When one is asked by a Syllabus Secretary to give a talk, the opening gambit is nearly always ‘What will your title be? I want to put it in my syllabus’. This simple query is designed to pin one down. “That’ll fix him, he can’t back out if I get a title,” the Secretary thinks. But if the lecturer is wise and knows the ropes, he plays for time.
“I’ll let you know … yes, as soon as possible.”
Being the prospective lecturer I have time to think this over. It will probably take several days while I get on with my normal work. After a couple of weeks I decide that I had better do something about that wretched lecture. My first thought is, ‘Get away from the usual cliche titles and try to find something startling and interesting’. This is not so easy, so I decide to discuss it with my wife. This I fancy is a good move.
“What are you reading about at the moment?” she asks.
“Alchemy,” I reply.
“Well how does that tie up with your reading on Theosophy?”
What a question!
“Yoga might be the nearest contact I suppose, but I really can’t see it.” A long pause …
“Can yoga and alchemy meet? How would that do?”
Yes, that has possibilities, so I reach for the ‘phone and get on to the Secretary.
“I’ve got a title for my talk. I hope you’ll like it.”
A sigh of relief is heard at the other end of the line. Of course he likes it. He’s got me hooked!
I hang up and sit back. What have I done? Committed myself either to bluff it out or prove a case. Strangely I find this a refreshing and exciting challenge.
And that was the beginning of a lecture I never gave because the date was cancelled.
Yoga and Alchemy … the East and the West… well, most systems have something in common, so out come my books and I set to work. But before getting onto the subject matter I must make it clear that I am not a practicing Yoga student, so I have taken what I have to say from Swami Vivekananda’s book Raja Yoga and The Yoga of Health, Youth and Joy by Sir Paul Dukes, K.B.E.
Regarding Alchemy I must express my appreciation for the help I have received from ‘The Builders of the Adytum’ without whom I could not have attempted this chapter. Let us begin with Yoga.
“The approach to Divinity through study, learning, thought and meditation. Jnana Yoga is generally agreed to be the most difficult of all the paths, for it leads rapidly into a mass of paradoxes and contradictions. Being the path demanding the highest flights of pure or abstract thinking it makes a strong appeal to the intellectual student.
“The second path, that of devotion, Bhakti Yoga is perhaps more popular for it does not demand the same intellectual equipment as Jnana. The approach is to God through worship, adoration and self-abnegation. The path of the visionary and the poet, of all great mystics and saints.
“The third path, that of Karma Yoga is the approach through work, activity and enterprise. The way of the welfare worker, the mechanic, the inventor or business man. It is the Yoga of a man of action inspired by an ideal.
“An important aspect of Karma Yoga is the economy of energy. It strives always to obtain the maximum of result with the minimum of effort. The principle of ‘skill in action’ applies not only to large matters of daily life, but to small details of thought and action too.
“The aim of Hatha Yoga is to bring the function of our physical bodies into harmony with the source of creation. Our physical and mental faculties must be trained to function with perfect rhythm and harmony. In physical terms perfection of health and physique is the aim, but health of a super-nature is the ultimate goal.
“Of the other divisions of this great subject, two of the more important are Mantra Yoga and Laya Yoga. This is the science of sound and vibration. It includes the study of chanting and incantations; the repetition of sacred formulae and their effects on the emotions, mind and body. Laya Yoga is the study of the subject of energy, particularly in the human organism, and the mystery of the ‘Life Force’ in all its aspects.
“These alone will not lead a man to develop his divinity. Along side must come the practice of character building in every aspect of every-day living in thought, word and deed. Wisdom is learned from experience gained by knowledge applied.” One could enlarge on these paths, but I propose to spend more time on Raja Yoga because we have here a method of dealing with consciousness and development of mind concentration.
“What has Raja Yoga to offer? It proposes to put before humanity a practical and scientifically worked out method of reaching truth. One must, they say, proceed as in science by observing, from which consciousness and principles are drawn.
“Knowledge of the internal nature of man, the real world and of thought can never be had until the power of observing the facts that are awakened within ourselves.
“Raja Yoga proclaims that there are in nature gross manifestations and subtle manifestations. It proposes to give a means of observing these internally. The instrument for perfecting this act is the mind.
“Before one can anticipate personal experience intellectually, acceptance must come from those who have trodden the Path before us. And there are many to whom we can refer if we wish to do so.
“One must have a basis on which to work and the intellectual reading and study of men like Vivikananda is an excellent beginning. One’s own confirmation follows by practice.” What then is their basic philosophy of the Universe?
1 ”The Universe is composed of an omnipresent, all-pervading, ineffable, nameless existence. ‘The One Life’ in limitless varieties of forms and formlessness, everything that exists.”
2 ”Nature is governed by three forces or distinguished by three qualities known as Three Gunas:
Raja- a positive quality that induces activity.
Tamas- a negative quality that shuns activity, including inertia.
Sattva- the equalising quality that balances the other two; these represent poise, self-control and moderation.”
3 “It also has five classes of expression known as Tatt-vas. These are five classes of energies behind our five senses. Each has its own colour and shape. Rama Prasad gives a very full description in Nature’s Finer Forces.” The five are:
Expressions can, of course, be combinations of any two or more. How then does one, with this fundamental knowledge, begin? The answer is by considering the eight Yogi Steps. These are:
1. Yama Non-killing; non-coveteousness; truthfulness.
2. Niyama Cleanliness; Contentment; Regular Observations; Austerity; Self-surrender to God. These are the basic moral techniques without which no practice of Yoga will succeed.
3. Asana Posture. A series of exercises mental and physical. Through this much activity goes on in the body. Nerve currents have to be given a new channel. The whole constitution will be remodelled and the main activity will lie along the spinal column.
4. Pranayama Control of breathing. This includes amongst other things, nostril breathing.
5. Pratyahara Restriction of the senses. Checking the outgoing powers of the mind and freeing it from the thraldom of the senses.
6. Daharna Concentration of motion. A fluid state of heightened attentiveness that is highly focussed.
7. Meditation This leads from the former.
8. Super-Conscious Awareness.
“As one proceeds, the purification of the seven centres, known as the chakras, or spinning vortices of energy, begins until all seven are sublimated in the highest.
“When the serpent power, Kundalini, now coiled up in the base of the spine is awakened, the whole nature will begin to change and the book of knowledge will open. Each chakra is said to have its own particular colour, musical note and geometrical form.
“By the activity of the mind this power, when properly guided and directed towards the internal world, will analyse and illumine facts for us. This is accomplished by the agencies of Surya — Sun and Rayi — Moon.” This is a subject on it’s own and does not come within the range of this article.
“The man who has discovered and learnt how to manipulate the internal forces will get the whole of nature under his control. But he has to start, as was said earlier, with his own nature.
“The Yogi then proposes to himself no less a task than to master the Whole Universe, to control the whole of Nature, internal and external.”
Now let us turn to Alchemy. I will not take time in discussing the people who have, over the centuries, tried their hands at the transmutation of base metals into gold. A number were certainly genuine experimenters into the metals of their time, and as such were probably the fore-runners of chemistry. To my mind some undoubtedly discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and were able to effect the miracles of truns mutation. Others were charlatans seeking to extract large sums of money from those motivated by greed. We will leave them. As with Yoga, I intend to spend time on the highest aspects of Alchemy … or Spiritual Alchemy, the quest for the Philosopher’s Stone and the discovery of the Universal Medicine. We can then see if there is any basis on which one can consider the title of this chapter to be a possibility.
One must understand that all old alchemical writings are in a special cryptic language. To decipher their meanings one has to learn the language in the same way that one has to learn Sanscrit or Chemical formulae if one wants to understand Yoga and chemistry.
But at the outset it might be useful to examine the quotation from Webster’s Dictionary to give us a start. It is this:
“The mediaeval chemical science, whose great objects were the transmutation of the baser metals into gold; the discovery of the universal cure for disease and the means of indefinitely prolonging life.” But this is not all the story and it is misleading because it makes it appear that various operations of alchemy are directed primarily to those objectives; whereas, the truth is that the Great Work has to do with man himself. Alchemy has been described as ‘A state of consciousness which is reflected into the physical plane as perfect vibratory equilibrium’. But it ] is not exclusively concerned with consciousness. The performance of the Great Work is more than a state of mind and enables him who has succeeded in unfoldment to exercise all the powers that go with it. Eliphas Levi describes the Great Work as follows:
“The Magnum Opus (Great Work) is pre-eminently the operation of man by himself, that is, the full and complete conquest which he can make of his faculties and his future; it is pre-eminently the perfect emancipation of his will.
“This self-command enables him to transform his ‘corruptible’ physical body into a body of ‘incorruptible’. So we see that alchemy is also primarily an interior operation.
“Yet it is by no means wholly metaphysical. Actual physical materials are worked upon, and the operation has for its object the making of a mineral product, which may truly be called a stone. This stone is a product of Art (Mind) though the materials composing it are drawn from nature. Therefore The Great Work may be described correctly as being a Psycho-physiological transformation, directed by human self-consciousness.”
What then are the tenets of Alchemy?
1. The doctrine that “all manifestation is of one substance”
Sulphur- Fiery and passionate.
Mercury- Vital and reflective.
2. They recognise five phases of manifestation or five classes of expression of The One Thing. These are:
“Quintessence and the four elements, fire, water, air, earth.”
“But before practical work or experiment can begin in alchemy the student must practice discipline, both mental, emotional and physical and have an understanding of the aims to which he proposes to direct his energies. These are given in the twelve stages laid out in The Great Work. They have strange names but are:
1. ‘Calcination’ – Process which drives from our consciousness the changeable elements of emotion, personal bias, erroneous opinion etc.
2. ‘Congelation’ – This is to work out new patterns for the expression of the ‘Life Force’.
3. ‘Fixation’ – Harmonic balance in the operation of the three principles mentioned earlier.
4. ‘Separation’ – Formulation of the objective towards which the special work of the alchemist is directed.
5. ‘Digestion’ – Transformation of the destructive forces which throws form into perfect comprehension of Reality.
6. ‘Distillation’ – Food, water, air, light. These elements outside our bodies are lifeless. By assimilation or distillation they become living substances.
7. ‘Sublimation’ Diversion of undesirable trends by education, and conscious effort.
8. ‘Purification’ Decomposition and disintegrat ion of former structures of false opinions.
9. ‘Incineration’ A step further where something has to be brought to bear which the alchemist cannot do for himself. A Higher Power is invoked. The Great Work is only achieved by the Grace of God.
10. ‘Fermentation’ – When the leven of a super-consciousness has been received through the suspension of personal identification with events and actions, the leven begins to operate subconsciously.
11. ‘Dissolution’ – Process of meditation which be gins by concentration on some particular object.
12. ‘Multiplication’ – Is the tingeing of the whole body with Super-Conscious awareness.
“In alchemy one hears much about the seven metals; gold, silver, copper, mercury, iron, tin and lead. Each has its own appropriate colour and is related to plexuses and glands in the body. They are the same as the seven chakras of Yoga.
“In the transformation of the Alchemist these metals are so modified that the lower rates of vibration are transmuted and sublimated … or lifted up. This transformation of the subtle Scorpio force which works through the interior stars has a triple consequence.
1. It leads to spiritual illumination.
2. It gives the perfected Adept a new body which is absolutely healthy.
3. It enables him to exercise powers which remain latent in most human beings.
“In meditation the subtle changes in consciousness are effected whereby the scorpio force is raised from its natural centre in the body to become an active power awakening other centres in the brain.” By what agencies is this accomplished? In Alchemical terminology … “Sol is its Father, Luna its Mother”. It is clear from this that there are many similarities in the two methods of spiritual unfoldment … the philosophy of Yoga of the East and Alchemy of the West. I will now, to make this clearer, show in diagrammatic form a comparison of the two systems.
So we find that there are many places where Yoga and Alchemy meet though they have different terminology.
“In concluding this brief outline, it may be as well to remind ourselves that we have all Eternity in which to complete the operation. This does not mean that we have to sit idle and wait for ever. If we grasp the basic principles and begin to work in harmony with them now, we might possibly finish the Great Work in any one incarnation.
“But in any event, if we begin now, we will have at least laid the foundations for further progress. Next time it will inevitably be easier.”
And in conclusion from Vivekananda …
“Do this either by work, or by worship, or psychic control, or philosophy — by one, or more, or all of them and BE FREE.”
And one final reminder … “Personal effort is the price one must pay for the discovery of truth”.