What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
Man being the subject of these Essays, it is first proper to explain what will be meant therein by the word.
Man is a microcosm: that is, an image (concentrated around the point of consciousness) of the macrocosm, or Universe. This Theorem is guaranteed by the hylo-idealistic demonstration that the perceptible Universe is an extension, or phantasm, of the nervous system.
It follows that all phenomena, internal and external, may be classified for the purpose of discussing their observed relations, in any manner which experience may show to be the most convenient. (Examples: the elaborate classifications of science, chemical, physical, etc., etc. There is no essential truth in any of these aids to thinking: convenience is the sole measure.) Now for the purposes of analysing the spiritual nature of man, of recording and measuring his experiences in this kind, of planning his progress to loftier heights of attainment, several systems have been devised. That of the Abhidhamma is on the surface alike the most practical, the most scientific, and the most real; but for European students it is certainly far too unwieldly, to say nothing of other lines of criticism.
Therefore, despite the danger of vagueness involved in the use of a system whose terms are largely symbolic, I have, for many reasons, preferred to present to the world as an international basis for classification, the classico-mathematical system which is vulgarly and erroneously (though conveniently) called the Qabalah.
The Qabalah, that is, the Jewish Tradition concerning the initiated interpretation of their Scriptures, is mostly either unintelligible or nonsense. But it contains as it ground-plan the most precious jewel of human thought, that geometrical arrangement of names and numbers which is called the Tree of Life. I call it the most precious, because I have found it the most convenient method hitherto discovered of classifying the phenomena of the Universe, and recording their relations. Whereof the proof is the amazing fertility of thought which has followed my adoption of this scheme.
Since all phenomena soever may be referred to the Tree of Life (which may be multiplied or subdivided at will for convenience’ sake) it is evidently useless to attempt any complete account of it. The correspondences of each unit—the Ten Sephiroth and the Two-and-Twenty Paths—are infinite. The art of using it consists principally in referring all our ideas to it, discovering thus the common nature of certain things and the essential differences between others, so that ultimately one obtains a simple view of the incalculably vast complexity of the Universe.
The whole subject must be studied in the Book 777, and the main attributions committed to memory: then when by constant use the system is at last understood—as opposed to being merely memorised—the student will find fresh light break in on him at every turn as he continues to measure every item of new knowledge that he attains by this Standard. For to him the Universe will then begin to appear as a coherent and a necessary Whole.
For the purpose of studying these Little Essays, it will be sufficient if a bare outline of the Cosmic Theory which they imply be given: but it may be added that, the fuller the comprehension of the Tree of Life which the reader brings to them, the clearer will their thought appear, and the more cogent their conclusions.
This is the quintessential principle of the Soul, that which makes man at the same time identical with every other spark of Godhead, and different (as regards his point-of-view, and the Universe of which it is the centre) from all others. It is a Point, possessing only position; and that position is only definable by reference to co-ordinate exes, to secondary principles, which only pertain to it per accidents, and must be postulated as our conception grows.
This is the Creative Impulse or Will of Jechidah, the energy which demands the formulation of the co-ordinate axes aforesaid, so that Jechidah may obtain self-realisation, a formal understanding of what is implicit in its nature, of its possible qualities.
This is the faculty of understanding the Word of Chiah. It is the intelligence or intuition of what Jechidah wishes to discover about itself.
These three principles constitute a Trinity; they are one, because they represent the being, and apparatus which will make the manifestation possible, of a God, in manhood. But they are only, so to speak, the mathematical structure of man’s nature. One might compare them with the laws of physics as they are before they are discovered. There are as yet no data by whose examination they may be discerned.
A conscious man, according, cannot possibly know anything of these three principles, although they constitute his essence. It is the work of Initiation to journey inwards to them. See, in the Oath of a Probationer of A∴A∴ “I pledge myself to discover the nature and powers of my own Being.”
this triune principle being wholly spiritual, all that can be said about it is really negative. And it is complete in itself. Beyond it stretches what is called The Abyss. This doctrine is extremely difficult to explain; but it corresponds more or less to the gap in thought between the Real, which is ideal, and the Unreal, which is actual. In the Abyss all things exist, indeed, at least in posse, but are without any possible meaning; for they lack the substratum of spiritual Reality. They are appearances without Law. They are thus Insane Delusions.
Now the Abyss being thus the great storehouse of Phenomena, it is the source of all impressions. And the Triune Principle has intended a machine for investigating the Universe; and this machine is the fourth Principle of Man.
This may be translated Mind, Spirit, or Intellect: none of these is satisfactory, the connotation varying with every writer. The Ruach is a closely-knitted group of Five Moral and Intellectual principles, concentrated on their core, Tiphareth, the Principle of Harmony, the Human Consciousness and Will of which the four other Sephiroth are (so to speak) the feelers. And these five principles culminate in a sixth, Daäth, Knowledge. But this is not really a principle; it contains in itself the germ of self-contradiction and so of self-destruction. It is a false principle: for. as soon as Knowledge is analysed, it breaks up into the irrational dust of the Abyss.
Man’s aspiration to Knowledge is thus simply a false road: it is to spin ropes of sand.
We cannot here enter into the doctrine of the “Fall of Adam,” invented to explain in parable how it is that the Universe is so unfortunately constituted. We are concerned only with the observed facts.
All these mental and moral faculties of the Ruach, while not purely spiritual like the Supernal Triad, are still, as it were, “in the air.” To be of use, they need a basis through which to receive impressions, much as a machine requires fuel and fodder before it can manufacture the article which it is designed to produce.
This is usually translated the “Animal Soul.” It is the vehicle of the Ruach, the instrument by which the Mind is brought into contact with the dust of Matter in the Abyss, that it may feel it, judge it, and react to it. This is itself a principle still spiritual, in a sense; the actual body of man os composed of the dust of Matter, temporarily held together by the Principles which inform it, for their own purposes, and ultimately for the supreme purposes of self-realisation of Jechidah.
But Nephesch, devised as it is with no other object that the direct traffic with Matter, tends to partake of its incoherence. Its faculties of perceiving pain and pleasure lure it into paying undue attention to one set of phenomena, into shunning another. Hence, for the Nephesch to do its work as it should, it requires to be dominated by the severest discipline. Nor is the Ruach itself to be trusted in this matter. It has its own tendencies to weakness and injustice. It tries every trick—and it is diabolically clever—to arrange its business with Matter in the sense most convenient to its inertia, without the smallest consideration of its duty to the Supernal Triad, cut off as that is from its comprehension; indeed, unsuspecting as it normally is of its existence.
What then determines Tiphareth, the Human Will, to aspire to comprehend Neschamah, to submit itself to the divine Will of Chiah?
Nothing but the realisation, born sooner or later of agonising experience, that its whole relation through Ruach and Nephesch with Matter, i.e., with the Universe, is, and must be, only painful. The senselessness of the whole procedure sickens it. It begins to seek for some menstruum in which the Universe may become intelligible, useful and enjoyable. In Qabalistic language, it aspires to Neschamah.
This is what we mean in saying that the Trance of Sorrow is the motive of the Great Work.
This “Trance of Sorrow” (which must be well-distinguished from any petty personal despair, and “conviction of sin,” or other black magical imitations) being cosmic in scope, comprehending all phenomena actual or potential, is then already an Opening of the Sphere of Neschamah. The awareness of one’s misfortune is itself an indication of the remedy. It sets the seeker on the right road, and as he develops his Neschamah he soon attains other Experiences of this high order. Her learns the meaning of his own true Will, to pronounce his own Word, to identify himself with Chiah.
Finally, realising Chiah as the dynamic aspect of Jechidah, he becomes that pure Being, at once universal and individual, equally nothing, One, and All.
It is of the essence of the Ideas of the Supernal Triad that the Laws of Reason which apply to intellectual functions are no longer operative. Hence it is impossible to convey the nature of these Experiences in rational language. Further, their scope is infinite in every direction, so that it would be futile to attempt to enumerate or to describe them in detail. All that one can do is to note the common types in very general language, and to indicate what experience has shown to be the most useful main lines of research.
The Quest of the Holy Grail, the Search for the Stone of the Philosophers—by whatever name we choose to call the Great Work—is therefore endless. Success only opens up new avenues of brilliant possibility. Yea, verily, and Amen! the task is tireless and its joys without bounds; for the whole Universe, and all that in it is, what is it but the infinite playground of the Crowned and Conquering Child, of the insatiable, the innocent, the ever-rejoicing Heir of Space and Eternity, whose name is MAN?