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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Cosmogony

The study of the beginning or origin and evolution of the universe; cosmology relates to the study of the universe in general.

In antiquity ideas about the origins of the world are many and diverse, but such beliefs seem to have been concerned with the creation of the terrestrial world on which people lived, and not necessarily of the entire cosmos. Indeed, before the invention of the telescope there was little understanding about the vastness of the cosmos.

In a hymn of the Rg Veda we read how the gods created the world out of the dismembered body of this great primordial giant Purusha. The sky was made out of his head, the earth out of his feet, the sun out of his eye and the moon out of his mind. It would seem that the ancient writer left the origin of the stars unresolved, merely referring to “the sky” (Hymns of the Rig Veda, x. 90). It is quite possible that the laity accepted the “Purusha” origin of the world while the sages and possibly the priesthood viewed them as symbolical.

Probably the simplest explanation of cosmogony is found in the Christian Bible where in Genesis God made the heavens and earth in six days. Many Christians of a fundamentalist persuasion believe this to be true, even now.

At the time The Theosophical Society was founded (1875) the scientific view of the nature of the Universe was based on energy, matter and ether. The scientific view of the modus operandi of the cosmos was strictly mechanistic; radio activity had not been discovered so atomic theory was quite basic. Ether was thought to be something that permeated all space and accounted for such phenomena as electro-magnetism and light.

It was against such a scientific background that Helena P. BLAVATSKY and contemporaries attempted to introduce an opposing view which Helena P. Blavatsky set forth in her The Secret Doctrine (1888) with the forthright title Cosmogenesis.

Possibly the most concise postulation of theosophical cosmogony is found in The Secret Doctrine where Blavatsky writes, “No more than Science, does esoteric philosophy admit design or ‘special creation.’ It rejects every claim to the ‘miraculous’ and accepts nothing outside the uniform and immutable laws of Nature. But it teaches a cyclic law, a double stream of force (or spirit) and of matter, which, starting from the neutral center of Being, develops in its cyclic progress and incessant transformations” (SD II:731).

Matters are further complicated in a passage by Blavatsky which reads:

Our “Universe” is only one of the infinite number of Universes, all of them “Sons of Necessity,” because links in the great Cosmic chain of Universes, each one standing in the relation of an effect as regards is predecessor, and being a cause as regards its successor. (Ibid., I, 43)

It may be worth recalling that that passage was written in 1888 and in the last decade of the twentieth century a number of astronomers speculated about the mathematical possibility of an “infinite” number of parallel universes. The foregoing quotations focus on an important theosophical concept, that of the Law of Periodicity. This law states that for every period of activity there is an equal period of rest which is followed by a period of activity and so on. A period of activity is termed, in Sanskrit, a manvantara, literally meaning a time between two Manus (great Divine Beings). The period of rest is termed a pralaya, literally a time of dissolution. According to Blavatsky even during the pralaya Eternal Motion does not cease:

The appearance and disappearance of the Universe are pictured as an outbreathing and inbreathing of “the Great Breath,” which is eternal, and which, being Motion, is one of the three aspects of the Absolute — Abstract Space and Duration being the other two. When the “Great Breath” is projected, it is called the Divine Breath, and is regarded as the breathing of the Unknowable Deity — the One Existence — which breathes out a thought, as it were, which becomes the Kosmos. So also it is when the Divine Breath is inspired again the Universe disappears into the bosom of the “Great Mother” who then sleeps “wrapped in her invisible robes.” (SD I:43)

The origin of the expanding Universe is symbolically described as a homogeneous nucleus of undifferentiated matter, called the Mundane or Golden Egg, containing, in a highly condensed state, the entire substance of universes that will be born. This archaic symbolism states that the “Divine Egg” is propagated by the Omnipresent Spiritual Ray which causes all cosmic matter to begin its vast series of differentiation, beginning with the expulsion of “curds” (nebulous matter). “These are the seeds of future worlds, the ‘Star-stuff’” (Ibid., I, 69).

The evolution of our universe has been traced back in time to within a small fraction of a second, at a time just following what has been called the big bang; the universe has been expanding ever since. According to modern cosmologists, before the big bang, space and time did not exist. Some astronomers consider that the expansion will eventually cease and the universe will then collapse “inward,” reverting to whatever prevailed at the time of the big bang. This is exactly what The Secret Doctrineposits; added weight may be given to Blavatsky’s ideas in this connection when we consider that she wrote them in 1888, long before the expansion of the universe was discovered. Furthermore, it is now thought that at the time of the big bang time and space, as we know them, did not exist and it is interesting to compare this theory with a statement in The Secret Doctrine: “The Eternal Parent (Space), wrapped in her ever invisible robes, had slumbered once again for seven eternities.” “TIME WAS NOT, FOR IT LAY ASLEEP IN THE INFINITE BOSOM OF DURATION” (SD I:35-6).

It is worth noting that present day cosmologists do not discount the theory that the universe is cyclic although a few, including Fred Hoyle, have put forward the concept of a steady state universe. At the time of writing it has not been determined if there is sufficient matter in the universe to cause an eventual contraction. Philosophically it is difficult to visualize something that has a beginning and yet has no end.

Something similar to the theosophical idea of the cyclicity is found in the Tao Te Ching which states:

There is something undefined and complete, coming into existence before heaven and earth. How still it was and formless, standing alone and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere and in no danger (of being exhausted). It may be regarded as the Mother of all things. I do not know its name, and I give it the designation of the Tâo. Making an effort to give it a name I call it the great. Great it passes on (in constant flow). Passing on it becomes remote. Having become remote it returns (xxv, 1-3).

Blavatsky has expounded the cosmic law of the “Great Breath,” the in- and out-breathing of Divine Life, which is also termed the “Days and Nights of Brahma.” It is reasonable to assume that this is a symbolic description of the expansion and contraction of the Universe.

Theosophy ventures into the period before the big bang and speculates on ultimate origins, where science declines, so far, to venture in any factual way. It is suggested by theosophy that:

1. There is one eternal infinite incognizable real Existence.
2. From THAT, the manifested God unfolds from unity to duality and from duality to trinity.
3. From the manifested Trinity arise many spiritual Intelligences, guiding the kosmic order.
4. Spiritual intelligences bring into being the solar systems (Solar Logos).

Thus the Ancient Wisdom suggests that the universe is the expression of a Conscious Life, called variously God, Ÿvara, Ahura Mazda, Allāh, or the Logos. This Cosmic Logos is ever a unity or “one without a second,” nevertheless, as “He” energizes a universe, He energizes it as a Trinity. So, in terms of theosophical cosmogony, there is a “primary” intelligence from which all the manifested universe emanates and which continues to pervade the all.

Moving from a theosophical and scientific view of the cosmos to that of our solar system we can begin by considering the various scientific theories about the origin of it. One of the earlier, reasonably informed, theories considered that the planets “condensed” out of a disc of gas surrounding the sun. In the second half of the nineteenth century J. C. Maxwell pointed out that the shearing forces caused by differential rotation would have prevented the formation of the planets and the gaseous disc idea was abandoned for a time until further data concerning the composition of the material from which the planets were formed was gained and the gas-disc theory reinstated. It is now thought that the material from which the solar system was formed came from an earlier star that exploded — this accounts for the existence of the heavier elements. That the formation of planets around a sun is not such a rare event is now known since nearly one hundred nearby stars are known to have planets in orbit.

It is now thought likely that our moon was formed following a collision between earth and a large body about 3.9 billion years ago. This supposition is supported by the moon’s unusual size compared to that of the earth (all the known satellites orbiting other planets are much smaller in proportion) and the moon’s composition. However, it must be emphasized that this is but a theory and no absolute proof of this alleged catastrophic accident has yet been found.

How does what we know about the solar system and the earth-moon system accord with theosophical writings on the subject? In general not very well although there are a few interesting agreements. Blavatsky states that the moon is the parent of the earth (ibid., II, pp. 45-64) and this is unlikely since earth is 81 times larger than the moon. It is interesting to note in this connection however that the oldest rocks on earth have been dated at 3.7 billion years and those of the moon 3.8-3.9 billion. If a collision between the earth and some very large body gave rise to the moon then it has to be accepted that some aspects of the relationship between the earth chain and the moon chain may not be free from error.

Blavatsky stated that earth and moon have had a similar history and this is not contradicted by current knowledge of the two. We might conjecture that the cataclysm that may have given birth to the moon (if it is indeed a fact) might mark the end of physical evolution on the Lunar Chain and the commencement of it on Terrene Chain. The figures of 3.9 billion for the cataclysm and 3.7 billion for the earth’s oldest rocks are significantly very close.

Blavatsky maintained that life existed on the moon in the distant past. How does that statement stand up to scrutiny in the light of current knowledge? It cannot be denied that the possibility of physical life on the moon is crucial to theosophical theories about cosmic evolution and merit close examination. The moon’s part in the theosophical story of Rounds, Races, Globes etc. is an essential one.

Before the Apollo landings the possibility of life on the moon at any time seemed utterly impossible. The moon was thought to be much younger than the earth and there was no air or water to support any sort of life. It is now known that the geological or astro-physical events on the moon has drawn a veil over much of its history and an exact assessment of its condition billions of years ago is not feasible. Certain findings have come to the fore following the analysis of moon rocks which are of considerable relevance to the debate. There was an announcement at the 1970 International Symposium on Hydrogeochemistry and Biogeochemistry in Tokyo that amino acids had been found from lunar material brought back by the Apollo 11 and 12 Missions. This finding was initially challenged, but repeated analysis of other samples confirmed the findings. Life as we know it cannot exist without water, but it is now thought that water may have existed on the moon in the past. Hydrated iron oxide has been found in the samples brought back by the Apollo 17 Mission. Carbon was also noted in these samples. Much furious debate has raged over these findings and physicists have suggested a number of alternative reasons for the existence of these significant compounds while steadfastly resisting the possibility that the moon ever had an atmosphere of any sort. In respect of the possibility of water on the moon it has been suggested that there might be water in craters or underground at the poles. It has been pointed out that the moon’s negligible atmosphere allows all meteorites to impact the surface and meteorites are known to contain water, carbon, and hydrated minerals and that may account for the incidence of these materials.

Summarizing this brief survey of the earth-moon history we can adopt four headings: Origin, Topography, Age and Life. For Origin, Blavatsky’s expression, “Co-uterine partners” might agree with the “collision” theory, since the topography of the moon shows no signs of there ever having been life there. Concerning Age, it is difficult to reconcile the differences between theosophical and scientific views, since there are contradictions in both literatures. These details might not be quite so significant considering the fact that at the time Blavatsky and her associates were writing, the age of the earth was calculated in millions of years when she was insisting on billions. This being so we can surely treat with some respect the sources used by Blavatsky.

P.S.H.

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