Nov 03, 1997 05:47 PM
by Thoa Tran
Since I am out with a cold today, I have the time to scan the Secret
Doctrine I & II to see where Mondrian got his ideas. By the way, I highly
recommend reading the chapter on Mondrian in An Art of Our Own: The
Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art. The author gave a detailed
understanding of Mondrian's philosophy, although there's nothing on rhythm.
If you cannot find the book, I would be happy to copy that section for
you. I will send that and any other info. if you would privately e-mail me
Mark and I had a great time playing Sherlock Holmes in trying to figure out
Mondrian's intent. First, before we bring the SD I & II, let's look at
some clues. It may at first look like a stir fry, but hopefully it will
turn out to be a tasty dish.
I won't state Mondrian's work too much in detail because you probably
studied it in more detail than I did. Mondrian stated that "(p)lastic art
affirms that equilibrium can only be established through the balance of
unequal but equivalent oppositions" and compared that with human life, that
although we are in "disequilibrium", we are "based on equilibrium."
Mondrian's later works is reminiscent of an asymmetrical mandala. The
composition is off-balance and yet it is very static, a "dynamic
equilibrium". He used his limited expressions of colors, tones and lines
to express universality. He believed that art, like the process of
exercises such as meditation, should be a path of speedier evolution for
the artist. He wants "(t)he subjectivization of the universal in art (to)
bring the universal downward on the one hand, while on the other it helps
raise the individual toward the universal." (His writings quoted by
Before we go on, let's define Laya-Center.
1. According to G. de Purucker's Occult Glossary: A laya-center is the
mystical point where a thing disappears from one plane and passes onward to
reappear on another plane.
2. There is more definition, but that is the gist of it. To visualize it,
think in terms of a sine wave that extends from highest spirit (where it
vibrates very quickly) to densest matter (where it vibrates imperceptibly
slow), and the laya centers between planes are located on a straight line
that passes through the center. The center of the sine wave is the point
of equilibrium. By quieting the vibrations of the body, the emotions, and
the lower mind, the Yogi is able to go to the laya center to experience the
higher nature. A good book on that would be "A Geometry of
Space-Consciousness" by James S. Perkins, Theosophical Publishing House,
ISBN 0-8356-7006-6. It is a small book and I would be happy to copy that
for you also. Also, the Theosophical Pub. House has a book on modern art
and theosophy. I'm not sure of it's exact title, but you might want to
request a catalog from them.
3. Here's a passage (The Mental Body, A.E. Powell, The Theosophical
Publishing House, p. 160) regarding laya center that might help clarifying
its relation to Yoga: "...as the mental body is stilled, the consciousness
escapes from it and passes into and out of the 'laya centre,' the neutral
points of contact between the mental and the causal body.
4. In the SD I, p. 147, starting from the last paragraph, is a detailed
explanation of the Laya center.
5. A laya center works both ways. You can go up through them, or draw
down through them. Mondrian's stated intent was that he was trying to draw
the universe down through his painting. His work is an outer
representation of his inner ability to attune.
The Secret Doctrine is very difficult to follow. You can read writings by
G. de Purucker to help you understand the SD. From his Fundamentals of the
Esoteric Philosophy (a commentary on The SD), Point Loma Publications, ISBN
0-913004-70-7, you might want to read some pages pertaining to your study:
p. 89, regarding force in equilibrium, not latent.
p. 322-323, starting with the third paragraph, regarding laya-center.
p.401, regarding laya-center.
In addition, in the SD I, you may want to read p. 36, Stanza I(#2, 3, 4,
9). Also peppered in the SD I are discussions regarding forces,
Pythagorean theory, and numerology that may spark some ideas.
You may also want to look up books on mandalas. There is one, Mystery of
Mandalas by Heita Copony, The Theosophical Publishing House, ISBN
0-8356-0649-X. Let me quote what is written on p.3 and you can see the
relation to Mondrian's work:
"The mandala in its entire expression refers to dimensions beyond outer
appearances. Here human experience of being and intuition come together
and something unspeakable is expressed in an image that can be perceived by
the senses. We may also understand the mandala as a model of principles of
reality, of which humanity is a part, of an order of the cosmos projected
into three-dimensional space. Just as unimaginable worlds of other
dimensions unfold beyond the world of space and time in which we mortals
live, so the mandala's statement and levels of meaning are multidimensional
and often full of paradox. On one hand, for example, the mandala is an
image of humans in the limitations of space and time. On the other hand,
it leads from the human realm to the cosmic and spiritual and joins the two
levels. So it is personal and suprapersonal at the same time-microcosm and
macrocosm, spirit and matter, the finite and the infinite pervading each
Now, to me, that seems a whole lot like what Mondrian was trying to do. In
studying mandalas, you can see that Mondrian's work is basically an
asymmetrical modernist mandala.
Lastly, you might want to look up the processes of Samkhya-yoga, which is
practiced through stillness.
I hope I'm not confusing you too much. After all, this is a man's life
time study of theosophy from various sources. Thus, you can see that the
point of equilibrium is the laya center, or "rhythm, the attainment of the
point of perfect balance and of equilibrium" (AB), the processes of
attaining that equilibrium through exercises such as meditation or creation
of mandalas. From that, you can see that this is rhythm in a "no-time and
non-repetition basis", achieved through holding the stillness.
>Date: Mon, 03 Nov 1997 13:49:21 +1100
>From: tosaki <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>Subject: Re: THEOS-L digest 1305
>Thank you for your very interesting quick reply to Mondrian's rhythm. I
>myself reread my contributed mail again and found several English
>mistakes (my first language is Japanese) and difficulties to understand
>my question, but you generously skimmed my points and, more than that,
>gave me a delightful possibility to trace back to ancient concept of
>Thoa Tran wrote:
>> Did Mondrian form his theory of rhythm during the time of his early
>> abstract art, or during the time of his geometric compositions of later
>Actually there is no obvious documentation written by him about rhythm
>before 1917. But the earlier version of the long essay titled "The New
>Plastic in Painting" was originally intended to publish in the magazine
>of Theosophy society in Holland in 1914 but was rejected. And in his
>postmortem publication of his sketchbooks 1912-1914 there is no direct
>reference of rhythm. So we can say that he developed his idea of rhythm
>rudimentally between 1914-1917, when his painting was in transition from
>natural referential abstract painting to non-natural referential
>> You can find what Mondrian is referring to (no-time, non-repetition) in
>> ideas older than the Secret Doctrine, in Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact,
>> it's pretty basic Yoga. As far as I can see, there are no direct
>> references to rhythm indexed in the major works by Blavatsky that we have.
>Yes, there is no indexed reference of rhythm in the major works by
>Blavatsky, but in her book "Studies in Occultism" (Sphere Books Limited,
>1974, ISBN 0 7221 1701 9) there are several parts concerned rhythm
>mentioned: "the rhythm of nervous vibrations" (p. 42), "it [the flame]
>will dance and sing in rhythm with sounds." But those do not relate to
>the main concept of rhythm in Mondrian.
>> However, the idea of rhythm expressed by Mondrian in your quote is not
>> rhythm as we generally know it, but rhythm in terms of finding the
>> stillness of equilibrium to liberate ourselves from Maya. When the Secret
>> Doctrine discusses about Pralaya, Laya centers, cycles, and illusion, there
>> are plenty of ideas from which to build such a theory. In the Stanzas of
>> the Secret Doctrine, you can see references to time and space being
>> illusion, and how we evolve to free ourselves from Maya. From that, you
>> can see where Alice Bailey got her ideas about rhythm. For example, in
>> Yogic and Buddhic meditation, the purpose is to still the vibrations of the
>> senses, the emotions, and the lower mind. By doing that, you can find the
>> Laya center, and slip through to experience the higher nature.
>This is precious information dedicating the understanding of Mondrian's
>rhythm. In the grocery attached to "The Secret Doctrine Commentary" Maya
>and Pralaya mean (but no item of "Laya centers" so if you explain the
>term it will be appreciated):
>Maya (Sans.) Illusion; the cosmic power which renders phenomenal
>existence and the perceptions thereof possible. In Hindu philosophy that
>alone which is changeless and eternal is called reality: all that which
>is subject to change through decay and differentiation, and which has,
>therefore, a beginning and an end, is regarded as MAYA -- illusion.
>Pralaya (Sans.) Dissolution, the opposite of Manvantara, one being the
>period of rest and the other of full activity (death and life) of a
>or of the whole universe.
>Those terms are pretty important to genealogical trace of Mondrian's
>unusual concept of rhythm and reality, and so far, within my small
>knowledge, no art historian has referred to this.
>> Mondrian was trying to express that in terms of art. I think that is what
>> he meant by "point of perfect balance and of equilibrium." Having rhythm
>> in a "no-time and non-repetition basis" is holding the stillness. Thus, he
>> was creating symbols of Laya centers in his art and was quite Yogic in his
>> approach to art, whether he knew it or not.
>Mondrian's theory of rhythm is enigmatic, quite difficult to understand.
>Especially realization of rhythm in stillness, while rhythm, in normal
>sense, directly associates with movement. Now I feel I get a clue to
>follow Mondrian's argument. Thank you.
>> Here are some references you might want to look at:
>> An Art of Our Own (The Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art)
>> by Roger Lipsey, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN 0-87773-496-8 (pbk.)
>I will see in the university library catalogue.
>> The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting, 1890-1985
>> by Maurice Tuchmann, Abbeville Press Publishers, ISBN 0-7892-0056-2
>I already got one copy of this (IQ(J there is no extended arguments of
>> We'll be very interested in reading the final paper if you're willing to
>> publish it. Have a great one.
>I will. I will do my best. Thank you for your encouragement.
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