Theosophy asserts a principle, called the "Absolute", that is so abstract and so ultimate that it is beyond all attributes that might describe it. From this Absolute, arise or emanate multiple universes. This Absolute corresponds notably to the Hindu Brahma, or Parabrahm, that is fundamental to Vedanta and to Ainsoph in the Kabala. Now some physicists are driven to describe a "vacuum" or "nothing" out of which arise multiple universes. They propose an imagine of bubbles arising in boiling water.
This conception is quite beyond the science of 1888 when Blavatsky published The Secret Doctrine, (SD). It is amazing that this most abstract conception of the SD is now posited in a similar form by 20th century science.
Theosophy asserts a principle, called the "Absolute". Blavatsky defines it as:
An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought - in the words of Mandukya [one of the Hindu Upanishads], "unthinkable and unspeakable." (SDi14)
William Q. Judge gives another explanation of this Absolute - refering to it as "the unknown":
Theosophy postulates an eternal principle called the unknown, which can never be cognized except through its manifestations. This eternal principle is in and is every thing and being; it periodically and eternally manifests itself and recedes again from manifestation. In this ebb and flow evolution proceeds and itself is the progress of the manifestation. The perceived universe is the manifestation of this unknown, including spirit and matter, for Theosophy holds that those are but the two opposite poles of the one unknown principle. (Theosophy Generally Stated)
Blavatsky gives another reference to the Absolute that will show the correspondence between the teaching of the SD and some theorizing of modern physics. In this reference note there are two "things" that she describes, a) "the Universe in toto", and b) "numberless Universes" associated with the "the Universe in toto"
Further, the secret Doctrine affirms: The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically "the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing," called "the manifesting stars" and the "sparks of Eternity." "The Eternity of the Pilgrim" is like a wink of the Eye of Self-existence (Book of Dzyan.) "The appearance and disappearance of Worlds is like a regular tidal ebb of flux and reflux." (See Part II., "Days and Nights of Brahma.")
Some scientists posit a Multiverse. The Multiverse contains individual single universes like boiling water contains bubbles.
The simplest analogy is boiling water, which is a quantum effect. Tiny bubbles constantly form in the water and then expand very rapidly. If we treat the universe like a bubble, then we see that our universe coexists with a sea of other bubbles. Our universe, then, may be nothing but a quantum bubble, the result of a quantum fluctuation in an infinite ocean frothing with universes. In this infinite ocean, called the multiverse, the vacuum is constantly spawning new universes. In this picture, big bangs constantly take place, each representing a quantum fluctuation in the vacuum (What Happened Before the Big Bang - The latest "theory of everthing" suggests that our universe is but one of many universes exisiting in a larger multiverse by Michio Kaku in Astronomy magazine May 1996 p. 34)
So there is now an exact parallel between the combination of individual universes and multiverse of science and the combination of individual universes and "the Universe in toto" of Theosophy.
To put this is some perspective, imagine how much beyond the thinking of her time this idea of a multiverse was, when she wrote about it in 1888. At that time science had not yet accepted the possibility of the universe expanding and possibly contracting.
In the above quote from Kaku, the background is called the "vacuum". In the next quote it is called "an ocean of cosmic nothing."
This new picture of cosmology creates a new twist on religious mythology. In theology, most myths concerning the origin of the universe fall into one of two categories: the Judeo-Christian myth of Genesis, which describes a definite instant called creation, or the Hindu-Buddhist myth of Nirvana, which describes an endless universe that has no beginning in time or space. In this new picture, we combine these two mythologies into one coherent picture: We have a constant genesis, or boiling of universes, in an ocean of cosmic nothing or Nirvana.(ibid p 38.)
In the next quote from Blavatsky she refers in one short paragraph to both the "vacuum" and to the "great nothingness." (The "Ain-Soph" that she references is a Kabalistic concept meaning literally "no thing" and treated as corresponding to the Absolute.)
"Nature abhors vacuum" said the Peripatetics, who comprehended perhaps, though materialists in their way, why Democritus, with his instructor Leucippus, taught that the first principles of all things contained in the Universe were atoms and a vacuum. The latter means simply latent deity or force; which, before its first manifestation when it became WILL - communicating the first impulse to these atoms - was the great Nothingness, Ain-Soph, or NO-THING; was, therefore, to every sense, a Void - or CHAOS. (SDi343)
So Blavatsky and science are now using the same terms when discussing the Absolute.
Blavatsky observes "Modern Science is drawn more every day into the maelstrom of Occultism; unconsciously, no doubt, still very sensibly." (SDi124) Now - very many days latter - physicists are driven to occultism for "comfort" as they face difficult metaphysical questions. p38
I was once involved in a discussion with Nobel laureate Steve Weinberg. When I mentioned this picture of millions of big bangs constantly emerging from nothing, Weinberg said, "I find this an attractive picture and [it's] certainly worth thinking about very seriously. An important implication is that there wasn't a beginning; that there were increasingly larger big bangs, so that the [multiverse] goes on forever -- one doesn't have to grapple with the question of it before the bang. The [multiverse] has just been here all along. I find that a very satisfying picture."
The answers to some questions may not seem absolutely clear. Does the phase "universe in toto", quoted earlier, really refer to something more than this one universe? Could it be that Theosophy is asserting that only one universe exists and that it comes and goes? These questions get decisively answered in an important passage on the subject:
The best metaphysical definition of primeval theogony in the spirit of the Vedantins may be found in the " Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita ," by Mr. T.Subba Row. (See "Theosophist" for February, 1887.) Parabrahmam [the Absolute], the unknown and the incognisable, as the lecturer [T. Subba Row] tells his audience :
" ... Is not Ego, it is not non-ego, nor is it consciousness ... it is not even Atma" ... " but though not itself an object of knowledge, it is yet capable of supporting and giving rise to every kind of object and every kind of existence which becomes an object of knowledge. It is the one essence from which starts into existence a centre of energy ..." which he calls Logos.
This Logos is the Sabda Brahmam of the Hindus, which he will not even call Eswara (the "lord" God), lest the term should create confusion in the people's minds. But it is the Avalokisteswara of the Hindus, the Verbum of the Christians in its real esoteric meaning, not in the theological disfigurement.
"It is," he says, "the Gnatha or the Ego in the Kosmos, and every other Ego ... is but its reflection and manifestation. ... It exists in a latent condition in the bosom of Parabrahmam at the time of Pralaya. ..." (During Manvantara) "it has a consciousness and an individuality of its own ..." (It is a centre of energy, but) ... " such centres of energy are almost innumerable in the bosom of Parabrahmam" ... "It must not be supposed, that even the logos is the Creator, or that it is but a single centre of energy ... their number is almost infinite." "This Ego," he adds, "is the first that appears in Kosmos, and is the end of all evolution. It is the abstract Ego" ... "this is the first manifestation (or aspect) of Parabrahmam." (SDi428)
While the emerging similarities between science and Theosophy have been touted by BN - there are still significant differences. One of the differences is that Theosophy makes a definite statement about universes occurring in an infinite series - one manifestation of a universe leads to a subsequent manifestation of a universe.
Upon inaugurating an active period, says the Secret Doctrine, an expansion of this Divine essence from without inwardly and from within outwardly, occurs in obedience to eternal and immutable law, and the phenomenal or visible universe is the ultimate result of the long chain of cosmical forces thus progressively set in motion. In like manner, when the passive condition is resumed, a contraction of the Divine essence takes place, and the previous work of creation is gradually and progressively undone. The visible universe becomes disintegrated, its material dispersed; and 'darkness' solitary and alone, broods once more over the face of the 'deep.' To use a Metaphor from the Secret Books, which will convey the idea still more clearly, an out-breathing of the 'unknown essence' produces the world; and an inhalation causes it to disappear. This process has been going on from all eternity, and our present universe is but one of an infinite series, which had no beginning and will have no end. (SDi4)
(In the SD, Blavatsky quotes the Stanzas of Dzyan - deeply mysterious and poetic descriptions of esoteric truths. Her commentaries on these stanzas provide the structure for significant portions of the SD. While these stanzas are NOT the standard material for a newcomer to Theosophy, some of them relate to the subject under discussion and are included for those who would like to read on.)
Science and Theosophy also differ on the cause and the process of the origination of these universes, and that difference should not be minimized in a desire to find congruence between these two viewpoints.
Science says the cause of the universe is a random quantum fluctuation. The question of cause stops there. As for the process, science has the universe expanding faster than the speed of light for a very small fraction of a second at its very inception - called the inflationary model. Theosophy, in contrast, has a much more metaphysical view of both the cause and the process. Here are two verses from Stanza I, with Blavatsky's commentary, that show the considerable difference:
(Sdi44-5) 7. THECAUSES OF EXISTENCE HAD BEEN DONE AWAY WITH (a); THE VISIBLE THAT WAS, AND THE INVISIBLE THAT IS RESTED IN ETERNAL NON-BEING, THE ONE BEING (b).
(a) "The Causes of Existence" mean not only the physical causes known to science, but the metaphysical causes, the chief of which is the desire to exist, an outcome of Nidana and Maya. This desire for a sentient life shows itself in everything, from an atom to a sun, and is a reflection of the Divine Thought propelled into objective existence, into a law that the Universe should exist. According to esoteric teaching, the real cause of that supposed desire, and of all existence, remains for ever hidden, and its first emanations are the most complete abstractions mind can conceive. These abstractions must of necessity be postulated as the cause of the material Universe which presents itself to the senses and intellect; and they underlie the secondary and subordinate powers of Nature, which, anthropomorphized, have been worshipped as God and gods by the common herd of every age. It is impossible to conceive anything without a cause; the attempt to do so makes the mind a blank. This is virtually the condition to which the mind must come at last when we try to trace back the chain of causes and effects, but both science and religion jump to this condition of blankness much more quickly than is necessary [20th century science still does]; for they ignore the metaphysical abstractions which are the only conceivable cause of physical concretions. These abstractions become more and more concrete as they approach our plane of existence, until finally they phenomenalise in the form of the material Universe, by a process of conversion of metaphysics into physics, analogous to that by which steam can be condensed into water, and the water frozen into ice.
(b) The idea of Eternal Non-Being, which is the One Being, will appear a paradox to anyone who does not remember that we limit our ideas of being to our present consciousness of existence ; making it a specific, instead of a generic term. ... Alone the Initiate, rich with the lore acquired by numberless generations of his predecessors, directs the "eye of Dangma" toward the essence of things in which no Maya can have any influence.
And finally, consider the import of this magnificent verse on the subject:
(Sdi46) 8. ALONE, THE ONE FORM OF EXISTENCE STRETCHED BOUNDLESS, INFINITE, CAUSELESS, IN DREAMLESS SLEEP (a); AND LIFE PULSATED UNCONSCIOUS IN UNIVERSAL SPACE, THROUGHOUT THAT ALL-PRESENCE WHICH IS SENSED BY THE "OPENED EYE" OF THE DANGMA [inner spiritual eye of the hightest adept] (b).
(a) The tendency of modern thought is to recur to the archaic idea of a homogeneous basis for apparently widely different things - heterogeneity developed from homogeneity. Biologists are now searching for their homogeneous protoplasm and chemists for their protyle, while science is looking for the force of which electricity, magnetism, heat, and so forth, are the differentiations. The Secret Doctrine carries this idea into the region of metaphysics and postulates a "One Form of Existence" as the basis and source of all things. But perhaps the phrase, the "One Form of Existence," is not altogether correct. The Sanskrit word is Prabhavapyaya, "the place, or rather plane, whence emerges the origination, and into which is the resolution of all things," says a commentator.
This Prabhavapyaya, then, corresponds to the Multiverse of science. We can also say that some part of science has haltingly achieved some points of similarity with the Stanzas of Dzyan.
By R. Carson, October 1, 1997
CONCLUSION: Science calls it the Multiverse, philosophic English calls it the Absolute, and the ancients called it Prabhavapyaya.
(For an interesting explanation of the sanskrit term, click on prabhavapyaya.