The Three Initiates (1908). The Kybalion. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. 139 Pages
Generally, when you do a book review for newspapers, magazines, and academic journals they ask you to keep it to under 1000 words. If you write a book review and send it to the Los Angeles Times or New York Times, they want it to be about 750 words, about a page and half of typed material; since I am doing this review for a person, Gavin Reinert, I am going to go beyond a thousand words.
As I promised, yesterday, I obtained a copy of the book that you recommended that I read, the Kybalion. I have read most of it and must say that I am not really learning new concepts. This is primarily because what it says is found in what is generally referred to as New Thought Religions (such as, Christian Science Church, Unity Church, Church of Religious Science, and the various churches of spiritual living). Since the book was published in 1908, allegedly by three initiates of the Hermitic esoteric school of ancient Egypt (but put together by a new thought teacher called William Walker Atkinson, 1862-1932), one assumes that the purveyors of twentieth century New Age religions have read it and incorporated its teachings into their teachings; and in studying those religions I gleaned the teachings of Hermes.
The book said that in ancient Egypt was a guy called Hermes Trismegistus who established a school to teach people the truth, and the nature of reality, as he understood them. He supposedly taught people Hermetic philosophy of ancient Egypt and Greece.
People from the ancient world, such as Greece, India, Middle East, and China came to learn from him (they called him the master of masters, the best teacher on spirituality). He did not set his teaching in writing but folks who learned from him rendered his teachings in their understanding. Hermes allegedly lived for 300 years; it is said that no other teacher of spirituality has surpassed him (even Abraham of the bible supposedly learned from him).
The three initiates (whoever they are) in 1908 apparently decided to put in writing what Hermes taught. They posited seven principles that the man taught. They are:
1. The principle of mentalism
“The All is Mind; the Universe is Mental.”
2. The principle of correspondence
“As above, so below; as below, so above.” […] This principle embodies the truth that there is always a correspondence between the laws and phenomena of the various planes of being and life.
3. The principle of vibration
“Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”
4. The principle of polarity
“Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.”
5. The principle of rhythm
“Everything flows, out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates.”
6. The principle of cause and effect
“Every cause has its effect; every effect has its cause; everything happens according to law; chance is but a name for law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the law.”
7. The principle of gender
“Gender is in everything; everything has its masculine and feminine principles; gender manifests on all planes.”[
These seven principles, precepts or whatever you choose to call them were elaborated on in the book, Kybalion.
Essentially, the so-called Hermitic school of thought teaches that only mind exists. That mind is what it calls All in All; let us cut through the chase and call it what he meant, God.
There is one God; God is mind (consciousness). We are all part of the mind of God. The entire universe is in God’s mind, and by implication in the minds of the sons of God.
The world is in our minds. This is a mentalistic conception of the universe. Our thinking produced the physical universe we see (how our minds do It, neither the book nor anyone else has satisfactorily explained). Mind produced matter and the matter-based universe we live in.
Matter is composed of the 92 elements in the universe (hydrogen, helium, lithium, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, sulfur, phosphor, sodium, iron, uranium and so on).
Each element is a different arrangement of subatomic particles; hydrogen, for example, has one electron and one proton (except its isotope that has one or two neutrons); helium has two electrons and two protons and two neutrons; carbon has six electrons, six protons and six neutrons; oxygen has eight electrons, eight protons and eight neutrons; iron has twenty-six electrons, twenty-six protons and twenty- six neutrons; the heaviest element, uranium has 92 electrons, 92 protons and 146 neutrons).
The particles of the atom are composed of quarks (protons and neutrons; electrons are photons with negligible mass) and, ultimately, were made from light. (I added this level of understanding, explain matter, atoms, and particles, for it is from the study of quantum mechanics, which did not exist in ancient Egypt?)
The galaxies (there are over 200 billion of them in the universe), stars (each galaxy, such as our Milky Way Galaxy, has over 200 billion stars), planets, plants, animals, and human beings are composed of matter; since matter is made of light so everything is made of light; everything is light in disguise, your body is light disguised as flesh!
The mind of All and All, aka God produced the physical universe; the physical universe is, in fact, in our minds (A course in miracles says that the universe is a dream in our collective minds).
If the universe is in our minds, then it follows that our minds shape everything in the universe. If you understand that your world that seems external to you is, in fact, inside your mind (Jesus said, that the kingdom of God is inside you), and is the product of your thinking, then you think in such a manner that you use the seeming external universe to your advantage.
We think with photons and electrons, that is, with light. That is correct, you think with light. Since everything is composed of light and we think with light it stands to reason that our thinking, light, affects everything else since the y are made of light. Stars and planets are light, and our thinking is light, so our thinking affects stars and everything else.
For example, if you understand that other people are in your mind, and you are in their minds, and essentially do what your mind wants them to do for you to experience it then you think in such a manner that people do what serves your interests. If, for example, you understand that people want to be loved and you love them, they are likely going to love you and serve your interests but if you hate people, they are likely not going to love you or serve your interests. If people hate you, your mind made them to do so and if they like you your mind made them to do so.
Therefore, there is no use blaming the wrongs that other people did to you on them, for they are in your mind and your mind made them do the good or bad they did to you.
The seeming external world is a projection of your mind. Your thinking produced the external world. The external world is the outward picture, image of your thinking (we think in images).
You are not the victim of the seeming external world, for that world reflects your thinking. If the world is bad towards you then change your pattern of thinking and the world would respond to you differently.
Blaming other people for your fate is immaturity; blaming yourself for your problems, is the beginning of your education but your education is complete when instead of blaming other people or yourself, you simple change the way you think, said Epictetus, a Roman Stoic philosopher (Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Cicero and most Romans were stoics).
Change your thinking and you change how people and the world responds to you. The world is the product of your thinking, so you do not improve it externally but internally. This idea suffuses new thought and new age religious thinking. They call it: you create your reality.
Whatever you see in your world your mind created it. You are where your mind placed you, you are interacting with those your mind wants you to interact with; people do to you what you attracted them to come do to you, for you to experience it, good or bad.
You are not a victim of the world because the world is in your mind; if you want to change the world then change your mind, change your thinking about the world and the world changes for you.
The world is your perception. You perceive what people do with your mind. What is in your mind, your presuppositions, and preconceptions color how you see other people and what they do.
You do not see the world and people objectively but distort them with your lenses. Therefore, correct your perceptual lenses if you want to see people and the world more correctly. Paul, in the Christian Bible, said that we see with glass darkly, and do not see things as they correctly are, so we must polish our glasses to see the world correctly.
Epictetus (55-135 AD) said that it is not what is happening out there in the external world that makes one happy, sad, fearful, or angry or paranoid but how one’s mind interprets what one sees. Perceive things differently and you have different affects, emotions; have different cognitions, thinking, and your affect would not be a yoyo pulled right, left and center by what seems to you what other people do; it is your thinking, cognition, mentation that makes you respond as you do.
Is the universe mental, in our minds? I do not know; I am just stating what Hermes apparently taught his initiates.
The principle of correspondence states, as above as below, as below as above. This principle states that there are many planes of existence (our world, and other worlds, such as heaven and what Catholics call purgatory and Muslims call paradise and I call world of light forms). These various worlds function with the same operating laws.
In Hindu terms, there is karma, the principle that our actions have effects; what you do has consequences for you and for those around you; you always receive the effects of your behavior, for there is always a cause and effect in our lives.
If you want positive effects, then have positive causal behaviors. For example, if you love people the chances are that they would love you and if you do bad things to people the chances are that they would do bad things to you and put obstacles on your path.
If you understand the correspondence (I prefer the word correlation) between your behavior and the effects you get in your life, then you strive to always do what would yield positive results for you.
For example, if one studies what there are jobs for, say, computer science and technology, in our age, one gets jobs and makes money but if one studies what no employer desires one stays unemployed and poor. It is one’s behavior that makes one rich or poor.
So, ask you: what do I have aptitude for, what am I good at, what am I interested in doing, is there a market for it, do people want to buy (demand it) what I do. Then go study what you are good at and work in the general area and money comes your way. But if one does not face reality and study, say, art history, one is likely to be poor (or get a job at a museum where they pay one pittance, and one would be afraid of being fired since there are no other job opportunities for one).
The principle of vibration says that the entire universe is vibrational, is always moving, whether we know it or not. Consider that light travels in empty space, vacuum at the speed of 186, 282 miles per second. Your body, the table I am typing on, the computer I am typing into, and everything in the universe is made of light. In effect, your body is moving at the speed of light, or near it, anyway. Nothing is standing still.
Planet earth travels through space at 67, 000 miles per hour but to you it seems to stand still. Nothing rests, everything moves. This is true.
If it is true, why do you want to stand still? Be always on the move towards your goals and objectives. In Hinduism people are divided into three classes Sativa, Raja and Tamas. Tamas are lazy people who do not want to work, and they are almost always poor. Raja people work and are rich. Sativa people think and are the producers of knowledge for the world.
The principle of polarity says that we live in the world of opposites, such as black and white, darkness and light, man, and woman, good and bad, pleasure ad pain and so on. These pairs of opposites must be accepted and managed rather than rebelled against
In Taoism they have what they call Ching and Chang energies; Taoists (Chinese and Koreans) try to balance both energies. You balance good and bad but cannot have one and not the other. Good people are often bad people, too. We are all mixtures of polarities, good and bad, so a wise person relates to people and the world with that understanding, not expecting them to be always good. If you expect people to be only good, we say that you are idealistic and naïve. Your best friend can take advantage of you! Hence the need for caution without being suspicious and paranoid. As Ronald Reagan said, trust but verify. This is called realism.
The principle of rhythm says that everything flows; there are high tides and low tides, rise and fall (empires rise and fall, we are born, age and die); life is kind of like a pendulum and is always swinging from side to side, from left to right, so balance things, swing with existence but do not expect things to stand still for you. Roll with the punches, we say in American colloquial English.
The principle of cause-and-effect states that everything is caused by something else (Aristotle traced the chain of causation and arbitrarily stopped it at what he called God, the uncaused cause, the unmoved mover of everything); think of Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion: one of them states that for every action there must be a reaction. Do something and there is opposition to it, so expect it and be prepared to meet it.
President Biden is borrowing heavily to fund his public policies and he is making fiscally responsible folks angry; they know that he is borrowing that money from China etc. So, expect Republicans to oppose him (next year prepare to hear Republicans tell us how our US GDP is $21 trillion, and we are now owing $26 trillion and counting and we are going to go bankrupt; then they win back Congress and cut taxes for the rich and we are back to square one!).
Everything happens according to the law of cause and effect; what we call accidents, and chance is what we have not yet understood what caused them. Until recently, for example, people did not understand the correlation between alcohol, smoking and drugs with damage to certain human organs and death but attributed the death caused by those bad habits to spiritual matters.
The principle of gender says that there is male and female principle on earth, in us, in plants, flowers and in God (?). For our present purposes, one has masculine and feminine aspects and must balance them, for we are not either or but both.
The rest of the book is an elaboration of the above principles. I could go over each of the fifteen chapters of the book and explain what it says but I am going to do what I said that I would do, do a review of the book.
Book review gives the reader an overview of a book to get him interested enough to go read that book and learn the details. Hopefully, I have given some useful insights into the hermetic philosophy; if one desires detailed understanding of it then one must study the book, Kybalion.
Finally, was this book based on an actual Egyptian hermetic philosophy? Was there an Egyptian called Hermes Trismegistus? The answer is that I do not know.
Folks tend to project their ideas to what seems to them ancient authorities to give their ideas credibility.
Helen Schucman, a brilliant professor of psychology at Columbia university, New York, a brilliant mathematician, and psychologist, with IQ of 160, for example, projected her book, A course in miracles to what she called Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Her goal probably was to give the book credibility and believability. I do not know that an actual Jesus spoke through her. Did she do what she did consciously, with the intention of deceiving people? Of course, not; poets generally attribute their poems to Muse (the ancient Greeks called Muse god; let us call it the unconscious or subconscious mind).
Mohammed (570-632 AD) in 610 A D said that the angel Gabriel dictated the Koran to him. How do we know that angels exist, and an angel called Gabriel spoke to him? Was he mad, was he having auditory hallucination? I do not know.
That been said, A course in miracles contains sound psychology, especially psychoanalysis and behaviorism but lacks understanding of physiological psychology, and neuroscience.
The point is that folks tend to attribute their thoughts to those considered authorities on the subjects they are talking about; we have no way of verifying the truth of their attributions.
What is salient is to take what is good from a book regardless of its source. Kybalion, in my opinion, contains some useful metaphysical ideas, not truths, as it claims. I approach its teaching with caution.
I am agnostic; I am not a theist or atheist; I take whatever is good from any book or religion or philosophy without allegiance to it.
I enjoyed reading the book, Kybalion, although I did not gain new insights from it.
Ozodi Osuji, PhD (University of California)
April 4, 2021