THE SYMBOLIC LIFE
The lives of great spiritual personages — and there may be some in fields not commonly associated with "spirituality," including statesmanship — are truly rituals. Every major event in these lives should be understood as a ritualistic act whose archetypal character can be revealed to the consciousness able to see through the existential facts and perceive the place these facts occupy within the life of the person considered as a significant whole. The life is significant because it brings the individual person and his socio-cultural environment into a relationship which clearly fulfills an evolutionary or historical need of mankind, or of some portion of mankind. The more basic this need and the more important the function of the great personage, the more perceptible the archetypal character of the events of his life.
In the lives of human beings who have rightfully been called Avatars or Divine Manifestations — men like Gautama the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Baha'u'llah, or even St. Francis of Assisi — every event has a symbolical meaning in terms of the special character of these persons who fecundated the collective mind and aroused the Will-to-Transformation-and-Transcendence in millions of people. Their lives were rituals in the sense that whatever the superficial biographical facts may have been, all major events had a "transpersonal" significance as specific phases of a process unfolding according to structural, cosmic and eonic principles.
We can believe that every move in such ritual lives was preordained — as Jesus is reported to have said, "in order to fulfill the Scriptures." But we have to be careful in defining the meaning we give to the term preordained. The "order" is not an imposition from the outside, a pattern forced upon an individual person — thus, what is usually understood as "fate." The Avatar is not an individual in the ordinary ego-sense of the word. He is the order that ritualistically gives structure to the life span of his body and determines the function and meaning of his responses to the actions and the "thinking-feeling" of his community. He is the embodiment or incarnation of a principle of activity, a quality of being, impersonally — or rather transpersonally — determined by the needs of his time. In a still broader sense, what he is and does is the spontaneous, superinstinctive answer to the fundamental requirements of human nature when the time has come for it to surrender to the transforming power of cyclic evolution — or some would say, to the Will of God.
In lesser men a conflict is nearly always in evidence between the transpersonal order — their "destiny" — and the reactions of a personal ego-will still responsive to biological and psychic urges. However, in the great spiritual personage whatever is left of this conflict — the Temptations of Jesus, for instance, or Buddha's initial unwillingness to teach others what he had experienced — takes on forms which in themselves are archetypal; i.e. they are characteristic manifestations of the very nature of generic man, Homo sapiens, when faced with the possibility of consciously becoming more than he is as a species in the earth's biosphere. The events that can be related to these inner conflicts or temptations are "symbolic." Every human being can experience them in analogous circumstances.
At the beginning of this book I discussed the difference between facts and symbols. We must always deal with facts, with elements of actual experience, personal and collective. But we should not stop at perceiving, registering, associating and classifying these facts. We can go through them to a level of perception and understanding at which a multitude of facts can be directly (not merely intellectually) referred to a relatively small number of archetypes.
This "transfactual" process of the intuition and, at a more perfect stage, of the illumined mind enables the consciousness to grasp the essential meaning of all facts, and particularly the events of a human life dedicated to the process of transformation. Such a self-dedicated life is especially transparent to meaning. The events that fill the years of that life are "translucent"; they allow the light of meaning to go through them. The life is a symbolic life.
Essentially, all lives are to some extent symbolic. Outer events reveal their purpose and function to the mind able to pierce through appearances and to intuit the underlying order and meaning of the whole. If the whole universe is a "theophany" — a manifestation of divine Harmony and Power — then every human being potentially is a manifestation of one particular aspect of the Soul that sought embodiment at a particular moment of our universe in order to establish a specific relationship with conditions prevailing then and there. He is or can be a "hierophany" — literally, a "sacred" manifestation.
Much has been written concerning the realm of the sacred in contrast to that of the profane. Mircea Eliade's book The Sacred and the Profane is particularly well known but its analysis of time suffers from the Western thinkers' inability to differentiate adequately between the archetypal structure of a cycle, and the existential events that fill the life span of that cycle. The genetic structure of, let us say, the Lilac, and the meaningful place it occupies in the biosphere are revitalized every spring, but a particular lilac bloom of this year is not actually the same flower that appeared last year or may appear next year. There is archetypal identity, but there are existential differences. The essential structure may return cyclically, but the actual events are never the same. There is an infinite possibility of solutions to the fundamental problems of existence.
To live a symbolic life is to live a transpersonal life, a life in which every event can be referred to an archetype, thereby acquiring a "sacred" character. What we call a mythos* is a sequence of events clearly embodying an archetypal series of phases referring to a fundamental life process, including the process of metamorphosis involving a radical change of level or mutation. The life of a Gautama or of a Jesus is a mythos. Through the actual events which tradition records — and these need not be exactly "true," existentially speaking — the sacred character of the mythos is clearly perceptible. When the great Persian Baha'u'llah, who his followers consider a divine Manifestation, indeed the Avatar for the new era of man's evolution, was thrown into a deep, nearly airless and filthy cistern, with heavy iron chains around his neck and feet, in the midst of some one hundred and fifty criminals, that event had a deep symbolic meaning. That this underground dungeon was reached by three steep stairs, and that it was while in this dreadful state for four months that this son of a minister in the Persian government received the inner revelation of his world mission in the form of a Maiden who brought to his consciousness "the remembrance of the name of my Lord" (his own words) are all full of symbolic significance. These were sacred "events," as was Jesus' crucifixion, because they bring to the mind able to pierce through the tragic facts a realization of what these facts will mean for mankind during the historical cycle to which they were a prelude.**
*l use the Greek word mythos in order to guard against the popular meaning of the word myth: "This is only a myth!"
*Baha'u'llah was born in Teheran at sunrise on November 12,1817. When his father died, twenty-two years later, he refused to assume his governmental position. He espoused the Cause of the Bab, in his twenty-eighth year, which led to his imprisonment. The Bab was a Persian youth (a descendant of Mohammed) who in 1844 proclaimed the end of the cycle of Islam and the coming of a great personage who would open a new era. The Bab was executed and thousands of his followers were tortured and killed.
Historians today claim that it is often impossible to know where "real facts" end and "the myth" begins. But the existential facts of the past have meaning for us today only insofar as we may discover that archetypal principles of operation are embodied in their interrelationships. Jesus' crucifixion, seen as a sacred event or mythos, throws a revelatory light on the meaning of this entire "Piscean Age" now about to close. The life of the Buddha illumines the development of the civilization of most of Asia since 600 B.C. — even where Buddhism was repudiated and India's old religious attitudes were capped by an upsurge of intense devotional fervor (bhakti cults) compensating for the over-objective impersonality of many of the followers of the Buddha. And today, 2,500 years later, at the start of one of four "seasons" in the vast 10,000-year cycle which seems related to Buddha's appearance, many American and European youths are being resensitivized to the still-vibrant call of the great Meditator, the Awakened One.
The kind of history that is now being taught mostly in our universities is a fundamentally meaningless pursuit. It deals with the minutiae of strictly profane events and refuses to admit the existence of structural and cyclic patterns in the collective "organic" growth and decay of societies. Because, as Arnold Toynbee points out in his monumental Study of History, human societies and their cultures are organic and cyclic, studying them should imply an attempt to reveal the mythos which they embody. Any significant mythos should certainly be founded on existential facts, but facts are only the raw material from which meaning should emerge. Without such an emergence of the archetype out of the existential, life is meaningless and empty, if not "absurd" — to use a term dear to so-called existentialist thinkers whose minds are prisoners of the chaotic and the profane.
The significance of astrology is that it can transform the profane into the sacred, the facts of astronomy into the revelation of a cosmic order manifest in the cell and the human person as well as in the solar system and the galaxy. To try to make astrology a "science" based on empirical facts and statistics is to deny its essential and ancient nature. Astrology deals with the mythos of the Sky. The elements it uses are archetypes. Therefore, to live one's life in terms of the revelatory message symbolically implied in one's birth chart is to live a life in terms of the "sacred" character of existence. It does not mean to feel oppressed by "bad" aspects or elated by "good" ones. It does not mean to avoid confrontation with existential facts and to escape into fanciful dreams of pseudo-occult transcendence. It demands instead that life be lived strictly on the basis of non-escapism — that is, an attitude of acceptance of what is, but an "is" that remains transparent to the "eternal."
Alas, the words "eternity" and "eternal" have been made to refer to an escape from minds haunted by a desperate urge to transcend biological and intellectual compulsions, just as nirvana in its popular sense has been equated with a concept of negation and annihilation. These perversions are at the root of the deepest tragedies that mankind is now experiencing. An eternity is a complete cycle of time. The consciousness which can perceive things and events in their eternal nature is one which sees every happening as definitely related to a particular phase of some more or less vast cycle of existence.
It is on the basis of such an attitude of life that this study of the Sabian symbols and of their possible use really makes sense. I do not claim that this cyclic series of 360 symbols is a completely adequate expression of universal archetypal principles. I simply say that under the conditions in which these symbols were obtained and at the time they were obtained, the set is of unusual and indeed quite startling significance. Its study and application may well lead to a revelation of values filled with transforming potency. It leads to such a revelation when a person approaches it in an adequate philosophical spirit and with a keen sensitivity to the ever-present possibility of discovering the "eternal" at the core of the particular, and the sacred under the fleeting shapes of the profane.
Our Western society, witnessing the disintegration of the great Images which once gave archetypal value to its so often tragic enterprises and its fanatic crusades and revolutions, finds itself hypnotized today by the chaotic contingencies of an almost totally profane collective living. References to archetypal values are mocked by our middle-aged and so often obsolescent intelligentsia. Yet during the last years a remarkable surge of interest in at least what passes for "eternal" values, and in many techniques of personal or transpersonal transformation, has occurred. A growing number of individuals are seeking, often desperately, to restructure lives disjointed and disconnected from the now-profaned sanctuaries of man's inner life. They attempt an often naive "return to source" — a return to what they hope will resemble the original creative spirit of our society, or of still more ancient societies, before perversions set in.
This is wonderful, even if chaotic and confused. But archetypal principles are not to be discovered by returning to a mythical, sacred past. The "eternal" is now; the cycle — the Eon — surrounds us. We live in it, just as the space of the galaxy pervades every cell of our bodies. It is not to be sought in glamorous Aboves or Elsewheres. There is no essential difference between the sacred and the profane, the symbolic and the real, nirvana and samsara. What differs are our attitudes to events, inner or outer. What we must change is our frame of reference — and to avoid accepting or refusing to believe in any frame of reference is still to have a negative one. The atheist who denies God merely affirms in reverse. It is all a question of inner attitude. To the consciousness that has realized the existence of cycles and is able to shift gears from the profane to the sacred, the whole of living becomes imbued with the magic of eternity. Every event is accepted as a necessary phase in the ritual process of existence radiating at every moment the significance and inner peace that wells out from the security of knowing oneself to be an essential and operative part of a vast cyclic whole.
This is the symbolic life. It is also the life of wisdom, for to be wise is to know with unimpeachable knowing that the Whole is fulfilling itself at every moment through and within every act of life, once this life, illumined by non-possessive love, is rooted in the certainty that order, beauty, rhythmic interplay and the harmony of ever-balanced opposites are here and now, indestructibly.
An Astrological Mandala