The Circle

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


Close your eyes, and from your own consciousness of perception try and think outward to the extremist limits in every direction. You will find that equal lines or rays of perception extend out evenly in all directions, so that the utmost effort of perception will terminate in the vault of a sphere. The limitation of this sphere will, of necessity, be a great Circle, and the direct rays of thought in any and every direction must be right line radii of the circle.

The Secret Doctrine

 The immaculate white disc pulses within the dull black background. It expands and dominates the darkness only to revert into a void, a mere interruption in an immense blanket of opacity. Its curves, however, suggest enclosure and the mind fastens upon the idea that the outside; of the enclosure is an empty stage, a frame surrounding and supporting a subject. Its curves exclude and negate at the edge of darkness but the light of the disc radiates with a promise of expansion.. The whiteness radiates out with such perfect uniformity that the edge of the disc is overrun by powerful assertion of unity. The circumference itself becomes a .statement of that unity and the background, its further extension. The black background throbs around the immaculate white disc, intensely alive in its participation in Unity.

 Unity, totality, wholeness and simultaneity are universally symbolized by the circle which has its luminous reflection in the sun. Like that heavenly orb, it is perceived from afar as the emblem of eternal perfection and resolver of all duality. Thus the winged circle represents the soaring fusion of the primordial cosmic pair, the Egyptian symbol of the rising sun of spiritual resurrection. Its plane is a dynamic field of polarized active and passive energy illustrated by the interlocking teardrops of the yin and yang which endlessly merge into one another in a perpetual circular dance. Just so does the swastika whirl in a circle with its feet etching the circumference of time and its intersection marking the fusion of opposites into the One. There is first an immaculate circle and then a point within it, 'Aditi in That', potential space within abstract space. Next, a horizontal line separates out Nature within the Infinite? and a vertical line, cleaving it at its central point, marks the descent of Spirit into matter. This compassionate sacrifice gives a turn to the axes, and the swastika's motion preserves, the untarnished memory of Unity long after the pure undifferentiated circle has disappeared into the darkness.

 The Plains Indians built everything that was life-giving in the form of circles. They imitated the circles found in nature: the earth, which is the circular floor of heaven, the sacred eagle's nest, the Circle of Visions, and a still higher Circle of Father Heaven. Their tipis, lodges, camps, fireplaces, shields and sacred pipes were all constructed in circles to reflect the living spiritual Source that penetrates and joins all worlds. For them the circle represented the heavenly vault of the Great Spirit, the sphere of the manifest sun and the motion of life. They moved with this constant circular motion in dance, in songs and rituals, and they recognized cycles in patterns of growth and in human relationships. Their mode of thinking was circular, always tying back the particulars of life to the overarching curve of the heavenly circle. And they construed their dreams and visions in terms of cycles, linked up to a larger Circle of Visions known only to the Great Seers.

 The Plains tribes seemed to have incarnated in every aspect of their cultures a vivid awareness of cyclic motion. All human beings are partly conscious of natural cycles and some have perceived therein a crucial key to unravelling the mystery of the interconnectedness of events. Cycles of seasons, tides, weather, sowing and reaping are so fundamental to life that they have become almost unconscious metaphors used to describe more complex and secondary phenomena. Some assiduous investigators have probed deeper than the dramatic but easily observable cycle of the salmon and puzzle over the connection between the 9.6-year cycle in the population of chinch-bugs, snowshoe rabbits, grasshoppers and wheat production in North America. The link between sunspots, weather fluctuations, the rising and falling prices of commodities, and variations in tree-ring growth points to a larger circle of influence of which we glimpse but a tiny segment. In human affairs the observed cycles are multitudinous, including as they do the whole range of psychological, social, economic and political activities. There are cycles of male and female emotions, diseases, accidents, births, advertising effectiveness, mental disturbance and intellectual activity. The most prominent cycle of artistic creativity is 7.6 months and this has been noticed in the lives of scores of gifted writers, musicians and poets. Pythagoras spoke of an even larger seven-year creative cycle which was affirmed by such thinkers as Cicero, Seneca and Freud and which echoes the ancient Hindu perception of ten consecutive seven-year cycles in the life of man.

 The cycle is the movement of the circle and is often identified with its circumference, which is at the same time a symbol of decisive limitations, of the manifest world-order as opposed to chaos. The question arises as to whether the circle is synonymous with its circumference or whether it is really the plane of the disc. The Secret Doctrine speaks of the circle, as the symbol of divine Unity but then goes on to suggest that the circumference represents the abstract ever-incognizable Presence, while the plane is the emblem of the universal soul. The distinction remains difficult to grasp because the two are in reality one. The limiting aspect of the circumference exists due to the objectivizing nature of manifest consciousness. This is equally true of a sphere which would simply involve an infinite number of planes and circumferences. It is the circumference, however, which draws attention to the point in the circle, and whose very definition is that of a "locus of points at a given distance from a fixed point called the centre". This also illustrates that the circle alone possesses the property of being exactly alike at all points. Thus the plane exists because of the though the limitation implied by the latter signifies a further degree of manifestation.

 The circle and the sphere have simple equations and depend respectively on four and five independent homogeneous parameters. The geometry of circles is closely related to the projective geometry of three-dimensional space, and the totality of spheres gives the best example of a four-dimensional continuum. Extrapolating through inversions, every conformal transformation of space carries spheres into spheres, all of which sustain the parameters basic to the circle. One can imagine a point at infinity with radii of every possible length extending in all directions from it. The circumferences of these numberless circles would describe spheres within spheres, and their curves would intertwine like endlessly spiralling Möbius rings. If the plane of the circle represents the Akashic substance of the universal soul, then it is ceaselessly circled by the circumference of manifesting Spirit coursing in a continually circular movement through the whole period of evolution. No gaps exist in its expression. Every circle is linked up with every other circle and one may intuit that smaller sets are inscribed by a triangle, which itself is inscribed by a larger circle in a progression that leads back to the concept of the universal circle which is Zero.

 The Zero or ana is the chakra of Maha Vishnu. It is the Boundless Circle which becomes a number only when preceded by one of the nine figures. On the plane above the number is no-number, or the Zero of Eternity. At the dawn of differentiation foe point in the circle marks the One 'First Born', the Logoic 'Sun' of the Father who issues forth as a radiant light in time. Because the One issues forth omnidirectionally in a circle, a circumference is created which becomes the limit for an immense cycle of evolution. The Boundless Circle has become an objective circle but a perfect symbol for Deity. Any of the least possible parts of its curve, if protracted, will re-enter upon itself and form a circle. All points on the circumference are equally related to the centre, and there is no point that goes before and none that comes after in this timeless equality. The potency of this idea lies in the fact that equality in time and space illustrates Oneness or Deity better than any other condition.

God is a circle, the centre of which is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.

 Edgar Allan Poe wrote of the circles that "revolve around one far-distant centre, which is the Godhead". Such a poetical reference inspires an image of concentric circles expanding outwards to an unknown parameter. One is reminded of Shakespeare's description of glory which is like "a circle in the water, which never ceaseth to enlarge itself, till by broad spreading it disperse to nought". This boundless circling may find a limit in the world but one cannot be sure where to draw it. The vibrations of sound and light are waves that reach out with no intrinsic will to cease their expansion. Material obstructions alone alter their movement and bend it into other than circular shapes. But these will link back with larger waves and cycles to curve around once more in an expanded circle. In this insistent return to circular motion men discern a glimpse of the divine manifest Spirit. For Spirit moves in circles and in constant reference to the one far-distant centre of which Poe spoke. Because it never ceases moving and never wavers in reference to that centre, the circle is unbroken, a simple fact which the hard-working slaves of the Deep South understood and celebrated in their spirituals. They laboured in the dust and heat and sang, "May the circle be unbroken, bye and bye, Lord, bye and bye. May the circle be unbroken, in the sky, Lord, in the sky." In this deeply moving testimony to man's ability to overcome spiritually the most grievous injustices, they sang out their faith in a greater justice and equality, "in the sky, Lord, in the sky".

 Brahma is said to have evolved out of Space or Chaos. Thus did the Logos emerge out of the Boundless Circle, giving birth to the World Egg or circle of time. Was there Chaos before this circle? Is Chaos the Boundless Circle, and how can one understand it in relation to the notion of a plane? It is at this point that the symbol of the circle seems unable to accommodate our concerns. How can any form, no matter how abstract, describe Absolute Be-ness or even No-thing? Zen Buddhists use the empty circle as a symbol for enlightenment, but surely this is different from Chaos. When the drop merges with the ocean, the small circle is enveloped within the large, but there still remains the idea of the ocean existing as a matrix. If the ocean is the universal soul, it must be the plane of the circle, but it is infused with the overbrooding Spirit symbolized by the circumference. Thus order, which is intelligent, separates out all manifest expression from Chaos. Dual aspects of the One Unknowable, separate out and unite in the first act of cosmic creation, and the order that ensues is, by the very nature of its birth, perceived in contrast with Chaos. The dull black background is seen as a negative support of the white disc, but the idea of "the fullness of the seeming void" serves to remind us that the term 'Chaos' refers to infinite undifferentiated Space which transcends the constraints engendered by a condition of order. Thus it is that manifest Deity. Brahma or the Logos, embodies order and therefore Law, and the circle of ordered existence, is one of divine necessity, involving a continual re-establishment of primordial Law.

 "Epochs and moments do not exist simply in the process of their circular mutation." Though they seem to follow one another in an order which is that of the rotation of the cosmic cycle, each one of them is 'fixed', as it were, to the circumference and remains in constant relationship with the central pivot. Thus the rotation itself is not a progression but a duration, and the epochs and events are not a simple anarchy of moments but integral parts of duration. This is true only because the point asserts itself continually, because it has no direction and contains within itself all directions. It expresses an infinite possibility for action on the plane of sheer potentiality, and in this lies its power to symbolize freedom, a freedom involving jointed concentration of the will within the larger circle of space. Eastern esotericism teaches that the point in the circle retires into and merges with the latter after having emanated the first three points that form the first noumenal basis of the second triangle of the manifested world. This triangle can then be seen as inscribing another "circle whose centre is a direct correlate of that which has retired. Thus on every plane the central point, though lost to the physical senses after its pregenetic appearance, is that unchanging constant, which ensures the order of a perfect circle and the escape from the bondage of disproportionality and partiality.

 The philosopher Fichte observed that "freedom can only be conceived formally as a concentration of the flowing plurality of virtual light on a central point, and as the diffusion of light from this central point in a multiplicity that is sustained and lit only in this way". This concentration and expansion of light is the intelligent activity of Foe's godhead, the centripetal and centrifugal force of the universal soul which Balzac depicted in terms of a concentric mirror, which is at once the expansion of a centre to the circumference and a concentration of the circumference to the centre. It is the perfected balance of these forces that enables the perpetual motion of abstract Spirit to sustain itself, a condition of effortless fluidity achieved only in idiosyncratic cycles by individuals who experience moments of complete liberation through creativity. This would indicate that the Circle of Visions spoken of by the Plains Indians or the various states of samadhi referred to in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions are spheres of intense activity which reflect the contracting and dilating motion of the full cosmic circle.

 The Pythagorean decade is an expression of every mystery of cosmos. It is the sum of all within the circle of being. The Boundless Circle is Zero, the emerging point the One. That point becomes the centre of the manifest circle and the source of the triangle followed by the cube. Thus there is the One, the Three and the Six, combining to equal Ten, which is the number of the androgynous being whom Plato half-jokingly refers to in the Symposium as a sphere. Without the one point the number is reduced to Nine, which is the symbol of the Kumaras and points to their sacrificial role in the descent of Spirit into matter. If one could imagine the decade as a triangle within a circle, one may designate its apex point as analogous to that of the 'far-distant centre' which, after expressing duality through the second set of points (that then form the base of a triad), drops down a line whose terminus becomes the central point of a hexagon. This hexagon is the emblem of the world-design which reflects the greater perfection of the cosmic circle. The mystery of the Tetraktis and the problem of the squaring of the circle will not readily yield themselves to discursive reasoning. It may be intuited that the squaring of the circle necessitates a direct and mystical understanding of the Tetraktis and the ability to retrace its action to the unmanifesting point which is its source. To do this would necessitate a journey in consciousness back through the Seven Circles of Fire through which millennia ago the Dhyanis broke, 'robbing' them to give the flame of self-conscious awareness to mankind. Their great and compassionate act is shown as involving those who partook of the nature and essence of the Seven Creators of the material world. Pymander described how they "peeped through the Harmony and, breaking through the Seven Circles of Fire, made manifest the downward-born nature".

 In the hosts of the Dhyan Chohans there is a numerical hierarchy of 31415 which is the equation of the inner circumscribed world. The hierarchical circle describes the boundary of the 'Ring Pass-Not' that hedges off the noumenal from the phenomenal world. This number is the basis of the ratio of the diameter to the circumference of all circles and it is recapitulated in myriad cycles of involution and evolution in time and space. Within the circle of manifest life all the incarnating monads striving towards perfection may cross the circle of 'Pass-Not' only on the 'Day Be-With-Us'. Rather than interpreting it as a circle which is like a small opening, one may conceive of this impassable circle as that which is the progeny of divine Thought and the encloser of the world of senses named 'fatal destiny'. The white disc symbolizes the only knowledge obtainable under the divine Plan, which slumbers during pralaya, thus suggesting the idea of Limit even in terms of mahamanvantaras. The conception of the Circle of Visions attests to a circumscription even in spiritual states of consciousness, a condition which Poe observed in so many ways in his writings. He lamented that "even the spiritual vision, is it not at all points arrested by the continuous golden walls of the universe? . . . the walls of the myriads of shining bodies that mere number has appeared to blend into unity?"

 Perhaps Poe was negatively obsessed with the limiting circumference of the circle and failed to seek sufficiently the freedom of its centre, but it is a fact that the circle is the most immutable of the architectonic forms that serve as a structural basis of mind. This has to do with the transformation of meaning in response to the range of consciousness as well as the individual and collective perception of space and time. Just as one cannot go beyond the range of the circle, neither can one escape its motion. There is not a moment in our existence or in the history of the world which does not turn with all other moments around the same pivot. Nor can we impose our wills upon Nature, for to work against her is like attempting to set up a puny temporal counter-current in one miniscule corner of the immense whirling field of duration. T. S. Eliot, recognizing the futility of such action, focussed instead upon the flickering intervals of life which endlessly cycle and pass in their multiplicity through time. He captured a sense of duration in the lack of unique direction displayed by some of his characters who move in "tumid apathy with no concentration . . . men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind that blows before and after time". This whirling wind carries people aimlessly and returns in the end to its beginning. The incessant nature of this meaningless circuit may be likened to a midway position in the motion of the circle which neither intuits the centre nor realizes the pain of confrontation with the limits of the circumference. Eliot sees through the huffing and puffing of the aggressive and blindly optimistic self-directed man, only to abhor the greater tragedy of the comatose condition common to masses of human beings.

 It some of Eliot's characters go through life never probing the parameters of their mental wasteland, those of Poe are constantly aware of the ''circumscribed character of thought". He writes of consciousness "encompassed by mossy walls" existing within circles of mists and cliffs . . . beyond which there is nothing. Poe's thought forms first its own limbo after which nothing can broach its enclosure. The mind then encounters the same images which are "habitual inmates of an identical thought". For Poe, every man is the centre of a circle whose fatal circumference he cannot pass. He is a prisoner even in his dreams and even as a spectator he is trapped. Thus within this Circle of Necessity Karma works and man knows not the real nature of his imprisonment or the causes behind the peculiar effects that gather round him and bring him such anguish. Poe celebrated one notable release from the confines of a circle when he wrote The Fall of the House of Usher, describing a dark world as it breaks up like a dream and slides into the waters of forgetfulness.

 The moral or immoral force of a circle comes from its invisible centre which generates a 'sphere of influence'. A magic circle protects only because those who create it are wholly focussed upon that transcendental pivotal force which is the position of a great Teacher surrounded by his disciples. Fairies dancing in rings are mustered and controlled by a central intelligent force with whom they are in complete sympathy. Human beings, dancing in circles, do likewise in imitating the planets around the sun, the gopis around Lord Krishna, or the whirling dervishes around an invisible centre. The circle that they create becomes a potent source of focussed collective consciousness, what Emile Durkheim identified as "the elementary form of religious life". He recognized that this shared consciousness was so powerful that anyone born within or entering into its circle would immediately be affected by it. That this is an accurate account of basic psycho-cultural experience cannot be doubted, and it varies in intensity according to the degree of mental fusion within any society. An awareness of this led Balzac to observe that "the savage and the child make all the rays of the sphere in which they live converge to one desire; their power comes from the prodigious unity of their actions".

 In contrast to this, modern man suffers a lack of convergence with his fellow man and he is forced to look to flimsy and artificial religions or political ideologies in his frenetic struggle to achieve a sense of centering himself. Often he fails and floats aimlessly like Eliot's gray characters or he rails with frustration at the edge of his ethnocentric wall. Some few become quiet within and begin to sense a pulse-beat which seems to reflect other rhythms around them. They reach the wall with some part of themselves. They stand on the edge of a vast unknown like that approached in Camus' The Rebel and they will not commit suicide. Instead, they stand there, having seen through many concentric veils, and they start looking back at the centre which is in themselves. As they slowly begin to experience the constant unwavering power of this centre, they become strong and a real source of strength to others.

He drew a circle that shut me out -
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

Edwin Markham

 It is necessary to concentrate on the centre of a circle in order to expand its circumference. No amount of analysis or involvement with the infinite number of points around the circumference, any more than a mindless floating around the plane of a circle, can provide the insight necessary to release consciousness from its temporal confines. If one sees the circle as the centre upon which it depends and then acts on the basis of that centre, there can be no heretic or rebel, there can be no Radha or gopi separate from Krishna. Just as subtle rhythms identified in other galaxies pulsate in space everywhere, so too all human beings are affected and affect each other in complex cycles that are constantly interlinked and mutually adjustive. They are continually aligning themselves with a larger circle just as our hearts and minds are brought slowly to align themselves with the heart (point) and mind (circumference) of the universe. Great Seers are "those who can see the motion of the interstellar shoals and follow them in their evolution clairvoyantly - they are dazzling, like specks of virgin snow in radiant sunlight". In their velocity, swifter than thought, they form a great circular curve whose arch is echoed in the concentric movement of myriad galaxies, solar systems and worlds.

 To achieve such an exalted perspective requires moving out of the mundane circle of limits into the Circle of Visions. This is not to obtain entrance through the 'Ring Pass-Not' but it is nonetheless difficult and requires that the individual reduce the personality to zero. With this radical negation, the point of the Higher Self within can hook up with the invisible centre of the cosmic circle. This is the first step on the journey leading to the highest initiation, the squaring of the circle. Gazing into the centre of the universe, the interstellar shoals whirl in their vast circular motion until the eye of the soul fastens upon their internal stillness and comprehends the unity of the circle as a whole. Now the circle is unbroken, for the circumference is seen in its entirety and the justice of the One Law is understood, even in its myriad particular expressions. The wholeness of the white disc is perceived in all its aspects even to the 'Day Be-With-Us'.

Close your eyes and let the mind expand.
Let no fear of death or darkness arrest its course.
Allow the mind to merge with Mind.
Let it flow out upon the great curve of consciousness.
Let it soar on the wings of the great bird of duration,
Up to the very Circle of Eternity.