Mathomathis would like to present an article on Purusha Sukta by author Zachary F. Lansdowne Ph.D (who served as President of the Theosophical Society in Boston, has been a frequent contributor to The Esoteric Quarterly. His book The Revelation of Saint John, which provides a verse-by-verse analysis of the entire Revelation, was reviewed in the Fall 2006 issue). The Purusha Sukta is an ancient Hindu/Vedic hymn that celebrates the sacrifice of a God-like entity called “Purusha,” and it is still regularly chanted during Hindu worship. Modern scholars, however, find this hymn to be obscure. Author gives a theosophical interpretation, showing that Purusha corresponds to the concept of the Planetary Logos.
The Rig Veda, the oldest text in Hinduism, is a collection of 1,028 Sanskrit hymns and is often dated between 1700–1100 BCE. The earliest version of the Purusha Sukta is in the Rig Veda, but subsequent versions of this hymn appear elsewhere with some modifications and redactions. It is one of the few hymns in the Rig Veda still being used in contemporary Hinduism, as reported by the President of the Ramakrishna Mission at Chennai, India: “This Sukta finds a place even today in the worship of a deity, in a temple or at home, in the daily parayana [chanting], in establishing the sacred fire for a Vedic ritual, in various rituals, and even in the cremation of a dead body.” According to the Hindu tradition, the Purusha Sukta was written down by an ancient scribe known as Narayana. Swami Krishnananda, the General Secretary of The Divine Life Society, reports on this somewhat mythical origin: “The Seer (Rishi) of the Sukta is Narayana, the greatest of sages ever known, who is rightly proclaimed in the Bhagavata [Purana] as the only person whose mind cannot be disturbed by desire and, as the Mahabharata says, whose power not even all the gods can ever imagine. Such is the Rishi to whom the Sukta was revealed and who gave expression to it as the hymn on the Supreme Purusha.”
The Purusha Sukta is a small hymn, with sixteen verses, and is written in the oldest form of Sanskrit that has been preserved. Some of its words have multiple meanings, and some may have had meanings that were lost during the intervening years. Its language is ritualistic and may seem archaic. Moreover, this hymn may have a hidden, or esoteric, significance that was concealed behind its ritualistic language. For these reasons, modern scholars generally find the Purusha Sukta to be obscure. For example, John Muir refers to it as, “Another important, but in many places obscure, hymn of the Rig Veda.” Zenaide Ragozin writes, “The hymn, as a whole, is exceedingly obscure and of entirely mystical import.” One verse, which characterizes something as both the parent and progeny of something else, is called “a cryptogram” by Rein Fernhout. Another verse seems to describe a paradoxical situation in which a sacrifice has the same subject and object, so Steven Rosen asks, “Was the confusion that naturally bursts forth from this paradox meant to be like a Zen koan, a mystical riddle, or is it a product of the Vedas’ incomprehensibility?” On the other hand, Helena Blavatsky, cofounder of the Theosophical Society, states that this hymn has a coherent esoteric meaning: “It is those scholars only who will master the secret meaning of the Purushasukta, who may hope to understand how harmonious are its teachings and how corroborative of the Esoteric Doctrines. One must study in all the abstruseness of their metaphysical meaning the relations therein between the (Heavenly) Man ‘Purusha,’ sacrificed for the production of the Universe and all in it, and the terrestrial mortal man.”
Blavatsky continues: “Hence in the Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda, the mother fount and source of all subsequent religions, it is stated allegorically that ‘the thousand-headed Purusha’ was slaughtered at the foundation of the World, that from his remains the Universe might arise. This is nothing more nor less than the foundation—the seed, truly—of the later many-formed symbol in various religions, including Christianity, of the sacrificial lamb. For it is a play upon the words. ‘Aja’ (Purusha), ‘the unborn’ or eternal Spirit, means also ‘lamb’ in Sanskrit. Spirit disappears—dies, metaphorically—the more it gets involved in matter, and hence the sacrifice of the ‘unborn,’ or the ‘lamb.’” Blavatsky never published a detailed commentary on the Purusha Sukta. In fact, to our knowledge, the two paragraphs given above constitute most of her published comments on this hymn. Alice Bailey, a later theosophical author, wrote a great deal on subjects related to the Purusha Sukta but did not write anything explicitly about this hymn. In what follows, the English translation of each verse of the Purusha Sukta (as found in the Rig Veda) by Michael Myers, a Professor of the Philosophy of Religion, is given in bold, followed by an interpretation of that verse in italics showing that Purusha corresponds to the concept of the Planetary Logos. The subsequent theosophical commentary, including a detailed analysis of the symbols in the verse, is based primarily on the writings of Blavatsky and Bailey.
Purusha: The first five verses provide us with a detailed description of the relationship between Purusha, or the Planetary Logos, and human beings.
1. Thousand-headed is Purusa, thousand eyed, thousand-footed. Having covered the earth on all sides, he stood above it the width of ten fingers. The Planetary Logos, whose body incorporates all human beings, expresses Himself through the planet Earth but transcends it. Sri V. Sundar provides a slightly different translation for the last phrase in the verse: “He stands beyond the count of ten fingers.” The ten fingers in this phrase are the fingers of human hands. Sundar explains this symbol: “They are the basis of count, of all mathematics, of all the logic and science built on mathematics. However, they are all limited when it comes to analyzing Purusha. He is transcendent, and beyond such limited understanding.” Who or what is Purusha (or Purusa) in this hymn? The Sanskrit word Purusha can be translated as man, soul, or spirit. The Purusha Sukta in its earliest version, which appears in the Rig Veda, does not call Purusha by any name other than Purusha and so it is not clear what this word actually denotes. Blavatsky, however, offers this clue: “In these Hymns, the ‘Heavenly Man’ is called purusha”. So, who or what is the Heavenly Man? Bailey uses the terms “Heavenly Man” and “Planetary Logos,” and also the plural forms “Heavenly Men” and “Planetary Logo,” as synonyms. She says, “Human beings are the cells in the body of a Heavenly Man.” She also speaks of “the planet Earth, through which our Planetary Logos expresses Himself,” and goes on to say, “A Heavenly Man has His source outside the solar system.” Thus, Bailey’s descriptions of the Planetary Logos are consistent with how the first verse describes Purusha. The commentary that follows shows that interpreting Purusha as the Planetary Logos also yields a coherent treatment for the subsequent verses.
2. Only Purusa is all this, that which has been and that which is to be. He is the lord of the immortals, who grow by means of [ritual] food. The Planetary Logos is the prototype for human beings, the model for their past development and future attainment. He is the lord of the spiritual kingdom and achieves as human beings sacrifice their own limited ideals and pride. A prototype can be defined as an original model after which similar things are patterned. This definition allows the model and similar things to have different dimensions. Author interpret the first sentence to mean that the Planetary Logos is the prototype for each human being even though they have vastly different dimensions. Genesis 1:27 states: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.” This quotation supports our interpretation because the Planetary Logos could be regarded as the personal God of our planet. Bailey says, “Man is gradually achieving that conscious control over matter in the three worlds that his divine Prototypes, the Heavenly Men, have already achieved.” In other words, human beings are essentially similar to the Planetary Logos, but gradually become in practical manifestation what they truly are and what the Planetary Logos has already achieved.
If we accept the premise that the Planetary Logos is the prototype for human beings, we can make inferences about the Planetary Logos based on analogies with human beings. The above verse mentions the “immortals,” but who are they? In Hinduism, human beings are said to have attained moksha—a Sanskrit word that means salvation or liberation—when their cycle of rebirth comes to an end. We take these liberated human beings to be the “immortals” because they are no longer born into mortal physical bodies. Theosophy uses the terms “spiritual kingdom” and “Hierarchy” to denote them. The verse designates the Planetary Logos as “the lord of the immortals.” The Planetary Logos could be regarded in such a way because the spiritual kingdom endeavors to carry out the will of the Planetary Logos, as Bailey explains: “The Chohans of the Hierarchy now on Earth … work consciously carrying out the Will of the Planetary Logos in the planet, but even They are as yet far from appreciating fully the Will and purpose of the Logos as He works through the system. Glimpses They may get and an idea of the general plan, but the details are as yet unrecognizable.”
Here, the “Chohans” denote the presiding officers of the spiritual kingdom. Sacrifice in Hinduism can be outer or inner. In the above verse, “ritual food” is taken as bits of the lower self that are surrendered as part of inner sacrifice, but what are those bits? Bailey encourages “the spontaneous relinquishing of long-held ideals when a greater and more inclusive presents itself” and “the sacrifice of pride and the sacrifice of personality when the vastness of the work and the urgency of the need are realized.” Thus, ritual food includes surrendered ideals and pride. Sacrifice, however, does not imply pain and suffering, as Bailey points out: “Students should also bear in mind that they need to rid themselves of the usual idea of sacrifice as a process of giving-up, or renunciation of all that makes life worth living. Sacrifice is, technically speaking, the achievement of a state of bliss and of ecstasy because it is the realization of another divine aspect.” Myers’s translation of the verse, given above, suggests that the entire spiritual kingdom grows by means of ritual food. Rosen, however, translates the last part of the verse as, “He is the lord of eternal life, and grows by virtue of [ritual] food,” which suggests only that the Planetary Logos grows by means of such food. Bailey writes, “When man achieves, then the Heavenly Men likewise achieve.” Thus, when human beings sacrifice their limited ideals and pride, the Planetary Logos also advances.
3. Such is his greatness, yet more than this is Purusha. One-quarter of him is all beings; three-quarters of him is the immortal in heaven. Such is the greatness of the Planetary Logos, and yet He is more than even this. The Planetary Logos is also the “All Seeing Eye” that sees into His body, including every human being, because he can be focused within his higher life. Theosophy considers a human being to consist of the following four parts: the Monad, or divine Self; the Triad, consisting of spiritual will, intuition, and higher mind; the causal body, which is the storehouse for the wisdom gained from experience; and the personality, consisting of the mental, emotional, and physical bodies. Accordingly, the personality is only one-quarter of these parts; the remaining three-quarters are in higher, or more abstract, realms. Human beings can be self observant because they can be focused within their higher life and from there observe the personality. Indeed, Bailey says, “The task of the disciple is to become consciously aware like a detached onlooking Observer of these energies and their expressing qualities as they function within himself.” As indicated by the above verse, the body of the Planetary Logos is only one-quarter of Him because He mainly consists of higher parts that are in “heaven.” By analogy, the Planetary Logos can also be self-observant, which means that He can be focused within His higher life and from there observe His body. The verse states that His body is formed by “all beings,” so the Planetary Logos is able to observe those beings.
Bailey explains the last point in more detail: “Let me now expand the concept further, reminding you of the phrase so oft employed, ‘the All-Seeing Eye.’ This refers to the power of the Planetary Logos to see into all parts, aspects, and phases (in time and space) of His planetary vehicle, which is His physical body, and to identify Himself with all the reactions and sensitivities of His created world and to participate with full knowledge in all events and happenings.” Proverbs 15:3 has a similar notion: “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.”
4. Three-quarters of Purusa went upward, one-quarter of him remained here. From this [one-quarter] he spread in all directions into what eats and what does not eat. The will, love-wisdom, and intelligence of the Planetary Logos flow through His vital body, which includes the human kingdom of nature, and then through His dense physical body, which includes the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. The physical body of a human being has both dense and subtle portions. The dense physical body contains the muscles, organs, and bones. The subtle physical body is called the vital or etheric body in theosophy; pranamayakosha, a Sanskrit name, in Hinduism; meridians in Chinese medicine; and biofield in alternative western medicine.
According to theosophy, the manifested universe consists of seven worlds that are often called “planes”. These planes are arranged metaphorically in a tiered sequence. The mental, emotional, and physical planes are the three lowest planes; and they constitute the three worlds of human endeavor. The physical plane is the lowest plane, and it is said to have seven subplanes. The three lowest physical subplanes (called the gaseous, liquid, and dense sub planes) provide the substance for the dense physical bodies of human beings. The four highest physical sub planes (called the etheric sub planes) provide the substance for the vital bodies of human beings. An analogous situation holds for the Planetary Logos. Bailey writes, “Our seven planes are only the seven subplanes of the cosmic physical plane,” and speaks of “the appropriation of a dense physical body by the Planetary Logos; this body is composed of matter of our three lower planes.” The point is that our mental, emotional, and physical planes, which are the three lowest cosmic physical subplanes, provide the substance for the dense physical body of the Planetary Logos.
Similarly, our four highest planes, which are the four highest cosmic physical subplanes, provide the substance for the vital body of the Planetary Logos. The physical body of the Planetary Logos is the combination of His dense physical and vital bodies. Human beings have inner streams of energy that flow through their vital body and then through their dense physical body. The above verse depicts the analogous flow of energy for the Planetary Logos. “Three-quarters of Purusa went upward” is taken as His streams of energy that originate within higher cosmic planes; “one-quarter of him remained here” as His vital body, which remains within the cosmic physical plane; and “he spread in all directions” as the streaming of these energies into His dense physical body. What is the meaning of the fractions that appear in the verse? Three-quarters are associated with streams of energy, one-quarter with the vital body, and zero-quarters with the dense physical body. These fractions are based upon the total number of principles that the Planetary Logos manifests, as Bailey explains: “Only four principles in the Heavenly Men are as yet manifesting to any extent.” She goes on to point out that “a Heavenly Man contains within Himself three major principles—will, love-wisdom, intelligence,” and that “the dense physical body is not a principle for a Heavenly Man”34 though “the etheric body … is the principle of coherence in every form.” Thus, will, love-wisdom, and intelligence are three-quarters of the principles manifested by the Planetary Logos, and His vital, or etheric body is the remaining one-quarter.
Subsequent verses provide examples of how these four principles are applied. His dense physical body is not counted as a principle because its activity is simply an effect, or outcome, of the four manifested principles. The third verse associates “one-quarter of him” with “all beings,” while the above verse associates “he spread in all directions” with “what eats and what does not eat.” Thus, these symbols are interpreted as meaning that the vital body of the Planetary Logos includes all human beings, while His dense physical body includes the subhuman kingdoms of nature namely, the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. This interpretation is supported by Bailey’s descriptions of the planetary bodies: “It must be remembered that the sumtotal of human and deva units upon a planet make the body vital of a Planetary Logos, whilst the sumtotal of lesser lives upon a planet (from the material bodies of men or devas down to the other kingdoms of nature) form His body corporeal.” Here, Bailey uses deva, which is the Sanskrit word for deity, to denote an angelic builder of the form aspect of a planet.
5. From him the shining one was born, from the shining one was born Purusha. When born he extended beyond the earth, behind as well as in front. The Planetary Logos brings about illumination in human beings, and this illumination brings about an awareness of the Planetary Logos. When the Planetary Logos for our planet began His work, His influence extended beyond the Earth because He affected the other Planetary Logo within our solar system. The above verse describes the paradoxical situation in which “the shining one” is born from Purusha and then Purusha is born from “the shining one.” Here, “the shining one” is a translation of the Sanskrit word viraj, which could also be translated as “splendor, radiance, or light.” Modern scholars have attempted to resolve this paradox by offering differing conceptions about what viraj denotes. In this commentary, “the shining one” is taken to represent psychological illumination because the latter shines forth like an inner light within the personality. Bailey speaks of “the great experiment that has been inaugurated on Earth by our Planetary Logos in connection with the process of initiation” and says, “The objective of the experiment might be stated as follows: It is the intent of the Planetary Logos to bring about a psychological condition that can best be described as one of ‘divine lucidity.’” In other words, the Planetary Logos brings about illumination in human beings through the process of initiation.
This illumination is a manifestation of the principle of love-wisdom mentioned in the fourth verse. Bailey also writes, “At initiation, man becomes aware consciously of the Presence of the Planetary Logos through self induced contact with his own divine Spirit.” Thus, this illumination, which is brought about by the Planetary Logos, in turn brings about an awareness of the Planetary Logos. That outcome is also suggested by Psalm 36:9: “In thy light shall we see light.” Just as the light from a lamp enables us to see the lamp itself, the illumination brought about by the Planetary Logos enables us to perceive the cause of that illumination. The final phrase, “he extended beyond the earth, behind as well as in front,” means that the Planetary Logos for our planet affects the Planetary Logo for the other planets in our solar system. Bailey describes how the Planetary Logo may affect each other: “Each of the Heavenly Men pours forth His radiation, or influence, and stimulates in some way some other center or globe. To word it otherwise, His magnetism is felt by His Brothers in a greater or less degree according to the work being undertaken at any one time.”