The Kybalion

I had never heard of this book, The Kybalion: A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece by Three Initiates (originally published in 1908, I’ve got the Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin edition of 2008). I’ve studied several schools of thought on spirituality (I hesitate to call them all “religions” as I don’t think it accurately applies to some) and this book seems to be kind of a summary of the most important points of them all. That’s not what it’s MEANT to be, of course, but that’s my impression.

For example, it seems that many spiritual systems acknowledge that “God” or divinity is beyond our understanding. Even Christianity seems to agree to the idea that to look upon the face of God would turn one to toast, or something to that effect. In other words, to behold (or at least express) the whole truth is impossible.

The Kybalion speaks to this on page 28: “The Hermetists believe and teach that THE ALL, [their term for “God,” divinity, the Great Spirit, etc.] ‘in itself,’ is and must ever be UNKNOWABLE.” They then go on to the logical conclusion,

They regard all the theories, guesses and speculations of the theologians and metaphysicians regarding the inner nature of THE ALL, as but the childish efforts of mortal minds to grasp the secret of the Infinite. Such efforts have always failed and will always fail, from the very nature of the task. One pursuing such inquiries travels around and around in the labyrinth of thought, until he is lost to all sane reasoning, action or conduct, and is utterly unfitted for the work of life.

Quite a damning analysis, but it is stated similarly in other spiritual texts.

The Hua Hu Ching, written by Lao Tzu around 2697 B.C., explains (as translated by Master Ni, Hua-Ching):

Because the absolute Truth is unspeakable, unexplainable and cannot be thought of, the one who tries to talk about it deviates from it. The one who tries to explain it makes it obscure. The one who thinks about it loses it. Therefore, all we can do is show the way to the traveler. We cannot walk it for him. We can write the prescription, but we cannot drink the herb tea for him. All teachings are an herbal medicine which are given to the sick, according to what kind of disease they have. But there is not one word which can be held as the total truth. There is only the absolute Way of life. The absolute being lives quietly. He connects himself with the wordless truth of life undividedly, selflessly and harmoniously.

Thich Nhat Hanh, as usual, puts things in very accessible terms when he talks in his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching about the dangers of getting caught in “signs:”

If water, for example, is in a square container, its sign is “squareness.” If in a round container, its sign is “roundness.” When we open the freezer and take out some ice, the sign of that water is solid. Chemists call water “H2O.” The snow on the mountain and the steam rising from the kettle are also H2O. Whether H2O is round or square, liquid, gaseous, or solid depends on circumstances. Signs are instruments for our use, but they are not absolute truth, and they can mislead us.

If this is true for a material object, how much more so for spirit?

In the book Essential Sufism, edited by James Fadiman and Robert Frager, the idea is expressed thus:

Those who adore God in the sun behold the sun, and those who adore Him in living things see a living thing, and those who adore Him in lifeless things see a lifeless thing, and those who adore Him as a Being unique and unparalleled see that which has no like. Do not attach yourself to a particular creed exclusively so that you disbelieve in all the rest: otherwise you will lose much good; nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited by any one creed. Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of Allah. –Ibn ‘Arabi

I find the parallels between the schools of thought beyond fascinating, because if what they say in their various fashions is true (as far as “truth” can be told!), then the best way to approach the Unknowable might just be to look at it from every possible perspective, like you can’t truly know a gem until you’ve examined every facet.

If you walk a similar path, you might find this book a helpful angle to investigate.

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