There is a Sanskrit word which is variously spelt Ishwara, Iswara, Ishvara, Isvara, and Eswara. It literally means “Lord.”
Many Hindus who hold to the concept of a personal or anthropomorphic Absolute refer to their God by the honorific title of “Ishwara,” pronounced “Eeshvara” rather than “Ishvaara.” Generally in Hinduism, it is Shiva and Vishnu who are most referred to in this way. But even in Hindu scriptures and philosophies which teach that the Absolute or Ultimate Reality is not Ishwara but is the impersonal Brahman (Parabrahm, Parabrahman), the term “Ishwara” is often still used but as a term for the manifested, dynamic side of the Divine which springs forth from the unmanifested Brahman in order to produce and sustain the Universe. It is this which in Theosophy we call the Logos.
In Tibetan Buddhism too, we find Avalokiteshwara, which means literally “the Ishwara, or Lord, who observes” or “the Ishwara who is the Witness (Avalokit).” The article Sakshi: The Unchanging Inner Witness may help to shed some light on the deeper meaning of this. So regardless of who or what one considers Ishwara to be, it is hard for any spiritually or metaphysically inclined person to reject or deny the reality that is spoken of under that title. “Ishwara” and “Bhagavan” are the Hindu equivalents of the word “God.”
The term also appears a number of times in the teachings and literature of Theosophy, as also in some of the Hindu scriptures frequently referred to in Theosophy, such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
In the Esoteric Philosophy of Theosophy, Ishwara is almost entirely spoken of as something within the human being, rather than a personal God or Being up in the sky. It becomes clear through study, however, that Theosophy actually speaks of Ishwara in two aspects:
(1) Ishwara in its macrocosmic, universal, collective sense.
(2) Ishwara in its microcosmic and individual sense.
In the former, Ishwara is a term – one of many – applied to the Logos, particularly the Manifested Logos, the Supreme Universal Energy or Universal Light and Life in its manifested aspect, which is the entire aggregate and collectivity of the many Hierarchies of Dhyan Chohans or celestial beings.
The clearest and deepest explanation of this from a metaphysical perspective is found in H. P. Blavatsky’s “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 573. She there states that Ishwara is “a synthetic unit . . . the sum total of Dhyan-Chohanic consciousnesses . . . a compound unity of manifested living Spirits . . . compound UNIT . . . [there are] seven chief groups of such Dhyan Chohans . . . they are the primeval SEVEN Rays.”
In “The Key to Theosophy” she states again that “Iswara is the collective consciousness of the manifested deity . . . the collective consciousness of the Host of Dhyan Chohans.” (p. 158-159)
The majority of the references to “Ishwara” in Theosophical literature come from HPB’s closest colleague William Q. Judge and it can be found that he generally uses the term in its microcosmic and individual sense, by which is meant “the Lord within” or, as HPB expresses it in “The Theosophical Glossary,” the “divine Spirit in man.” In “Isis Unveiled” she shows that this is the Nous, the Noetic Principle within the human being.
Technically speaking, this is not Atma or Atman – in the sense of the pure, universal, infinite Higher Self, literally ONE with the Absolute – but rather the Higher Self in its individualised form, which we speak of as the Higher Ego, i.e. the real Higher Manas, the Manasaputra, that Mind-Entity which is a ray of the Universal Mind, our true spiritual Individuality, the Being of Light within, always ready and willing to guide and aid its Karmic personality on Earth, if that personal self will only look and listen.
The Nous is the Higher Manas, as shown in HPB’s important article “Psychic and Noetic Action.” Nous is Higher Manas in its associations with Buddhi; Psyche is Lower Manas in its associations with Kama.
In the thirteenth chapter or discourse of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna informs Arjuna:
“This perishable body, O son of Kunti, is known as Kshetra; those who are acquainted with the true nature of things call the soul who knows it, the Kshetrajna. Know also that I am the Knower in every mortal body, O son of Bharata; that knowledge which through the soul is a realization of both the known and the knower is alone esteemed by me as wisdom. What the Kshetra or body is, what it resembleth, what it produceth, and what is its origin, and also who he is who, dwelling within, knoweth it, as well as what is his power, learn all in brief from me.”
HPB’s “Theosophical Glossary” entry for this mystical term “Kshetrajna” (pronounced “Kshetragnya”) says that it can also be called “Kshetrajneswara.” It is there defined as “Embodied spirit, the Conscious Ego in its highest manifestations; the reincarnating Principle; the “Lord” in us.”
“Kshetrajna” means “Knower within the body” and “Kshetrajneswara” means “Lord within the body” or, more precisely, “The Lord who knows, within the body.”
“Kshetragna, the Higher or reincarnating Ego” (“The Key to Theosophy” p. 68) must be the Higher Manas, since in the Definite Words for Definite Things of Theosophical terminology the Higher Ego equals the Higher Manas. And it is this aspect of our being which is “the reincarnating Principle” and not Atma or Buddhi. We saw that Kshetrajna or Kshetrajneswara is “embodied spirit.” This again is a term applied to the Higher Manas, for on p. 67-68 of “The Key to Theosophy” HPB says that Atma-Buddhi-Manas can be thought of as abstract spirit (Atma), differentiated spirit (Buddhi), and embodied spirit (Manas).
“The three higher principles . . . all the three regarded as a Trinity . . . it answers to abstract spirit, differentiated spirit, and embodied spirit.”
We might say then that macrocosmically Ishwara is the Universal Mind and microcosmically an individualised ray of the Universal Mind, one of such rays dwelling within each human being as their own “Inner God,” the only type of “Personal God” which is possible in philosophy and actuality.
But even then, Ishwara, although individual, is not really personal, in the ordinary sense of the word, but impersonal. In contradistinction with the individual personality, Ishwara is impersonal individuality. “The universal consciousness of the real Ego transcends a millionfold the self-consciousness of the personal or false Ego,” says HPB in “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge” p. 74.
For further explanations about the Higher Ego, lower ego, and their place in the sevenfold constitution of man, please see the article Ego Is Not A Bad Word which includes a diagram or chart of the Seven Principles, derived from “The Key to Theosophy.”
What follows is a compilation of quotations about Ishwara from the writings of H.P. Blavatsky, William Judge, and Robert Crosbie, who was the founder of the United Lodge of Theosophists.
As will be seen, there are actually a few instances – particularly from William Judge – in which the term “Ishwara” is seemingly used as a synonym for Atman, the Higher Self, even though overall it is not. Also, “The Theosophical Glossary” speaks of Avalokiteshwara as Atman, the Higher Self. In light of the close connection and interrelation between our Higher Self and Higher Ego, it is perhaps not possible to categorically apply the word “Ishwara” in a fixed way to only one or the other.
May the following passages inspire and illuminate.
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“Iswara (Sk.). The “Lord” or the personal god – divine Spirit in man. Lit., sovereign (independent) existence. A title given to Siva and other gods in India. Siva is also called Iswaradeva, or sovereign deva.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 158)
“When we reach “that which is supreme, which is simple, pure, and unchangeable, without form, color, or human qualities: the God – our Nous.”
“This is the state which such seers as Plotinus and Apollonius termed the “Union to the Deity”; which the ancient Yogins called Isvara,* and the modern call “Samaddi”; but this state is as far above modern clairvoyance as the stars above glow-worms. Plotinus, as is well known, was a clairvoyant-seer during his whole and daily life; and yet, he had been united to his God but six times during the sixty-six years of his existence, as he himself confessed to Porphyry.”
“* In its general sense, Isvara means “Lord”; but the Isvara of the mystic philosophers of India was understood precisely as the union and communion of men with the Deity of the Greek mystics.” [i.e. the Nous or Higher Ego, the Manasaputra; see HPB’s article “Psychic and Noetic Action”] (H. P. Blavatsky, “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 2, p. 591)
“The Logos, or both the unmanifested and the manifested WORD, is called by the Hindus, Iswara, “the Lord,” though the Occultists give it another name. Iswara, say the Vedantins, is the highest consciousness in nature. “This highest consciousness,” answer the Occultists, “is only a synthetic unit in the world of the manifested Logos – or on the plane of illusion; for it is the sum total of Dhyan-Chohanic consciousnesses.” “Oh, wise man, remove the conception that not-Spirit is Spirit,” says Sankaracharya. Atma is not-Spirit in its final Parabrahmic state, Iswara or Logos is Spirit; or, as Occultism explains, it is a compound unity of manifested living Spirits, the parent-source and nursery of all the mundane and terrestrial monads, plus their divine reflection, which emanate from, and return into, the Logos, each in the culmination of its time. There are seven chief groups of such Dhyan Chohans, which groups will be found and recognised in every religion, for they are the primeval SEVEN Rays. Humanity, occultism teaches us, is divided into seven distinct groups and their sub-divisions, mental, spiritual, and physical. The monad, then, viewed as ONE, is above the seventh principle (in Kosmos and man), and as a triad, it is the direct radiant progeny of the said compound UNIT, . . .” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 573)
“It is said in the Eastern school, that between Buddhi and Manas (the Ego), or Iswara and Pragna* there is in reality no more difference than between a forest and its trees, a lake and its waters, as the Mundaka teaches.”
“* Iswara is the collective consciousness of the manifested deity, Brahmā, i.e., the collective consciousness of the Host of Dhyan Chohans (vide SECRET DOCTRINE); and Pragna is their individual wisdom.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Key to Theosophy” p. 158-159)
“To the extent that we do so we become the Deity himself, for, as we follow the dictates of the Lord who dwells in us, we resign every act upon the altar, leaving the consequences to Him.
“The attitude to be assumed, then, is that of doing every act, small and great, trifling or important, because it is before us to do, and as a mere carrying out by us as instruments of the will of that Deity who is ourself. Nor should we stop to inquire whether the act is of any use to the Lord within,* as some ask. For, they say, of what possible benefit to Him can be the small hourly acts which, as soon as done, are forgotten? It is not for us to inquire. The act that pleases the Lord is the act which is done as presented with no attachment to its result, while the act that is unpleasing to Him is the one which we do, desiring some result therefrom.”
“* Ishwar, the particular manifestation of Brahma [i.e. Brahman, not Brahmā] in each human being.” . . .
“It is seeing Krishna in everything, and everything in him. This at last we must do, for Ishwara, the spirit in each of us, is none other than Krishna; therefore let us think of Him and fight; while entangled in this dense forest of existence, let us think of Him, the Lion our guard, the Sage our guide, the Warrior our sure defense and shield.” (William Q. Judge, “Notes on the Bhagavad Gita” p. 61, 101)
“The system postulates that Ishwara, the spirit in man, is untouched by any troubles, works, fruit of works, or desires, and when a firm position is assumed with the end in view of reaching union with spirit through concentration, He comes to the aid of the lower self and raises it gradually to higher planes.”
“Ishwara” is The Spirit in the body.”
“May Ishwara be near and help those who read this book. OM.” (William Q. Judge, notes/commentary to The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, p. xv, 10, 74)
“The state of abstract meditation may be attained by profound devotedness toward the Supreme Spirit considered in its comprehensible manifestation as Ishwara.
“Ishwara is a spirit, untouched by troubles, works, fruits of works, or desires.
“In Ishwara becomes infinite that omniscience which in man exists as a germ.
“Ishwara is the preceptor of all, even of the earliest of created beings, for He is not limited by time.
“His name is OM.
“The repetition of this name should be made with reflection upon its signification.” (The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, v. 23-28, p. 10-11, William Q. Judge rendition)
“There dwelleth in the heart of every creature, O Arjuna, the Master – Ishwara – who by his magic power causeth all things and creatures to revolve mounted upon the universal wheel of time. Take sanctuary with him alone, O son of Bharata, with all thy soul; by his grace thou shalt obtain supreme happiness, the eternal place.” (Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, p. 130-131, William Q. Judge rendition)
“This imperishable soul is thus separated from the body in which the qualities influence it, and also from the qualities which are not it. It is Ishwara.” (William Q. Judge, “Letters That Have Helped Me” p. 26)
“Assume that the Ego is a “god on a higher plane,” and there is no impossibility in supposing that, coming to this plane, it is so surrounded by the clouds of matter as to become latent or hidden until the time when the form suitable for this plane is evolved. This is the only sort of latency which can be alleged of the Ego. This also is what Theosophical writings say to me, and among those writings I place the Bhagavad-Gita. In that, Krishna, the Supreme Being, identifies himself with Ishwara, who is the Ego “seated in the hearts of all beings.” Patanjali also says the same, naming that Ego, who is the Spectator of all things, by the name Om or Lord of Glory. The Secret Doctrine continues the same view. The Christian view and Theosophy must also agree, since Jesus, in exhorting his disciples to be as perfect as the Father in heaven, must have had in view the doctrine that the Father dwelt in and is Man: otherwise we could not become perfect as he is. . . .
“The Ego – meaning thereby the Self, Ishwara, Krishna, the Supreme – is unborn, changeless, all-knowing. It knows evolving Nature, the instrument, but the latter comes but slowly to a knowledge of the Self. It is therefore latent only in the sense that there are periods when the instrument, the false personality, recognizes it not. Such a period is the present, when although the body has been evolved by Nature – with the aid of the Ego – we do not know the Ego.” (William Q. Judge, “Forum Answers” p. 108-109)
“. . . the deliberate choosers of evil, whose lives are passed in great spiritual wickedness (for evil done for the sheer love of evil per se), sever the connection with the Divine Spirit, or the Monad, which forever abandons the human Ego. Such Egos pass into the misery of the eighth sphere, as far as we understand, there to remain until the separation between what they had thus cultivated and the personal Ishwara or divine spark is complete. But this tenet has never been explained to us by the Masters, who have always refused to answer and to explain it conclusively. At the next Manvantara that Divine Spark will probably begin again the long evolutionary journey, being cast into the stream of life at the source and passing upward again through all the lower forms.” (William Q. Judge, “An Epitome of Theosophy” p. 29)
“The spirit is not affected by Karma at any time or under any circumstances, and so the Theosophical Adepts would not use the terms “cultivation of the Spirit.” The Spirit in man, called by them Ishwara, is immutable, eternal and indivisible – the fundamental basis of all.” (William Q. Judge, “Echoes from the Orient” p. 49)
“The old definition of what is good and what bad Karma is the best. That is: “Good Karma is that which is pleasing to Ishwara, and bad that which is displeasing to Ishwara.” There is here but very little room for dispute as to poverty or wealth; for the test and measure are not according to our present evanescent human tastes and desires, but are removed to the judgment of the immortal self – Ishwara. The self may not wish for the pleasures of wealth, but seeing the necessity for discipline decides to assume life among mortals in that low station where endurance, patience, and strength may be acquired by experience. There is no other way to implant in the character the lessons of life.
“It may then be asked if all poverty and low condition are good Karma? This we can answer, under the rule laid down, in the negative. Some such lives, indeed many of them, are bad Karma, displeasing to the immortal self imprisoned in the body, because they are not by deliberate choice, but the result of causes blindly set in motion in previous lives, sure to result in planting within the person the seeds of wickedness that must later be uprooted with painful effort. Under this canon, then, we would say that the masses of poor people who are not bad in nature are enduring oftener than not good Karma, because it is in the line of experience Ishwara has chosen, and that only those poor people who are wicked can be said to be suffering bad Karma, because they are doing and making that which is displeasing to the immortal self within.” (William Q. Judge, “Is Poverty Bad Karma?” – “William Q. Judge Theosophical Articles” Vol. 1, p. 154; WQJ Pamphlet #6 “Karma”)
“For the self is held to be that designated in the Indian books as Ishwara, which is a portion of the eternal spirit enshrined in each human body.” (William Q. Judge, “Culture of Concentration” – “William Q. Judge Theosophical Articles” Vol. 1, p. 319; WQJ Pamphlet #11 “The Inner Man”)
“Good Karma is that which is pleasing to Iswara; bad Karma is that which is displeasing to Iswara – the best definition of the two kinds.”
“I think that the word “Perceiver” connotes both individuality and that power of perception which is infinite. As individual, or as Ego, it connotes all the experience of the immense past. It is also Ishwara and Paramatma, for that which perceives has no limitations to its possible field. The Perceiver rests in the Infinite and is always behind and above any and all expansions of perceptions. ‘Man” is greater than any mind he may have, for he is constantly changing it – and remains. The Soul looks directly on ideas; nothing comes to it but ideas, obtained through its various evolved sheaths.” (Robert Crosbie, “The Friendly Philosopher” p. 141, 163-164)
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