The Universal Plan


This article was transcribed from the November 2001 issue of “The Theosophical Movement,” a publication of Theosophy Company (India).

The Law of Correlation or Correspondence, as ordinarily understood, indicates the degree of parallelism or identity between two or more objects, measures, categories or sets of observations. For example, one is familiar with the relationship between, say, wages and prices, weather conditions and crop yields, steel production and the price index. But the working of this law on the supraphysical pane is of much greater importance and more unerring than on the physical.

Swedenborg, the 18th-century Swedish mystic, popularized this ancient doctrine in his theological treatise Heaven and Hell. He attributes present-day man's ignorance of this law of correspondence to his separation from "heaven" "by the love of self and of the world," and adds:

He who loves himself and the world above everything cares only for worldly things because they soothe the external senses and gratify his lower mind, and he cares nothing for spiritual things which please the internal senses and delight the soul; he therefore rejects these, saying they are too high for man's comprehension. It was otherwise with the ancients, for with them the knowledge of correspondences was the chief of all knowledges. By means of it also they acquired intelligence and wisdom and those who were of the church had communication with heaven...But at this day that knowledge is so entirely lost that it is not known what correspondence is.

Swedenborg points out that the whole natural world corresponds to the spiritual world, "not only in general but also in particular." Being convinced of this law "as of a thing self-evident and beyond all doubt," he treated of this subject at great length in the Arcana Celestia under various heads—"Correspondences," "Representations," "The Influence of the Spiritual World Upon the Natural," and "The Intercourse Between the Soul and the Body." To the inquiry why man, who is more enlightened than the lower kingdoms, is ignorant of the law, he answers:

Animals live in conformity with the law of their existence, and have not been able to pervert what they derive from the spiritual world, because they are unable to think for themselves. It is otherwise with man, who possesses from the spiritual world the power of reflection; for he has perverted that power by a life contrary to order, which his reason has favoured. He must therefore be born in a state of absolute ignorance and afterwards be led back by Divine means into conformity with the order of heaven.

This ancient law of correspondence and analogy was once again brought to our attention by Madame Blavatsky, who says that "in Occult Science this law is the first and most important key to the Cosmic physics." Referring to this aspect of law, she says in The Secret Doctrine:

If no physical intellect is capable of counting the grains of sand covering a few miles of sea-shore; or to fathom the ultimate nature and essence of those grains, palpable and visible on the palm of the naturalist, how can any materialist limit the laws changing the conditions and being of the atoms in primordial chaos, or know anything certain about the capabilities and potency of their atoms into molecules before and after their formation into worlds? These changeless and eternal molecules—far thicker in space than the grains on the ocean shore—may differ in their constitution along the line of their planes of existence, as the soul-substance differs from its vehicle, the body. Each atom has seven planes of being or existence, we are taught; and each plane is governed by its specific laws of evolution and absorption. Ignorant of any, even approximate, chronological data from which to start in attempting to decide the age of our planet or the origin of the solar system, astronomers, geologists, and physicists are drifting with each new hypothesis farther and farther away from the shores of fact into the fathomless depths of speculative ontology. (I,150)

She warns, however, that this occult law has to be studied in its minutest details and provides the key to cosmic physics; but that key has to be turned seven times before one comes to understand it. One turn of the key was given in Isis Unveiled, and the key has been turned more times in The Secret Doctrine—how many times, three, four or seven, is for the intuitive student to find out. As she herself admits that only a fragment of the occult teachings has been given out by her, it cannot be said that the last word has been recorded on the great sevenfold plan. One wonders whether the last word will ever be said at all; for does not Krishna refer in the Gita to the difficult task of complete comprehension by stating: "Among thousands of mortals a single one perhaps strives for perfection, and among those so striving perhaps a single one knows me as I am"? (VII, 3)

There is, however, no need for despair or discouragement on the part of the earnest student, as this verse only pricks the bubble of the boastful claims of many learned men that they have the last word with them. For soon in the next verse is described the eightfold division of Krishna's nature:

Earth, water, fire, air, and akasa. Manas, Buddhi, and Ahankara is the eightfold division of my nature. It is inferior; know that my superior nature is different and is the knower; by it the universe is sustained; learn that the whole of creation springs from this too as from a womb; I am the cause, I am the production and dissolution of the whole universe. (VII, 4-6)

If we are to include the superior nature also, how many divisions do we get? The mind reels in the effort to cut this Gordian knot of cosmic evolution and to correlate it with the Theosophical sevenfold classification. This difficulty has been cleared to some extent by W. Q. Judge in his Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita, for, commenting on this verse, he remarks:

No particular Theosophical classification for the divisions of nature has been given out. It would, on the one hand, not be understood, and on the other, disputes leading to no good end would follow. He might as well have stated the twenty-fivefold division held by some other school. (p.133)

This not only clears the difficulty but also helps to correlate the Theosophical sevenfold classification with the sixfold one of the Vedantic School and the fourfold classification of the Taraka Raja Yoga School. Further, it is a plea for a living, dynamic understanding of the metaphysical ideas and a caution against any stratification, serving thus to clear off many of the dogmatic attitudes of priestcraft, which have led to the formation of various sects and creeds in every religion. For any rigidity in the interpretation of spiritual truths will result in the promulgation of dogmas, and this has been responsible for the crystallization of the teachings down the ages.

It is refreshing, however, to note that a major breakthrough in the field of thought was made by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, where she has revealed the sevenfold plan of universal evolution. For, on the very first page of the Proem, she describes "the abstract, ever incognizable PRESENCE, and its plane, the Universal Soul," as the one circle which is the divine Unity from which all proceeds and whither all returns, and adds:

It is on this plane that the Manvantaric manifestations begin; for it is in this SOUL that slumbers, during the Pralaya, the Divine Thought, wherein lies concealed the plan of every future Cosmogony and Theogony.

This plan involves unfoldment on seven planes, for, as described later on pages 8-9:

There is no difference between the Christian Apostle's "In Him we live and move and have our being," and the Hindu Rishi's "The Universe lives in, proceeds from, and will return to Brahma"; for Brahma (neuter), the unmanifested, is that Universe in abscondito, and Brahma, the manifested, is the Logos, made male-female in the symbolical orthodox dogmas. The God of the Apostle-Initiate and of the Rishi being both the Unseen and the Visible SPACE. Space is called in the esoteric symbolism "the Seven-Skinned Eternal Mother-Father." It is composed from its undifferentiated to its differentiated surface of seven layers.

A clearer understanding of this abstruse term "the Seven-Skinned Eternal Mother-Father" is to be found in the Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge. (pp. 2, 4)

Another important doctrine which Madame Blavatsky affirms is that behind the sevenfold plan there is no planner any more than there is a thinker behind the Divine Thought. For the plan is the working out of "the absolute universality of that law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow, which physical science has observed and recorded in all departments of nature." (S.D., I, 17)

One of the difficulties which any student of the Esoteric Science meets at the outset is this idea of the plan being without a planner, and thought without a thinker. But as the Stanza from the Book of Dzyan observes: "The causes of existence had been done away with." Explaining this, H.P.B. remarks:

"The Causes of Existence" means not only the physical causes known to science, but the metaphysical causes, the chief of which is the desire to exist, an outcome of Nidana and Maya. This desire for a sentient life shows itself in everything, from an atom to a sun, and is a reflection of the Divine Thought propelled into objective existence, into a law that the Universe should exist. According to esoteric teaching, the real cause of that supposed desire, and of all existence, remains for ever hidden, and its first emanations are the most complete abstractions mind can conceive. These abstractions must of necessity be postulated as the cause of the material Universe which presents itself to the senses and intellect; and they underlie the secondary and subordinate powers of Nature, which, anthropomorphized, have been worshipped as God and gods by the common herd of every age. It is impossible to conceive anything without a cause; the attempt to do so makes the mind a blank. This is virtually the condition to which the mind must come at last when we try to trace back the chain of causes and effects, but both science and religion jump to this condition of blankness much more quickly than is necessary; for they ignore the metaphysical abstractions which are the only conceivable cause of physical concretions. These abstractions become more and more concrete as they approach our plane of existence, until finally they phenomenalize in the form of the material Universe, by a process of conversion of metaphysics into physics, analogous to that by which steam can be condensed into water, and water frozen into ice. (S.D., I, 44-45)

This conversion of metaphysics into physics has been done in all ancient scriptures by the use of numbers and geometrical figures. But here again she writes of the two kinds of numerals to be studied—

the figures, often simple blinds, and the Sacred Numbers, the values of which are all known to the Occultists through Initiation. The former is but a conventional glyph, the latter is the basic symbol of all. That is to say, that one is purely physical, the other purely metaphysical, the two standing in relation to each other as matter stands to spirit—the extreme poles of the ONE Substance. (S.D., I, 66)

This will help the student to understand why the study of the Sciences of Arithmetic, Astronomy, Geometry and Music, held as the four divisions of Mathematics, was emphasized in the Pythagorean School.

...this explains why the Pythagoreans asserted that the doctrine of Numbers—the chief of all in Esotericism—had been revealed to man by the celestial deities; that the world had been called forth out of Chaos by Sound or Harmony, and constructed according to the principles of musical proportion; that the seven planets which rule the destiny of mortals have a harmonious motion "and intervals corresponding to musical diastemes, rendering various sounds, so perfectly consonant, that they produce the sweetest melody, which is inaudible to us, only by reason of the greatness of the sound, which our ears are incapable of receiving." (S.D., I, 433)

There are seven colours and sounds, seven Rishis and Hierarchies; the days of the week, the planets, the kingdoms of Nature, the planes of consciousness—all belong to this order of septenaries. This is a universe of thought, ideas underlying forms—the manivested Verbum or Logos being the materialization or objectivization of the Thought Divine. The pattern after which manifestation takes place is sevenfold and it serves as the model for the privative limits of Thought, even as the architect's design depicts the privative limits of the building under project. What the engineers and masons do, as the Great Builders and Dhyan Chohans have done on the Cosmic plane, is to fill them in with "matter." As the Theosophical method of education requires self-effort, individual initiative, patient search and constant inquiry, test and verification, no statement is to be accepted on blind authority. Thus, every student is on his own, and, by the close scrutiny of every observation and experience, he should be able to see the validity of the law of analogy and correspondence.

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