Moreover the ‘Secret Doctrine’ teaches:– “The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, that latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul–a spark of the former–through the cycle of Incarnation (or “Necessity”) in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term. In other words, no purely spiritual Buddhi (divine Soul) can have an independent (conscious) existence before the spark which issued from the pure Essence of the Universal Sixth principle, or the OVER-SOUL,–has a) passed through every elemental form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara, and b) acquired individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self induced and self devised efforts (checked by its Karma), thus ascending through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas, from the mineral and plant, up to the holiest arch-angel (Dhyani-Buddha). The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations.” –The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1. pp. 17
The above quotation constitutes the third of three fundamental propositions which H.P. Blavatsky set forth in the Proem of her great work. In it broad sweep it is a magnificent description of the doctrine of emanational evolution–the only genuine evolution the Esoteric Philosophy recognizes. Furthermore, it serves as an excellent introduction to the subject of our study: the doctrine of Swabhava–the Doctrine of Self Becoming.
“We do not become ‘through the grace of God’; we become whatever we are or are to be through our own selves; we make ourselves; derive ourselves from ourselves; become our own children, have always done so, and will forever do so. This applies not only to man, but to all beings everywhere.” (1)
The word swabhava is, of course, Sanskrit. It is actually compound: swa=self, bhava=becoming, from the root bhu, to become. This implies that there is in every being its own particular aspect or quality of self–what G. de Purucker calls “essential characteristic.” Thus we have the double significance: a) the essential characteristic or inherent quality of each and every being; and b) the becoming aware of and finally becoming this essential self–an ongoing creative process continuing throughout the manvantaric cycle. At first there is just an unconscious impelling urge functioning in elemental forms; then an instinctual type of self-expression in the lower kingdoms; and progressively a developing individuality activated first “by natural impulse and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts” in the human kingdom.
Obviously it is when we study the human kingdom that we can most reasonably talk of a “self”. What do we mean by this term? Is there not more than one self in man? Every system has its own special use of this term; and it would take a lengthy and detailed study to exhaust all its possible meanings. As an introduction to our main theme, we here discuss briefly two ways in which this question has been answered. C.G. Jung considers the Ego as that part of the psyche which is conscious, while the Self is a term he reserves for denoting the totality of the psyche, embracing both conscious and unconscious. The aim in life is toward wholeness where the unconscious is brought up (out) into consciousness and completely mastered. As this is progressively achieved, the person comes to lead a more intelligent and more liberated existence, free from the small confined egoism which functions whithin a narrow circle. This process of self-becoming Jung call “The Way of Individuation”; but because he does not consider the possibility of a succession of earth-life experiences for the Ego, he maintains that this wholeness is never fully realizable., remaining nevertheless the highest goal of earthly existence. (3) His studies on this subject are full of deep insight; and though the orientation is quite different, in a sense they parallel elements of self-development in certain Oriental systems. (4)
Another, quite different, orientation is that of the Buddhist Schools, where an abiding self in man is strictly denied, according to western scholars. But these latter, through misinterpretation of some of the Hinayana scriptures, have missed the fine point that the Buddha made in his teaching: ie., that there is no fixed self but rather a continual becoming. This last is beautifully illustrated in one of the Buddhist scriptures where the following conversation takes place between King Milinda and the venerable bhante (lord or sage) Nagasena. (5) Milinda asks the sage to give an illustration of the absence of a fixed personal identity in man.
“It is as if, your majesty, a man were to light a light–would it shine all night?”
“Assuredly, bhante, it would shine all night.”
“Pray, your majesty, is the flame of the first watch the same as the flame of the middle watch/”
“Nay, verily, bhante.”
“Is the flame of the middle watch the same as the flame of the last watch?”
“Nay, verily, bhante.”
“Pray, then your majesty, was there one light in the first watch, another light in the middle watch, and a third light in the last watch?”
“Nay, verily, bhante. Through connection with that first light there was light all night.”
“In exactly the same way, your majesty, do the elements of being join one another in serial succession: one element perishes, another arises, succeeding each other as it were instantaneously. Therefore, neither as the same, nor as a different person do you arrive at your latest aggregation of consciousness.” (5)
Both the above references (to the Jungian scheme and to the Buddhistic) contain the idea of a “becoming”; and as with all valid systems, they can both be studied to great advantage, each contributing and accentuating one special phase of this deep subject. Comparing them with the various classifications of man’s consciousness centers given in the Esoteric Philosophy can be very rewarding. According to this latter teaching, Man is a composite being while active in earth life. elements and principle which originate in the Cosmic Hierarchy contribute their potencies to the egoic centers that make up the complete Human hierarchy. We often find the word self is used to denote these various centers; and we must then use distinguishing forms to differentiate them, thus: self, Self, SELF. This is awkward; it indicates the lack of English or other European languages of adequate terms. Therefore it has become customary to use the Sanskrit term Atman with qualifying descriptive prefixes:
Atman – the Divine Self
Jivatman – the Spiritual Self
Bhutatman – the Human Self
Pranatman – the Personal Self
Above the Atman is the Paramatman, the “Beyond Atman,” that totally unknowable and ineffable Center i which we live and move and have our being.
Finally there is the Sutratman or Thread-Self which from one point of view can be called that “consciousness-stream, or rather stream of consciuousness-life, which is the fundamental and individual Selfhood in every entity and which, reflected in and through the several intermediate vehicles of the invisible constitution of man, produces the egoic centers of self-conscious existence.” (6)
A True Science of Psychology
Now all this may seem an unnecessary array of names and terms; but a close study will reveal a subtlety and precision of concepts that belie on the one hand just a stereotyped listing and on the other hand, nay vague “mystic” imaginings. These Sanskrit terms embody a true science of psychology and pneumatology, the light of that knowledge of man’s nature which Seers have studied and handed down from age to age.
To elucidate briefly: In the core of our being we spring from–are indeed coeval with–that “Unknown Root” of the Universe that H.P. Blavatsky speaks of.; and for this reason the possibilities of the eventual evolution of spiritual powers from within ourselves (Jivatman), a swabhava that is reflected, as said, in the lesser centers of our being in varying degrees of diminishing clarity and purity. The Spiritual Self is of the essence of the Buddhic principle, and therefore on its own plane it represents enlightenment, discrimination, and wisdom. But it will not have a conscious existence in man until the Human Self (BHutatman) through its own efforts recognizes its parent and becomes one with it. Thus it is said that whereas the Spiritual Self is “immortal,” the Human Self is only provisionally so. Yet the Human Self contains within its nature lesser aspects of the Buddhic principle, which are expressed by those qualities we most admire in human being: large heartedness, breadth of interests and sympathies, keen intelligence, and withal a modest and unassuming nature. The Human Self is the Pilgrim, incarnating life after life, drawn magnetically to earth yet searching for its true identity in spirit. The Personal Self (Pranatman) is a lesser Self, a reflection or mask of the Individuality in matter. Its magnetic pull is downward. Yet during our life it is a necessary vehicle. The very fact of its being “sunken in materiality” makes it suitable for our necessary contacts with the material world, for by means of it we can live in this world, gain experience of it and in it, and therefore learn from it.
Search for the Spiritual SelfS
Each time we re-enter earth-life, the same basic task is before us: a search for our Spiritual Self. The new-born child does not know this. He is born with a diffuse consciousness which must first of all become centralized or focused into a realization of himself as a person distinct from any other. From this first step he begins to differentiate between subject and object, to observe the world about him; he begins the business of living. The autistic child, whose consciousness does not become focused, lives in an inner world of fantasy and can make little or no contact with external reality. His progress in living is thwarted from the start. For the normal child this discovery of himself is a pleasurable experience and of vast importance. An incident comes to mind that illustrates this: A small child, under three years of age, meets a man and asks him, “Who are you?” ” I am John Smith, who are you?” “I’m ME!” the child answers earnestly, astonished that the question need even be put to him. The man’s response is no response at all from the child’s point of view. And of course the child is right; his reply goes straight to the heart of the matter. He has established the foothold of self in his inner kingdom from which he can look out upon the world. The first important step has been taken.
To the parents the growing Personal Self of the child is a delight to observe; it expresses itself in many innocent and pretty ways. But unless the child is trained wisely, seeds of selfishness all too soon are planted which, harmless-seeming at first, will sprout and wax strong when the mind (Manas) begins to awaken.
In the school years, the Personal Self is still all-important. “Self-esteem,” as the psychiatrists term it, is desirable up to a point; the youth should feel sure of himself and take his place with ease among his peers. It is in these school years that native talents, which are reflections of his Individuality, begin to appear. With a growing awareness of these natural gifts and talents, ambition arises, dreams of future power and success fill the consciousness. This again has its place; it is a natural and necessary spur. But if, at the same time, there has not been inculcated a sense of values that will conduce to right judgments, a sense of fair play, integrity, and understanding of the viewpoints and interests of others, the Personal Self will begin to turn these talents wholly to the interests of its own aggrandizement. It is in these plastic years that life-patterns become set; and without the wise guidance of parents and teachers, the years of maturity may witness a dragging down of these creative qualities, with which the Personality then preens itself. In such case there is soon exhibited a tendency to a prostitution of spiritual gifts which is a type of far more subtle and therefore more potentially harmful than the passion for acquiring things.
The Human Self and the Personal Self
Midway between the Spiritual and the Personal Self is the Human Self, as our list indicates. With the reaching of maturity we take it for granted that this is where our consciousness is well established. Yet is this a fact? Even our virtues can be appropriated by the voracious Personality, which then assumes an air of superiority over others it thinks are not so well endowed; or perhaps it sinks into a smug complacency over its supposedly assured spiritual status. Self study can extend this list of instances where we turn over to the Personality which rightly belong to the true Human Self and which should be assiduously guarded against the taint of materiality.
We often here the phrase, “Oh, that’s just human nature.” This is not the Human Self that is spoke of; it refers largely to the antics of the Personal Self which is only too often the most prominent factor even in the adult makeup. Most people are not even aware of a distinction between these two natures in us.
We deplore the present tendency to downgrade the human status, to idolize the “aniti-hero” in novels, on stage and in the movies, and to emphasize the brutish instincts in man–“the naked ape.” We do not accept as a picture of the human family anything so depraved. Irretrievable harm can be done by portraying such an image as the human norm, or as being something desirable for us to all aspire to. Visualization is a powerful agent both for good and for ill; and in contrast to this approbation of depravity, there are many who, in their various ways, are holding up a picture of hope and promise for the human race.
As said, it is the Human Soul that experiences repeated incarnations on earth. Without this provision, the whole process of self-becoming (swabhava) would be meaningless. Once we have purified our aspirations and directed our will towards finding our Essential Self, through successive lives the great cosmic Law of Karma works along with us. By its unsparing but benign action it keeps us from swerving from the course we have chosen. This may not always be a pleasant experience. Yet we know that each such life has its significance; nor is it wasted if we can read the riddle that Karma has posed. It will not be solved by mere logical reasoning, but requires the light of intuition; and in our very effort to call upon intuitive insight, we have moved that much nearer to our goal; for the development of intuition brings us in rapport with our Spiritual Self. Besides this, in our solving of the riddle, if we are sincerely searching, we are much more likely to guess what it is that life is offering us and accept it without either rebellion or an evasion of its challenge. We can then say with conviction: “This is what I asked for. This is what I need.” Or perhaps fortune smiles upon us and life offers a chance for the flowering of inherent talents which have long been seeking an outlet. Then we shall be grateful and apply ourselves with a will to their development along the highest lines.
Essential Self, the One and the Many
Once our goal is fixed in our consciousness–the attainment of knowledge and becoming at one with our Essential Self–there is no circumstance in our life, no object, no person that one meets that does not give us a clue as to what is and what is not the true Way. Observation and awareness are excellent teachers.
Once our goal is fixed in our consciousness
–the attainment of knowledge and becoming at one with our Essential Self–
there is no circumstance in our life, no object, no person that one meets that
does not give us a clue as to what is and what is not the true Way.
There are, moreover, many books of ethical precepts which are treasured by all aspirants; while, on the other hand, there are uncounted numbers of self-culture systems which do not necessarily bring the desired ends since they often tend to focus on the Personal Self in however seemingly elevated terms. Better than all such is one simple precept given by “H.P.B.”. “To reach Nirvana one must reach Self-knowledge, and Self-knowledge is of loving deeds the child.” And we call attention again to our opening citation from H.P.Blavatsky where she speaks of “self-induced and self-devised efforts.” This means nothing, if it does not indicate that the effort to reach our goal must eventually be made from within ourselves.
Zen Buddhism is, of course, full of such admonitions. Prof. D.T. Suzuki who writes of a Zen pupil who asked his Master: “Well, I can tell you, but what I tell you is not yours, it is mine. Truth must be found in yourself. What you can have from others does not belong to you. If there is any Satori or awakening, that must take place within yourself.” (8) Self evident–but what a hard lesson to learn!
When the goal is finally won and the aspirant becomes the Awakened One, then what? What of Gautama Buddha’s teaching that there is no abiding principle in man, only an ever Becoming? At this point we need not be concerned with metaphysical dialectics; nevertheless this question is germane to our subject.
The Master K.H. [one of H.P. Blavatksy’s Teachers ed.] writes and this is undoubtedly the most authentic source available in our present thinking:
“My Brother–I have been on a long journey after supreme knowledge, I took a long time to rest. Then upon coming back, I had to give all my time to duty, and all my thoughts to the Great Problem. It is all over now: The New Year’s festivities are at an end and I am “Self” once more. But what is Self? Only a passing guest, whose concerns are all like a mirage of the great desert…” (9)
So there we have it. Even the Spiritual Self is transitory from the cosmic standpoint, though useful as long as there is work to be done in the manifesting worlds. It is as though all our “Selves” are but robes which the Eternal Pilgrim wears along the way back to the Cosmic Source. But he takes back with him the rich treasure he has found within himself to return it to the Heart from which he journeyed forth in the uncountable aeons of the past.
This is the essence of the Recondite Doctrine of Swabhava. Our Selves are transitory; but as part of the One we are immortal. Within the Circle of the “One becoming the Many” and the “Many returning to the One,” the evolutionary journey is accomplished. The fullness of this doctrine is beyond human comprehension. The Becoming is our present concern.
1. G. dePurucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy – London, Rider and Co., 1932 p. 104. Dr. de Purucker is here summarizing the main tenet of the Swabhavika School of Buddhism, “which H.P. Blavatsky says has practically kept most faithfully to this one of the esoteric teachings of Gautama Buddha.” [see also David Reigle on Swabhava: http://www.blavatskyarchives.com/reigle01.html -ed.]
2. Geoffrey A. Barborka, The Divine Plan pp. 79-80, The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras, India, 1961. Barborka is here discussing the term Swabhava as “the specific keynote to the teaching of the Doctrine of Essential Identity.
3. C. G. Jung, The Integration of the Personality, translated by Stanley Dell, London, Kegan Paul 1940
4. C. G. Jung, Commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower, translated into English by C.F. Baynes, 1940, London, Kegan Paul 1931
5. H.C. Warren, Buddhism in Translation p. 149, Harvard University Press, 1915. King Milinda ruled India in the 2nd century B.C. The questions of King Milinda (Milindapanha) are debates between the King and Nagasena, the Buddhist sage.
6. G. dePurucker, Occult Glossary, London, Rider and Co., 1931
7. H. P. Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence, Fragment II, ‘The Two Paths’ p. 31 (orig. ed.)
8. D.T. Suzuki, The Field of Zen p.78, ed. with a foreword by Christmas Humphreys (Harper and Row, 1970) and originally published as articles in “The Middle Way”, Journal of the Buddhist Society, England.
9. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, Letter XLV, dated February 1882. Transcribed and annotated by Trevor Barker, London, Rider and Co. 1923.
Ken Small and Helen Todd – at ‘Mountain Wind’
cooperative community about 1985