I’ve just discovered an old classic whose title I have heard and read mentioned time and again. It’s a classic for a reason. There’s hardly a sentence that doesn’t add insight or new perspective. I’m talking about Man The Measure of All Things, by Sri Krishna Prem and Sri Madhava Ashish. I suspect this book alone will give me more than enough to blog about for weeks if not months. I’ll be writing a full review on the page I link to above, but since this is the first blogpost devoted to the subject, I’ll introduce it here too.
Sri Madhava Ashish was apparently a disciple of Sri Krishna Prem (Ronald Henry Nixon, 1898-1965), a former theosophist who moved to India and became a devotee of Sri Krishna (hence his spiritual name). Henry Nixon had written a commentary on Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, or the stanzas there in, but had never finished it enough to make a book. He gave Madhava Ashish permission to finish it. The result is the first book I’ve read in ages that balances serious thought and spiritual inspiration.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s book The Secret Doctrine consists of two parts: first cosmogenesis, an account of the way the universe came into being, second anthropogenesis, an account of the evolution of mankind. Both are structured as commentaries on The Stanzas of Dzyan. Blavatsky claims these stanzas are from an ancient hidden manuscript accessible only to the highest initiates. She translated selected verses and their commentaries into English and commented on them to create her magnum opus. This structure of enigmatic verses, being commented on and then the comments themselves getting elaborated is a normal affair in Indian philosophy. Blavatsky uses the science of her day as well as her insight into the nature of being in her commentary. The result is a book that is still influential today. However, it’s not an easy book, which is why every once in a while someone attempts an abridgement, the latest by Michael Gomes.
Krishna Prem did something else entirely, he started on the Stanzas of Dzyan and commented on them afresh, though clearly having read the rest as well. It is hard to write about this book, as it speaks so well for itself. Consider these thoughts:
This, however, is the real purpose of the ancient cosmogonies: to invite us to turn our gaze inwards to the source and origin both of the ‘outer’ universe of phenomena and of the ‘inner’ universe of consciousness, to find there the ever-present and eternal simultaneity of what is here seen as a flow of separate events in time; and above all, to fathom the ultimate mystery of selfhood.
But what has the Self, the mysterious root of human consciousness, got to do with a cosmogony, an account of the origination of the material universe? Such a question can only arise when, as most of us do, we explicitly or implicitly draw distinctions between ourselves and the things (phenomena or sense experience) around us: things we desire or fear to possess; events we desire or fear will happen; qualities of mind or feeling that add to or subtract from our self-opinion; things we value as adding to our pleasure, power or importance (etc.) (pp. 17, 18)
I hope it is clear from these few sentences that it is not everyday man (or woman) that is seen as the measure of all things. It’s the ideal person, that is seen as a symbol and representation of the Ultimate, the Real, the Total Universe. One of the ways in which each human being is a symbol of the universe is in the sense that in us all the levels of being are represented, if the highest only in possibility. From the physical through life force, emotion, thought and divine inspiration – all of that is a reflection of similar aspects inherent in the universe itself. In each of us individually there is usually a weight towards one aspect or another. Too much thought, too much emotion or too much attention to the physical. In most of us the divine gets hidden by all the other aspects of our being that demand attention with a far louder voice. It’s not for nothing that Blavatsky called her main devotional work ‘The Voice of the Silence‘. That still small voice will never force itself on anybody. It speeks quietly when all else in us is still.
Madhava Ashish puts it like this:
If we make an effort to isolate our selfhood from the phenomena of sense, one of the things we see is that, apart from the conventions of ownership, we do not really possess anything, not even our bodies. We are usually in the position of observers, often against our will, of a flow of ‘external’ or ‘internal’ events, and we are led to question whether those events have independent reality apart from an observer.
This is where the problem of self meets the problem of matter. We have to find an integral understanding of all experience which will resolve the dilemma in the interdependence of conscious observer and content of experience. (p. 18)