It is common to make a sharp separation between knowledge and being, truth and reality, between what we affirm to be true or false and what exists or is non-existent. This distinction, which we have inherited from the Greeks, is valuable in itself and is fundamental to modern thought. On the other hand, in classical Indian tradition as in pre-Socratic thought echoed in Plato, truth and reality are often used as interchangeable terms and we are taught that there is a higher level of awareness and apprehension beyond the sensory field in which our knowing and what is known are united and even transcended in a sense of immediate vision and absorption in what is seen. This identification of truth and reality was reaffirmed by Gandhi in his insistence that truth is that which is and error that which is not. Most of what we normally call knowledge has clearly nothing to do with truth as Gandhi understood it, and we are right to distinguish it from being. The modern man is neither willing nor able to grasp reality; he has been trained to develop and use his reason and his feeling in a manner that can give partial formulations of the truth or passing sensations of particular sense-objects. Once we accept the notion that man can be separated and detached from nature, human knowledge and sensation cannot attain to an intuitive insight into the Tattwas, the essences of things. If, however, we start with the ancient axiom that man is the microcosm of the macrocosm, then we can see that the extent of truth that is available to any man is connected with the plane of reality on which he functions. Hence the importance of H.P.Blavatsky's advocacy of the Platonic standpoint which was abandoned by Aristotle, who was no Initiate, and who has had such a dominant influence upon subsequent thinking in the West.

 In theosophical thought we start with a clear conception of the notion of absolute abstract Truth or Reality, SAT, from which is derived satya or truth. The First Fundamental Proposition of The Secret Doctrine urges us to set out with the postulate that there is one absolute Reality which antecedes all manifested, conditioned being, which is attributeless, which is "Be-ness" rather than Being and is beyond the range and reach of all thought and speculation. Paranishpanna, the summum bonum, is that final state of subjectivity which has no relation to anything but the one absolute Truth (Paramarthasatya) on its plane. Sooner or later, all that now seemingly exists will be in reality in the state of Paranishpanna, the state which leads one to appreciate correctly the full meaning of Non-Being or of absolute Being. But there is a great difference between conscious and unconscious "being." "The condition of Paranishpanna, without Paramartha, the Self-analyzing consciousness (Svasamvedana), is no bliss, but simply extinction."

 The Greeks were then right to distinguish between reality as it presents itself to finite human minds and reality as it is or would be to the Divine Mind. "Divine Thought" does not necessitate the idea of a single Divine thinker. The Universe is in its totality the SAT, with the past and the future crystallized in an eternal Present, the Divine Thought reflected in a secondary or manifest cause. However, as man is indissolubly linked with the universe, and his Manas is connected with MAHAT, it is possible for man to bridge the gap between truth and reality, between knowledge and being, by conscious effort. As man becomes more and more self-conscious, and less and less passive, in his awareness of the universe, he must abandon the distinction between truth and knowledge and redefine his notion of truth so as to make it identical with reality. The real distinction is between head-learning and soul-wisdom. What the pundit or the ignoramus regards as truth is error to the sage and the Adept. The Adept has realized the non-separateness of all that lives and his own unity with the "Rootless Root" of all, which is pure knowledge (Sattwa, which Shankara took to mean Buddhi), eternal, unconditioned reality or SAT.

 The world in which we live is itself the shadow of a shadowy reflection, twice removed, of the "World of Truth" or SAT, through which the direct energy that radiates from the ONE REALITY reaches us. That which is manifested cannot be SAT, but is something phenomenal, not everlasting or even sempiternal. This "World of Truth" is described as "a bright star dropped from the heart of Eternity; the beacon of hope on whose Seven Rays hang the Seven Worlds of Being." The visible sun is itself only the material shadow of the Central Sun of Truth, which illuminates the invisible, intellectual world of Spirit. The ideal conception of the universe is a Golden Egg, with a positive pole that acts in the manifested world of matter, while the negative pole is lost in the unknowable absoluteness of SAT or Be-ness. The first cosmic aspect of the esoteric SAT is the Universal Mind, MAHAT, "the manifested Omniscience," the root of SELF-Consciousness. The spirit of archaic philosophy cannot be comprehended unless we thoroughly assimilate the concepts of SAT and Asat.

Asat is not merely the negation of Sat, nor is it the "not yet existing"; for Sat is in itself neither the "existent," nor "being." SAT is the immutable, the ever present, changeless and eternal root, from and through which all proceeds. But it is far more than the potential force in the seed, which propels onward the process of development, or what is now called evolution. It is the ever becoming, though the never manifesting. Sat is born from Asat, and ASAT is begotten by Sat: the perpetual motion in a circle, truly; yet a circle that can be squared only at the supreme Initiation, at the threshold of Paranirvana.

The Secret Doctrine, II, 449-50

 The Theosophical Trinity is composed of the Sun (the Father), Mercury or Hermes or Budha (the Son), and Venus or Lucifer, the morning Star (the Holy Ghost, Sophia, the Spirit of Wisdom, Love and Truth). To these three correspond Atma, Buddhi and Manas in man.

 It is useful to distinguish between absolute and relative truth, between truth and error, between reality and illusion, between Paramarthasatya and Samvritisatya. Paramartha is self-consciousness and the word is made up of parama (above everything) and artha (comprehension); and Satya means absolute true being, or esse. The opposite of this absolute reality, or actuality, is Samvritisatya, the relative truth only, Samvriti meaning "false conception" and being the origin of illusion, Maya; it is illusion-creating appearance. The two obstacles to the attainment of Paramarthasatya are Parikalpita, the error of believing something to exist or to be real which does not exist and is unreal, and Paratantra, that which exists only through a dependent or causal connection. As a result of Parikalpita, we get tamasic knowledge or "truth," which is based upon an obsession with the sole reality of a single object or thought, which is, in essence, unreal and non-existent. As a result of Paratantra, we get rajasic knowledge or "truth," based upon a concern with the differences between seemingly separate, but interdependent and ephemeral, things.

 When we have developed the faculties necessary to go beyond Parikalpita and Paratantra, we begin to get sattvic knowledge or truth, based upon the recognition of the unity of all things, their common identity on a single plane of universal, ultimate reality. This is itself only an approximation, imperfect and inadequate, to absolute Truth. Whereas relative truth is ephemeral and can be the subject of controversy and is eventually extinguished, absolute Truth is enduring, beyond dispute and can never be destroyed. Whereas relative truth will triumph over error, absolute Truth ever shines, regardless of whether there are martyrs and witnesses ready to vindicate it and die for it. Hence "the failure to sweep away entirely from the face of the earth every vestige of that ancient Wisdom, and to shackle and gag every witness who testified to it." And yet, in the world of manifestation, every error proliferates other errors rapidly, while each truth has to be painfully discovered. "Error runs down an inclined plane, while Truth has to laboriously climb its way uphill," says an old proverb.

 The Theosophist is, in a sense, a Berkeleian phenomenalist and holds to the axiom, esse est percipi (to exist is to be perceived), in regard to all relative truths. Everything that exists has only a relative reality since the appearance which the hidden noumenon assumes for any observer depends upon his power of cognition. Maya or illusion is an element which, therefore, enters into all finite things. The cognizer is also a reflection and the things cognized are therefore as real to him as he himself is. Nothing is permanent except the one hidden absolute existence which contains in itself the noumena of all realities. Everything is illusion outside of eternal Truth, which has neither form, colour, nor limitation. He who has placed himself beyond the veil of maya, the Adept and Initiate, can have no Devachan. Whatever plane our consciousness may be acting in, both we and the things belonging to that plane are, for the time being, our only realities. Relative truths are relative to our plane of perception at any given time in any particular situation.

 As we rise in the scale of development we perceive that during the stages through which we have passed we mistook shadows for realities, and the upward progress of the Ego is a series of progressive awakenings, each advance bringing with it the idea that now, at last, we have reached "reality"; but only when we shall have reached the absolute Consciousness, and blended our own with it, shall we be free from the delusions produced by Maya.

The Secret Doctrine, I, 40

 Ideologies or systems which claim to be the absolute Truth are clearly tamasic, static and doomed to atrophy and decay and final extinction. Dogmas and claims to uniqueness are rajasic, partial and ephemeral, ever changing and destined to disappear. In ideologies and dogmas are to be contained the seeds of violence because they violate the absolute truth of unity and endow relative truths with the evil aura of the dire heresy of separateness, the greatest of all sins and their common source. When one party or another, when one sect or the other, thinks itself to be the sole possessor of absolute Truth, it becomes only natural that it should think its neighbour absolutely in the clutches of error or of the "devil," requiring to be redeemed by force or threats or intimidation, i.e., to be shocked into acquiescence by verbal or physical violence. Alternatively, it may attempt to seduce the unwary by subtle propaganda and theological or political bribes.

 But once get a man to see that none of them has the whole truth, but that they are mutually complementary, that the complete truth can be found only in the combined views of all, after that which is false in each of them has been sifted out – then true brotherhood in religion will be established.

The Key to Theosophy


unless every man is brought to understand, and accept as an axiomatic truth that by wronging one man we wrong not only ourselves but the whole of humanity in the long run, no brotherly feelings such as preached by all the great Reformers, pre-eminently by Buddha and Jesus, are possible on earth.

That which is true on the metaphysical plane must also be true on the physical plane. Satya entails ahimsa, and the degree of ahimsa that a man possesses is the measure of the satya that he embodies.

 THEOSOPHIA is identical with SAT or Absolute Truth, and Theosophy is only a partial emanation from it, the shoreless ocean of universal Truth reflecting the rays of the sun of SAT. In The Secret Doctrine, H.P.Blavatsky declared that only the outline of a few fundamental truths from the Secret Doctrine of the archaic ages was now permitted to see the light after long millenniums of the most profound silence and secrecy. "That which must remain unsaid could not be contained in a hundred such volumes, nor could it be imparted to the present generation of Sadducees." The great truths, which are the inheritance of the future races, cannot be given out at present, as the fate of every such unfamiliar truth is that, if it falls into the hands of the unready, they will only deceive themselves and deceive others, as the Masters have warned. As esoteric truth is made exoteric, absolute Truth is not only reduced to the illusive plane of the relative, but casts a shadow on the delusive plane of error. Occult Wisdom, dealing with eternal truths and primal causes, becomes almost omnipotent when applied in the right direction; its antithesis is that which deals with illusions and false appearances only, as in our exoteric modern sciences, with their immense power of destruction.

 The ancients managed to throw a thick veil over the nucleus of truth concealed by archetypal symbols, but they also tried to preserve the latter as a record for future generations, sufficiently transparent to allow their wisest men to discern that truth behind the fabulous form of the glyph or allegory. The whole essence of truth cannot be transmitted from mouth to ear, nor can any pen describe it, unless man finds the answer in the innermost depths of his divine intuitions. No religious founder invented or revealed a new truth as they were all transmitters.

 Selecting one or more of those grand verities – actualities visible only to the eye of the real Sage and Seer – out of the many orally revealed to man in the beginning, preserved and perpetuated in the adyta of the temples through initiation, during the MYSTERIES and by personal transmission – they revealed these truths to the masses. Thus every nation received in its turn some of the said truths, under the veil of its own local and special symbolism.

The Secret Doctrine, I, xxxvi

 Those who do not relish the distinction between esoteric and exoteric truth, the elect and the multitudes, do not really appreciate the tremendous practical potency of pure truths, and the danger of their misuse. In the Milindapanha we are told about the magical power of an act of truth, the power of a pure soul who has embodied a truth and enacted it in his daily life and who can work magic by the simple act of calling that fact to witness. In Theosophical literature, we are clearly told that a man must set and model his daily life upon the truth that the end of life is action and not thought; only such a man becomes worthy of the name of a Theosophist. "The profession of a truth is not yet the enactment of it." But truth, however distasteful to the generally blind multitudes, has always had her champions and martyrs. Endless is the search for truth, but we secure it only if we are willing to incarnate it in our own lives. "Let us love it and aspire to it for its own sake, and not for the glory or benefit a minute portion of its revelation may confer on us."

 Theosophy thus teaches the transforming power of truth and affirms the teaching of the Gospel, "Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free." The early Gnostics claimed that their Science, the GNOSIS, rested on a square, the angles of which represented Sige (Silence), Bythos (depth), Nous (Spiritual Soul or Mind), and Aletheia (Truth). The cultists are fighting against divine Truth, when repudiating and slandering the Dragon of esoteric Wisdom. But

no great truth was ever accepted a priori, and generally a century or two passed before it began to glimmer in the human consciousness as a possible verity, except in such eases as the positive discovery of the thing claimed as a fact. The truths of today are the falsehoods and errors of yesterday, and vice versa.

The Secret Doctrine, II, 442

 It is only in the Seventh Race that all error will be made away with, and the advent of Truth will be heralded by the holy "Sons of Light." Meanwhile the Golden Age of the past will not be realized in the future till humanity, as a whole, feels the need of it. In The Key to Theosophy we are told: –

 A maxim in the Persian "Javidan Khirad" says: "Truth is of two kinds – one manifest and self-evident; the other demanding incessantly new demonstrations and proofs." It is only when this latter kind of truth becomes as universally obvious as it is now dim, and therefore liable to be distorted by sophistry and casuistry; it is only when the two kinds will have become once more one, that all people will be brought to see alike.

Truth, in the former sense, is identical with reality and cuts across the distinction between knowledge and being. Truth, in the latter sense, presupposes this distinction, but also requires us to transcend it, for we cannot effectively demonstrate truth until we embody and become the truth, until we carry out the injunction: "Become what thou art."

 O Teacher, what shall I do to reach to Wisdom?

 O Wise one, what, to gain perfection?

 Search for the Paths. But, O Lanoo, be of clean heart before thou startest on thy journey. Before thou takest thy first step, learn to discern the real from the false, the ever-fleeting from the everlasting. Learn above all to separate Head-learning from Soul-wisdom, the "Eye" from the "Heart" doctrine.

 Yea, ignorance is like unto a closed and airless vessel; the soul a bird shut up within. It warbles not, nor can it stir a feather; but the songster mute and torpid sits, and of exhaustion dies.

 But even ignorance is better than Head-learning with no Soul-wisdom to illuminate and guide it.

 The seeds of Wisdom cannot sprout and grow in airless space. To live and reap experience, the mind needs breadth and depth and points to draw it towards the Diamond Soul. Seek not those points in Maya's realm; but soar beyond illusions, search the eternal and the changeless SAT, mistrusting fancy's false suggestions.

 For mind is like a mirror; it gathers dust while it reflects. It needs the gentle breezes of Soul-wisdom to brush away the dust of our illusions. Seek, O Beginner, to blend thy Mind and Soul.

The Voice of the Silence

Hermes, September 1975
by Raghavan Iyer