The Hierarchical Structure of the Universe

By G. de Purucker

When we say that the divine towards which we raise our hearts in deepest reverence is impersonal, we do not mean that the divine, which we recognize as containing the fundamental causal relations of the universe, whose phenomenal appearances surround us, is naught but an empty abstraction. No; we mean that it is the universal life, and that therefore it is impersonal, because personality of any kind is limitation; and the divine being boundless is bounded by nothing, and limitations are but phenomenal appearances.

But does the divine manifest immediately upon or rather in this universe? Is there no spacing between the divine and matter? Do they conjoin immediately? These queries contain their own answers.

Does the Infinite attend to the affairs of the finite? Does the general of an army brush the shoes of every private in his army corps? If so, then such a deity is responsible for everything that happens in the universe because it is his own direct doing; and the supposition, absurd as it is, likewise forbids the existence of free will and self-initiative in any minutest degree in any entity.

Take the architect -- to change our figure of speech -- after he has drawn up the plans for some noble temple or palace, does he himself go out and quarry the stone for it, cut and shape it, and then cement it into place? No, he provides the plan, the idea, the spirit, of the thing; and then passes it on to the workmen who immediately become busy with the plan and build therefrom. And it is the intermediate nature, both of the universe and of man, which is formed of these workmen, these builders, these transmitters of the divine idea; and as these builders are all as yet but learning entities, their work is characterized by imperfections.

Nature proclaims on every hand here on earth and in the spaces above and in our own nature within us, that imperfection is the rule and that the action of multitudinous, free, but still imperfect wills is the cause of the contrarieties and differences so prevalent in our world. We see imperfection everywhere, in many degrees, and human nature manifests it as much as anything else. Nothing is perfect in this lower universe of limitations, which is the garment of divine perfection, to use an old metaphor. Yet it is through and by these limitations that we learn, because these limitations arise out of the imperfect nature of the beings surrounding us -- beings like ourselves living and learning and advancing towards that sublime goal which, paradoxically, recedes into greater distances the nearer we seem to approach to it.

We are indeed learning creatures, living for the present in our intermediate natures, in what we call our human soul, and thus linked to the spirit above and within us, which is the divine spark which we essentially are; and this human soul is again linked to and in the body which each one of us has, manifesting through it, and thus expressing itself on this plane and learning its lessons here.

The spirit within or rather above man, his essential self, can no more manifest directly upon matter and move it -- although spirit and matter are in essence one -- than, let us say, electricity can manifest immediately in and drive an electric car along the road without the proper mechanical apparatus as intermediary. There must be a machine, fit for, built for, proportionate to, its purpose, and of such a nature that it can transmit the electric power and turn it into mechanical work.

Similarly is it with the intermediate psychological nature of man, between the spirit above and the vital-astral-physical framework of this earthly body. Similarly is it as concerns the divine and the physical or material universe: there must be intermediate stages or grades of more or less ethereal substances between these, furnishing the links between them.

The divine in its essence is transcendent and above the material universe, even as the spirit of man is transcendent or above his intermediate and vital-astral-physical nature, and the forces flowing from his spiritual nature are transmitted to him more or less imperfectly, according to the degree of evolution that has been attained by the intermediate nature, the human soul.

It is the teaching of theosophy that between the divine and the phenomenal universe which we sense with our physical apparatus of understanding there is a vast congeries or collection or aggregate of hierarchies, in their turn composed of steps or degrees, or scales of beings and things, interconnecting, without disjunction or separation, indissolubly bound together. How could it be otherwise? Is any man insane enough to suppose that something can be separate from the All, from infinitude, and find a spot somewhere outside of infinity, outside of everything, where pure "nothing" is?

These hierarchies are not merely infilled with living entities, but are themselves composed of these living entities. Without them they would not be; because these living entities are they.

The modern theory of the cosmos, as outlined more particularly in astronomical science, gives us a good picture of the hierarchical structure of the cosmos from the standpoint of the physical plane. Our universe (that is the space comprised within our galaxy) is not the only universe. There are myriads of universes, similar in physical nature to our own, existing outside the bounds of the Milky Way. Each one of such universes we may call a cosmic molecule composed of the various solar systems which we may call cosmic atoms; while the planets which revolve around any central solar luminary are like cosmic electrons. Our earth is one of such cosmic electrons, so far as our own solar system is concerned. It is an atomic planet forming part of the aggregate of our solar system, which in its turn is one of the atoms of our own universe -- a cosmic molecule.

The greater universe is thus a vast organism, a living entity, a quasi-infinitude of worlds, which together form the cosmic atoms, or the cosmic molecules if you will, of some vast entity surpassing human imagination. And just as in man the atoms which form his body are ensouled by the man himself and yet themselves are living entities, possessing in the minute all that man possesses, so the cosmic atoms and cosmic molecules -- the "island-universes" which bestrew space -- are ensouled by the life of the vast supergalactic entity, and yet are themselves living beings.

As music is perhaps the most spiritual of the arts, so astronomy doubtless may be called the most spiritual of the physical sciences; because, among other things, it deals with vast celestial spaces -- not merely with spaces as these are conceived of in the sense of the mere extension of matter, but spaces which hint at and in some measure portray the vaster spaces of the inner worlds wherein the hierarchies of living beings are chiefly active.

The mind of man is elevated by such a study. He comes by analogy and suggestion into closer relationship with the spirit within himself, which likewise inhabits these wide spaces of the inner world, for indeed each spirit is a spark of the divine fire.

The physical body of the universe is but the united manifestation and effect of these hierarchies of invisible beings as we sense them in their work; and so in turn man's body is representative of such a hierarchy, composed of the multitudes of little lives which form that body. Subtract those little lives from that body, and what remains? There is no body. It is these little lives which are the body, which manifest the man; and he is the oversoul of these hosts of infinitesimals which form his vehicles or bodies, outer and inner. He in his higher self is also their divine inspiritor, invigorator, and vitalizer. The rule of unity is universal.

It is along any hierarchy, great or small as the case may be, in all its steps or grades or stages, that are transmitted the spiritual and divine powers flowing from within, which hold any universe in their grip, which govern its actions, which motivate its procedures, which actually form it and make it what it is; and each such hierarchy is the manifestation of an individuality, of the hierarch, the supernal entity at the head of any such scale or ladder of life or of being.

But is this hierarch "God"? If so, then there are many Gods, as the ancients truly said; because such hierarchies are numberless, as is obvious; interlocking, interwoven, interacting, and forming the vast fabric and web of life, which in its aggregate is the universal cosmos surrounding us. Of this we have but vague and indistinct glimpses, such as our physical senses can give to us, and such as our mind and heart and soul interpret, and more or less correctly in accordance as we are more or less illumined from above by the spirit within, our inner sun of consciousness.

I have sometimes been asked: Is there nothing in the Christian religion resembling this theory of hierarchies? Most decidedly there is. In fact, such a teaching is the very background of the Christian theological scheme, although today it has been largely abandoned, thereby robbing Christian believers of the very heart of their own religion.

About the fifth century of the Christian era there appeared in the Mediterranean world a series of three or four extremely interesting books, which passed under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite. These were acclaimed as having been written by that particular legendary individual of whom the New Testament speaks as being a member of the Council of Mars' Hill or of the Areopagus in Athens, and who was, so the legend runs, converted by Paul at the time when he preached as alleged on Mars' Hill.

It is unquestionable, however, that these writings are four or five hundred years later than the Dionysius alluded to in the New Testament. Therefore the actual writer of these particular mystical Christian books has in recent times been called the pseudo-Dionysius, for he was a writer whose identity is totally unknown, and who passed off his work as having been the work of the Dionysius mentioned in the New Testament, and whom the Christians called the first Christian Bishop of Athens.

A careful scrutiny of these Dionysian works shows first that they were taken almost wholly in system and in structural form from Neoplatonic teachings, in other words from what the Christians call pagan teachings; and also that they contain certain allusions to some of the doctrines which belonged to the ancient Greek Mysteries.

These Dionysian works both in form and in content are expressed in the Christian vocabulary and religious thought of about the fourth or fifth centuries after the beginning of the so-called Christian era. Obviously, then, these books represent an attempt to import into the Christian religion of that time some of the mystical heart of the pagan philosophical doctrines and of the mystical spirit which gave the Neoplatonic teachings such immense vogue in the ancient nations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Included likewise in these teachings is a great deal of the Neopythagorean thought.

My point in alluding to these facts is this: these teachings were taken over wholly by the Christian church, and thus became essentially a part of the dogmatic structure of Christian theology for centuries afterwards, i.e., became fully orthodox. Yet, alas, the key to their origin, the real meaning which they had in the non-Christian systems from which they were taken, was lost. The mystical scheme remained, the philosophical system remained, somewhat of the religious spirit remained, the framework or house containing the thought remained; but the 'God,' the spirit, which had dwelt in that mystical framework of thought had long since departed.

In perhaps the most important one of these books, called Concerning the Celestial Hierarchy, this pseudo-Dionysian writer teaches that Deity works through the intermediary worlds composed of three triads, that is to say three groups of beings which are intermediate between nature and man on the lower side, and the Deity on the superior side.

These three triads therefore form nine steps or stages or degrees in all, which the pseudo-Dionysius names as follows, beginning with the highest: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, first triad and the highest; Dominions, Virtues, Powers, second triad and intermediate, interpreting and "stepping down" the spiritual forces from the first triad, as that first triad was the interpreter, so to say, the passer, of the forces flowing from the divine heart. Then came the third and lowest triad, composed of Principalities, Archangels, Angels; beneath these last were the physical universe and man.

This was a wholesale importation into the new faith from the original theosophy which had degenerated into the various religions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and, as doctrines, were contained in the various religious beliefs of those peoples. It was a wholesale taking over of that part of the mystical thought of the ancient philosophy, and the expressing of it in new terms familiar to the new faith, as evidenced by the use of the words that Paul employed; for Paul of the Christians, when writing in the New Testament, speaks of Principalities, Thrones, and Powers, and of Archangels and Angels, and what not else.

One of the great difficulties that the protagonists of the new religion had in making some headway in the beginning for their particular brand of religion was this: they had to meet the objections of the trained minds and the alert consciousnesses of the non-Christian men, many of them extremely learned, who lived contemporaneously. And one of the first questions that these ancient philosophers asked the promulgators of the new faith was this: You say that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, and that this creation included the origin of man. Did your God do this? Is your God perfect, eternal, infinite in power, as you say? Then we must ask: Can Infinity 'create' anything but an infinite work, and can an infinite work be created and thus have a beginning? Can Perfection produce an imperfect work? Does the Universal Life meddle with the details of the physical universe surrounding us, except in the general sense of the impersonal action of universal powers?

To these perfectly reasonable and logical objections no answer could be given, because the definite teaching of this new religious belief, as taken over from the Hebrew Old Testament, was that God had created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, and that he is a "He" and lives in a particular part of supernal space which is called heaven -- ideas, all of them, which are expressed in terms of limitation and bounds.

This was quite in line with the Hebraic ideas concerning Jehovah of the Jewish Bible, who smelled sweet savors and waxed wroth, and whose nature was moved in quite a human fashion by various human occurrences. Anger and love and preferences and hatred are things which are utterly impredicable of the Divine.

It was also quite in line with the old theories as held by the populace as regards Zeus of the Greeks, or Jupiter of the Romans, as expressed in the popular mythology of those peoples; but these mythological tales never were believed in literally by the philosophers and wise men of ancient times.

Now the theosophist says that all such expressions are symbolic, and should be so understood, and this conception of the meaning of the literal teachings of the old religions was that held by all thinking men of antiquity. The wise men of those ancient days turned with disgust from all such figurative expressions limiting the divine. It was not the expressions themselves that they so much objected to, because these were definitely understood to be symbolic, but it was the danger that these mythological stories would be received by the unthinking masses as expressions of divine realities.

No, said they, between the Inexpressible and the expressible, between the Illimitable and the limited, between the Incomprehensible to man and the comprehensible, there is a scale of life endless in all directions, without width or length, which ranges neither up nor down, nor to the right or to the left, neither forwards nor backwards, nor within or without, but is, and is everywhere. It is symbolically called a "ladder" or a "scale" only because human words lack that with which the human consciousness may express, to some extent, its intuition of the Inexpressible, and hence it has to use metaphors. Yet, indeed, the human spirit may have some conception of the divine in proportion as that human spirit is enabled through inner visioning to transmit supernal illumination to the human mind or soul, which then can, in some degree at least, articulate it in symbolic words.

Now this universe, being an organism, being held together by unbreakable bonds of destiny, is infilled with all the potencies and capacities of the divine; but these potencies and capacities are of necessity unmanifest in their higher and larger reaches; for the finite never can comprehend nor express the infinite. As regards the universe, everything that it contains is finite and therefore is incapable of fully expressing all that the infinite is, yet containing everything in germ that is inherent in the infinite itself. But relative parts, so to say, appropriate forces and energies flowing from the heart of Being, infill every smaller or inferior entity, and drive it on by inward urge, give it birth, and will direct it and lead it on to the ultimate destiny which lies before it.

Whence, indeed, come the worlds which light up the spaces of heaven? Whence comes Man? From within. They come forth from the invisible outwards into the visible, manifesting the forces which they imbody, and which send them forth on their various and respective works and destinies. And remember that it is spiritual beings who, by and through one side of their nature which by analogy we may call the vegetative side, provide these various forces which play through the phenomenal seeming of the universe around us. Yes, all the forces which appear in nature spring from them, for in one sense we may say they are ultimately those forces themselves. For what are they? Are they separate or different from the universe which they inform? In no case whatsoever. It is these spiritual beings who ensoul the cosmos, the universe. It is they who are the inner worlds, actually composing them in their vegetative aspects, for these inner worlds are their inner vehicles for self-expression, even as man, the true man, ensouls his body, his physical encasement, as well as his inner bodies.

Worlds as well as men are built on inferiors, yet each one of these inferiors is not absolutely but relatively so. Each is in itself a learning entity, forming a part of the vehicle in which a living being manifests and which is in the process of building -- for what? For becoming a fitter and nobler vehicle for self-expression, for the unfoldment of the spiritual self in the inmost of its nature.

Every world that comes into being is a living thing according to the ancient philosophies. Do you know that among the ancients the worlds were called "animals"? They meant by this that everything is alive or has an anima, as it is in the Latin tongue -- a "vital soul," expressing what it can, according to its degree of development, of the inner and vivifying spirit. We are at once the children of this earth, our planet Terra, which is an "animal" or living being in that ancient sense, and likewise are we offsprings of the divine. Every world is the parent of many things, because itself is composite, and being a composite thing has roots of differentiation which this composition merely manifests, and these roots of differentiation of necessity follow out in various things and entities the inherent urge for self-expression.

The worlds and we sprang from the heart of Being; and we, in the inmost of the inmost, in the deepest depths of our natures, are that heart of the universe. In it are all things, all mysteries and the solutions of all mysteries, wisdom ineffable, because it is the eternal universal life, boundless, inexpressible, unknowable. An ultimate we may never reach; always are there veils to pass behind into the greater splendors.

What governs the coming forth into visibility of these worlds and of man; what governs their retreat or withdrawal again into the darkness when their courses have been run -- darkness to us, but the light to them? (This retreat or withdrawal in the case of our human encasements, men call death.) What governs these various processes? -- Random action? Chance?

These worlds, and man as well, are brought forth through the working of the self in its various vehicles on and in the various planes or spheres of the invisible universe. The self manifests in all these planes or spheres, passing, during the cycle of its progress, from the highest of our hierarchy through a graduated series of stages or degrees to the most inferior or lowest, and in each along its own particular cycle. Then, when the depth of progression into matter has been reached, we foolish men of the Occident, knowing no better, call the effects that we cognize the full splendor of material activity. Thus are we blinded by the maya or illusion of things.

But when the "downward" cycle has run its course, when any cycle of any living entity during its evolutionary progress reaches its lowest point, then begins the "ascent" -- not a retrogression in the sense of a turning back and a retracing of the old footmarks with new steps. No, the path ahead is inwards and back to the source whence we and the worlds -- our mothers -- originally came, but improved, grown, evolved.

When we finally reach the ultimate destiny for that particular cycle of manifestation, which is our return to the source spoken of, then the worlds and we both rest, each according to the effects produced during that cycle of evolution. When we have rested, slept, if you like, we begin anew another cycle of manifestation; we repeat what we did before, but on still higher and nobler pathways, because we ourselves, and the worlds in which we live and of which we are the children, are then more evolved than before. There is a beautiful old mystical saying, that the "sparks of Eternity," the worlds, are scattered anew with lavish hand by the universal Mother on the fields of space in order to run another course.

The whole course of evolution consists in one procedure fundamentally, and that is the building of ever-better vehicles for manifesting the inner light. That process of self-origination and self-building of fitter vehicles we call evolution.

After all, the building of vehicles is merely the effectual aspect. Evolution strictly in its etymological sense, as we have previously shown, means the unfolding of potencies which have been infolded in previous cycles of being and which await the appropriate times and fields for their expression. Evolution thus is the unpacking of inner faculties and powers and forces, and the finding a field for their manifestation.

Our modern physical sciences know very little of these inner and causal relations, but somewhat only of the physical phenomena of our universe; and in view of the circumstances that exist, what else can they know? What other pathway to truth have they than that of experimentation and patient research and waiting? These are good in their way, very good; but our scientists know scarcely anything of the wonders within man, or of the mysteries behind the veil of the phenomenal universe. They have lost two extremely important keys which the old wisdom always taught to its students. The first of these keys is: look within, if you would know the truth, for you are the only pathway to that truth.

The second key is equally important and its application follows upon the use of this first key. It is the consciousness and therefore the recognition that the universe is not merely an ensouled organism, but that this world of the outer seeming is the garment of Reality and that all things have their origin in invisible space and proceed therefrom in individual cyclic journeyings for self-development, outwards into the visible, finally to return into the worlds within, but as grander and nobler entities than they were before. And further that this cycling is carried on by means of a hierarchical unfolding of a series of vehicles on each and all the planes of being, each vehicle itself a living entity capable of expressing the powers and faculties of the hierarch which emanated it forth.

Think of the infinite around us, filled with its hosts of hierarchies; the infinite spaces in the large, and the infinitesimal spaces in the small! If a man's mind, if his soul and his spirit, be not raised in reverence to some understanding at least of the great principles that lie in the background of the universal life, he indeed must have a soul that is more asleep than awake.

An old and wise axiom of the Qabbalah, the theosophy of the Jews, says: "Student, open wide thine eyes upon the visible, for in it thou shalt see the invisible." We should indeed so see the invisible had we only developed our inner eyes; and this we can do. For this faculty of seeing, this power of vision, comes from within, from a union of the inner part of the human constitution with its root, the divinity lying at the heart of things; which heart is the All if reduced to principles by rigorous analysis.

Every human being is a pathway leading to the divine, the only pathway that there is for each incarnate spirit to follow, his only pathway to utter truth. What we receive from others may be helpful, or indeed unhelpful, depending upon the way in which we take it and our understanding of what we take. But if we desire truth and truth alone, if we wish to know ourselves and the wondrous mysteries within us rather than the phenomena only of the outward world, then we must follow that still, small path, which leads inwards and onwards and upwards forever.

Thoughts such as these bring into the human spirit a sense of the marvelous power of our understanding when properly directed and used. Human dignity takes on new and worthier aspects. We grow too great for mean and paltry things; for we recognize instinctively the working of the god enshrined in the core of our being -- the living Christos within, the awakened Buddha, Isvara "in the seven-gated temple of Brahma," to follow the Hindu's own beautiful phraseology. Whatever the terms in which we express this sublime truth, the conception is the same.

But while this conception gives us true intellectual and spiritual dignity, while it raises our spirit in contemplation of the vastness and the wonders of the cosmos that surround us, it likewise teaches us modesty. We grow less critical of our fellowmen and of their mistakes; we grow kindlier and more charitable. Our hearts warm with the understanding that all men -- indeed all things, the vast hierarchy of our cosmos -- are fundamentally one, linked together for divine purposes; not the purposes of a personal God, but the purposes of the infinite divinity in the hearts of all beings: a principle of consciousness too great to be personal, in its fullness incomprehensible to us, vast even beyond our imagination, and yet being that, as the Christian apostle Paul said, in which "we live, and move, and have our being."

(From Man in Evolution by G. de Purucker. Copyright © 1977 by Theosophical University Press)

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