THEOSOPHY, Vol. 11, No. 6, April, 1923
(Pages 276-279; Size: 13K)
INITIATES AND INITIATION(1)
[Part 5 of an 8-part series]
UNDERLYING every ancient popular religion was the same ancient wisdom-doctrine, one and identical, professed and practiced by the initiates of every country, who alone were aware of its existence and importance. To ascertain its origin, and the precise age in which it was matured, is now beyond human possibility. A single glance, however, is enough to assure one that it could not have attained the marvellous perfection in which we find it pictured to us in the relics of the various esoteric systems, except after a succession of ages. A philosophy so profound, a moral code so ennobling, and practical results so conclusive and so uniformly demonstrable is not the growth of a generation, or even of a single epoch. Fact must have been piled upon fact, deduction upon deduction, science have begotten science, and myriads of the brightest human intellects have reflected upon the laws of nature, before this ancient doctrine had taken concrete shape. The proofs of this identity of fundamental doctrine in the old religions are found in the prevalence of a system of initiation; in the secret sacerdotal castes who had the guardianship of mystical words of power, and a public display of a phenomenal control over natural forces, indicating association with preterhuman beings. Every approach to the Mysteries of all these nations was guarded with the same jealous care, and in all, the penalty of death was inflicted upon initiates of any degree who divulged the secrets entrusted to them. We have seen that such was the case in the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, among the Chaldean Magi, and the Egyptian hierophants; while with the Hindus, from whom they were all derived, the same rule has prevailed from time immemorial. We are left in no doubt upon this point; for the Agrushada Parikshai says explicitly, "Every initiate, to whatever degree he may belong, who reveals the great sacred formula, must be put to death."
And again -- in the Hindu books of initiation, the same Agrushada Parikshai, we find that any initiate of the first degree (the lowest) who betrays the secrets of his initiation to members of other castes, for whom the science should be a closed book, must have "his tongue cut out," and suffer other mutilation.
The Secret Association is still alive as ever, and it may be inferred that the chief pontiff and hierophant, the Brahmatma, is still accessible to those "who know," though perhaps recognized by another name; and that the ramifications of his influence extend throughout the world.....
Whatever were the rites enacted among the neophytes before they passed to a higher form of instruction; however misunderstood were the trials of Katharsis or purification, during which they were submitted to every kind of probation; and however much the material or physical aspect might have led to calumny, it is but wicked prejudice which can compel a person to say that under this external meaning there was not a far deeper and spiritual significance. It is positively absurd to judge the ancients from our own standpoints of propriety and virtue. And most assuredly it is not for the Church -- which now stands accused by all the modern symbologists of having adopted precisely these same emblems in their coarsest aspect, and feels herself powerless to refute the accusations -- to throw the stone at those who were her models.
The Brama-atma was the sole guardian of the mystic formula. He alone could expound its meaning in the presence of the initiates of the third and supreme degree. Whosoever among these initiates revealed to a profane a single one of the truths, even the smallest of the secrets entrusted to his care, was put to death. He who received the confidence had to share his fate. The injunction of secrecy was as strict with the kabalists as with the initiates of the Adyata and the Hindu Yogis.
"Close thy mouth lest thou shouldst speak of this (the mystery) and thy heart lest thou shouldst think aloud; and if thy heart has escaped thee bring it back to its place, for such is the object of our alliance."
"This is a secret which gives death: close thy mouth lest thou shouldst reveal to the vulgar: compress thy brain lest something should escape from it and fall outside."
The Japanese and Chinese Buddhist ascetics and Initiates are, if possible, even more reticent in giving out their "Knowledge" than are the Hindus. No one, not even the greatest living Adept would be permitted to, or could -- even if he would -- give out promiscuously to a mocking, unbelieving world that which has been so effectually concealed from it for long aeons and ages.
The reason why in every age so little has been generally known of the mysteries of initiation is twofold. The first has already been explained by more than one author, and lies in the terrible penalty following the least indiscretion. The second is the superhuman difficulties and even dangers which the daring candidate of old had to encounter, and either conquer, or die in the attempt, when, what is still worse, he did not lose his reason. ... There was no real danger to him whose mind had become thoroughly spiritualized, and so prepared for every terrific sight. He who fully recognized the power of his immortal spirit, and never doubted for one moment its omnipotent protection, had naught to fear. But woe to the candidate in whom the slightest physical fear -- sickly child of matter -- made him lose sight and faith in his own invulnerability. He who was not wholly confident of his moral fitness to accept the burden of these tremendous secrets was doomed.
The Talmud gives the story of the four Tanaim, who are made, in allegorical terms, to enter into the garden of delights; i.e., to be initiated into the occult and final science.
"According to the teaching of our holy masters the names of the four who entered the garden of delight are: Ben Asai, Ben Zoma, Acher and Rabbi Akiba....
"Ben Asai looked and -- lost his sight.
"Ben Zoma looked and -- lost his reason.
"Acher made depredations in the plantation (mixed up the whole and failed).
"But Akiba, who had entered in peace, came out of it in peace, for the saint whose name be blessed had said, 'This old man is worthy of serving us with glory,"' ...
"The learned commentators of the Talmud, the Rabbis of the Synagogue, explain that the garden of delight, in which those four personages are made to enter, is but that mysterious science, the most terrible of sciences for weak intellects, which it leads directly to insanity," says A. Franck, in his Kabbala. It is not the pure at heart and he who studies but with a view to perfecting himself and so more easily acquiring the promised immortality, who need have any fear; but rather he who makes of the science of sciences a sinful pretext for worldly motives, who should tremble. The latter will never withstand the kabalistic evocations of the supreme initiation.
It is not the fault of the Initiates that these documents (the real secret commentaries which alone make the Vedas intelligible) are now "lost" to the profane; nor was their policy dictated by selfishness, or any desire to monopolize the life-giving sacred lore. There were portions of the Secret Science that for incalculable ages had to remain concealed from the profane gaze. But this was because the imparting to the unprepared multitude secrets of such tremendous importance was equivalent to giving a child a lighted candle in a powder magazine.
The documents were concealed, it is true, but the knowledge itself and its actual existence was never made a secret of by the Hierophants of the Temples, wherein the MYSTERIES have ever been made a discipline and stimulus to virtue. This is very old news, and was repeatedly made known by the great Adepts, from Pythagoras and Plato down to the Neo-Platonists. It was the new religion of the Nazarenes that wrought a change for worse in the policy of centuries.
Moreover, at the end of the last (18th) and beginning of the present (19th) century more than one Russian Mystic traveled to Thibet via the Ural Mountains in search of knowledge and initiation in the unknown crypts of Central Asia. And more than one returned years later, with a rich store of information such as could never have been given him anywhere in Europe. Let any one look over the annals and history of Freemasonry in the archives of the Russian metropolis, and he will assure himself of the fact above stated.
When men like Pythagoras, Plato and Iamblichus, renowned for their severe morality, took part in the Mysteries, and spoke of them with veneration, it ill behooves our modern critics to judge them so rashly upon their merely external aspect. Iamblichus explains the worst; and his explanation, for an unprejudiced mind, ought to be perfectly plausible. "Exhibitions of this kind," he says, "in the Mysteries were designed to free us from licentious passions by gratifying the sight and at the same time vanquishing all evil thought, through the awful sanctity with which these rites were accompanied." "The wisest and best men in the Pagan world," adds Dr. Warburton, "are unanimous in this, that the Mysteries were instituted pure, and proposed the noblest ends by the worthiest means."
In these celebrated rites, although persons of both sexes and all classes were allowed to take a part, and a participation in them was even obligatory, very few indeed attained the higher and final initiation. The gradation of the Mysteries is given us by Proclus in the fourth book of his Theology of Plato. "The perfective rite precedes in order the initiation -- Muesis -- and the initiation Epopteia, or the final apocalypse (revelation)." Theon of Smyrna, in Mathematica, also divides the mystic rites into five parts: "the first of which is the previous purification; for neither are the Mysteries communicated to all who are willing to receive them; ... there are certain persons who are prevented by the voice of the crier ... since it is necessary that such as are not expelled from the Mysteries should first be refined by certain purifications which the reception of the sacred rites succeeds. The third part is denominated epopteia or reception. And the fourth, which is the end and design of the revelation, is the binding of the head and fixing of the crowns ... (This expression must not be understood literally; for as in the initiation of certain Brotherhoods it has a secret meaning, hinted at by Pythagoras, when he describes his feelings after the initiation and tells that he was crowned by the gods in whose presence he had drunk 'the waters of life' -- in Hindu a-bi-hayat, fount of life.) whether after this he (the initiated person) becomes ... an hierophant or sustains some other part of the sacerdotal office. But the fifth, which is produced from all these, is friendship and interior communion with God."
(To be Continued)
INITIATES AND INITIATION
[Part 6 of an 8-part series]
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(1) Collated from Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine.
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