answer to this query, he will have largely contributed to relieve the intellectual difficulties in the way of—
AN AGNOSTIC STUDENT OF THEOSOPHY.
April 20, Aberdeen.
EDITOR’S NOTE.—The above letter is an arraignment either of the Esoteric Doctrine or of its expounders. Now the doctrine itself is unassailable, though its expounders may often make mistakes in their presentation of it; particularly when, as in the case of the author of Esoteric Buddhism, the writer was only very partially informed upon the subjects he treats of.
Leaving the author of Esoteric Buddhism to answer the criticism for himself, one of the editors of Lucifer, as a person indirectly concerned with the production of the said work, begs the privilege of saying a few words upon the subject. It was as a special favour to herself that the teachings contained in Mr. Sinnett’s volume were first begun; she was the only one of the party concerned with these studies who had received for a series of years instruction in them. Therefore no one can know better than herself what was, or was not, meant in such or another tenet of this particular doctrine.
Our correspondent should bear in mind therefore, that:
(a) At the time of the publication of Esoteric Buddhism (Budhism * would be more correct) the available Occult
* Budhism would mean “Wisdom,” from Budha, “a sage,” “a wise man,” and the imperative verb “Budhyadhwam,” “Know”; and Buddhism
data were comparatively scanty in its author’s hands. Otherwise, he would not have seemed to derive man from the ape—a theory absurd and impossible in the sight of the MASTERS.
(b) Only a tentative effort was being cautiously made to test the readiness of the public to assimilate the elements of Esoteric philosophy.
For Mr. Sinnett was left largely to his own resources and speculations and very naturally followed the bend of his own mind, which, though greatly favouring esoteric philosophy, was, nevertheless, decidedly biassed by modern science. Consequently, the revelations then broached were purposely designed to rather afford a bird’s-eye view of the doctrine than to render a detailed treatment of any special problem possible. The teachings were not given at first with the object of publication. No regular systematic teaching was ever contemplated, nor could it be so given to a layman; therefore that teaching consisted of detached bits of information in the shape of answers in private letters to questions offered upon most varied subjects, on Cosmogony and Psychology, Theogony and Anthropology, and so on. Moreover, more queries were left without any reply and full explanation refused—as the latter belong to the mysteries of Eastern Initiation—than there were problems solved. This has, subsequently, proved a very wise policy. It is not at this stage of absolute materialism on the one hand, of cautious agnosticism on the other, and of fluctuating uncertainty as regards almost every individual speculation among the most eminent men
is the religious philosophy of Gautama, the Buddha. As Dr. H. H. Wilson very truly remarks in his translation of Vishnu-Purana, “Much erroneous speculation has originated in confounding Budha, the son of Soma (the Moon) and the regent of the planet Mercury—’he who knows’ ‘the intelligent,’—with Buddha, any deified [?] mortal, or ‘he by whom truth is known,’ or as individually applicable, Gautama or Śakya, Son of the Raja Śuddhodana. The two characters have nothing in common; and the names are identical, only when one or other is misspelt.” “Budhism” has preceded Buddhism by long ages and is pre-Vedic.
of Science, that the full revelation of the archaic scheme of anthropology would be advisable. In the days of Pythagoras the heliocentric system was a mystery taught only in the silence and secrecy of the inner Temples; and Socrates was put to death for divulging it, under the inspiration of his DAIMON. Now-a-days, the revealers of systems which clash with religion or science are not put to physical death, but they are slowly tortured to their dying hour with open calumny and secret persecutions, when ridicule proves to be of no avail. Thus, a full statement of even an abridged and hardly defined “Esoteric Budhism” would do more harm than good. Only certain portions of it can be given, and they will be given very soon.
Nevertheless, as our critic readily admits, all these difficulties notwithstanding, Mr. Sinnett has produced a most interesting and valuable work. That, in his too exaggerated respect and admiration for modern science, he seems to have somewhat materialized the teachings is what every metaphysician will admit. But it is also true, that the writer of Esoteric Buddhism would be the last man to claim any more “authoritative character” for his book, than what is given to it by the few verbatim quotations from the teachings of a Master, more particularly when treating of such moot questions as that of Evolution. The point on which his critic lays such stress—the incompatibility of the statements made in his work as to the origin of Man on this planet—certainly invalidates Mr. Sinnett’s attempted reconciliation (if it is such) of the Darwinian and Esoteric Schemes of human evolution. But at this every true Theosophist, who expects no recognition of the truths he believes in at present, but feels sure of their subsequent triumph at a future day, can only rejoice. Scientific theories or rather conjectures are really too materialistic to be reconciled with “Esoteric Budhism.”
As the whole problem, however, is one of great complexity it would be out of the question to do any justice to it in the space of a brief note. The “Budhism” of the archaic, prehistoric ages is not a subject that can be disposed of in a single little volume. Suffice it to say that the larger portion of the coming Secret Doctrine is devoted to the
elucidation of the true esoteric views as to Man’s origin and social development—hardly mentioned in Esoteric Buddhism. And to this source we must be permitted to refer the inquirer.