Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 242
Publication Date: This translation by William L. Felt, 1919
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This book was written in the 1860s, when reliable information about Hinduism was just starting to filter back to the west. Jacolliot was searching for the roots of western esoteric traditions in the far East. The high point of this book is the travelogue of his encounters in India with a fakir, who demonstrates his siddis (yogic powers) exuberantly. There is also an extensive discourse on Kabbalah, and its relationship to Eastern mystical beliefs. Jacolliot was a diffusionist, and he believed that many western esoteric traditions, specifically Egyptian, Jewish and Christian, had their origin in India.
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It is not to the religions writings of antiquity, such as the Vedas, the Zend-Avesta, or the Bible, that we are to look for an accurate expression of the highest thought of the period.
Written to be read, or rather chanted, in the temples, upon great festivals, and framed mainly with a view to priestly domination, these books of the law were not intended to make known to common people the secrets of a science which occupies the leisure moments of the priests and initiated.
"Bear in mind, my son," said the Hindu Brahmin to the neophyte, "that there is but one God, the sovereign master and principle of all things, and that every Brahmin should worship him in secret. Learn also that this is a mystery which should never be revealed to the vulgar herd; otherwise great harm may befal you."
We constantly meet with a similar prohibition in Manu.
The primitive holy syllable, composed of the three letters A, U, M, and comprising the Vedic trinity, should be kept secret (Manu, book xi., sloca 265).
These three letters symbolize all the initiatory secrets of the occult sciences.
The honover, or primordial germ, is defined in the Zend-Avesta as follows:
"The pure, the holy, the prompt Honover, I tell. you plainly, O wise Zoroaster! existed before the sky, before the sea, before the earth, before the animals, before the trees, before fire, son of Ormuzd, before the pure man, before the deous, before the whole world; it existed before there was any substance"—should it not be explained, in its essence, to the magi alone? The common people cannot even know of the existence of this venerated name under penalty of death or madness.
The ancient Cabalists received a similar prohibition in the following passage from the Mishna:
"It is forbidden to explain the history of creation to two persons: or even the history of the Mercaba—or, the history of the chariot, treating of the attributes of the unrevealed being—to one alone, unless he is a wise and intelligent man, in which case it is permitted to intrust to him the headings of the chapters."
We are indebted to Mr. A. Frank, of the Institute, the eminent Hebraist, for an explanation of this curious passage of the Jewish Cabala. It will be seen that he confirms the opinion that we have just expressed, that an accurate interpretation of the beliefs of the sacerdotal castes and of the initiated, is not to be found in the works the multitude were allowed to see.
"Evidently this cannot refer to the text of Genesis, or that of Ezekiel, where the prophet describes the vision he saw upon the banks of the Chebar."
"The whole Scriptures, so to speak, were in every body's mouth. From time immemorial, the most scrupulous observers of tradition had deemed it their duty to go through it, at least once a year, in the temple. Moses himself is constantly recommending the study of the law, by which he always means the Pentateuch. Esdras, after the return from the Babylonish captivity, read it aloud before the assembled people. The prohibition, which we have just quoted, cannot possibly refer to the history of the creation or to Ezekiel's vision, which any one might seek to explain himself, or to interpret to others. It refers to an interpretation, or rather to a known, secretly taught doctrine—to a science, whose forms, as well as principles, were fixed, since we know how it was divided and that it was separated into chapters, each of which was preceded by a heading. Now, it is to be noted that Ezekiel's vision is totally unlike this; it contains a single chapter and not several—the first one in the works attributed to that prophet."
We see also that this secret doctrine contains two parts, which are not considered equally important, for one could be taught to two persons, while the whole of the other could never be divulged to any one person, even in case of compliance with the severity of the required conditions.
If we are to believe Maïmonides, who was a stranger to the Cabala, though he could not deny its existence, the first half, entitled The History of the Genesis or Creation, taught the science of nature. The second, entitled Mercaba or the history of the chariot, contained a treatise on theology. This is the accepted opinion of all Cabalists.
Here is another fact which shows the same thing, not less conclusively.
"The Rabbi Jochanan said, one day, to the Rabbi Eliezer: 'Let me teach you the Mercaba.' The latter answered him: 'I am not old enough for that.' When he had grown old, the Rabbi Jochanan died, and after a while the Rabbi Assi came in his turn: 'Let me teach you the Mercaba,' said he; he replied: 'If I had thought myself worthy, I would already have learned it from the Rabbi Jochanan, your master.'"
This shows that, in order to be initiated into the mysterious science of the Mercaba, an eminent position and exalted intellect were not all that were required. The candidate must also have reached a certain age, and even when that condition, which is also observed by modern Cabalists, had been complied with, he did not always feel sure of possessing intellect or moral strength enough to assume the burden of the fearful secrets, which might endanger his religious convictions and the material observances of the law.