Conquest of Illusion J. J. van der Leeuw

Theosophical Publishing House 1928

J. J. Van der Leeuw

Chapter 4  The Absolute and the Relative

There is an endless world, O my Brother!
and there is the Nameless Being, of whom nought can be said.
Only he knows it who has reached that region:
it is other than all that is heard and said.
No form, no body, no length, no breadth is seen there:
how can I tell you that which it is? -- KABIR, Tagore, 76

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The Realization of the Absolute

The world of the Real, which we enter when we pass through our centre of consciousness, is the Absolute, it is That beyond and beside which nothing exists. In a way it is not even right to speak of a world which we enter. First of all it is not a world, secondly we do not really enter it and finally it is not really we who enter that world. No phraseology derived from the experience of our world-image can fit the Absolute, ultimate Reality. Down here we speak of a 'world' and the word immediately conveys a conception of a universe arranged around us, outside us, with spatial separation between its creatures and objects, changing, growing and evolving in time. In that sense the Absolute is not a world; if, however, we call it 'world' it is the one and only World that exists, which ever did exist or ever can exist. Let us then for a moment call it neither world nor state of consciousness or being, nor by any name derived from experience in our world-image consciousness. It is That, the Absolute, and if in speaking about It we must of necessity use words derived from our common experience, let it always be understood that the insufficiency of such words is recognized and felt, but that the impossibility of an adequate language makes it necessary to take our refuge in the insufficient.

When we say that it is not really we who enter that world something is indicated which must be experienced in order to be known. When we emerge through our centre of consciousness, the Void in which there is no content of consciousness, and when we 'emerge on the other side,' we do not enter something which we are not, but we are That which we realize on the other side of this centre of consciousness. We are It in its entirety, we are It fully and wholly, we are It in all its possible manifestations, in all that It is, has been or can be, for in It time is eternity. Thus it is not really correct to speak any longer of 'I' or 'we'; we truly are That and lose for the time being all consciousness of being a separate creature, of being someone. That is why even the term 'consciousness' is no longer valid for the realization of the Absolute, the nearest expression we can use for it is 'being.' Consciousness always implies someone who is conscious of something; in the word 'consciousness' there is implied a consciousness and a content of the consciousness, something of which we are aware. Therefore the word consciousness seems futile when used for that ultimate Reality, we there gain a realization in which we are all that is and our knowing is being.

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How Is the Absolute Known?

What right have we to give the name 'Absolute' to that which we realize when emerging through our centre of consciousness, how do we know that it is not a world only relatively more real than our world-image, how can we term it absolute Reality?

Let us first realize that what we experience is not something which differs in quantity or greatness or measure from the world image we know in our daily consciousness; it is not something greater, more glorious, more beautiful or more comprehensive, it is utterly and entirely different. Where our world image presents itself to us decked in all the rich variety of sense-qualities, with colour and sound, taste, smell and touch, with form and shape, with measures of space and time, with a multiplicity of separate creatures and objects, all distinct one from the other and dependent on one another, interrelated, this Reality which we experience shows nothing of all that. If we experienced a world only relatively more real than our world-image there would be still some characteristics corresponding at a higher level to our world-image; we might see more beautiful, more ethereal colours, hear more wonderful sounds, find ourselves in the midst of greater beauty and fullness of life. But here in the world of the Real there is no longer a universe surrounding us, there is no longer separateness, there are no longer the qualities which form the garment of our world-image; we have become That which is pure Unity, containing all multiplicity, though not showing any separateness.

Here the intellect, bound as it is to the illusions of the world-image, fails us; to the intellect the world may seem one or many, but cannot be both at the same time. The realities of the Absolute must always be paradoxes to the intellect and whatever is explained about them intellectually will always lead to misunderstanding. Perhaps an image may help us to understand, though, like all images and comparisons, it must necessarily be insufficient and even somewhat misleading.

When we consider the number one in arithmetic that number is a unity, it is entirely and homogeneously one. Yet we can also think of that number one as being composed of a vast number of fractions; we can divide it again and again into millions of fractions of different values until we are bewildered by the seemingly endless multitude of the parts. Yet, at the same time, the number one has not been touched at all in its serene unity; it is ever one, and yet at the same time it is ever these countless fractions ; they are contained in it, hidden in it, present in it and one with it. We cannot say that there are two different things, a unity on the one side and a multiplicity of fractions on the other, no, the two are one and it depends on the way in which we consider the number one whether we shall see it as unity or multiplicity. When we see it as unity, there is no interaction, there is no relation of part to part, there is no relativity. In this sense the number one may be compared to the Absolute, that which is determined in, by and through itself and is not related to anything else. Yet, the Absolute is all the time the multiplicity of all things; unchanged and eternally serene in Itself, It yet contains within Itself all that ever has been or can be; It is all that eternally. When we thus experience reality as multiplicity, as the manifoldness of different things, we can speak of relation between one thing and another, then we are in the realm of relativity.

In this world of relativity each relative thing is related to all else; there is not an atom in this universe of mine to which I am not related, even though I may not be conscious of the relation. I have no existence at all as a separate creature, though I may at times imagine myself as such; rather am I part of an intricate web of relativity in which all things mutually determine one another. The standpoint of each relative thing in this world of relativity must necessarily always be relative; whatever it sees is seen from that standpoint which necessarily has a certain relation to all other things. No two standpoints can ever be the same, all standpoints are different and therefore the outlook from each standpoint is different from all others-all truth is relative in the world of relativity. Only then can we speak of absolute truth in the world of relativity when we can discount the element of relativity in each relative outlook, that is to say, when, instead of fondly imagining our relative viewpoint to show absolute truth we can take into account the relativity of our standpoint and deduct that, as it were, from our outlook, leaving a truth which is no longer relative. Thus we come to this apparently paradoxical conclusion, that we are only able to approach absolute truth when we can realize our truth as relative truth; only the theory of relativity makes it possible to formulate scientific law in an absolute and no longer in a relative way.

There can never be freedom for the relative, since every relative thing is at least partially determined by all else that is relative. Only the Absolute is free since there is naught beside It. There is no interaction between the Absolute and the relative; the relative thing can only be related to other relative things. Relation denotes relativity, and the Absolute has no relation to anything because It is all things. Its only relation to the relative is that the relative as a whole is the Absolute, but there is never the possibility of a relation between a relative thing or being and the Absolute.

Since there is no relation between the relative and the Absolute, except in so far as the Absolute is the relative in its entirety, we are no longer the relative when we realize the Absolute, that is to say we are no longer 'we' or 'I' when we are That. That is why in Buddhism the realization of the Absolute is called Nirvana, literally the 'going out' or 'becoming extinct,' since from the standpoint of the separate self it means the end of all things, though from the standpoint of reality it means the beginning of all things. Nirvana is the extinction of the craving to be the relative thing and thereby the extinction of the relative as such in the realization of the Absolute. We are as justified to say that we become the Absolute, that the dewdrop becomes the shining sea, as we are in saying that the dewdrop is lost when slipping into the sea, that we are annihilated when realizing the Absolute. It will ever be impossible to express reality in the language of our world-image.

Since there is no relation possible between a relative thing and the Absolute there is no such thing as a worship of the Absolute, devotion to the Absolute, or response from the Absolute to a worshipping being; all this is a philosophical impossibility and the very suggestion implies a lack of understanding. If we desire to give the name 'God' to the Absolute-and it does not really matter what name we give to That-let it be well understood that it can never be the God to whom we pray, whom we invoke, whom we worship, whom we speak of as loving or kind, whom we look upon as Creator of the universe. Magnificent as the conception of such a Deity may be, infinitely fertile as it has been and must ever be in calling forth the noblest emotions and the highest endeavour, we must never for a moment confuse it with That, compared to which even this Deity is relative.

Our universe as such is relative, limited and finite and so is the ensouling Life or the Deity whose creation we suppose this universe to be. The God of Christianity, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, is the Deity of our universe, the Deity to whom we can pray and who is Love. Even so is the Logos of theosophical doctrine; the three Logoi of whom modern theosophy speaks are identical with the Christian Trinity, but they are not That, not the Absolute; the Logos too, though beyond our human understanding, is yet a Being, not Being. The great difference between Buddhism and Christianity is that where Buddhism is concerned with That, with the Absolute, Christianity speaks of the Deity of our universe. Hence in Buddhism no mention of God, no worship of God and in Christianity a wonderful system of ceremonial worship and devotion to the God of our universe.

We must not make the mistake of looking upon the Absolute as one step higher than the Deity of a universe; it is not as if there were first humanity, then superhuman beings and those who govern our human evolution, then the Deity of our universe and then-if we ascend still very much higher the Absolute. When the Hindu speaks of the God of this universe as Brahma and of the Absolute as Parabrahman we should misunderstand his meaning if we thought of Parabrahman as a magnification and glorification of Brahma. In some ways the Absolute is infinitely nearer to us than the Deity of a universe, in another way It is infinitely greater. Yet to say that It is greater would denote a greater measure of the same Being or reality and It is not such. It is of such a nature that It cannot even be compared to the greatest Being in the world of the relative, there is nothing to which It can ever be compared.

Sometimes we hear people say, 'I do not attempt to understand the Absolute; even the Deity of a universe is far beyond my understanding, and how can I hope to know anything of the Absolute which is still greater.' Such an attitude, in a seeming humility, yet shows misunderstanding and misconception. If the Deity of our universe is seen along an ever ascending line of ever increasing greatness and perfection, the attitude spoken of implies that, if we ascend that line still further and mount still higher, we may some day reach the Absolute, which is absurd. In the world of the relative truly there is always greatness beyond greatness, and when we have reached the greatest, noblest we know or dimly apprehend, yet wider vistas open up before us and we see a greatness undreamt of at our previous level of understanding. But not of such is the Absolute. It is not great; to call It great would be misunderstanding the reality of the Absolute. How can we call anything great when there is nothing else to compare to it in size or in fullness of manifestation; there is no comparison where there is only the One; there is no greatness and there is no smallness. We do not reach the Absolute by ascending or hoping to ascend some day beyond even the greatest Being whom we can now dimly see on our spiritual horizon; the way to the Absolute is not along that ever ascending line of greater and greater, of more and more, of nobler and nobler; we can reach the Absolute at the very point where we are now, just as much or just as little as we can reach It when we are the greatest Being in the world of relativity. It is rather as if, instead of continuing the endless process of ever ascending greatness, of ever increasing perfection we went by a different dimension altogether and disappeared out of the realm of change and growth and evolution into that of changeless and ever abiding Being, Nirvana. It is as if, instead of moving along a certain path, ascending in a certain direction, we were to move within, into the very point where we find ourselves and, through that, reached the Absolute. That is what does happen to us when we reach It through the centre of our consciousness. We do not aspire, ascend, or strain towards something greater than we are, we disappear into ourselves and, through ourselves as the relative, reach the Absolute which is at every point of the relative. Magnificent though the conception of spiritual evolution is, utterly true though it is for our world-image consciousness, yet to one who has seen the Vision of That which is eternal and which neither changes nor evolves, containing as it does all change and all evolution, the highest dreams of evolutionary progress become but--dreams.

Returning then to our question, how we know that this world of the Real is the Absolute, we can answer-it is by experiencing just that which is characteristic of the Absolute. We have seen that it is only in the relative consciousness that the interpretation of absolute Reality into sense-qualities, time and space measures is affected. Reality itself is devoid of all that, yet contains the fullness of it. That which we become in reaching reality is of this nature; it has no qualities, yet is that which produces qualities in the relative consciousness. It is not time, yet it is that which, when realized by the relative consciousness, is experienced as time with its illusory past and future; it is not space nor distance, yet contains within itself that which, when appreciated and interpreted by the relative consciousness, becomes space in our world-image. Again, That which we become is not related to anything else; It is everything and everything is within It. When we are That we do not feel greater than we are in our ordinary consciousness, not increased, not more real when compared to that reality of every day; we have entirely left the world of the relative and are That which knows no relativity and no comparison. In That we are not in relation to anything else, since we are all things; hence here alone is freedom, since there is nothing outside to cause limitation.

That which we experience is changeless, though containing all change, and as such neither increases nor decreases. Being unchanging it is all that we call past and all that we call future, these are present in it as an eternal Reality. There alone is peace, there alone there can never be the desire for more or greater or nobler; It is All. The absence of all relativity, of all relationships denotes that which we call the Absolute; it is not dependent upon anything else because it is the Alone. It is the 'one dark Truth' of which the Mystic speaks, the final Mystery for which there is no explanation, since there is naught to explain it with. If the unphilosophical mind were to ask: Why the Absolute? and Whence the Absolute? the unchanging Voice of that which is eternal and unchanging would give him the answer, could he but realize it. The Absolute is its own explanation, its own cause, its own fulfillment and its own realization. It is That.

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Absolute and Relative In Religion

In the light of the foregoing the difference between science and philosophy, or between occultism and mysticism stands out clearly; the aims of science and occultism lie in the world of the relative, those of philosophy and mysticism in the Absolute; science and occultism are content to investigate the ways in which the relative appears to the relative and to gain power and control in the world of relativity; philosophy and mysticism know no peace until they reach that ultimate Reality which has no beyond; to them reality means either the Absolute or nothing at all. Once again we can see how foolish it is to extol one above the other; a complete knowledge implies knowledge of the relative as well as realization of the Absolute.

In matters of religion the relative outlook shows man as a growing, evolving being with those greater than himself ahead, those less than himself behind. It shows a world, beginning and ending, created, thought or imagined by a Deity who is the informing life of this universe. Thus, in religious matters, occultism speaks to us of a hierarchy of ever evolving beings, a seemingly endless ladder of perfection of which none has ever beheld the topmost rung. The Deity of occultism is the great Being upon whom we look as Creator of this universe; Him we can worship and adore, to Him devotion can rise up and from Him benediction can descend. Thus the occultist will stress the scientific value of ceremonial magic which in this world of the relative unites man closer to the God of His universe and provides a method of pouring out divine creative Energy.

How different is the religious aspect of philosophical mysticism; equally valuable and equally justified, but different in aims and methods. The philosophical mystic does not speak much of a hierarchy of ever greater and greater beings, for him there is but one goal, one achievement-the Absolute. That is the God of the philosophical mystic, a God who is not Creator of the universe but who is eternally all universes, a God to whom no man can pray, but whom we are when we reach Reality. To Him no adoration can ascend, from Him no benediction descends to man. He is unchanging eternal Peace, the Alone beyond which naught is. This eternal Peace of the Absolute is the Buddhist Nirvana; Nirvana, as taught by the Buddha, is not the evolution into greater power and knowledge, but the passing out of evolution into an Eternal in which is no suffering, no unsatisfied craving because there is no separateness, no 'I,' no possibility of incompleteness. Nirvana thus is not a crowning glory in an ascending scale of ever increasing divine experiences, it is the radical and fundamental departure from all that is relative into the Absolute.

If we compare Christianity and Buddhism we cannot help but feel that Buddhism is more the religion of the Absolute, Christianity that of the Relative. The God of Christianity is the Triune Deity of this universe rather than the Absolute, even though, in the experiences of Christian mystics we, at times, find God as the ultimate Reality. Hence also the difference in ideals between the Buddhist Nirvana and the Christian Kingdom of God; in the attaining of Nirvana the realm of relativity is left for the eternal peace of the Absolute, in the Kingdom of God we see a religious ideal which is rather a deification of the world of relativity in a life of perfect love. In the love of the Christian we see the endeavour to realize the unity of divine life in the world of relativity, in the Nirvana of the Buddhist the departure from relativity for the peace of the Absolute. We should not make the mistake of trying to judge which ideal is better or nobler, rather should we rejoice that there is a religion which shows the divine in the relative, like Christianity, and also a religion like Buddhism which shows the divine as the Absolute.

Christianity is a ritualistic religion, there is no ceremonial so complete and deeply valuable as the Christian; in Buddhism we in vain look for ceremonial. In a Buddhist temple we may lay a few flowers in front of the image of the Buddha, we may place a candle or burning light in front of the shrine in token of reverence, but beyond that there is no ritual. Neither do we find in Buddhism a conception of God as we do in Christianity, hence Buddhism has often been termed theistic. Yet we can understand why there is no place in Buddhism for a Deity as in Christianity, when we realize that for Buddhism, as the religion of the philosophical mystic, there is no reality short of the Absolute and no peace short of Nirvana. We should not fear such differences in religion, true tolerance tries to recognize the value of each religion as a characteristic manifestation of living truth which necessarily implies essential differences between the different religions; to smooth out these differences until they all appear to be the same would mean a leveling down of a rich variety to the dead monotony of similarity. True tolerance does not lie in blindness to characteristic differences, but rather in understanding why these differences exist and why they are valuable in the unity of universal religion.

Naturally we find different types of men in each of the great religions; thus there are Christians to whom ceremonial is the breath of life and whose worship centres round the invocation and descent of divine grace and power in the Eucharist, and, on the other hand, there are those in the Christian religion to whom ceremonial seems but an obstacle and for whom the path to reality is one of renunciation of externals rather than one of the emphasis of external means in ceremonial worship. We must not confuse this with the contempt of ceremonial worship which we find sometimes in Protestant Christianity and which often is based not so much on intensity of mystical endeavour as on the inability to appreciate aught but an intellectual dogmatism. On the other hand, in Roman Catholicism, we at times meet with a ceremonialism which is merely traditional and claims to be essential to man's salvation and to his life in the world of relativity. Yet, even at these levels the difference between mystical endeavour and occult methods appears and often leads to misunderstanding and antagonism.

To the occultist the philosophical mystic's realization of the Absolute will seem to be a baseless presumption; to him, working as he is in the world of relativity the Absolute means but a Being still greater than the Deity of his universe, a yet higher level, of still greater power and glory. He would fail to understand that the mystic's achievement does not lie in the attaining of ever greater glory, but in leaving the world of the relative altogether and in entering That, with regard to which words like power and glory, greatness and wisdom have no meaning. The occultist would see the Absolute as part of his world of relativity, the very highest and noblest part it is true, but yet part of it. But the Absolute cannot be expressed in terms of relativity, the quadrature of the circle is impossible. On the other hand the philosophical mystic at times fails to recognize the value of that worship which sees God in the world of the relative and adores him as a Being, great and loving, tender and wise.

Absolute and relative both have their place in religion; for our world of relativity a religion of relativity is of daily value, yet if we would attain to ultimate Reality we must seek the Absolute and its realization.

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The Absolute and the Relative in Man

Relativity is but another way of considering the Absolute; the Absolute is one and many simultaneously, it is the infinitude of fractions as well as the unity of which all fractions are part. Yet there are not two worlds, one of relativity and one of the Absolute; there is but one world of ultimate Reality, the Absolute, which, when approached in its multiplicity is the relative. This multiplicity of all that ever was or can be is the Absolute and therefore the infinitely small is as essential to the unity of all things as the infinitely great; not a grain of dust could ever be taken away from that totality of things, since it is not a detached object, but an inseparable part of a living Unity.

Plotinus illustrates the unity of Absolute and Relative in the following passage from Ennead iv. 2, where he says:

On the other hand, there exists another kind of essence ('being'), whose nature differs from the preceding (entirely divisible things), which admits of no division, and is neither divided nor divisible. This has no extension, not even in thought. It does not need to be in any place, and is not either partially or wholly contained in any other being. If we dare say so, it hovers simultaneously over all beings, not that it needs to be built up on them, but because it is indispensable to the existence of all. It is ever identical with itself, and is the common support of all that is below it. It is as in the circle, where the centre, remaining immovable in itself, nevertheless is the origin of all the radii originating there, and drawing existence thence.

The Absolute, indeed, contains within itself all relativity as the circle contains within itself the infinitude of rays from centre to circumference. Each ray is connected with the centre, proceeds from the centre and in the centre all rays are one. On the circumference, however, they are many; while there is unity in the centre of the circle there is multiplicity and separateness on the circumference. Thus in the circle, too, unity and multiplicity are contained; in the realization of the Absolute we have all multiplicity within us as a unity, just as, from the centre of the circle we see all rays, see the whole circle and its multiplicity in unity. On the circumference, however, where we do not realize the centre which binds all, we may have the illusion that all rays, which we only know at their furthest extension, are separate; the circumference is the realm of relativity. The philosophical mystic travels along his ray to the centre and from there understands the circle as a whole in one comprehensive realization; the occultist and scientist explore along the circumference and there gain a detailed knowledge of the world o£ multiplicity.

Every human being, every created thing is as a ray going forth from the centre of the eternal Circle to its circumference. In the centre, whence it issues forth, it is one with all other rays and realizes itself to be the whole; it is all things, it is the Absolute. Where it touches the circumference it is but one of many and instead of realizing itself as the Absolute it gazes upon the world of multiplicity, the world of relativity, where problems arise since the unity of life is lost. Thus in ourselves we are the great mystery, absolute and relative simultaneously; when we look within, piercing through our own consciousness, we can realize ultimate Reality and cease to be ourselves by being That which is all things; on the other hand, when we feel ourselves only as the separate ray, we are surrounded by the multitude of other created things and subject to the illusion of separateness, bringing with it the externalizing of our world-image and its objectivation as an independent reality. Our consciousness has as it were two windows, one through which we gaze on our own world-image and behold multiplicity in the world of the relative and another through which we emerge into the world of the Real, where we cease to be the relative and are the Absolute. These two apparently contradictory facts form the paradox in the unity of our human nature; in ourselves takes place that mystery which cannot be accomplished by any other means--the quadrature of the circle; in us the Eternal becomes time, the Absolute the relative.

We must guard against the illusion of duality, as if there were on the one hand the Absolute and on the other the relative, which then are synthesized in a higher unity. This idea is but an example of intellectual fallacy and, like most fallacies, is glibly accepted by many, especially when demonstrated by a symbol like that which we have just used, the circle. How easy it is to say that the centre of the circle symbolizes the Absolute, the circumference the relative and the two are aspects of the supreme Reality. Yet this would be entirely wrong, a mere intellectual superficiality. There is but one Reality, the Absolute, which we may, if we wish to do so, symbolize by the circle containing within itself the multitude of rays. A circle, however, is not a combination of centre and circumference, but is essentially radiation from a point. That is the reality of the circle, to be seen only from the centre; thus also the Absolute can be realized only from the Centre where the entire Circle is seen in its multiplicity of rays. The world-view of the separate ray which has traveled away from the common Centre is the relative view; surrounded by the many other rays the individual ray feels itself as separate amongst other creatures and is conscious of a world of relativity. But the Absolute is ever That beyond and beside which naught is and not in any way the opposite of the relative. The relative is eternally contained within the Absolute.

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Diagram 2
Diagram 2, The circle as radiation from a point.

In the world of relativity we can never come to the realization of truth, since there we are always subject to the illusions due to the objectivation of our world-image. The relative cannot express the Absolute, and ultimate reality or living truth must ever remain a paradox to the intellect which is subject to the world-image. It is only in the world of the Absolute that we can come to a realization of truth and can know Reality by becoming it.

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Wrong Problems In Philosophy

When we analyze some of the illusory features of our world-image consciousness we can see why a realization of living truth is impossible in that consciousness and why every question asked from that state of consciousness must be permeated by the illusion to which it is subject. The multiplicity which in the Absolute is seen as a unity appears as separateness in my externalized world-image; I am conscious of myself as centre of a surrounding world and feel myself as 'I' with regard to that world as 'not I' Such is the predominant characteristic of my world-image consciousness--the I not-I illusion. Everything in my daily experience is coloured by that and subject to that, whatever I think or feel, whatever I do or experience, whatever I ask or answer is part of that dual structure: my consciousness of being I, surrounded by a world which is not I. The most dangerous part of this illusion is that I am not aware of it and am accustomed to ask questions of a philosophical nature without realizing for a moment that they are coloured and vitiated by the illusion which accompanies my consciousness in the world of the relative.

In addition to this dualistic illusion which colours all my questioning and thinking in the world of the relative there are my space and time illusions; that which is an abiding and ever-present reality in the Absolute becomes a past-present-future development in my world-image. I objectivate this way of experiencing the eternal as a succession of events and call this objectivation 'time,' considering it as a scroll on which events are written. Then, forgetting that this particular time-structure of my world-image is but my way of interpreting ever-present reality, I unconsciously weave it into the texture of all my thoughts and questions, and all the problems which my imprisoned intellect can ask are impregnated by that illusion. Thus all questions in which the problem of the beginning or the end of time or of the relation of past and future to the present enters, are incapable of being answered since they have an element of illusion in themselves.

In a similar way distance in space and the three dimensions of my space world are my interpretation, in my world-image, of that which, in the Absolute, may be thought of as a mathematical point. There is no space in the world of the Real, though there is that which I interpret in dimensions of space and time. The space illusion of my world-image also colours thinking and feeling without my realizing that it does so; I never doubt that I am 'here' and that someone else is 'there,' at a distance of ten yards from me. Yet this is only the appearance in my world-image of that which in the Absolute is not spatially distant, and consequently, when I ask a philosophical question in which the illusion of an objective space is implied, I shall naturally find these questions impossible to answer since they are wrong in themselves.

As long as we, in philosophy, ask questions concerning reality, while we are bound in the illusion of our relative standpoint, and then try to deal with these faulty questions by means of the intellect, which is the mind functioning in the realm of relativity, it is quite impossible to come to a realization of living truth. At the very best we can hope to get an answer to our wrong question, which answer, since the question was wrong must necessarily be wrong also and therefore without value. The agnostic is at least safer in declaring that these questions cannot be answered, that man cannot know ultimate things. This may not be true, but at least it safeguards us from these pseudo-answers which do but act as mental soporifics. When the agnostic says, 'we cannot know,' he is right if he adds the words 'by the aid of our intellect,' since the intellect is the instrument for observation in the world of relativity, and fails us when we desire to attain reality. Then the intuition alone can serve as a way to knowledge, the intuition being the experience of reality in our being; but both intellect and intuition are necessarily incapable of answering questions which are wrong in themselves. To answer such is but to prove our ignorance.

We can escape from the circulus vitiosus of wrong question and wrong answer only by recognizing that the questions are asked from the standpoint of illusion and that the intellect is bound to this same illusion. It is only when we surrender both and leave all trappings of the world of relativity behind that we can enter the world of the Real and there experience Reality, which does not answer the wrong questions, but rather sweeps them aside and gives us a realization of living truth instead, in the light of which the very questions become absurd. 'The soul answers never by worlds, but by the thing itself that is inquired after,' says Emerson. We do not gain an answer in so many words, but experience a living reality which shows the absurdity of the wrong question and makes a further answer superfluous.

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Esoteric and Exoteric

The realization of the Absolute, of living truth, is a supreme reality, which can never be voiced in the language of the intellect. In that sense it is esoteric as compared to teaching which can be intellectually explained and which consequently is exoteric. The term esoteric knowledge or esoteric teaching is often used for a body of information in the hands of some select group of students who know this teaching and for some reason or other do not consider it right to make it public. Such teaching is secret, since it is kept only for the few, but it is not esoteric in the true sense of the word. True esoteric knowledge is not knowledge which we for some good reason refuse to make public, but rather knowledge which no one can make public, since it cannot be expressed, since there is no language to explain it. Thus esoteric knowledge is an experience which must remain for him alone who has had it, since it cannot be communicated, and exoteric knowledge is that which can be communicated, though we may decide that it is not desirable to do so. In that last case our exoteric knowledge is at the same time secret or hidden knowledge, and at some future time we may decide to publish it and make it available for all. But real esoteric knowledge can never be made exoteric; since it is esoteric by its own nature, it is incapable of being expressed. As Lao Tze expresses it at the beginning of the Tao Teh King: 'The Tao which can be expressed is not the unchanging Tao; the Name which can be named is not the unchanging Name.'

It is the unripe mind which, not realizing even how reality should be approached, plunges into an unhesitating answer where the truly philosophical mind would in reverence seek for Reality. Truly, 'fools rush in, where angels fear to tread,' and it makes the philosopher shrink with horror to see a mind which cannot yet think beyond the futilities of everyday life deal readily, definitely and conclusively with subjects of which he himself has only begun to realize the depth and the mystery. We suffer pain as if a sacrilege were done to that which is holy to us, when we see the illusion-bound intellects fingering with a crude complacency and in utter lack of understanding the sacred Mysteries which we ourselves would approach with holy awe. And when a system or doctrine is produced for which it is claimed that it has an answer for any problems life may offer, then truly do we know that what is offered is not the utterance of living truth but the lifeless structure of an imprisoned intellect. Life is not logical and life is not systematical; it is not reasonable nor is it useful; if it could be expressed in a logical system it would no longer be life but death. The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced, and this experience of the mystery of life is true Theosophy. This Theosophy can never be expressed in a system, nor has it an answer for the problems of life; it is too great for that; instead of condescending to answer questions and problems born of illusion it leads its devotees away from the unreality of a world-image into a world of Reality where they themselves are the truth they contemplate.

The greatness of a true and living philosophy of life is not that it answers the problems of life, but that it does not answer them; did it answer them it would but show that it was born of illusion even as they are. Its greatness lies in the fact that it is able to transcend the problems and questions, which are rooted in illusion, and, in the experience of living reality, forget these futile playthings.

The man who has experienced truth returns from his experience in awe and reverence; he is filled with the greatness of the mystery he has beheld, which is now part of his very being. When confronted by the unreal questions which have haunted philosophy and religion for so many centuries he does not descend to their level and fulfil their unsound demand by an equally unsound and empty satisfaction; rather does he speak words of reality in the power of which the questions fade away and are destroyed. To the intellect, bound in illusion, it will ever seem that he evades the questions which it has asked; it demands an answer corresponding point for point to these questions, made up though they are of the fabric of illusion. And when the true philosopher fails, or even refuses, to answer illusion by illusion, but waves aside the products of the unreal and speaks with the voice of reality, then the intellect in its blindness shrugs the shoulders and with a contemptuous smile turns away towards its own empty speculations.

The life of Gautama the Buddha yields many examples of this impossibility of giving a satisfactory answer to intellectual questions rooted in illusion. Many a time did his disciples seek to obtain from the Tathagata definite answers to their direct questions concerning ultimate problems, but never was his reply a direct answer to such questions, more often would he make three or four contradictory statements, leaving his disciples in the midst of their intellectual confusion and trying to show them the futility of their questions.

One of them, the venerable Malunkyaputta, complained to the Buddha, saying he would not lead the religious life under the Blessed One, unless he elucidated to him the great questions of life. The Buddha answered him, saying:

Malunkyaputta, anyone who should say, 'I will not lead the religious life under The Blessed One until The Blessed One shall elucidate to me either that the world is eternal, or that the world is not eternal. . . or that the saint neither exists nor does not exist after death '-that person would die, Malunkyaputta, before The Tathagata had ever elucidated this to him.

It is as if, Malunkyaputta, a man had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and companions, his relatives and kinsfolk, were to procure for him a physician or surgeon; and the sick man were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the man who wounded me belonged to the warrior caste, or to the Brahman caste, or to the agricultural caste, or to the menial caste: That man would die, Malunkyaputta, without ever having learnt this.

In exactly the same way, Malunkyaputta, any one who should say, 'I will not lead the religious life under The Blessed One until The Blessed One shall elucidate to me either that the world is eternal, or that the world is not eternal . . . or that the saint neither exists nor does not exist after death '-that person would die, Malunkyaputta, before The Tathagata had ever elucidated this to him. (Warren, Buddhism in Translations, p. 117)

Thus the Buddha refused to answer the questions born of illusion; having attained to the full realization of truth he knew but too well that whatsoever answer he might give would be but partial truth and therefore misleading. He therefore abstained from giving direct answers, but showed his disciples the noble eightfold Path by which they themselves could conquer illusion and attain to reality. That is the cure for the poison of which he spoke to Malunkyaputta; until we are thus cured no teaching can avail us, all we hear and know is poisoned by illusion.

It is significant to see how the very questions which the Buddha refrained from answering, well knowing the real answer to be impossible, are glibly answered by the immature intellect. To it the question and the answer are but as the mutually fitting pieces of a picture puzzle, and it is satisfied when the pieces fit. It has not even begun to realize something of the reality to which its questions pertain; had it done so its questions would be very different or perhaps would not be asked at all, since it is a profound truth that when once we can really ask we also know. To ask in the real sense of the word is to aspire to the reality which alone can give satisfaction; once we can ask in that way we are beginning to tread the path which leads to reality even though for the moment we may seem to ignore the questions which seem so vital to the intellect. The doctrine of the Buddha, teaching that man should first gain liberation from illusion, proves ultimately the shortest way to the realization of truth. 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.'

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