Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


Nor Aught nor Nought existed; yon bright sky
Was not, nor heaven's broad roof outstretched above.
What covered all? what sheltered? what concealed?
Was it the water's fathomless abyss?
There was not death – yet there was nought immortal,
There was no confine betwixt day and night;
The only ONE breathed breathless by itself,
Other than It there nothing since has been.
Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled
In gloom profound – an ocean without light –
The germ that still lay covered in the husk
Burst forth, one nature, from the fervent heat.
Desire first arose in It,
The primal seed and germ of Spirit.
Sages searching wisdom within their hearts
Found out the bond of Being in Non-Being.
Their ray of light traversed the severed Darkness:
What stood above? and what below?
Creative Beings were there, and vital power;
The fiery sea above, and worlds below.
Who knows the Secret? who proclaimed it here?
Whence, whence this manifold creation sprang?
The Gods themselves came later into being –
Who knows from whence this great creation sprang?

Rig Veda

 Unto the threshold of oblivion, the mouth of chaos, the lip of obscurity and the end of the world he had travelled. And now, facing him bleakly in the hesitant light of dawn loomed the entrance to a cave, the Hall of Initiation that yawned and beckoned. Like the dawn, he waited for a moment, unsure, and then stepped lightly into the gloom of its passage. No sign of human presence or direction guided his way as he moved deeper within the hall. He was drawn, rather, by a sense of anticipation and wonder, feeling sure that a hoary heavenly mystery would be revealed to him. Arriving at the entrance to a dimly lit chamber, his eyes were met by an airy veil of myriad glorious hues which stretched across the width of the room and undulated gently in an imperceptible breeze. It was a dazzling sight, shining and teasing the eye with a hint of shadowy promises lying behind its gossamer shield, glimmering betwixt and between the interstices of its delicately woven fabric. He reached out abruptly and drew it aside, fully expecting some revelation to greet him. But only the air stirred and sighed and his eyes were met by the face of another veil. As he looked at it, this too rippled and shone with enchanting design, suggesting in its deeper folds the dim outline of mysteries beyond. His heart leaped up and he plucked the veil aside, only to meet another.

 And this went on, each barrier to vision filled with tantalizing promise, only to give way to the next beyond it. So eager was he that he persisted long beyond the point where the rational mind would pause and question the possibility of ever reaching an end. He persisted with growing fervour, hope upon smashed hope driving and tripping him until he stumbled to his knees and slumped to the floor of the seemingly endless hall. In his hand he clutched the last veil torn away, its filmy length draped about him like a shroud. "O ye gods?" he cried, "where is the beginning of all this, where is the end? I have roamed the whole world of wildernesses, cities and haunted dreams to find this place. And now that I am here, what is there? The whole of existence slips before me along the rim of a Mobius ring. I find no beginning and no end! There is no starting point, no ultimate source, no revelation to bring peace to my mind and rest to my weary soul." But his answer was only the echo of his own voice muffled in the folds of the veil stretched before him.

I am all that has been, and is, and shall be, and my veil no mortal has yet lifted.

 H.P. Blavatsky, after writing the two volumes of her early work on theology and science, intended to entitle it Isis Veiled. Her publisher persuaded her that the book would have a wider appeal if it were given the more tantalizing title, Isis Unveiled. Against her better taste, this courageous emissary of the Masters agreed, but she knew well that even with a careful reading of the whole book to its final pages, the veil would remain intact. To no uninitiated eye would Isis be unveiled, and the question remained if she or it would ever be. In what sense could the purely subjective ocean, containing all that is, find its existence revealed to an aspect of itself? Does a fish living its whole life in water know the nature of that within which it lives? From what could it draw a comparison to know? How could it stand aside from that which gives it life and see it for what it is? If the seeker in the hall of veils had drawn upon his inner sense of patience and calm, he might have come in his mind to a similar question. He might have asked what sort of revelation it is which reveals itself only to those revealed to themselves. And is there even then a veil wrapping the droplet in the ocean's vastitudes?

 The abyss, the unlimited ocean of space called chaos, is the ultimate veil. Beyond this there is No-thing and nothing or no one to comprehend it. As human beings have intuited its existence all over the world, it is known by many names: Mistress of All Elements, the Ultimate Plenum, the Great Universal Mother, the Aeon of the Pleroma, the Mother of Time and Mother of the Gods, to name a few. More often than not designated as a feminine deity, this veil or vesture of the unknowable became for many peoples the archetype of all mother goddesses, but it was in the early Vedas that 'she' as Aditi received her most poetically lofty description. In the Rig Veda she was called the Primordial Vastness, the Unbroken Totality identified with boundless heaven, endless night and the essence of divinity. Brahmā himself therein prays to the great goddess, saying:

 Thou art the pristine spirit, the nature of which is bliss; thou art the ultimate nature and clear light of heaven which illuminates and breaks the self-hypnotism of the terrible round of rebirth, and thou art the one that muffles the universe, for all time, in thine own very darkness.

 "The Sway of Aditi" depicts in one of the hymns the endless extension of the veil. It is asked, "Who shall to mighty Aditi restore us?", the gods mentioned as possible deliverers reaching barely the hem of her garment with their varying limits of breadth and depth of power. The "unmatched liberality" of Aditi is invoked. Although termed 'unassailable' and 'impenetrable', she can be supplicated for release from the bondage of differentiated existence. Her freedom far transcends all worldly notions of the term, stretching infinitely in its unconditionality. In the words of The Secret Doctrine, she is potential Space in abstract Space, the divine immaculate Mother within the absolute Infinitude who can be identified with the Vedantin mulaprakriti, the highest sephira of the Zohar, Sophia-Achamoth of the Gnostic tradition and the most arcane Isis of ancient Egypt. Etymologically, the Sanskrit word aditi means both 'the infinite' as well as 'want' or 'penury'. There are two ways of analysing the roots of the term: isolating the stem adi, meaning 'the first', or separating a (meaning 'not') from diti (meaning limit' or 'binding'), yielding the idea of boundlessness. The fact that the feminine of aditi means 'want' or 'penury' contrasts interestingly with the descriptive use of the term, which translates as 'distribution' and liberality'. Comparing these meanings leads one to consider whether some sort of reversal or inversion of meaning is suggested, a theme best examined in the light of the relationship between Aditi, the Boundless Infinitude, and Diti, with whom she is so often confused.

 A dual or multiple character of Aditi is suggested by her more limited identifications as the wife or daughter of Daksha (Brahmā) or the supplicator of Vishnu, the mother of heroic sons, Vach, the cow of plenty or even the earth. In the Yajur Veda she is called the Supporter of the Sky, the Sustainer of Earth and the wife of Vishnu. In the Mahabharata and Ramayana she is referred to as the mother of Vishnu and the wife of Kashyapa. In the Puranas she even becomes Devaki, mother of Krishna, carrying her feminine identity to its most human and earth-bound level, wherein the separation between masculine and feminine seems so pronounced. But if one looks at Aditi in terms of her higher abstract appellations, leaving aside the more limiting designations, one may well wonder why the eternal veil of the unknowable is spoken of in the feminine. Is boundless Space any more suggestive of a mother than a father? How is it that once the All can be spoken of as something, it must be treated as a feminine principle, begetter of offspring, nurse of eternity and of the gods?

 In the great Hindu epics and myths the name of Diti is sometimes used interchangeably with that of Aditi and, more often, used antithetically. At times Diti is treated as the daughter of Aditi. Elsewhere she is said to be the mother of the gods. To accommodate these transpositions, one could consider Aditi in the light of an eternal cycle of rebirth involving, at gradually more concrete levels, the same divine essence. The Rig Veda says that Daksha (Brahmā or Prajapati) sprang from Aditi and she from him. The sage Yaska asked, "How can this be possible. . . they may have been born from each other, have derived their substance from one another?" The abysmal difference between the lofty designations of The Secret Doctrine or many early Vedic references and the later descriptions of the mother in the Puranas seems to suggest the earth-bound reincarnation, not merely of a name, but of the first feminine principle itself, whilst leaving unanswered the question of substance and priority hinted at by the Sage. As representative of this principle, Aditi's cycle of descent is traceable in the human relations of the ancient world as well as in sacred literature. The question of shared substance and priority had become progressively frozen and obscured in the rigid inequalities that developed between men and women as well as in the anthropomorphized, male-dominated cosmogony of religion and the sacred texts.

 The association of Aditi with want or penury seems to have become a popular notion, degenerating to the point where, in certain later Vedic hymns, Agni is besought to grant the distribution and plenty identified with Diti and to preserve mankind from Aditi. The idea of substance and priority in terms of boundless infinitude was gradually abandoned by those who no longer had the imagination to grasp the occult implications of a sort of want and penury which liberated human beings from the thraldom of worldly desires and encumbrances. The more materialistic men became in consciousness, the more concretized and literal became their comprehension of words and symbols. The inevitable inversions associated with Kali Yuga took place and the feminine principle of eternal potentiality was crudely identified with matter, which was then seen in earthly form as something to be controlled out of fear, conquered and manipulated instead of comprehended. One may see this as an advanced stage in the process of conscious externalization which has accompanied the separation of the sexes as well as the understanding of spirit and matter. The fact that men and women would pray for the blessings of Diti, the mother of the Danavas who is the actual divider of consciousness (a distribution positively detrimental to human spiritual progress), illustrates dramatically the degree to which the inversion had taken place. It would have been better had they gone back to the earliest Teachings and pondered the arcane symbolism therein to convey the truly abstract and comprehensive principles belonging to Aditi.

 The Primordial Vastness is the sky, the Primordial Vastness is the sphere of space; the Primordial Vastness is the mother, the father, the son; the Primordial Vastness is all the gods, the five sorts of men, all that was born and shall be born.

Rig Veda  

 The highly abstract all too easily eludes the finite mind. The celestial hierarchies of the world's religions can clearly be seen as symbolic bridges which afford the means by which human consciousness can travel from the realm of the personal and familiar to that of the archetypal and universal. In all the Vedic accounts of creation, a starting point is shown either in terms of Prajapati desiring offspring or in terms of the primordial waters in which hiranyagarbha floats. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad later described how "In the beginning Waters were This (universe); They produced the Real (satya) from this was produced Brahmā, from Brahmi Prajapati, from Prajapati the gods." It is not, however, immediately clear whether the Waters signify the universe (as suggested by the later bracketed comment) or if they symbolize a prior state. The position of Aditi relative to Brahmā (or Daksha) is implied, but only just, and the many references elsewhere to her motherhood of the gods do not clarify the question easily. A brief consideration of her offspring, however, may reveal some clues, if indeed the tree may be known by its fruit.

The Secret Doctrine teaches that the eight Adityas (children of Aditi – the first gods) are formed of the eternal inviolable substance of their mother who sustains them. This would suggest that the sustaining is an integral and accompanying part of the emanating process outlined in the Upanishads. With the birth of her offspring, Aditi is said to have presented seven of them to act as sustainers of the luminous life. These are mystically associated with the seven planets, whilst the eighth (identified with the central star we know as the sun) she threw away. To understand this, one can turn to the analogous incarnation of Aditi in Devaki and trace once again the eighth solar offspring who was 'thrown away' in the person of Krishna. The seven Adityas thus are depicted as sustaining the life behind all phenomena, whereas Martanda, the eighth, casts his logoic ray into the manifest world – linking with divinely originated light the material crust of life to its spiritual source.

 The Adityas are the sovereign principles, the personifications of universal Law who pre-exist all forms while regulating the relations between human beings in the manifest world. Eventually their number of seven plus one increased to twelve and they became identified with the zodiac and the divisions of time. When Indra joined their celestial ranks, the character of Aditi became embroiled in the adventures of a tempestuous and lawless-seeming renegade god. She became his defender on all occasions, saying that "his period of gestation was marvellous and his actions not to be compared with those of any others". In the Rig Veda she is called "the Heifer who hath brought forth the Strong, the Mighty, the unconquerable Bull, the furious Indra". Alluding to her as the mother of all those subsequent mothers identified with the heavenly cow, the hymn continues to reveal clues concerning the mystery of Indra and Aditi's relationship with him, saying that she is "the Mother who left her unlicked Calf to wander, seeking himself the path that he would follow". Indra plays a pivotal role in the mythology surrounding Aditi. When one of the elder Adityas seeks to exclude him from partaking of soma, he steals it, and in this as well as in the killing of the mighty Vritra he is defended by her. His constant antagonism towards Diti and Usha (also said to be a lower aspect of Aditi) suggests something of the god's identification with the principle of mahat and the key part he plays in extending the homogeneous radiation of his parent into the heterogeneous realm of the human mind.

 In the Ramayana and the Puranas this is put in terms of the story of how Diti, wishing to destroy Indra, performs austerities and is told by the sage Kashyapa that if she carries the babe in her womb for one hundred years, she will get a son to perform the deed. But Indra foils the attempt and divides her womb in seven and seven parts again, thus ensuring the birth of the Maruts, who ensouled mighty Adepts and the stormy passions that rage in the breasts of all who prepare for the spiritual life. Stealer of soma, trouble-maker of heaven and guardian of spiritual light, Indra mixes up and sets in a whirl of gathering rain clouds the orderly hierarchy of the gods whilst ushering in the necessity of a more philosophical approach to understanding. And so one turns to terms like mulaprakriti, which is called, like Aditi, the veil of the unknowable. One turns from the symbolism of cosmogony to that of metaphysics, not for the abandonment of the gods, but out of a longing to secure a firm manasic grasp of their number, meaning, substance and function so as to develop a more abstract genealogy traceable by higher manas.

 The Indivisible Point, which has no limit and cannot be comprehended because of its purity and brightness, expanded from without, forming a brightness that served the Indivisible Point as a veil . . . which likewise expanded from without, and this expansion was its garment. Thus through a constant upheaving (motion) finally the world originated.


 The veil of mulaprakriti, never drawn aside or penetrated by that which participates in the heterogeneous world, lies on the first plane of substance. In its bosom the First Unmanifested Logos (the son and husband at once) called the concealed Father radiates forth and disappears. Is this Aditi? Is this arcane philosophical idea the source of the many references to her as mother, wife and daughter of the gods? The Theosophical Glossary depicts mulaprakriti as the Parabrahmic root, the abstract deific female principle which is undifferentiated substance likened to akasha, Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge carries the point further, defining akasha as undifferentiated, abstract, noumenal space occupied by chidakasha, the field of primordial consciousness.

 This itself is composed of seven fields, the first (that of latent consciousness) being coeval with the duration of the First and Second Unmanifested Logos. Does this idea of noumenal space correspond analogously with the symbolic descriptions of Aditi? 'Boundless' and having no form, 'intact' and 'widely expanded', the 'ultimate plenum' – such epithets struggle to suggest the unconditioned nature of the highest akasha, the gossamer veil of the one Source which is mulaprakriti. And yet, through the bold poetry of their utterance, the meaning revealed in the flashing synapses of their hidden associations, they do correspond. When the 'fields' of akasha are discussed and that in which consciousness arises is described, it is not difficult to grasp the relationship between the emanation of the manifesting Logos, expressed as mahat, and the birth of Indra in the myths concerning Aditi. In the most lofty and abstract sense of her being, Aditi is indeed mulaprakriti, in whose infinitude abstract space and duration (outside of time and space as we know it) exist as aspects rather than as attributes.

 Thou art that Prakriti (essence), infinite and subtile, which bore Brahmā in its womb. Thou eternal being, comprising in thy substance the essence of all created things, wast identical with creation; thou wast the parent of the triform sacrifice, becoming the germ of all. . . . Thou art sacrifice, whence all fruit proceeds; thou art the arani whose attrition engenders fire.

The Secret Doctrine  

 This is the vast deep of chaos, the limitless, unspoken promise of substance and sacrifice. This is the archetypal idea of the mother who enters into the sacrifice, becoming the limitless extension of something and the duration of that something which enters into the first subtle phases of differentiation. As the 'indissoluble' and 'everlasting' fount of all creation, Aditi crosses over alaya's threshold in the expression of Vach, Kwan-Yin, or the Melodious Cow from whose sweetly uddered voice flow the Akashic streams of life-supporting sustenance. At this level Aditi assumes the nature and function of Plato's "nurse of generation". She, like alaya, becomes 'that which is not un-manifested', and like her emblem, the Water Deep, she acts as the ultimate solvent which holds in solution the dispersed and free-flowing potential of form. But what ushered her unlimited essence into the realm of potential conditionality? As mulaprakriti, Aditi is the luminous veil, the afterglow of the pulsating flash of the First Unmanifested Logos. She is the abstract residue of this pulsation whose source cannot be traced. But in the very homogeneity of her substance is embedded the oneness of that Source. Thus, even at the most abstract level, the substance principle expresses a radiant singularity which anticipates the penetrating masculine principle of subsequent creation.

 The point in the circle is identified with the First Logos, but the homogeneity of space symbolized by the circumferenceless circle is itself an expression of that point. When the point becomes a line, the Mother-Father of dawning duality emerges as one from the Deep. Aditi becomes the eternal parent, SPACE, both a limitless void and a conditioned fullness. She is svabhavat, the Self-becoming, the androgynous something in which spirit and matter are still a unity. As undifferentiated, primordial matter she "is not fecundated by some act in space and time, fertility and productiveness being inherent in her". The term 'she' is used here in the sense that 'mother' might be used to describe matter, but it is matter fused with and indistinguishable from spirit. That which emanates from this mother is not born from it but through it, 'through' implying an unlimited, unconditioned Source symbolized in the idea of the Great Breath thrilling through space which is boundless and which is in, not from, eternity. One can attempt to understand this by thinking of the laya point where primordial substance begins to differentiate and where conditioned flux ceases. This point exists analogously in the neutral condition of atoms in their elemental state in the physical realm. It exists in every hydrogen and oxygen atom making up water, which yet contains in solution the unformed elements of potential life.

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The Named is the mother of all things.
Therefore let there always be non-being,
so we may see their subtlety,
And let there always be being,
so we may see their outcome.
The two are the same,
But after they are produced, they have
different names.
They both may be called deep and profound.
Deeper and more profound,
The door of all subtleties!

Tao Te Ching  

 Upon the Deep Narayana sleeps, canopied by the curve of the Eternal Serpent. He floats upon the Mother-Father which is the seven-skinned hiranyagarbha, the egg of the world through which Brahmā, the creative third Logos, is born. Thus, from the Great Deep of Aditi issues a grand cycle, a spiral coiled as the Serpent of Wisdom and Eternity – the androgynous Divine Mind and its radiant light. With the manifestation of the egg, space becomes circumscribed and the Serpent glides to circle around it. Time commences and the Adityas or Logoi issue forth from the parent. The microcosm of human generation offers a true and dramatic analogue of this process in the development of the sperm and the egg. Both are brought forth from previous generations, forming a link between the living potential and all that has gone before it. But the ovum (representing the egg of Brahmā) has begun its process of maturation long before the birth of its host, whereas the sperm cell in the male (symbolized by the serpent) begins to mature only with puberty. This reflects the priority associated with the substance principle of the Mother, while the activity of the Father arises only in time, when the vehicles exist, enabling the sperm to enter into (arise in) and irradiate the egg. The sperm flows in the milk of Aditi, the semen identified analogously as the soma of the gods. In the physical world these components and substances appear to be separated in time and space, brought together only by mechanical and electrochemical action. But in reality the serpent, the soma and the egg rest together in the substance of Aditi. The union of man and woman to generate new life is, in that sense, a sustained illusion, for that which gives life and sustains it is already and eternally present in all that exists and in all that exists not.

 Brahmā arises through the egg as the son of Aditi only to merge with a subtly circumscribed aspect of her substance (Vach), bringing forth the Logoi as offspring. Thus she is the mother and wife of Daksha and, in her lower aspects, becomes his daughter and spouse to lesser gods. Aditi is the infinite Light of which the divine world is a formation. The gods (Adityas) are the children of the infinite Light who are born from her rita – the rhythm manifested in the active truth of movement. They, in turn, guard against disorder and ignorance, maintaining the invisible workings of Truth in the universe. They build its worlds in the image of Truth, releasing to man the floods of its radiance in seven streams bearing the rain of heaven – the floods that break through the control of Vritra (slain by Indra) and overflow the mind of man. Echoing the cycle of rebirths of their mother, the Adityas are born above in the divine Truth as creators of worlds and guardians of eternal law, and they are born below in the visible realm as male and female powers, energies of the universe and human powers of the Divine.

 In her lower manifestation Aditi is the earth, whose husband is the inferior 'father', eventually slain by Indra, representing the Divine Mind manifested in the world. At this level of her being Aditi is the infinite consciousness in the cosmos espoused and held captive by the lower creative power which works through the limited mind and body of human beings. She is delivered from her prison by Indra (the illumined mind of man), who causes Surya to rise up as the light of Truth and dispel the separative mentality which, in his lower aspect (as parent of light and shadow), he has engendered. Psychologically in man, Aditi is thus in pronounced opposition to Diti, the mother of Vritra and other Danavas who are the enemies of the gods and of human spiritual progress. Indra takes up the part of the active opposer in the myths, limiting and curtailing the plans of Diti and struggling to release the bright cows (aspects of his mother) in heaven so that they (in the form of rain clouds) may pour out their streams of soma (the milk of Aditi) which will ignite (fertilizing on the highest level), whilst overflowing, the mind of man. Illuminated in the ocean of this Akashic flood, man can commune with the gods, be filled with their unified melodious voice and be blest with the sweet vision of Oneness on the lap of space. Since it is mankind's limited mind and identification with the body that has held Aditi captive and rendered human beings incapable of envisioning her in her highest state within themselves, it is up to mankind to assume the mantle of the warrior god and release her.

 The fiery power of the Heaven-Born must fight its way deep into the inmost chamber of the heart. Veil after veil may confront him and veil after veil he must cast aside until, like the worn and weary pilgrim, he is well advanced into the Hall of Initiation. But he must not, as did that exhausted pilgrim, despair. For though the final veil eternally remains, he can release its activated Buddhic power within his own being and soar in mind and heart beyond the prison-house of separate existence into the unlimited vastitude of Aditi – divine and boundless Space.

Thou art the victory and deliverance.
Thou art the Mother Unseen . . .
Home of the prodigal Soul.

O, thou Primordial Vastness . . .
Birthplace of worlds afar,
Thy Boundlessness flings wide
The doors of mind and heart.