The Inner and the Outer

An article by Geoffrey Farthing

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An article first Published 'The Theosophist' February 1988

AS one studies classical theosophical literature one periodically comes across valuable summaries of the teachings which help to collect together ideas on what has been learnt. The more important of these summaries are found in the booklet Foundations of Esoteric Philosophy (T.P.H., 1980, I.H.H.). link to booklet The second section in that booklet is entitled 'Four Basic Ideas'. These are a reproduction of part of the notes, made by Commander Robert Bowen, of what H. P. Blavatsky (H. P. B.) was telling a small group of students in the weeks before she died. link to Bowen Notes The last of these basic ideas is contained in the great Hermetic Axiom which, Commander Bowen says, really sums up and synthesizes all the others. It is as follows: 'As is the Inner, so is the Outer; as is the Great, so is the Small; as it is Above, so it is Below; there is but ONE LIFE AND LAW, and he that worketh it is ONE. Then, paradoxically, the axiom proceeds, 'Nothing is Inner, nothing is Outer; nothing is Great, nothing is Small; nothing is High and nothing is Low, in the Divine Economy'

The other basic ideas which are summarized in this axiom are essentially, (a) 'The Fundamental Unity of all Existence' - this states that 'all existence is ONE THING'. (b) 'There is no Dead Matter'; every atom is alive and, (c) 'Man is the MICROCOSM'. If this is so, then all the Hierarchies of the Heavens exist within him.

Older students who have lived with the Doctrine for many years will know how illuminating these basic ideas are, particularly when they are expanded as in the Bowen notes. They begin to know how these words, essentially only symbols in themselves, relate to a reality of ever increasing significance.

We come across the words Inner and Outer many times in our reading. They are a pair from a whole series of dichotomies which include for example the Real and the Unreal, the Unmanifest and the Manifest, the Immortal and the Mortal, the Subjective and the Objective, the Permanent and the Impermanent, Noumena and Phenomena.

So what are the Inner and the Outer, or the Within and the Without as we sometimes say, in the sense that we are now trying to discover, and what, if anything, is their relationship? In letter 22 of The Mahatma Letters to A.P Sinnett there is the following, which is very valuable for the insight it gives us into the ultimate nature of matter:

There is a moment in the existence of every molecule and atom of matter when, for one cause or another, the last spark of spirit or motion or life (call it by whatever name) is withdrawn, and in the same instant with the swiftness which surpasses that of the lightning glance of thought, the atom or molecule or an aggregation of molecules, is annihilated to return to its pristine purity of intra-cosmic matter. It is drawn to the mother fount with the velocity of a globule of quicksilver to the central mass. Matter, force and motion, are the trinity of physical objective nature, as the trinitarian unity of spirit-matter is that of the spiritual or subjective nature. Motion is eternal because spirit is eternal, but no modes of motion can ever be conceived unless they be in connection with matter.

Apart from whatever else is said in that extract, including a brief glimpse of 'That' from which all comes and to which all returns, we see the sense in which the Master uses the words, Objective and Subjective. Our thought is given a direction. The Outer or the Without is our objective physical world, of which we, regarded as physical beings, are a part. Because most of us wholly identify with this objective 'self' it becomes our very self in our ordinary environment. This objective physical world is the whole sphere of our sensual experience. It is the world that we know through our senses, the world of colour, sound, taste, smell and of movement or activity, of physical forces and relationships, all at the material level. The Inner or the Within is the realm of the 'spirit' in whatever sense we use that word (apart from its physical connotations). The Within then is the great invisible world, largely unknown to us directly, but certainly known by its effects. It is the world of abstracts, of qualities, which manifest in our physical world in the characteristics of things. These qualities pervade the cosmos in what are referred to in the Doctrine as the Elements. They have their correspondences in our qualities such as those of perseverance, patience, affection, likes and dislikes. The Inner world is also that of emotions, of hopes, of fears, of happy expectancy or foreboding. As well as these it is the world of motives, of ambition, of greed, of lust and so on. It is also the realm of devotion, aspiration, loyalty and courage. The Within is the world of thought with its various modes of analysis and comparison; it is the home of aesthetics, of apperception and of judgement, the recognition of truth and of what we call religious or mystical experience, thence of conscience. All these are interior activities arising in the depths of the inner man. Lastly in the inmost recesses resides the Spiritual Will, the internal Supreme Ruler, the ultimate arbiter of our personal fate.

We learn in theosophical literature that none of these qualities or modes of activity, whether they be Inner or Outer, could exist or well up within us had they not their counterpart in the cosmic whole from which man can in no way separate himself. This is a tremendous truth which may take many years to appreciate. Here we could remind ourselves of the words often used in esoteric literature: the cosmos is worked from within outwards.

So this is the internal, the Within, in the cosmic sense. This is particularly the area of theosophical teaching which tells us of a multi-regional area of life activity operating at various interior levels, and reflecting into the physical. They are, on the one hand pre-physical or pre-material in the evolutionary time scale and on the other post-human. For us these inner levels are necessarily subjective ones. They are the realms of the Elementals, the Devas, etc. at one end of the scale and of the Dhyan Chohans at the other. The Dhyan Chohans are the rulers of Nature's complex being and functions, whilst the Elementals and Devas are their servants, the workmen.

The second basic idea in the Bowen notes, that there is no dead matter, means that the constituents of the various levels in the cosmic being, whatever they may be, are all living entities. Each such entity, whether it is very high in the scheme or very low, has its characteristic qualities, and its essential nature. This nature determines the role that it fulfils in that scheme. Everything plays a part for which it is especially fitted. What we are saying here is that the inner realms of being, as well as the outer, are not only inhabited by living beings but are composed of them, and herein lies another important key to our understanding of the cosmic process, particularly as it relates to our inner activities. According to the theosophical teaching, every entity is sevenfold. Every being has its seven principles, whether it be a solar system or an atom. This interlinks it to every other being in the cosmos, and connects it with the Within and the Without of the whole manifested cosmos. Our external and our internal being and activities are thereby linked to the beings which comprise the levels wherein these characteristic qualities and activities originate. If we see that this is so, we understand why the Master in his letter says that 'no modes of motion can ever be conceived unless they be in connection with matter'. It is only through matter that anything can 'be' or be effective, but matter must not be taken here to mean only physical matter. The student of the Doctrine will have learned of the nature of the 'primeval stuff' of which, by differentiation and aggregation, the whole cosmos is composed, both in its inner and outer states. It is the primeval Substance Principle in its two aspects of Spirit and Matter. This however is in the beginning a pre-manifestation state of affairs. In manifestation, Spirit can only operate in, or manifest through, Matter. This means that no being, however lofty, can be 'pure' Spirit.

In spite of Spirit by itself being 'mere abstraction', as the Master says, we do refer to spirits as entities. For example, we refer to the Spirits of the Planets and relate them to the Seven Spirits first emanated from the Logos who set the keynotes of all qualities of kind, variety, characteristic form, colour, and so on of everything in the cosmos or at least in our solar system. There is nothing that does not partake of their nature. All that we human beings are, in our essence, and in all aspects of our manifest beings, reflects the qualities of these great Spirits or Beings. In their aggregate they represent the Macrocosm as we, miniature reflections of them, are the Microcosm. All the elements or principles of our being derive either from them, i.e. the higher Hierarchies or the Elementals. The Elementals comprise the inner principles of the atoms of all beings and they also ensoul the living components of our physical bodies. Our human form and constitution is modelled on the Dhyan Chohanic one. In this sense we are made in 'the image and likeness of God'. Our constitution and our essential nature are now beginning to be seen to be complex indeed with the inner worlds playing a very important part in our make-up.

It is so with our spiritual nature, our Ego, the three principles of which correspond to the three higher aspects of the great cosmic beings. It is at these levels that we too, as individuals, are 'Spirits' of the Dhyan Chohanic order; here is the seat of our divine, immortal nature. As man advances on his evolutionary journey, on the ascending arc as it is called, the objective physical or outer side of his nature diminishes in relative importance, while the subjective, inner side of his nature increases; it begins to occupy his attention more and more at the expense of the lower aspects of his nature. It is in the light of this expanding spiritual awareness that he comes to the realization that there is in fact but 'One Life and Law' The sentence in the Axiom following this is, 'he that worketh it is ONE'. For the now awakening man this is seen to have considerable meaning. However, the picture is still very complex. All beings in nature are composite. Their beings are made up of lesser beings. This is a rule that applies throughout. It means that even the Dhyan Chohans and the Planetary Spirits are themselves composite. These greater beings are collective as units. They have a correspondence in the kingdom of Nature, and in this sense humanity can be seen to be a collective entity. This constituent nature of all things has another aspect, that these collective beings, functioning at ever higher and higher levels, operate the Law. They know the mind of 'god' and, at their level of being, play their part in the operation of the whole scheme, each hierarchy doing the 'will' of the one above it. At the higher level, of course, there is only the ONE: and in the ONE, the Law and its operation are the same thing.

This introduces us to a whole new field of exploration which is set out in the second part of the Hermetic Axiom as follows: 'Nothing is Inner, nothing is Outer; nothing is Great, nothing is Small; nothing is High, nothing is Low, in the Divine Economy.' This appears to contradict the first part of the Axiom wherein the Inner and Outer and the Great and the Small and the Above and the Below are seen as aspects of being. The second half of the Axiom introduces us to the most difficult aspects of the theosophical Doctrine. It can be approached, however, through such statements as, in the inner worlds space and time do not exist, or, subjective space is dimensionless.

We are almost wholly conditioned to think of 'things' in terms of time, magnitude and degree. If, however, we would get a true insight of the nature of the spiritual, inner realm, we have somehow or other completely to reorientate our thinking or our viewpoint. We have to abandon many of the concepts which so far we have used to understand the nature of the cosmos. H.P.B. refers to this conceptualization process as picturemaking, and says that our pictures have continually to change. At the end it seems we have to abandon them altogether. We have to find another way. The last half of the Hermetic Axiom may perhaps be understood in terms of potentiality; as an abstraction this takes up no space, neither objective nor subjective. The idea of potentiality is obviously dimensionless; having got it we can then start to apply particulars to it. We can think of it in terms of the characteristics of the beings which comprise the cosmos. Again these characteristics can be considered as abstracts. It is in these terms that they can be thought of as timeless, dimensionless and ubiquitous. They are in this wise ever present, everywhere. They are not only ever present in terms of location wherever we may happen to be in the cosmos, but they are also ever present in terms of time. They never cease to be. They have no magnitude. This gives us a clue then to the statement that nothing is Great, nothing is Small. If space is dimensionless, nothing can be distant from any other 'thing', There cannot be a distinction between Inner and Outer; nor in matters of degree can there be a Higher or a Lower, not only in terms of altitude but in terms of degree, say, of excellence. It is ultimately the totality of these abstractions which comprise the unity of non-manifest existence. Everything, however, is contained therein. This is the ultimate subjective state. This is the very essence of Spirit and it is also the totality of the Divine Economy in the inmost centre. It is the Centre, the Fount and Origin of everything, the point within the Circle, the Germ. It is this that the meditator knows in his deepest contemplation.

Has all this speculation and possible insight any practical application? Does it help us in our life's journey? For many it will have no meaning, but for some it will become a guiding light. H.P.B. refers to it as a beacon. In its light a man comes to realize the potentialities that lie latent within him. He also sees something of his responsibilities. He has of necessity a part to play as a constituent member of that composite entity, the human brotherhood. He comes to see himself as part of the cosmic evolutionary process, and as a conscious part he cannot evade fulfilling his destiny by playing his proper part in it. To do this effectively he has to grow in all departments of his being, but particularly has he to grow in knowledge and wisdom. He must become an aspirant after truth. He seeks, finds and appreciates the books that give him guidance. One such book mentioned by H.P.B. is, apart from our great classics, Light on the Path, and therein he finds the instruction: 'Seek out the way. Seek the way by retreating within. Seek the way by advancing boldly without.' (Verses 17, 18 and 19.) We now know that the 'within' is our subjective, inner nature, the realm of free, pure consciousness and will. The 'without' is the realm of conditioned existence, which can be our psychological and our sensual world. Eventually all is to be brought under the dominion of the inmost, sovereign, spiritual Will.


First Published 'The Theosophist' February 1988

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