The Boundless in Ancient Cosmogonies

By G. de Purucker
Nowhere and by no people was speculation allowed to range beyond those manifested gods. The boundless and infinite UNITY remained with every nation a virgin forbidden soil, untrodden by man's thought, untouched by fruitless speculation. The only reference made to it was the brief conception of its diastolic and systolic property, of its periodical expansion or dilatation, and contraction. In the Universe with all its incalculable myriads of systems and worlds disappearing and re-appearing in eternity, the anthropomorphised powers, or gods, their Souls, had to disappear from view with their bodies: -- "The breath returning to the eternal bosom which exhales and inhales them," says our Catechism. . . .
In every Cosmogony, behind and higher than the creative deity, there is a superior deity, a planner, an Architect, of whom the Creator is but the executive agent. And still higher, over and around, within and without, there is the UNKNOWABLE and the unknown, the Source and Cause of all these Emanations. -- The Secret Doctrine, 2:42-3

Many are the names in the ancient literatures which have been given to the Womb of Being from which all issues, in which all forever is, and into the spiritual and divine reaches of which all ultimately returns, whether infinitesimal entity or macrocosmic spacial unit.

The Tibetans called this ineffable mystery Tong-pa-nnid, the unfathomable Abyss of the spiritual realms. The Buddhists of the Mahayana school describe it as Sunyata or the Emptiness, simply because no human imagination can figurate to itself the incomprehensible Fullness which it is. In the Eddas of ancient Scandinavia the Boundless was called by the suggestive term Ginnungagap --- a word meaning yawning or uncircumscribed void. The Hebrew Bible states that the earth was formless and void, and darkness was upon the face of Tehom, the Deep, the Abyss of Waters, and therefore the great Deep of kosmic Space. It has the identical significance of the Womb of Space as envisioned by other peoples. In the Chaldaeo-Jewish Qabbalah the same idea is conveyed by the term 'Eyn (or Ain) Soph, without bounds. In the Babylonian accounts of Genesis, it is Mummu Tiamatu which stands for the Great Sea or Deep. The archaic Chaldaean cosmology speaks of the Abyss under the name of Ab Soo, the Father or source of knowledge, and in primitive Magianism it was Zervan Akarana -- in its original meaning of Boundless Spirit instead of the later connotation of Boundless Time.

In the Chinese cosmogony, Tsi-tsai, the Self-Existent, is the Unknown Darkness, the root of the Wuliang-sheu, Boundless Age. The wu wei of Lao-tse, often mistranslated as passivity and nonaction, imbodies a similar conception. In the sacred scriptures of the Quiches of Guatemala, the Popol Vuh or "Book of the Azure Veil," reference is made to the "void which was the immensity of the Heavens," and to the "Great Sea of Space." The ancient Egyptians spoke of the Endless Deep; the same idea also is imbodied in the Celi-Ced of archaic Druidism, Ced being spoken of as the "Black Virgin" -- Chaos -- a state of matter prior to manvantaric differentiation.

The Orphic Mysteries taught of the Thrice-Unknown Darkness or Chronos, about which nothing could be predicated except its timeless Duration. With the Gnostic schools, as for instance with Valentinus, it was Bythos, the Deep. In Greece, the school of Democritus and Epicurus postulated To Kenon, the Void; the same idea was later voiced by Leucippus and Diagoras. But the two most common terms in Greek philosophy for the Boundless were Apeiron, as used by Plato, Anaximander and Anaximenes, and Apeiria, as used by Anaxagoras and Aristotle. Both words had the significance of frontierless expansion, that which has no circumscribing bounds.

Chaos was another word used for Space in ancient Greek writings, and as originally employed, for instance by Hesiod in his Theogony (116) -- "Truly, indeed, was Chaos first of all" -- it had the meaning of the Void. (Chaos comes from an ancient Greek root cha that has the twofold meaning of holding and releasing; hence chaos is the 'holder' and 'releaser' of all things.) Even the somewhat orthodox poet Milton grasped this idea in his "Void and formless Infinite" (Paradise Lost, Bk. iii). As time passed, however, Chaos to most literate Greek thinkers came to mean a later stage in the evolution of any particular kosmos, and this would correspond to another phrase used by Milton, "Matter unformed and void" (Bk. vii); for here we have matter already existing through emanational unfoldment in its primordial or elemental stages. It would therefore be analogous to the Second Cosmic Logos of the theosophical philosophy.

Yet the earliest conception of Chaos was that almost unthinkable condition of kosmic space or kosmic expanse, which to human minds is infinite and vacant extension of primordial Aether, a stage before the formation of manifested worlds, and out of which everything that later existed was born, including gods and men and all the celestial hosts. We see here a faithful echo of the archaic esoteric philosophy, because among the Greeks Chaos was the kosmic mother of Erebos and Nyx, Darkness and Night -- two aspects of the same primordial kosmic stage. Erebos was the spiritual or active side corresponding to Brahman in Hindu philosophy, and Nyx the passive side corresponding to pradhana or mulaprakriti, both meaning root-nature. Then from Erebos and Nyx as dual were born Aether and Hemera, Spirit and Day -- Spirit being here again in this succeeding stage the active side, and Day the passive aspect, the substantial or vehicular side. The idea was that just as in the Day of Brahma of Hindu cosmogony things spring into active manifested existence, so in the kosmic Day of the Greeks things spring from elemental substance into manifested light and activity, because of the indwelling urge of the kosmic Spirit.

The early philosopher-initiates were extremely reticent, because of their oath of secrecy, in speaking of the kosmic (or cosmic) beginnings; and hence while archaic Greek literature, exactly as the literatures of all other ancient peoples, is replete with references to primordial cosmic beginnings, these are cloaked in carefully guarded language. There was the constant fear that teachings so abstract and difficult would be distorted and degraded if too openly enounced, becoming the common property of minds untrained by the discipline and teachings of the Mysteries. The common misunderstanding of Chaos as signifying merely confusion, or an unregulated vast aggregate of atoms in kosmic space, is simply a degradation of the original philosophical meaning.

We have then, first, Chaos as originally meaning the Boundless; and, as a later development, the conception of Chaos as the mighty womb of nature evolving from itself the germs and seeds in order to form and bring into being manifested worlds. These seeds were the sleeping monads of spiritual and divine characteristics coming over from the preceding kosmic period of manvantaric manifestation, and existing in their nirvana or paranirvana.

Chaos, therefore, may be looked upon as an expanse of spirit-substance, every point of which is a consciousness center or monad. This expanse is enwrapped in the paranirvanic rest and bliss, awaiting the time for awaking into a period of manifested kosmic life. The human monad resting in its devachanic bliss is an exact analogy on its own lower plane.

From the foregoing we see that Chaos was the same as Brahman-pradhana in its condition of kosmic pralaya, and hence is identic with Space in its primordial state of abstract spirit-substance.

Thus it is that many peoples looked upon the Divine not only as being in itself utter Fullness, but likewise as the infinite Abyss, the boundless Void, the endless Deep, or the ocean of the kosmic Waters of Life. Water was so favorite a symbol of Space because of its suggestiveness: it is at one and the same time translucent, and yet solid; it is crystalline and yet dense, making it an excellent symbol of kosmic Aether. This sublime concept has been universal since the beginning of conscious thinking man on our earth in this round, and whether the adept was Lemurian, Atlantean, Turanian, or Aryan, the same intuitive conception guided the thoughts of all.

  • (From Fountain-Source of Occultism by G. de Purucker. Copyright © 1974 by Theosophical University Press)

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