Cycles are Not Mechanical
Mar 31, 1994 01:01 AM
by Eldon B. Tucker
There are a lot of truths hiding behind the doctrine of
cycles. Like working with a Zen koan, the doctrine requires
insights that short-circuit or defeat the apparent roadblocks to
understanding that we find, when we try to understand the
information that we have been given.
The information on cycles was not just presented like a
crossword puzzle, an intellectual game devised to allow us to
sharpen our wits while passing time. We are not presented with a
simple game, where we only need to place together the stray quotes,
the bits and pieces of reference to cycles and their time periods,
as found through our theosophical literature. Our goal is not to
see whom is best at presenting a set of consolidated tables or
diagrams, from authoritative literature, revealing the secrets of
When we stop trying to solve the puzzle, and instead approach
an understanding of the nature of cycles by the use of common
sense, we get closer to our answer. We need to understand what a
cycle is by using the core concepts of Theosophy, and seeing how
cycles fit in with the theosophical scheme of things.
What we are given in our literature is fragmentary, and at
times possibly a blind. The intent seems to provide us with a
puzzle, but not one of the gathering and organization of numerical
information and time periods, even though there is historic
importance to such work. No, the intent is to provide some blinds,
and the challenge is to break through them and arrive at a real
appreciation of cycles, as a dynamic part of the process of life,
and not a game in some arbitrary system of numerology.
Some of the cycles and time periods that we have been given
may seem arbitrary. Some may even overlap (like the subraces, where
one starts at the midpoint of the previous one). And there may be
an immense variability in times to complete a cycle (like the
different lengths of time for the different Root Races). All this
points to a challenge in contemplation and not simply an
intellectual puzzle to sort out for the fun of it.
The key to cycles is not in getting the right numbers. There
are important numbers in mathematics and nature, like certain
irrational constants like pi, epsilon, the Golden Mean, and other
numbers recently discovered related to non-linear dynamics and
chaos. These numbers may be perfect in the realm of pure
mathematics, but are only approximated in actual life.
Consider the shape of a perfect circle, then consider how it
can be represented on a computer screen. Depending upon the
resolution of the screen, the circle varies in how well it is
approximated, but there is no screen with mathematical perfect
resolution, with an infinite number of dots to draw the circle
with. We are always left with an imperfection, an approximation, in
life, when we seek to express something in the manifest world.
Consider this difference between the ideal and the actual, the
vision and the crudely-molded clay that seeks to express it. It is
this world, the world of clay, the manifest side of life, the realm
of approximation and of giving expression, in which we find
ourselves. It is this world in which cycles exist and our
understanding of cycles comes from understanding how they are in
the world, not from understanding how they are in an ideal,
The key to the mystery of cycles is not in learning so-called
magic numbers, in learning of special moments to do things where we
have greater power to effect changes in the world. There are such
times, but they pertain to aspects of astrology and magic that are
not publicly revealed, because they have power and could be
considered a form of knowledge that is part of the occult arts.
The teaching of cycles was not done in a manner to encourage
that sort of knowledge. It was rather done to teach an important
core concept, an important root idea that is central to the
theosophical philosophy. This idea is not one that can simply be
told~even when there is an attempt like now to write about it.
There are certain significant insights, though, that can be
obtained by puzzling over what has been given us, if we are
successful in our contemplative studies.
We hear in The Mahatma Letters that the number of lives or
periods of existence are fixed, and must be lived out. But that
could be a succession of qualities to be experienced in our
evolution, an ordinal sequence, with one after the other, but not
necessarily of fixed length or progressing like clockwork.
In life, we follow process, we live in accord with established
law. We eat food, for instance, and then digest it. Each of us is
individual and does it in his own way, but all are subject to the
laws of the world that we exist in, including the established
pattern of human existence that we live under.
Our world too follows cycles in an individual way, but is
subject to the laws of a greater world or universe. A cycle, then,
is the act of living through a natural process, natural in the
sense of Mother Nature for the greater world that ours exists in.
Cycles are the rhythms of life, and eventually come to an end.
They are not like the gears of a clock, always in synchronization
with greater and lesser cycles, working together like a fixed,
mechanical timepiece. They may come into harmony, and synchronize
with each other, with timings tending to fall together among those
of beings that are in close association with one another, and not
synchronize with those of other beings.
When we look at cycles, we are trying to understand the nature
and personality and characteristics of a world or universe that is
engaged in some form of activity. What that world is doing is
experienced by us, its inhabitants, as a particular cycle of
Cycles do not necessarily get better over time, or are
experienced in higher ways~they may completely go away and be
replaced by other cycles of completely different type and nature
and timing. Consider a child. As he grows up, there may be periods
of play at the park. At an older age, the child may ride his bike
a lot. And still older, the child may devote much time to reading
books. To the child's lifeatoms, these activities are cycles of
experience. And looking at the different things that the child
done, we see qualitatively different activities. Old activities,
old cycles stop to make room for newer ones, but are replaced, not
transformed into the newer activities.
We experience life in the context of great cycles that affect
us. And we may see the cycles that affect us also come and go, and
that they are not all active at any single time.
Some cycles may, for the present, be continuous, like a
heartbeat of a living being, coming one right after the other.
There is a living, dynamic nature to them, and they appear to be
ceaseless for the duration of our manvantara.
Other cycles come for a few periods, and then stop, or are
intermittent in occurrence, where it is not possible to predict
when the cycle will next occur, like how often someone may read a
Still others come once, and are never repeated in our
existence, like the birth process, from conception through one's
A cycle could be considered the experience of a natural
process, from start to finish, in a living being. It does not have
to repeat itself immediately. It does not have to be continuous.
And the time to complete it can be relatively fixed and continuous
(like the 24 hours in a day) to highly variable and discontinuous
(like the length of a particular lifetime).
The period of activity, of manifestation, in a cycle is the
part that would be called the manvantara. And the period of
inactivity, of non-manifestation, would be called an obscuration or
For an individual, only a portion of the storehouse of karma
is experienced in any particular lifetime. Some cycles in his life
become manifest or manvantaric, and others stay unmanifest, in
obscuration or pralaya.
A cycle would be in obscuration if it was a type of activity
that the person has learned in this lifetime, has done, and could
readily to again if he choose to do so.
The cycle would be in pralaya if it was of something that the
individual was karmically capable of, something done in past
lifetimes, but never learned and taken up in this lifetime. The
individual does not have existing, manifest skills or experience in
Consider the skill of riding a bicycle. If learned in this
lifetime, but not done for many years, it would represent a cycle
that has entered a period of extended obscuration.
But then consider the skill of playing a flute. The individual
may have a karmic seed, an innate talent for it, but if he has
never actually taken the time to learn to do so in this lifetime,
it would represent a cycle that entered pralaya at the end of some
previous lifetime, and has not yet emerged again into
Or consider the cycle of writing an article. We might write
three in quick succession, then have many months before the next
one. The periods of obscuration vary based upon other cycles that
come into play, crowding out the article-writing cycle for a time.
And when we die, the article-writing cycle enters its pralaya,
until we have another life in which we learn to write articles.
Let us always keep in mind that we exist in an organic, living
Boundless All, transcending all concept of size, composed of
countless co-dependent beings, a vast unfantomable ocean of life.
It is only limited by our ability to conceive of it. The best and
highest that we can think of it is but our own face, projected
outward and upward, an magnification of our own best qualities.
There is always more to it, and it is a life! We are not dealing
with a mechanical clock or a tin solder. Let's try to see it as
fully, as clearly as we may, by applying the thinnest of veils to
how we would mask it in our thoughts.
Our cycles of existence are not the product of rigid
mechanics, and we must take care not to too rigidly picture how
they work, or we will make the truth more difficult to conceive.
Let us open our minds for the grand Teachings that can be
found in our books. The intellect will only take us so far, before
we find ourselves faced with the appearance of arbitrary
assertions, even contradictions. These only appear to be so, and
the real meaning of the Teachings is there, waiting for us to
realize it in our contemplation. Look, use Buddhi-Manas, and
behold! We have a lot of treasures in our humble books, and should
feel privileged to live in a period of history where we can own and
read such literature!
Eldon Tucker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application