Absolute

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Absolute is a term derived from the Latin absolūtus which means "loosened from" or "unattached." As such, the word "Absolute" points out a negative concept meaning non-relative, non-comparative, or without relation to anything else. In philosophy it refers to an unconditioned reality which transcends the limited, conditional, everyday existence. It is sometimes conceived of as the source through which all beings emanate. This, however, is not an accurate expression. Beings and objects cannot be emanated from the absolute as if there was an "outside" to it but, rather, they are aspects of the absolute reality itself.

In the Theosophical view, the ultimate reality of the universe is regarded to be Absolute. It is atemporal, meaning that the absolute reality was, is, and will be, whether there is a universe manifested or not. It is boundless and omnipresent, being the essence of spirit, matter, and energy. It is immutable, which implies that it cannot grow, change, or evolve. Being absolute, it transcends any opposites (such as fullness and emptiness, good and evil, being and non-being, transcendent and immanent, etc.) It cannot be grasped by the mind, though it can be sensed by the spiritual intuition.

Mme. Blavatsky postulates that the Absolute has two aspects: the absolute abstract motion and the absolute abstract space. There is also some mention of "duration", a kind of absolute lasting, as a third aspect.

Some synonyms used in Theosophical literature are Be-ness, One Life, Parabrahman, Sat, Adi-Buddha, Ain Soph, among others.

General description

This Absolute reality is the first fundamental proposition found in The Secret Doctrine, described as follows:

An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought—in the words of Mandukya, “unthinkable and unspeakable.” To render these ideas clearer to the general reader, let him set out with the postulate that there is one absolute Reality which antecedes all manifested, conditioned, being. This Infinite and Eternal Cause—dimly formulated in the “Unconscious” and “Unknowable” of current European philosophy—is the rootless root of “all that was, is, or ever shall be.” It is of course devoid of all attributes and is essentially without any relation to manifested, finite Being. It is “Be-ness” rather than Being (in Sanskrit, Sat), and is beyond all thought or speculation.[1]

Elaborating on the fact that the Absolute is "beyond the range and reach of thought," H. P. Blavatsky wrote:

The “Absolute Consciousness” . . . “behind” phenomena, which is only termed unconsciousness in the absence of any element of personality, transcends human conception. Man, unable to form one concept except in terms of empirical phenomena, is powerless from the very constitution of his being to raise the veil that shrouds the majesty of the Absolute. Only the liberated Spirit is able to faintly realise the nature of the source whence it sprung and whither it must eventually return. . . . The highest Dhyan Chohan, however, can but bow in ignorance before the awful mystery of Absolute Being; and . . . even in that culmination of conscious existence—“the merging of the individual in the universal consciousness”—to use a phrase of Fichte’s—the Finite cannot conceive the Infinite, nor can it apply to it its own standard of mental experiences.[2]

Although it is regarded as the "Causeless Cause" of the universe, we should not think the universe is produced "out of the Absolute". Both manifestation and dissolution are facets of the Absolute reality, which nevertheless remains immutable. As Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

The first lesson taught in Esoteric philosophy is, that the incognizable Cause does not put forth evolution, whether consciously or unconsciously, but only exhibits periodically different aspects of itself to the perception of finite Minds.[3]

The “Causeless Cause” of the universe,[4] however, does not correspond to the usual concept of God in monotheistic religions:

We deny the existence of a thinking conscious God, on the grounds that such a God must either be conditioned, limited and subject to change, therefore not infinite, or ... if he is represented to us as an eternal unchangeable and independent being, with not a particle of matter in him, then we answer that it is no being but an immutable blind principle, a law.[5]
The God of theology, we say -- and prove it -- is a bundle of contradictions and a logical impossibility. Therefore, we will have nothing to do with him. . . This God is called by his devotees infinite and absolute . . . Then, if infinite -- i. e., limitless -- and especially if absolute, how can he have a form, and be a creator of anything? Form implies limitation, and a beginning as well as an end; and, in order to create, a Being must think and plan. How can the ABSOLUTE be supposed to think -- i. e., to have any relation whatever to that which is limited, finite, and conditioned? This is a philosophical, and a logical absurdity.[6]

No feelings, even the highest, can be attributed to the Absolute. H. P. Blavatsky answered a question about this as follows:

Q. But we understand that bliss, as the state of the Absolute, was intended to be referred to.
A. This is still more illogical. How can the ABSOLUTE be said to feel? The Absolute can have no condition nor attribute. It is only that which is finite and differentiated which can have any feeling or attitude predicated of it.[7]

In several instances Mme. Blavatsky stated that the Absolute can be regarded to be both Absolute Being and Non-Being.[8] On certain occasions the termed "Absoluteness" is used to provide an even less concrete idea of the Absolute:

Absoluteness. When predicated of the UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLE, it denotes an abstract noun, which is more correct and logical than to apply the adjective “absolute” to that which has neither attributes nor limitations, nor can IT have any.[9]

A frequently asked question is why the Absolute puts forth a cosmos, if the former is perfect in itself and cannot gain or be affected in any way by the latter? Mme. Blavatsky said:

Ah! It is a very easy question to ask. . . . He wants to ask what is the cause that propels or compels Parabrahman to create. Parabrahman is not a cause. It is not even the Absolute, as I say, but absolutness. Now, how can we know the cause that propels Parabrahman to create? That which is behind all veil of matter is incomprehensible, and no finite intellect can conceive it. . . . and to come and ask for the cause is perfectly ridiculous. . . . Just try to imagine two forces: the centripetal and the centrifugal, which periodically must emanate from IT. Just as the clock must strike so this strikes and emanates periodically. When it has done striking it goes to sleep again. Try to imagine that and then you will have perhaps a notion. . . . Mind you, it is not that I say, and certainly not that I would go and advocate, the automatic creation of the materialists; never. But it is for the purpose of giving a shape to it, and to allow people to conceive of it, because otherwise, you cannot.[10]

Absolute Aspects

Although Mme. Blavatsky said the Absolute is "devoid of all attributes"[11] (which imply relative characteristics) we can still talk about some "aspects" of it:
This “Be-ness” is symbolised in the Secret Doctrine under two aspects. On the one hand, absolute abstract Space, representing bare subjectivity, the one thing which no human mind can either exclude from any conception, or conceive of by itself. On the other, absolute Abstract Motion representing Unconditioned Consciousness.[12]
"Duration" is sometimes also regarded as a third aspect of the Absolute.[13]

Absolute abstract motion

The "motion aspect" of the absolute is the basis for the development of all the different kinds of consciousness in the universe:

It is the fons et origo [source and origin] of force and of all individual consciousness, and supplies the guiding intelligence in the vast scheme of cosmic Evolution.[14]
Even our Western thinkers have shown that Consciousness is inconceivable to us apart from change, and motion best symbolizes change, its essential characteristic.[15]

In its "absoluteness", motion is also called "the Great Breath"[16]

When the “Great Breath” is projected, it is called the Divine Breath, and is regarded as the breathing of the Unknowable Deity—the One Existence—which breathes out a thought, as it were, which becomes the Kosmos. . . . So also is it when the Divine Breath is inspired again the Universe disappears into the bosom of “the Great Mother,” who then sleeps “wrapped in her invisible robes.”[17]

Although this aspect is the absolute source of all kinds of consciousnesses, it is not any particular consciousness, or it would cease to be absolute. In Mme. Blavatsky words:

In the occult teachings, the Unknown and the Unknowable MOVER, or the Self-Existing, is the absolute divine Essence. And thus being Absolute Consciousness, and Absolute Motion—to the limited senses of those who describe this indescribable—it is unconsciousness and immoveableness. . . . Consciousness implies limitations and qualifications; something to be conscious of, and someone to be conscious of it. But Absolute Consciousness contains the cognizer, the thing cognized and the cognition, all three in itself and all three one. . . . It must not be forgotten, also, that we give names to things according to the appearances they assume for ourselves. We call absolute consciousness “unconsciousness,” because it seems to us that it must necessarily be so, just as we call the Absolute, “Darkness,” because to our finite understanding it appears quite impenetrable, yet we recognize fully that our perception of such things does not do them justice. We involuntarily distinguish in our minds, for instance, between unconscious absolute consciousness, and unconsciousness, by secretly endowing the former with some indefinite quality that corresponds, on a higher plane than our thoughts can reach, with what we know as consciousness in ourselves. But this is not any kind of consciousness that we can manage to distinguish from what appears to us as unconsciousness.[18]

Absolute abstract space

Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

The One All is like Space—which is its only mental and physical representation on this Earth, or our plane of existence—neither an object of, nor a subject to, perception.[19]

One reason for this is the fact that space is a container that is not really affected by the content. A room can be filled with furniture, move it around, or destroy it, but the space in which all this happens remains unaffected. Similarly, a cosmos may be manifested or dissolve and the Absolute Reality remain the same. This, of course, is a metaphor. The "space" that is an aspect of the absolute is not the physical space of science which, as Albert Einstein shown, is relative and can be "bent". It is its absolute abstraction. As such, the absolute abstract space is beyond the idea of emptiness (śūnyatā) or fullness (pūrṇa):

Space is neither a “limitless void,” nor a “conditioned fullness,” but both: being, on the plane of absolute abstraction, the ever-incognizable Deity, which is void only to finite minds, and on that of mayavic perception, the Plenum, the absolute Container of all that is, whether manifested or unmanifested: it is, therefore, that ABSOLUTE ALL.[20]

The "space aspect" of the absolute is frequently identified with the "root substance" (mūlaprakṛti):

Space, however, viewed as a “Substantial Unity”—the “living Source of Life”—as the “Unknown Causeless Cause,” is the oldest dogma in Occultism. . .[21]

This aspect is the origin of all the different types of matter in the universe:

On the other hand, pre-cosmic root-substance (Mulaprakriti) is that aspect of the Absolute which underlies all the objective planes of Nature. Just as pre-cosmic Ideation is the root of all individual consciousness, so pre-cosmic Substance is the substratum of matter in the various grades of its differentiation.[22]

Duration

Mme. Blavatsky talked about a third aspect of the absolute, in addition to the two already mentioned. She wrote:

“The Great Breath” . . . being Motion, is one of the three aspects of the Absolute—Abstract Space and Duration being the other two.[23]

A reference to this aspect can be found in Stanza I.2: "Time was not, for it lay asleep in the infinite bosom of duration". Below is a series of answers given by Mme. Blavatsky about the difference between duration and time:

Q. What is the difference between Time and Duration?

A. Duration is; it has neither beginning nor end. How can you call that which has neither beginning nor end, Time? Duration is beginningless and endless; Time is finite.
Q. Is, then, Duration the infinite, and Time the finite conception?
A. Time can be divided; Duration—in our philosophy, at least—cannot. Time is divisible in Duration—or, as you put it, the one is something within Time and Space, whereas the other is outside of both.
Q. The only way one can define Time is by the motion of the earth.
A. But we can also define Time in our conceptions.
Q. Duration, rather?
A. No, Time; for as to Duration, it is impossible to divide it or set up landmarks therein. Duration with us is the one eternity, not relative, but absolute.
Q. Can it be said that the essential idea of Duration is existence?

A. No; existence has limited and definite periods, whereas Duration, having neither beginning nor end, is a perfect abstraction which contains Time. Duration is like Space, which is an abstraction too, and is equally without beginning or end.[24]

It is important to notice that duration is not an infinite extension of time (called sempiternity), but it is altogether beyond time.

Online resources

Articles

Notes

  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, vol. I (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 14.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, vol. I (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 51.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, vol. II (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 487.
  4. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 14.
  5. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 88 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 272.
  6. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, [1987]), ??.
  7. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 322.
  8. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 249.
  9. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 4.
  10. Michael Gomes (transcriber), The Secret Doctrine Commentaries (The Hague: I.S.I.S. foundation, 2010), 70-71.
  11. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 14.
  12. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 14.
  13. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 43.
  14. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 15.
  15. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 14.
  16. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 14.
  17. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 43.
  18. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 56.
  19. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 8.
  20. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 8.
  21. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 9-10, fn.
  22. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 15.
  23. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 43.
  24. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 310.